Category Archives: Travel Stories

Haarlem, Holland

The other week Polly and I took a trip to Haarlem, wandered the streets, saw blossom and cats and beautiful window displays. We ate croquettes and tapas and things we probably shouldn’t have eaten. We bought souvenirs from the second-hand market and postcards from everywhere we went, and a very kind man gave me a tea towel. What a dream.

I’m glad I make notes and take photos of everything, because really, some days when half of my face has swollen up and I’ve accidentally smashed my exhaust pipe off on a pot hole, it’s a joy to be reminded of how lucky I really am.

Everything looks lovely in the Spring. Blossom, sunshine, baby chicks, even the sight of the airport information screen showing a three hour delay, once your bleary early-morning eyes have managed to focus on it, of course.

The reason, the man in the queue said, was that there was ‘too much wind in Amsterdam’, and of course I sniggered, like the child I am, until I remembered that’s where I was heading. Somehow the wind issue was overcome, the flight was brought forward, and in no time at all I was clutching a bar of Tony’s Chocolonely and waiting for Polly at Schiphol airport.

A quick train ride from Schiphol to Amsterdam Slotterdijk, a change and on to Haarlem, and we were straight out of the station and across the square to our hotel – the Hotel Lion d’Or.

I’ve stayed in their sister hotel, the Nova in Amsterdam, it was the ideal city location for me when I was reviewing at Unseen last year, and when they invited me to visit their hotel in Haarlem I didn’t even take a breath before I said yes, yes please!

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive somewhere new? I usually check out the carpets and look for ginger drinks.

Polly and I ate apple and cinnamon pie (I drank ginger tea) in the bright and spacious bar with dark blue walls and green velvet sofas. Gold trimmed china in the reception desk, pictures and plants, big leafed and small. It was all very lovely.

We found our way to Teyler’s Museum. Purpose built in 1794, the building itself is incredibly beautiful both in its architecture and its interiors. The cabinetry and cases are stand-alone stunning, not to mention the actual artefacts.

Rocks and shells, fossils and bones. Scientific instruments made of brass and wood, coins and medals, and books – an incredible collection of historic volumes, and prints and sketches, and all the paintings too. (Like The Legend by Cornelis Kruseman – that little face).

A rather magnificent couple of hours enjoyed in the oldest museum in the Netherlands.

We wandered around the streets finding our way quite easily, saving a map in our minds, remembering where we’d seen nice shop windows and places to go back to. Canals and bicycles. Haarlem is like a more open, scaled down, less populated Amsterdam. I pulled faces at a baby in a tea shop. Polly rewarded me with an old 50¢ photograph of a stranger with nice hair in a charming bookshop, Antiquariaat Hovingh.

In the evening we ate a tapas dinner at El Pincho. Right on the corner of the Grote Markt. Bistec Salteado, Chorizo Asado and Patatas Bravas, followed by a weighty baked cheesecake. We watched the world go by as the bright sun went down behind the pointy roof tops.

I was relieved to sleep so well. I never know how I will fare on the first night in a new place. It was quiet, amazingly quiet. And, (without wanting to sound like a weirdo) I didn’t feel compelled to wedge a chair up against my door before dozing off. Result.

I ate a doughnut for breakfast. Polly had fruit, so it was pretty balanced.

We were heading up to the Grote Markt to meet a man called Walter, probably talking about cats that look like owls, when we heard the beeeeeeeeeep of a bus and then SMACK! It drove straight into a woman on her bike. ‘Oh shit!’ A little dog popped up out of the basket, the bike lying in the middle of the road, the woman lying still on it, a puddle of blood around her head, one leg moving in peddling motion, going nowhere. It was surreal. Poor Polly thought she was dead. ‘I am sorry I am English. Stop trying to move her!’ I commanded, apologetically.

The police came, then a paramedic, then an ambulance. The area was taped off. The woman was bandaged up and loaded onto a stretcher, rushed away. The little dog was looked after by a policeman who had the same hair style. I gave a statement and my card (which I normally think is fun, but in these circumstances ‘I’m Karen Harvey, I do good things’ seemed a bit stupid) and then we carried on, to Walter.

Walter has been leading guided tours since 1990. That’s proper vintage. Haarlem has around 1200 listed buildings, so I guess it takes a good few years to become an expert.

Speed walking after Walter, with his black beret and pointy umbrella, we looped through the streets and lanes, passed the ornate looking Meat Market, and the less decorated Fish Market, into a church and out passed the Hofjes, through pocket parks to look back up at the church tower and it’s crowning onion, and then, after a story about the miracle of Haarlem and ‘a nun bleeding wine from her tit’ (Walter’s words, not mine), we were delivered to the Corrie ten Boom House.

If it weren’t for Polly I wouldn’t have gone to the Corrie ten Boom House. It’s not that I don’t care about the holocaust, it’s just that sometimes I care too much and I don’t want to have to deal with those emotions if I don’t have to.

The story of Corrie ten Boom was horrifying, heartening and empowering. Corrie and her family sheltered around 800 people during the Nazi occupation of the Second World War.

One day the Gestapo stormed the house, they arrested the ten Boom’s and stayed for 47 hours. When they eventually left, those hidden behind the false wall in Corrie’s bedroom escaped to safety. In prison Corrie received a letter, written on the back of the stamp were the words, ‘All the watches in your closet are safe’.

She was released from prison after four months due to an administration error. A week later all the women of her age were killed in gas chambers, around 90 thousand of them.

Corrie returned home and opened her doors to the mentally disabled who were in hiding. After the war she created a rehabilitation centre for anyone who needed it, and then spent the rest of her life travelling the world preaching. She died aged 91, on her birthday.

You really need to discover the full story for yourself, I can’t even begin to explain it or express how it will make you feel.

In stark contrast, crashing back to the modern day, we sat amongst plants, MacBooks and almond milk lattes at Native Café and ate cheese toasties.

At the Frans Hals Museum fabulous floral arrangements in purpose made vessels dressed each room to celebrate the ‘Museum in Bloom’. During the Golden Age (17th Century) Haarlem was the centre of the tulip trade, and Frans Hals was one of the most innovative and famous painters of that time.

A delight to see was Sara’s Dollhouse. A scaled version of an 18th Century home, a miniature museum of life. It’s quite magnificent.

We hobbled over to Jopenkerk (okay, I hobbled, Polly skipped) the brewery and bar built in a historic church that came close to demolition before Jopen came along in 2010 and saved it.

Polly had been invited to try the High Beer (like High Tea, but with beer, obvs) and I was allowed to observe with a soft drink. #beerallergy

Three beers, six accompanying plates. I watched Polly wrestle with her steak tartare and sip her way through to the Koyt beer. Made to an original recipe from 1407 Jopen Koyt is brewed with herbs, specifically Bog Myrtle. I had to have a taste.

Legend has it that, to avoid its hallucinogenic properties, Bog Myrtle can only be picked at full moon by nude witches. You learn something new every day.

I was hungry and Polly had researched an award-winning hotdog for me, so we headed to Thrill Grill. Whilst hotdogs with shredded carrots and hard buns don’t win any prizes from me (I felt like I’d fallen into the remnants of a day-old summer barbecue buffet) on the way there we happened on a pile of books being given for free outside an old Hofje. I picked up a lovely old 1930s hymn book. It’s all in Dutch, but I’ll give it a go.

Gratitude for somewhere safe and comfortable to sleep at the end of the day. I thought about the lady on her bike, about Corrie ten Boom, about the power that each person has within them – if they only choose to use it. And then I went to sleep.

Another day, another doughnut.

We walked the long way, following the river and then winding through picturesque streets, to the Grote Markt, and St Bavokerk.

The 30 metre tall organ has 5068 pipes and the floors are made completely of grave stones, about 1500 of them, covered in famous and interesting names: Frans Hals, Pieter Teyler, Hofie van Noblet… hmmm, that’d be a good name for a cat.

Lunch at the Grand Cafe Brinkmann (which is apparently a bit of an institution and known for its impeccable service. Seems we went on a bad day) and then more of a wander through the streets of interesting independent shops, before arriving at the ice-cream parlour we’d been eyeing up since our arrival in the city.

Not far from the station, and our hotel, we discovered Het Dolhuys, an experimental museum of psychiatry with an emphasis on experiences.

The medieval building, once an institution for lepers and lunatics, is now a place of education and reflection. In terms of interaction, communication and display excellence, this has to be one of the best museums I’ve visited.

One of the first rooms we reached was full of old laundry cupboards, each door we opened revealed items relating to a person, and an audio recording of them telling their own mental health story. Even though we couldn’t understand the language we still picked up so much of the persons emotion in the tone of their voice (and then we read the information booklet).

It’s here that you can see some of the very few remaining  isolation chambers, ‘Dolcellen’, that were used in the 16th Century to lock up those who were seen as busy or aggressive lunatics. The interior of the cell was dark and cold with a thick outer door and a barred inner door. The only furnishings; a wooden crib and a poepdoos (poo box). The only light and air came from a small hatch at the top of the chamber, and the only warmth in the depths of winter was from heated stones that were placed inside. As if life wasn’t already hard enough for those poor people.

The museum is a brilliant reminder of how far studies in psychiatry have come, and how much we still need to do to support and understand mental health and wellbeing.

In the evening we ate with Marcel at Bij Tholen. White asparagus croquette with parsley sauce. Was this the best croquette I’ve ever eaten? It might well have been. Send more croquettes and I’ll tell you.

Bij Tholen has a seasonal menu serving mostly Mediterranean and Dutch food, but every few days they like to add in a special and the changing menu reflects what’s local and available. Indian lamb Korma with a coriander and garlic naan it was then!

I took a woman’s birthday photo and stroked a ginger dog before we headed off into the night, full of food and cheer.

Poor Polly was really ill in the night. Whilst I cancelled our plans for the day Polly managed a few sips of peppermint tea and some tiny crumbs of bread. The hotel team were lovely, they were genuinely concerned for her, and even though we were due to check out, they said she could just stay in the room as long as she needed to.

Polly took an earlier flight home, I headed into Amsterdam to look at a gallery for Shutter Hub, and just like that our Haarlem adventure was over, for now.

Check out my souvenirs!

Lucky postcard, 50¢ photo of woman with good hair, squirrel fork from the secondhand market, 1930s Dutch hymn book, Sara’s Dolls’ House book from Frans Hals museum, and a bottle of legendary Jopen Koyt!

With the greatest thanks to Visit Holland and Haarlem Marketing for supporting this trip, and to Hotel Lion d’Or for hosting Polly and I for three nights in their wonderful hotel. As always, my opinions are my own.

A Day in Paris (& A Night at The Hoxton Hotel)

I emerged from Gare du Nord, into the rain. The sky was grey. The pink blossom glow faded second by second as I walked to my hotel; umbrella resting on my shoulder, bounding over puddles, eyes on everything.

The Hoxton, Paris. Although not particularly welcoming in layout (you have to walk through the bar and sitting rooms to get to the reception area) it was, from all I could see, a most beautifully decorated hotel.

I didn’t see the restaurant. When I asked if I should book a table, the receptionist said, ‘You are on your own, you should eat in your room!’ At first I was slightly offended by this, but by the time I’d met my bed (which was super squishy and smelt like Play-Doh), I felt it was the right advice.

I put the tele on and ordered room service. I couldn’t work out why there was so much stabbing. It seems that in between me selecting La Vie en Rose and my cheese burger arriving, I accidently missed the bit where I started watching Zodiac.

In the morning I packed up my bag and readied myself for a day of exploring. No real plans, destination Eiffel Tower.

I must give a massive shout out to Sarah for lending me one of her amazing Riut Bags. It’s the most comfortable and versatile back pack I have ever carried. It’s a multi-pocketed genius thing. All the zips are hidden against your back for security, and in this new design the bag is convertible from an everyday bag to a full-on travel pack, with just a few clips and adjustments. No backache.  I didn’t even feel like I was carrying a bag.

I walked to Le Louvre, via the gardens of the Royal Palace where pigeons posed amongst pink magnolia trees. At Le  Louvre people queued to pose on small pillars and pretend to touch the pyramid top. It was fascinating to watch.

Through Tuileries Gardens where I found crows and starlings, and across the River Seine. Down passed Bourbon Palace (didn’t look like a biscuit, disappointed) and along Rue de l’Universite to the Eiffel Tower.

What a beautiful and remarkable feat of engineering. So many times you see a landmark in reality and it doesn’t match what you’ve seen in photos (Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid anyone?) but I really did like the Eiffel Tower.

I sat and watched people buying the little monkey-metal towers that men were jingling on big wire rings, like bunches of keys chiming together. Occasionally a tiny tower would drop off into the dirt and be pecked by a pigeon or hidden by someone’s shoe.

It was quite muddy at the Eiffel Tower, people short-cutting across what was once grass, multiple children falling face first whilst parents posed for selfies.

The weather had been forecast as light rain, there were a couple of light ‘mistings’ (not worthy of being called showers) but other than that it was a cool crisp day, perfect for exploring.

I took the long walk back along Rue Pierre Charron and the Champs Elysees, window shopping and car spotting.

22.2 Kilometres. Not one cat.

People kept asking me for directions in bad French. I’ve been mistaken for Indian, Pakistani, Latvian and Irish before, but never French.

One man even stopped to ask (in French) where my bag was from, and once I’d ascertained that he wasn’t a mugger (and remembered that I was carrying a bag!) I told him. He said it looked Parisian.

I spoke French to people. I ate a baguette.

I got the RER to Charles de Gaulle airport. There was a rainbow coming out of the rear of an Easyjet plane (maybe that explains the delays). I sat and drank Orangina next to a family who were eating beef crisps.

On the night flight home I tuned in to a conversation between the flight attendant and a French passenger. ‘Anything from the trolley?’ asked the attendant. ‘L’eau’ said the man. ‘Sorry, I don’t speak French,’ she said and carried on, wheeling her way into every elbow and knee in her path.

The Hoxton Paris 30-32 Rue du Sentier, 75002 Paris, France

I was a guest of The Hoxton Paris and my stay was complimentary. As always, my opinions are my own.

Tel Aviv – 5 Nights In The 24/7 City (GIRL TOWN Launch Edition)

“Are you sure this is it?” the driver asked, as he hesitantly dropped us off in the street outside our Airbnb. It was it, but it was not what I’d expected.

Up four flights of stairs, through a steel door, and into a dank dark misery hole/apartment. I wasn’t sure what to say. I watched the small lady wrestle Rachel’s duvet into its cover, leaving it twisted and bulbous, like a mangled pork product from a malfunctioning sausage extruder. She patted it down, told us to leave the key outside in the cupboard when we left, and shot off on her push along scooter.

I didn’t notice at first the words ‘Putas Israelianos’ (Israeli whores) scrawled across the front door. Turns out the last Airbnb Rachel booked was an outbuilding in someone’s back yard. She’s not been allowed to book one since!

We sat, ate hummus and crisps that we’d bought from the corner shop, listened to Pat Benatar on my phone, and waited as darkness fell. Then we got lost for an hour whilst trying to find the gallery (where later that week we’d be launching the GIRL TOWN* exhibition).

We wandered back alleys, back and forth, the waft of weed on the air. I asked for directions from a man who was eating noodles off the boot of his car. I started counting cats, I lost count quite quickly and spotted a dog wearing a shell necklace. We realised we were back where we’d started when I spotted the same cat twice. Turns out he was the gallery cat.

There are thousands of cats patrolling the streets of Tel Aviv, posing for photographs, all looking vaguely related, occasionally letting our high-pitched screams and rubbing round legs.

The gallery was a fascinating place. It was, back in the day, a print works producing communist publications, and since then many things, but I felt it had come almost full circle to now being such a socialist space. We ate dinner with some of the team, 11pm at A’la rampa, under the shadow of a multi-storey building, it’s side wall painted with a large black horse.

Back in the hovel box/apartment it got noisier as the night went on. Car alarms, sirens, shouting, revving engines, doors banging, stereos pumping out Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran, until gone 4am. I had a feeling of despair, a fear that I had just signed up for five nights of sleep deprivation and shit music.

We were up and out of the pit of doom/apartment fairly early. It was hanging day at the gallery. I looked like I was hanging. My face was swollen, eyes puffed up like prawn crackers. Listening to Justin Bieber and breathing in damp, mouldy air for hours will do that to you.

The exhibition hang went well, it was relatively simple and we had free rein. Later in the afternoon we were able to meet up with my friend Moran and she toured us round Jaffa. The sea front, the wishing bridge, to Victory for ice cream (where I was able to put into use my only word of Hebrew, ‘fistuk’) up past the mosque and the catholic church, through the flea market, and back again.

We met another friend, Gali (who I’ve known for 12 years now) up at Habima Square and ate mushroom quiche at Lachmanina, probably the most expensive quiche I’ve ever eaten.

Notes from Thursday: Day off to explore. Cockroach in the hallway. Lunch omelette. Chocolate cake wedge. Cat with crossed eyes. Cat attempting to teleport whilst also attempting telepathy. Statue of the Predator in a shopping mall. Cemetery. Walked to the sea. Sent Rachel into the sea. Found a tiny plastic spanner and a piece of sea glass. Walked back through Carmel Market. Met a little dog in a cute jacket. Drank pomegranate juice (that tasted like beetroot soup). Generally explored.

When I woke up I felt less like I was wearing an inflatable mask, slightly more human. I think I had been revitalised by all those cats and their cat power, or maybe the damp was going because we’d breathed most of the moisture into our lungs.

We wondered if anyone would come to the exhibition launch, but we needn’t have worried. The exhibition had been featured in the Haaretz newspaper. There was a buzz about it, lots of people came – not only because they’d seen it in the national news but they’d also heard about the exhibition from friends all over the world.

Someone told me that my name meant ‘horn’ in Hebrew. Someone else told me it meant ‘ray of light’.

It was a relief to get the exhibition launched, and for it to go so well. On Saturday morning we stayed in bed late then wandered down to Rothschild Boulevard, to Benedict, and ate celebratory brunch.

Moran took us to the port, to the park, to Sarona market. Malls and gardens. Then to dinner. We walked back across the city and came across a protest against the government – thousands of people, flags and banners, police.

We’d been encouraged to try two Israeli snack favourites – Bissli, a kind of crispy crunchy baked pasta-like corn snack, and Bamba, a peanut butter flavoured Wotsit.

I liked the Bamba. The Bamba didn’t like me. After eating a couple of handfuls and marvelling at their amazing peanuttyness (50% peanut apparently) I started to feel sick, and dizzy, my head hurt and my neck started to swell up. I had to go and lie down. I wasn’t sure what would happen. My top lip swelled up. My sleep was filled with nightmares, punctuated by cold sweats and shakes. Then I was woken by the neighbours music at 4am. I listened, a tune that sounded so familiar to me, but one that I’d not heard for years. I concentrated, tuned in to the rhythm  and waited for the chorus.  It was La Bamba. The irony.

Favourite things from Tel Aviv: Our exhibition. Meeting lovely artists. Seeing friends. Every day sunshine. Cats everywhere. Clementines growing on trees in the street. That little dog in a jacket. The beach. Finding a piece of sea glass. The Bauhaus architecture. Seeing the Predator in a shopping mall. My new pouty top lip which, although much smaller, is still refusing to go back to normal. That Ripndip Lord Nermal shop window (top image). Why didn’t I go in and buy these slides?

*Find out more about GIRL TOWN, see  launch event photos, and read why we took the exhibition  from London Photomonth to Tel Aviv, here.

From Eindhoven to Antwerp – & Inbetween (2/2)

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new city? Check out the door furniture, sneak peeks through windows, hunt down pub carpets, look for a chip shop? Me too!

In Antwerp it’s not just any ol’ chips you’ll want to find, it’s designer fries by Sergio Herman at Frites Atelier. We settled in for the Bacon and Bearnaise seasonal special. The chips, cooked skin-on, were fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. That’s some good potato action there, (and I am speaking as an expert).

The rain started to fall heavily. Our guide was adamant that we’d survive, but I wasn’t so sure. I double wrapped my scarf round my head and hoped for the best.

We skipped from doorway to overhang, turning our faces from the driving rain to peer into the warm lit shops full of beautiful design, apparel and chocolates. Everywhere there were hands – little hand door knockers, little hand biscuits, little chocolate hands, little symbols of Antwerp.

Rushing through the streets, dodging puddles, we made our way to the Museum Plantin Moretus, a UNESCO world heritage site, housed in the 16th century mansion home and printing establishment of Christophe Plantin.

Dark oak panels and ceilings, walls hung with Rubens paintings on golden satin flocked wallpaper, dimly lit by large three-tiered brass chandeliers. The floors creaked, wood ground against wood under heavy foot, as we passed through the many rooms, saw the world’s oldest printing presses and wondered at the anatomical illustrations of Andrea Vesalius.

Back, out into the light, the rain gave break as we made our way to another UNESCO world heritage site, the seven aisled gothic beauty, the Cathedral of Our Lady.

Outside the cathedral is a sculpture of a boy and his dog, made of white marble, tucked under a paving stone blanket. The work, by Batist Vermeulen, pays homage to the characters Nello and Patrasche from the 19th century English novel, ‘A Dog of Flanders’. This is a tale of great sadness, so, I am going to share it with you.

Nello, an orphan, rescues a dog that was beaten close to death. They become inseparable friends, all they have is each other. After a series of desperately upsetting events Nello, a very talented artist, decides he wants to see Rubens’ paintings in Antwerp cathedral, but he can’t afford the exhibition entry fee. On Christmas Eve they find the church door open, by chance they can go in and see the paintings after all. The next morning Nello and Patrasche are found, cuddled together and frozen to death, in front of ‘The Descent from the Cross’. Apparently, the universal message here is that ‘friendship conquers all, even beyond death’. Let’s see what we can do with the living, shall we?

We took the multiple escalators to the rooftop of MAS, a warehouse-like museum, like a Tetris stack of red-brown sandstone with glass infills, set between two docks. We looked over the city, across the lights, watched trains and cars pass by, then took the multiple escalators back down, crossing the road to Restaurant Lux for a fabulous dinner (and a lovely tiled floor).

It was dark when I arrived in my room at the Hotel Rubens. Cool marble tables, nice lighting, huge bed that lured me with its soft white cotton and many pillows. I was asleep in no time at all.

My delight in the morning when I pulled back the curtains, opened the window wide and revelled in the beauty of it all – the crisp morning air, the peace and quiet, the years of buildings all layered together like the most magical cake.

We were up early, plodding across the city to The Rubens House. It’s actually a palace and his front room had gold leather covered walls. Rubens also owned a couple of castles.

Other things I learnt at The Rubens House: Pets in paintings were a thing in the 16th and 17th century. Some of Rubens work had the value of two houses, while he was alive. His studio was pretty much a factory, 3000 paintings were made there by ‘him’. Aside from being an artist, Rubens was a business man, a diplomat, and some say, genius. However enthralling a tour guide is, I still can’t help but wander off.

Fully Rubens’d up, we headed to our last stop in Antwerp, RAS, a delightful and calm restaurant, on one side overlooking the river Scheldt, and the other looking back at the varied architecture of the city.

The amber coloured beer, De Koninck, is brewed in the city of Antwerp, the goblet shaped glass it is traditionally served in is called a ‘Bolleke’.

After a delicious lunch and one final toast to a great trip, we were back on the road, heading down to Dunkirk for our ferry crossing home.

As we left the city we got a glimpse of the Port House from a distance, designed by Zaha Hadid, a century-old ex fire station sits beneath a new extension of epic proportions. An incredible diamond-like spaceship that needs to be seen to be believed.

My only question now is, when are we going back?

Frites Atelier Korte Gasthuisstraat 32, 2000 Antwerp

Museum Plantin Moretus Vrijdagmarkt 22, 2000 Antwerpen

Cathedral of Our Lady Handschoenmarkt 3, 2000 Antwerpen

Restaurant Lux Adriaan Brouwerstraat 13, 2000 Antwerpen

Hotel Rubens Oude Beurs 29 , 2000 , Antwerp

The Rubens House Wapper 9-11, 2000 Antwerp

RAS Ernest Van Dijckkaai 37, 2000 Antwerpen

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way.

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of Visit Holland and Visit Flanders for inviting me to join them on such an excellent adventure. 

From Eindhoven to Antwerp – & Inbetween (1/2)

I quite like a ferry crossing, although I don’t think I’ve been on one since the Hull to Zeebrugge over-nighter of 2014 where everyone was drunk before we even left the port and I ended up on a winning streak in the casino.

This trip was different though, this was DFDS Dover to Dunkirk, with peaceful Premium Lounge passes and excellent eggs benedict. It seemed to be over in a flash, and then we were on the road. It feels like everyone I know gets on the ferry and then heads south through France, but we were going against the norm, turning left, and heading to the ‘city of light’, Eindhoven.

I was excited to get a tour of the city, to look at the beautiful tiled floor in the station, to see the public art, to wander through the Downtown Gourmet Market (I will come back for you delicious foods of the world!)  and, to see the spots where the famous Philips factories had been.

Eindhoven was the home of Philips from 1891. They were there so long that when they left, 100 years later, the city had to totally regenerate. Many of the iconic factory buildings were repurposed, filled with creative people, new technology and innovation.

Eindhoven is hip. They’ve got a logo called ‘the vibe’, a building called ‘The Blob’, and their motto is ‘if you choose, you get chosen’.

They’ve also got a building called ‘The Brown Lord’.

We went to Vane Skybar, drank speciality cocktails called ‘The Homer’ (as in, homing pigeon. I love pigeons), overlooking the city lights.

Finally we arrived at Kazerne for dinner. Beautiful
Alex De Witte lights hung above the bar like balloons in perpetual motion. Plants and dark walls, fantastic Dutch Invertuals exhibition on display, and someone had parked a phat AMG C63 outside. I was in my element, then they cranked it up a notch with the most delicious dinner.

The tour of the city was so good I even got my guide book signed.

Later that night in the Lumen Bar I learnt the saying ‘as dark as a dick’. Apparently, it’s a Dutch thing.

The old Philips Light Tower, Eindhoven.

We stayed at the Inntel hotel Art Eindhoven. In the morning I pulled open the curtains and looked up at the Light Tower. This fabulous industrial monument, now part of the hotel, was built between 1909 – 1921. Inside it hundreds of thousands of filament bulbs were tested – the tower was lit day and night. Sounds quite magical to me. I like lightbulbs.

In the hotel lobby there was an exhibition, not what I was expecting from such a modern space – cottages, cart horses, boobies and a portrait of Princess Diana.

After breakfast we headed straight to Nuenen, the countryside village where Vincent Van Gogh lived for two years and produced a quarter of all his works, including The Potato Eaters. I like potatoes.

We visited the Vincentre and watched a short film about Van Gogh. Read from his diary, the words ‘Winter is snow with black trimmings,stuck with me, a vision through his eyes.

We walked around Neunen, treading in his footsteps. I picked up an oak leaf from the pavement outside Nune Ville Parsonage. For a year Van Gogh lived and worked in the washhouse, here at his parents’ house. He must have seen that same tree, for a full year of seasons.

We took turns to stand on a step, to peer through a gap in a hedge, to look at the church from the same spot that Van Gogh painted it. I caught a glimpse of more modern buildings. ‘Don’t cross the road,’ said Nigel, our tour guide, as I crossed the road.

I was interested to see the things that weren’t related to Van Gogh. For such a small town, with such prominent association, I wanted to see the things that weren’t luring the tourists. Such modernist suburban delight. The lamp posts were beautiful, simple designs and good paint colours, in front of modern, pale toned houses with dorma roofs. Someone had a Vauxhall Cavalier.

We ate lunch at the Opwetten Watermill, situated on the Kleine Dommel river. Van Gogh painted a lot here, I ate croquettes. We are both artists in our own right.

Continuing on to Den Bosch, at the Het Noordbrabants Museum we were each welcomed with an oversized Bossche Bol. A sweet treat worth travelling for. So good I’m sure they even chose the decor to complement its beauty.

We saw Van Gogh paintings – portraits of workers, in dark greens, blues, greys – he found beauty in everyday people.

We saw the exhibition devoted to the film ‘Loving Vincent’, a unique glimpse behind the scenes of the making of the painted animation, the first film of its kind in the world (65000 paintings, 12 canvases per second, 94 minutes long – all painted by hand!).

And then we saw, with mouths open and eyes bulging in awe, Tim Walker’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. The exhibition space was vast, but the images perfectly scaled, dark in tone and larger than life. Shona Heath’s magical props displayed with plenty of space to enjoy, but close enough to be able to inspect the details. Everything was perfect.

That evening we dined in Den Bosch’s most famous street, Korte Putstraat – restaurant hopping from starter, to main course, to dessert (served in a lightbulb!). LUX, Zoetelief, then Breton – all different, all delicious, all complimentary to each other.

I slept so well that night. Dreams filled with magical puddings and ethereal figures. The thoughts of the candlelit breakfast to come. The desire to wake up early and photograph the carpets passed me by as I fell deep into slumber. Cool air, heavy duvet.

Shout out to Huize Bergen for the comfiest bed, and for controllable room temperatures. Boo ya!

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way.

Vane Skybar Vestdijk 5, 5611 CA Eindhoven

Kazerne Paradijslaan 2-8, 5611 KN Eindhoven

Inntel hotel Art Eindhoven Mathildelaan 1 (GPS), 5611 BJ Eindhoven

Vincentre Berg 29, 5671 CA Nuenen

Opwetten Watermill Opwettenseweg 203, 5674 AC Nuenen

Het Noordbrabants Museum Verwersstraat 41, ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Korte Putstraat Korte Putstraat, 5211 KP, ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Huize Bergen Glorieuxlaan 1, 5261 SG Vught

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of Visit Holland and Visit Flanders for inviting me to join them on such an excellent adventure.