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.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert - Brussels

The Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries (Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert) is a complex of three connected glass covered shopping arcades in the center of Brussels: the King’s Gallery, the Queen’s Gallery and the Galerie des Princes. The ensemble, called the Passage Saint-Hubert has gone by its present name since 1965.

The arcades are located in the Îlot Sacré district just north of Grand Place. The galleries were designed in 1837 by the young architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar, and built in 1846. The name comes from the former Saint-Hubert Street, which ran from the Grasmarkt to Beenhouwersstraat. The galleries are over 700 feet long and 24 feet high and accommodate specialized luxury shops, cafés and restaurants. On March 1, 1896, the first film presentation in Belgium by the Lumière brothers was held here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gordon’s Wine Bar - ghosts of Pepys & Kipling

47 Villiers Street, Charing Cross
Between Charing Cross underground station and the Thames
Open Mon-Sat 11:00a to 11:00p; Sun Noon-10:00p

Gordon’s is reported to be London’s oldest wine bar. Duck into the darkened cellar, lit only by candles in old wine bottles, and you step back to (rather shabby) Victorian times. The bar offers a wide selection of wines from around the world, both by the glass and bottle. It also offers port and sherry decanted from barrels above the bar. In fact, wine is the only beverage served here – no beer or spirits.

The building dates back to the 1680s and was once the house of diarist Samuel Pepys (1660-1703). Later Rudyard Kipling moved into one of the apartments upstairs (before the establishment of the wine bar in 1890, it served as the house’s cellar). Kipling wrote “The Light that Failed” in the parlor above the cellar bar (an appropriate title, given the lack of light). Down the flight of creaky stairs one comes to a counter offering a variety of fresh salads, patés, cheeses, pickles and mustards, all served up with long French baguettes. Then it’s off to find a table in the warren of booths in the wine bar. It’s dark and dank down there, but that’s entirely the point.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In 't Spinnekopke - Brussels Restaurant

Place du Jardin-aux-Fleurs 1 (near the fish market)
Closed Sundays; no lunch on Saturdays

"In the Spider's Web" occupies a stagecoach inn from 1762, just far enough off the beaten track downtown to be frequented mainly by "those in the know." You dine in a tilting, tiled-floor building, at plain tables, squeezed into a tight space. This is one of Brussels's most traditional café/restaurants – so much so, in fact, that the menu lists its hardy standbys of regional Belgian cuisine in the old Bruxellois dialect. The bar stocks a vast selection of traditional beers.

Westminster Cathedral and Brompton Oratory

Westminster Cathedral's Byzantine Wonders

Two of the most renowned Catholic churches in London are the magnificent Westminster Cathedral and the London Oratory (more popularly known as the Brompton Oratory). The architecture of Westminster Cathedral (completed in 1903 and not to be confused with the nearby Westminster Abbey) makes it distinct from other London landmarks, because of its Byzantine style of the eastern Roman Empire, rather than the familiar Gothic style of England’s native cathedrals. The interior boasts magnificent mosaics.

Westminster Cathedral, located in the City of Westminster (London), is the mother church of the Roman Catholic community of England and Wales. As such, it is the largest Catholic church in England. The dominating external feature is the great campanile, known as St. Edward’s Tower, 284-ft high to the top of cross (photo at beginning of this post).

Brompton Oratory

The famous London “Brompton” Oratory (completed in 1884 in Italian Renaissance style; photo above) is the second largest Catholic Church in London. Every Sunday, more than 3,000 people worship in this enormous church, including the rich and famous. Dedicated to St Philip Neri, it is located in west London adjacent to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Additional views of Brompton Oratory:

Despite much historical conflict, the tensions that existed between Protestants and Catholics have largely been eradicated in London. Nevertheless, the law still states that the Monarch cannot marry a Catholic. According to the Act of Settlement, those in the line of succession who marry Roman Catholics automatically forfeit their place in the line. When Peter Philips, the Queen's oldest grandchild and son of Princess Anne, became engaged to his Roman Catholic fiancée, she converted to Church of England so that he did not forfeit his place of 11th in line to the throne.

Monday, July 6, 2009

St James Park - London

Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Monument seen from St James Park:

St James Park is the oldest Royal Park in London and is surrounded by three palaces; the most ancient is Westminster Palace (which now houses Parliament) to the southeast, St James's Palace to the north, and Buckingham Palace to the west.

The 58-acre park was once a marshy meadow. In the thirteenth century a leper hospital was founded, and it is from this hospital that the Park took its name. In 1532 Henry VIII acquired the site as yet another deer park and built the Palace of St James's. When Elizabeth I came to the throne she indulged her love of pageantry and pomp, and fêtes of all kinds were held in the park. Her successor, James I, improved the drainage and controlled the water supply. A road was created in front of St James's Palace, approximately where the Mall is today, but it was Charles II who made dramatic changes. The Park was redesigned around a lake with avenues of trees and broad sweeps of lawn. The King opened the park to the public and was a frequent visitor, feeding the ducks and mingling with his subjects. Today’s visitors can watch the wildlife officers feeding the pelicans every day at 2:30 pm.

During the Hanoverian period, Horse Guards Parade was created by filling in one end of the long canal. It was used first as a mustering ground and later for parades. Horse Guards Parade is still part of St James's Park. The Park changed forever when John Nash redesigned it in a more romantic style. The canal was transformed into a natural-looking lake and in 1837 the Ornithological Society of London presented some birds to the Park and erected a cottage for a birdkeeper. Both the cottage and the position of birdkeeper remain to this day (Birdcage Walk is the name of the street that borders the park on the south).

Clarence House, part of the St James Palace complex facing the Park along the Mall, was designed for the Duke of Clarence, later to become William IV; it was also the home of the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, until her death in 2002. Today Clarence House is the home of Prince Charles, Princes William and Harry, and Camilla what’s-her-name (photo below).

The Inn on the Park restaurant is in the northeast quadrant of the park, north of the lake. It is housed in a turf-roofed building designed by noted architect Michael Hopkins and managed by culinary wizard Oliver Peyton. As well, coffee, ice creams, sandwiches and snacks are available at four refreshment points throughout the park.

The park is open from 5:00 am to midnight all year round. Picnics are encouraged, and open alcohol is allowed. Note that the Mall (bordering the park to the north) is closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays.

Coming event:
Sunday, 12 July 2009; 3:00-4:20pm and 5:00-6.15pm
Thundersley Brass Band
St. James's Park Band Stand is located between the Marlborough Gate entrance (at the Mall) and the Blue Bridge that bisects the lake.

Click map to enlarge:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Pierre Marcolini Chocolatier - Brussels

It’s astonishing that in a city of barely a million inhabitants, Brussels boasts 2,200 retailers that vend chocolates. Two of them, however, stand out from the masses. I have already entered a post about Wittamer, so now it’s time to exclaim about one of the neighbors. Entering the enclave of Pierre Marcolini on Rue des Minimes (Place du Grand Sablon) in Brussels is like stepping into a haute couture fashion house in Milan. The decór is cutting edge modern (the antithesis of Wittamer a few doors away), the carpet is plush, and the ambience is hushed. And once you’ve made your selections and stepped away to the cashier (again, as in a couture house), the elaborate packaging begins. These are not boxes you’ll toss after the contents are gone, and the shopping bags will be treasured until the corners are worn out. Did I mention that the average small box of these over-the-top chocolate creations will set you back $28?

Pierre Marcolini, a Belgian of Italian decent, is one of only two Belgian “chocolatiers,” and one of four in all of Europe. The title of “chocolatier” is bestowed solely upon those who select their cocoa beans, roast them and make their own basic ingredient, “couverture.” Marcolini uses only the finest beans from Venezuela, Madagascar, Ecuador and Mexico.

This extraordinary artisan has received the most prestigious awards and was named World Champion Pastry Chef in 1995. The secret to his astounding success is a pursuit of perfection and a total discipline in his recipes. Natural ingredients give all of his creations their authentic flavors. The same care and attention that goes into making the finest wine is applied to making the finest chocolate, and from bean to bar Pierre is wholly responsible for the product.

Pierre's atelier in Brussels employs a 35 person team of talented artisans. It is here that the lengthy process of cleaning, roasting, conching and tempering gets underway. Taking up to a week. the end result is the “couverture.” Pierre's philosophy is "to aim to be the best, and always improve." This man takes himself, and his creations, seriously.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

St. Martin-in-the-Fields

St. Martin-in-the-Fields is an Anglican church at the northeast corner of Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, London. Its patron is Saint Martin of Tours.

A 13th-century church on the site was used by the monks of Westminster Abbey. This church was rebuilt by Henry VIII in 1542 to avoid plague victims from the area having to pass through his Palace of Whitehall. At this time, it was literally "in the fields" in an isolated position between the cities of Westminster and London, located to the northeast. The church was replaced with the current building, designed by James Gibbs in 1721. The design was criticized widely at the time but subsequently became extremely famous, being copied widely, particularly in the United States. The church is essentially rectangular, with a great pediment in the Classical style supported by a row of Corinthian columns. The high steeple is topped with a gilt crown.

Among other notables, furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale, whose workshop was in the same street as the church, St Martin's Lane, is buried in the church. The church has a close relationship with the Royal Family, whose parish church it is, and with the Admiralty.

Iranian born artist Shirazeh Houshiary has trained, lived and worked in London since she was a teenager. This is her beautiful new window installed above the altar in 2008, celebrating light in an abstract design with strong religious, spiritual and architectural resonances. The ‘warp and weft’ design of the stainless steel framework evokes the agony of the Cross, while the lightly etched central ellipse creates an icon of contemplation. It can be seen as the light at the center of existence, the glory of God and of the light with which Christ illuminates human life; others see it as more universal, transcending cultures, describing it as an egg breaking through the fourth dimension.

St Martin-in-the-Fields is one of the most famous non-cathedral churches in London, known for its regular lunchtime and evening concerts: many ensembles perform there, including the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, which was co-founded by Sir Neville Marriner and John Churchill. There is a popular café in the crypt, where jazz concerts are held. All profits from this go to the work of the church. The crypt is also home to the London Brass Rubbing Centre, an art gallery and a book and gift shop.

Note: The first two volumes of The Saint John's Bible - Psalms and Prophets - are on permanent display at St Martin's, with subsequent volumes to follow. The first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago, The Saint John's Bible was commissioned in 1998 by the Roman Catholic Benedictine monks of Saint John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota. It is being created by a team of scribes, artists and craftspeople in a Scriptorium in Wales under the artistic direction of Donald Jackson, one of the world's foremost calligraphers and the Scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Crown Office at the House of Lords. The Saint John's Bible revives an age-old calligraphic art form using calfskin vellum, goose quills, natural inks, hand-ground pigments and gold-leaf gilding. An exhibition of 25 prints from The Saint John's Bible will be on display in the St Martin's Hall from 14 June-13 September, 2009. The prints and other items inspired by this work of art are available to purchase from the Shop at St Martin's.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Trafalgar Square

The very hub of London, this is Britain's most famous square and the scene of many political protests. A 144-ft. tall column surmounted by a statue of Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) dominates the square, which is named after the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), a triumph by Admiral Lord Nelson, who died at the moment of victory; the supremacy of England’s navy was proved (Britannia rules the waves!), when the French and Spanish sacrificed twenty-two ships, without a single British vessel being lost.

As you walk around this square, note that most of the fabled and ferocious dive-bombing pigeons are gone, since it’s now illegal to feed them. Recent improvements include pedestrianizing the southern portion of the square. Still here, however, are the enormous bronze lions guarding the column and the twin clover-shaped pools and fountains.

This is the heart of London where thousands amass on New Year's Eve to ring in another year. Stairs to the National Gallery, one of the world’s great art museums, lead up from the northern side of the square, and just to the east is the significant St-Martin-in-the-Fields church.

This 1903 engraving shows the National Gallery on the left and St-Martin-in-the-Fields church on the right.

Note: All distances to and from London are measured from Charing Cross, adjacent to Trafalgar Square.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Picadilly Circus

What Times Square is to New York, Piccadilly Circus is to London. Dating from 1819, the circus sports the statue of Anteros (the twin brother of Eros) by Alfred Gilbert, erected in 1893 in memory of the Victorian philanthropist, Lord Shaftesbury. Today, however, the statue is commonly regarded as depicting Eros, the Greek god of love. That symbol of love is about the only thing that occasionally brings together the diverse group of people who converge on the circus. This is the traffic hub of London, and you're at the doorway to "theaterland" if you'd like to cap your visit to the West End with a live theater experience.

In this context a circus, from the Latin word meaning a circle, is a circular open space at a street junction. Picadilly Circus lies within the City of Westminster.
Piccadillies were collars sold by a merchant whose establishment was on this avenue when it was called Portugal Street; the name change took place in 1743.
When the statue was first unveiled, many objected to the depiction of a naked male youth as too sensual, so the name was changed to Angel of Christian Charity; however, the name change didn't stick.
The phrase "it's like Piccadilly Circus" is commonly used in the UK to refer to a place or situation which is extremely busy with people

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Théâtre Royal de Toone

A scene from The Three Musketeers.

On impasse Schuddeveld, a tiny cul-de-sac off Petite rue des Bouchers, is the Royal Marionette Theater, which can trace its origins back to Antoine Genty in 1830, when the first "Antoine" (Toone is the Brussels diminutive form of Antoine) established the dynasty of master puppeteers that continues to this day. In July, 2009, Nicolas Géal, the puppet master known as Toone VIII, will present his interpretation of Bizet’s Carmen. The building that houses the theater is also home to a puppet museum, workshop and library.
Two-hour shows begin at 8:30p (Saturdays also at 4:00p). Admission 10 Euros per person. No credit cards.