Mussels in Brussels

Don’t worry, I’m not about to do the blogging equivalent of a holiday slide show. Just thought I’d draw your attention to some fun things I discovered on a recent trip to rockin’ Belgium. Of course, I indulged in all the expected treats of the land: beer, mussels, choccies and chips but I also found some unexpected cultural gems:

Belgian Symbolist Art at the Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts: From a quick Google I can tell you that broadly speaking symbolism was a reaction against realism, focusing on spirituality, dreams and the power of the imagination. A stroll round the exhibition showed me that in the late nineteenth century these dark, moody paintings and sculptures were the order of the day in Belgium. While I’m not sure I’d want any of them hanging on my walls (think of the nightmares), they were certainly interesting to behold and very atmospheric. Here are a couple of examples:

Felicien Rops, La Buveuse d’absinthe, 1865:

And the very famous Orphee mort, (Ophelia’s Death), 1893, Jean Delville:

Some more Googling tells me that decorative elements of Belgian Symbolism had an influence on the subsequent Art Nouveau movement, bringing me to my next Brussels highlight: the Belgian architect Victor Horta’s house and the various cool Art Nouveau buildings around Brussels including the Music Museum, which reminds me of the glass elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Victor Horta wanted to break free from convention and redesign functional objects to make them beautiful. The interior of his house, which you can just stroll around as if you were his guest, is gorgeous and well worth a visit.

Speaking of individuals with a passion for modernity and creativity, another cool dude I learnt more about from my trip is Benedikt Taschen, a German publisher who puts out books on all things art, film,  fashion and erotica. There’s a lovely Taschen bookshop in the heart of Brussels and I spent a good deal of time browsing the pages of these beautiful books.

Which leads me nicely onto the final thing I have to say about Brussels: they have a surprisingly good shopping scene. Not blinding, in-your-face fashion saturation like London and New York, but small independent boutiques and a refreshing lack of chain stores. (This goes for their cafes and restaurants too: they just don’t do Starbucks, OK?) My favourite shopping find was a boutique store with the unusual name of Mr Ego. Its website describes it as ‘cool attitude shopping’ – I love frenglish. I picked up several nice pieces from this place, and think they will make welcome additions to my Topshopified wardrobe.

So that concludes my Belgian observations. I hope you find them useful for future trips to a land that does indeed go beyond mussels and chips. Incidentally, it is a very easy place to get to for a weekend break thanks to the legendary Eurostar! And even more convenient if, like me, you have lovely friends living out there like Tom and Laura who provided me with free accommodation, a guided tour and invaluable local knowledge.

May 16, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . architecture, art, books, fashion, travel.

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