Sunday 17 August 2014

Antwerp affinity

Brussels is grand, but in a contest I'd pick Antwerp in a heartbeat.

Antwerp feels full of life and interest and so very gezellig.

It's a design and fashion mecca (think Martin Margiela, Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester ...)

There's art and culture, old and new 

The Rubenshuis above and below, where Rubens lived and painted for most of his life

Even the Hare Krishnas were there on a Saturday morning, bringing vivid reds to the Groenplaats.

Like every other Belgian city there's a crazily high density of (good) restaurants 
Belgians getting typically serious about their food over lunch at Bourla, in Graanmarkt

... and if it isn't a restaurateur it's a chocolatier: masters of the dark art Marcolini, Wittamer, Neuhaus lead the way in chocolate perfection and in vying with one another with sculpted creations.

Just ahead of the football world cup, the chocolatiers were indulging in soccer themes - my favourite a white chocolate rendition of Rio's Christ the redeemer ...

Works in progress at The Chocolate Line, Paleis op de Meir, Antwerp
July 2014

Wednesday 6 August 2014

In the ville de Bruxelles

Heart and capital of European government, Brussels has the feel of a serious city, full of weighty institutions, politicians and foreign diplomats. 

Round and about the Grand Place, the Beaux Arts and Galeries Royales

Children playing on the almost deserted square in front of the Brussels opera house, La Monnaie/De Munt, a few hours before it filled up with opera-goers for a startling production of Orphée et Eurydice (see here), based on a real-life case of a young Belgian woman with locked-in syndrome.

Peering up at the grand vaulted glass ceiling of the colonnaded 19th century Galeries Royales 

... a perfect place for a pre-opera drink.

And from the sublime to ... Europe's oddest tourist attraction? the jolly little Manneken Pis, unadorned by outfits on this day but still drawing the crowds. 

Brussels, June 2014

Sunday 3 August 2014

On a sunny Sunday in Cascais

this was the view from the terrace of the Albatroz hotel over the Atlantic

On a warm, still day before the start of the busy summer season, the beach was almost empty except for some carefree children running, shrieking, from the icy waves.

This beach - just a few miles along the coast from my home and school - was one of many I played on at their age and older.

Amo-te - ? was all I could make out at a distance of this boy's writing in his sand-heart. Praias de Lisboa? a sentiment after my own heart.

Saturday 2 August 2014

In Belém

A monastery built at the entrance of Lisbon, on the banks of the Tagus

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Belém

 became a house of prayer for sailors leaving and returning from the voyages of discovery to Africa, India, Indonesia, South America, China, Japan. 

Vasco da Gama is entombed here, and the poets Camões and Pessoa with equal reverence.

And when one is all done with veneration,  there's an espresso and one or two pastéis de nata to be had just down the road.

At the Fábrica de pastéis de Belém, the pasteis de nata are the best in the universe; the recipe, created by monks at the monastery (with leftover yolks from egg whites used to starch the nuns' habits), a tightly guarded secret since 1837.

Perfectly light and melt-in-the-mouth fluffy, this is as close as you'll get to their creation - looking through the window to the kitchens, where on an average Sunday morning 20 000 of these little heavenly tarts are baked

to satisfy the queues of Lisbonites that snake out the door and down the street 

My favourite coffee place in the world.
Lisbon, April 2014

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