Friday, December 30, 2011

Winter Market in Brussels

We are back in London now, but are still carrying around memories (and photos) from the Christmas trip to Brussels.  One of the highlights of the holiday week was the hours (both daytime and evening) spent wandering around the streets through the Winter Markets, or, "Plaisirs d'Hiver!"   It is a market that runs for over 2 km from the Grand Place, through the Bourse, and to the Marche aux Poissons.  Steve and I keep wondering why we don't have something like this back in Victoria... totally glorious.  Stand after stand selling food, drink, clothes, crafts, toys, jewelry... if you can imagine it, you can find it!

Dried Fruits

artisinal cheeses

Old-fashioned Candy
Ferris Wheel at the Market
I notice here that i only took photos of food.  hahah.  so typical for me!  But there were sweaters, hats, reindeer skins, perfumes, chess sets, candles, kitchen plates, lamps, etc.  At the far end of the market, there was a ferris wheel, which offered a splendid view of the market, including the outdoor skating rink set up at the halfway mark.
View from the Ferris Wheel
We spent a long time standing at the side of the skating rink, watching those brave enough to strap on the skates.  I say 'brave' because it was a bit more like hydroplaning than skating.  The weather was not even close to approaching zero, and the ice was covered by more than a few milimeters of water. 
water on the ice

an expert skater

There were some great skaters (like the older man in the photo here... he was such a treat to watch... controlled, fluid, positioning his arms as if he was moving in time to a song playing in his head...wearing his own figure skates rather than the rental hockey skates... we wondered if he might have been an olympic skater in an earlier time), but many of the folk seemed to be having their first experience.  It is never pleasant to fall on the ice, but it is even more of an adventure when you land in a sheet of melting ice water.  Huge cheers would go up from the watching crowd whenever someone hit the ice, and rose with their pants soaking wet.  As bizarre as it seemed to me, people were absolutely undetered by the water on the ice.  Ah well.... to each their own!

One of my favourite things at the Market was the Carosel. I don't even know if that ('carosel') is the right word for it. There were two of them. I am sure i didn't capture it well enough in the photos but... they have a sort of 1900s steampunk feel to them. Instead of the traditional painted horses, kids get to ride on a variety of mechanical creations...creations in the shape of trains, planes, bugs, flying machines... Each of the choices did something different: levers to make parts of the ride move up and down, in circles, around, etc.  There was a giant bug that would rear back on its legs, an iguana with a shell on its back (in which a child could sit) with a mouth that would open and close,  a sort of mechanical flying man whose arms you could make flap up and down.  Here are a couple of pictures, but if you click on this link, you can see some better ones on the "Les manèges d’Andréa" site, including some video footage!  The videos are well worth a look!

Les manèges d’Andréa

carosel and church tower...

wanna ride an iguana?...

...or be carried by the flying man?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Midnight Mass in Brussels

window in the Cathedral

St Michael & St. Gudula Cathedral

Whenever I end up in Calgary for Christmas, I end up going off to Midnight Mass with my mother-in-law Verlaine.  Steve usually wimps out and stays back at her place, lounging out by the fireplace and christmas tree.  So... the ritual of Midnight Mass is one that belongs to Verlaine and me  Though my roots are not Catholic, a person can't do an undergraduate degree in music without ending up with a pretty solid grasp of at least the forms of music associated with the mass!  :-)   I am something of a sucker for ritual, and the rituals of Christmas are good ones for me.  I love getting a chance to sing a few of the old carols, and if the mass is sung in the old ways, so much the better!  (i keep hoping for a bit of latin!)

Detail - above the front door
 Even though we did not head home to Calgary this year, it seemed to me that Verlaine might still want me to follow up on our regular-annual ritual, and head off to midnight mass.  Indeed, I know if she were here with us, she would have been pressing the two of us into a taxi to get to the top of the hill, where St. Michael & St. Gudula Cathedral looks down towards the Grand Place.   Remember that Steve was living in Brussels in 1993 (when I was at the Court). That summer, Verlaine came for an extended visit.  She and I played at tourists, while Steve worked on him MBA.  Amongst other things, we would go off to the Cathedral for "Music on Sundays", and a sung mass.

There is very little in the world that beats listening to music in the space of a cathedral (Bonnie and I had heard Leonard Bernstein conduct Mozart's Requiem in St. Michael's when we lived there back in 1985/86... now THAT was a piece of magic!) Verlaine and I were in Brussels when King Baudoin died (July 31, 1993).  We got to stand on the streets with other mourners as the funeral procession moved through the streets up to the Cathedral for the funeral mass.  That was an unreal experience.

Cathedral on Christmas Eve

 In short, how could I NOT go off to the Cathedral on Christmas Eve?!  I knew Verlaine would be there with me in spirit!  :-)  My brood (as usual in this context) were not feeling inclined to venture out.  Alex (who has been knocked out by the worst cold/flu of his life) was still totally sick and in bed.  Duncan was happily plugged into his new Star Wars game (free internet connection in the hotel lobby).  Steve agreed to stay back and watch the kids, so I headed off to the Cathedral.

the Cathedral Organ

I arrived shortly after 11pm for the Veillée de Noel:  an hour of organ music before the Mass at midnight. You can see the organ against the left hand side of the cathedral in this photo. Great stuff (Bach, Franck, Buxtehude, etc).  

Baroque Pulpit

I was glad I got there early enough to get a seat: the cathedral was full to the rafters by the time midnight rolled around. I would have liked to sit a bit closer to the amazing carved wooden baroque pulpit there. Ah well. You can click on this link if you want to see a closeup shot of the pulpit that shows Adam and Eve being chased out of the garden of Eden.

under the feet of the Saints...
My chair was right by one of the pillars near the back, with a sculpture of one of the saints right above me.  From where I was sitting, i couldn't tell which saint it was, but each time I lifted my eyes to the heavens, i was treated with a lovely sculpture of a nude woman supporting the pedestal.  That made me smile. 

As for the Mass itself, the music, "Missa in Nativaitate Domini", was by a relatively young composer (ie. MY age) named Kurt Bikkembergs.  The music was hauntingly beautiful.  I can't find a recording of it on the internet, but there is another piece of his (De Profundis Clamavi) you can find on youtube;It gives some sense of the dischordant harmonies that marked the piece.  It was both edgy and amazing in the space of the cathedral.  Great way to spend Christmas Eve.  Wish you had of been there with me, Verlaine!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Duncan on Comic Strips in Brussels

Tintin wall
Belgium is the world capital of comics. So when you walk down the street, you can see murals like this one of Tintin painted on the sides of buildings.

Gaston Lagaffe
There is even a walk you can take where you go past a bunch of BD (bande dessine) mural walls.  Sometimes, it is not murals, but sculptures like this one of Gaston.

Tintin's spaceship at museum
We also went past the Museum of Cartoons.  We went into the gift shop there which had every belgian comic you can imagine.  There was a really cool chess set from the Asterix books:  it had the Gauls on one side, and the romans on the other side.  It cost 850 euros, so we didn't buy it.

Mom thought it would be fun to try and find all the comic strip walls.  We didn't find them all, but got picture of  lots of them. I know some of the comics, but not all of them.  The wall with Asterix was in a playground, right behind a basketball hoop

The Lucky Luke wall was also really fun.  This one is great because it has the Dalton Brothers (and Dalton is one of my cousins!).  If you look closely at the closeup of Lucky Luke, you can see that his shadow is slower than he is.
Mom says this one is funny because there are electrical lines painted on the wall, but there is also an electrical line that passes in front of the wall.

This one is also really funny.   Can you see that the Manniken Pis is at the bottom of the picture?  The bear is standing in the fountain where the Manniken Pis usually is standing.

Here is another wierd one.  There is a street lamp painted on the wall, but there is also a real streat lamp on the street in front of the wall.  If you look closely you can see the real street light, and it looks like it is sticking out of the painted one.

Here are a few more, even though we don't really know the comics they come from.  If any of you know what comics they come from, write and tell us!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Brussels Day 1

Day one in the daylight!   We woke up late, and headed off to (first) get a waffle, or, more precisely, a "gaufre de liege".   For a nice description of them (and comparison with other less sticky forms, see Andreea's post on them here).   I love these things.  Really and truly love them.  When Bonnie and I were living in Belgium back in 1985, I am sure i ate at least one a day.  The smell of them cooking (when you are down in the metro stations) is absolutely will-power-busting.... closest thing to crack cocaine!  :-)   One of my happiest moments last year was when (following success on the Dragons Den show) a guy set up "Wannawafele" in Victoria, making authentic belgian (liegeois!) waffles.  Ah.... sigh of happiness and contentment!
My appetite/desires temporarily sated, we headed off to the FNAC to see if they had the game code subscriptions for the new Star Wars: Old Republic online game.  Both boys got the game with their christmas money, but we didn't realize you ALSO have to sign up for the monthy subscription before starting.  If you have ever opened the coolest present ever, only to realize that it needs batteries, you have none, and all the stores are closed for the weekend,...well... you will know how both boys felt!  :-)

rue des bouchers
At that point, we headed off to the Grand Place, wandering along the rue des bouchers (bit of a tourist trap, but still a nice walk), where the restaurants were just beginning to open for the day, (yes... we had slept in)... the streets were still mostly empty, shop owners sweeping the cobblestones, and loading boxes of fresh fish and seafood onto piles of snow and ice.

Steve of course wanted a photo of the two of us in front of his very favourite bar, the Delerium Tremens.  Listed in the Guiness Book of World Records, it has a selection of over 2000 different beers.  No wonder the sign names this the Delerium "Monasterium":  a site of religious fervour for the lover of beer!

delerium in action?
Steve's happy place
 Alex took the picture of the two of us in front of the bar.  It may not be quite clear from this picture that it IS indeed Rebecca and Steve. We are not sure the blurriness is because Alex (who was feeling sick) was having difficulty holding the camera straight, or if this is his artistic capture of how the world would look to Steve if he left the bar having sampled all 2000 varieties....

Grand Place
 From there, we headed off to the Grand Place, where it is impossible to get one photo that captures the place.... just a mass of beautiful buildings.  A fantastic square!  I kept having flashback memories of the flower market set up there on weekends.  But for now, the square is filled by the amazingly huge christmas tree, the posts for the electrabel light show in the evenings, and a huge creche (complete with live donkey and sheep).

The high point was when Steve started grilling Duncan on the various characters he could see within.  Steve seemed to have some sort of brain freeze, and mocked Duncan when the kid said he could see Joseph.  "That is MY middle name" Steve said.  "Yes" Duncan answered "It is Mary and JOSEPH!"  "No way" Steve continued, "His name isn't Joseph!" OK.  Seriously.  So... duncan got the last laugh that time!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Brussels at Night

Notre Dame du Finistere
Alex being totally sick, the rest of us abandonned him (rather, he wanted some time sleeping without the rest of us bugging him), and headed off to explore the city at night.

We headed down Rue Neuve just at 8pm.  This I knew, since we got to hear the carillon bells playing in Notre Dame du Finistere. (click on the link to see some really fab photos and read more on its history). Wish I could capture the sound, and not just the sight!
Patria - closeup

Evening light on the cobblestones
Just down one of the side streets from the church, we wandered past the Place des Martyrs, with its sculpture, Patria, memorializing those who died in the 1830 battle for independence.  It is all angels, and lions and chains with the sheen of marble.  There had been a light misting of rain a bit earlier, and the cobblestones mirrored the lights from the buildings around.  

We kept on going, over by the Bourse, which is lit up with moving coloured lights throughout the evening hours.  Here, the stalls of the Christmas Market began to appear along to the streets:  food, drink, crafts, jewellry,... you name it, we saw it!  
From there, we made our way to the Grand Place, to pay homage to the ginourmous christmas tree (which must be 5 stories high).

Hommage was due not only to the tree, but also to the Electrobel music and sound show.Basically, you get 20 or so minutes of highly recognizable pieces of music (ie.snippets from swan lake, ravel's bolero, lizst hungarian rhapsody, etc) with a variety of coloured moving lights being projected on to the buildings in the Grand Place.  Fabulous.