Holland: Adventures in Haarlem

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.

These Recent Things (Hotdogs, Castles & Car Parks)

Last weekend we visited friends in Denmark, stayed in a castle, ate the best hotdogs of our lives, and saw the most brilliant futuristic carpark. I also drank tea out of a cup with a goat on the bottom of it. These are the things that make life.

This weekend we stayed at home, Adam’s been doing DIY and making burgers, I’ve been ironing, writing, and preparing for the week ahead, and Tutti’s been throwing herself at the back door in an attempt to get out and chew the grass.

So, what’ve I got to tell you? Everything, of course!

Remember a few years ago I founded a charity in my airing cupboard? The Toiletries Amnesty has been  announced as the winner of the X Foundation Grant. We’ve got the funding to produce  a dedicated website, and the motivation to create a global movement.

I went to the IMM travel event at the QEII Centre in London, met lots of interesting people and caught up with some of my favourite travel-writing friends. The highlight though, was when I noticed everyone pressed up against the window to watch the royal family going into Westminster cathedral for the Commonwealth Service. There were cries of ‘Look, there’s Megan!’ and, ‘Who’s that weird looking child in the red beret?’ Turns out it was Theresa May.

Eleanor and I attended the Holland Press Awards at the Hoxton, Holborn. An article I wrote for the Huffington Post was nominated for an award. I didn’t win, but I did get to eat a lot of cheese, so, still a winner.

That was such a lovely night. Probably the best awards event I’ve been to. We left with huge bunches of peachy tulips and talked well into the night, in our Ibis Budget hotel cell. Last time we were together was a press trip where we ended up sharing a suite because the hotel rooms were so big I was scared to stay on my own!

The next day we headed off to IPPUDO for good food – delicious ramen and a fancy cucumber. We popped in to Melissa to see Juno Calypso’s exhibition. Eleanor bought shoes and I spoke to a man about data and web cams in the red basement salon the Juno had created. The neon light on the wall flashed from Radience to Die, and for a short moment I wondered if it was a trap.

Whilst we trotted around the city, me lugging a bag full of all sorts, including cured meats and a chopping board, and Eleanor, surrounded by dozens of glorious tulips, Adam Whatsapp’d me updates from home – the cat had slept on the bed, April had laid her first egg of spring. Oh yeah, my real life!

The problem with having a three day work jolly is coming home to no heating and more snow,  a head cold and an email mountain.  I’m not sure when I am going to launch the Karen Harvey Anti Email Party, but it’s coming, and there will be a buffet. And crowns.

I watched a fair bit of We Bare Bears.

The dishwasher broke and all the pans were inside, so I had to go to the pub for lunch.

I went to an event with Green Flag at Devils Pit 4×4 in Bedfordshire. A man came up to me and asked, Are you here to interview Chris?’ ‘No,’ I said, I’m here for the cars’. He patted me gently on the arm and moved on. He was talking about a man from the TV show Love Island. I was talking about a 400 quid Saab 95 and a clapped out white van. Apparently I was the fastest driver of the day. Unfortunately, the competition wasn’t about speed.

I also had a brilliant day up at Donington testing tyres with Bridgestone.

I went to Paris – I didn’t get mugged, I didn’t stand in dog poo, I didn’t eat a macaron, I didn’t eat a snail. Did I even go to Paris?

I got a new accountant. Hooray!

I sat next to a man on the tube who seemed to be quite warm, he had a puffer jacket on, in that really shiny material, and he kept wiping his head on his sleeve. His sleeve was very wet and inside I was like, ‘Eww, wet sleeve, eww wet sleeve next to me!’

When I got off the tube I realised that he had sweated so much that it had gone through his jacket sleeve, through my coat sleeve and then through my jumper sleeve. My left arm was soaking wet with random man sweat!

Adam says I can burn my coat, now that spring’s here.

I was coatless, but then my amazing designer friend Dusica sent me a coat that her studio had made just for me. That’s right. Joy and gratitude overload!

I judged the photography prize at the South Holland exhibition, sponsored by Shutter Hub again this year.

The Shutter Hub BORDERS exhibition finished at St Bride Foundation and we confirmed the OPEN this year will be at the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane.

I wrote an article for Shutter Hub on Why the Photography Industry is Saying No to Instagram Pods.

I wrote Foodie Finds for Surf4 (including an amazing lunch at IPPUDO and an evening of cheese, meat and vodka with Woodalls Charcuterie).

And I thought I had sprained my ankle. Turns out it’s Achilles tendinopathy (what athlete’s get, innit). Then I sprained something else, my tooth, on an olive pit. Seriously, did you know that was a thing?

Some photography work I did several years ago with Louise Katerega and Foot in Hand has been included in a publication called Invisible Visibility: Diverse Voices within Inclusive Dance. It was so lovely to be reminded of the project – an absolutely marvellous family of dancers, ignoring adversity, and just being their beautiful, brilliant selves.

Tutti Biscotti turned 11 years old. That’s one whole year she’s lived with us, and in that times she’s only gained a few nicknames; Tuttinda Hotspot, the grey slug and Babooman (because she looks half baboon, half human). 

I went to the UK Blog Awards. The invite said the dress code was ‘As Glam as you Can’. I wore trainers and ate two squares of deep fried belly pork in a hotel basement.

And then we went to Denmark, stayed in that castle, learnt some Danish (fart means speed), ate that hotdog,  went to the sea, and had a lovely, lovely time.

I’m loving the brighter evenings, the signs of spring, and this fruit salad of primroses in my mum’s garden.

France: 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.

These Recent Things (Go, Go, Snow, Stop)

I was about to leave the house for the train station, but then a snowflake fluttered by. That busy day of meetings turned into a tea and email fest at home. Snow day. The chickens wouldn’t come out of their house for fear that the sky was falling. I had to take porridge and sweetcorn to their door. I didn’t have to wear socks and sandals, (like a total dude) but I did anyway, and I learnt my lesson.

I’m finding it hard to believe we’re already two months into the year, but I imagine we’re all feeling the same. I think that’s why I like to write this to you, to share stories, to document memories to reaffirm that I’ve been using my time for good things.

So, here are my recent oddments of joy and wonder.

The Artificial Things exhibition closed at Cambridge University, our BORDERS exhibition opened at St Bride Foundation in Fleet Street with an amazing response, and then we travelled to Tel Aviv Israel to launch our Girl Town exhibition.

I wrote about our trip to Tel Aviv – staying in a hovel box, meeting a cross eyed cat, sharing our exhibition, being featured in a national Israeli newspaper, eating weird snacks that made my lip swell up all pouty, hanging out with friends and seeing the sights and the sea.

When we got home I was interviewed by i24NEWS. Want to see me say ‘boobies’ in front of an international audience of millions? Of course you do!

Our dear Sandra chicken (RIP) was featured on the front cover of Practical Poultry, and some of my photographs of Kettles Yard were used in an educational publication based around nature in the house.

A Huff Post article that I wrote has been nominated for a Holland Press Award.

This blog has been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards Best Travel Blog 2018.

And I got invited to visit a dog food factory and sample their food. Weird that they thought the offer might tempt me. I don’t even have a dog. (Or want to drive to Wales and eat dog food).

I ate a great meal at TOZI. I wrote about my great meal at TOZI.

I gave blood, Adam gave blood. I ate an orange Club biscuit and tried to sing Dub Be Good to Me to an old man. I wrote about it all here.

I went to the Embassy of the Netherlands and ate breakfast.

I ripped the front bumper off my car. 75% accident, 25% intent. (Two men came to tell me my bumper was hanging off, I was already out of the car and loading it into the back seat).

I went to Leigh on Sea. I saw the sea. I went to the Francesca Maffeo Gallery, recorded an interview, gave some portfolio reviews and saw some books with pigeons in.

And, in Southend, I saw a woman at the pedestrian crossing, standing in the middle of the road. She dropped something from under her arm, it bounced and rolled back into the road. It was a small dog in a little blue coat!

The end… for now.

FAQ: What Did You Do For Valentine’s Day?

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been asked the question:

What did you do for Valentine’s day? Erm

Did you give a gift? Err, I’d say so, yes.
Did you go anywhere special? I guess!
What did you wear? Loose clothing.
Did you get a card? Does a donor card count?

I don’t do Valentine’s Day. I can’t help you when it comes to giving heart shaped gifts, I’ve not sent a Valentine’s card in years, and I’m not going to judge you on how many cuddly toys/red roses/boxes of chocolates/marriage proposals (delete as appropriate) you received on February 14th. Half dead petrol station flowers aren’t just for Valentine’s day, crap gifts are for life, and dogs aren’t just for Christmas (I saw someone on Instagram got a Jack Russell puppy as a Valentine’s gift. I like Jack Russells).

This year Adam and I decided to do something, by fluke it happened to coincide with Valentine’s day. We made a ‘#date2donate’ and gave some blood to a stranger. In a totally legit way, I must add.

If you’re like me and have been putting off giving blood for years, don’t. Just get on and do it. Signing up online was such a simple process, finding somewhere local to donate was easy, and I was able to book a time slot, so I knew I wouldn’t be waiting long.

The NHS needs around 200,000 new donors each year. That’s a lot of Iife changing/life saving blood. Between us we can actually make a difference.

Radar Love played on the radio as I was lowered back into my seat. I hide my veins well and often get poked about a lot by nurses, but this was fine, pin prick, easy and in. What with clenching my bum cheeks at intervals and squeezing my hand to help keep the circulation going, I didn’t have much time to think about what was happening. My lap time was 10 minutes 3 seconds. Winner! Such a harmless experience. Also, fascinating.

Afterwards I drank lemon squash and ate an orange Club biscuit. Dub Be Good To Me came on the radio, I turned to the man next to me, ‘I love this song!’ He looked at me, smiled, and got up to leave. ‘Aren’t you going to stay and listen to me do the rap?’ I called after him. He didn’t look back.

It’s quick and easy to register to become a blood donor. Visit www.blood.co.uk call the Donor Line on 0300 123 23 23 or download the app by searching ‘NHSGiveBlood’ in the app store. 

In the pictures:

Portable charger: Juice Powerstation (gift).
Notebook: Moleskine Classic (gift).
Felt tip pens: Pentel.
Laptop: Macbook Pro.
Watch: Nisshoku Eclipse (gift).
Rich Tea biscuits: Lidl’s.

This is not a sponsored post. 

Welcome to the World of Karen Harvey: photographer, writer, creative consultant… self proclaimed cat whisperer, chicken wrangler and chief cake taster!