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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Yellow Cube Houses

When I first saw these yellow cubes from afar, I thought that were just the quirky facade of a building. Imagine my surprise when I learned that these are real houses that people actually live in!
These 39 houses are basically slanted cubes in wood, glass and concrete, resting on concrete poles, designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom (1934-1999). Blom's concept was that each house would represent a tree and together, they would symbolize a forest. Keeping this in mind and with some imagination, this little neighbourhood did start to resemble an architectural forest.

Residing in a cube house can be quite a challenge, we were told. Despite having 1,080 square feet of floor space, only a quarter of this, approximately 270 square feet, is usable due to the sharp angles of the architecture. Even more challenging, this 270-square-foot area is spread out across four floors. After entering on the ground level, residents must take a narrow staircase to reach the first floor, a tiny, triangle-shaped room which features a living room and kitchen. A flight of stairs up are two bedrooms and a bathroom, and the top floor is a small free space, typically used as a garden.

As residents are constantly disturbed by hordes of tourists and curious passers-by, one owner decided to open a "show cube", which is furnished as a normal house, and is making a living out of offering tours to visitors.

Thanks to Airbnb, you can now stay in one of these houses.

image source - Airbnb
image source - Airbnb
image source - Airbnb
image source -
It would be cool to stay in a house like this as a vacation rental but certainly not on a long-term basis. It does feel kinda dizzying and claustrophobic, doesn't it?

 Surprisingly, even after a quarter of a century, a significant number of the original occupants still live in the Cube Houses.

Would you like to live in a Cube House?
Musings Of A Tired Mummy

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Grand Place

Standing there at the medieval square of the Grand Place, I was dazzled by the grandeur of the many ornate buildings that surrounded me. A UNESCO World Heritage site, The Grand Place is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.

True to its name, the place is resplendent. Imagine a single place where you can observe different architecture styles from three different eras (Gothic, Baroque, Louis XIV)  blending seamlessly, forming an architectural ensemble that really is one of a kind!

The Grand Place (Dutch: Grote Markt) was historically a marketplace where goods were traded. As the city grew, market stands gave way to grand buildings built by rich merchants that surround the cobbled square today : The Town Hall, The Maison du Roi (King's House) and the guild houses.

Maison du Roi in French or "Broodhuis" in Dutch (House of Bread)

The King's House is now the historical City Museum. As the Dutch name implies, the building was originally a wooden structure where bakers sold their bread.The original building was replaced in the 15th century by a stone building which housed the administrative services of the Duke of Brabant, which is why it was first called the Duke's House, and when the same duke became King of Spain, it was renamed the King's House.

In 1695, the French army bombarded Brussels and destroyed most of the  buildings housed in The Grand Place. They were all rebuilt except the Town Hall, the square's only remaining medieval building. At its summit stands a 5 m (16 ft) tall statue of Saint Michael, the patron saint of Brussels, slaying a demon.

Notice that the building is conspicuously asymmetrical. It is said that when the architect discovered this mistake, he committed suicide by jumping off the tower!


I found the nearly 40 ostentatious guild houses most fascinating. The buildings were all adorned with golden statues and other embellishments intent on flaunting the status and wealth of their occupants in the 17th century. The gilded statues and symbols were emblematic of their trade. I didn't know there were patron saints for occupations! And cities too!
From left to right: Le Renard, Le Cornet, La Louve, Le Sac, La Brouette, Le Roy d'Espagne,

Le Renard  –- House of the Corporation of Haberdashers
Le Cornet –- House of the Corporation of Boatmen
La Louve –- House of the Oath of Archers
Le Sac –- House of the Corporation of Carpenters
La Brouette –- House of the Corporation of Greasers.
Le Roy d'Espagne  –- House of the Corporation of Bakers

From left to right: Le Marchand d'or, Le Pigeon, La Chaloupe d'or,  L'Ange, Joseph et Anne, Le Cerf

Le Marchand d'Or –- private house of the tiler Corneille Mombaerts
Le Pigeon  –-  House of the Corporation of Painters
La Chaloupe d'or –- House of the Corporation of Tailors
L'Ange –- private house of the merchant Jan De Vos
Joseph et Anne –- two private houses under a single facade.
Le Cerf –- private house.

Statue of Saint Hommebon of Cremona (patron of tailors) atop La Chaloupe d'or


Sharing the same neo-classical monumental facade, the House of the Dukes of Brabant is home to seven guild halls. The building is so called because of the 19 busts of the Dukes of Brabant that grace the facade's pilasters.

Fun Fact
Despite the name, no duke of Brabant ever lived here!

The intricacy of the facade is astounding. Can you spot the busts? They are located at the centers of the pilasters.

A close-up of one the 19 busts  –- Anthony, Duke of Brabant.

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the King's House

Every two years in August since 1971, the square is carpeted with begonias. A different theme is selected by the organizers biennially.

Over half a million begonias are painstakingly arranged into an intricate tapestry and cover the cobblestones of the Grand Place for one weekend only.

The theme for 2018 was Mexico.

2016 - Japan
image credit -

Musings Of A Tired Mummy

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Lion of Lucerne

Curled in his den above a pond, impaled by a spear, is a dying lion – a haunting monument to the Swiss soldiers who were killed protecting the French king during the French Revolution.

More than 700 Swiss soldiers were massacred defending King Louis and Marie Antoinette in an attack on the Tuileries in 1792.

The dying lion is allegorical of  the soldiers’ courage, strength, and willingness to die rather than to betray their oath of service.  Mark Twain described it as “the most moving piece of stone in the world.”

The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff  for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion  – and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.

— Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880

Above the mournful lion is the Latin inscription, “HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI,” which means “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss,” and below the lion’s niche is a list of the names of the fallen officers and the approximate numbers of soldiers who died (DCCLX = 760), and survived (CCCL = 350).

The tragedy was that their noble sacrifice was in vain.

On that fateful day, a contingent of 900 Swiss Guard mercenaries guarding King Louis XVI at the Tuileries Palace in Paris found themselves surrounded by an angry mob of some 30,000 French Revolutionaries. The mob demanded that the mercenaries step aside; the mercenaries refused. More than 700 of the Guard lost their lives in the battle that ensued, willing to die for the man they had been hired to protect, King Louis XVI.

No one bothered to tell the Swiss Guard that they were guarding an empty palace; the king and his family had already snuck out and fled.


Although thousands of visitors throng the monument daily, few realize that there are not one, but two different animals carved on the sandstone.

Here's how the story goes ...

The initiative to create a commemorative sculpture was taken by Karl Pfyffer von Altishofen, an officer of the Swiss Guard who was on leave in Lucerne during the August 10th massacre. He put up a public appeal for funds and commissioned  Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen to design the monument.
Although many contributed, the money collected was not enough to pay Thorvaldsen. The liberals, in particular, disapproved of the monument  The lack of funds did not discourage Pfyffer, who somehow managed to persuade Thorvaldsen for the job. According to the Thorvaldsens Museum Archives,
Pfyffer deliberately hid the truth from Thorvaldsen until the delivery of the model of the sculpture was secured. Upon discovering that he was shortchanged, the irate Thorvaldsen decided to get even by adding some last minute changes to his design. The artist didn’t alter the sculpture itself, out of respect for the fallen soldiers. Instead, he changed the shape of the alcove where the lion lay to resemble the outline of a pig!

Can you see the pig?

Musings Of A Tired Mummy

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Shopping Extraordinaire

Nope, this is not the dome of a cathedral. Nor is it the skylight of some grand mosque.

It's simply the ceiling of the most beautiful shopping mall on the planet – Galeries Lafayette!

Never mind the jaw-dropping prices of the luxury merchandise – just gawk at the ceiling and drool at the macarons. This upmarket French department store is a destination in itself and is the second most visited monument in Paris, after the Eiffel Tower.

Founded by two cousins in 1983, what started out as a tiny store became a mega department store chain and now operates in a number of  locations in and outside France.

Opulence is the order of the day.  Six levels of scalloped balconies with ornate railings wrap around the atrium like tiers of a wedding cake!

If you have money to burn, you could go crazy here – you will find every major designer brand available including the likes of Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Cartier, Chanel...

Their food hall is amazing!

I learned a thing or two about French pastries.

Éclair, the very classic French pastry
image source - Galeries La Fayette
Éclair is the French word for lightning. It is said that the pastry received its name because it glistens when coated with confectioner's glaze. There are others who claim that the name was given because the pastry is so good, it disappears as fast as lightning! We were told by our tour guide there is even a third theory which suggests that when this dessert debuted in France, news of its awesomeness swept across the country at lightning speed, hence the name.


I was told that most people confuse macarons with macaroons. I used to think that it was just a spelling mistake.

The differences
image source - The Spruce Eats

A glass-bottom viewing platform that extends over the atrium on the third level provides a spectacular view beneath the Art Deco dome. The walkway is 9 metres long and suspended 16 metres high in mid-air – not recommended for those who have a fear of heights!

What is the most beautiful mall you have seen?

Musings Of A Tired Mummy

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Of Coffeeshops and Weed Brownies

When our tour guide told us that there were many coffeeshops in Amsterdam, an image of a nice hot cup of chocolate in a heated café popped up in my head – it was getting nippy outside. But in the Netherlands, "coffeeshops" are alcohol-free establishments where cannabis products are legally sold and consumed!

A  coffeeshop (the words are strung together) in the Netherlands is NOT your typical café and should not be confused with the coffee shops that sell real coffee and pastries elsewhere in the world.

Official Dutch coffeeshops have a green and white licence sticker displayed on the window. According to the Dutch Drug and Coffee Shop Law, the coffeeshops in the Netherlands are licensed to sell small quantities of cannabis to adults over 18.

Coffeeshops are prohibited to sell alcohol. Dutch laws mandate that a shop can either sell alcohol or cannabis products but never both.

While meandering the streets around Dam square, we came across this museum and learned a thing or two about cannabis and its history.

Bongs on display inside the museum
I thought these were fancy vases!!

Cannabis chocolate

We passed many souvenir shops that displayed cannabis edibles like brownies, cookies, chocolates, candies, ice-cream, energy drinks, etc behind their windows.

We tried the brownies. Nothing happened!

Haha! Later, we were told that the brownies we ate were just cannabis flavoured!! Cannabis products that aren't bought in a coffeeshop do not contain any THC and won't get you high! It’s illegal for regular shops to sell any cannabis edibles.

Space cakes from souvenir shops are just a tourist trap and you won’t get stoned even if you eat 100 of them! But if it's from a coffeeshop, it will get you blitzed!

Cannabis edibles
These are a tourist gimmick with the marijuana leaf labeled on them just to trick silly tourists into parting with their cash!!

Can you believe I've never tried weed in my 57 years of life!? That brownie didn't  count!

Cannabis in Malaysia is illegal. Malaysian legislation provides for a mandatory death penalty for convicted drug traffickers. Individuals arrested in possession of 200 grams (seven ounces) of marijuana are presumed by law to be trafficking in drugs. Individuals arrested in possession of 50 grams (1.5 ounces) or less will be sentenced to imprisonment up to 10 years.

Contrary to popular belief, cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands. It is, however, tolerated, meaning the authorities will turn a blind eye to those in possession of 5 grams or less.

A coffeshop in Amsterdam

A coffeeshop menu
image source -
If you worry about stumbling into the wrong coffee shop when you want a real cup of joe, look out for the green and white sticker that is displayed on the front window.
image source - wikipedia

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