Monday, May 23, 2011

Traveling to Brussels

Sooner or later I knew Paris would end and we would be heading to Brussels.  I've only been to Brussels twice, and both times to the airport, which I don't really think qualifies.  I was most interested in going to the museum there and, on a more light-hearted note, having the original 'french' fries at Maison Antoine- and possibly with Eddy Merckx if I spotted him.

 After packing I left Paris on a bus and settled into doing some sketching while listening to Adele.  I was really fired up on some new ideas for my figure paintings after lecturing at the Musee Rodin and wanted to commit them to paper. My lines looked like Daumier sketches riding the bus! It was good to go "inside" and start thinking about some ideas that were percolating.  Looking out the window was pretty plain so no distractions there.  For the most part the country side was fairly common interspersed with wind farms like this one.

Arriving in Belgium I was happy to see cycling imagery alive and well in the city.  I didn't have time to search out any cycling stores, but imagine there are many.  It was nice seeing all of the Giro d'Italia updates on the tv news even though there was too much Contador for me.

We stayed in a wonderful hotel that is not advertised.  Many diplomats and figures stay here on business trips due to all of the EU functions hosted here. The place was well equipped with numeric-coded locks at the main door and my room was really set up nicely with WI-FI, full bathroom (can't tell you how wonderful a 30 minute bath is after only having a shower for two weeks) and a queen sized bed with Tempur-pedic mattress.  In addition they had a stocked kitchen that we were able to have full access to- free of charge.

I had a window that let in a lot of light and provided a view on the enclosed courtyard.

First stop walking through Brussels was at the famous Maison Antoine to taste the original french fry.  A close friend tells me they are twice fried.  (As your close friend I can tell you they are delicious!) They came with a number of dipping sauces including curry.  We each got a little basket and beers were ordered all around.  I tried a cherry beer to help wash them down.

We went to the Grand Place that evening. It was brimming with people as we walked through many  narrow streets.  The cafes and restaurants were starting to fill up and had many displays like this one.

The first thing to know about consumption in Brussels is that beer, waffles, chocolate and mussels reign supreme.  For me, I could use these as a food group strategy! They are all outstanding from what I tried. My friend had me try the belgian waffles with her at Findlay Market back in Cincinnati this spring and they were amazing as well (all of her suggestions have been great :)).  However, these bad boys in Brussels were really loaded and must have weighed a half a pound!

I did manage to take some photos of the Grand Place at night and it was even more stunning with the lights. Here are two pics from the many I shot in the piazza.

Several of us went looking in search of the Delirium Cafe.  The cafe has pink dancing elephants for its logo and over 2500 (!) in stock including 25+ on tap.

The place was located at the end of a street and was really busy.  The downstairs was so smokey and busy that many of us decided to go back upstairs.

The next day we set out for the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium ( I had never noticed any paintings being there so I wasn't sure what to expect.  I guessed they might have some Rubens, some Flemish stuff, maybe some Metsu or Maes and some filler. Wow.  I underestimated the collection...BIG TIME.  Look at these babies!

They had some amazing paintings that I don't have here including some huge Rubens' paintings.  If I can clean some of the photos up, I might add them here later.

We spent the remaining part of the day shopping for souvenirs. and managed to get clear photo of the famous "Boy peeing" sculpture.  The strange subject celebrates the myth of the little boy peeing on a lit stick of dynamite to help save the city, but there are many more listed on wikipedia:

There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-over-Heembeek). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.
Another legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city. There was at the time (middle of the 15th century, perhaps as early as 1388) a similar statue made of stone. The statue was stolen several times. In 1619 it was replaced by the current bronze statue, created by Franco-Flemish Baroque sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy, father of the more famous François of the same last name.
Another story (told often to tourists) tells of a wealthy merchant who, during a visit to the city with his family, had his beloved young son go missing. The merchant hastily formed a search party that scoured all corners of the city until the boy was found happily urinating in a small garden. The merchant, as a gift of gratitude to the locals who helped out during the search, had the fountain built.
Another legend was that a small boy went missing from his mother when shopping in the centre of the city. The woman, panic-stricken by the loss of her child, called upon everyone she came across, including the mayor of the city. A city-wide search began and when at last the child was found, he was urinating on the corner of a small street. The story was passed down over time and the statue erected as tribute to the well known fable.
Another legend tells of the young boy who was awoken by a fire and was able to put out the fire with his urine, in the end this helped stop the king's castle from burning down.

In the end Brussels was enjoyable and provided some down time, though I was already longing to go back to Paris, and dreading saying goodbye to all of the students and people I had grown so close to in sharing these experiences.

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