The Sunday porch: paint and vines

Ste-Catherine, Brussels, Sept. 2015, enclos*ure

These are not really porches, of course, but two café doorways and a storefront.

They caught my eye while we were walking around the Sainte-Catherine or Sint Katelijne neighborhood of Brussels, which is just northwest of the Grand’Place and La Bourse.

Rue de Flandre, Brussels, Sept. 2015, enclos*ure

The one pictured above is on Rue de Flandre.

Rue de Flandre, Brussels, Sept. 2015, enclos*ure

I believe I snapped this blue café, above, on Quai au Bois à Brûler, facing the site of the old Saint-Catherine Bassin or canal port, covered over since the 1870s.

Ste-Catherine, Brussels, Sept. 2015, enclos*ure

I like the way the ivy is used as both a decorative windowbox planting and low privacy screen.

A vine-covered storefront, also along Rue de Flandre.
Above, a mass of vines shades a closed storefront, also along Rue de Flandre.

Detail of photo above.

Rue de Flandre is a good street on which to find an interesting restaurant.  We liked Viva M’Boma (old-fashioned Belgian food, emphasis on meat/offal) and Domaine de Lintillac (dishes from the southwest of France, emphasis on duck).

Click on any photo above to enlarge it.

A study in steps: Petraio in Naples


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I believe L’ESSENZIALE, inscribed at the top, refers to a song written and sung by Marco Mengoni.  Translated into English, one verse says:

As the world falls into pieces
I craft new spaces and needs
That belong to you too
You, whom I believe to be the ESSENTIAL

L’essenziale” was Italy’s third best selling single of 2013. It came in seventh at the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest.

Visiting Naples

We were on vacation in Italy last week, spending two nights in Naples.

The city has a reputation and a reality that puts off many tourists, but I have to say, I loved it and wished that we could have stayed another night.

I liked the sense of theater in its architecture and that its narrow lively streets made me think of Morocco and Istanbul, as well as Caracas and Havana.  And everywhere we looked, there was something wonderful to eat.

Added to that, we saw relatively few other tourists and no American food franchises.

While we were there at least, it was no more littered than Rome (granted, not really high praise).  We saw many patrolling police officers and had no crime problems (except for a pickpocket attempt while getting on the Circumvesuviana commuter train).*

The sights

This living medieval city is its own best sight.
Rick Steves

We are very low-achieving tourists, taking the flâneur approach. We spent most of our time walking along the little streets of the Spagnoli and Spaccanapoli (centro storico) neighborhoods. We also took the funicular up to Petraio for panoramic views of the city and Mt. Vesuvius — particularly good from the entrance to Certosa di San Martino.


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The only museum we visited was the National Archeology Museum, which houses many of the frescoes and other artifacts from nearby Pompeii.  This was essential preparation for a visit to the site, which took more than half a day of our stay in Naples.

If you arrive at the museum after lunch, don’t be disappointed if many of its galleries are closed off and dark.  They will open a little later.  The museum does not have the funds to keep all the rooms open during the lunch hours. (It’s closed entirely on Tuesdays.)

If we had stayed another day or two, I would have visited the Capodimonte, some churches in Spaccanapoli (particularly the Cappella Sansevero with its “veiled Christ”), and maybe the National Museum/Monastery of San Martino.  There are also a number of interesting underground sites, but I don’t do well with underground.


We stayed at the Chiaja Hotel de Charme on Via Chiaia, a pedestrian shopping street on the edge of the well-to-do Chiaia (or Chiaja) neighborhood.

The hotel is 27 rooms on the second floor of a multi-story apartment building with a central courtyard.  Don’t panic if you come back from dinner and find the building shut up like a fortress.  Push the hotel’s doorbell (on the panel to the left), and the front desk will buzz you in through a tiny door set into the huge main doors.  The hotel is attractive, quiet, and comfortable in a traditional style.  The staff was very helpful, and the breakfast was good (sfogliatella, fruit, yogurt, cereal).

The hotel is an easy walk to the waterfront and to Via Toledo, a north-south (partly pedestrian) street, which runs from the Piazza del Plebiscito — between the historic neighborhoods of Spagnoli and Spaccanapoli — to the National Archeology Museum (a little over a mile-long walk).  It is also about a half mile to a subway stop on the line to the main train station.

(I got a better room rate on, by the way, than on the hotel’s own website, so check both.)


We wanted to eat our dinners fairly close to the hotel, so the staff directed us to Pizzeria Mattozzi (on Via G. Filangeri) and to Umberto (on Via Alabardieri).  Both were excellent, and both serve traditional Napoli dishes, including pizza.  We also enjoyed lunch one day at Hosteria Toledo on Vico Giardinetto in Spagnoli.

*We generally felt quite safe, but do carry a well-zipped crossbody bag. (Men might like one of these.) Avoid empty, dark side streets (well, they are all rather dark, but most are full of working or strolling people). I would only enter or leave the train station by the main Piazza Garibaldi entrance and only during daylight hours.

Continue reading “A study in steps: Petraio in Naples”

Un coup d’oeil* in Paris

We spent one of the last days of March in Paris — just walking around and occasionally stopping for tiny $4 coffees.

We spotted this tres discret window decoration in the chic Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood.

The little topiary pots were in several windows across the building.

This pleated bag, below, in the window of Pleats Please Issey Miyake made me think of this previous Wordless Wednesday.

We crossed over to the right bank, and I saw this graffiti alongside the Louvre.

‘Regarde le ciel’ (look at the sky) is a rather common sight in Paris, as I learned from a Google search.  I could not find the origin of this street art, but I thought it might refer to a song by Cortezia, which excoriates airplanes.  (Apparently, Cortezia does not tour far from home.)

However, there seems to be a Romanian connection, as another common version of the graffiti is ‘priveste cerul,’ (look at the sky in Romanian).

At any rate, the sky was just about perfect, as you can see from this photo of the Passerelle des Arts.  If you click and enlarge it, you can see how the bridge glitters from hundreds of padlocks or ‘lovelocks’ (we also saw the beginning of this fad on a pedestrian bridge in Lyon).

Since this was Paris, I probably should throw in a restaurant recommendation.  We ate dinner that night at the wonderful Café Constant, which is owned by “Top Chef” jury member Christian Constant. Located at 135, rue Saint Dominique, in the neighborhood near the Eiffel Tower, it is the first in a row of three restaurants owned by Constant, each a little more expensive (we were in the least expensive and most casual). The café doesn’t take reservations, so go early for lunch or dinner.

*a look around