Slowly, my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. The scent of incense filled the air, while candles flickered in the breeze from the doorway. Soot-darkened frescoes and rich fabrics lined the walls, seemingly held together with the dirt and grime of the ages, while bright icons and lamps reflected in the dim light.

Just beyond the entrance, a group of pilgrims knelt on the floor, whispering silent prayers and lamenting quietly beneath a line of eight ornate lamps. Others rubbed their clothes, mobile phones and other items across the surface of a large stone slab set in the floor beneath.

I hesitated, feeling a little like an intruder yet fascinated to witness such devotion. But then this was no ordinary church. I was in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which is, for many Christians, the holiest place on earth.

Stone of the Anointing, Church of the Holy Sepulchre
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Picturesque canals, ornate medieval buildings, an imposing castle, a line of towers, flowers galore, a dramatic Gothic cathedral, and the superb Renaissance masterpiece, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.

When I headed to Ghent earlier this year, I was all about the Flemish Renaissance and Gothic encounters. And beer and waffles, obviously. So I was intrigued to learn about a small alleyway in the heart of town that’s a little more modern in both appearance and concept.

Werregarenstraat connects Hoogpoort and Onderstraat. Once a dull, unimpressive alleyway, it was transformed during the 1995 Ghent Festivities (Gentse Feesten) cultural festival, when organisers encouraged graffiti artists to decorate its walls. The colourful, chaotic result was such a success that officials declared it a permanent graffiti exhibition, open to all. With one rule – don’t paint over works that are better than your own.

The alleyway at Graffiti Street, Ghent

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Part sculpture, part architecture, the Atomium is a giant stainless steel atom that towers over the north of Brussels.

This unique structure was built in 1958 as the centrepiece of the World Expo, the first universal world exhibition of the post-war era. Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it was only ever intended to be a temporary structure, but it fought its way into the hearts and minds of locals and visitors, and became an icon of the city. It’s now the top tourist attraction in the capital of Europe. And it’s here to stay.

Approach to the Atomium, Brussels Read More

Stepping from the cool air-conditioned car, the heat engulfed me. I gulped from my bottle, grateful as the cool water trickled down my throat. The landscape was almost entirely devoid of colour, except for the parked cars and a blanket strewn across the back of a camel, resting in its uncomfortable-looking squat while waiting for a paying rider.

Camel & Bedouin, Wadi Qelt

Squinting into the distance, the undulating curves of hills and mountains stretched endlessly, their beigeness broken only by occasional patches of scrub. It was a hostile, dry, hot landscape. We were heading into the Israeli desert. Read More

Montpellier’s Jardin des Plantes is the oldest botanical garden in France and one of the oldest in Europe. It’s not the largest botanical garden I’ve ever visited, neither is it the best kept. But it’s utterly charming.

I wandered around in mid July, when I had a few days in Montpellier following my favourite festival, Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival in Sète. I didn’t immediately take to Montpellier. My Airbnb was a bit meh, the tram machines twice swallowed a load of coins without spitting out a ticket, and I was missing Sète, the beach, the market, the smell of the sea, the screams of the swifts that danced around my apartment, and all that glorious seafood. But the minute I wandered into the garden and strolled beneath a tree blooming with brilliant pink blossom, pausing to listen to the cicadas screeching their deafening midday song, I returned to the present, refocused my attention on my current adventure, and a slow smile of contentment crept across my face. Read More