Despite it being relatively smaller than most European capitals, many unexpected great things have come from Brussels. Here are some interesting facts:
Remembered as the iconic British actress, model, dancer and humanitarian that she was, Audrey Hepburn was originally born on 48 rue Keyenveld in Ixelles, Brussels. Although she is not Belgian, we still pride ourselves in knowing that she came from our city.
The Belgian capital has an impressive 138 restaurants per square mile, boasting every possible cuisine imaginable and making it one of the hottest destinations for foodies. From cheap eats to gastronomic Michelin starred restaurants, Brussels can satisfy any preference.
A Peeing Obsession
You’ll probably recognise this famous statue of a peeing boy, also known as the Manneken Pis. Repeatedly stolen and dressed in all sorts of costumes, this little guy is one of the main tourist attractions in Brussels. But did you know that in Brussels you can also find a peeing girl (Janneken Pis) and peeing dog statue?
Don’t ask us why… It’s a thing.
The Oldest Shopping Mall in Europe
The galleries Saint Hubert opened in 1847, making them the oldest shopping arcade in Europe. Tourists will find an assortment of high end brands like Delvaux, Belgian chocolate shops, like Neuhaus and Pierre Marcolini, and other artisanal Belgian shops.
Speaking of chocolate, we’re obsessed with it and so are our tourists. The airport in Brussels is the largest chocolate selling point in the world. Whether you’re picking up your haul in the city or at the airport, you will be met with a vast choice of famous household names like Leonidas, Godiva, Pierre Marcolini, etc.
The Biggest Court In The World
Standing at 26.000 square metres, the justice palace in Brussels is the largest court in the world. Constructed in the 19th century by Joseph Poelaert, it is currently a candidate to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. Having been born after 1982, I have never seen this building without scaffolding, construction which is supposed to end in 2028.
Despite being the most hated vegetable in America, the success of our local veggie around the world is indubitable. Yes, Brussels sprouts were broadly cultivated here during the 16th century. Many people think that Brussels sprouts are baby cabbages, this is because they are part of the same family but they are different vegetables.
The romantic town of Como and its magnificent surroundings make for a perfect getaway from Milan. A one-hour long drive or train ride will be enough to reach one of the most beautiful destinations in Northern Italy. As a local, I have witnessed the growing popularity of Como amongst international visitors. Showing foreign friends around has allowed me to appreciate it even more. I am very proud to give you some advice to get the best from my wonderful hometown!
How to reach Como from Milan
Thousands of commuters and tourists shift to-and-from between Milan and Como. Therefore, several train connections are available at Centrale, Porta Garibaldi, or Cadorna railway stations. From Cadorna, only, can you travel all the way to the lakeside and the city centre. From Centrale or Garibaldi, you can reach Como San Giovanni with Switzerland-bound trains (Trenord, TiLo, or Eurocity trains). A basic Milan-Como train ticket will cost you about 10€ roundtrip (browse your options here). By car, you can reach Como via the A1 motorway or Statale dei Giovi. Once in town, be prepared to pay for expensive parking lots, as even locals have a hard time finding parking spots in the city centre. Driving on the narrow, winding lanes of the lake or mountain villages requires above-average driving skills. Travelling by train, and then by bus or boat, is probably more suitable. Como is small and you will not really need a car to visit its attractions.
What to see, plus some historical background
Despite its limited size, Como offers much to see. The town is located in a basin between green hills and the south-Western tip of the namesake lake. Nature and history literally stand side by side. Start your visit with a stroll in the old town. Its many treasures witness the city’s history, dating back to the Roman era (earlier Celtic settlements were found in the outskirts). A campsite was built there in the 1st century b.C. Little has remained of the Roman vestiges: the town came to shape during the Middle Ages, as proven by its walls and characteristic Romanesque churches. It is worth visiting San Fedele, in the beautiful namesake piazza, and Sant’Abbondio, a 10-minute walk from the centre. The tower on the top of the nearby hill is related to Holy Roman emperor Frederick I ‘il Barbarossa’, an ally of Como against Milan in the 12th century. He is still remembered in the tradition known as Palio del Baradello.
Como is indeed one of the earliest examples of municipality. The former centre of political power, the ‘Broletto’ tower, stands aside of the Cathedral, which is, in turn, one of the region’s most magnificent with Its distinctive green copper dome.
Neoclassical, Romantic and Art Nouveau architectures give Como an aristocratic atmosphere. To enjoy it at its best, you can walk along the waterfront. Going westwards from elegant piazza Volta, you will cross the city’s gardens, where the iconic ‘Tempio Voltiano’ celebrates Como’s most famous citizen, Alessandro Volta, the pioneer of electrical energy. Once there, you can take the promenade leading you to magnificent Villa Olmo. Instead, walking eastwards, you can opt for a funicular ride (round trip: €4.50) to Brunate, an uphill village embellished by fin-de-siècle villas and a glorious view.
It is fair to warn you about Como’s reputation as one of the rainiest towns in Italy, but this does not make the landscape any less charming, adding a melancholic twist to its blue and green nuances. Last, but not least, one defining trait of Como’s architecture is represented by many futurist and rationalist buildings and monuments, the most famous of which is certainly Palazzo Terragni, formerly known as Casa del Fascio for being the local house of the Fascist party in the 1920s-1940s. It owes its name to Giuseppe Terragni, the architect that designed it.
The year 2017 marks the centenary of the death of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. This is why you’ll hear a lot about him, should you visit France this year.
If you’re staying in our apartments in Paris, here’s a suggestion on how you could spend a day with Rodin and learn many things about this great artist.
A centenary exhibition has been organised at the Grand Palais (3 Avenue du Général Eisenhower) until July 31st. It is a huge success, and in order to avoid queuing up for hours, you can book your ticket here. It is also a good idea to choose an audio-guide. Since many people are expected to visit this excellent exhibition, I would recommend heading there in the morning. Besides learning more about Rodin and his art, you will find information on the history behind many of his works as well as his influence on other artists.
You may have heard of the sculptress Camille Claudel. This amazing woman met Rodin in 1882. He was 42, she was 18. Together with other young female artists, she was practicing her art under the direction of sculptor Alfred Boucher. As Boucher was going to be in Rome for several months, he asked Rodin to replace him. Soon, Rodin noticed how talented Camille was. In 1884, she started working for him. Eventually, the two artists became passionate lovers and rivals.
The exhibition will enable you to compare what Rodin and Camille Claudel made of the same model, an elderly lady. Rodin saw her as “Celle qui fût la belle Heaulmière”, named after a poem on lost youth and beauty. More originally, Camille Claudel created “Clotho”, a strange statue representing the youngest of the Three Fates in Greek mythology, who decide human destiny.
You will also be able to admire a mask of Camille Claudel, assembled with a reproduction of a hand of Pierre de Wissant. This mask highlights the simple beauty and frailty of Camille as a young woman.
To continue your day with Rodin, you could spend the afternoon at Musée Rodin(77 rue de Varenne). The museum is in a mansion known as Hôtel Biron, and surrounded by a large and pleasant garden, right in the middle of Paris.
You can enhance your visit of the museum and of the garden with an excellent audio-guide. It will give you additional information on Rodin’s masterpieces. One room of the museum is dedicated to Camille Claudel. There, the outstanding originality and talent of this artist is made obvious.
However, the end of Camille’s life was tragic. After years of passionate love, Rodin and Camille Claudel parted. Camille wanted Rodin to marry her, but he seemed unable to separate from Rose Beuret, a seamstress he had met during his youth. Rodin tried to help Camille and boost her career, but she grew suspicious of him. She would refer to him as “la fouine”, the snoop. Gradually, Camille became so isolated and hard to deal with that after her father’s death, her family decided to have her locked in a mental institution. She remained there until her death in 1943. During the 30 long years of her seclusion, her mother and her sister never visited her. Her brother, Paul Claudel, who had become a well-known writer, visited her on 13 occasions.
By the time Camille was put in a mental institution, Rodin was an old man. Apart from sending her money, he was not able to give much support. Rodin had many mistresses and never parted from Rose Beuret. However, Camille Claudel had a special place in his heart. When he planned Musée Rodin, he included an exhibition space for Camille’s works. In so doing, Rodin made the link between his work and the work of his unfortunate love unforgettable.
When visiting a gastronomic restaurant, you may feel overwhelmed by the numerous food choices in front of you. On the other hand, you may already be well aware of the Parisian fine dining scene, but just not sure where to start. Fret no more, here are a few of Paris’s hottest restaurants for you to visit this year.
Daroco (6 Rue Vivienne) a former workshop space, serves modern Italian cuisine and has become one of Paris’s most sought after restaurants. The green marble table tops paired with designer chairs gives this restaurant a unique decoration. All the pizzas are cooked in a wood fire oven giving them an authentically rustique Italian taste, contrasted by waiters wearing typically Parisian Breton stripes. Try their grilled octopus as an appetiser or indulge in their ‘linguine alla carbonara’, before moving on to the homemade tiramisu if you still have room for dessert. This Italian eatery with modern crafted cocktails and fashionable dining will quickly become your go-to restaurant for special occasions or date nights.
For all seafood lovers who not only want fresh produce but also enjoy washing it down with innovative cocktails, head down to The Fish Club(58 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau). The name speaks for itself. The fish-focused menu of this previously ‘ceviche’ restaurant has been revamped, now offering a selection of seafood served in a minimalist restaurant. Amidst a selection of marine dishes, the appetiser assortment includes smoked eel, grilled lobster and grey shrimp. You can even order octopus with beetroot: the menu will surely tickle your fancy! If you’re feeling more romantic, or just want to treat yourself, why not order a glass of champagne to accompany their fresh oysters.
If, after a long day of shopping, or a night of dancing in Parisian clubs, you’re looking for something more casual to satisfy your hunger cravings, head to Big Corner(143 Avenue Jean Jaurès). With melted mozzarella, fresh french cheeses, pesto, and more, slathered on an oozing beef patty between two sesame buns, this New York-style burger joint will have any meat lover drooling. It’s an artsy, brightly-coloured restaurant serving only the freshest ingredients. If you’re not a burger addict but get dragged by friends, why not go for one of their club sandwiches, hot dogs, salads or even fish and chips? There’s nothing Big Corner can’t do.
For those of you with a sweet tooth, La Crêperie Bretonne (56 Rue du Montparnasse) is the place to be. Aside from the fact that you can’t go to Paris without trying one of their world famous crêpes, this cosy little crêperie is typically French and its lovely staff will make you feel right at home. Their homemade salted caramel crêpe will leave you wanting more. In addition to crêpes, La Crêperie Bretonne also serves the Parisian speciality of ‘galettes’, which you can coat in jam, Nutella or whatever your heart desires.
To add to the Michelin-starred Parisian dining scene, Jacques Faussat, a famous Michelin-starred chef himself, recently opened what has been described as a little gem hidden away between the Parisian streets. His restaurant, aptly named Jacques Faussat(54 Rue Cardinet), has quickly become well-known for its exquisite dishes. Although very rarely discovered by tourists, this unique brasserie offers Parisian cuisine in a more luxurious environment to make your evening very special. Whether your adventurous side urges you pick the tasting menu, or you opt for ordering à la carte, the small yet carefully crafted fresh menu will not disappoint.
For a more relaxed but still exciting dinner, head to Mascotte Montmartre(52 Rue des Abbesses). The more laid-back bistro is perfect for an alternative Parisian night out and its extensive menu will satisfy all of your cravings. Though specialising in fresh seafood, choosing between their delicatessen sea products and their homemade ‘cassoulet‘, a beef stew marinated in red wine sauce, will prove a difficult choice. It is recommended to pair these dishes with a crisp French wine before topping off your meal with a selection of cheeses, or a delicious goat-milk yoghurt accompanied with sweet red fruit puree. For the chocolate addicts, try a slice of the chocolate and praline ‘love cake’, you’ll definitely love it!
Needless to say, Christmas (‘Natale’ in Italian) is a unique experience in Milan. The city enters into the holiday spirit early in December, due to the double celebration of the local patron saint, Ambrogio, on 7th December and the Immaculate Conception on 8th December. The cold, foggy air of the Po valley often provides a wintry atmosphere, in a pleasant contrast with the golden, glittering lights of shops and street lights. Two Christmas-themed events in particular mark the Milanese December: the first is Mercatino di Sant’Ambrogio, the patron saint’s market, better known as Oh Bej! Oh Bej! (How nice! How nice!). The tradition dates back to the 16th century. This is an exquisite local event taking place from 7th to 10th December all around the Sforza Castle (M1 Cairoli or Cadorna, or M2 Lanza), displaying and selling craftwork, plants, food and beverages. In regards to this, we recommend caldarroste (roasted chestnuts, wrapped in a paper cone and served hot as they come from the ember) and vin brulé (mulled wine), sweetened with sugar and scented with cloves, cinnamon, spices and fruits, which will keep your hands and stomach warm.
The second major attraction is L’Artigiano in Fiera (3rd – 11th December this year). To get there, you’ll have to catch the M1 (red) line all the way to its last stop at Rho-Milanofiera (tickets available at all newsagents’ and ticket machines). One more option is to reach the fair with Turin- or Salerno-bound Italo trains; as for cars, the fair is equipped with a large parking lot, costing between €2.50 per hour and € 16.50 as the maximum fare. You might also want to park your car at M1 Lampugnano or Molino Dorino stations. This fair might get quite crowded, especially on weekends, but it’s worth a visit to venture into the Christmas traditions from all over the world. The fair’s structure hosts a stand from nearly every country in the world and combines traditional arts and crafts with an embarrassingly wide variety of ethnic food stands, so rich and tasty you’d wish you could try everything. This is why we advice you get here at 10.00, wander around and think of a possible menu for lunchtime. What’s most important is to make sure you get a map at the entrance, it’s extremely easy to get distracted and lose track of each other! More markets are set up in Piazza Duomo, where a tall Christmas tree is decorated, as well as in Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli (M1 Porta Venezia), where an ice-skate rink is opened to the public, occasionally hosting figure-skating performances. If you have children, bring them along: there are lots of interactive activities, and they could get the chance to visit the Natural History Museum and the Planetarium, located within the park. In the same area, the main shopping street in Milan, Corso Buenos Aires (M1 Porta Venezia – Lima) opens up a Christmas Village, a temporary Christmas-themed shop. A similar project is hosted in the Ecliss store (Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 53), just a few steps away from the Navigli area. For those interested in sustainable trade, instead, the Isola district (M3/M5 Zara, M5 Isola) is the place to be. Fonderia Napoleonica Eugenia hosts Green Market, displaying eco-friendly merchandise. Not far from there is the Alter Bej fair: a traditional Christmas market accompanied by performances of buskers.
Except for markets, what else does Milan offer at Christmas time?
This year, Comune di Milano is offering a real treat to visitors by bringing Piero della Francesca’s famous Madonna della Misericordia (1445-1472) to the city, namely to Palazzo Marino (piazza della Scala, 2), from 6th December to 8th January, 2017. It will be possible to visit it between 9:30 AM to 8 PM every day (open till 12 PM on 7th Dec., till 6 PM on 24th and 31st Dec., and it will be closed on Catholic holidays – 8th and 25th Dec., 1st and 6th Jan.). Attending a mass in Milan during the Christmas period is a very interesting experience, made all the more unique by the specific Catholic tradition of the city, introduced by Sant’Ambrogio and hence named rito cattolico ambrosiano. On Thursday, 22nd December, Teatro alla Scala will be hosting its traditional Christmas concert, directed this year by Christoph von Dohnányi, and Bruno Casoni directing the choir. In addition, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony will be performed. Tickets, ranging from €30 to €180, are still available at the theatre’s website. What do Milanese people eat on Christmas day?
Some prefer to celebrate at night, before, or most likely after, the Christmas mass, while others prefer to wait for lunchtime on the 25th. Either way, while Northern Italians “keep it simpler” than they do in the South, they do enjoy a hearty Christmas meal, featuring several tasty antipasti. Theseappetizers include mostarda, spicy candied fruit in a mustard pickle, prosciutto and other cured meats, small savoury pastries, paté, vitello tonnato, which is cold veal in tuna sauce, meat-stuffed ravioli and bollito misto, composed of boiled beef and poultry and served with parsley sauce (salsa verde)).
On Christmas Day, Italians indulge in spirits more than they usually do, as they are poured throughout their meals with nuts, almonds and dried dates served alongside, to be consumed between courses. Make sure you don’t miss out on panettone, one of the most beloved Italian Christmas treats alongside its eternal “rival” pandoro (each has its own “squad” of aficionados, much like Inter and Milan football teams). Compared to its Verona-based nemesis, panettone is somewhat less fluffy and buttery, has a round shape, and is garnished with dried raisins and candied citrus zest. Apart from that, these two cakes are essentially similar, and are typically served together, sometimes with a mascarpone or zabaione cream to be dipped into. Buon Natale!
Barcelona is much more than La Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas and other sights that you see through a simple Google search. It is always better to try to see the city from the locals’ point of view. There is so much you can do and see off the beaten track
1. Must-see sights
Still, if you have never been to Barcelona before, don’t leave without visiting La Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell and La Pedrera, the three most famous landmarks of the city and the main sites of Gaudi’s architecture. Better to book the tickets for entry in advance if you want to avoid long queues (sometimes queues can be as long as two hours!).
2. Barcelona is not only the centre
The city is well-known for some of its iconic sights like Las Ramblas, La Sagrada Familia or La Pedrera, which are all located in the centre of town. Outside the city centre, there are other places worth visiting like Montjuïc mountain and its castle and the Turó de la Rovira and its breathtaking view of Barcelona.
3. Visit the markets of the city
Barcelona is a city of markets, where you can enjoy sampling fresh foods and the atmosphere of older times and often forget that you are in a vibrant 21st century city. Visit La Boqueria, the most popular, central and the oldest market of the city, but also go to the other markets like Santa Caterina or Sant Antoni.
4. Eat tapas
You need to try tapas at least once in the local bars. It is one of the most famous types of Spanish food. Tapas are small plates with shrimp, jamón, some meat, sea food, croquettes, patatas bravas or fish. You can choose one or a few at the same time
5. Be aware of local eating times
If you are in the touristic places it should not be a problem, but if you are off the tourist track, be aware that locals eat at specific time. Don’t expect to have lunch before 1pm (usually, the Spanish eat between 2 pm and 4 pm) and don’t go for dinner before 8.30 pm (locals eat between 9 pm and 11 pm). Some restaurants could be closed at other hours or just serve drinks.
6. Leave tips
There is no written rule, but Spanish people usually leave tips after meals. No one knows how much you have to leave, but think around the 5% to 10% mark of your meal’s bill.
7. Barcelona is a walkable city
One of the best things to do in Barcelona is to walk. Distances are not as long as in the other main European cities. Walking also allows you to discover the city as a local and enjoy its splendid architecture in some districts like Ciutat Vella or Eixample. The Mediterranean climate makes the walks enjoyable all year long.
8. Take the metro to go further
If you don’t have enough time to walk around the city, take the metro. The fast and convenient subway gets to every place of the city (starting this year, it also goes to the airport). The opening times are also very convenient, from Sunday to Thursday from 5 am to 12 am, on Friday from 5 am to 2am, and Saturday, it is open 24 hours!
9. Local fiestas
If you are lucky enough to be in the city when a local fiesta is taking place, don’t hesitate and just go along like the locals do. Some of the main festivities of Barcelona are: ‘Festes de Gràcia’ and ‘Festes de Sants’, both held in August, when both districts Gràcia and Sants decorate their streets following a set theme. There is also the ‘Festes de la Mercè’ in September, when all of Barcelona is full of music and activities of different kinds. Another favourite is ‘Diada de Sant Jordi’, when the city turns red because due to the small stands selling roses and books. This happens on the 23rd of April.
10. Football, football and more football
If you are a football fan, this is your city. If you are lucky and have got tickets, go to the Camp Nou to see Messi and his teammates playing. If you cannot get a ticket, go to a neighbourhood bar to see a game, the fun is also guaranteed. And if you are extremely lucky and Barça wins an important title, you will see the city transforming into craziness, so just out on the streets and celebrate it.