We arrived in Brussels on Christmas Eve, and our first stop was the marché at Flagey, where we celebrated our reunion with our son, whom we had not seen since August, with champagne and a plate of oysters. While in Belgium, we enjoyed taking in the festive atmosphere of the Christmas markets, meeting up with friends, and making new ones. In Antwerp, we spent the day at the Museum aan de Stroomin (MAS) and visited friends in the city of Kortrijk who gave us a tour of this charming Flemish city, which included a delicious lunch, a visit to the Texture museum of Flax and River Lys, and our friends indulged us in a generous box of chocolates from V-Chocolatier by Sweertvaegher.

There was no shortage of delicious dining, and Au Vieux Saint Martin in Sablon was a favorite. The restaurant's atmosphere was lively and complete with happy diners, and we shared the Gaufre de Bruxelles. My son and I had a lovely time at Pop-Up Sablon, thanks to our gracious server. At the end of our visit to the ChocoStory museum in Bruges, we enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate that surpassed any expectations I may have had. I managed a little self-care and took a yoga class at the Yoga Room in Ixelles, and I squeezed in a pedicure at a local salon.

Maison Hannon, Saint Gilles, Brussels

Reflecting on my visit to Maison Hannon brings a smile to my face. It is a remarkable, historic, and beautiful former residence of Marie and Édouard Hannon and now a museum that opened last June. They commissioned their friend and architect, Jules Brunfaut, who synthesized the beaux art style with Art Nouveau. Maison Hannon was built between 1903 and 1904, and it epitomizes the refinement, elegance, and distinctive new style of its era.

Upon entry, I was dazzled by the asymmetrical design of the stair railing that led my eyes up the stairs. Alone, the stair railing is a beautiful visual definition of art nouveau with its whiplash design of sinuous flowing lines with stylized stems and S curves. Paul Bedouin’s fresco of floating draped figures moves the eye in the opposite direction and back to the cliff with two figures. The combination of the two different directions visually balances the space. Maison Hannon features the original stained glass of Raphaël Evaldre, a student of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The mosaic floor in the foyer feels reminiscent of the swirl patterns of Mariano Fortuny pendants. The dome ceiling features an attractive pattern framed by a border of painted oak leaves and acorns.

All of these individual elements work together harmoniously to create visual magic. Maison Hannon will remain open during the balance of its restoration and will be completed in 2030, the same year as Belgium's bicentenary.

Joie de Vivre

Unlike many people who enjoy going to new places every year, I tend to revisit the same places, with Paris as a top contender. I get excited every time and revisit many of my favorite spots. I am constantly taking note of my surroundings. I take note of the changes each season brings. It may be the color of the leaves of the horse chestnut trees that border allées in the Jardin du Tuileries, or admiring the vitrines of the boutiques and galleries on rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, or visiting the 6-pointed star architectural fragment in the garden of the Hôtel de Sully as if I were meeting an old friend.

One morning, our first stop was Pâtisserie Stohrer, Paris's oldest pâtisserie, established in 1730. We visited their historic location on rue Montorgueil with beautiful verre églomisé paintings and chandeliers. I ordered a mini galette frangipane and my husband and son eclairs. From Stohrer, we popped into Galerie Dumonteil Contemporary, where we looked at Daniel Daviau’s spirited bronze animal sculptures, and we walked through Place de Victoire and onward to Galerie Vivienne, the most beautiful arcade with an attractive mosaic floor and glass roof, built in 1723. After lunch at Le Bougainville, we continued our walk to Place Vendôme, then onto the rive gauche, and for a stroll through Jardin du Luxembourg, where we admired the Medici Fountain and watched men play pétanque. Our son caught the train back to Brussels that evening, and we met our friend Françoise for champagne at the Hotel Montalembert.

On our last day in Paris, my husband and I enjoyed a relaxing morning in Montmartre and a moment alone on a sunny January day in the garden Musée de la Vie Romantique. The museum was once the home of the distinguished Dutch painter Ary Scheffer. The name references the romantic movement of the 19th century. Ary Scheffer and his daughter held salons every Friday frequented by 19th-century artistic celebrities, George Sand, Frederic Chopin, Eugène Delacroix, Franz Liszt, and Charles Dickens. Today, you can enjoy a refreshment from the Rose Bakery in the garden. The ground's gentile beauty assures one that you are in France with its gravel courtyard, green-painted metal outdoor furniture, and exterior walls covered in green-painted trellis.

From Montmartre, we walked to Galleries Lafayette, where we were captivated by its Art Nouveau glass dome created by master glassworker Jacques Grüber, the Christmas decor, the shopping, and the view from the rooftop. A sudden sun shower encouraged us to take a taxi instead of walking over to the Louvre, where we easily spent three hours absorbing as much as we could. We ended the evening with dinner at Bistrot de l’Oulette. I ordered the dourade, and my husband ordered the cassoulet. It was the best meal of our trip.

I have only given you a glimpse of some highlights of our trip to Belgium and Paris. I have returned inspired by Maison Hannon and the gardens of Musée de la Vie Romantique, and I wonder if I can bring some of the beauty I witnessed into my everyday life.