Wednesday, September 26, 2018

When we planned to visit Brussels, our main goal was to visit the beautiful Christmas markets. But along the way, we discovered some fabulous street art as well.

Besides popping into numerous chocolate shops (Yum!), we wandered around many small side streets and found a city filled with fun, colorful cartoons and murals on many of its buildings. Before our trip, I had read that Brussels was known for its comic book characters such as Rin Tin Tin, but I still had no idea. These delightful characters also play a major part in the city’s Comic Book Route, which features large murals paying homage to Belgian comic artists.
Let’s take a tour of Brussel’s street art scene!

Comic Book Route
One of the most fun and unusual ways to explore Brussels is by taking the Comic Book Route. The project started in 1991 with the intention to embellish empty walls in the city, while paying tribute to famous Belgian comic artists. The route itself features over 50 mural paintings from iconic greats to lesser-known characters. You can find a map of the route here.

Here are a couple of the comic book murals that we found:
The Broussaille Wall and Olivier Rameau & friends mural Rue du Chêne
The Broussaille Wall was the first comic strip mural to be painted in July 1991. The wall illustrates a cheerful couple, Broussaille and his girlfriend, going for a brisk walk around the city. Based on a comic series created by Frank Pé, the series was first published in 1978 in the local Spirou magazine.

Victor Sackville Wall
Rue du Marché au Charbon
Not too far from the Broussaille Wall is the Victor Sackville Wall. The scene on the wall comes from The Opera of Death, the first comic of the Code Zimmerman series created by Francis Carin in 1985. The mural depicts the main character Victor Sackville, a British spy that lands in Brussels, on the Rue du Marché au Charbon as it looked during WWI.
Spike and Suzy
Rue de Laeken 111
Without stopping peeing, the Manneken Pis, the famous symbol of Brussels, holds five of Belgium's best-known comic strip heroes in one hand.

Manneken Pis
Be prepared to fight off hordes of tourists to see one of Brussel’s “little” attractions – the Manneken Pis (“little pee man” in Flemish). The peeing boy is a small, bronze, 17th-century fountain statue that measures just 61cm (24 inches). I'm not sure why everyone finds this statue endearing, but they do and he did look cute in his Christmas outfit. In fact, the statue even has an outfit for every season and national holiday.
A nearby mural called Manneken Peace on Rue du Chêne was painted by artist HMI. He is a member of the Brussels CNN group, a famous group of Belgian hip-hop artists for the last 30 years.

Located beside the canal in the center of Brussels, housed in the former brewery Belle-Vue, the MIMA or Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art is an interesting visual arts museum. The MIMA presents temporary exhibitions, concerts and performances and has a permanent collection as well covering four different floors. During our visit, the unfinished cellar looked like it belonged in an abandoned building – complete with crumbling walls and barren concrete floors but filled with amazing murals and paste up art. I was very impressed!
In 2016, American artist Maya Hayuk created “City of Lights” – a modern-like chapel with raised ceilings and stained-glass window treatments – a space for reflection.

Rue des Chandeliers Kandelaars
Here we found the walls on this narrow laneway completely covered in interesting street art and paste ups.

Music Murals
You can find life-sized stencils of Bruce Springsteen as well as John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix fittingly on the side of a second-hand record shop, The Collector, located at 7 Rue du Chên.
Galerie de Portraits LGBTQ
On a small street near the Mannekin Pis, Rue du Marché au Charbon, I believe, you will find an incredible colorful series of LGBTQ frescoes and several other pieces in Brussel’s gay quarter, which is in the same area.

Space Invaders
In previous blog posts, I’ve mentioned the French street artist known as Invader on our trip to Paris, but I didn’t realize that Brussels is home to about 40 of his mosaic installations. We found a couple of the tiled creations inspired from the 1970s-video game “Space Invaders” in the city center.
Oh, I should also mention that one of the best ways to see more of Brussel’s street art is to hire a Villo! city bike. This gives you a chance to explore Atomium, a bizarre structure made up of nine metal spheres that represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times that was built for the first post-WWII world fair in 1958. Definitely worth the trek!
Love the quote in this mural in Brussels!
Have you been to Brussels? Any other travel tips for our next trip?


Friday, September 14, 2018

I originally wanted to title this post: “How to kill 5 hours in downtown Houston while renewing your passport.” I looked for street art, ate a giant omelet for breakfast, chased butterflies at the science museum and had an iced coffee while I waited for my expedited passport.
Continuing on my solo road trip, I drove from Austin to Houston in about 3 hours.
After dropping off my proper paperwork at the downtown passport office, I headed to Harry’s, a longtime, Greek family restaurant on the edge of Montrose and Midtown. I ordered a big-as-my-head spinach and feta omelet with hashbrowns and unlimited filter coffee. Man, I do miss bottomless cups of coffee like what you get in the USA!

With a full belly, I continued on my wander of Downtown/Midtown Houston toward Elgin Street. At the bottom of this post, I included a map of my approximate walking area. I will say that some of the blocks here definitely seemed more sketchy than others. I was approached by a few homeless people asking for spare change and got whistled at by a group of guys walking by. My advice is to use your common sense and don’t do anything stupid. I didn’t use my good Canon camera like I usually do, and I kept my mobile phone in my front pocket so I could take photos.

Where: 3100 Smith St.
The Gorillas mural was completed by local Houston artist Nicky Davis in 2015 to mark the coming of western lowland gorillas to the Houston Zoo.
Michael Savoie mural
Where: Elgin and Smith streets
In this colorful mural, Dallas-based artist Michael Savoie depicts an African-American woman with a European look. In 2015, he was selected as a top 3 finalist and finished as the first runner-up in the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series competition when this mural was unveiled.
Preservons La Creation
Where: 2800 San Jacinto St.
Wow! You can’t miss this 9,750-square-foot mural created by French artist Sebastien “Mr. D” Boileau in 2014. His impressive interpretation of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel stretches an entire city block. Boileau now lives in Houston and owns a mural company, which does both private and public pieces.

The Bloody Truth mural
Where: 3000 Louisiana St.
This Halloween-ish mural, in support of the Bloody Truth Houston blood drive, also was designed by Boileau.
"The Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens."
Where: Bahá'í Community Center, 2419 Fannin St.
Meeting of Styles murals
Nouveau Antique Art Bar, 2913 S. Main St.
Meeting of Styles is an international network of graffiti artists that meet together and host various public art events around the world. I love the “Dia de los Muertos” murals, which I think were designed by Mexican street artist Real Tres. Apparently, the group also hosts an annual street artist event in London, so I’ll have to watch out for that.

Other murals in Downtown Houston
Here is an approximate walking area of Downtown Houston where I took these photos in this post:

NOTE: It’s been a little over one year ago since Hurricane Harvey landed in Houston (August 27, 2017), causing major flooding lasting until September 3, and the Downtown neighborhood was one of the areas greatly affected. The flood damage amounted to $1.5 billion and forced thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes. I visited Houston in October 2016 so I’m not sure if you’ll still find many of these murals.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

I am taking a break from our European travels to look back at some cool street art I saw on previous trips “home” to the USA.

Texas is not a state I would go running to if it weren’t for several friends who currently call this Lone Star state home. In fact, I last visited Texas in 2002 (Yikes!), so I made a solo 900-plus-mile road trip to see several friends after visiting my family in Nebraska.

After having a homecooked Laotian lunch in Dallas with a girlfriend, I continued to Austin, who’s city model is “Keep Austin Weird” and is probably the state’s most liberal city. (Thank goodness!) During my three-day stay with a longtime girlfriend, she showed me the main sites and we sought out local street art.  

Downtown Austin
On the first day, we did a two-hour city tour with Austin Detours, which showcases a few highlights and includes a visit to the state capitol building.
Austin mural located at 6th Street Historic District by Sanctuary Printshop: East 6th St & SB I-35 Access Road.

As a pastry chef, I loved the “You’re My Butter Half” mural – a replica is located inside the Austin Visitor Center. The original design by Creative Suitcase is located at E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd & Alamo St., which we tried to find but couldn’t.
Random Pac-Man street art in Austin  
1st and Annie streets (Roadhouse Relics)
Our tour stopped at this large-scale replica of a vintage postcard located on the side of Roadhouse Relics. It’s easy to see why this is one of Austin’s most beloved murals and our tour guide took a group photo here. The mural was originally painted in 1998 by artist and owner Todd Sanders of Roadhouse Relics and his friend Rory Skagen.
HOPE Outdoor Gallery
I loved wandering around the HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a three-story concrete structure covered with random graffiti, in downtown Austin. The art park has been slated for demolition for months but will stay open through October this year. The park, launched in 2011 in an undeveloped lot, is home to some really cool murals as well as some random tagging and graffiti. Apparently, the site attracts an average of 500 daily visitors and also featured on our daily tour.
There are plans for opening a new art park at Carson Creek Ranch, a 58-acre ranch on the banks of the Colorado River in Southeast Austin near the airport. However, I doubt that a shiny, brand new site will have near the character as the current location.

South Congress Avenue
Snack Bar neon sign originally built as an addition to the Austin Motel.
Since my visit two years ago, a large section of South Congress Avenue where Parts & Labour and Doc’s Motorworks were located has been purchased, and the developers are planning a mixed-use project that calls for office, retail and restaurant uses and a (freaking) parking garage. Good job, Austin, let’s demolish some original, interesting buildings and replace them with another strip mall and parking garage! What a shame! (Read more about the development here by the Austin Statesman.)
For years, South Congress or SoCo has been a good representation of what Austin is all about. The ideal Austin mix is home to trendy boutiques, eclectic restaurants, food trucks, as well as craft booths and street musicians. I loved all the funky t-shirts and locally-made items that I found at Parts & Labour and enjoyed wandering through other artsy shops. I doubt that I will like the new SoCo if all the originality is replaced with strip malls, parking garages and fancy boutique hotels.

Don’t miss the famous “I love you so much” graffiti at Jo’s Hot Coffee on South Congress Avenue. You will probably have to wait your turn to take a photo here in front of what started as a simple love message. The story is that in 2010, local musician Amy Cook painted this love letter to her partner, Liz Lambert, one of the owners at Jo’s. The message stuck, has been repainted after being vandalized, and now is a popular photo spot for tourists and locals.
Good friends for nearly 20 years!
Neon Signs
In addition to the cool street art around Austin, you’ll find neon signs popping up inside and outside various buildings.
My advice: Visit Austin sooner rather than later because it appears that developers are taking away its artistic soul. BTW, I'm not usually so negative, but I'm disappointed to hear about the changes happening in Austin.

What do you think? Would you still want to visit Austin, Texas?