Monday, November 18, 2013


8 - 11 May 2013 - Belgium

My visit here was too short and too quick for my liking.  However, I came to Belgium - and only too briefly to Brussels and the Flanders region - on an invitation from a good friend and travel companion with whom I shared many wild adventures in Southeast Asia (Saigon, 2011).  Not only was I in the great company of a fellow trekker - but this time I was in her home turf!

However, I slowed down enough to snap a few shots along the way.  This post is derived from that approach to being in Belgium - but after such a short visit maybe the only two substantial things I can say about Belgium are: the beer is phenomenal, and the people are incredibly welcoming and fun-loving. (The third thing: Belgians are gorgeous, too!).  I can say that, but also that this beautiful and richly historical nation demands more than just 3 days to explore!

In addition to the great company of a friend, I had even brought some of my family along!!! My fearless cousin from New Jersey had met up with my brother and I in Dublin for the short hop across the English Channel. We landed in Brussels and hit the ground running.  Then, we didn't stop to make the most of it.

On our first pass of Belgium, we took Brussels by storm.  The next day we descended on some of the older Flemish cities as we ventured across West Flanders.  Finally we dipped down into the local scene to be carried away by almost-too-much fun...  and then all too soon we had to depart.

View down Elisabethpark towards (but not of) the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart.  Great walk and very cool neighborhood - and a remarkable hostel and a short hop into the central district.  Elisabethpark, Brussels, Belgium.

The strong, prosperous working person - suckling from the teat of the mother state.  Or some such imagery here.  A cool building in an old part of the older city of Ghent, Belgium. 

A nice curbside treat in Ghent - for only 2 Euro's! It's a delicious snack, and the owner/chef/server is an ebulliently pleasant guy who enticed us not only with his wit and candor... 

...but also with his wares: Gestreken Mastellen!!  A unique local bread, some sugar, a few pats of butter, and some time in a flat iron - perfection.  Ghent, Belgium. 

Flemish castle of Gravensteen, in medieval style inspired by the castles of the Crusades, it was originally built in 1180 AD and later renovated in the 1800's.  It is quite legitimately a castle!  Gravensteen, Ghent, Belgium.

In an almost fantastical way, Brussels exhibits a very practical but quaint approach to retaining the beautiful traditional architectural styles of the country, while reconciling and accommodating the need for growth and expansion.  It's not only very cool-looking and functional, but it reflects (perhaps...?) an undertone of the reconciliatory ethic of a nation that is home to the seat of the EU.  Brussels, Belgium. 

The parking lot along the side of this single commuter train station was completely packed with BIKES, despite the clouds!  Likely thousands of bikes parked here and it was just a normal Friday.  It was a very nice sign, seeing so much 'green' and healthy modes of transit - out in the suburbs.  Train to Bruges, Belgium.  

One of my favorite things ever - street art - here in the making.  Live and in real-time, nothing virtual or digital or cloud-based about this set up; just motor bikes, spray paint, hoodies, and an alley wall. Ghent, West Flanders, Belgium.  

Shot from the inside of Staminee de Garre, in Bruges.  This place ROCKED - the beer was out of this world (a must-try: the house trippel!), the crowd seemed like a balanced mix of local and visitor, and the place looked like it came out of the 15th century.  I will most definitely return for both the beer and the vibe.  Bruges, West Flanders, Belgium.

The Provincial Court, here in the central market square, the Grote Markt of Bruges.  The square is ringed by an old group of buildings (some circa 12th Century), though with many renovations and re-facements over the centuries. Bruges, West Flanders, Belgium. 

At the end of the second full day we found ourselves in rural West Flanders.  Here, we slowed down for only a brief time to recharge and regroup before heading out, locals style.

Remote and non-descript, not the place one would expect to host a birthday/going-away/welcome-home Friday night fete in rural Flanders.  Cafe de Smoutpot, West Flanders, Belgium.

And here, unobtrusively tucked away behind the cafe, off a side street on the borderlands between a rural community and suburban outskirts is the (sizeable) barn which played home to the aforementioned party.  Somewhere in West Flanders, Belgium.

Ahhh... but here, in this legit country barn party the DJ had his space on one end... 

...and the bar commands the other.  I was mighty impressed with the seriousness folks here have for  having a great time and not being serious....

...and for graciously sharing that wisdom.  Here, the three musketeers - en route across the old continent to meet up with the 4th!  Waylaid by, and slowed down to enjoy, a Barn party -  West Flanders, Belgium. 

This is just awesome - in Brussels International are placed these DIY-esque mobile device charging stations, where you Do the generating yourself!  Not  fancy shot or a particularly great one for aught else but the subject.  Belgium, I'll return to see you again! 

The photos laid out heretofore are taken with a Sony Cybershot DSC-HX30V 
 Creative Commons License
These works by Tim Paez are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License


Eire, uimhir a trí - No Strength Without Unity

I've got no cause to boast claims as to what makes or doesn't a place.  My own notions of where I go and who I meet, preconceived or otherwise, are put to the challenge always and in all ways by those who share similar experiences.  All I can do is interpret and process (or not, sometimes) and then share my side of things; to add to the collective pool of our shared notions of the experience of things.  

This next rash of that 'processing' (more from Ireland) if it can be called such, is going to take a broad-spectrum snapshot of many elements of what culture I saw around me.  One major disclaimer - I spent most of my time in the North, with only a brief (but admittedly typically touristy) dip into the Republic.  I think in general, I still felt a distinctly and unabashedly Irish vibe everywhere I went.  In this approach, I guess I'm generally employing a pattern when it comes to this craft of photography - to the things which trigger me to snap the shutter - and a distillation of my understanding of how I see the world.  
Thanks for reading hitherto!!  Now read on hencheforth..

Local architecture and institutions:

Front gate of the secular Queens University, the gorgeous campus where my brother studied, and to where I was invited to visit. Also the local center of life for the neighborhood and an assured boon to the entire fabric of this very awesome City. Belfast, N. Ireland

A fun shot - one of my favorites from the trip. Commissioned circa 1870's, the Daniel Joseph Jaffe Fountain commemorates a prominent Jewish benefactor to the City. Victoria Square, Belfast, N. Ireland.

A gift of solidarity to this politically aware City from a fixture of the independence struggle in Plaestine.  A clear example of the seemingly widespread embrasure of diversity and class-conscious struggle, this plate from the besieged haram, the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in the Gaza Strip of Palestine sits prominently in Belfast City Hall.

I like this one too: blue sky with Church facade and gate, captured all in one and its all relatively clear. I must admit - saving up for months to replace my lost camera in time for this trip feels like a smart move. St. Malachy's Catholic Church, Belfast, N. Ireland.

Northern coastline:

Small, but well-protected fishing boat harbor on the north eastern coast of Ireland. Quaint and a rather idyllic town layout for this region, as evident during a brief pit stop on the road toward Giants Causeway - and all that on my first real foray into the Irish countryside.  Carnlough, Co. Larne, N. Ireland.

The awe-inspriring view from the far side of the bridge is of the coast along the northern coast and of Scotland, when the weather is clear.  It was well worth the drive and the harrowing crossing! This 66-foot span suspension bridge connects the mainland to one of the many "casting" islands found in the region.  The semi-protected sites (harbor would be too ostentaious a description) in the veritable canyons created in between, were where the fishermen of yore would cast their boats out to sea from.... 

...after at a gut-twisting and wind-swept shaky crossing at 96 feet above the sea.  Without having to spend an exhausting day of fishing the perennially white-capped Irish Sea, our crossing to the island offered us, in part, this view of the rugged Irish coastline and the rope-bridge strung where those same fisherman had ever used when lucky enough to return home. Any picture of this gorgeous landscape does the full experiential beauty of this place little justice. 
Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, Ballintoy, Co. Antrim,  N. Ireland.

Irish pastimes:

Talk about a national sport - Rugby, the short-shorted rabble rousing past-time of a nation of heavy drinkers.  Or.. so it would seem, from the stands.  The crowd here was AWESOME - a boisterous and jovial bunch of true fans.  Even better - Ulster (home team) kicked ass!  Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast, N. Ireland. 

This guy was adorable.  Not a ferocious or antagonizing mascot, they, in any case, his antics kept the crowd going - through a bout of rain and some wind -  and helped energize the crowd that lea the home team to victory! I was likely one of only a few spectators cracking up watching the bear nearly as often as watching the game. Plus, I may be imagining it, but I think he's trying to give me a thumbs up...  Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast, N. Ireland. 

The glare of the lights - post-game shot as we crossed the end of the field to the exits.  Its a bit fuzzy, I know; but I liked the framing and I think if I'd have taken more time I could have worked with the light. Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast, N. Ireland.     

This, my fair reader & viewer, is a fraction of a fraction of the famous - rural Irish tractor pull!  County Omagh, N. Ireland.

That tractor pull was just a start to my countryside explorations into the interior of N. Ireland.   The stated goal: Egg Cup and Whiskey Festival.  Many thanks to Declan, Andy, and their sublime jams

Too many egg cups of whiskey! Likley, too, that it was all Bushmills - a typically local favorite.  And it was only 630pm here. County Omagh, N. Ireland.

Very, very old school fire place - but unbelievably toasty and warm.  It heated up the whole bar!  County Omagh, N. Ireland.

Art and resistance:

Saintly touched shepherd maiden, tending her flock. Painting depicting an archetypal Irish landscape, exuding country-side charm & purity - and of course, pointing to the the 'proper', Christian path to follow.  Painting inside history exhibit of the Kilmainham Gaol Museum, Dublin, Ireland.

Stunning intricacy in designs and vividness of color - dance skirts of traditional Irish dancing on display at the Dublin Museum of Irish Dance.  With a long, awesome history of cultural struggle for identity, and repeated resistance against various forms of external aggression and oppression - by first the Vikings, then the Gauls, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons and the Crown, and alternately, too, by internecine battles between tribes all throughout their seemingly eternal history - dance and music, as a means of identity and expression by the Celtic peoples of Ireland and thereby also an avenue passing on pride and culture, has proven to be valued as a traditional art across Ireland and its acoutrements have found a revered place in the social fabric of all things Irish.  Dublin, Ireland.

Street corner art.  Benign and almost innocent - but poignant - in this image I saw a familiar theme that I've found in every growing city: the face of property in transition.  But a fun pic.  Dublin, Ireland.

More street art - this is a tribute to a hollywood-/art deco-esque vision of a dystopian totalitarian future.    Somewhere on the streets of Belfast (near the Duke of York bar), N. Ireland. 

A clear example of a distinctly Irish aesthetic - function melded with form.  Even here, in the heart of Kilmainham, there is something of an austere grandness in the construction of this fortress-like prison. 
Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland. 

And deep within that same Kilmainham, another kind of beautiful expression - this one by inmate and political prisoner during the Civil War, Grace Gifford (Plunkett).  Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland.

Relic from the Civil War - a soldier's cross pendant, crafted out of bullets and shells.  Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland.

"Rebel" country. Ostracized in their own nation (at least in the North), the Irish Catholic Republicans are relegated to ghetto's, like this one.  When compared to America's urban and rural ghetto's the material conditions here are significantly better - but the disenfranchisement and prejudice brought to bear on Catholics in the mostly Protestant North of Ireland is very much the same as that wrought upon those groups in the U.S.  Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. 

Green and open spaces:

Side path in the Botanic Gardens of Belfast, and a wonderful open space.  Enjoyable and vast, this super popular park sprawls 28 acres right behind Queen's University.  Belfast Botanic Gardens, Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

A little grainy and funny-colored, this is one of the first shots I took using a longer exposure (adjustable, on my camera!!!)

Fun and pretty expansive, St. Stephen's Green in Dublin is an oasis within an already laid-back kind of city.  My super accommodating hosts lived nearby, and while my time in Dublin was way too short,  I spent a bit of time in this park meandering - and experimenting with my camera.  St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, Ireland.

Some of the results from the Park.  St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, Ireland. 

Lord Ardilaun House, wonderfully landscaped and just kind of cool and rural - here in the middle of Dublin. St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, Ireland. 

In keeping with this brief natural, 'green' theme - a side by side shot of Newgrange and the surrounding landscaping.  County Meath, Ireland. 

More green - and with blue!  Quayside steps into the river, near the Titanic Quarter.  River Lagan, Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

Cityscapes and landmarks:

Spire-side of St. Anne's Cathedral.  A common theme in the two biggest cities in Ireland - the spire.  Here, the one in Belfast, N. Ireland. 

The other - the Spire of Dublin - also known, apparently, as the Monument of Light! It wasn't easy to get, but after several attempts I think I nailed the colors in this shot.  Dublin, Ireland.     

And another view of the Monument of Light, for size context.  Spire of Dublin, Ireland.

A favorite of mine - of Belfast riverfront skyline - where the sun is just beyond the clouds.  The clarity and colors are most certainly due to an upgrade in camera, as my previous one could not have taken a shot like this so well.  Not for nothing, but a great camera at a much-discounted price can be found with some research & time.  Belfast, N. Ireland.

Lurgan Castle - or the Brownlow House - at night, taken with a longer exposure setting.  Awesome Victorian manor, and set along the lakeshore and green expanse of Lurgan Park.  Lurgan, County Armagh, N. Ireland.   

Southern facade of the Custom House at dusk, from across the River Liffey.  Moments after my arrival in Dublin this view greeted me as I made my way towards my hosts' pad.  Custom House Quay, Dublin, Ireland. 

Albert Memorial Clock shown here with a bit of  lean - and also called the Leaning Tower of Belfast.  Belfast, N. Ireland. 

Adorning the halls of City Hall in Belfast is this symbol, the traditional irish harp, in enormous stained glass mosaic.  Fitting, to say the least, that its in the North, the belly of the beast in the Irish Republican struggle.  

The photos laid out heretofore are taken with a Sony Cybershot DSC-HX30V 
 Creative Commons License
These works by Tim Paez are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License