Lofts at the Kviteseid open-air museum, Norway

Meeting romantic Norway deep in Telemark

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Many travellers skip the Telemark region, shooting for more arctic landscapes while visiting Norway. However, it is mostly this southern region that helped shape the country’s national identity: slow down a little bit and explore Telemark, the romantic idea that most Norwegians have of their own country…

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Colourful warehouses of Bryggen with boats in the foreground, Bergen

72 hours in Bergen

Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Once past the cruise tourists who tend to stick to the UNESCO World Heritage Bryggen and to the funicular that takes them up Fløyen, Bergen is a charming city with many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. This harbour town has retained its cosmopolitan character and the second city of Norway after its capital Oslo, is very welcoming. This student town is vibrant, surrounded by beautiful mountains and spread around the water: an easy access point to the North Sea that has made Bergen what it is today.

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Testing the senz° windproof umbrella in Delft

12 interesting facts about Delft [& insider’s tips!]

Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Most visitors check Delft out on a Keukenhof day trip, spending only a few hours in the city. Shame! Lovely Delft has a lot to offer beyond its Market Square, Vermeer Centrum and must-visit Royal Delft earthenware factory. Dive into the city, the cradle of today’s Netherlands, to explore this 17th-century postcard a stone’s throw away from Rotterdam and The Hague.

To appreciate it better, here are 10 fun and interesting facts about Delft that you probably did not know about…

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Master painter hand-painting a vase, the Royal Delft museum, the Netherlands

Truly experience Delft Blue at Royal Delft!

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

It looks so easy. It is just a small circle in a corner. But at that moment when my brush reaches a sort of inflexion point and its hairs suddenly switch side, it all goes wrong and I break the regular contour. There is no room for a single mistake though: the porous material absorbs the paint and I cannot correct my lines. My only option is to somewhat transform it into another motif, which, given my drawing skills is not really an option either!

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The Nottebohm room at the Hendrik Conscience Library, Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp: A Must for Book Lovers!

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

If Gutenberg invented printing in 1450, it is Christophe Plantin (1520-1589) who set up the first industrial printing facility in 1555: the Officina Plantiniana in Antwerp. Autodidact, printer, publisher, manager, businessman, humanist, the Frenchman established a renowned publishing house that grew fast into a multinational with subsidiaries in Leiden and Paris. For about 300 years, the Plantin-Moretus’ had been on the forefront of publishing, and the family house has since then been turned into a wonderful museum where one can understand the process of printing, follow in the footsteps of the humanists, admire world’s oldest printing presses, marvel at Rubens’ portraits and at some precious books such as the Biblia Regia by Plantin and one of the few remaining Gutenberg Bibles in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, world’s first museum being awarded this status.

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The stained-glass windows of La Sainte Chapelle in Paris, France

La Sainte Chapelle, Paris’ jewel

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The 13th century Sainte Chapelle, built in a record time to host Christianity’s most precious relics, is a magical place to admire world’s most beautiful stained-glass windows, only a stone’s throw away from Notre Dame de Paris. Probably one of the most breath-taking moments you will have in the city of lights…

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Hikers studying Bushmen rock art in the Drakensberg, South Africa.

In the footsteps of the rock artists of the Drakensberg [South Africa]

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The skinny young man dressed in animal skin is standing, with his spear high up above his head. His friends are following him striking a similar posture. They are wearing animal skins. Their tribe has been following the migrating herds, higher into the mountains. The tracking has been long and laborious, and they are tired. The tips of their spears are covered in diamphotoxin, a slow-acting poison obtained from beetle larvae. Further, a herd of elands grazes. The large more-than-half-a-ton animals are unaware of the men’s presence. Even for great hunters as the Bushmen, this is a dangerous endeavour: with a shoulder height of 1.7 meters (5 feet 8 inches), Africa’s largest antelope is much taller than them.

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The Adoration of the Lamb by the Van Eycks

Decoding the great Flemish Primitive Jan van Eyck [Bruges & Ghent]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

The stunning realism, numerous details and vivid colours of Jan van Eyck’s paintings give them an irresistible appeal that makes the Flemish Primitive an undisputed master who revolutionized European art and is still one of the most revered artists to this day. One of the founders of Flemish painting, his style was unique and has inspired many. His technique was so innovative that he is still often considered – wrongly – as the inventor of oil painting. Travelling to both Bruges and Ghent is the best way to learn more about Jan van Eyck, admire his most acclaimed masterpieces and rediscover his art and genius thanks to state-of-the-art technologies.

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View on rooftops and a brick tower with trees on top of it and hills in the background

Lucca: your ultimate guide [2 to 5 days]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Lucca is this kind of city. The more time you spend here, the longer you want to stay. Yes, the picturesque walled Tuscan city at the foot of the Apennine Mountains and along the Serchio River is touristy. Still it remains an authentic city with a very nice atmosphere, different from a slightly arrogant museum-Florence (don’t get me wrong, Florence can be wonderful, but it has also been the victim of its success and mass tourism seems to have taken the best of it) or quick-cruise-stop Pisa. How long to plan for Lucca? Two days is the absolute minimum, spending at least a night within the city walls. Here are many ideas sorted out by themes to spend a good 4 to 5 days in the city, including climbing its towers, visiting excellent museums, tasting and cooking delicious Tuscan specialties, listening to some Puccini, and experiencing unexpected outdoor activities.

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Puccini festival in Torre del Lago: Madam Butterfly

In Puccini’s footsteps in & around Lucca [Italy]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

What do Rocky, Mission Impossible, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Goonies, Madam Butterfly and Star Wars have in common? An influencer and precursor of advertising and product placement, a maestro who created the first musical of history, a composer whose operas are amongst the most played in the world today: the Lucca-born Giacomo Puccini was a well-travelled man way ahead of his time whose legacy still resonates today all over the world and even more so in the Tuscan city of Lucca!

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The birth of Venus by Botticelli in the Uffizi museum in Florence, Italy

How to decode Italy’s best Renaissance museum: the Uffizi [Florence]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The Uffizi is THE museum of the Renaissance in Italy; in the world actually! It was never intended to be a museum in the first place though. Initially, the urban palace designed by Vasari overlooking the Arno River a stone’s throw away from Ponte Vecchio, was commissioned by the powerful Cosimo de’ Medici in the 16th century. The Grand Duke of Tuscany needed offices to rule his duchy. His son Francesco converted part of its top floor in a private gallery to house his extensive Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture collection in 1581. The museum opened in 1769 making it one of the oldest museums in the world, and the most visited of Italy with over 2 million visitors per year today. Beyond Francesco’s sculptures, some of the finest and most influential paintings of the Renaissance can be admired in these galleries. Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Lippi, Botticelli of course, and also Raphael, Caravaggio, Bronzino and more are well represented and waiting for you to be decoded…

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Colonial architecture of the Slave Lodge building in Cape Town, South Africa

How slavery gave its colours to the rainbow nation

When one knows that Cape Town’s Slave Lodge was built in 1679 to house the slaves owned by the VOC (Dutch East India Company), its appearance today is deceiving. The Cape Dutch architecture of this colonial building, one of the oldest in Cape Town, has nothing to do with what it originally looked like… When it was built, the slave lodge looked like the worst kind of prison, without any windows and only a few openings with bars on the courtyard. The inside was so dark that even during the day a lamp was needed, the air circulation was so poor that the filthy stench was permanent and in these poor hygienic conditions the death rate amongst the slaves owned by the VOC was high. About 8,000 men, women and children lived in the Slave Lodge over a period of 132 years…

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The golden death mask of Agamemnon, Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

8 reasons why you should not skip the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens showcases a very rich collection of Ancient Greek art that is a perfect introduction to any trip to Greece. The richness of the collections (a thorough visit will take you about four hours) and the extent of interesting written information can be overwhelming so we selected some masterpieces for you in this article.

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The national museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh

The national museum of Cambodia houses one of world’s largest collections of Khmer art, including and not limited to the period of the Khmer Empire, which at its height stretched from Thailand to southern Vietnam. Abandoned during the Khmer Rouge regime and with most of its staff murdered, the museum reopened quickly at its fall and is paramount to promote Cambodian identity and pride.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of a few must-see and pointers that will also help you understand the history of Cambodia and decrypt its art better especially if you are planning on visiting some temples such as Angkor Wat. Keep travelling!

Screaming for Munch in Oslo

Article updated on October 21, 2021
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

In 2012, Edvard Munch’s 1895 pastel, “The Scream” sold for a record price of just under $120 million at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City. This was then the most expensive piece of art ever sold at an auction, sealing Munch’s reputation as one of the most influential painters. What makes Munch’s paintings so engaging?

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Bleack and white, ski jump seen from above without snow.

In the tracks of Norway’s bravest explorers in Oslo

Article updated on October 10, 2021
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Norway is a rather small country per number of inhabitants, and some of them have led some of the craziest explorations admired from all over the world! They are celebrated in Oslo in some excellent museums where original artefacts that crossed oceans or reached the poles are exhibited. Know where to go to follow the tracks of some of world’s greatest explorers!

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District Six museum, Cape Town: a commemoration ground

“We were told that we didn’t qualify to live there anymore because of the colour of our skin.” – Joe Schaffers, ex-resident of District Six. Removed in 1967 at the age of 28.

“Every day to work I would pass by my house, out of which my wife, kids and me had been forcefully removed. Every day I would stop and look at it, seeing the bulldozers getting closer. Until one day our house was gone, just a vacant plot remained, on which I stood with an empty heart.” – Noor Ebrahim, ex-resident of District Six, Cape Town. Removed in 1970 at the age of 26.

“Many streets from which people were removed and houses demolished are still empty today. The goal was to divide people and break us.” – Ruth Jeftha, ex-resident of District Six.

Today Joe, Noor and Ruth are here, at the District Six museum in Cape Town, South Africa. Housed in a former church and the only original building of the District Six that is still standing, more than a museum, it is a commemoration place where former residents reaffirm their identity by sharing their life stories with visitors, celebrate their heritage, confront the complexity of history, and try to come to terms with their forced removals.

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Guernica unravelled

“No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy” said Picasso.

And it can be such a powerful weapon that it can transcend the specific conflict to reach a universal status as a symbol of fight against barbarism. Such is the destiny of Guernica, Picasso’s most famous painting, an art and history icon showcasing strong artistic and political commitments.

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Zeitz Mocaa, the new pride of Cape Town

I enter a world of concrete, steel and glass towering me. Elevators are going up and down like the pistons of an internal combustion engine. In a cylindrical staircase movement is created by spectators going from one level to another. Looking up, the spiral of the staircase resembles a drill bit. Following the steel pipes running along a concrete tunnel, I notice rusty handles. They used to control the opening of the silos to load the grains onto wagons. The wagons would then take them straight to the boats anchored in the nearby harbour. Of the 42 57-metre tall cement cylinders that used to compose what once was the tallest structure in Sub-Saharan Africa, eight are left, all cut out or carved. Turned into a world-class museum, this industrial landmark has kept its soul and now hosts more than a hundred galleries exhibiting contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Keep travelling!

Modern buildings with water and a honeycomb roof, sunlight piercing through. Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Louvre Abu Dhabi unravelled

Imagine one dome covering all continents, all countries, and all civilisations, shining its light on all of them equally, unique as they are. A stroll underneath the ever-changing calligraphic shades of the dome, crossing oceans from one theme to another leads the visitor to all corners of the world in a search for universality where human concerns and evolutions are central. The specificity of Louvre Abu Dhabi, a universal museum at the crossroads of civilisations is to put these civilisations in regards. Keep travelling!

Uncovering a time capsule at the tenement museum, NYC

While Henry Clay Frick and John Pierpont Morgan were amassing their art collections with the millions they made during the industrial revolution and setting the basis for the USA, a different story was taking place in the low income areas of New York City, like the Lower East Side where newcomers to the USA flocked by hundreds and also shaped the country.

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Way more than a hologram!

The flamboyant doctor, dressed in his white laboratory coat, spins a transparent empty cylinder: “look,” he says mysteriously. Curious, we focus on the inside of the cylinder… A 3D female figure appears and starts dancing, changing colours from red to a shades of green, yellow and orange. When the rotation stops, the psychedelic dancer disappears. Puzzled, I look at Keep traveling

The Frick Collection, NYC

The Frick collection is home to one of the finest collections of European paintings in the United States, showcased in a mansion on Central Park in a domestic interior.

Entering the private collection of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) is stepping into an elegant mansion highlighting the wealth and taste of the coke tycoon. Keep traveling!

The MoMA: a brief visual tour, NYC

New York City does not lack excellent museums, and it is sometimes hard to choose which ones to explore. The Museum of Modern Art is one of our favourite. Started in 1929, its constant success has been calling for more exhibition space. Since 2006, the new MoMA designed by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, presents an inviting space to explore a panorama of Keep traveling!

How Panama changed the world

The colourful roof of Panama’s Biomuseo designed by the world-famous architect Frank Gehry rises above the horizon of the Amador Causeway. Located along the entrance of the Panama Canal, the causeway used to be owned by the USA and was left barren after Panama regained its territory on 31 December 1999. Frank Gehry’s Panamanian wife took part in the discussions about what to do with the land, and soon crucial decisions were made to build the extravagant Biomuseo. Keep traveling!