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.


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.


Possibly my favourite thing after the Begijnhof and Mode Museum?


All photos August 2017.

Sint Andreis

Wandering out of the Mode Museum, we got lost and decided to head for the streets that looked interesting. Trying to get into a garden with a lake that we’d spied through the gate, we ended up on a separate loop that took us down a side alley and to the door of this:


More interesting, and probably more magnificent than Antwerp’s cathedral, this is the Sint Andreis church. Inside a music group were rehearsing, their voices bouncing off the columns, the pulpit and the art installations (a punching bag near the font, a column of shoes to the confessional, a tableau of refugees and journalists near the Lady Chapel – each re-enacting the pilgrimage the church’s structure is meant to show).


High above, these modern windows told episodes of grace and mercy. The first is the return of the prodigal son, very close in mood to the famous Rembrandt painting, followed by Pentecost and a tender nativity.

August 2017.

Favourite place


Probably my favourite place in all of Antwerp, where we went for a tranquil hour early in the morning after tea and birthday cake. Built for an order of women who’d withdrawn from the world but supported themselves by seeing or spinning, each cell is still occupied by secular inhabitants now, and the cobbled streets, lawn and hollyhocks reminded me of Oxford colleges.


photos August 2017.



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.


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.


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.)


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.


Photos August 2017.

Les Jacobins


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.


photos August 2017.



Autumn is early this year – all photos from the cloisters of the Musee des Augustins in Toulouse in August 2017. Staggering to think these mid-autumn sights were the week of Ferragosto/the assumption feast, which is the peak of summer for Catholic Europe.



Loved these brick walls in Toulouse (this is partly why it’s called the rose-red city).


And this crazy building near the Place St Julian.


The Hotel d’Assezat and it’s courtyard is basically what every rich American dreamed of owning from 1890-1910.


Whilst their descendants on both sides of the Atlantic dreamed of side streets like this 100 years later.


I quite liked the Place du Capitole (main square) and carousel in the adjoining Place Wilson.

All photos August 2017.



Sadly the Victor Hugo market was undergoing a huge renovation when I visited Toulouse and was both locked up and being drilled to the ground, so I didn’t get the full gastronomic experience that the city can offer, but the shops in the local streets more than did their best; chocolatier, glacier, several wine and cheese shops, a bakery, an emporium of Spanish hams… I couldn’t take photos of it all, but here’s a snippet.


August 2017.

Les Augustins


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.


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.


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.


Probably my favourite place to see in Toulouse?

August 2017.