Last Day in Brussels

Sunday in Brussels was much quieter than Saturday had been, and that was a very good thing. We head to the airport tomorrow morning around 6:00 AM – they now recommend arriving four hours early for international travel, and with all the new restrictions and forms we decided it was a good idea to follow the recommendations. So we wanted to take it easy today. This first picture shows a building that is being renovated just outside our hotel. They clearly intend to preserve the facade and have built a huge iron brace to hold it in place while they reconstruct the interior.

Next we have a picture of the church on the central square – the Grand-Place, followed by an example of the type of building that surround the square.

I suspect there is an interesting story behind this statue, but I can’t imagine what it is.

This is an example of the ironwork around the Petite Sablon park. Note the hand holding the flowers.

Another unusual building near our hotel.

And a painting of the Belgian icon, Tin Tin, on the wall of a building.

I’ll close with two examples of ephemeral art. The first is an ice cream cone with two flavours arranged in the shape of a flower. The second is the sand sculpture I showed in a previous post, with a different, but related, image today.

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World Day for Cultural Diversity

On our second day in Brussels we headed away from the center of the city to see the botanical garden. It is a fairly small park, but wonderfully maintained with flowers, trees, and a small pond. One tree was particularly striking.

When you looked closer, the bark reminded me of lava, and looked like it was flowing down around the branches…

The leaves and seed cones looked like a prehistoric tree.

And then there were the flowers. So many flowers.

There was also a small pond with turtles sunning themselves on the rocks.

After a pleasant walk through the botanical garden we continued to the beer museum, stopping for lunch along the way. Of course, we saw plenty of stained glass and Gothic cathedrals.

As we headed back toward the center of town I captured this image of the blending of old and new. A dead tree is covered in lush green ivy. Probably a metaphor about our world today somewhere in there, but I just like the picture.

As we started out this morning we came across several gatherings that seemed to have a cultural theme, so we looked into it when we got back to the hotel. Turns out that May 21st is World Day for Cultural Diversity. And by early evening it was definitely a celebration of diversity … especially the celebration part. The streets were absolutely packed with pounding music on every street corner.

The theme was cultural diversity, but this last picture captures just how much we all have in common. Early in the afternoon we came across a Turkish celebration with music and dancing. At least the young girls were dancing and having a great time. But the young boys were not nearly as enthusiastic.

Some things are the same everywhere.

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Brussels

We took the train from Antwerp into Brussels on Friday and arrived in the middle of a thunderstorm. Our plans to walk to the hotel were quickly doused in cold water – well, cold rain actually, but you get my point. We grabbed a taxi which was an adventure in itself, but I’ll save that for another day. By the time we checked in and unpacked the rain had stopped and headed out for a walk through the center of Brussels to Sablon. Along the way we spotted a bit of street art – a sand sculpture. The artist was still working on it when we returned over an hour later.

In the heart of the old city we came across a “Biertempel” so of course I had to go in for a look.

Our primary objective for the afternoon was the Square du Petit Sablon. Like so many places in Brussels (in Europe, to be honest) it was within sight of a Gothic cathedral.

The inside of the square had a small, well kept garden, a fountain, and … a sculpture of two nobles looking very cheerful on their way to be executed. This happened in the 16th century and their crime was “resisting Spanish tyranny”.

Around the outside of the square are 48 bronze statues illustrating typical trades in 16th century Brussels. I’ll show two examples here: a clock-maker (because I’ve worked in techie things all my life) and the cooper (because … beer and wine…).

I’ll leave you with a picture of a snail on a holly bush in the square. I like it because it’s a great picture and because after nearly two weeks of travel we are moving about the same speed as that snail.

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A Rainy Day in Antwerp

It was our last full day in Antwerp and the forecast was for thunderstorms. But the sky was clear when we left the hotel, so we decided against bringing our umbrellas. Perhaps not the brightest idea?

Our primary objective for the day was the Plantin-Moretus Museum about the first printing press in Antwerp and one of the most important printing houses during the enlightenment. The museum was also the first museum to be on the UNESCO World Heritage List. So this is another UNESCO site added that we have visited. The half hour walk to the museum gave me the chance to photograph more of the fascinating architecture that is everywhere in Antwerp.

One thing I did notice was a “fish” theme in the sculptures. I first noticed a fountain with a sea eagle catching a fish.

This was echoed in the sculptures on the buildings around the square.

The clouds were looking more threatening as we walked, and shortly after we entered the museum the rain started, and then the thunder. We always tend to take our time in museums, but today we were especially diligent, reading every single description as we listened to the rain and thunder. But seriously, it was fascinating walking through the old printing presses, the creaking of the floor boards almost as loud as the thunder outside. Five hundred years ago this was the cutting edge of the information technology revolution, which is exactly where I’ve spent my career. And it did indeed revolutionize society and break religion’s strangle hold on progress … at least for a while. Here are a few pictures from the courtyard.

By the time we finished our museum tour the storm had mostly passed, but we decided to have lunch at a nearby bistro just in case. And then Jan went back to the hotel and I headed off for a tour of the local Antwerp brewery – De Koninck. Unfortunately the bar was closed for a special event so I couldn’t have a proper “Monday Beer Club” meeting on a Thursday, but I did manage to sample an interesting beer that had been recommended.

Very tasty, and the name reminds me of Brew Revolution. Maybe next trip I’ll do a proper tasting…

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Antwerpen

I’m in Antwerp (Antwerpen) on business which is a bit of a good news / bad news story. The good news is that the trip is partially subsidized. The bad news is that the people paying for the trip expect you to do some actual work. Like I say – good news / bad news. The past two days I’ve been working and Jan has been on her own. The only “sightseeing” was on my walk to the conference. Here is the Antwerp rail station on my way back from work.

But this evening I was finally finished and we headed out for dinner, only to discover that many restaurants in our part of town close early. Yikes! We were directed to the old town and eventually found a pleasant restaurant with outdoor seating. Even when you are directly facing a plain wall, you can still catch glimpses of interesting old buildings here.

After dinner we had a leisurely walk through the old city back to our hotel. There is so much interesting architecture here that it is hard to pick favourites, but here is a small selection.

Although Antwerp is filled with fascinating old architecture, there is an amazing amount of repair/restoration work underway. This picture of the cathedral nicely illustrates this.

You also see countless examples of old sculptures from Antwerp’s prime…

I’ll leave you with something much more modern, but very quixotic that fits perfectly within the Antwerp aesthetic.

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London: Old and New

We lived near London for three years a very long time ago (think “the nineties”) and we haven’t really been back since, so a lot has changed. But even then, the London Underground map was iconic. It has only grown.

Holy Moly

One of our enduring memories is how wonderful spring was in England, with flowers from February till May. Although it’s late in the season here, when we left home last week, the tulips were just about to bloom and the leaves were just beginning to come out. But in London…

And of course, St. Paul’s Cathedral is still here. We didn’t go inside today – though we have been up in the dome in the past – but we did have a lovely lunch with a perfect seat to look at St. Paul’s and to watch the people on the street.

And of course, Tower Bridge…

But there are also a lot of new buildings since the last time we were here. The Gherkin, the London Eye, and something that looks like it should be in Shanghai.

One of the many things that fascinate me is watching professional photographers at work … and taking pictures of them, taking pictures of their models. As I was crossing the Millennium Bridge I spotted this scene. I assume they had carefully selected the angle to provide the perfect backdrop for the photograph, but I was more interest in this perspective. But of course, I’m not getting paid.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a little story about my visits to the British Museum a very long time ago. The Rosetta Stone has been in the British Museum since the defeat of Napoleon. When we visited in the 90’s the Rosetta Stone was an important exhibit, but it was openly displayed, without a protective covering or even a sign saying “do not touch”. On my first visit I gently touched the edge (not where there is any writing, just to be clear) and no one said anything. A year later when I visited with my son, I told him to touch it, which he did with some hesitation. This time the security guard said “don’t touch”. (There still wasn’t a sign.) The next time we visited there was a rope around the stone, a plexiglass shield over the writing, and a “do not touch sign”. (I really can’t believe we were personally responsible for this, but who knows.) Anyway, when I visited the British Museum today, this is what I saw.

Oh my…

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London

We took the train back to London, and by now there was no doubt that the English are done with COVID. This picture was taken in Euston train station. Can you spot the masks? (Hint: there are three, if you look very closely.)

Where’s Waldo?

One of our favourite activities is to just walk around cities, and London is perfect for this. We walked down Oxford street where preparations are underway for the Queen’s Platinum jubilee with UK flags everywhere. There were also people everywhere.

We are staying near Hyde Park, so I had to enjoy the warm spring day.

I also visited the Marble Arch and Speaker’s Corner, though no one was speaking there today.

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Manchester

To be honest, Manchester wasn’t at the top of our list of places to visit in the UK. The only reason we we came here was because I had a business meeting in the city. But I’m glad we did. There has been a lot of building in recent years, and various quirky art installations. We loved these lamps near the train station. Note the person by one of the lamps for scale.

But Manchester has also managed to incorporate aspects of the city’s history into the downtown scene. We were near a canal that once served the industry in the city. The canal and locks are still there and appear to be in working order. These look a lot like the locks on the Rideau canal in Ottawa.

The street beside the old canal is called … wait for it … “Canal Street”… and local businesses take advantage of it and set up tables all along the canal.

We stayed in one of the old mills that had been converted into a hotel. They took advantage of the high ceilings and created one of the nicest and most interesting hotels we have ever stayed in.

We will be back.

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Travelling Again

My last post was in November from Quebec City where I wrote that it was beginning to feel like the “before times”. Within 24 hours I saw the first mention of something called Omicron. I had no idea what they were talking about. I was about to find out soon enough.

In April we tentatively decided to try travel again with a visit to friends in Atlanta. When we left home there was still snow on the ground, but in Atlanta everything was in bloom.

The trip was a success. We had a wonderful visit and decided that we were reasonably comfortable with travelling again. So when a potential business trip to Europe came up, we decided to go for it. And that’s how we found ourselves on the London underground yesterday at the height of rush hour. Apparently COVID is finished in the UK. Or at least the English are finished with COVID. The underground was packed but you could count the masks on one hand. In our jet-lagged state we made our way by train to Manchester.

We are in a lovely hotel in the center of the the city in an converted textile mill. So far we are impressed with the city and are enjoying just walking around and taking it easy. It is a pleasant mix of old and new.

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Marché de Noël allemand

The Christmas market opened today so we had to check it out. The vendors were thrilled to be there – last year the market was closed because … well, you know why. But this year everyone was out in force, including Père Noël.

Père Noël

It was the first day the market was open, and it was a Thursday night at that, so it was relatively quiet, but it was still fun to wander around and take in the sights.

And even outside the market, Christmas themes and lights were everywhere.

Tomorrow we take the train home, but we will be back.

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