Brussels and Canberra are two of my favourite cities in the world. Even though they are located on opposite sides of the globe, they share many similarities.


Canberra and Brussels are both capital cities, which means that they have a high density of universities, museums, and galleries, but also have to live with headlines like “Canberra raises taxes” or “Brussels imposes austerity measures”.


#Community #Generosity
In the days that followed the 2003 bushfires, thousands of Canberrans came together to help everyone who had lost their homes. They gathered at local primary schools, swapped stories, brought slices, and wrote offers of food, clothing and accommodation on posters around the walls. Recently in Brussels the anti-austerity demonstrations got out of hand, and several privately-owned cars were damaged. Over one thousand people raised nearly €20,000 to buy new vehicles and equipment that were not covered by insurance.


In Brussels the “Carillon du Mont des Arts” has 24 bells and each day the hourly chime alternates between “Où peut-on être mieux” and “Beiaardlied”. Canberra’s National Carillon has 55 bells and plays the Westminster Quarters every 15 minutes.


In Brussels I can eat Moroccan pancakes at the Sunday Gare du Midi markets and Cornish pasties at the Thursday Parvis du Saint-Gilles Markets. In Canberra there’s Polish fare at the Saturday Gorman House Markets and Laos cuisine at the Sunday Old Bus Depot Markets.


#Multicultural #Atmosphere
One quarter of people living in the Australian Capital Territory were born outside Australia, and 18% speak a language other than English at home. Canberra celebrates this with its annual National Multicultural Festival and Food and Dance Spectacular. Institutions such as Telopea Park School (the “Lycée Franco-Australien de Canberra”) and the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific are fantastic places to learn another language. Brussels is a French-Dutch bilingual city, and is one of the political centres of the European Union, which has 24 official languages.


In both cities, I can treat myself to a sublime liquid treat, whether it is a “chocolat chaud” at Wittamer cafe in Brussels, or a Belgian-style hot chocolate at Koko Black. Hand-made gourmet boxes can be found at Pierre Marcolini in Brussels and Bruno’s Truffles in Canberra.


In April in Brussels, gardens like Groot-Bijgaarden are filled with tulips. Six months later, the Commonwealth Park in Canberra is overflowing with flowers during the Floriade spring festival.


A lot of construction occurred in both Canberra and Brussels during the 1960s, resulting in many buildings with exposed concrete, strong lines, and repeated modular elements.


Left: High Court of Australia and Canberra School of Music. Right: Albert Borschette Conference Centre Brussels, Fortis Bank Headquarters Brussels


béton brut

Comments No Comments »

One of my favourite days of the year is the first Saturday of the Aachen Winter Markets. I had bought cheap high-speed train tickets in the summer holidays, slightly bewildered that winter was only three months away. Last Saturday we took a short walk to the train station, sat in warm comfortable seats for an hour eating croissants, and then arrived, almost magically, in Germany. To me, these trains are a close approximation to teleportation.


Once in Aachen, Hayden decided that any dark stones were mud, and demanded that Adrian carry him, then me, then the pram, over all the dark stones. It took us about twenty minutes to walk 300 meters, but Hayden was very happy that we managed to avoid all the hazards in our path.


The weather was surprisingly warm. I remember other trips to Aachen being bitterly cold, but this time it was a temperate 10 degrees, and we were able to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.


On our way to the markets we stopped at a simple playground at Marienplatz. Hayden took his favourite green stegosaurus on all the equipment, sliding down the slippery dip together, pushing him on the swing, and sitting opposite him on the see-saw. He also decided to play hide and seek and bury the dinosaur in the sand, which led to quite a bit of frantic digging before we found him again, sandy but safe.


We visited a toy shop and Hayden picked out a new frog bath toy. He also decided this frog was the Mummy of green stegosaurus, and enacted a tearful and emotional reunion between the two creatures.


We had lunch at Homeburgers. I had peanut chicken, Adrian had falafel, and Hayden ate bread, fries, and a mouthful of an onion ring. It was nice to sit down and relax, but I think next year we might return to the potato fritters, garlic mushrooms, pretzels, and roast chestnuts of the markets. While Hayden took a long nap in his stroller, we caught up with some friends at the Aachener Cafe Haus on Hühnermarkt.


Early on in the day, Hayden caught a glimpse of a street performer dressed in gold, and for the rest of the day asked us “Where is the Gold Man?”. Later, we found the Gold Man again and he watched him with cautious fascination. Hayden was too shy to interact with him, but he paid close attention to the performer as he moved and danced.


We visited many printen (gingerbread) shops, including my favourite, Moss, with its reindeer and elephants. In addition to these animals, we bought classic, frosted, chocolate, and almond printen. They have all come home with us, but I fear they might not last long, especially now that Hayden has also developed a taste for these delicious biscuits.


I also bought lots of fragrant winter tea, including Kaminfeuer (fireplace), Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), and Printen (Gingerbread) Tea. Now I can have the taste of a German winter at my cubicle at work.


We went to the witches’ Hexinhof to drink out of a boot. I had a delicious “Schokopunsch”, hot chocolate with cream and amaretto liqueur. Adrian told me I could choose his drink, and I decided upon “rumgrog”. This was a terrible idea. It was just rum and hot water, and was undrinkable. Poor Adrian.


We trudged back with the pram laden with printen, tea, a souvenir mug, and one snug little toddler. After one last adventure in the playground, we then hopped on an almost deserted train and ate quiche and bagels while we were whisked back to Brussels, and were back home before 7pm.


Aachen montage

Comments No Comments »

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was born in France in 1947. She was part of the team that discovered and identified HIV as the cause of AIDS in 1983. The figure below is of viruses budding from lymphocytes, from “Isolation of a T-lymphotropic retrovirus from a patient at risk for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)”, Science, 1983; 868-871. She also identified important factors contributing to mother-to-child transmission of HIV. She received the Nobel Prize in 2008.


“There is always hope in life, because there is always hope in science.”



Comments No Comments »

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard was born in Germany in 1942. She and Eric Wieschaus identified many of the genes that control the embryonic development of Drosophila. The figure below is of a wildtype fruitfly embryo, and those homozygous for mutations in Krüppel, hunchback, and knirps, from “Mutations affecting segment number and polarity in Drosophila”, Nature, 1980; 287:795-801. She is also associated with the discovery of Toll, which led to the identification of toll-like receptors. She received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1995 for her discoveries into how complex multicellular organisms develop from single cells. The quote below is from her 2006 book, “Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development”.


Leben ist das Faszinierendste, was es gibt.
There is nothing more fascinating than life.”



Comments No Comments »