I spent Friday in Louvain La Neuve, wandering around streets I had not been down yet, and generally playing it easy. That night was orientation for Saturday-- brushing up on French and reading up on the sites of Brussels: Rick Steves is my travel god.
Going into Brussels was really easy with the train, and the weather was cool and overcast-- which I was pleased with. Then it started raining, and by the time I got out of the Central Station in downtown it had become a deluge. Fortunately I had packed my rain jacket :) Since I had spent a couple hours going over the maps the night before, I found the Royal Art Museum in no time.
You can tell I am excited to be here, no?
My luck and good timing continue to pay off: the museum is holding an exhibition about Siegfried Bing & Art Nouveau! Bing was an importer in the 19th century who helped spread an interest in Oriental arts and crafts. Many famous artists were at least aware of him-- many more shopped at his outlets throughout Europe. This exhibition included items from Bing’s personal collection as well as objects produced by Henry Van Der Velde, L. C. Tiffany, Vincent Van Gogh, and more.
But that’s not all: this is a big museum, and therefore it has more cool stuff than you can shake a stick at-- For instance, I wasn’t really paying attention to the floor plan the ticket lady handed me-- I just wandered around following the color coded signs to find different eras of art.
Passing through the 20th century collection I spotted something out of the corner of my eye-- it was Magritte! As I walked around the corner and headed towards the far wall to get a better look at “The Empire of Light,” something pulled at my peripheral vision. I spun around and nearly fell over-- caught off-gaurd by Dali’s “Temptation of Saint Antoine."
But wait! Over there! It’s a Delvaux-- and across from it something by Joan Miro-- and on the other side of the wall? Braque and Picasso chilling next to a Kokoschka within spitting distance of works by Picabia, Ensor, Seurat, Khnopff... etc.
After blowing most of my days budget on postcards, I leave the building-- only to be caught off-gaurd again. This time it’s the weather-- when I got to the Museum I thought we might have to start sandbagging soon, but now it's sunny and clear with a temperature moving towards 30 degrees C.
Following Rick’s advice, I find my way down the hill from the museum and start noticing signs for “le mannequin pis.” If you haven’t heard of this statue, I forgive you. It’s basically a diminutive toddler standing on top of a fountain, into which it pees for eternity. Supposedly it was installed in the 16th or 17th century and has become a sort of mascot for Brussels-- representing the good life the citizens lead; eating, drinking, drinking some more, and taking a leak. I watched it do its business for a minute, and then headed off down the street leaving the Japanese tourists to do all the photo-documentation of this amazing phenomenon...
Grabbing a sandwich at a sidewalk bistro, I headed up the narrow Rue des Bouchers-- past a couple dozen restaurants and bumped into the Galleries Royales St. Hubert. The worlds oldest shopping mall, built in 1847 out of wrought iron and glass, and easily more beautiful than any mall I’ve ever been to in America (face it, we just don’t really know what “good taste” is :)
Though I did stop off at St. Mike’s cathedral-- where the Belgian Royalty are “married and buried” (thanks again, Rick), I’ve seen a few dozen cathedrals already. But the Belgian Comic Strip Centre on the other hand...
Well, OK, it was really hot and I couldn’t concentrate enough to decipher the speech bubbles-- but it was very interesting (read: right up my alley). With informative displays on the technicalities of producing comics (from doodles and scripts through printing and marketing), and not to mention original art from some of the most famous names in European comics. Did I mention the Centre is housed in an old warehouse building, designed by Victor Horta-- one of the leading figures in Art Nouveau design? My day just keeps getting better!
I arrived back in Louvain La Neuve just in time for dinner, which I followed with chocolate-- and more chocolate (I hit up the Leonidas outlet for quarter kilo of ganache and pralines). I figured I’d go back to the flat and hang out with a book (and chocolate)-- but when I got up to the rooftop terrace, I ran into Dr. Young. He is a very chatty person, and we started to discuss the weekend’s traveling, but then a storm blew up. We’re talking major Belgian thunder here. I stuck it out on the roof for a while and got soaked watching the clouds boil across the sky and shoot lightning bolts at each other. After a while I decided I’d go hang out with a few of my fellow students who had recently returned from their weekend adventures-- and eat some more truffles...