Saturday, April 22, 2017

Flowering Forest of Hallerbos

Samedi, 22 avril

"Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking."

This Miranda Priestley takedown one of the most enduring lines from The Devil Wears Prada, a movie that I have seen so many times I have lost count and that gave me incredibly unrealistic standards for the amount of time and effort that employees are supposed to commit to their jobs. Which, come to think of it, is perhaps why I found myself in Flanders this weekend, having volunteered to lead a group of American Fulbrighters on a seven kilometer walk through Hallerbos.

But when your office looks like this, wouldn't you want to work on weekends too?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter at the Laeken Royal Greenhouses

Dimanche, 16 avril

It is Easter Sunday and spring has sprung in Belgium! Or so they tell me. While the weather does not have any apparent plans to get any warmer (my winter coat is still in a depressingly regular rotation), the flowers are blooming, the days are getting longer, and -- as of this weekend -- the Laeken Royal Greenhouses are open.

Located on the estate of the Royal Castle of Laeken, the primary residence of the Belgian royal family, the Royal Greenhouses open to the public for several weeks in April and May as an annual spring treat for locals and tourists, who line up by the hundreds to get a glimpse of the unique flowers and plants in the historic royal collection. And what better way to spend Easter than surrounded by fancy flowers?!

The Serres Royales de Laeken or Koninklijke Serres van Laken were built by Leopold II, the second King of the Belgians. During his forty-four year reign between 1865 and 1909, Leopold II was known as the "Builder King" due to the number of public buildings he constructed across the country, including the triumphal arch in Brussels' Parc du Cinquantenaire and the Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station.

The stunning Jardin d'Hiver, or Winter Garden, was the first of several greenhouses to be constructed on the estate. Built between 1874 and 1876, they still contain many of the massive palm trees that were part of Leopold II's collection. And that roof!


Built of steel and glass in a style considered quite groundbreaking for its time, the greenhouses were envisioned as a shining city of glass by architect Alphonse Balat. The structures marked a stylistic departure for Balat and an important step toward the Art Nouveau style that would later be developed by, among others, Balat's own apprentice, Victor Horta!

The greenhouses are home to a historic collection of trees and plants, many of which date back to the reign of Leopold II, but gardeners add a particularly colorful touch to the rooms of the Pier Greenhouse for the annual public viewings.