Covent Garden

places

There are few things I enjoy more than discovering new places.

I love a good wander, but more than that, I love being shown around by a local – seeing the city from their perspective.

A couple of weeks ago, I had some time to kill in Covent Garden so I met a couple of friends for coffee, wandering etc.

After rambling around the piazza and St Paul’s Church, carefully avoiding eye contact with street performers, I stopped for a quick bite to eat at Whittard’s Tea Bar. It was lovely, though victim to the smaller than expected portions and inflated prices that we’ve come to expect from London. I’m not complaining – they have high overheads, I get it. On the plus side, the sun was shining and it was lovely eating al fresco on such a glorious day.

Hands down, the highlight of the day has to be the visit to Crosstown Doughnuts. The more perceptive among you will probably have guessed what they sell there. (Clue: it rhymes with ‘slow butts’.)

I went for a lime and kiwi flavoured number which admittedly sounds quite odd, but was fantastic. These guys seem to be all about the details – even the jam had what appeared to be kiwi pips in it to give it the proper kiwi feel.

A tiny little shop, Crosstown’s interior is a monument to minimal and monochrome style. Black and white masonic floor, black furnishings, doughnut-shaped stools, neon signs and a live Instagram counter (oh, what a time to be alive!) accompany the selection of doughnuts. Outside, they’ve decided to brighten things up a little more with a deep purple hue.

One of his favourites, my friend also took me to Magma – a magazine/bookshop. You might remember from a previous blog that I visited the branch of Magma in Manchester some time ago, but if you have any semblance of a life, you probably don’t. Anyway, this Magma was bigger than its northern counterpart and filled with even more magazines, books and odd trinkets over two floors.

My friend also took me to Reality Church – a relatively new community that meet in an art gallery in Covent Garden. I loved it there. The people were great, really friendly and welcoming, the teaching was relevant and well-delivered, and the music was beautiful.

In the evening I went for some food and cocktails at a Latin restaurant/bar called Salsa. Perhaps a little on the nose with the name there, but nonetheless their Sunday deal was surprisingly cheap so we gorged ourselves till we could eat and drink no more while a Latin dance workshop took place on the dancefloor a few metres away. It was kind of like being at a bar or a wedding party where the DJ is a little too talkative and keeps stopping the music to say something or other. Except, this time, what the DJ is saying is actually helpful to people, and he is from South America instead of Hull.

After dinner we went for a stroll through Hyde Park and up past Buckingham palace. Having recently watched The Crown on Netflix, I couldn’t help but imagine Clare Foy wandering around looking burdened and pensive while Matt Smith moans about something.

The palace and the London Eye looked stunning reflected in the water of the Serpentine – a beautiful was to end my day in London.

Belgium

Fashion, places

I recently had the pleasure of visiting for a second time what I think is a very underrated country.

You don’t really hear much about Belgium, do you? It’s all Paris this and Amsterdam that, while Belgium sits there quietly enjoying the best of French and Dutch culture.

I was there for ‘I Have A Dream’ – a week of events organised by a group of Christian students at the University of Leuven. These events aimed to provide students an opportunity to think about the big questions of life and hear about and discuss Christianity.

We had a really good response from students there and it was great to chat with people and get to know them, and to talk about some of the deeper things in life that we don’t always get time to think about.

Leuven is a beautiful city (also criminally underrated, I think) and I loved wandering around, taking in the mix of gothic, contemporary and neoclassical architecture. St Peter’s cathedral is an imposing gothic structure on the main market square, but the stunning 15th century town hall accross the road commands your attention with dozens of carved figurines all over it.

The library was definitely another favourite building of mine and, though it took a beating in both of the world wars, it stands tall and proud on Ladeuzeplein Sqaure. Well, at least until the next war. Outside stands a huge statue of a fly impaled on a needle. Why?

Because art. That’s why.

Belgium is the land of chocolate (and Stella Artois too, but the less said about that, the better) so of course I had my fill of sweet treats, especially truffles, waffles and ice cream. Filled to the brim with coffeeshops, cafes, bars and restaurants, the standout for me had to be The Capital – a bar that boasts 2000 different varieties of beer. Yes, you read that right. With 20 beers on tap and bottled favourites at the bar, the rest are kept in their extensive cellar and sent up to the bar on an industrial elevator.

The Capital spits in the face of your local.

Some friends pointed me towards Think Twice – a vintage shop in Leuven. I will forever be in their debt. Think Twice (or T2) have sales every month to clear up space for their incoming new stock. They do this by means of incredibly generous discounts. Today everything is 30% off, tomorrow 40%, the day after 50%. This is off EVERY item in the store, from shirts and jackets to bags and shoes. After that, each item is €5, then €4, then €3 and so on, until you’re buying leather jackets and wool coats for basically pennies.

Great fashion at ridiculously low prices without the ethical implications of cheap labour, as well as the feeling of knowing you’re recycling an outfit instead of buying yet another new item and adding to the vicious cycle of clothing waste. No surprsises, I was a big fan. I went twice. On the first day I got an black denim shirt for £4. The next I hit things hard, and bought a faded red denim shirt, an embroidered cuban collar shirt, an indigo denim jacket, and a vintage sweatshirt. Unsurprisingly for a secondhand shop, each of the items were larger than what I usually wear, but I quite enjoy the slouchy 90s feel of oversized items.

I also got some time to wander around Brussels which is a half hour train ride from Leuven.

Brussels, being the bastion of culture that it is, has a famous statue called ‘Mannekin Pis’ – directly translated as ‘Little Man Piss’. It is quite literally a statue of a little boy peeing. There are many legends as to the origins of this piece of art. One of them is that sometime in the 14th century the city of Brussels was besieged by a foreign enemy. The attackers had laid explosives around the city to finish things once and for all, but a young boy happened to notice the burning fuse and urinated on it – thus saving Brussels.

Believe it or not, people come from literally all over to gaze upon the admittedly underwhelming manhood that may or may not have saved the city all those years ago. This is culture, guys. Rich, beautiful culture. Annoyingly, on the day I visited, he had been dressed in a weird old-fashioned outfit for some reason, probably a public holiday or something. This marred my experience somewhat as normally he’s a lot less prudish.

Aside from looking at urinating statues, I spent the day wandering around the beautiful buildings of Belgium’s captial like the royal shoping arcade Galleries De Hubert, beautiful neoclassical churches, the palace and the royal library.

I also visited the European Parliament – because three weeks after the UK officially began withdrawal from the European Union, I can’t imagine anything they’d want to see more than a clueless Englishman wandering around, unable to speak any of the three national languages.

It was actually quite humbling to see the frankly huge complex – I immediately felt very small, both in stature and in my contributions to world unity.

It was really interesting and thought-provoking learning about the rich history of the EU at the neighbouring Parlamentarium – basically a museum about the European Union. It was genuinely fascinating – which was a huge surprise to me, if I’m honest. My favourite part was the 360 projection room that simulated being an MEP during a vote. I don’t care how lame that makes me sound. A bittersweet visit for me, the Parlamentarium really hit home the momentous decision that the UK has made.

Politics aside, I had fantastic time in Belgium and my love for the country has only grow stronger. As has my love for waffles and beer.