Two years ago my best friend moved from London to the Netherlands. At the time this seemed like trauma. Would we see each other as often as we liked? Would we lose touch? Having a sea between us made it seem more difficult. Well it turns out that it’s far easier and costs less to visit Amsterdam than London so there was no need to worry. There may be a sea between our cities but thankfully it’s a small one.

image

Robyn and I had visited Amsterdam together years ago and had decided at that point that this was a city we could live in. She made it happen and now lives a stone’s throw from Vondelpark and Museumplein with her Dutch boyfriend. And she has never been happier.

I obviously have to mention flowers. The dutch relationship with flowers is completely different to that of the English. I cannot stress how ever-present they are in this city. The police station we wandered past, put some hotels in this country to shame with it’s reception display. The stiff and contrived “modern” arrangements that are so popular here, do not exist. Instead, even the most unlikely of shops will display a large jar containing a huge branch of crabapple or magnolia, and NOTHING else. It’s heaven, trust me. How a city can look so consistently good is beyond me.

image

image

image

image

Planting. This is a city with an uncannily similar climate to that of Newcastle. Robyn knows all too well that if I talk of torrential rain, she’ll be seeing it two days later after it makes it’s way over the North Sea. Yet they plant everywhere: vines curve over doorways, viburnums, cardoons and skimmias sit in pots around doorsteps, wisterias climb up around windows. Plants and flowers are such an intrinsic part of the Dutch culture and aesthetic that they are unavoidable. Not only do they consider the greenery and colour through the summer months but also the autumn colour and remaining skeleton of the plant that will last through the darker months. I saw dried artichokes lined up on a window ledge, vases filled with brittle autumn branches. The Dutch are, as Robyn points out, a practical and resourceful people. I too, know this because I see them spray, repackage and sell every last leaf, twig, berry and vine of a plant, dead or alive. They are good business people.

image

image

Anyone who knows me well will know that cosiness and festiveness are high on my agenda at this time of year and again, the Dutch do this well: almost no overhead lighting, a lot of candlelight, readily available Gluhwein and spiced biscuits. And marzipan.

Everyone should visit Amsterdam. Even if you don’t have access to a best friend with insider knowledge and an amazing apartment, go.