Tuesday, November 28, 2023

5 Great Day Trips from Brussels, Belgium

By Jacquelin Carnegie 
(photo: VisitBrussels)
Brussels is a lovely little city to explore with over 100 museums, plenty of wonderful restaurants, and the delightful Dansaert shopping district. Famous for its food and beer, comics and artists, you'll have a great time. But, Belgium is a small country—it doesn’t take more than an hour by train to visit most of the major highlights—so plan your trip to take advantage of all the country has to offer. It's easy to get around by train, bus or rental car.
Belgium has two regions: Wallonia, which is French-speaking, and Flanders where Flemish (like Dutch) is spoken. Don’t fret; many people also speak English.

Art in the Park
(photo: Folon Foundation)

Fondation Folon
Ferme du Château de La Hulpe, Drève de la Ramée 6 A, La Hulpe; www.fondationfolon.be
Jean-Michel Folon was a fabulous, 20th-century, Belgian painter, illustrator and sculptor. While not as well known as his compatriot, the surrealist painter René Magritte, both liked to paint men in hats. Folon's celebrated work--beautiful watercolors, posters on behalf of important causes, and whimsical sculptures--is displayed in Château de La Hulpe’s ancient farmhouse in Solvay Park, about a half-hour from Brussels. After you’ve viewed the collection, enjoy lunch at the adjacent café, Taverne de L’Homme Bleu, and take a stroll through the magnificent park.
Getting There: TEC Bus: #366 from Ixelles: Etangs d'Ixelles on Ave. du General de Gaulle in Brussels to La Hulpe Etang Solvay, about an hour. In the park, follow the path that leads to your left, signage to the Fondation is limited. I’m a firm believer in public transportation, but this trip is easier by car (about 30 minutes) and you could combine it with a visit to Waterloo, ten minutes away.

Living History: A Bad Day for Napoleon
Waterloo Battlefield
Route du Lion 315, Waterloo; www.waterloo1815.be
(photo: Waterloo Battlefield)
It’s always thrilling to be in a spot where world history was made. The Battle of Waterloo was one of the most important in European history. It marked the fall of Napoleon and paved the way for a new era of peace in Europe. On June 18, 1815, Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, Field-Marshal Blücher and 350,000 soldiers met on this battlefield, which has been preserved in its original state. You can take a tour, see reenactments, and learn more about the events leading up to the battle. But, you don’t have to be a military history buff to enjoy a visit to this beautiful and fascinating sight.
Getting There: Train: From Brussels Midi train station to Braine L’Alleud about 20 minutes. Then, walk or taxi to the Waterloo Battlefield Visitors’ Center. TEC Bus: #365a or W outside Brussels Midi station to Route de Nivelles, not Waterloo stop, about 45 minutes. (This trip by car is about 30 minutes from Brussels.)

A Passion for Fashion
(photo: Dries van Norten)
is a hidden gem. Known for diamonds, which are just dull stones until cut and polished, this city became famous for the "Antwerp cut," said to give diamonds more sparkle. Browse the diamond district near the beautifully-restored Central Station, but purchase only from a reputable shop with the "Antwerp's Most Brilliant" label (www.awdc.be). Antwerp is also a fashion center thanks to the now-famous “Antwerp Six,” a group of avant-garde fashion designers (Walter van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee) who burst onto the scene about 30 years ago and put Antwerp on the fashion map. Shop-till-you-drop in the lovely Sint-Andries neighborhood. Even better, go with a personal shopper. You'll want to stay longer than a day.
Shops: Louis (Lombardenstraat 2) - The store that launched the Sixers’ careers; Modepaleis (Nationalestraat 16) - Dries van Noten’s flagship store. 
Personal Shopper: Go with style consultant Tanguy Ottomer (Beroepsbelg; Tel: +32(0)3 430 23 30; http://beroepsbelg.be; half & full day rates)
Dine: Het Pomphuis (Siberiastraat z/n) - Delicious meals in a spectacular setting. De Lokeend (General Belliardstraat 11) - A unique dining experience for groups of 12+; diners in a fabulous, private home.
Stay: Lots of options from nice hotels to campsites. Park Inn (Koningin Astridplein 14) - Hip & conveniently-located.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Antwerp, about 30 minutes.

Chocolates & Canals 
(photo: @mgdlnvlgr)
Famed for its medieval city center and canals, Bruges is now more popular than ever. The downside is hoards of tourists and local shops turned into tourist traps. To experience Bruges’ true beauty, rise early and/or stay up late to stroll the cobblestone streets free of the maddening crowds. But, nothing can spoil chocolate—there are some 40 shops to choose from. Start at the Chocolatier Van Oost (Wollestraat 11).
Dine: Cafedraal (Zilverstraat 38) - Delicious regional and seasonal dishes.
Stay: Plenty of lovely hotels and B&Bs to choose from. Pand Hotel (Pandreitje 16) - For a splurge, try this fashionably-decorated spot.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Bruges, about an hour.

Beauty Beyond Measure
(photo: Nataša Pavlović)
If you have time for only one day trip from Brussels, let it be this one. Ghent is the real deal. It has everything Bruges has--canals, unbelievable architecture--just on a slightly larger scale with fewer tourists. Take a boat ride on the canals. Admire the cityscape of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neo-Classical architecture. Marvel at the magnificent, 13th- to 17th-century guildhalls along the banks of the canals. Wander around, then relax at any number of lovely, sidewalk cafés, taverns or brasseries. But, be sure to stay for nightfall when all the buildings and monuments are illuminated.
Dine: Mosquito Coast (Hoogpoort 28) - Inexpensive & in a great location overlooking the canal; Korenlei Twee (Korenlei 2 ) - A bit more stylish; Café Theatre (Schouwburgstraat 7) - Elegant, right next to the opera house; known for its Moëlleux, a cake with melted chocolate inside.
Stay: Several splendid places to choose from. Ghent Marriott (Korenlei 10) - An historic building with a hi-tech interior, right in the heart of it all.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Ghent (Sint-Pieters station), about 35 minutes. Then, Tram #1 into the center city, 7 mins.

Transportation Options in Belgium
Train/Bus: Brussels has three train stations (Brussels Centrale, Brussels Midi, Brussels Nord). The trains you’ll need for most of these trips leave from Brussels Centrale; the trains are frequent and inexpensive. Schedules & fares: SNCB or Rail Europe. The TEC Bus is also very convenient. Car Rental: All the major rental car companies are in the Arrivals Hall at Brussels Airport and, in the city center, at the Brussels Midi train station: Avis, Hertz, Europcar, etc. Travel in style: Hire a car and driver from Fun Cars or Modern Car
Magritte, La Décalcomanie
Making Your Trip Easier: City Cards give access to museums, public transport, special discounts, etc. They are useful if you plan to cram in a lot of sightseeing, but are less beneficial if you intend a more leisurely trip: BrusselsCard, Antwerp CityPassCityCard Ghent
BeroepsBelg - Offers all kinds of interesting tours in several Belgian cities.
Getting to Belgium: Brussels Airlines has just upgraded its fleet to offer more transatlantic comfort. 
Bon Voyage! 

Saturday, November 4, 2023

20+ Artsy & Cool Things To Do in Boston, MA

ICA (photo: Francois Soulignac)
By Jacquelin Carnegie
It's wonderful and worthwhile to see all the historic sites when visiting Boston. Taking a walk on the Freedom Trail of Colonial Revolutionary Boston from Paul Revere's house to Faneuil Hall is not to be missed. But, save time for all the fun, artsy and cultural things to do. Here are some suggestions:
South End - Galleries
SOWA Artists Guild, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston 
The South End is an area of town that people used to avoid, then artists set up studios in the abandoned factories (now nicely renovated) and galleries moved in transforming the neighborhood into artsy "SoWa." Art lovers stop by: Gallery Kayafas; Lanoue Gallery; Boston Sculptors Gallery. Head over any day of the week, but things get livelier on the weekends. SoWa Open Market (May-Oct; Sundays 11am-4pm): artisans' stalls & farmers' market. First Fridays (5pm-9pm): Once a month, artists' studios & galleries stay open late at the SOWA Artists Guild building.
Lanoue Gallery, Carrie McGee
Paint Nite - Looking at art might inspire you to try your hand at it. Paint Nite is a fun and easy way to give it a go. An artist leads you step-by-step through the creation of a painting that you can take home and hang over the couch. Back Bay: Check out the galleries along Newbury Street in this nifty neighborhood. Then, stop in to the Trident Bookstore, a really nice venue with a great cafe, poetry readings & other cool, literary events.    
Take a Glass Blowing Class - Test your hand at this fascinating art form or just watch a demonstration of how it's done: North Cambridge Glass School (147 Sherman St., Cambridge; www.nocaglassschool.com); or Diablo Glass School (123 Terrace St., Boston; www.diabloglassschool.com).
Diablo Glass
The Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum should already be on your "To Do" list, but be sure to check out these wonderful, lesser-known institutions:
Institute of Contemporary Art
100 Northern Ave.; Boston; Tel: 617/478-3100; www.icaboston.org
Right on Boston's waterfront, the ICA has interesting, cutting-edge, post-modern art and fabulous views; a nice cafe too overlooking the water.
Harvard Museum of Natural History - Harvard Museums of Science & Culture
26 Oxford St., Cambridge; Tel: 617/495-3045; www.hmnh.harvard.edu
Glass Flowers HMNH
Go to all HMSC's fascinating museums. Of particular interest, at the Natural History museum on the Harvard campus, is the mind-blowing Glass Flowers collection--so life-like they could fool a bee--by the father and son artisans Leopold & Rudolf Blaschka. Now, their glass Sea Creatures are also on display.  Harvard Art Museums  - Now combines the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Sackler museum collections under one newly-renovated roof.
deCordova Museum
51 Sandy Pond Rd, Lincoln, MA; Tel: 781/259-8355; www.decordova.org
This estate-turned-sculpture-park is an absolutely lovely place to spend an afternoon. (The Gropius House is also in Lincoln--about a half hour from Boston--so you could combine these visits.)
Museum of Bad Art - It's all a question of taste! Check out these funky offerings. (Gallery now in the Dorchester Brewing Co.)
Boston has a lot to offer food-wise from neighborhood staples such as The Daily Catch in historic Little Italy. You may know Sam Adams beer, but have you tried other Boston standards? Harpoon Brewery and Jack's Abby Brewing offer tours & tastings. Wine lovers can sample vintages made from Boston's south shore grapes at Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery.
Taza Chocolate - Tour
561 Windsor St., Somerville; Tel: 617/284-2232; www.tazachocolate.com
While touring this small factory, you'll learn amazing facts about chocolate, taste phenomenal samples, and support a local entrepreneur. Taza is stone-ground, organic chocolate made from ethically-sourced cacao that tastes amazing!
Street Art (Photo: MOTT)
Harvard Square - Cambridge: In July 1775, George Washington took command of the Continental Army here! Today, Harvard Square--with its many shops, restaurants and cultural events--is still a gathering place.
Davis Square - Somerville: Davis Square is starting to supplant Harvard Sq. as the place to hang out. Somerville Theatre (55 Davis Sq; http://bit.ly/2nPxhTz) - Offering great entertainment since 1914: films, concerts, plays & other events. 
Carpenter Center - Harvard (24 Quincy St., Cambridge) - This is visionary architect Le Corbusier's only major building in the United States; designed in 1961 to house classes in architecture, film, and the arts. (There's limited tours of the building, but get a glimpse inside by seeing a movie--the Harvard Film Archive film series in held here. Also, the Visual Arts galleries are open to the public as well as a series of Public Programs.)
Stata (photo: Andy Ryan)
Stata Center - MIT (32 Vassar St., Kendall Square/MIT, Cambridge) Renowned architect Frank Gehry designed this building in 2004 so that MIT scientists--from different departments--could work, study, and, hopefully, brainstorm together. You can walk through the lobby area to get an idea.
Gropius House
68 Baker Bridge Rd; Lincoln, MA; Tel: 781/259-8098; www.historicnewengland.org
Built in 1938 by famed German architect Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus design movement, this unique house combines Bauhaus concepts with traditional New England architectural elements.
Getting Around: Boston has a great public transportation system. Get an MBTA T-Pass on a "CharlieCard" or "CharlieTicket" to make your visit easier to neighborhoods such as Back Bay, Cambridge, and Somerville.
Where To Stay: There is every kind of accommodation imaginable in Boston.
deCordova, Jim Dine
The College Club of Boston (www.thecollegeclubofboston.com) is a hidden gem in Back Bay. Charles Hotel (1 Bennett St., Cambridge; Tel: 617/864-1200; www.charleshotel.com) - Conveniently located in Harvard Sq., this delightful spot is filled with original, commissioned artwork. Weekend brunch in their restaurant, Henrietta's Table, is a Boston tradition.

Friday, October 13, 2023

New York: 5 Fabulous Flatiron District Museums

By Jacquelin Carnegie
(photo: Courtesy Fotografiska)

Art and history fans take note--there are some wonderful museums to visit in the Flatiron district. This neighborhood was one of New York’s most fashionable areas in the mid-1800s; then, it fell out of favor. Now, new, trendy hotels, restaurants, and shops have revitalized the area. Culture lovers, begin with a visit to some of these places:

Fotografiska New York
281 Park Avenue South (at 22nd St); https://www.fotografiska.com/nyc
Claudia Schiffer
(photo: Ellen von Unwerth)

This fashionable photography museum has its roots in Stockholm, Sweden where it's a hotspot. The New York location continues the tradition by showcasing spectacular imagery from portraiture to landscapes to photojournalism. Founded by the Broman brothers, Jan & Per, who grew up immersed in the art of making images, the museum's focus is on "the communicative power of photography." In addition to the stunning exhibits, Fotografiska has a cafe, a restaurant, a bar, and a host of interesting events. Plus, it's housed in the stunning, beautifully-renovated 1894 Church Missions House

Poster House
119 West 23rd St (btw 6th-7th Ave); https://posterhouse.org; Tel: 917/722-2439 
Marcello Nizzoli, Cordial Campari, 1926
(Courtesy Poster House)
Since the perfection of the lithographic process around 1880, posters have been used to advertise products, to promote businesses and entertainment, to recruit soldiers and plug political parties. During the Belle Epoque in France, the magnificent posters created by the artist Toulouse-Lautrec elevated the status of the poster to fine art. Since then, every country's artists and art styles--Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modernism, etc.--have had an influence on poster design and popularity. Even today, in the digital age, eye-catching posters are still being created to promote all sorts of causes. Poster House is the first U.S. museum exclusively dedicated to exhibiting posters. The aim is to engage and educate by highlighting the poster's intersection of art and commerce and its' ability to communicate, persuade, and amuse. Poster House also has a lovely, little cafe.

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
28 East 20th St.; www.nps.gov/thrb; Tel: 212/260-1616 (Free; Reserve a guided tour time or take a virtual tour)
T.R. cartoon (Courtesy National Park Service)

President Theodore Roosevelt was born into an affluent New York City family in 1858 during the Victorian era. In this house-museum, five restored period rooms give a glimpse into the family's lifestyle circa 1865 (many original artifacts were donated by the Roosevelts); learn the details on a guided tour. T.R. was one of the most caricatured presidents in U.S. history; many amusing, political cartoons are also on display.

Museum of Sex
233 Fifth Ave (at 27th St); www.museumofsex.com; Tel: 212/689-6337 
(Must be over 18-years old.) 
Superfunland games (photo: Mike Vitelli)

If you're wondering what to expect, the museum presents fascinating--some times titillating--exhibits related to the overall topic of sexuality in society through the ages. Some of the presentations are historical--photos and films—many so risqué they were originally only shown in private. Other exhibits explore important social issues such as prostitution, birth control, homosexuality, obscenity, and fetishism, while SuperFunland is a carnival of fun, erotic games. The gift shop has an array of both cute and useful gadgets; there's also a bar.

National Museum of Mathematics

11 East 26th St; momath.org; Tel: 212/542-0566 
Square-Wheeled Tricycle (photo: Courtesy MoMath)
MoMath is great for curious kids and nerdy adults. It's filled with lots of interactive exhibits that use math principles in a fun way. There's also the Composite gallery space featuring fascinating installations that highlight the intersection of mathematics and art. MoMath also offers a series of interesting events for all ages that cover topics such as the history of math, the nature of time, and the mysteries of the universe.

There are so many things to enjoy in the Flatiron district.