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.
This autumn I embarked on my first totally solo trip, taking on the Czech capital of Prague for three nights of intensive sightseeing. These are some of the little moments that proved I was right to go it alone; the times when I knew it was okay not to be part of a group or, as the copywriting cliché goes, ‘with that special someone’ (highly unlikely, as a man has never treated me to a city break, though two have taken me on dates to Burger King… but I digress).
You know Prague is perfect for solo travellers when you can…
Two museums separated by the Atlantic Ocean tackle similar issues, but from opposing viewpoints. Prague’s Velvet Revolution may be decades old, yet the relief at being free from communism is still palpable on a visit to the city, most notably in the Museum of Communism, where the reality of Czechoslovakian life from 1948-1989 is laid bare.
In contrast, Havana has been under the revolutionary eye of Fidel Castro (and, lately, his brother Raul) for decades, and its Museo de la Revolución is filled with artefacts described in chillingly stylistic communist prose, featuring phrases like ‘his courageous will’ and ‘an unbeatable soldier’. Having visited each museum in the last two months, I couldn’t help but compare these two attractions.
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.
Portugal’s capital consistently features on travel surveys for the best value city breaks in Europe, but I’ve found there’s a lot more to its appeal than just the prospect of saving money. Lisbon is high up on my travel wish list because it combines a blatant love of fashion and design with a wealth of history, having risen from the ashes of the tragic 1755 earthquake and also having blended the influence of the many cultures and countries discovered by its explorers.
Taking in all of these factors, I’ve examined some of the most important sights that I’d be looking to see on a city break here. My wish list is based on quite a few websites, but I’ve linked back to a couple of really useful ones – namely Spotted By Locals and Go Lisbon – as well as official sites for some of the places I’d be checking out.