Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Wolseley Grand Café - London

The Wolseley Grand Café
160 Piccadilly (Green Park, Mayfair); 020 7499 6996
www.thewolseley.com (Tube: Green Park)
Open M-F 7.00a to midnight, Sat 8.00a to midnight and Sun 8.00a-11.00p.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner; morning pastries, afternoon tea and all-day menu of sandwiches, salads, crustacea and plats du jour. Coffee and tea served throughout the day.

Scones served at high tea.

The main dining room exudes an über-masculine atmosphere, tempered by good linen, silverware and impeccable service. Off to the side is a café with a more casual decór. Afternoon tea, served from 3:30-6:30, offers generous stacks of finger sandwiches, scones and pastries accompanied by properly brewed pots of tea.

In 1921, Wolseley Motors Limited commissioned architect William Curtis Green to design a prestigious car showroom in London’s West End. He drew on Venetian and Florentine influences and fashioned an interior of grand pillars, arches and stairways. The Wolseley cars were displayed on the marble floor and cost between £225-£1300.

A Wolseley motorcar radiator badge.

Unfortunately, the cars did not sell well, and by 1926 the company was bankrupt and shortly thereafter absorbed into the automotive group headed by William Morris. The last Wolseley automobile rolled off the assembly line in 1975.

Barclays Bank acquired the building, and the branch opened in 1927. William Curtis Green was once more retained to install offices and a banking counter. He also designed specialized furniture, including a post box and stamp machine, which are on display today. Barclays remained until 1999.

Chris Corbin and Jeremy King secured the site in July 2003 and its restoration and renovation was overseen by David Collins Architects. The Wolseley Grand Café opened in late 2003, and became the most popular restaurant in London, descended upon by celebrities. Its location, next to the Ritz Hotel, doesn't hurt business.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Falstaff Art Nouveau Café - Brussels

Opposite the stock exchange (La Bourse) on Rue Henri Maus is Falstaff, an original Art Nouveau café dating from 1903. It is located not far from the northwest corner of the Grand Place. Like Prague, Brussels is a European capital city that boasts many extant buildings designed in Art Nouveau style. The most famous Belgian Art Nouveau architect and artist was Victor Horta, whose disciple Gustave Strauven continued the tradition.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

St Paul's Cathedral - London

The 2000 Millennium pedestrian bridge crosses the Thames and leads dramatically to St. Paul's, which dominates the skyline.

Following the Great Fire of 1666, Christopher Wren oversaw the rebuilding of more than 50 churches, but his undisputed masterpiece is St Paul's Cathedral (Anglican), London's largest and most famous church. St Paul's, situated on the highest point of land in London, is the seat of the Bishop of London. Wren was 43 years old when the foundation stone was laid in 1677 and 79 years old when it was completed. Wren's design replaced a beloved medieval cathedral (lost in the fire of 1666) that had been built atop an ancient Roman temple to Diana, goddess of the hunt.

Wren had visited Paris and was influenced by François Mansart’s masterpiece Val-de-Grâce, which included a dome. Many were critical of Wren's design for St Paul's, stating that the dome bore too strong a resemblance to St Peter's Basilica in Rome (completed in 1626), thus being too Catholic. It is reported that Wren wept when his first plan was rejected, and Wren was forced to accommodate dozens of changes to his original plan. The frescoes on the Great Dome above the crossing and the mosaics on the choir ceiling (not completed until 1895) are particularly notable. There was damage to the cathedral during WWII, and most of the area surrounding St Paul's has been rebuilt with modern buildings.

This photo reveals the stunning, rich decorative details of St Paul's interior and the magnificent baldachin over the altar. Click to enlarge.

Most people will recognize St Paul's from the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana (1981), which was watched by 750 million people. More mature visitors might recall that Winston Churchill's funeral took place here in 1965.

St Paul's contains the tombs and memorials of Lord Nelson, Florence Nightingale, John Donne and T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), among many others.

Before you take on the celebrated climb to the top of the dome (365-ft tall), consider that your trek will include 628 steps, and you'll pay extra for the privilege. Unlike most cathedrals of the world, there is an admission charge to visit St Paul's (£11 per adult, and that does not include a guidebook or tour, both of which are extra), except Sundays, when visitors may attend a worship service. St Paul's opens to visitors Mon-Sat at 8:30 a.m., and the last entry ticket is sold at 4 p.m.

St. Paul's is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Joseph Haydn with a series of July 2009 orchestral Eucharists. On Sunday, July 12, at 11 a.m., Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass will be performed by St. Paul's Cathedral Choir and the City of London Sinfonia. Admission is free. Following the orchestral Eucharist is an Evensong at 3:15 p.m., a free organ recital at 4:45 p.m. (Timothy Wakerell, Sub-Organist of St Paul's; music of Bach and Reger), and an evening service at 6:00 p.m.

Jeremiah Clarke, whose Trumpet Voluntary accompanies countless wedding processions, was appointed organist here in 1699.

Grinling Gibbons, master wood carver to King George I, was employed by Sir Christopher Wren to work on St Paul's Cathedral. His choir stalls in St Paul’s are living testaments to this master craftsman of the woodcarver’s art.

There is both a café and full restaurant located in the lower level of the cathedral.

In the photo below, details of the West Front and one of the towers added by Wren in 1707, when he was 75 years old.

Garth Edmunson’s TOCCATA ON VOM HIMMEL HOCH performed by organist Andrew Lucas, with a superb slide show of the interors of St Paul’s Cathedral (warning: the ending is wicked loud and powerful).

And from the 2002 Golden Jubilee Service for Queen Elizabeth II, whose coronation was in 1952. The boy’s choir performs John Rutter’s FOR THE BEAUTY OF THE EARTH.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Building Art - Murals in Brussels

Murals appear all over Brussels, often in out-of-the-way places. Since Brussels is the comic book art capital of the world, many murals are crafted in that style. Here’s one at No. 9 Rue de Bon Secours. The tourist office on Grand Place provides a map for seeking out examples of this indigenous street art.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Temple Bar - London

Temple Bar was originally built in 1672 and was once the entrance to the City of London at the eastern limit of the City of Westminster, where today’s Strand meets Fleet Street. This gateway, literally a "bar" in the sense of a barrier, has moved a few times but is now next to St. Paul's Cathedral in Paternoster Square.

Sir Christopher Wren was the architect entrusted with designing a stone replacement for the wooden barrier that was lost in the Great Fire of 1666. It was later dismantled and removed from the city in 1878 (given away, actually, to Sir Henry Meux, who reassembled it in his private park near Waltham Cross). Curiously, it was purchased by the Temple Bar Trust from the Meux Trust for £1 in 1984. In 2003 Temple Bar was carefully dismantled yet again and transported back to London on 500 pallets and re-erected as an entrance to Paternoster Square just to the north of St Paul's Cathedral. It opened to the public the following year.
Note: When the sovereign left the City of Westminster and headed for St. Paul's Cathedral in the City of London, it was necessary to stop the procession and ask permission of the Lord Mayor to enter London proper.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

July 7 Memorial - London's Hyde Park

Britain marked the fourth anniversary of suicide bombings on London's transport system by unveiling a monument today (July 7, 2009) made up of 52 stainless steel pillars to commemorate each of the victims. Survivors and relatives of the victims paid tribute at the monument in the southeast corner of Hyde Park, built to honor those killed when bombs ripped through three London underground trains and a bus on July 7, 2005.

Prince Charles was joined by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, London Mayor Boris Johnson and a host of other dignitaries who witnessed the unveiling of the monument. Names of the victims were read out and a minute's silence observed.

Architects Carmody Groarke said the 52 columns were grouped to represent the locations of the bombings in Tavistock Square, Edgware Road, Kings Cross and Aldgate, and families of victims were involved in choosing the design and location of the monument. 700 people were injured in the suicide attacks, which were carried out by radical Muslims in protest of England’s involvement in the Iraq war.

Brussels - Capital of Belgium

Brussels has grown from a 10th-century fortress town founded by Charlemagne's grandson into a metropolis of more than one million inhabitants. Since the end of the Second World War, Brussels has been an important center for international politics. It hosts the main institutions of the European Union as well as the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Brussels is officially bilingual (Dutch and French), although most of the locals are native French speakers.

Brussels has been fought over countless times and ruled by the Dutch, Spanish, Habsburgs and French, among others. A third of the city was destroyed in the French bombardment of 1695, and most of the magnificent Renaissance buildings extant today date from just after that time. Napoleon suffered a spectacular defeat at Waterloo, just a few miles south of Brussels.

On July 21, 1831, Belgium installed its own king, Leopold I, ending Dutch rule. In the years before and after 1870 the Senne River and its canals were covered over, allowing redevelopment. As a result, many of the grandest buildings of Brussels date from the 19th century (examples are Parliament, the Royal Palace, Law Courts, Opera House and Stock Exchange). The Grand Place, shown in the photo above, in the lower town is one of Europe's most spectacular town squares.

Today Brussels is known for lace, puppet shows, tapestries and (above all) chocolate!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie

Facing Place de Brouckère, a few blocks north of Grand Place

An opera house in the grand style, the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Royal Theatre of the Mint), was founded in the 17th century on the site of the former royal mint. It is home to the Opéra National and l'Orchestre Symphonique de la Monnaie. Ballet performances are also presented in this auditorium that seats 1,770 spectators. As Belgium's leading opera house it is one of the few cultural institutions which receives financial support from the federal government of Belgium. World premières by such diverse composers as Massenet, Chabrier, d’Indy, Milhaud, Honegger and Prokofiev have been presented in its grand auditorium.

But a far more important event took place here in 1830. Auber's opera La Muette de Portici (The Mute Girl from Portici) was scheduled, even though it had been banned from the stage by King William II, fearing its inciting content. At a performance of this opera on August 25, 1830, as the tenor sang “Sacred Love of the Homeland,” a riot broke out. Members of the audience ran out into the street in a rampage that developed into the September Uprising. By the following summer a new state of Belgium independent of the Dutch was born (July 21, 1831), and Leopold I (a German prince of Saxe-Coburg) was crowned.

Unfortunately, most of that building was lost in a tremendous fire in 1855; only the façade and perimeter walls were left standing. The structure we see today opened fourteen months later in 1856, incorporating the portico of the former building.


St-Jean-Baptiste-au-Béguinage is a Flemish Baroque confection of a church dating from 1676. It is the center of an area that was once the enclave of 1,200 béguine women. The béguines were a lay religious order that took up charitable work, and most of the members were widows or survivors of failed marriages. This was the largest and oldest (est. 1250) béguine community on the country. The devout women operated a hospital, laundry and windmill for the city.

The church is located northeast of Place Ste-Catherine, just west of Rue de Laeken in the Brussels lower town.

St Mary-le-Bow - London

St. Mary-le-Bow's churchyard contains a statue of Captain John Smith, a parishioner who died in London 1631. Smith rose to become Governor of Virginia and Admiral of New England; he was saved from death by Pocahontas. This area of London was the center of the boot-making and leather trades, and Smith's earlier career was as a leather craftsman.

Tradition says that a true “Cockney” must be born within earshot of the sound of the church's bells, used to signal the city’s 9 p.m. curfew, which also marked the end of the work day for an apprentice. This practice continued until 1876. A recording of the Bow Bells made in 1926 has been used by the BBC World Service as an interval signal for the English language broadcasts since the early 1940s. It is still used today preceding some English broadcasts.

The current building was designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London claimed the previous church in 1666. John Milton was born on Bread Street, which borders the west edge of the churchyard (plaque on wall of church).

St Mary-le-Bow has no parishioners and no Sunday services: its role today is to minister to the financial industry and livery companies of the City of London with weekday services.

In 1914, a stone from the crypt of St Mary-le-Bow church was placed in Trinity Church Wall Street, New York City, in commemoration of the fact that King William III (1650-1702) granted the vestry of Trinity Church the same privileges as St Mary-le-Bow.