Exhibitions in Brussels #1 BELvue Museum
In 1871, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, American journalist Henry Stanley met the explorer David Livingstone and spoke the famous words: “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” After spending several weeks together the two men separated – Dr Livingstone to continue his search for the source of the Nile and Stanley on the first of his explorations in Africa.
Henry Stanley’s travel journal, acquired by the King Baudouin Foundation in 2001, formed the centre piece of an exhibition at the BELvue Museum dedicated to the time these two remarkable men spent together. Through their letters and journals we travelled with David Livingstone and Henry Stanley as they explored together around Lake Tanganyika.
The letters written by Dr Livingstone detailed his growing opposition to slavery and told of his mentorship of Henry Stanley. Stanley’s travel-worn compass and binoculars gave credence to his evolution as an explorer in his own right.
Artefacts from the tribes with whom they came in contact were collected by Dr Livingstone and many of these were sent home to his daughter Agnes after his death in 1873.
And what was Dr. Livingstone’s reply to the most famous question ever asked?
“Yes. I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you.”
You know those Armageddon themed movies where the streets of the city are silent? Have you ever wondered what it would be like in a city with no cars? If you’re in a European city on 22 September you’ll find out – it’s Carfree Sunday!
European Carfree Day began during the oil crises of the 1970s. Car driving was banned on Sundays in an attempt to save fuel. Since then Carfree day has become an international day to celebrate walking, cycling and taking the train. The only vehicles allowed are Emergency Service Vehicles and buses; that’s when the cyclists and pedestrians take over.
Brussels embraces Carfree Day wholeheartedly and from early morning thousands of cars remain parked while their owners find other ways to enjoy the city. There’s standing room only on trains and buses and bicycles fill the streets.
From a vantage point looking over the city the atmosphere is eerie. The only sounds to be heard are birdsong, laughter and children calling to each other. Festivals in the parks attract large crowds and people take advantage of the empty streets.
It’s a strange feeling to be walking in the middle of a main road and instead of looking out for cars it’s bikes and rollerblades you have to avoid.
At 18.00 the prohibition on cars comes to an end and it doesn’t take long for the streets to become busy again. The utopian vision of life without cars comes to an end but hopefully more people have been inspired to find alternate ways of travel. Give the environment a break – don’t take your car!
For more on Carfree Sunday, click here.
Bruges is a city of contrasts. Medieval buildings and cobbled laneways sit alongside busy tourist attractions and lively markets. Cars and buses squeeze past horse-drawn carriages in the narrow streets. Shops are filled with traditional lacework and divinely decadent chocolates while a few steps away stalls sell Belgian frites and waffles. The blend of old and new is seamless.
Walk through the door of the Volkskundemuseum in Baalstraat and suddenly you’ve travelled backwards in time for a unique shopping experience. Inside this row of 17th century almshouses is a collection of olden day shops; their stories told in life-sized dioramas.
The milliner’s shop has the latest fashionable hats, created to match a new dress purchased from the dressmaker, while for men the tailor can craft a new suit in just a few days.
No outfit would be complete without a pair of bespoke shoes handmade by the local cobbler.
At the grocer’s there’s a wide range of food on display while the confectionery store is a magnet for those with a sweet tooth.
And if too many chocolates have been eaten, the apothecary can help with the necessary medicine.
At the Black Cat Tavern one of Bruge’s famous beers might be stored in barrels just like this one.
At the end of a busy shopping day refreshments might just be the best purchase of all!
More than 120 000 people call the city of Bruges home and another 3 million visit every year. During the day the atmosphere in the central area around the Markt and its surrounding streets is vibrant, and the shops and cafés hum with activity.
In the evening, after the day-trippers leave, the streets are practically empty. The medieval buildings light up and the carillon in the Belfry continues to play into the night.
It’s simply magical.
In medieval times the town of Damme was a bustling port on the river Reie. It was connected to the city of Bruges, six kilometres away, by the river and it was to here that boats would come laden with exotic goods.
Because of Damme’s strategic position as a major trading post, a protective system of ramparts, walls and moats in the shape of a seven pointed star was built in the early 1600s. Unexpected guests were not encouraged.
Luckily today visitors are very welcome and, like us, many come for a day trip by paddle boat from Bruges. The day we went to Damme though we seemed to be the only visitors there and the serenity was a welcome change from the clamour and crush of tourists in Bruges.
The only person there to greet us was Jacob Van Maerlant, a medieval poet known as the father of all Dutch writers, whose most important works were created in Damme. From his plinth in the centre of the tiny markt he smiled down on us as if to say “Welcome”.
We wandered the empty streets and explored the remains of the ancient fortifications.
We ate our lunch next to a medieval water pump in the centre of the Herring Market. In the 15th century 28 million herrings were sold here every year. In the quiet of this day we could hardly imagine how hectic the market must have been.
After several hours of peaceful exploration we boarded the Lamme Goedzak again. We had just one more half hour of serenity before we would re-join the throng of travellers in the Markt once more.
When travelling in Europe it’s possible to get from one place to the next in a very short time. There are planes, ICE trains and fast ferries. But once we’ve arrived at our destination we like to enjoy our surroundings at a much slower pace.
The canal system around Bruges is perfect for slow travelling. When trading was in its heyday in the 16th century the canals were filled with barges and merchant ships. Now they’ve been replaced by boats full of admiring tourists; and during the day it seems as busy as ever. So we plan our escape to a more peaceful destination.
The tiny village of Damme is a mere six kilometres from Bruges but it may as well be a world away. To get from Bruges to Damme there is a perfectly good road and also a cycle and walking path that follows the canal bank. We decide to take the most relaxing way and buy €10.50 round trip tickets for the paddle boat Lamme Goedzak.
The 35 minute journey gives us the time to appreciate the beautiful scenery on either side of the canal as we sail along. Lush farmland and pretty cottages are interspersed with woodlands and windmills.
There’s the occasional waterbird and plenty of contented farm animals in the fields.
As we pass by, we wave to those on the path who are more energetic than we are.
When the boat arrives at Damme and ties up at the tiny wharf, we will stroll into the Markt along a cobbled street past ancient buildings.
At the end of the day we’ll return to bustling Bruges … and we’ll sit back, relax and let the boat captain do all the work.
If deliciously indulgent, hot and sugary desserts are your passion then Belgian waffles are for you. There are waffle stalls everywhere in Belgium and after a hard day of sightseeing it’s impossible to ignore the sweet fragrance of dough baking in heated waffle irons as it wafts through the streets surrounding the market square.
There are two types of Belgian waffles. Brussels waffles are golden-brown on the outside and light and crispy inside. They are usually served with nothing more than a light dusting of icing sugar.
Liege waffles are thicker and sweeter, with melted chunks of caramelised sugar inside. They are perfect eaten straight out of the waffle iron; no extra flavours are necessary. If you must add more, pile on some whipped cream, ice cream and strawberries to create a heavenly combination.
But if you’re craving the ultimate sweet treat, the choice of toppings seems endless. How about chocolate sauce, nuts, bananas, kiwi fruit and/or lollies? The combinations are limited only by your imagination and appetite.
Spend enough time in Belgium and you can try them all!
Belgium produces 220 000 tonnes of chocolate very year, and most of it is handmade and of the very highest quality.
There are more than 2000 chocolate shops in Belgium and even though the chocolate is the main attraction, the shops themselves are a feast for the eyes.
They are lavishly decorated and beautifully presented. What better job could there be than to work here?
It’s impossible to come away without tasting a few samples.
The most difficult decision is what not to purchase, and when the choices are finally made the chocolates are presented in gorgeously beribboned boxes and bags.
They look almost too good to open…almost!
Beer – Belgians have been brewing and drinking it since the Crusaders set off in the 11th century. Today there are more than 180 breweries making over 1000 types of beer in Belgium. It’s more than just a refreshing beverage though. Beer is everywhere!
See this beer chandelier hanging in the Duvelorium Grand Beer Café in Bruges.
Read books about beer varieties and the glasses made specially for them.
Then make an educated selection from the Beer Wall on your way to the 2be Bar.
Ride a beer scooter from one brew house to the next.
And just in case you drank too much beer and can’t remember much, take home a beer themed souvenir!
When I told my friends we were going to holiday in Belgium the most frequent comments they made were: “Make sure you buy some lace/drink some beer/eat some chocolate.” I couldn’t ignore these instructions and needed no encouragement to indulge in all three.
Belgian lace is world renowned and has been made since the 15th century. In Bruges there are lace shops on every street, with window displays showcasing everything from simple bookmarks to elaborate tablecloths. The workmanship is beautiful.
The Volkskundemuseum, or Folklore Museum, in Baalstraat, Bruges has an exquisite antique lace collection and some of the pieces are more than 200 years old.
Climb the stairs to the exhibition room in the attic to see delicate collars, mantles and shawls displayed in glass cases at low light levels.
It’s not even necessary to imagine how these garments were worn as there are also paintings showing the wealthy citizens of Bruges dressed in all their finery.
The finest Belgian lace is still made by hand. Look carefully in the doorways as you walk through the streets of Bruges and you might just see the next beautiful piece being created.