Start reading up on the history of Leuven and you’ll quickly realise this city is a survivor, with the scars of two world wars to prove it. Buildings like the university library, which I touched on in my previous post, have their own stories to tell, but it’s one of the newest additions to the city that has taken up the theme of conflict and explored it through art. Enter the M Museum Leuven and its Ravaged exhibition (referred to as Ravage in Flemish), ripping through scenes of destruction dating from the 15th to the 21st century.
Last week I touched down in Belgium’s capital for a few days of much-needed culture, and I found Brussels to be the perfect mix of quirky art, intense architecture and intriguing history.
There’s so much that I took in during my time here that it’s hard to work out where to start, so I’m diving straight in with some of the key sights that I encountered during my visit, armed with a 24 hour Brussels Card to give me free access to a whole host of museums, along with free public transport.
You don’t need to be a fan of street art to enjoy Bristol, but it helps. In the homeland of the mysterious Banksy, who inadvertently brought graffiti chic to the masses (by way of the mechandisers who made money out of reproducing his designs), it’s only right that there should be a focus on the city walls as a canvas.
As some of these photos reveal, I spent a lot of time in Nelson Street, which – as I’ve recently discovered – is home to Britain’s largest street art project, called See No Evil. This project involved 72 artists from around the world contributing graffiti, which is permanently displayed here.
“This place gives me the creeps,” said the American tourist next to me. “It’s so ghoulish. Don’t you agree?”
Let’s just say I didn’t. The Sedlec Ossuary, situated an hour’s train ride from Prague in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kutna Hora, was one of my main reasons for visiting the Czech Republic. This is the world-famous resting place for some 40,000 bodies, arranged artistically by a wood carver, at the orders of a local family back in 1870.
Saucy seaside postcards might look a bit tame these days when compared to today’s pop culture references (Miley Cyrus’ twerking and sledgehammer licking antics, anyone?) but, back in the 1950s, the tongue-in-cheek images produced by artist Donald McGill were seen as risque and even borderline offensive. Most of the British public – readily stereotyped as sexually repressed and a bit dull – couldn’t get enough of his work and they lapped up the puns, however the heavy-handed censors of the 1950s weren’t far behind.
Last night I reluctantly flew home from Reykjavik, after four days of thirstily drinking in the city’s culture. Whilst I would easily call it the friendliest and most welcoming place I’ve ever visited, equally I can’t help but point out – and fully embrace – the average Reykjavikur’s obsession with death.
For those of you still baffled by the name of my blog, ‘calavera’ means skull. I chose it because I have a bit of a thing about skulls, which increasingly shapes my travel plans as I drift towards anatomical museums, graveyards, castles with years of history and possibly a resident ghost… the list goes on. With Iceland, I didn’t really know there was such a predilection for the morbid until I really got here; I was just keen to see how such a vibrant and creative nation has sprung up in a country that looks so post-apocalyptic at times.
So, you want to see culture in Paris without spending a fortune? So did I. Being short on both time and money when I visited (I was working at a trade show as part of Paris Fashion Week), I created my own adventure and ticked off some of the well known and the more obscure sights of the city, knowing that every second counts when you’re trying to absorb a new destination.
Along the way, I stumbled upon some great places that I think you should know about, too – just put down the guidebook for a second and you’ll see what I mean. Get ready to try out your finest Franglais phrases and enjoy a whistle-stop tour.
Give me a great bit of street art and I’m a happy bunny. I know that Rome doesn’t have the same kind of gritty urban reputation as New York or London, but it’s actually a great place to find some unexpected gems on a wall or in a shop window, in between checking out ancient ruins (which I’m glad haven’t been covered in spray paint, but have more subtle additions).
Here are some of the best examples that I could find during my visit, from bizarre animals to a religious art interpretation.
There’s nothing like dreaming big when you write a wishlist, so what better place to start than India? It’s a vast country and I’m sure I’m only aware of a small percentage of what there is to see, so I apologise if my plans involve going for the obvious rather than the hidden gems, but I’m only just getting to grips with it.
I’m hoping to visit either late in 2013 or early in 2014, with Jodhpur, Jaipur and Delhi being likely stopping points, but there are loads of other places I want to tick off. Here are just some of the experiences I’d like to have, the sights that have inspired me and the things I want to photograph, from the possible to the not-so-likely-unless-I-take-a-gap-year.
As today is Holocaust Memorial Day, I thought I’d show you the poignant memorial statue that I came across in Berlin, which focuses on Kindertransport – the process of evacuating Jewish children to safety, but sadly without their parents. What made it even more touching was that there was a little boy visiting the statue with a bunch of flowers, which he divided into small clumps and added carefully to each of the bronze children and to their suitcases.
The end of the statue’s caption is bleak but honest – it reads: Trains to life, trains to death. Whilst the children were whisked away to be taken in by British families, their relatives back home were left under Nazi rule and, most likely, transported to death camps. The horrible dichotomy of what a train journey could mean for the Jews is expressed simply but effectively.