Tag Archives: street art

Belgium, More Antwerp and final post from Belgium

In the days when I wasn’t getting a train to somewhere else I did more exploring in Antwerp and although two of the museums I really wanted to visit – the main art museum and the Fashion museum – were closed for renovations, I did manage to visit some other smaller places.

This is Rubenshuis – the actual home that the painter Rubens (who is the local great painter) lived. The house is also partly under renovation but a lot has been done and it is a lovely place slap bang in the Centre of the city.

Exterior and gardens of Rubenshuis

Ruben’s bed and his art and collections at Rubenshuis

More beautiful things in Rubenshuis – unlike most artists he made a lot of money while still alive

The area I was staying at for most of the time I was in Antwerp is called Het Eilandje and is where the old port used to be. One Sunday I downloaded a street art walking app and wandered around the docks and port – they have done an excellent job of restoring the area including building parks and a spectacular Port building.

MAS museum, cranes, marina and street art in Het Eilandje

More street art and one of the sluice gates

Antwerp port building (old and modern combined) , the new part and street art around every corner

Back to the old I visited some more churches on my last day in Antwerp. Firstly St Paul’s Church – which like many houses works of Rubens but for me it was especially cool because it’s garden has hundreds of stone carvings depicting the last days of Christ – it is all a bit spooky.

The exterior of St Paul’s church and the stone sculptures

The interior of St Paul’s Church plus a surprising simple modern sculpture of Mary and Jesus in front of all that gothic splendor! I like it.

Woodwork and stonework in St Paul’s church

Then to another house of the former mayor from the 16th century – the Rockoxhuis. He was a very wealthy mayor who made his money in brewing and also he liked his beautiful paintings and furniture too. He was also generous to the poor and bequeathed his house to the state after he died.

Interior courtyard and some of the art inside the Rockoxhuis

And final stop at St Jacob’s Church which is where Rubens is buried and where restoration is also happening and they are finding some fabulous murals as they are cleaning the walls – only visible on film at this stage but more to be displayed to the public in future.

Ruben’s tomb plus items from the Treasury of St Jacob’s church

For my last couple of days here I moved into a very funky hotel in the Centre of town – the DeWitte Lelie – my bedroom is the one with the Mohammed Ali screen prints in it.

Farewell to Belgium (and Rotterdam) – very much enjoyed staying in a place that is not overrun with tourists and that has a cool vibe to it.

Belgium – Antwerp

While I have been bouncing around Belgium I have also been exploring my base town of Antwerp. I am renting an apartment in the area that was formerly where all the docks were. It is now full of apartments in converted warehouses – and is similar to the meatpacking district as it was 20 years ago – so not yet overrun or in any way touristy – yet. It is also close to the red light district which I stumbled into on my first day – all wares are in the windows (rather than the street) – lots of make-up; not much clothing – no photos allowed but I smiled and waved at a few of them and they waved back – it is all very jolly and not at all seedy – this was at 4pm though:). The police station is right in the middle of the two streets where most of these ladies are to be seen and it is considered the safest place in Antwerp!

Converted warehouse buildings – my apartment is somewhere down there!

The are is being regenerated and it also houses two of the cities museums – so nice easy walk for me. The first is MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom) which means Museum on the river apparently. This is a very interesting building in its own right and has a broad range of art – mostly temporary exhibits but also some permanent.

MAS in Antwerp

The section below was about festivals and celebrations – the camera is actually a designed coffin – there is a company in the Caribbean who make these in any shape or design – whatever was of interest to the deceased. The giant dolls are used in annual parades in Belgium and the wedding sofa is for a Moroccan bride – definitely eclectic.

Camera Coffin, giant dolls and bridal sofa

At the top are the giant dance machines – used in Belgium through to the early 60s – they played music and had lights and other effects. They were beautifully detailed but eventually DJs took over:(. Strange porcelain figures plus a sailing couple sculpture make for a fun visit.

More art in MAS

Then at the very top of the building I came across and excellent collection of pre Colombian art. A very rich lady (Dora Jannssen) collected these pieces over the years based on aesthetics ie. what she liked and then became fascinated by the culture and its art. They were subsequently gifted to the state. It is considered on of the best collections of its kind and I really liked the pieces from an artistic perspective – would have been great to have an expert to explain all the cultural links bearing in mind this era was about 700-900 years BC. Very cool

Jannssen pre Colombian art exhibits

Jannssen pre Colombian art exhibits

Jannssen pre Colombian art exhibits

And now for a view of the city buildings. A lot is under construction and renovation at the moment but I’ve focussed on the buildings that are scaffolding free whenever I can.

Grote Markt

Antwerp likes its sculptures – they are everywhere

As a regular day tripper I have spend a lot of time at the station which is very grand and very big. The zoo is right next door which is why the Ferris wheel has a few gorillas on it!

Antwerp Station and the Ferris wheel with gorillas!

The evening light shows off the sandstone of the buildings on a warm summer’s evening

Antwerp as the sun is going down

And of course there is some street art plus I was impressed with the imaginative and colourful hoarding for new town hall building.

Street Art in Antwerp

On Sunday it was the day of Kultur Markt in Antwerp. Every last Sunday of the summer months all forms of theatre, music and drama is taking place all over the downtown area. I even got a burst of Mamma Mia. This is all to encourage the locals sign up for various arts groups and it is very popular. They also drop all museum charges on this day so I had to make sure I took advantage of that!

First stop was the nearby Red Star Line museum. The Red Star Line (which included the Titanic) had about 15 ships at its peak and while it acted as a pleasure cruiser this museum is all about what it was like to emigrate from all over Europe to the US or Canada. It is full of great interviews and stories about families from Russia, the Ukraine, Germany etc who all found their way to Antwerp so they could get a ticket on the red star line and this museum is on the site where all the admin was done and where people checked onto the ship. Some of the migration experiences were more successful than others and some even came back as they missed home so much. I lost two hours in here.

Some old posters from the Red Star Line

The Vlees Huis below is typical of what are known as “speck” buildings in this part of the world. Speck means fat and they are so called because the colouring looks like butcher’s meat with alternating meat and fat streaks.

Speck design

After a burst of listening to ABBA songs I dived into another free entry museum – the Plantin-Moretus (such catchy names they have here!). This is the house where the printer Christophe Plantin spent his life – with his family, books, paintings and printing equipment.

The famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens left a lot of impressive art in this house – which shows how wealthy Mr Plantin was,

Four portraits by Peter Paul Rubens

The print shop and library in the Plantin-Moretus House

Cosimo de Medici by Rubens

And the best one of all – in my opinion – this Rubens portrait of Seneca.

That’s it for Antwerp for the time being.

Belgium – adventures in Ghent

Again easy train rides to Ghent (an hour) from Antwerp.

As I travel around Belgium many of its medieval towns have a similar set up – Central square, cathedral and numerous other grand churches, Old Market and the town Hall. I suppose this is because of the guild background both here and in the Netherlands and that was how they liked things. The other thing is that a lot of Belgium’s towns seem to be going through a giant restoration period so scaffolding is ubiquitous and as it is August every town appears to be preparing for the next festival it will be holding. In Mechelen it was a music weekend and tomorrow in Antwerp there is an art/dance/drama/music thing going on – more on that in a future blog.

So Ghent – well it does have the churches. I visited the St Baaf’s (or Bavo) cathedral and St Nicklauskerk.

The major places of worship in Ghent – one is a dead ringer for the back of the Notre Dame in Paris

They do like very fancy wood and marble carved pulpits in this part of the world

But take a look at these stained glass windows – surely FrankLloyd Wright snuck over and designed these. I loved them. Wish all church stained glass was like this!

Stained glass windows at St Baafs Cathedral

There is a little bit of street art in Ghent and also a Van Dyck in one of the churches. I know which piece will outlast the others!

Van Dyck and street art

As usual wandering along the embankments of the canals is the nicest way to enjoy these cities as you get a great view of the slightly differing sandstone facades of the buildings which are always jammed close to one another.

The pretty Graslei and Korenlei embankments

Ghent also has an impressive Castle of the Counts pretty much in the centre of town.

Castle of the Counts

I then went to an area in the old town called The Patershoi which is a maze of little streets that is now quite trendy with restaurants and food from all over the world. I?n this area is a small museum called the Huis from Alijn and is a “museum of daily things”. It is housed in the old almshouses (formerly a children’s hospital) and dates back to the 1300s. It is a fun museum taking you through life and practices and how these have changes – birth, puberty, marriage, death etc. Here are some of the things they had on display that reminded me of things we had when I grew up.(how my mother loved her electric carving knife!).

Huis van Alijn Museum

Finally I visited a quite new museum called Kazerne-Dossin Memorial. It is a ten minute walk out of town and is next to the old Dossin Barracks where the Jews of Antwerp in particular were deported initially before being sent on to concentration camps. It is a large site with a lot of stories to go through – but what is interesting about the way it is done is an open debate on the role of the Belgiums during this period. What is collaboration and why do some people resist and risk their lives for the greater good while so many do not? Definitely worth a visit but it doesn’t even get a mention in my guide book – found it online. It has been around for about 5 years.

My visit was a Friday and as I headed to the station to return to Antwerp it was good to see all the locals hanging out with their beers enjoying the early evening sunshine.

Norway, Oslo and Sandefjord

Spent a couple of days in Norway on the cruise. First stop was Oslo which I visited with Emma a few years ago and where the lovely Anne showed us all the sites. We docked in front of the impressive Opera House on the water – lovely day and night.

It looks like the weather over this cruise is going to be gray and wet and it was gray but not raining in Oslo so I decided to walk to the Contemporary Art Museum (the Aston Feanley Museum) in the Frogner area that Emma and I stayed at when we visited. It it is a funky part of town on the waterfront (as all bits of Oslo are) with cool hotels and apartments and dozens of eateries and some shops of course. In fact it is a cool 😎 city all round.

Oslo is always full of statues – mostly of nude women it would seem (?) although I liked the man sticking out of the side of the wall at the Museum.

The Aston Feanley was designed by Renzo Piano and like many places exhibiting this kind of art, the building is sometimes more attractive than the contents.

There was a large Damien Hirst collection (I am not a fan – the circular ones are his and resemble my old spirograph toy. I declined to add in the formaldehyde cow and calf but it is there) but I did quite like the abstracts by Olav Christopher Jenssen and the Jeff Koons’ gold lamé Michael Jackson and his monkey was a hoot.

Our second stop was the delightful town of Sandefjord – once the whaling capital of Norway and also a spa town where the wealthy when for treatments – especially rheumatoid arthritis. One of the treatments offered was listed as jelly fish (maybe a natural electric shock???).

The centre of town has a magnificent statue that shows the whalers on a time boat on the tip of a whale’s tail. It rotates fully very slowly every hours. And round the statue are carvings of the whaling process.

The old lady was a well known character who fished locally every morning to earn a living and she seems to have been much loved. The children’s statue is for Norway’s National Day – this is a country that only celebrates its national day with a kids parade and flags and music. No tanks, marching or military. What a civilised place this is.

We then popped into the local fish market – which had an array of pickled herring – which I love – to gravad lax and all sorts of fish which I didn’t recognise – the spotted one is a wolf fish.

The old town of Sandefjord has perfectly restored houses which are so well kept and loved. Even in the rain they looked so cute.

Back in 2015 there was a large street art festival here with artists from all over the world – here I some of the work that still remains.

As usual – Norway is a big hit with me.

Germany, Berlin – (final post from Berlin) – Street Art and cruising around the city – my personal potpourri

For my last Berlin post I am offering up a collection of visuals including street art, parks, statuary and stuff that took my eye. I am definitely coming back soon…..this is a super cool place. Grungy and elegant all at once.

Street art is to be found all around the city so I took a specific tour to see the things I would not have stumbled on myself in some of the grungier parts of the city.

The building below is in the City Centre and you have to admire the colorful effect on three sides of this wall – including the TV Tower and Einstein of course – how Berlin can you get?

Ackerstrasse, Berlin

The works below are in the Hackesche Hofe – now a very gentrified part of town but this alleyway which reminded me of Hosier Lane in Melbourne is the bit that is kept for the artists. The man on the left is not Barack but Otto Weidt who lived here and employed mostly blind and deaf Jews. After the war started he helped to falsify their documents and hid a whole family behind a cupboard in his shop. I didn’t have time to go inside to check out the museum – next time. The Anne Frank is by Jimmy C (English born but Australian) who was commissioned to do it.

Hackesche Hofe and other spots displaying street art

The street art pieces below were my favourites in Hackesche Hofe

Another spot for commissioned street art (if that expression isn’t an oxymoron) is the East Side Gallery – a portion of the Berlin Wall that was deliberately left up so that invited artists could do their thing. I think it has become a bit too touristy and permanent – on the whole, my preference is for transient street art.

Examples from the East Side Gallery including the well known kiss between Brezhnev and Honecker

On the right, more from the East Side Gallery and on the left a very effective piece of art at Oberbaumbrucke

Finally we went to the very grungy parts of Kreuzberg and also the Gurleiter Park – usually in the news for drug busts and suchlike but in the afternoon it was indeed grungy and one nutter did come up to us and tell us what he’d like to do to our mothers but other than it was fine – so glad I grew up in Central London sometimes! here the art tends to be more political and very anti gentrification – in Kreuzberg they are very proud that over 200,000 people signed a petition not to allow another MacDonalds in the area (and sadly they are everywhere else in Berlin). It has a large Turkish population and as a result it is a great place to eat excellent Turkish food.

Some clear messages in Kreuzberg

Talking of food – as I usually am. My contributions for this blog will be “cake and chocolate as art” as seen in the food department of the biggest department store – KadeWe – jaw dropping.

My idea of ‘cake art’

How does anyone ever choose out of these?

The nice thing about a long stay is you can really get to understand the public transport and use it effortlessly (well after a few days!). I loved gadding about on the Ubahn and Sbahn – especially as they never seem to get ridiculously crowded even in the rush hour.

Trains at Ostbahnhof

As my hotel was very close to the Tiergarten – which is really like a forest in the middle of the city, I took the opportunity on many occasions to just stroll around listening to an Audible book on my ipods. Exercise, beautiful visuals and reading – great multi-tasking.

Walking in the Tiergarten

More scenes in the Tiergarten

The memorial to the persecuted LGBTI community with lots of flowers as I was there during Christopher St Parade. Also rock sculpture in the Tier Garden – a global art project but entertaining to me is that one of them was a joint US, German and Venezuelan project – probably wouldn’t happen today!

And I didn’t only go to museums – I also appreciated learning about the city, it’s history, the damage during the War, the Wall and the eventual rebuilding of the City of 1990 onwards – and to be honest it is still a work in progress with a lot of construction (or rather re-construction) to be seen at every corner.

I hadn’t really understood the way in which both Germany and Berlin were divided up after the WW2. First Germany was divided into four occupied parts – Soviet, French, US and British and the same was done to Berlin but this put the city into the strange position of being totally surrounded by Soviet occupied Germany even though three portions of if were Western controlled. When the Cold War took off a few years later and Stalin reneged on the deals with the Allies he really wanted all of Berlin and because he was in charge of all of Germany surrounding it he sieged the city and wouldn’t allow food into it in an attempt to cause those in the Western parts to surrender to his power. But luckily the Brits, US and French weren’t having any of that and for the 11 months of the siege those countries used the area around the now defunct Templehof airport and dropped food and supplies out of the sky (apparently every 90 seconds and known as the Berlin Airlift) to the people of West Berlin so they did not starve and in the end Stalin realised it was not going to be so easy to get his hands on all of Berlin after all.

Another good outcome of getting up early is to see the Brandenburg Gate before the crowds arrive – although the cleaners were hard at it as it was the morning after the Christopher Parade so a lot of beer bottles around – all gone by 10am. It has been recently cleaned up so looks great and it is worth remembering that this famous monument was located in the Death Strip (or No Man’s land) when the Wall was put up so no-one on either side saw it at all for 30 years!

Brandenburg Tor

Always something different to see – the Red Rathaus O(old) and the new (ish) TV Tower, the Gendarmenmarkt and the famous border crossing Checkpoint Charlie.

The varying sites in the centre of Berlin

The construction below is of the massive Humboldt Palace and an example of how much is going on in the city of this kind of thing. It should be completed later this year and I am sure will be another fantastic place to visit. It’s always nice to catch a glimpse of the Victory statue on the main road that separates on the two parts of the Tiergarten

The places you see wandering around Berlin

Old and new mingle well in Berlin

Just as I was leaving the Adlon Hotel my eye was caught by a Bank (yes really!). It is a big building sandwiched between the Adlon and the Brandenburg Tor and I am so glad I wandered to the entrance to take a look. It is the HQ of the DZ Bank and the interior was designed by Frank Gerry (never saw any mention of that in my guide books). I’ve seen a lot of atriums in my time (usually just four sides and a square hole in the middle) but this has Gehry’s usual flare and creativity. What a great place to work. Apparently the area at the bottom can be used as a large auditorium. Nice surprise.

The DZ Bank Corporate Centre

Goodbye to Berlin – it’s been a blast – and I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed a live performance of Cabaret in German in a tented theatre with seats in cabaret style in one of the many central parks. A musical I love and great to see it where it was set. Life is a Cabaret old Chum…..

Cabaret Live in Berlin

Hungary, Budapest – A river runs through it part 2 – the Pest side of the River Danube

Having only briefly covered Pest (pronounced Pesht as ‘s’ on its own is ‘sh’ whereas if you want an ‘s’ sound you need to have “sz” which probably explains why Hungarians learn English and not the other way around!) in my earlier blog on the synagogues and Ruin Bars – I thought it appropriate to finish my visit with a tour of the Pest side of the river – the much more fun and lively side!

Everything in Budapest is about the river – what on either side, getting across it, boating down it, walking along it and even the trams trundle by.

Although there is loads of construction going on in the city and especially in some of the large squares there is still lots to see around and about the holes in the ground just be wandering around and discovering squares, fountains, sculptures and statues.

On the topic of sculptures – these are some of my favorites from the Pest side and I know there are many more I did not find – a good reason to come back.

The Fat Policeman below is keeping an eye on the apartment across the street and is based on the artist’s grandfather. Everyone likes to rub his tummy. The girl with the dog is very popular and I was very happy to capture her with a real man with his dog!

A selection of sculptures in Budapest including the Fat Policeman and the Girl with a dog

The Little Princess below is very popular and I think the Ronnie Reagan one is pretty good. The weirdest though is Will Shakespeare (actually outside the Starbucks of my hotel). This is a replica of a sculpture whose original is in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia (yes honestly). The original sculptor was a Hungarian born Australian and the replica was unveiled in 2003 and meant to represent close ties between Australia and Hungary. I get all that – but why William Shakespeare? Weird enough that he is in Ballarat but then again in Budapest? What has he got to do with either Australia or Hungary?? (Answers on a postcard please:). I am perplexed…….

More sculptures in Budapest including William S?!?!

The saddest sculptures are the famous shoes along the Danube which was created to honor the Jews and others killed by facist Hungarian militia in 1944/5. They were ordered to take off their shoes and then shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies would fall into the Danube and be carried away. Several of the shoes were stolen in 2014 – no one knows by whom or why.

Memorial Shoe sculpture by the River close to House of Parliament

There is also a burgeoning street art scene especially around the Jewish quarter. Below is the beloved Empress Sissi and the Rubik cube (which was invented by a Hungarian) as well as a commemoration of a 1953 World Cup match in which the Hungarians beat England. It was a big deal apparently which is in the memories of all Hungarians as strongly as 1966 is for Brits. Like us, they are still basking in that reflected glory. Time to let go, I say…….

Street art in the Jewish Quarter and living in the past football success!

The Time Magazine cover is a reproduction of an actual cover at the time of the ill fated Hungarian Revolution against Soviet communist rule in 1956.

Street art in Budapest

The National Gallery , which is located in the spectacular Heroes’ Square, is now split between the Pest side and the Buda side – I have to say I was underwhelmed by the collections there but I did like these busts by Messerschmidt dating back to the 1770s.

The magnificent Heroes’ Square

Messerschmidt sculptures in the National Gallery

The chain bridge is one of quite a few that straddle the Danube in Budapest and it is probably the most photographed as it resembles the Eiffel Tower in design – but as a bridge – if you know what I mean?

The Chain Bridge from every angle!

Don’t think I didn’t eat while in Budapest – of course I sampled all the local specialities.

Grazing around Budapest

Craft beer one minute; rooftop cocktails the next

Fore gras fantasy, stuffed cabbages and sour cherry and poppy seed strudel.

A visit to the Houses of Parliament by the river is a must. The exterior is stunning – apparently based on the design of the Houses of Parliament in London – and so is the interior (which is only half used)! This is because it is perfectly symmetrical and was built to house the equivalent of the Houses of Commons and Lords and to be exactly the same as each other – but of course there are no more lords in Hungary so the bit we get to see is the space that is no longer used for politics – which is really a bit of a waste when you see how plush it is.

Luckily someone had the sense to ensure that all the stained glass windows were taken out and hidden as WW2 started to accelerate. They also took 600 detailed photos of everything so were able to recreate the interiors perfectly after the war,

Exterior of the House of Parliament – day and night

The Golden Staircase and interior corridor in the House of Parliament

The main chamber in the House of Parliament and beautiful carvings of every profession that exists

Just outside the House of Parliament is an underground memorial to those who were killed at the time of the Hungarian revolution against Soviet communist occupation in 1956. It is a sombre memorial to remember the many young people who went to the square outside the Houses of Parliament to peacefully protest two weeks after the initial uprising. But by then, the Russians had returned and they fired indiscriminately at the crowd killing many people and this violent approach continued in a brutal fashion across Hungary for the next year until all insurrection had been quashed. Over 200,000 Hungarians fled the country at this time and were taken in by a variety of other nations (those were the days when we took care of people in need). The Russians stayed in Hungary until 1990!

The Hungarian Revolution Memorial

St Stephen’s Basilica is at the Centre of Pest and while I didn’t like it as much as the more unusual Mathias church in Buda it is pretty spectacular from the outside and inside.

Exterior of St Stephen’s Basilica

Unusually at the altar it is not Jesus you see but St Stephen is is very important to the Hungarians. I believe they had to have special dispensation to allow this to happen.

Interior of St Stephen’s Basilica

As ever in European churches, they do a pretty good job with domed roofs!

Domed cupolas in St Stephen’s Basilica

Although it is summer season I did manage to visit the Vigado Concert Hall to enjoy an evening of Hungarian symphony, operetta, ballet and gypsy violins. It was great!

Exterior of Vigado Concert Hall

The art nouveau concert hall just before the Hungarian Gala evening began

And so farewell to Budapest………

Serbia, Belgrade – part 2

I have continued my travels around Belgrade over the past few days which of course included a food walking tour – such an excellent way of discovering a city, learning about the history and of course sampling the best of the local food as you go.

A brief visit to the former residence of Princess Ljubica. Mostly this is a furniture museum now but what makes it interesting is that it was built just as the Ottoman Empire in the region was starting to decline and Christianity was rising. As a result the design, furniture and clothes in different rooms are an eclectic mix of Biedermeier European influence and ongoing Ottoman style eg. the curved area for meeting guests and drinking tea.

Princess Lijubica’s former residence

We started the food tour at the ? Restaurant – one of the oldest in the city. The interior is pretty special and I especially liked the original oak carved tables and the typical Ottoman style “half chairs”. Of course the day starts with Turkish coffee plus a nip of plum brandy. Then the waiter mentioned that the the Burek (a filo type pastry with a local savoury cheese filling) had just come out of the oven – so of course it would have been rude not to try that. After that the ginormous Skadarskarlijska sausage – a bargain at less than two dollars and sold from the best hole in the wall in town.

The very old ? Restaurant and a fresh, hot and tasty burek for brekkie

Is there ever a bad market in any Balkan city or town? No – they always have the freshest and in season food and people still like to shop here rather than in a supermarket.

In season fruit and veg at one of the 22 Belgrade markets

More wandering around took me to past the famous Mockba Hotel and the parliament buildings. One of my guides told me that last year she was taking a group of 40 Iranians around and their translator asked that they have a ten minute stop at this hotel for pictures etc. She thought this was odd and it is not easy to stop there but she complied. Ten minutes later only 10 people had returned to the bus. The translator said they must have decided to walk to their hotel…..they never came back!

Hotel Mockba, a beaux arts building and the Parliament House in Belgrade

I also came across a little street art. There are two football teams in Belgrade – The Partisans and the Red Star. This area was a stronghold of the partisans and you can tell their street art as it is always in black and white. I didn’t get to see any of the Red Star work – they don’t operate in the same locales for obvious reasons!

Close to my hotel is the Saint Sava Church – one of the biggest orthodox churches in the Balkans. Stunning from the outside but I was disappointed to find that the interior dome was being renovated. But then someone said it was worth taking a look a the crypt which had just been completed. Well I’ve been to a few crypts in my time and they are usually dark and dirty and full of bones – and then there is this one…..wow! So glad I went down there.

Saint Sava church exterior

The stunning crypt in Saint Sava Church

Wall paintings in the crypt of Saint Sava Church

Next stop was the recently renovated Museum of Serbian history which was a mixture of archaeological finds (a big Roman settlement here as it was kind of at the edge of one part of their empire) plus Serbian artists and some European art. As usual I have picked some favourites – below are all portraits of strong and interesting women!

Susie’s selection of art from the National Museum of Serbia

I also really liked the work of the Serbian artist Uros Predic. These are Fugitives from Herzegovina and Boy at his mother’s grave

And I was totally wowed by this marble sculpture of woman with a veil – how do they do that?!?!

Veiled woman – in marble

Also close to my hotel was the Nikola Tesla museum. Of course being very ignorant about all things science the only reason I know his name relates to the electric car company named after him by Mr Musk. Actually he doesn’t have anything to do with cars really. He was born in Serbia although lived much of his life in the US where he was able to try and patent his ideas. His big invention was the oscillating transformer (you will need to look that up because even after the explanation I couldn’t understand it although I think one of the benefits is the ability for a washing machine to spin as fast as it does?) and he is also now also credited with the invention of the wireless. When Marconi claimed this invention Tesla sued on the basis that this belonged to him and eventually won the case BUT that was 40 years after he died so no-one remembers him for that. It’s a cruel world!

I did get a kick to see how involved he was with the Niagara hydro electric plant design (he worked for both Westinghouse and Edison) – as I have spent a fair bit of time in Buffalo in my time:)

Nikola Tesla Museum

Another unexpected place of interest was the interior of the National Bank of Serbia. I had not realised the degree of hyperinflation in Serbia between November 1993 and and January 1994. In November 1993 1 million dinar equaled 1 Deutschmark by January 1994 that 1 DM equaled 5 Trillion dinar! My guide remembered her mother carrying money around in a suitcase when she went out to buy bread. Apparently all this was caused by a corrupt banking system ……

The Serbian bank then decided to issue the best note of all – in my opinion…..I just wish they would produce more of them – many many more…..

Bulgaria, Plovdiv – 2019 European City of Culture

Plovdiv is a charming town in central Bulgaria and worth visiting but I think it can be done in two full days. Plovdiv is remarkably the oldest inhabited city in Europe but it is also gently modernising.

The main shopping street in Plovidv

It consists of an old town with an excellent Roman amphitheater and we were lucky to be able to watch an orchestra play on a warm sunny evening. A special treat.

Listening to the music at the Roman Amphitheatre

Visiting the Old Town of Plovidiv is a must. Full of quaint houses, a few shops and people practising old crafts – it has a quiet vibe and is a great place to walk around – with comfortable shoes.

The charming old part of the City

The Old town also has many revivalist homes that allow you to see what life was like in the early part of the 20th century as modernization was taking hold and the Ottoman Empire rule was declining. These houses have been lovingly restored.

The inside of Balabanov House

The Ethnographical Museum also in the Old Town was a beautiful building but sadly no inside shots allowed.

The Ethnographical Museum (with pesky children having their lunch)

The city still has a large mosque which towers over more ancient Roman ruins and it is a mosque you can visit inside so we did – it was splendid. I do enjoy the way there are so many layers of civilization in this part of the world. The deeper they dig the more they find.

The Mosque in Plovdiv perched above the Roman Forum

The trendy and arty part of town is called Kapana and is where all the bars and restaurants are plus some street art. I think this is where most of the events linked to European City of Culture will be focussed as the summer season gets into full swing.

Street Art in Kapana

Some good restaurants in Kapana and we were especially enamoured of Tam’s House – the chefs were Bulgarian and Peruvian who trained at a Michelin starred restaurant in the Napa Valley and now they are in Plovidiv. The food was amazing as was the local wine and the cost was just AUD50 a head for a meal that was top class and would cost three times that in Melbourne.

Tam’s House – strongly recommended if you can find it!

Israel, Tel Aviv – The hummus story and other food I enjoyed as I ate my way around the city.

Tel Aviv and Jaffa used to be quite distinct cities but now it’s hard to figure where one ends and the other starts. I am staying in an area of Tel Aviv called Neve Tzedek – which is great for getting to Jaffa Port either by walking along the sea front or cutting through the slightly more inland alleys. It is buzzing and life only really starts here around 11pm so if you are a light sleeper or not a fan of city noise – avoid this area. I like city noise – as I grew up with it and too much quiet freaks me out!

One of the reasons I was keen to visit this city is its reputation for food which seems to be growing by the day and of course as an Ottolenghi fan I have seen a lot of his TV shows plugging Israeli food. So the first thing we did was a five hour walking and food tour with our lovely guide Avi.

There are many local markets but we liked our local one Ha-Carmel – and you can see why. Even I might be tempted to cook more if fresh food always looked this good.

Avi wrote his thesis on the Hummus Wars and believes that while societal values in Israel are often proscribed top down that the impact food has is bottom up and that the local food scene was formed originally from poverty and necessity – you made the best of what you could get.

The hummus wars relate to Israel and Lebanon’s competitions as to who made the largest bowl and whose is best. At one point Lebanon sued Israel in the EU courts for cultural appropriation of their dish and while there is some commentary on the outcome – it is all a bit irrelevant since neither are EU members! I thing they decided it was a category of food rather than an actual dish – the word hummus does mean chick pea and the dish should just be chick pea, tahini, lemon juice and salt – and in Jerusalem they sometimes add garlic.
It used to be the equivalent of breakfast porridge for the farmers and is generally made by Arabs for consumption by Jews – for the Arabs this was something the could eat for free at home so why would they eat it in a restaurant? Also it is kosher, halal, vegan – so everyone can eat and share it.
In more recent times the Jews moved to making hummus a lunch dish and added things in the centre – meat in the middle or mushrooms. We visited Abu Hassan which has been around for years and generally wins the best hummus in the world competitions. As is typical in this part of the world – the father left his shop to his eldest son. The next two sons both opened rival shops opposite each other – the recipe is the same in all three – the sons are all suing each other – Go figure.
One the tour we also ate shawarma and cheese borek and falafel not to mention poppyseed cake, babka, Yemenite pancakes (from a hole in wall place near the market that Jamie Oliver visited recently – watch the show in September if you are in the UK) and Malabi – a kind of panacotta with rose water.

My favorite vegetable is aubergine or eggplant so I was delighted to try one of Tel Aviv’s favorite dishes – Sabich – again from a renowned place. Line outside the door for wholewheat pita with thinly fried eggplant, tahini, hard boiled eggs, potato and loads of spices and salads and pickles. Delicious. I also tasted a very delish eggplant melanzuna (on a bed of fresh tomatoes and tahini) for breakfast one morning. Swoon

We also got to eat at some of the new restaurants in Tel Aviv and particularly liked Kitchen Market at Tel Aviv Port – not cheap but super delicious, well designed food and great view to boot. The pretty appetizer are tiny rolls of raw tuna, carrot, beet root etc with the most fabulous picante sauce on top. The meat is pressed lamb. The dessert is upside down cheesecake.

In Jaffa – where our food tour started we also got to see a lot of the old city and walked a lot which is just as well given how much we ate. The views back to modern Tel Aviv show how close Jaffa Port is to the modern city but it also has plenty of history and a mish mash of Islamic and Jewish architecture – plus a bit of Roman.

It was just after Eurovision too so it was fun to see the posters about the event and a very cool of last year’s winner from Israel made out of beer bottle tops. She is a bit of an icon here and grew up around Jaffa I’m told.

And look – in my neighborhood near the nice boutiques on Sahzabi Street – I found another Banksy. He does get around.
Finally it was great fun to meet up with some relatives by marriage who live in Tel Aviv – that’s Ran bottom right (sorry the waitress chopped off half his face!) and his wife Aliza, his daughter and two grandchildren plus one boyfriend. I definitely had a “blonde moment”:). Lovely to meet this group for the first time.Thanks for dinner Ran and for following the blog.

USA, Miami – My Street Art fix at Wynward Walls – Vhils

Thanks to my friend Beth I have learned to admire the work of the Portuguese street artist Vhils and searched out his work when I was in Lisbon – there is not much as they keep pulling down the buildings he uses!

This artist started by etching into the external walls of large commercial buildings and creating giant faces in the process. No idea how he does that especially given the size of the works. So I was very pleased to find five new works of his at Wynyard Walls which he did for the 2018 Art Basel event and equally pleased to find a solo exhibition of his work on different media including paper and incredibly polystyrene!!

His original works in a nearby Carpark that I saw last year.

These are the new faces on the wall plus faces using the medium of paper.

And finally, who knew you could create with polystyrene?