Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Brussels, Belgium: Lace, Chocolate and Whimsy

Brussels is the birthplace of Smurfs.
I had no idea.
I love history as much as the next person - probably more so -- but after months of gazing at 12th century cathedrals and Tudor relics even I needed a break. So I planned our  Brussels trip strictly to nourish two basics: eating and shopping.  I knew the city was famous for lace, waffles and chocolate, and there was a flea market I wanted to check out. But I didn't know there'd be so much whimsy along the way.
We got into Brussels Thursday afternoon and headed out from our hotel near the European Commission to the city center, a good mile's walk. 
One of the first things we saw coming into the center was this amazing Smurf statue in front of the MOOF (Museum of Original Figurines). It didn't take us long to realize Brussels is not only home to the Smurfs, but many famous comic strips. And their love of such local celebrities like Tin Tin and Asterix goes far beyond museum walls.
Flea Market at Place du Jeu de Balle

The next day we took the metro south to Place du Jeu de Balle  for the flea market.
I've been to enough flea markets in my day to know how to barter, even if I spoke neither Dutch nor French, and came away with several good trinkets.
Nothing better than digging around to find that just-right trinket. It's a treasure hunt in any language.

Manneken-Pis - doing what he does best
This happy lad is Manneken Pis, the symbol of Brussels' rebellious spirit since the 15th century. Yes, he's a little boy "having a wee" and the Belgians are kee-razy about him.

Manneken-Pis costumed.
They dress him up 23 different times throughout the year in everything from a soccer player to a nomadic milk cow herder. With more than 900 costumes to choose from he's never at a loss for something to wear, but he generally appears like this, in the nude. Nakey.
I took the picture (left) on Friday and when we strolled by him the next day he was in costume commemorating the 70th year of the association that looks after him (right).

As mentioned above, the people of Brussels are extremely proud of their comic book heritage. So much so, they honor it by no fewer than 38 walls throughout the city depicting their heroes. I managed to find 16.
Asterix, Obelix and others attacking a Roman camp, by René Goscinny.
I read these comics in my college German class way back in 1978.

For years I've drooled at the thought of Belgian lace. It's renowned. It's gorgeous. It's pricey. But since this was shopping trip, I bought some. Happy early birthday to me.
Two very delightful women helping me with my Bruge lace purchase.
I wasn't the only one glad to see the dollar doing so well against the euro.
And of course there was food. In addition to the absolute best vegetable quiche I've ever had . . .
 . . . there was usually a Belgian waffle waiting somewhere for me: 

And if a tourist didn't buy any chocolate it wasn't for lack of shops available. I stopped counting after 23. They were every-blessed-where.
One of the many, many chocolate shops in Brussels. This one is in Les Galeries St Hubert.

For more photos of Brussels, click here.

For photos of just the Comic Book Walls I found, click here.
Stranger things have happened . . . 

I'm not a car person. I don't recognize models or makes and usually can't find mine in a parking lot. So it would be odd for me to visit a car museum, but visit I did. And what beauties there were at Brussels' AutoWorld Museum. This sweet thing delighted me because of its one central headlight.
1913 Peugot Bébé
To see the ridiculous number of Brussels' AutoWorld photos from someone who claims to not be into cars, click here..  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Oxford, England it is then

Two gents playing croquet in front of Queen's College
at Oxford University
We didn’t have a plan, just a warm day open in front of us so we hopped the train to Oxford.
The thought of a formal tour only made us shrug so we struck out on our own with a free map snagged at the train station and it was enough. 

Bodleian Library
Although there are loads of things to see, this was a spontaneous trip so we narrowed it down to just a couple sites: the Bodleian Library for Rex and the Botanic Garden for me. Everything in between was frosting on the cake. Luscious, luscious frosting. 
 We're big fans of the show Inspector Lewis which is set in Oxford, so we figured whatever we saw would eventually pop up in one of the episodes. 
 The Bodleian Library was unfortunately, not open to the public (students and faculty only, I suppose) but we were able to enter part of the older library and it’s courtyard which itself requested “quiet please” upon entering. For Harry Potter fans, this is where the Hogwarts library scenes were filmed for Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets.
Across from the Library is St. Mary’s church, the official church of Oxford University since the 1200’s. We paid our 4 pounds each and climbed its tower for a gorgeous view of the university.
View of the town from St. Mary's Tower.
The Botanic Garden was as I’d hoped: well laid out and yummy. With eight formal botanical beds, a water garden, rock gardens, sustainable meadows, and medicinal gardens it was just what the doctor ordered.
Oxford University Botanic Garden: view of the botanical family beds.

It's hard to imagine now, but gardening used to be only for the upper class. It wasn't introduced to the middle class until the 1800's - but it took off like a scalded dog. People needed information and they needed it quickly. One method was the drawing and painting of trees, grasses, flowers, and plants. I was happy to see this discipline still goes on at Oxford University, as these women's work testifies.

Students practicing the art of painting flowers. 
For more photos of this trip to Oxford, please click right here.