Sunday, 20 April 2014

In Bruges

... the bold modern Concertgebouw stands out in what may be Europe's most perfectly preserved medieval city. 

When I visited in late November last year (yes, my blog has suffered serious neglect) the central market square was just opening its Christmas market stalls, surrounded by colourful flags and buildings.

The burgers of Brugge and their dogs were out and about, looking unimpressed by seasonal tourist trappings, but maybe appreciating like me the amazing smells of fresh baked goodies. 

The Markt is surrounded by cosy bookstores, cafés and restaurants

and towered over by the 12th century belfry, unforgettable (to me, at least) as the site of some particularly grisly scenes involving darkly comedic Irish hitmen in In Bruges.

Sint Salvators cathedral and Church of Our Lady (bottom right)

I loved the Groeninge museum's collection of Flemish Primitive art and the walled gardens of the Arentshuis next door which has these sculptures of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Wandering the cobble-stoned streets surrounding the centre, it's all picture-perfect canals and bridges. 

You begin to see how, compared to many other European cities, Bruges has endured its long history as a prosperous trading port (and focus for Flemish art) pretty much unscathed by both world wars or major upheavals.

 It's friendly, fabulously photogenic, civilised,  almost literally crammed with some of the world's best chocolatiers and restaurants  - I'd go back in a hearbeat.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Iconic Paris

The Seine, the views from its bridges, rive gauche, rive droite, the Louvre, the Eiffel tower ... these must be amongst Paris's best known and most photographed images. Overworked and clichéd for sure, but somehow still impossibly photogenic in every season and type of weather. Here, in autumn, from my last visit there.

View of the Eiffel tower from the roof terrace restaurant Les Ombres at Quai Branly museum and, below, crossing the river, looking forward to the Palais de Tokyo and Paris Museum of Modern Art  - and back to the tower, silhouetted by a sunburst.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Alternate Paris

It's not Fez or Muscat, but Paris. The Grande Mosquée de Paris is a peaceful haven in the centre of the city that I discovered in the autumn. It has the fountain and tree-filled inner courtyard and brilliantly coloured mosaics of typical Moorish architecture (its builders inspired by the Alhambra), and there's also a tearoom in a pretty tree-shaded courtyard where you can have thé à la menthe and North African pastries.

From here it was an easy walk towards the Seine, through the Jardin des Plantes, past the quaint Natural History Museum going back to the French revolution ...

to the contrasting modernity of the Institut du Monde Arabe

for a close-up view of architect Jean Nouvel's amazing building: 
a metallic brise soleil is constructed of hundreds of light-sensitive openings - the shapes inspired by traditional middle eastern latticework façades - that regulate the amount of light entering the building. 

These 'eyes' open and shut in response to the amount of sunlight, creating and re-creating shifting geometric patterns on the outside, as well as changing interior spaces with filtered light - function and aesthetics merging perfectly. (I noticed only later, looking at the photos, how the paving stones on the ground mimic the façade).

From the terrace surrounding the glassed panoramic restaurant on the roof of the Institut there are fantastic views of the Île de la Cité and Île Saint Louis

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Highland Walk

A walk on the west coast of Scotland, near the tiny village of Achahoish 
had us wading through fens and rivers to emerge into wetlands stretching towards  the sea.

The quality of light up here is amazing, though this is not particularly far north, and made me long to travel further up, beyond Oban, to see the landscapes of Skye and Harris and beyond.
A straight line west across the sea from here in Achahoish would take you under the tip of Greenland all the way to Newfoundland.

What would living here be like, with views to Newfoundland and only seagulls and highland cows for company?

For small people it was an opportunity to bravely dip bare toes in the freezing North Atlantic. (My daughters' tiny and characterful second cousin, with her mother who is lucky enough to have a home in the highlands)

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