Holland: Return to Haarlem (Rotterdam, & Amsterdam)

The man behind me struggled to open his bottle of drink, knees digging hard into the back of my seat as he strained. ‘Shall we open the smoky bacon or the prawn cocktail?’ his companion asked, whilst rustling away with her grab-bags. Smokey bacon. The crunches and slurps were interspersed with a conversation on whether the pilot might actually be a woman. The consensus, before the slimming world recipes were discussed, was that they couldn’t possibly have a female pilot – because she would have mood swings.

Remind me something for the future – take noise cancelling headphones, even for short flights. Or, alternatively, some kind of appealing snacks laced with sedatives.

From Schiphol – two trains, full – to Haarlem. Lovely, kind and comfortable Haarlem.

Straight out of the station and into the sanctuary of Hotel Lion D’or. Relief. Soft bed, calm tones, clean air, and… what is this? Helma had left me a box of chocolate crayons in my room. Chocolate crayons. Heart eyes.

I chose to have a Tuesday night supermarket dinner – chicken salad, orange, chocomel (Someone had already had a go on my chocomel. Chocolate milk dreams ruined), and get an early night.

I slept well. I’ve been here before (one year and one week ago) and I settled back in nicely. I could live here. Contented hotel room dweller.

Observations on a Wednesday:

Breakfast ring doughnut (with jam inside).
Raining but not raining.
Joyful walking.
Hair clip purchase (in honour of Polly).
Good windows.
Quality pigeons.
Successful meeting (exhibition planning, sticky tape discussions).
Dinner with Ioana in Zandvoort.

On Thursday I took the train to Amsterdam. Last time I was here it was for the Shutter Hub OPEN, I walked past 5&33 Gallery, peeked in the windows at the people installing their exhibition, remembered we’ll be back there with another exhibition, sooner than we know it.

I walked across the city, comfortable with my inner compass, directing me toward my destination, where in just the last half a kilometre I needed my phones map for fine-tuned information. I know Amsterdam better than I know my closest city at home. I could live here – the Netherlands.

I reached the stone steps of LAB111, a cool cinema and restaurant venue, once a pathology laboratory for the university hospital. An art deco delight. We ate sweet potato fries with curry mayonnaise whilst a ginger cat did the rounds of the laps at our table. And then, I gave a talk about photography in the marble-lined former chapel of rest. These are the days.


In the morning we headed over to Rotterdam. Meetings full of excitement and promise, and eggs benedict at La Buvette. To the outskirts of the city to look at empty buildings, and then back to Amsterdam for my evening engagement – a talk at Paper Fetish. Chips and mayonnaise, good chats and hugs.


It was late when we drove out of the city and into the darkness of Amstelveen. Having checked out of the beautiful Hotel Lion d’Or in Haarlem, I’d been booked in at a surprise location.

I was dropped off at my room for the night, in a terraced house owned by Hotel Café Abina. Definitely not a hotel.

Abina hovel was unwelcomingly bleak, with stained carpets, and a stale scent of tobacco. The only thing that settled me was the smell of bread in the street.

In my room, a narrow corridor of two single beds, with a toilet and mouldy shower in the same space, I looked at my watch. Less than 7 hours to daylight. It’ll be fine. I slid the bed in front of the door and ‘slept’ in my clothes. As soon as it was light I was out, wandering the streets, breathing the fresh air, smiling at dogs, queueing for pastries at the French bakery on the corner.

I was relieved when Ioana came to meet me. We drove into Amsterdam and walked through Vondelpark before eating lunch in the sun. She showed me how as a child she would stick blossom petals to her finger nails as ‘nail varnish’, and then we watched two cyclists have an argument – shouting in Dutch, swearing in English. The Dutch swear in English! (I am already part way to speaking the language).

I came home with my brain full, a to-do list as long as my arm, and a great feeling joy and contentment. Lucky to do the work I love.

With the greatest thanks to Hotel Lion d’Or for hosting me for three nights in their beautiful hotel. As always, my opinions are my own (and my excitement over a ring doughnut with jam inside, expressed with absolute understatement).

One thought on “Holland: Return to Haarlem (Rotterdam, & Amsterdam)”

  1. Once more loving your stories and all the photos that go with them. No more surprises wanted then?!

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