Tag Archives: Brussels

An Embarrassment of Museums

Upon arrival in Brussels, Pawn actually had no plans, save one. Knowing well Pawn’s predilection for Art Nouveau, friend P had recommended a tour of the home of Victor Horta, one of the founders of the movement. Yesterday I went, and I must say it was lovely. Located in Saint Gilles, the museum is a faithful preservation of the home and studio of Horta, built between 1898 – 1906, and modified several times over the ensuing decade, the home & studio occupy two plots of land, side by side, and were mostly separate internally.


As much as possible the preservations, mounted over several years from the 1960s, when the building was saved, up until 2012-14, when the most recent renovations were completed, have kept the furnishings and finishes close to the original. In many cases, Horta designed furnishings have been brought from other properties, as have chandeliers, switch plates, etc. Wallpapers and fabrics have been recreated from designs of the times, etc. The effect is quite complete and one feels totally as though you’re seeing the original thing.

horta4 horta3 horta-stairway

It is breathtaking!

One stunning feature is the sculpture atelier in the basement of the studio, in which we find models and maquettes of many of Horta’s building designs, as well as a large etagere, in which common elements of Horta’s designs are displayed alongside their inspirations from nature — spider’s webs, flowers, plant stems & leaves, birds, skeletons & bones — in such a way that we are drawn to re-imagine these beautiful designs as composites of their constituent natural components.


Today a journey to the Bozar museum for a large range of exhibits in a grand building designed by none other than Horta himself, in the years between the wars. Pawn took the tram down to Royal Park, and finding the entrance to Borza closed (new security regime…) started to look around for the new route. What’s that sound? A strange, fascinating blend of Hip Hop and Brass Band is bleeding out of the park. A little investigation revealed the Royal Park Music Festival to be underway at the Kiosque do Parc de Bruxelles, having just opened with Wild Board & Bull Brass Band.


This group, fronted by Herbert Celis, features tenor & baritone sax, trombone, trumpet, bass and drums, and has a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Here’s a clip from YouTube:

Yowzah!! I grabbed a glass of Cava and a seat in the crowd and stayed until the rains started. What a joy, a real find. If someone has tried this combination before, the rich flow and sharp edge, I sure wasn’t aware.

Oh, and I should mention the armed military presence, which one finds at so many events which draw crowds.


Up with the brolly and down the stairs to the only open entrance to Bozar. One sign makes it clear that one must check bags, and many other signs describe the various exhibitions and ticketing arrangements, but nowhere can one see where to actually get the tickets. Well, carry on. Check the bag in a locker (free) and start to explore. A fine set of photographs by Colin Delfosse, Gbadolite, Versailles in the Jungle, grabbed my eye. Part of the Summer of Photography exhibition. Here’s three:

20160703_115605 20160703_115614 20160703_115625

But I wasn’t able to look at much more without being able to present a ticket, and finally someone explained to me that I needed to leave the museum(!), go across the street, buy a ticket there, and then return. All of this in a driving rain. Fun.

So, go retrieve my bag from the locker, grab the brolly, cross the street, buy Day Pass ticket (access to all exhibits), cross back, re-enter building, re-check bag…

It was ultimately worth it, as the rest of the exhibits were quite good. I won’t provide full reviews of them all, but at least a list would help:

  • A Lighthouse for Lampedusa
  • Facing The Future: Art In Europe 1945-68
  • After Scale Model: Dwelling In The Work of James Cesebere
  • Dey Your Lane: Lagos Variations
  • The Center For Fine Arts of Victor Horta: A Labyrinth For The Arts
  • Amos Gitai: Chronicle of an Assassination Foretold
  • Vincen Beeckman: The Gang
  • Open Spaces | Secret Places: Works from the Sammlung Verbund, Vienna

You can find information on all of these at Bozar’s website.

I did wander through the entire Labyrinth For The Arts exhibit, camera at the ready, as the exhibit was the building, or parts of it, at least.  There are a handful of thoughtfully arranged drafting tables, festooned with blueprints, photographs and other documents from the period of the construction of the building.  This in the hallways outside the grand theatre.  Here’s some snaps, these first are the entrance doors for the private boxes:

20160703_122313 20160703_122316

20160703_123555 20160703_123450 20160703_123348 20160703_123245 20160703_124910

Here’s some snaps I got in before being told not to (no signs) from Facing The Future .

20160703_125704 20160703_130023 20160703_130037

I then strolled through the district for a while before coming to the Palace square, and the Royal Museums. I chose Mus̩e Fin-de-Si̬cle and am so glad I did. Here the focus is 1868 Р1914, which happens to line up well with interests of mine, and also with a golden era of Belgian art. No snaps from this (I was a good boy) but here are some from their website and online resources:

GillionCrowetCollection gillioncrowet3 gillioncrowet2 gillioncrowet1

What a joy to see such fine examples of Art Nouveau furniture and fittings! These went well beyond the few styles visible at Horta’s house, and included many lovely examples of pottery, glassware and metal work. Pawn was in heaven!


In heaven but starving by the time it was over. A wander down into the neighbourhood led to Café Leffe, a brasserie linked to the brewer. A dish of boef carbonnade was just what I needed, and washed down with Leffe Blonde. Yum!


Okay, home again, blisters on the soles of my feet.

Places of Repose – Europe 2016 Edition


Pawn has tried three different short-term rentals for this sumer visit to Europe. In London it was Hoxton Street, a bustling center of the mod arts community in the vibrant East End. Amsterdam brought me to a wee little rear studio, behind a canal house, across the canal from le Hermitage. In Brussels it is an 18th floor perch in Brx Nord.

Hoxton was a keeper of a place; I’d come back there in a heartbeat. Friends live close by, and favourite galleries are just a short stroll along the Regent’s canal, itself a beckoning attraction. The flat itself was a treat, spacious and well appointed, with so many accoutrement just downstairs: grocers, ATMs, chicken shack, kabobs, pizza (traditional or cheap), shops and galleries, etc.

The only shortcoming of this location is the relative distance from the tube. While Pawn prefers buses — they allow one to see the city — they often cannot compare to the speed of the underground. The nearest tube stop, Old Street, is a 12 minute walk, and is poorly connected (Northern Line, City branch) , so transfers are often mandatory. The nearest buses are a 3 minute walk to Kingsland Road, and between the several lines serving the two stops, will get you most anywhere.

The “Bungalow Studio” in Amsterdam is another matter. First off, it is very very small, about 3m x 7m L shape, with the long part of the L about 1.5m wide. A single bed filled most of that space. A quite nice bathroom is tacked onto the end, itself about 1.5m x 3m. This used to be part of a carriage works, or garage, which one supposes occupied the courtyard of the century-old building above.

The entire raison d’être for this little room is location. Le Hermitage, which Pawn so enjoyed last year is literally across the canal from the front door. Around the corner in one direction is the National Opera House, home of the National Opera & Ballet companies. Around the other corner is the Jewish Museum. A short walk takes one to the bustling Dam Square and the streets of posh shops and tourist gawking. Multiple tram and bus lines compliment the Metro station a block away.

But the dwelling itself was not just small, but cramped. There is a total of about 2 square metres of floor space in the whole place, with a small couch, table & chair, two smallish stools and a telly table joining the bed & kitchenette cabinet. Just about enough space to put down one’s suitcase and still be able to walk around it all. There was no power near the table, which necessitated precarious draping of cords to enable the writing of blogs, and don’t even get me started on the damn toilet seat!

Not going back there, no matter how good the location is.

Now to Brussels. The trip here was easy and direct — a quick two-stop, 3 minute, ride on the Amsterdam Metro (53) to Centraal Station, and then an NS Intercity direct to Bruxelles Nord. The walk from the station to the apartment tower was a brisk 10 minutes, but not bad, even with luggage.

This studio is lovely in comparison to the cramped hovel of Amsterdam. Roughly 6m x 8m, the space is easily divided into an airy salon, small kitchenette, and sleeping alcove, with sheer drapery available to separate these. The entire south wall is dominated by windows, and a door to the balcony beyond. “Windows on Brussels” is how the owner promotes it, and that couldn’t be more accurate. Situated in the northern quarter of the city, with southern exposure, the entire city is there before you!

This is a place to which I would gladly return.

Then there’s the crowing of the roosters and the braying of the goats. Yes, 18 storeys below is a nice city park, complete with petting zoo. Dawn to dusk the roosters announce themselves to the world, competing with the band shell in the civic square a few blocks away. A succession of rock and roll bands occupy the latter, urging one to press closed the door and windows, which do quite effectively block out the noise. Whatever is happening in that civic square, it was capped last night with a midnight fireworks display, a treat from the 18th floor.

Oh, and this account wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the length of the days. This trip started on the Solstice, and even now, nearly two weeks later, sunrise is 5:30 and sunset is 22:00. That’s a 16:30 hour day, versus 14:20 back home. It’s a little unnerving to have sunlight streaming into the flat at 10:00 at night! But the night is dark, quite dark. The evenings can be blinding.