About Us

Hi there!

Our names are Ellie and Gaby. We’re two Penn students who study Art History and Architecture. As fate would have it, we met in an Architectural Art History class.  Two years later, we’ve become best travel buddies through our shared appreciation of food, photography, and getting lost in alien places.

Our philosophy of travel is simple: traveling doesn’t need to take you far across the oceans or into another continent. Traveling is simply the curious and adventurous mindset of experiencing a place in a new way, be it through its cuisine, culture, traditions, history, fashion, or otherwise.

For our Young Traveling Scholarship, we’ve chosen to travel across North America, namely: Philadelphia and New York in the United States and Quebec and Montreal in Canada. We’ve decided to title our blog “Gems and Hidden Gems,” because some of the best experiences hide out in plain sight!

Philadelphia has been our hometown for over two years, but we decided to challenge ourselves to become tourists in our own city and dig for unique experiences that regular city-hopping tourists might miss. New York, the concrete jungle where dreams are made of (thank you, Jay-Z), is absolutely bustling with life and therefore hidden gems. Finally, Quebec is the crown jewel that neither of us have been to before – a fairytale town awaiting our arrival. Stay tuned to experience these three cities through our eyes!

Signed,
Ellie & Gaby

Klimt and the Penacho de Moctezuma

Vienna is full of surprises! On our short visit we had the opportunity to visit Belvedere Museum. Here was the home of the famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. The Bloch-Bauer family were victims during WWII as they were Jewish. Their art was stolen including this painting.

However, the remaining family of Adele tried to get the painting back which would end up in the collections of this museum after the war. In 2006 after several legal battles, the portrait and another 4 Klimt paintings were repatriated to their owners or their families. Now the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer rests in a gallery in New York. We had the chance to se the collection and other Klimt master pieces such as The Kiss.

On our second day we went to the Welt Museum or Museum of the World, our main interest was the Penacho de Moctezuma, also brought to Austria by explorers. The exhibition also included a passage to the Pacific with Maori Taonga. Overall the exhibition of object from around the world felt quite heavy and difficult to appreciate as the whole approach was of a colonial look. Nonetheless, there was a room explaining the role of the museum and its colonial collections which was a step forward. In this room there are thoughtful questions and exploration of the role of the museum in the future, we hope to see more like this   . Contemporary exhibitions at the museum of Nepalese art and syncretism were superb and we highly recommend it.

Vienna is a gem and a must in world heritage cities!

Bruges and the Stolen Madonna

Arriving to Bruges, we decided to go head on to our most interest spot. The church of Our Lady of Bruges which holds a beautiful Michelangelo sculpture of the Virgin Mary.

The virgin is a symbol of the city and its people. During WWII it was stolen by Nazi solders and smuggled out of Belgium in a Red Cross truck. The sculpture illuminates and stands today at her home because of a group of heritage and art historian professionals which located most of the stolen art by the Nazis. The famous movie the monuments men was based on this story and the inspiration for our entire trip.

The lady of Bruges was returned home after being discover in a Salt mine in Germany with many other works of art. At the moment the altar where the virgin sits is being restored to honour and maintain the virgin’s home.

We also had the opportunity to visit the newly finished Bruges museum, the Flemish masters museum, Belfry world heritage site and the whole town. Bruges is a charming medieval city which had a group of powerful people interested in the revival of the medieval charm in the city.  The Violet le Duc XIX century inspired restoration  returned the medieval charm which is now a world heritage city.

the one in the hills

After arriving in Luxembourg late in the evening i wandered around in the Petrustal, the neighborhood of my hostel, with is World Heritage. In the morning i met up with Claudine Bechet-Metz, who works for the city at the Culture Office. We strolled through Luxembourg and talked about her work and she showed me some of her favorite places. We f.e. visited the black Madonna at the Johannes church and the Melusina statue designed in 2013.

Next i met up with Gilles Genot. I already heard the romantic version of the Melusina legend from Claudine. He gave me a tour of the Letzebuerg City Museum and we talked about the historic background of the Melsusina legend and its meaning behind it. But Gilles also showed me the Schueberfouer exposition he curated at the museum.  Sadly i was  just about too late to visit the real Schueberfouer funfair that is taking place annually in the city. The funfair was founded by John the Blind, King of Bohemia and Count of Luxembourg,  in 1340. And it will be soon part of the intangible World Heritage, Gilles told me. This would be the second intangible World Heritage after the Echternach dancing procession that is specific to Luxembourg.

On our way to the Bock plateau, Gilles drew my attention to small Melusina details that are spread all over the old town like the sandstone panel with  a depiction of a mermaid under the balcony of the Palais Grand-Ducal. At the Brock plateau we talked more about Luxembourg’s history and Gilles showed me the spot where Melusina allegedly sat when Sigmund first laid eyes on her. You can read all about the famous legend of Luxembourg if you scroll down. After lunch i met up with Robert Philippart. In his position as a UNESCO site manager for town and fortress of Luxembourg we talked a lot about the organisation and discussed different viewpoints people have on World Heritage. Before sundown i visited the Kasematten, a network of caverns underneath the city which are part of the fortress.

I also tried out the Unesco bike tour and was pleasantly surprised. On my bike tour i really enjoyed spectacular view from the special bike bridge that is located directly underneath the Grand Duke Adolf bridge. It was the perfect way to discover Luxembourg as a whole and not only the city center. Where Brussels is a constant mix, Luxembourg is like all typical city types combined in to one. But because of its special topography it does not not feel thrown together and overwhelming. All quarters are bit segregated by the hills and plateaus Luxembourg is built on. The charming old town, the modern business quarter, the quite suburbs, the beautiful green Petrustal.  All could be their own complete town, but together they form a perfect city.

During the day i met up for lunch with Shaaf Milani-Nia, a city architect. We talked about future projects, like f.e. a third city elevator and the  reinstatement of the riverbed, and about how she is working together with the locals and what their opinions are about World Heritage.

I stayed in Luxembourg during mobility week. All week i could use the buses for free. From next year on an, all regional transit in Luxembourg will be free. So i think i have to come back and discover the rest of the Dukedom.

 

 

Legend of Luxemburg

– Melusina –

Many hundreds of years ago a noble knight, Count Siegfried, lived at Körich Castle. Once he lost his way while hunting, and toward evening he found himself in a narrow, deep, and wildly overgrown valley. This was the Valley of the Alzette at the place where today the suburbs of Luxembourg City picturesquely blend with the cliffs. Rising before him, the count could see sheer rock cliffs, upon which stood the ruins of an ancient Roman castle. Suddenly the sounds of wonderful singing fell upon the startled knight’s ears. After listening for a time, the count hurried in the direction that the sounds were coming from, and soon he discovered a maiden sitting among the castle’s ruins. Captivated by her beauty, he stood still. It was Melusina, the Nixie of the Alzette. With a fixed gaze Siegfried stared at the otherworldly vision. Seeing the handsome knight, the maiden covered her face with her green veil, then disappeared with the last rays of the evening sun. Overcome with fatigue, Count Siegfried lay down beneath a tree and fell asleep. The next morning the song of a bird awoke him from a blissful dream. He got up and followed the river. He soon found himself in the familiar vicinity of Weimerskirch, and from there he returned straight away to his homeland.

The vision of the beautiful maiden and her wonderful singing had mightily captivated the count’s soul. He often returned to the place, now very dear to him, in order to see her and hear her again. Once he met her in the valley, for she took pleasure in the count’s visits, and she had fallen in love with the handsome knight. He rushed toward her, declared his love for her, and asked her to become his wife. She consented under the condition that she not be required to leave the cliffs, and that he would never ask to see her on Saturdays, when she wished to be alone. Under oath the count promised this to her.

Siegfried entered into an agreement with the Abbot of St. Maximin near Trier to trade the former’s fruitful commune of Feulen near Ettelbruck for the latter’s infertile rocky cliffs and their surrounding woodlands. Because it would have taken years of time and great expense to build a castle on the rocky cliffs, where he could take Melusina home as his wife, Siegfried gladly accepted the help of Satan, who offered to build the castle for him and make him exceedingly wealthy if the count would surrender himself after thirty years. At the top of the cliffs a magnificent castle appeared overnight, proudly looking down on the valley below.

Siegfried married the beautiful Melusina and lived happily with her. Melusina presented him with seven children. However, every Saturday the nixie remained hidden from all eyes, retiring to her room and locking the door. This proceeded for many long years without her husband asking her what she was doing on those days. However, his friends, who with time learned about the situation, planted seeds of distrust in the count against his good wife. Now, at any price, Siegfried wanted to know why Melusina withdrew from him every Saturday. The next Saturday he secretly approached her room. From inside he could hear the sound of rushing and splashing water. Looking into the room through the keyhole he saw his wife in her bathtub combing her long blond hair with a golden comb. Her beautiful limbs ended with a horrible fishtail, with which she was splashing waves. The count uttered a cry of horror, and in the same moment Melusina sank into the depths of the cliffs. Siegfried had lost her forever.

– The End –

 

That is the lengthy and detailed version of the legend about the woman who is said to have been the wife of the founder of Luxembourg, Count Siegfried.  Every child in Luxembourg knows the story of the mermaid, its even told at school. In a survey Luxembourger were ask who they thought are important figures from Luxembourg. On fourth place many people mentioned Melusina. Even tough every adult knows that mermaids aren’t real, some of them still think Melusina is a real historical figure.

There are also tales surrounding the whereabouts of the mythical mermaid: Once every seven years, Melusina returns, either as a serpent with a golden key in its mouth or as a beautiful woman. All it will take to win her freedom is for some brave soul to kiss the womanly vision or take the key from the serpent’s mouth. Other stories speak about  Melusina appearing every seven years in human form above the cliffs, asking people to redeem her. If this does not happen, the white figure soars over the city crying, “Not for another seven years!” then sinks back into the cliffs.

Those stories are the reason why, when Luxembourg was still a fortress, sentry duty, especially at night, was not very popular. One time a courageous soldier who had traded shifts with a comrade was standing guard on the cliff-top. Melusina appeared to him in the form of a beautiful maiden and asked him to redeem her. She told him that it would be a difficult, but not impossible, task. However, he should not attempt it if he thought that he might not succeed, because if he failed she would sink three times deeper into the earth. While she was thus speaking there arose a mighty rumbling sound around the cliffs, causing the soldier to fear that they were about to collapse.

The soldier promised to fulfill Melusina’s wish. She said that for the nine following days, every night at exactly twelve o’clock, neither one minute earlier nor one minute later, he would have to appear behind the altar of the Dominican Church. On the tenth evening she would appear to him in the form of a fiery serpent with a key in her mouth. With his mouth he would have to take the key from her mouth and then throw it into the Alzette River, which would redeem her. For eight nights the soldier stood behind the appointed altar at precisely twelve o’clock, but on the ninth night he arrived late. Returning to his quarters he heard such howling and screeching coming from the cliffs that he thought all the wild animals were fighting one another in the air. However, no other person heard the noise.

According to another legend, Melusina is imprisoned within the rock that helped form Luxembourg City’s tremendous defenses. She passes the time by knitting, but thankfully she manages only one stitch each year, because should she finish her knitting before she’s released, all of Luxembourg and its people will vanish into the rock with her. It is also said that whenever Luxembourg City is threatened by danger or mishap, Melusina circles the cliffs while crying out mournfully.

Last day in Brussels

Our last day was full of adventure. Early in the morning we went for coffee at the Old English Building or Museum of Musical Instruments which has a restaurant on top and you can access that for free. The architecture and view was breathtaking.

After coffee we went to the BOZAR or PSK, with our research at hand we accessed the building to see a Brancusi exhibition. According to an article by cultural journalist Geert Sels, the BOZAR was used as an action house during the war. This became a common practice during the Nazi occupation because business was slow for the BOZAR.

During 1940, it was the first time in the PSK history that a financial year was closed with a loss. According to rough estimates by Kim Oosterlinck’s ULB team, in 1942 the auction house brought the BOZAR a revenue of 2 million francs. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to meet anyone at theBOZAR to corroborate this information.

Needless to say, during this time the common practice was art theft to Jewish people, as well as prime customers being the German occupiers.

This exciting history combines with the beauty of the Victor Horta’s building. We loved the exhibition and the space. We highly recommend it.

Later that day we went to a lovely sea food restaurant and we ended our adventure with a personal visit to the school where Mafe’s grandmother went during the WWII.

We now embark to Brugge, stay tuned!

The Grand Place

We made it to Brussels! After a fun afternoon yesterday, we saw the Museum of Fine Arts with an excellent exhibition of Bruegel, including an immersive experience to his paintings. Later that night we went to the famous Delirium bar where we had typical Belgian Beer.

Today we met with Ms. Paula Cordeiro, who works at the heritage office in Brussels. We where guided through the Grand Place, a museum and the town hall tower by her. She told  us the history of Brussels and the processes of restoration done to the place from 2004 until 2016.  Later we had lunch at the iconic Aux Armes de Bruxelles where we had the Waterzooi dish, traditional in Brussels.

Finally we went to the cathedral of the city where we admired more art works and decorations.

Stay tune for our last day as we will visit the Bozar and explore the history of this venue which our research found it was an auction house of stolen art during the 30s and 40s.

Last day in Luxembourg

On our last day we went to the National Museum of History and Art, we went through the Palaeolithic to the 100 anniversary of the Suffrage in Luxembourg.

Museums in this city have incredible architecture, adapting old fortresses walls to their structure and incredible exhibitions.

Later we went to the famous Chocolate Store across from the Chambre des Deputes, and discovered why it is so famous. Our choices were two hot chocolates (lavender and salty caramel) and a piece of tiramisu cake. We enjoyed our last views of the city and ended our day at a local bar called Vis à Vis. Au revoir to Luxembourg!

Luxembourg World Heritage Site

We found ourselves looking out to the city view and reading about the World Heritage Site commemoration.  The fortifications of Luxembourg are regarded as one is the most impressive in Europe. They became a World Heritage Site in 1994.

In the city museum, we had the opportunity to understand the evolution of the fortifications and development in the city. Luxembourg with its topography was destined to be one of the greatest walled cities in Europe. Popular among tourist, the beautiful views will take your breath away.

Later in the day we visited the Notre-Dame cathedral where the royal crypt hidden underneath the church, flanked by two lions in bronze with the Luxembourg coat of arms. In there, it rests the Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg as well as other members of the Ducal family.

Tomorrow we will go to the national museum of history and art  of Luxembourg and we will say goodbye to our stay here.