Rubenshuis

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The last day of Antwerp we talked about whether it was worth going to see this. It’s the home of the painter Rubens, built when he was already rich and successful as a base to trade paintings from and I’d been keen, but now I was feeling lazy, and there were biscuits to buy, naps to have. I wasn’t so bothered about seeing a lot of art.

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But it was five minutes from the flat, on the way to the station and actually this place – far bigger than expected, and showing a delightful mix of the art Rubens himself collected – was a charming mix of Italianate gardens, domestic rooms and fine art.

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Possibly my favourite thing after the Begijnhof and Mode Museum?

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All photos August 2017.

Ham House

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Blazing hot on bank holiday weekend, reached by a welcome walk through trees or by the river.

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Cool and dark inside, with tapestries, leather walls, portraits and a gallery

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and then back outside to the grounds in the midday heat. August 2017.

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Variety

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I don’t think many people would think of Antwerp as a holiday destination, or that there’d be much to see there, but it’s a tremendously varied town.

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The port area is still working, and there’s a huge warehouse along with marinas, a shipping authority building, a giant red sandstone modern art gallery and shining point by Zaha Hadid. I got the impression when we visited that it’s a popular area for students to sit down and have a drink, for older couples to take a stroll round some art, and of course a stream of kayak lessons for kids.

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The centre is much more typical: cobbled streets, pretty church fronts and little courtyards. (Thanks to the waiter who brought us omelettes that first night, even though “the kitchens were shut and all the food finished” after we lost track of time wandering.)

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And in the south east is this, the Cogels-Oyslei neighbourhood, near Berchem station. Probably the Brooklyn of Antwerp, given the locals we saw playing in the street, and full of these incredibly over the top, vast houses.

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Photos August 2017.

Les Jacobins

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Not quite sure why a former Dominican monastery in Toulouse is known as Musee les Jacobins – the Jacobins are a name I associate mainly with a particular group in the early days of the French Revolution – but never mind. Isn’t it impressive? There was also a very good exhibition The Sky Before Us on when I visited, which was different photographers capturing churches, mainly modern concrete structures, or else the little meeting rooms over chicken shops / on industrial parks in urban wastelands. Not romantic at all, but definitely respectful.

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photos August 2017.

Les Augustins

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Toulouse has two main art museums which are converted monasteries, now with peaceful cloisters, deck chairs for tourists and collections of religious art. The Musee des Augustins is the bigger – and if I were to guess, the wealthier, a huge red brick building that reminded me of London’s V&A.

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The cloisters and gothic architecture are certainly great, while the main staircase is totally throwing out the Harry Potter vibes, but for me the absolute coup was this downstairs hall which paired sci-fi-Essie lights with a great display of earthy and funny Romanesque capitols taken from the basilica of St Sernin.

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It was witty and striking without denigrating either the old or new, and done with a sense of humour that sadly most modern art galleries (Tate, I’m looking at you) lack entirely.

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Probably my favourite place to see in Toulouse?

August 2017.

 

St Sernin

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The basilica and de facto cathedral of Toulouse (although there’s also a 19th century cathedral building).

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I found this building completely charming. Incredibly peaceful, it was far less thuggish than the northern French (Norman) Romanesque, which is so obviously military in feel. Here the brick pillars were like a Roman aqueduct, or the vaulted roof like a Renaissance villa, and the light from the second storey of windows was something else. Try as I might to capture it in these photos, I’m just not skilled enough, so you’ll have to visit and see for yourself.

photos August 2017.

In the inner city

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Or Innenstadt. I love Germany! Mannheim 2017. The Wasserturm (water tower) and Rosengarten, the pretty flats and cafes around it on the Beethoven and Elizabeth Strasses that reminded me of Leipzig, the Christus Kirche and villas.