Back in Belgium (Brussels and Bruges)

Belgium Train to Bruges sm
We leave these depressing times and return to the European travels of last summer, before social distancing was even imagined. In the last chapter we were all done with Amsterdam, that was all finished, now it was time to return to my favourite country: Belgium. Land of very slow queues but very quick access to beer and frites. This time I was returning with my family for some more touristy travels – no Charleroi, more Bruges. In fact we were staying in central Brussels, although due to the heatwave-related Thalys delay we got in later than expected, but still early enough for an evening stroll around the Grand Place, Mannakin Pis, the chocolate shops, the waffle stands and of course the friteries. Belgian frites are just the best. The next day though we took the train to Bruges (or Brugge as it’s properly called in Flemish). We walked up the steep hill to centraal station, stopping for a pain-au-chocolat (or “couques” as they call them here) on the way. The ticket machines in Belgian stations are not very good for foreign visitors with US credit cards, as they didn’t seem to take them, so we had to line up in the slow Belgian train station ticket office line. By the time we figured out a way to but tickets online instead we had reached the window. I love the train system in Belgium, it goes absolutely everywhere and runs a good service, but I forget that when I last used it I lived there and had one of those Belgo-passes I think they were called, where you just paid an amount and got ten train journeys. Ah well, tant-pis, we got where we needed to go in the end. I sketched on the train as the language switched from French to Flemish. The heatwave was over, now we had an overcast muggy sky. We arrived in Bruges ready to tourist.

Bruges Grote Markt sm
I last went to Bruges in, whew, either 1999 or 2000 and was pleased to see that it is still a medieval city. Above is a sketch of the Grote Markt. Bruges was busy as usual, as always expected, and we even took a horse-drawn carriage around the city. I love all the old architecture and lanes and canals. The first time I was here all those years ago it was Christmas-time and there was a lovely Christmas market in this square. I decided not to colour in (since I was touristing with family) but I packed a lot in while my wife and son explored. Below is the incredibly large Belfort on the other side of the Grote Markt. It reminded me a bit of Orthanc, the large tower of Isengard where Saruman lived, with Gandalf on the roof ready to jump onto the back of a massive eagle.

Bruges Belfort sm

Below is a stone lion which is at the entrance to the twelfth-century Heilig-Bloedbasiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood) in De Burg (don’t start singing The Lady In Red). The shield is the Bruges city coat of arms. Inside this basilica they have an old holy relic brought back from Jerusalem during the Second crusade, a phial containing a cloth which has some of the blood of Jesus on it. Glad they never called this place Christ De Burg (don’t start singing The Lady In Red). The building was amazing, dating back to the time of Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders. That would be some time between 1134 and 1157.

Bruges Lion Statue sm

We had lunch before all of our touristing in a nice little restaurant called De Zevende Hemel. There I ate my moules. I’m a big fan of moules. These ones were nice, but just nice. The trappis beer I had with it was delicious, La Trappe. IMG_4597

We got the train back to Brussels, and while the family got an early night, I went out for one last sketch of the day. I was looking for a historic cafe called A La Becasse. I had never been there before, and it was hidden away down an alley near the Grand Place. There I had a table to myself in the corner, a Hoegaarden Grand Cru, and just enough time before closing to get a lot drawn. I actually sketched this paint first for the most part, adding in the ink afterwards. There were a few American tourists in here talking, but it wasn’t particularly busy. They have a lot of beers on the menu, as a good Belgian ‘estaminet’ should (that is another word for tavern), and dates back to 1877. Here’s their website: https://alabecasse.be/en. Every time I saw the name, I kept thinking “…the lady loves Milk Tray”. But then that made me think of The Lady In Red again, get that song out of my head.

Brussels A La Becasse sm

If that wasn’t enough, I couldn’t help getting one last portion of late night frites from Fritland, near the Bourse, whose frites I absolutely love. Filthy delicious. Even seeing this picture makes me so hungry, and just want to get back to Belgium.

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Brussels Metro Sketch sm

The next day we touristed some more (I did a quick sketch on the metro, above), going up to the Atomium (I don’t know if you are allowed to show that online, it was always banned, but it’s a massive great big sodding metal building you can see for miles). I don’t really love the Atomium, because it reminds me of being bored, when I lived in Belgium and I would sometimes come here, not all that interesting, and go back, or maybe I would get the tram that goes all around the city to reach here, so I would have somewhere to read a book and watch the city go by, and I never liked reaching the destination. Still, we all had fun walking in the parks around it, and (food photo alert) we got waffles from a waffle truck, simple no-nonsense waffles with a little bit of sugar on them, none of that fancy chocolate and kiwi fruit stuff for the tourists, and we all agreed it was the best waffle we had ever tasted. Cheap and cheerful, no pretensions, the most Belgian thing ever.

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That isn’t of course to say Belgian doesn’t do fancy. When it does fancy it can outdo all of you. I’m talking about chocolate. There are some crazy super fine chocolatiers in Brussels, but maybe the nicest ones we had were at Pierre Marcolini (at least as recommended to me by my Belgian friends, and they would know). This is the real fancy stuff. Not cheap either, but worth it. I got some for my wife as a souvenir. We got some others from places such as Mary and Neuhaus, but we ended up leaving them for family in London. I tell you what, all this talk of Belgium makes me very hungry.

Brussels Marcolini Chocolates sm
And then we left Belgium on yet another train, this time headed to France and our first ever trip to Disneyland Paris…

Amity and Ambience in Amsterdam

Amstelhoek Drink n Draw sm
The Urban Sketching Symposium is all about spending time with your fellow sketchers, many of whom are now old friends, especially those who were there at the very start, but it’s also about meeting new people. Often what happens is that you meet people, you are cordial, then you follow each other online and by the next time you see them, they’re like old pals. And of course we sketch each other. Above was a sketch from the first evening in Amsterdam, pay no attention to the parade of massive beers. The light was red, Lapin was sketching me, Matt was talking Italian to Mauro (I’d never met Mauro before, he is Italian living in Luxembourg), Arnaud (on this very hot evening there was no need for us to share a blanket as we had at an outside restaurant in Manchester, 2016) and Ludovina, who I did not know but was also sketching. Amstelhoeck was the place to meet everyone every evening.
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Above is Lapin’s sketch of Matt and me, and you can really see the red light we were drenched in. This was not the red light district by the way. Lapin by the way likes to write down things that you say, just anything from the conversations, and they might be random, such as when I was talking about being “better than him at Mario Kart: (I was probably talking about my brother), while Matt said “there is not a middle in 4”. We joked that we would need to save any conversation not for the public for when Lapin went to the toilet!
Amsterdam Matt Mauro sm

This post will be of the sketches I did of my fellow sketchers, outside of the workshops. Below on the right is Donald Saluling from Indonesia, who I had not met in person but had conversed with (usually about football) over the years, so it was nice to finally meet him. I cannot recall the name of the guy on the left but he was also from Indonesia, nice guy. I was there at a cafe with my Portland friend Kalina after one of the sketchwalks, it was that super hot day where my head had been totally melted by the heat, when I had even left my paints at home. So Donald graciously lent me his (very nice) paints to colour in the sketch. That was a really enjoyable early evening, one of the nicest moments in Amsterdam, utterly exhausted but lots of fun hanging out.
Amsterdam Donald Saluling sm
On the final night of the Symposium there was a large final reception, where Amber Sausen (Urban Sketchers president) announced the 2020 Symposium would be…Hong Kong! I had guessed it, and hoped for it, but that it would be in April rather than summertime, due to the heat. Now as I write in March 2020, sadly the symposium has been cancelled, because of the social disruption that was taking place over the second half of last year. Now of course with the ongoing drama of the Coronavirus outbreak, it would probably have been cancelled anyway,  but it’s a shame. So, there will be no Symposium for 2020. Amsterdam however was a big success, despite all the heat, and although I feel quite hugely overwhelmed by the sheer mass of people – when you are knocking closer to a thousand including those that come along just for the sketching, it feels a long way from the more intimate 75 or so of us that were in Portland – I say that every year – I still really enjoyed meeting new people. Below many of us are sat at a table late at night after wandering about Amsterdam looking for a restaurant that would stay open for us, and we found this one Italian place that put a bunch of tables together in the street for us. I love Europe. I tried to sketch all my neighbours, such as several amazing artists whose work I had not really seen before such as Johanna Krimmel, Eleanor Doughty and Jorg Asselborn. Also at the table are Jenny Adam, my Portland friend Rita Sabler, Matt, Arnaud, Mauro, Lapin, Marina, and a few others I can’t quite see.
Amsterdam Usk People 2 sm
Amsterdam Usk People 4 sm

Below are a few sketches from the final reception, the red-hatted Belgian man is Etienne Legrand, who I sketched while waiting in line for a drink. I always enjoy speaking French at these events, I feel like I’m a little bit part of the Francophone sketching world, though as we’ve established my French cannot be understood except in Charleroi, where nobody ever goes. The wild-haired fellow on the right is Richard Briggs, who I had met in Porto, one of the most creative artists I’ve met at these symposia.
Amsterdam Etienne Legrand smAmsterdam Richard Briggs sm
Here he is again with Aurore from Israel, Marina also from Israel (I’m a big fan of hers since the start of Urban Sketchers), and Hugo Costa.
Amsterdam Usk People sm
More Amsterdam sketches to come, but these were all the random people sketches I did this time, fewer than usual, but I’m always glad for capturing these moments.

looking over liège

Liege hydrants
I took the train across the linguistic divide that cuts Belgium in two and landed in Liège, a city I had last visited in the final months of the twentieth century. I was going there for exactly 24 hours, to visit my long-time urban sketching friend and art hero, Gerard Michel, and also sketch with some other Belgian sketching friends. Liège is a fairly big city, larger than I remember, and the architecture is very Walloon, lots of brick houses and steep hills. Gerard and I went for a morning walk around his neighbourhood, up steep paths and down long stairs, overlooking rooftops and spires and trees and the great river Meuse. Liège is a lively city, with a lot of atmosphere, a university city, and a very sketchable one, but in a different way to Ghent. We met up with Fabien Denoel, who I’ve known and followed since Barcelona 2013, and Chris Damaskis, as well as Danni Hoedamkers whom I had sketched with in Ghent, and Martine Kervagoret, visiting from Paris on the way to the Symposium, whom I first met back in Lisbon 2011 I think. We sketched up at the Terrasses des Minimes, overlooking the city, and it was very peaceful. I have seen many of gerard’s skethces from up there, as well as Fabiens, but also Lapin’s Florian Afflerbach’s, Nina Johansson’s, all the great sketchers who have visited there before, so I knew this scene well already, and I’m glad to have sketched it myself.
Liege rooftops des Minimes
I liked this picture of an apple that I took too.

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We walked into town for lunch, going to an old Liègeois cafe called Chez Stockis / Cafe Lequet, near the banks of the Meuse. We sat and chatted in French (I am very rusty), looked through sketchbooks, had cold beer and ate very local food. Most people had these things called ‘boulots’, which are these large meatballs (I don’t eat the meat so I didn’t have those), but I had Tomates Crevettes, which were these little shrimp sat on a big tomato, with frites. The cafe is old and a local favourite, but I heard that it would be closing. In fact I think by now, M. Stockis has closed up for the last time, though the cafe may still be going on (there’s a FB page). The patron, Guillaume Stockis, is there in the background of the sketch below (which is of Fabien Denoel). On the ceiling is hanging the marionette of Tchantchès, a local Walloons character dating back to the 19th century, dressed in his traditional miners’ clothes. You can learn about him here, if you can speak Walloons. This here is the heart of Liège.

Liege Cafe Lequet sm

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After lunch we walked across the Meuse to the Outremeuse neighbourhood and sketched at the roundabout of the Rue Pont St Nicolas. It was getting hot, the heatwave was coming in, and regular cold drinks were necessary. I sat next to a Friterie – the Friterie Tchantches of course – and drew as best I could. I also wandered about a little, as I had learned (from one of Gerard’s sketches) that the best waffles in Liège were at a place just across the street. Sadly it was closed, so I had one from a chain nearby, which was not as good. The waffles of Liège are a bit different from the waffles of Brussels, usually smaller and rounder, and they remind me of that Belgian film Rosetta, which I saw back in 1999 when I was in Charleroi, a story about a young woman in Liège who at one point works in a waffle truck.

Liege Outremeuse

Going back a few hours, the sketch below was the view from the guest room at Gerard’s house, I had woken up early (jetlag), and needed to practice the sketching. The bells at the local church were playing Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind, which always reminds me of when I lived in Belgium, when I listened to Bob Dylan a lot, and that was the first song on the CD I had bought. I would listen to that when looking out over the rooftops from my 13th floor room, so perhaps this was the universe welcoming me back to Wallonia.
Liege view from window
And as you know, I like to draw fire hydrants, so I drew three of them in Liège. And here also is Gerard, on the steep Montagne de Beuren, showing me the spot where he had once drawn a spectacular 360 degree picture of the whole scene – he gave me a print of it a decade ago, I do love it. It was funny seeing the real place in real life.
Liege Hydrant OutremeuseIMG_3719

Here is Gerard’s sketchbook, and as you can see I show up in it twice! A huge honour. I’m wearing my 1984 classic Belgium shirt, crouching over my book as always.

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After sketching the roundabout, I walked down to the shade beneath the bridges crossing the Meuse. There was a smell of wee. The footbridge is the Passarelle Saucy, and I think I remember this bridge from that one time I came here twenty years ago, but I don’t remember it being called Saucy. What a brilliant name for a bridge. And no, I won’t be doing any sauce or saucy based jokes here.
Liege Passarelle Saucy
We crossed back over the river, walked about the city-centre a bit, before stopping off at the Place St Denis to draw the side of the church there. The weather was really getting hot by now. Gerard’s son Antoine joined us, I’ve met him a number of times. It was nice having dinner with Gerard’s family at his home the evening before, he made a really delicious chicken meal. I was delighted to take a look at his sketchbook room, his inventions, and we looked through a large map book of 17th or 18th century Belgium with Fabien, scouring it for every village; a small country with a big and detailed history. Belgium has only been the country of Belgium since 1830, but every area has a long hisroty, often of being ruled by some foreign power like the Habsburgs, or the French, or the Dutch, or the Spanish; Liège for many years was ruled by the Prince-Bishops of Liège, the princes-évêques, and the next time I am here I will draw the magnificent palace that still dominates the skyline. This is also, possibly, the city of Charlemagne’s birth, though nobody knows for sure. It might be Aachen, which isn’t far away, and was his capital. The city I was in the day before, Ghent, was the birthplace of another great Holy Roman Emperor called Charles, whose name lives on in one of my favourite beers, Charles Quint (Kaizer Karel).
Liege Sketchers
The Church of St.Denis dates back to the late 900s AD, founded by someone called Notker of Liège. I added the colour later on the train out of town. I spent exactly 24 hours in Liège. We all went for a cold beer in the city square, before Gerard took me to the station, the phenonemally futuristic cathedral of Guillemins, and I just made it onto a train to go back in time to Charleroi. A la prochaine fois, Liège!
Liege St Denis

breezing through brussels

Brussels Grand Place
It has been a dream of mine to sit and sketch the whole Grand Place in long panoramic form, to spend about three hours sat drawing all the details, but I think it may be a detailed panorama too far. It is so ornate, so mind-bogglingly overwhelming, I may need to carve out time on another trip. the main reason though is that I keep just wanting to wander off and eat frites, drink beer, explore. This is Brussels, where exactly twenty years ago I would come and walk about exploring on the weekends when I wasn’t in Charleroi. This wasn’t my first trip back since then – maybe my third? – but certainly my first time back in Brussels in over a decade. Brussels is still Brussels, maybe a few more beer-crawl weekenders dressed in matching silly costumes, but the busy wide Boulevard Anspach that cuts through the heart of the city is now pedestrianized, which was a big shock to the system. It took me a few minutes to remember where all the winding roads lead, it’s easy to get lost in Brussels, but finding my way to the tall spires of the Grand Place is easy, and from there, Brussels is my oyster, or perhaps my mussel.

La Grand Place, Brussels
It was evening by the time my Thalys rolled into town, and rather than jump on the metro I foolishly decided to walk from Midi to downtown, a walk I used to know well. This time there was a huge funfair in the way, and I was thrown off by how the exits look different now; I have never really liked Bruxelles Midi station much (known in Flemish as Brussel Zuid), and I’d get to spend even more time there later in the trip, but I was so excited to be back in Brussels I didn’t care. My hotel was not far from Grand Place, and I had enough evening light left to do the sketch at the start of this post, which despite all the details was done really quickly. I then popped into the old fast-fooderie Quick, which wasn’t as good as I remember, and sauntered up the Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potageres to one of my favourite cafes in the world – A La Mort Subite.
Brussels A La Mort Subite

“Sudden Death”, that’s what it means. You may have heard of the beer, especially their slightly sweet gueuze or their very cherry kriek.I was so excited to find my old favourite seat, right by the door and the window, was open for me to sit and sketch when I got there. I used to sit in that seat when I would come here 20 years ago, Saturday afternoon, frosty or wet outside. I remember coming here to meet another English teacher in Belgium, Barry, and playing chess on a little wooden set I bought at Grasshopper, a toy shop nearby, which I still have. I remember coming here in 2008 with my mate Roshan and sitting in the same spot, remembering times when I had come back before and remembered other times. Some people drink to forget, I drink to remember. I had the gueuze of course, followed by a Ciney, and sketched the old interior. When I first came here, people still smoked inside bars and so there was a foggy air which yellowed the walls. These days the air is so much nicer. The cafe was opened in 1928  by Theophile Vossen, and 91 years later the Vossen family still run this cafe. I remember when it was only 71 years old. I am so happy to finally come back and sketch this old place again.
A La Mort Subite, Brussels
A La Mort Subite, BrusselsBrussels

I walked about the streets on the way back to the hotel, tracking the changes that two decades had brought. I came across another place which was significantly less old than A La Mort Subite but where I used to go quite a lot back in 1999, the Irish bar Celtica. I popped in to see if that had changed over the years, and passing the security staff throwing out an extremely drunken sod on the way in, indeed it had not. Live music was being played by Father Jack from Father Ted, and it was full of people young and old, locals and others, it really wasn’t any different. It brought back more memories – this place, as with many others, tended to never close during the night, so you could go there on a Saturday night and leave in the early daylight hours, it would still be packed. Celtica was a useful place to hang out and wait for the first Sunday morning train back to Charleroi on a night out in the capital. I remember arriving in Brussels once or twice by Eurolines coach, at the Nord station, and getting in too late for the train home, so I would come here, sometimes with all my bags (one time I was bringing my guitar), chat to people (I remember meeting staff from NATO once, I asked them if they could let me know where was being bombed the summer after because I was making travel plans; it was 1999), drink very slowly, listen to an old soak bellowing out Whiskey In The Jar on the little stage. I didn’t stay long this time, I was getting jet-lagged (I had arrived on a first-class flight from LA that morning in Paris; 1999 me would probably not believe that, 2019 me barely does), so I walked back to my comfy hotel bed, and I was up early and refreshed for a nice morning run around empty streets the next day before leaving to go to Ghent and then Liege, a whistle-stop tour of my favourite small country.

a return to lisbon

Lisbon view from Santa Justa sm
I left Porto on a fast train bound for Lisbon. I was last in Lisbon in 2011, when I remember a city with steep hills and amazing vistas. After Porto, Lisbon’s ‘hills’ felt like gentle mild inclines. Seriously, no more huffing and puffing, the flat streets of Baixa were a joy to walk along. I checked into my hotel (which was beautiful; I stopped into the incredible bar for a mojito before heading out to sketch and could have stayed all day), before heading towards Chiado, the area upon a hill which is where much of the 2011 Symposium took place. It took barely ten minutes to get up there, skipping up the hill effortlessly. I even found a couple of shortcuts (there’s a shop with an elevator from the Baixa level that opens up again at a higher-up street in Chiado). One way I could have gone up is the Elevador Santa Justa, a tall neo-gothic tower that provides easy access up the hill. Well, you have to wait in line, so I didn’t do that (I’m so impatient). It took me no time at all to reach the top level on foot by just walking up the hill, and when I did I walked out on to the top of the structure, paid a couple of euros to climb the narrow iron spiral staircase to the viewing platform (acrophobes may not like this bit), and then sketched the view from above. I did not do this in 2011, but remembered a panorama sketching workshop (Simo Capecchi held it) that was here. I didn’t draw a two-page spread, as there was no time with the slowly burning evening light, but I did sketch as many of the rooftops and the Castelo as I could. Lisbon is so lovely.

Lisbon P Camoes sm

I wandered about Chiado, not really heading into Bairro Alto this time, but stopped to sketch as daylight turned to night-time at the Largo de Camões. I took a workshop sketching here with Nina Johansson in 2011. While sketching, I bumped into Genine Carvalheira and Andy Reddout, who had been in Porto as well and were at the late dinner with us the evening before. I stopped sketching when it got a bit dark (and I was a bit hungry, and also getting a bit cold). Yep, the breeze was coming in so I dashed back down the hill to the hotel to get my jumper, stopping in H&M on the way to buy a shirt (shops stay open very late in Lisbon on a Sunday), then grabbing a bite to eat and coming right back up here. I’d never have done that in Porto, it was too steep. Pat on back to me for choosing a good hotel location in Lisbon (I was near Rossio).

Lisbon A Brasileira sm

I came back up the hill because I really wanted to sketch the Cafe A Brasileira. My enduring memory of this place was late on the Saturday night of the Lisbon Symposium, sketching in here after dinner with Paul Wang and Liz Steel and some other sketchers, while more USk folk came in and out, having a few portrait duels, before heading back to the hostel at around 1:30am to try and sleep before an early morning bus to the airport. I did sketch the interior back then as well – see below for the 2011 version!

cafe a brasileira

While I sketched I tried a Madeira wine, which was nice, bit sweet and dessert-y, and I switched to a cold beer after that before heading back to bed. I am going to do about two or three more posts about Lisbon, then post some Davis sketches, and then go back in time to the England sketches, and then back to more Davis sketches. Oh and there will be a lot of Lisbon fire hydrants in the next post.

mishka’s

mishkas, davis
This is the interior of Mishka’s Cafe on 2nd street, Davis, as much a staple of Davis life as anything. I don’t actually come here very often myself (I don’t drink coffee, though of course they serve more than coffee) (I never drink tea other than at home, except in England where it’s just how I like it) but a lot of people do. It opened in 1995 in a different location, and I sketched there on the very first sketchcrawl I ever went on in Davis (December 2005, wow). That spot closed when Mishka’s moved a block down the street to a new building next to the Varsity, where the old tank house used to be, opposite the Avid Reader. I’ve never sketched in this newer location (though I drew the outside in 2012). As I say I don’t drink coffee but I do drink lovely fruit smoothies, and I had a delicious mango smoothie, followed by a very sweet wild berry smoothie (bit too sweet after the mango one). It was a Sunday evening, I had been stuck in the house for the whole weekend and needed to get out for a bit, and draw something in my sketchbook. It was not crowded there. There are still a few places I want to draw the interior of here in Davis. Tres Hermanas has a really interesting vibe, while Our House has one of those big mirrors I like to draw the reflections in. I have gone to Woodstocks Pizza to draw before but ended up leaving because I couldn’t settle into a good spot, and I wanted to draw inside that Italian restaurant over near Olive and Richards but I think it has closed now. In this hot weather, I’m on a quest for some interior sketching.

Below is a sketch of Mishka’s previous location, from over 10 years ago! There is fellow Davis sketcher Alison Kent. This was an earlier Davis sketchcrawl. I had a wild berry smoothie that day too.
sc17: mishka's cafe

the drinking spots of north beach

Mr Bings SF
Last year at around this time I Amtrakked it down to San Francisco to sketch North Beach, and as I mentioned in my last post that’s what I did again a couple of weeks ago. Now last year I spent some time sketching the bars and cafes of the area, so that’s exactly what I did again this time. Above is Mr. Bing’s, a little cocktail dive that I’ve always wanted to go and have a drink in but have never plucked up the courage. Well, I’m not here very often. I have always wanted to sketch it though, so it was the first thing I sketched that day, while eating an early-lunch panini at the cafe across the street. North Beach has those little green white and red bands on the lamp-posts to signify that this is the Italian neighbourhood, but just on that corner there you can catch a glimpse of a Chinese-themed lamp-post, as that is the border with Chinatown.
Caffe Trieste SF
This is Caffe Trieste, a little further uphill and around the corner from here. Caffe Trieste is an old San Francisco favourite, in business since the 1950s and popular with the artists, musicians SF tourguideand poets of the area. As a passing Big-Bus tour-guide (not on the bus with walking with a group) mentioned, this was a regular haunt for the famous Beat poets, such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, all the Beat poets. The tour guide (who I sketchd quickly, right) felt obliged to read some Beat poetry outside, I couldn’t understand what it was about though. It’s not just the Beat poets who sipped espresso here, apparently Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay of The Godfather here. I never went into the Caffe (I don’t drink coffee, nor write poetry) but I would love to sketch the interior some day, soak in the beat-lit atmos. Did you know, Caffe Trieste was probably the first Espresso house on the West Coast? Its founder, Giovanni Giotta (Papa Gianni) came from Istria (near the city of Trieste; I’ve been there, nice place) in the 50s bringing a little piece of home with him.

Specs, San Francisco

I was feeling pretty Beat myself after all this sketching (do you see what I did there? Did you see that? Read it again) so as the Sun was quickly dashing westwards I chose to do my next sketch from the comfort of a pub table. One of my favourite haunts in the City is just around the corner from here, Specs, an interesting North Beach bar with walls and ceilings full of memorabilia and stuff to look at. I do love this place. Last time I was here I sketched a panorama of the busy bar area and was one of several artists dotted around the pub, unconnected but just doing what we do. I sketched over a couple of pints, listening to conversation, people watching, dreaming of anything. That might have been a Beat poet in front of me, perhaps a young Beat poet, I wasn’t sure. A young lady shared a laugh with a silver-haired man at the bar (I sketched them too, below), while a group of British fellows unseen to the left enjoyed a weekend pint while reminiscing about San Francisco in decades gone by. Or they might have been talking about something else, rugby or something, but I hear what my ears choose to hear. I like Specs. Years ago I came here with my friend from England and played chess and got drunk and laughed and did impressions of Brick Top. I like Specs.

Specs drinkers

I have another post of sketches from that day – stay tuned. So, do you remember when I posted my North Beach sketches last year, over two posts? One of the posts (“Leave the Pen, Take the Cannoli“) got a ridiculous number of comments, 223, possibly my record. The second post (“A Bright Centre to the Universe“) got a very respectable 11 comments, which is pretty good, but clearly not quite as good as the first. I actually prefer the drawings in the second, but according to everyone else the first post is more than 20 times better, but that’s fine. Anyway on that note I will leave you with the chronologically-out-of-place first sketch of the day, which I did on the Amtrak at around 9 in the morning. The train from Davis was crossing the Delta, with the golden brown landscape dashing by in the chilly morning sunlight. It was even colder when I got back to Davis, cycling my bike home in the near-freezing dark. It’s a long day out, sketching in the City.

Amtrak from Davis to SF