Saturday, March 24th 2018
When we are travelling it has somehow been established that I get up first and find out how the shower works. That may sound simple enough but I have discovered that the most innocent-looking of hotel showers may conceal traps for the unwary. I gingerly entered the glass box and turned on the water. This shower seems to be quite well behaved but is so small that it is like trying to take a shower in a telephone kiosk… except that in a telephone kiosk you would have more room. The folding doors open inwards or outwards, as you prefer, but don’t provide a very effective seal so, if you don’t want to flood the bathroom for your partner, try not to point the shower-head at the doors…
Having done my appointed duty, I was content to relax on the bed while Tigger took her turn in the glass box.
We had originally thought to take a trip into Wallonia to visit one of its major cities, perhaps Namur or Liège. However, as we are staying only for two nights (returning to London tomorrow), this would have meant three days of railway journeys and we therefore decided to confine our explorations to Brussels on this trip. I was happy with this as there is plenty to see in Brussels and it’s a good town for wandering about in, whether on foot or using the buses and trams.
First, though, was breakfast. Knowing that cafes and restaurants don’t open early in Belgium, we thought to take a look at the hotel bar so see what they had on offer. We were in luck. It turns out that hotel guests can buy a voucher from reception for €5 and spend this in the bar. It entitles you to a coffee of your choice and two pastries or croissants. A breakfast of coffee and croissants? Perfect! It was only on taking my first bite that I remembered that in Belgium, croissants are given a thin sugar glaze. I don’t mind this; in fact, it helps to remind me that I am in Belgium!
Though we had a couple of visits planned, there was no hurry and we could take our time, exploring and photographing items of interest, as, for example, this medieval building not far from the hotel. A bilingual notice tells us that ‘This tower formed part of the first town wall built in the 13th century’.
The Brussels Opera has an international reputation. It resides is this fine theatre – the third on the site – called Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie or Koninklijke Muntschouwburg (Royal Theatre of the Mint). The first theatre here, which opened in 1700, was built on the site of the old mint, hence the name which has survived through subsequent centuries. In fact, both the opera company and the theatre are commonly known simply as ‘la Monnaie’ and ‘de Munt’, in French and Flemish respectively. For a more detailed history, see here.
The entrance to this office black is decorated with a massive bronze panel. I have not been able to find out what it represents.
Like all modern cities, Brussels has a mixture of building styles from ancient to modern and it seems to me to have avoided the worst excesses of hugeness and ugliness which are such a plague in London – or perhaps the shortness of our stay saved us from seeing these. Here are a couple more examples of modern architecture in Brussels.
A little further on, we came to the first of the places we wanted to visit today.
It is really two institutions in one, the Belgian Comic Strip Centre and the Brussels Strip Cartoon Museum. We didn’t mind that we were getting two for the price of one because we had not come to see the cartoons or learn about their history but to see the building in which they reside!
Everyone knows Hergé’s young journalist-detective Tin-Tin, of course, and he figures largely in the exhibition along with others perhaps better known in Europe than in Britain. (for example, you can just see Lucky Luke near the left-hand border of the above photo.
So, then, for someone not particularly interested in strip cartoons, what is interesting about this building? The answer is that what is now the strip cartoon museum was once better known as the Waucquez Warehouse.
The building opened in 1906 and was commissioned by Charles Waucquez for the display and sale of his fabrics. The architect chosen was Victor Horta, whose name is synonymous with the Art Nouveau Movement in Europe. Brussels is justly famous for its collection of Art Nouveau architectural treasures among which the Warehouse, now Museum, takes a distinguished place.
What was designed as a centre for wholesale fabrics serves equally well for the display and explanation of strip cartoons and their history.
On the way down the stairs to leave the museum, we came across this splendid example of attention to detail:
See how the bannister makes voluptuous curves around the lamp, those curves being echoed in wood and metal at every level.
In no particular hurry, we left the museum and continued our explorations while nonetheless aiming for our next destination.
On an open space where roads meet, we found a shipping container perched precariously on one end. Why? Well, because it’s art, that’s why. I haven’t been able to discover the name of the artist but the work apparently celebrates 60 years of the shipping container.
It’s always interesting to see how each country has adopted that simplest of designs – the post box – to its own requirements. Belgium in fact adopted a tubular pillar box design similar to the British counterpart and painted red. There are also smaller boxes in less busy areas, like this one that stands on a slender post.
We passed in front of the Cathedral of Sain Michael and Saint Gudula. The two named are also the patron saints of the city of Brussels. The cathedral was founded in the 11th century but work on it continued until it was considered finished in 1519.
This contre-jour shot was taken in the commune of Ixelles and shows the spire of the Church of the Holy Cross. Brussels is divided into 19 ‘communes’ which, I suppose, correspond roughly with London’s boroughs. In case you are wondering, the ‘x’ in Ixelles is pronounced like its English counterpart, so the name sounds like ‘ikSEL’.
We had come to take a look at the AAM, the Archives of Modern Architecture. This non-profit organization was set up by art historian Robert-Louis Delevoy and others to collect architectural plans, sketches, notes and general ephemera that might otherwise be lost once projects were completed.
Apart from its collection of books and papers, most of the information on display consists of boards bearing text and images which, though interesting to the architecture buff, are not very photogenic.
After these explorations, we felt it was time for a rest and and some sustenance. We peered at the menus of various cafes and restaurants until we discovered the AMI. This is a purely vegetarian restaurant with many items on the menu that are vegan. We chose the soup-and-sandwich combination and very good it was too. On our next trip to Brussels we shall certainly pay this restaurant a return visit.