Amsterdam – Working Away & Taking Time to Explore the City

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Travelling for work seems at first to be a very exciting thing, but flying in and out of cities without seeing a true glimpse of them doesn’t sound at all fun to me. So, when I was invited to give a talk at Foam Museum in Amsterdam I felt it was important to try and make a bit more of it.

After dropping my bags at the stunning Conservatorium hotel and having a quick rest and refresh, I headed over to Foam to do my talking at the Photo/Video Edition. The event was great fun, and although much of it was in Dutch (and my translator got told off for talking, so I had no idea what was going on) it was really great to meet and speak to so many people afterwards, and to make plans for future visits.

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In the morning, having woken to a beautiful sunrise, I headed off to a meeting, then for a quick cheese toastie and waffle stop and a think about what to do over the next couple of days.

I’m not much of a planner when it comes to these things, I’m more of a haphazard wanderer to be honest, and even the best made plans get broken when I’m around (and easily distracted by all the things).

We meandered through the streets, down to the station, zig zagging back along the canals, car spotting, bike spotting, window shopping, taking everything in.

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In a narrow and unassuming street we found the door to Restaurant LT Cornelis and climbed the stairs to their cocktail bar and restaurant.

Three buildings made into one, respectfully maintaining the character and evidence of the building’s heritage. The visible wear and tear of well over 100 years still evident in the space, especially on the spiral staircase up to the private dining area.

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Copper stills lined up as lampshades over the bar. High ceilings, blue grey walls, golden velvet, a ginger martini just for me – I could live here!

“It’s our mission to enable all to experience the absolute delights of the Dutch cuisine. By combining the current with the past and the purest ingredients we strive to offer our guests a legendary experience.”

We  sat, overlooked by a large reproduction of the famous Dutch painting of the Meagre Company (also known by it’s original title of ‘Officers of the Company of the Amsterdam Crossbow Civic Guard under Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw’) and worked our way happily through the five course menu.

The restaurant has only been open nine months but you’d think that people had been going there for years, they seemed so happy and comfortable. The staff were lovely and cheery, they appeared to take pride in everything.

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The amuse bouche was good, and the Ossenworst was pretty special (smoked beef sausage with Amsterdam pickles, kohlrabi, silver onion and rye bread sauce). The Sirloin was cooked to perfection and beautifully flavoured (Dutch beef with a beet jus, cream cheese stuffed onion, sweet shredded onion and a melty, crunchy onion crisp with confit potatoes), but the chicken and fries ‘Appelmoes’ was just awesome (soft chicken with salty gravy and chicken liver, sweet apple sauce and crispy potato). I’ve never had chicken and apple before. Apparently it’s a dutch thing, a childhood classic that everyone knows. I’ve been educated and enlightened!

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The dessert, to me, was bizarre, a real insight into dutch flavours and a challenge to my tastebuds. Meringue, sea buckthorn berry, shredded dutch carrot, white chocolate mousse, crunchy caramel biscuit, with a gravy, yes gravy, of yellow carrots. Tangy, sour, sharp, kind of astringent, occasionally only ‘almost’ sweet. I can’t say that it’s something I’d choose to have again but I do think it was a taste worth trying.

If I lived in Amsterdam I’d probably make LT Cornelis my local. I’d be like the cool one out of Cheers (was there a cool one? There wasn’t a cool one) sat at the end of the bar with my personalised ginger martini tankard and a pocket full of sweet snacks. I’m sure I could blend in.

Full of food and happy, we made our way back to the hotel. Amsterdam is such a safe and busy city that it feels perfectly fine to wander the streets at night, and it’s nice to see everything in a different light (or dark, as the case most often is at nighttime).

After a good nights sleep and a good breakfast of truffle-topped Eggs Benedict, we checked out of the Conservatorium and got a car over to the Waldorf Astoria, where we stayed for our third and final night of the trip.

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Having explored the superbly beautiful hotel we wandered out, making a beeline for the zoo. I don’t normally visit zoo’s, but so many people had suggested that the zoo was the last place we should think about going, it kind of became top of the list out of inquisitiveness.

We were on the way to the zoo but an exceptionally large palm pushing it’s self against a condensation-blurred window lured us in to De Hortus (that and the iamsterdam city cards burning holes in our pockets!) and we were lost for hours.

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Amsterdam’s De Hortus Botanicus was founded in 1638 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. What a magnificent place. Green parakeets flew from tree to tree, as two large herons sat watching. In the butterfly house were hands of green bananas, small golden pineapples and these things that looked like deflated balloons.

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Leaving De Hortus we continued on our journey across the city, grabbing frites and mayonnaise from a street stall, and as the daylight dimmed we headed to catch the Water Colors Cruise and see the Amsterdam Lights Festival from the water.

Glass roofed boats chugged up and down the canals as the flashes of many tourists cameras fired simultaneously.

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The Lace by Choi + Shine Architects was by far my favourite installation. Fifteen metres long and suspended above the canal, The Lace pays homage to the traditional Dutch bonnet, and is made from over twenty miles of hand crocheted cord! Utterly stunning (and probably very weighty).

After our excursion we headed over to De Culinaire Werkplaats for dinner. From the vast and varied information I had passionately pressed upon me throughout the evening I’ve attempted to narrow the concept down to the following for you:

De Culinaire Werkplaats is an interactive experimental art gallery vegetable restaurant performance with a freestyle story-telling menu of ‘a selection of japanese world views in 5 courses’ sharing the message of sustainability, future food problems, and food scarcity.

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We sat, balanced atop tall 3 legged chairs, concentrating on not falling, and were presented with a run of dishes, all of which, we were told, related to Japanese culture.

Rice and beans in a bowl with brown water poured over it as a ‘tea ceremony’.

Gold and silver clay covered purple potato with sauerkraut, chestnuts and prunes.

A smoke filled box with beans wrapped in cabbage leaves and buckwheat noodles, and a flower on top.

A paper wrapped ‘gift’ of raspberry and almond.

A Japanese garden of build your own dessert – Wasabi flavoured sesame seeds, fish shaped sour tasting jelly, trimmings of cress.

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I would have liked to enjoy the food, but for me the multitude of mixed messages needed to be refined and matched with food that is full of flavour. A gold and silver clay covered potato may make a artistic statement (this one was about the beauty of ageing, I am told) but it does not demonstrate the idea of sustainability (the waste of clay, silver and gold paint), and even though it was purple and shiny (and rather regal looking)  it was still a plain potato.

My favourite bit was the part where you had to take your own dishes up to the sink when you’d finished eating. I thought that was quite nice.

Food for thought? Absolutely, if you’ve got €90 burning a hole in your back pocket, several hours to spare, and a personal selection of seasonings.

Luckily I filled my chubby boots with the most delicious Eggs Benedict only hours later at the Waldorf Astoria and all was right in my world again.

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Foam Photography Museum Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS

Conservatorium Van Baerlestraat 27, 1071 AN

Restaurant Lt. Cornelis Voetboogstraat 13, 1012 XK

De Hortus Botanicus Plantage Middenlaan 2a, 1018 DD

Water Colors Cruise Departs from Prins Hendrikkade 33a (opposite Central Station)

De Culinaire Werkplaats Fannius Scholtenstraat 10, 1051 EX

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Herengracht 542 – 556, 1017 CG

iamsterdam City Card €75 for 72 hours and totally worth it if you plan to do lots –  includes unlimited travel on public transport, a free canal cruise, and entry to most museums and attractions.

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city.

 

Amsterdam & A Stylish Stay at The Conservatorium

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The rowdy boys on the low cost flight were excited about coffee shops and brothels. After 45 minutes in the air one of them declared loudly that he needed a fag so badly he’d have to have two when they landed. They all agreed. One of them said he was so desperate for a fag he was going to Henry Hoover it up.

The Amsterdam they were looking for is not the Amsterdam I know.

For me it’s about culture, people, canals, house boats, beautiful architecture, heritage, bicycles, poffertjies, stroopwaffles and croquettes, so many wonderful things, and of course, the cat boat.

The main reason I was visiting this time was to give a talk at Foam Photography Museum. I could have easily flown in and out again, but the lure of the beautiful city was too much, and three nights were really not enough!

If you are going to travel the world then you should take the time to see the world. I don’t want to tick places off a bucket list, or tell you how I’ve ‘done’ a country or a continent, I could visit the same place time and time again and still find something new to experience, and I am more than happy with that.

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And so we were back in Amsterdam. Arriving in no time at all at Schipol airport and heading off by bus and then tram to the first hotel of our stay, the stunning Conservatorium in the heart of the museum district.

‘The Conservatorium Hotel is Amsterdam’s leading luxury lifestyle palace, evoking glamour and elegance for sophisticated, design-literate travellers.’

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Built in 1897, originally designed by the Dutch architect Daniel Knuttel as the Dutch Savings Bank, in 1978, when the bank merged and moved, the building was abandoned. Lying empty for five years it then became the home of the Sweelinck Conservatory of Music who moved out in 2008. The building was bought by The Set who worked with architect Piero Lissoni and opened the Conservatorium hotel at the end of 2011.

The hotel is a pairing of neo-gothic and modern buildings – a large glass and steel structure ties the wings together over the original courtyard, connecting the communal spaces; a mixture of arts and crafts tile-clad hallways, stained glass windows and stone and iron railed staircases, with airy, structured steel and glass, and open areas full of angles and interest. Pay attention to the original details too – the tiles depict bees and hives, the gathering of honey and storing it a reflection of the buildings original purpose as a bank.

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The long corridors, dressed for winter with fir and lights, look like they should take you to a magical Narnian world, but instead they lead you in one direction to the most stunning restaurant, a gin bar and a cigar  lounge, or in the other, to the shopping gallery where you can buy Bentley cars and beautiful Bonebakker jewellery, with Boucheron gold rings shaped like hedgehog knuckledusters.

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The rooms are subtle and calm with small flashes of colour, taking influence from Japanese styling and designed in full by Piero Lissoni – the screen like walls and simple lines, the hidden wardrobes, safe, and well stocked mini bar behind the glossy doors.

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The bathrooms are very spacious, the doors concealed as huge mirrors –  a beautiful and clever design, but also a trap for strange creatures with short memories like me.

Everything is in calm and considered, even down to the Luigi Bormioli fine glasses and Villeroy and Boch china.

In the evening the blinds were closed, slippers and mats were set at the side of the bed, and pillow spray laid out with a note to tell us what tomorrows weather would be.

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And, in the morning we ate a peaceful breakfast in the bright atrium, admiring all the beautiful touches, the Christmas tree and seasonal decorations, and the over-sized Miffy, before heading off to explore the beautiful city.

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Conservatorium Van Baerlestraat 27, Amsterdam, 1071 AN NL

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city, and the Conservatorium for hosting me and my guest for two nights in their stunning hotel.

These Recent Things (Leaves, Hair & Cheese)

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Autumn has most definitely turned into Winter. I look out of the window at the mist and the grey, and I know that it was only days ago when there were golden leaves hanging from branches and crunching underfoot. This morning I slip-slided across the brown slime of decaying leaves to the frost covered chicken house and let my small friends out into the crisp air.

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The chicken hierarchy has changed. Our dear lovely Sandra died in the middle of the month. She was a good leader. The cleverest chicken I’ve ever met – she was inquisitive and funny, she enjoyed a cuddle, came out in the car with me, helped me with admin, won trophies, survived a dog attack, beat up a jackdaw, knew all of our neighbours and would come rushing down the street to me when I called her. She also went by the name of Trudy and spent a lot of time down the road with a nice man called Jonathan.

Of course we’ll miss her, she was a wonderful being, but something quite magical happened. People sent their condolences, online – well over a hundred people, and then elsewhere – at an event in Cambridge, when I was working in London – people from all over the world who barely know me, knew her!

How utterly incredible that a chicken can have such an impact. What a fabulous and beautiful creature she was, and a reminder – if a chicken can make a difference, then surely we all can too?!

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With the Autumn colours seeming so vivid this year, (we think because there was little wind and the leaves stayed on the trees for longer) I made sure I took time to walk and observe, tucking pretty leaves in my pockets for later and pressing them in a big old book on the sideboard.

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It’s been another busy month. Busy, busy – aren’t we all?! I do think that at this time of year people start to get a bit panicked – maybe it’s the pressure of Christmas, or a list of jobs looming over them that they’ve been trying to do since June and want to push onto someone else before the month is out, or maybe they’ve re-discovered their list of New Year’s resolutions and cacked it because they’ve failed themselves. Who knows!

I’m bringing back The Midwinter Movement – I’m embracing the season, I’m being kind to people (of course!) and I’m taking time to reflect. Let’s fill the darkness of the winter nights with light and joy and friendship, not stacks of plastic crap from B&M bargains, right? (Have you seen those terrible adverts?!)

I’ll be sharing my little bit of beautiful, magical winter on instagram, with the hashtag #themidwintermovement and I would love it if you would join me in that.

I’m also happy to share cheese and gin if there’s enough to go around. (The Blacksticks Blue cheese we had with this sloe gin was so delicious.)

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I’ve been up to Manchester to speak at the Hard Focus Symposium, and down to London to take part in the totally wonderful Photomonth Portfolio Reviews. I had a brilliant night out with Banke at the Vuelio Awards and went to a lovely evening event with Cambridge Contemporary Art. The guys at CCA even gave me an advert calendar… awwww, I love it, but I am also impatient and somehow I already know exactly what is behind each unopened door!

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Do you remember when I had my unicorn horn removed earlier in the year, and I went to RUSH Cambridge for a hair cut beforehand? Well, I was lucky enough to get my hair cut by the nicest hairdresser I have ever known, and when she, Gen, or Gentiana Restelica to use her full lady name, mentioned that she wanted to do an event to celebrate the first birthday of her business, I couldn’t help but get involved. I was delighted to co-host ‘Winter at Rush’. We brought together a lovely bunch of people, with lots of prosecco, canapés and cake, chocolates and popcorn, and a good measure of hair braiding, fringe trimming and luscious lock styling.

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And then we had the last Shutter Hub Meet Up of the year, at the Green Man at Grantchester. I thought I would open up the invitation to stay to dinner as Olivia and I planned to get food. Fourteen people stayed! It was wonderful. Like a big photography family round the table, chattering over candle light and feeling perfectly at home. My roast pork belly dinner was delicious, it didn’t photograph well, so instead of a picture resembling an intestine, I’ll not give you a picture at all!

Hmmm, maybe I will distract you with a few soothing photos from my article Reasons to Stay in Bed. If you’ve not read it yet, I (of course) recommend it. Need an excuse not to get up in the morning? I’ve got plenty for you. Require some help sleeping? I’ve got some great tips. Want to know how to lure a cat? I can help.

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Oh, and, before you go, can I ask you a favour?

Actually, it’s two favours, double whammy. Sorry. Thank you. I’m assuming you said yes!

I Don’t Like Peas has been nominated by some kind soul (thanks mum!) for the UK Blog Awards in the Lifestyle and Photography* categories, and I would massively appreciate your vote. I don’t write this blog for anything but fun, and I am always amazed and happy that I get to share my stories with so many people – some of you I know in person, and some of you I’ve never met, and all of you play a special part in my funny little life. So, if you can spare a moment (it takes around 8 seconds) would you please vote for me here? http://blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2017/entries/i-dont-peas

And, that’s not all! Shutter Hub is up there too! Got another 8 seconds on your hands? Please vote for Shutter Hub. I am incredibly proud of what Shutter Hub has achieved, and all of our lovely photography gang, so anything we can do to get the word out there is a good thing by me!  http://blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2017/entries/shutter-hub

I am grateful, thank you.

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*Please tick Lifestyle and Photography in the drop down box. You are allowed one vote per email address, and voting closes 10am on Monday 19th December. Big kisses!