Category Archives: Travel

Rule Britannia

This superb photo of the Royal Family was taken by photographer Alexi Lubomirski at Windsor Castle.

Click to enbiggen, and just…bask in its beauty and majesty.

My Anglophilia went into overdrive last weekend. It’s time to head back to London. Time to head home.

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Waffles

The historic district of Brussels smells of waffles and chocolate. I’d eaten plenty of chocolate during my time there, but somehow never got around to waffles until my last full day in the city.

In S03E09 of Skam, the innovative Norwegian streaming series, one of the characters gets terribly excited when he hears that the school cafeteria is serving waffles. His reaction seemed all out of proportion to the news, and I could never figure out why he rushed off to place an order.

Offerings from a Brussels Waffle Shop

Offerings from a Brussels Waffle Shop

Now I know.

My selection

This was my last taste of Belgium (except for the 17 pounds of chocolate I brought home with me, and, yes, officer, it is for personal use only).

In Bruges in Bruges

I’d been dreaming of doing this for years.

I sat there, in that little café off Bruges’ central square, took out my IPad, and watched In Bruges.

in Bruges.

I didn’t watch the entire film, of course, just a few favourite scenes.

I know it might seem silly and trivial, but it made me inordinately happy.

It made my trip to Belgium.

In Bruges

Confession time. The main reason I came to Belgium was not the Breugels nor the chocolates, not the Rubens nor the mussels.

It was because 10 years ago, I saw Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, and I knew I had to go there someday to see the city for myself. In Bruges is easily one of my five favourite movies of the 21st century, and there are only 82 more years to go, so that might be a lock.

Belgium is a small country. It’s less than an hour’s train ride from Brussels to some of the prettiest towns in Europe. On a rainy Wednesday morning, I was off the Bruges.

After the stateliness of Brussels’ Grand Place, the historic central square of Bruges seemed disappointingly commercialized, with a group of carnival-type rides and amusements. The city center is a World Heritage Site, and the tackiness detracted from its beauty.

Bruges, which survived the two World Wars with little damage, is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. It’s a canal city, like Amsterdam and Venice, and boating along the canals gave me an unforgettable view of some of Bruges’ marvelous architecture.


These are the grounds of the Groeningemuseum, which has a small but brilliant collection. Among the stunners is this triptych called “The Last Judgment”, attributed to Hieronymus Bosch and his workshop.

"The Last Judgment". Image found on the Net

“The Last Judgment”. Image found on the Net.


In Bruges

This is a heavily edited trailer for In Bruges. The dialogue in Martin McDonagh’s movies is rude, crude, and profane enough to make Al Swearengen blush. You’ll have to watch the film to hear it, though, because it’s been purged—not by me—from this video.

Lunch at Le Marmiton

Le Marmiton

Le Marmiton

I had my big aspirational “Living Well Is the Best Revenge” lunch at Le Marmiton, one of the restaurants in Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. The name can be translated as “The Kitchen Boy” or “The Kitchen Hand”.

When I started to write this entry, I could not for the life of me remember the term “amuse-bouche”, the name for the small, complimentary appetizers that chefs sometimes send to diners at the beginning of a meal. I got stuck on “lagniappe”, the New Orleans word for a little something extra, but I knew that wasn’t it.* Freebie? No. No way.

Internet searches for “food words” and “restaurant terminology” and “freebie [sic] at start of meal” turned up some interesting information, but not the kind I needed.

I didn’t get the answer until after I’d stopped looking for it, which is a perfect affirmation of Zen, I suppose. It popped into my head out of nowhere, I did a (metaphorical) face-palm, and, once again, all was right with the world.

Anyhow, this little bowl of olives complemented my welcoming glass of Kir.

Timbale of Seafood

Timbale of Seafood

Mussels, of course, since it was Belgium, and the uniquely Flemish grey shrimp, along with scallops and traditional pink shrimp.

Duck Confit

Duck Confit

My main: Duck Confit with oyster mushrooms in a rich sauce, and a serving of Gratin Dauphinois, which is the name that upscale restaurants give to scalloped potatoes with cheese. The duck was particularly good, although the skin was a bit less crisp than I’m used to, because of the heavy sauce.

(“Gratin Dauphinois”, “amuse-bouche”, “lagniappe”—Lots of new vocabulary words in this entry, aren’t there? Stick with me and you’ll sail through that SAT Verbal next fall.)

"Vie en Rose"

“Vie en Rose”

A perfect ending. Dessert was composed of mixed-flavour sorbets with red fruit purée and a splash of crème de cassis. Since Kir, the apéritif I drank at the start of the meal, is made with crème de cassis and white wine, it was a clever bookend for the meal.


*The traditional example of a lagniappe is the 13th doughnut in a “baker’s dozen”.

At the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium — Bruegel and Rubens and Bosch, Oh, My!

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (RMFAB) is a complex of three connected museums, plus the Museum of Modern Art and two smaller specialized galleries. The Big Three are the Old Masters Museum, the Fin-de-Siècle Museum, and the Magritte Museum. I spent most of my visit with the Old Masters—I didn’t have enough time to do justice to the Fin-de-Siècle Museum, and, for me, Magritte is only interesting in very small doses.


Bruegel

There were four notable artists in the Bruegel family, but it’s Pieter Bruegel the Elder who owns the name. I’ve become rather obsessed  with tracking down his works over the last few years, which is one of the reasons I’d come to in Brussels. The RMFAB has the largest collection of works by Bruegel outside the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The Census of Bethlehem

The Census of Bethlehem

Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap

Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap

The star of the RMFAB’s Bruegel collection is the magnificent, Bosch-influenced “The Fall of the Rebel Angels”.

The Fall of the Rebel Angels

The Fall of the Rebel Angels


Rubens

Bruegel was a master of detail, filling his paintings with dozens of small figures going about the routine daily business of rural or village life.

I’ve always thought of Rubens as operatic. His figures were dynamic and larger than life, captured in the midst of wrestling with tigers or ascending into heaven. His canvases are huge.

Here’s another link to the Kunsthistorisches, this time to the Rubens entry. (I really need to get back to Vienna!)

Assumption of Mary

Assumption of Mary

Four Studies of a Head of a Moor

Four Studies of a Head of a Moor

The Martyrdom of St Livinus

The Martyrdom of St Livinus


Bosch

This is a better picture of the Hieronymus Bosch triptych at the top of the posting. All the images in this item, except for that one, were found on the Web. I’m using them because there’s no way my amateur museum shots can capture the beauty of the paintings as well as a professional photographer with a tripod and great lighting can.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

What the Well-Dressed Manneken Pis Will Wear

Garderobe MannekenPis

A few blocks away from the famous Manneken Pis statue and fountain is a little one-room museum dedicated to the toddler’s extensive wardrobe. It contains about a hundred of the costumes that have been presented to Manneken Pis over the last three centuries.

What Started It All

This is a replica of the gentleman’s costume that King Louis XV sent to Brussels after French soldiers stationed in the city tried to steal the statue of Manneken Pis. The King also made Mannekin Pis a Knight of the Order of Saint Louis, which meant that French soldiers had to salute the statue when they paraded past the fountain.


I also found this video, which shows the statue in action, dressed in dozens of its colourful costumes.