Brussels: More Seedy than Chocolatey

On a partly sunny late June morning, our redeye landed in Brussels. With dreams of chocolate and architecture, we waited in the immigration line, eager to hit the cobblestone, rather Belgian stone. Our plan, per Rick Steves, was to peruse the town for a few hours and later ride the rails to Bruges. We hopped the train to city centre, stowed our carry-on suitcases in a locker and approached our first outdoor look at Belgium with a warm welcome from…drunk bums. Upon exiting the main train station in Brussels, we found trash, drunk confrontational homeless people and open outdoor toilets. Yay, we made it!

Don’t get me wrong, we like to make our own adventures but since we were foreigners, I suggested we just keep walking toward the Grand Place or Grote Markt like Rick said and get the heck away from the train station. He did mention Brussels was a little seedy, but Brussels sounds so fancy and French, so the only seediness I envisioned was that of chocolate dipped strawberries. Still, each city has its less desirable areas, so we ventured on and found what our little hearts desired…cappuccinos and chocolate filled pastries amid tall and ornate structures.

It became more and more overcast and eventually started to downpour, but the flowers that lined the windowsills of La Grand Place were still beautiful. The architecture consumed hundreds of pictures on our memory card, with each angle or sculpted archway appearing more intricate and astonishing than the last. This was the Belgium I wanted to see, shortly followed by a little peeing baby. “Let’s go see Mannequin Pis”, I tell my husband. “A pissing mannequin? What? Why?” I expected a response like this, since the only portion of the Belgium book he read was on the beer. But we did find the tiny statue of the baby boy peeing into a fountain, which seems to capture quite the crowd of tourists. It is a national symbol afterall…and there are many different variations that poke fun at the original. I found these much more amusing and not quite G-rated enough to post for your viewing pleasure.

We continued to wander and saw a parade of Belgian police ride through the narrow streets on gorgeous horses. It was a procession that included drumming and what seemed like a ceremonious trot through the main square. And though it was raining and the sight was one that we’d remember, I remember most getting my jeans smattered by….”stuff” from a horse splattering on the Belgian stone. I think that is the most delicate way to put that. Wonderful, a post full of bodily functions. But luckily we had our handy laundry detergent and my husband stopped laughing long enough that I could get cleaned up and we could head over to Bruges, which would hopefully welcome our tired and cranky selves with open arms, clear skies and beer.

Graffiti: Art or Disrespectful?

Graffiti cement barrier. Looking out on One World Trade Center.

I tend to like things neat and tidy, but I also appreciate art and character. I don’t know that I consider graffiti art. I’ve never known an actual graffiti “artist”, so I’ve had no one to help me solidify the answer. The closest I’ve come is the random guy at an artist street fair who makes cool poster size prints from spray paint. They usually have a painters mask on while little kids sit right in front, breathing the fumes as their parents stare in fascination.

Back to graffiti; I won’t say I’m not intrigued by it. It’s hard not to draw your eyes from random splashes of color in places amongst plain brick or cement backdrops. There are times that I appreciate color on a decrepit and crumbling wall, in the form of a beautiful mural. There are also times I see spray paint on two hundred year old Continue reading

Things That Used To Be; City Style

When you look at the neighborhood around you, do you wonder what it used to be?

Did it used to be busy, or was it quieter? Is it safer than it was or a tad seedier? What kind of people roamed the road and what kind of wheels rolled down your street? Do your views today make you long for the past or yearn for the future?

Old Philadelphia, courtesy of thingamababy.com

We took a stroll around a pretty neglected area of Philadelphia over the weekend. We had no real destination. My pictures fail to capture the atmosphere unfortunately.  It’s something I’m learning to figure out as an amateur. I like to find the beauty in what “was”, and I like to dream about what used to inhabit the buildings and sidewalks that I walk.

When I see areas that are abandoned and half demolished, I wonder if the area is going through a transition to be rebuilt again or if the crumbling bricks are a true metaphor for the neighborhood. Time will tell.

I’m not foolish enough to think that the past was glamorous. Crime, corruption, drugs and heartlessness have always lurked in corners of every time period. There are still sights to be appreciated and customs that are appealing, particularly when we don’t know the pitfalls. The revolutionary buildings that I admire may not have seemed so beautiful with excrement being flung out the windows out into the alleys below.

There are times we can’t experience and life to be enjoyed today.  Generations will pass on, scenery will continue to change and traditions will be altered. That is how time works and it always will.

I’m A Brick – Part Two

Philadelphia was built by innovators and blue collar immigrants. Though we’ve housed our fair share of wealthy folk, it has never been an upscale or rich city; rich in culture and history, yes, but not in money. Like other old East Coast cities, Philadelphia was built by people like my ancestors. They mixed the mortar, carried the bricks, polished the marble and bend the heated iron.

The city has beautiful areas that are captured of Philadelphia based movie and TV sets. It also has beautiful materials left in rundown neighborhoods that share marble steps amongst trash and crumbling concrete. It may not all be polished, but it’s ours.

To coincide with my last post, here is Philadelphia and its brick.