Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp always sounded like a good idea, but of all the times we have been to Belgium we failed to commit to the idea of actually going there. This year would be different, we took the plunge. We can't say it was love at first sight. We arrived on a Monday when everything we wanted to see was closed. We felt aimless in a new place. Our gratitude for coming to appreciate Antwerp is largely due to our friend Michael, a person I met in Barcelona at an art education conference this past spring. Michael has been living in the city for almost 20 years and has an insider perspective we desperately sought. He turned us on to many things we would have otherwise missed had we relied on tourist maps and the internet. Thanks Michael. 
Caramella Mokatine is one of Antwerp's most famous candies. Think: coffee flavored toffee. We bunkered down near the factory. 
Stadspark has hippies, aspiring musicians, joggers, old men, a statue, creepy people in the bushes and this cool cockroach sticker on a light post. 
We stayed in Zurenborg about a block from Cogels-Osy Le, an area of Art Nouveau and end of the century houses. If only someone on Airbnb offered a room in one of them we could do more accurate reporting on the neighborhood. 
It was easy to take the long way just to slowly walk by and gaze at these magnificent structures. 
The practical side of me wanted to know the power and water bill at the end of the month. 
Sure, there was a diversity in styles. 
Ana checking out if this particular property will meet our need for space. 
City Hall in City Square is fine if you like flags dangling from buildings.
The innards of Cathedral of Our Lady. The big deal there is Peter Paul Rubens' triptych, The Raising of the Cross
If you fancy printed matter (fonts, typeface, prints, letter presses, etc) it is worth a trip to Plantin-Moretus Museum
This is what you can do with the equipment inside. 
Not to be confused with Pieter Bruegel the Elder Census at Bethlehem 1566. Years later, his son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger tried his hand at his own version, 14 versions to be exact. We saw this one at Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp (detail). For a much more detailed and interesting read on how the 14th version was found in east Africa (Rift Valley region-Ethiopia or Kenya) 400 years after the fact click here.
More from Museum Mayer van den Bergh.
Even the orphans get respect in Antwerp. Check out the Maagdenhuis Museum. Sadly the museum was closed on a Tuesday, nonetheless, we did get to wander the grounds and saw this interesting installation of how newborns were left at the orphanage. 
Central Station. 
Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp had a nice exhibition:  Don’t You Know Who I Am? – Art After Identity Politics. This included: Eloise Hawser, Velopex and 100 KEV  
We thought Maria Safronova's paintings of mental institution patients and the diorama of  the institution itself was the most thought provoking images of the show. 
Along the wall, also exhibited was the daily routines of the patients. 
Detail of Onkar Kular & Noam Toran's, I Cling to Virtue.
Detail of Onkar Kular & Noam Toran's, I Cling to Virtue. 
Size them up. Katja Novitskova, Approximation XIV, XVI and XVII 
Perhaps Ermias Kifleyesus explores social media. 
Anthea Hamilton, Leg Chairs. I'm thinking the one next to the blue wall wasn't part of the exhibit.
Pakistani artist, Imran Qureshi confronts the viewer with violence in his installation. And They Still Seek The Traces Of Blood.
There's never been an easy way to get on one of these. It takes awhile to load passengers and get the wheels spinning. 
A walk through the historic center. 
Michael has an artists studio in the old stock exchange building and was kind enough to give us a tour.  
The city rented out rooms in the building to help keep out junkies, squatters, and others from breaking in. 
One of the artists studios. 
We got to roam around quite a bit. 
Back in the day this room had to do with auctioning space on cargo ships. 
Thought it was a nice composition. 
There was a massive hail storm that shattered several windows a few weeks prior to our arrival. Most of it was cleaned up.  
The plan is to spend 500 million Euros to renovate the building into a hotel. Michael knows someone who thinks it will cost closer to a billion.

A pub that is sympathetic to Belgium's right wing movement. Michael told us not to enter, that we would be roughed up. 
This is near an area that metal heads and punks would hang out and drink. 
MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) is new on the art scene as of 2011. The concept of the space is conceptual, going for the total life experience.  
A view from the top of MAS.
A view from the top of MAS.
Michael and his family. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Brussels and Gent Belgium.

The World Cup had just started and everyone had the fever. We were waiting in line to get our boarding passes at the airport in Addis Ababa when Mexico finished playing. Ana and I were sporting our Mexico shirts when a pair of men stuck out their hands to congratulate us for beating their team, Cameroon. We friended a passenger who was going to be on our flight and he asked us to go hang out with him at the bar to help cheer on his team, Spain. Spain was taken to the cleaners that evening by Holland. Our new friend buried his face in his knees while other patron taunted him in a friendly way. I'm sure most of the world had their eyes glued the screen that night watching the games. The fever had infected most of us travelers waiting to get from point A to B. It was a positive atmosphere and everyone walked throughout the terminal with a sense of hope. Perhaps if the world leaders approached politics like World Cup fans, maybe there would be less of the bad stuff. 

Our ritual of stopping over in Belgium to break-up the flight back home was one we were looking forward to...friends, food, beer and paths winding around old city centers. It wouldn't be the chaos of Egypt or Ethiopia we've come to love and hate. We ventured out of Gent this time and went on a day trip to Brussels, it made a difference tagging along with friends.  
A glass of Orval and a bag of cashews seemed like the right way to start off a Sunday. 
The Sunday Market in Brussels is a way to get to see and experience the vast variety and cultures of the city.  
Since we more or less balked on the concept of breakfast, lunch at an old Greek Cafe where you get to walk into the kitchen and choose your dish sounded like the perfect idea. 
The place was packed and the food delicious.
Ana destroyed her meal.
A view outside.
Outdoor flea market, yes please. 
This could be your new trophy.
Shopping makes people thirsty.
Apparently, I picked-up a German hunting hat. 
Home decoration idea #41.
If you plan on buying items, you need an old lady cart to carry your goods.
Manneken-Pis and waffles, doesn't get more Brussels than this.
I was on a Geuze kick.
Looking up our friend's street at mid-night.
Looking down our friend's street at mid-night.
World Cup fever pouring out into the streets. Belgium beat Algeria, which always makes me happy. In fact I root for any team that plays Algeria. Ana and I encountered Algerian fans 4 years ago in Brussels and the ones we saw were awful. They took to the streets after their team lost and were taunting and physically harassing non-fans. Algerian fans also did some stuff to the Egyptian football team when we lived in Egypt. This is the root of our prejudice.  
9 pm and it was still light outside.