Travels in Belgium and Arts: Hergé Museum in Louvain-la-Neuve (June 8, 2014)

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In the quiet university town of Louvain-la-Neuve, there hiding is a unique museum dedicated to Hergé and his comic works. It’s a short train ride from Brussels (about 30 minutes) through the countryside.

Upon one’s arrival to Louvain-la-Neuve, one can follow the signs to the Hergé Museum—a quick walk away. As one nears the museum, one can see the montage of Tintin gazing out at sea from The Crab with the Golden Claws adventure. The museum itself is unique; its shape is a reminder of a moored ship. Inside, it is like stepping into the world of Hergé’s characters.

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Who is Hergé? The artist himself was born as Georges Rémi (May 22, 1907-March 3, 1983) and the creator of several works, such as Totor, Jo, Zette, and Jocko and Quick and Flupke.

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Of his many works, the most popular is The Adventures of Tintin. Having grown up with the Tintin television cartoons produced by Ellipse (France) and Nelvana (Canada); and the comics, I became engrossed with the stories of Tintin and his friends. I came to know of each story and character by heart having reread and re-watched them multiple times. Continue reading

Travels in Belgium: Brussels (June 6-10, 2014)

Le Grand Place

Attractions:

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After touring the major cities of Belgium, we finally reached the capital and de facto capital of the European Union, Brussels. Belgium itself is divided into 3 distinct governmental regions: 1) To the north is Flanders (Flemish); 2) To the south is Wallonia (French); and 3) Brussels-Capital. However, the one overseeing all 3 regions and making the overall decisions is the Federal Belgium government.

The physical presence of the government can be experienced at the European Quarter located in the city. (Our first hotel in Brussels called Thon Hotel was actually located within walking distance of the European Quarter but far from the main city center).

Atomium

As one enters the city of Brussels, one comes upon a marvelous sight of the Atomium—a structure of nine spheres that was the futuristic vision of the World’s Fair of 1958. Today, it is one of the best places to get a 360-degree panorama of the city. In addition to great views of the city, there are a few nice parks for strolling; the Brussels Royal Park located near the royal palace on Rue Ducale has several beech trees that line the pedestrian walkways for shade. Continue reading

Travels in Belgium: Antwerpen (June 7, 2014)

Antwerpen

Attractions:

  • Het Steen (The Stone) fortification
  • Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of our Lady)
  • Grote Markt

While staying in Brussels, our tour guide took us on another brief day trip to Antwerpen—a medieval city that is bathed in folklore and today boasts a rich culture in art and fashion competing with our cosmopolitan cities in the world.

Antwerpen

The origin of the name, “Antwerpen,” is based on a folk tale:

A giant named Antigoon lived by the river of Scheldt. Whenever a passerby wanted passage through his territory, he demanded a toll. If one refused, his or her hand was severed and flung into the river, spreading fear amongst the populace. Then, one day, a young man named Silvius Brabo challenged the giant and cut off the giant’s hand and flung it into the river. Hence the name, “Antwerpen,” comes from the Old English words: “hand” and “wearpan” (to throw). It goes further to say that Julius Caesar awarded Silvius Brabo the leadership of the city.

Het Steen fortress in Antwerpen

Our brief tour of Antwerpen began with the examination of the Het Steen fortification—one of Antwerp’s oldest buildings from 1225. It was initially used as the residence of the margrave of the city, and then it was subsequently used as a prison, residence, saw mill, fish warehouse, and maritime museum. Today the maritime museum collection is over at the MAS | Museum aan de Stroom. Continue reading

Travels in Belgium: Gent (June 6, 2014)

Ghent

Attractions:

  • St. Bavo’s Cathedral and Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Lamb
  • City Hall
  • City Pavilion

During our travels in Belgium, we had a brief interlude in Ghent before we approached the capital, Brussels. As one of the largest cities located in the Flanders region of Belgium, Ghent is an important port and center of the flower export trade. Its medieval buildings and St. Bavo’s Cathedral are the main highlights.

City Pavilion, Ghent

On our way towards the cathedral, we passed by the City Pavilion—a relatively new structure of wood and glass that is used for concerts, dance performances, and markets. There is also a hidden café that is underneath the structure called the “Belfort Stadscafé en Stadsrestaurant.” Continue reading

Travels in Belgium: Brugge (June 4-5, 2014)

Brugge Main Square

Attractions:

  • Historical Market Square
  • Lace Jewel shop
  • Basilica of the Holy Blood
  • Belfry overlooking the market square
  • Canal boat cruise
  • Church of Our Lady with Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child
  • Memling Museum at St. John’s Hospital and Apothecary (Sint-Janshospitaal and Apotheek)
  • Groeingemuseum and Arentshuis

The sounds of hooves pounding echo on the cobbled stones. From our sheltered carriage, we watch the passersby and the medieval buildings along the canals zip by. Our carriage rounds the bend and stops at Lover’s Lake. Swans and ducks mill around the area, herding their young and gliding along the canal’s murky waters. It is a romantic haven for those who enjoy watching people and nature in harmony.

Lake of Love

During our tour, we stayed two nights in Brugge (Flemish) or Bruges (French and English)—a picturesque town that once was an important cloth market in the 14th century until the economy went downhill in the 16th century. Today, it is a thriving historical center. During our first night, we went on a galloping ride through the town in a horse-drawn carriage towards Lover’s Lake, where we stopped for pictures. Continue reading

Travels in Belgium: Dinant (June 4, 2014)

Dinant

A brief stop on our tour of Belgium took us to Dinant, home of Adolphe Sax (1814-1894)—the inventor of the saxophone. The picturesque Charles de Gaulle bridge of saxophones over the Meuse River is the first sighting of Dinant.

Dinant

Unfortunately, it was raining so we did not explore many places in the city. We had lunch at Le Coin des Gourmets, which made allusions to the Tintin series by Hergé.

Dinant - Le Coin des Gourmets

Dinant - Le Coin des Gourmets

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Travels in Belgium: Orval (June 4, 2014)

Orval Monastery

Attractions:

  • Abbey

Orval is the home of a 12th-century Cistercian monastery that was established based on a legend; Countess Matilde of Tuscany had dropped her ring into a fountain and a trout rose to surface bearing the ring, to which she exclaimed, “Truly this place is a Val d’Or!”.

Orval Monastery

The Cistercian monks are self-sufficient; they brew beer, make cheese, and gather wood from the surrounding forests. According to their beliefs, they live a celibate and secluded lifestyle, allowing for continual prayer and harmony with natural surroundings.

Orval Monastery Continue reading