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Lunch at Orsini Ristorante


I’ve written about Orsini Ristorante before and it’s been a family favourite for a number of years since my friend Rona introduced me to it. With its location opposite the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, it’s a perfect location for a trip to the museums (the Natural History and the Science Museum are also close by) or Knighsbridge, where we were heading today to stock up on coffee pods at the Nespresso shop. You can park for free on Sundays around South Kensington, which not only saves a lot of money but also means you don’t have to keep an eye on the time.

I wanted to write about Orsini again because I went with Lyndsey and Freddie today and with Freddie’s first birthday only a couple of weeks away, we’re starting to look for child friendly restaurants where we adults can still enjoy some fabulous food. Of course, going to an Italian restaurant run by Italians is a good start, for they are always so good with children. When I rang yesterday to reserve a table and asked if they had a high chair, they said: ‘Of course!’ as if there was no question they wouldn’t.


As Orsini is a small independent, family-run restaurant, I wasn’t expecting them to have a children’s menu but when the menus came, they put a children’s one before us. Although Lyndsey had brought some food for Freddie, she decided he might as well enjoy the Italian cooking along with us. So, a child’s portion of Penne Al Pomodorino was chosen for him.


It looked so delicious, Lyndsey and I had a taste and decided we’d be happy with that ourselves. It was wonderful. Freddie thought so too and tucked into it enthusiastically. He was in the promised high chair and all the staff were so kind and friendly to him that he had a brilliant time: eating lovely food and ‘chatting’ away to lots of people.

We ordered some bread and olives to start. Lyndsey had a glass of house white wine while I stuck to water since I was driving.


The home-made rolls were delicious; some had olives in them. They were warm and soft in the middle and Freddie ate quite a lot before his pasta arrived. Living close to Your Bakery in Whitton, he’s developed a strong liking for good Italian bread.

Lyndsey chose one of the specials of the day: a risotto with Italian sausage and cavolo nero.


It looked so good I had to ask for a taste! It was delicious. I meanwhile had chosen a Traditional Lasagne. I love lasagna but don’t make it a lot living on my own and generally only when I have guests. So it does feel a bit like a treat.


It was excellent: a rich, delicious lasagna with a wonderful flavour. I’d also ordered a salad to go with it and it was so huge it was definitely more than enough for Lyndsey and I to share.


Orsini do some great desserts but we decided not to overdo the leisurely lunch with Freddie who’d been sitting so happily all the time we ate but maybe needed to get going now. After all, when you’re only one year minus two weeks, there’s only so much sitting you want to do. We ordered coffees for each of us and I asked for the bill. The waiter noticed that Freddie had only eaten about half of his pasta. I said he’d loved it but it was too much for him. The waiter then offered to pack it up so we could take the rest home. What brilliant service. Now Freddie can look forward to the second half for lunch tomorrow! I’m sure we’ll be back soon … and given how much Freddie liked it, ‘Orsini’ may turn out to be one of his first words!!

Orsini Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Banana & Chocolate Chip Bread


For a food blogger who says she doesn’t like to bake much, I seem to be baking up a storm with the gorgeous Rhubarb & Almond Cake a couple of days ago and now a banana bread. However, 4 bananas were quickly ripening in my fruit bowl. I eat a banana each morning with breakfast but don’t much like them once they are very ripe … so if they reach that stage, for me there’s only one thing to do with them – bake some banana bread!


If I baked a ‘cake’ for my kids for tea for when they came home from school, it was most often a banana bread and I’m still using the same Katie Stewart recipe from 1990! I’ve even made the mix into muffins. I tried a ‘Delia’ recipe recently for a change but didn’t like it so much, so back to Katie I went. She was queen of cooks when I got married in the late 1970s and I had a number of her books, which are still on my shelves and became very worn through much use. I stuck rigidly to her recipe for years and years. For one, cake recipes are less tolerant of being experimented with than savoury dishes. But anyway, it was just a great recipe as it was – with walnuts (or pecans) and sultanas in the mix along with the bananas. However, because I now often share my cakes with Jonathan and Lyndsey, I take into account that Lyndsey doesn’t like sultanas or raisins; my other daughter-in-law Rachael doesn’t either. So a bit of experimentation is required. I made a banana bread recently, leaving out the sultanas and adding some orange and lemon zest along with the walnuts and that worked brilliantly. But when I came to share a piece with Freddie I wondered if giving a baby (albeit it one who’s now only 3 weeks off a year) walnuts was OK … He loved the cake and I made sure he didn’t get any big bits of walnuts. When I came to decide what to put in the cake today, and thinking about what goes well with banana, chocolate seemed a great idea. Thus, at the end of the preparation, I chopped some dark cooking chocolate into chunks and added them. It worked really well!


  • 225g (8oz) plain spelt flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 100g (4oz) butter, soft
  • 100g (4oz) light muscovado sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 450g (1lb) bananas (weight with skin on)
  • 50g (2oz) chopped dark chocolate

Heat the oven to 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4. Grease a 1lb loaf tin and lay a strip of baking parchment along  the bottom and up over the side edges.

Sift the flour into the bowl with the baking powder. I always buy spelt plain flour now, not just because it’s healthier but because it has a great flavour compared to ordinary plain flour. Now add the soft butter (please don’t use margarine!), sugar and the two eggs. Whisk it all together with an electric beater until well blended and light and fluffy. (Katie takes more time doing this stage by stage in the original recipe, but this all-in-one method works just fine.)


Now mash the bananas with a fork, add to the mixture and beat again until the banana is blended in well. Now chop 50g dark chocolate with a sharp knife into small pieces (about ½cm cubes).


Add the chocolate to the cake mix and fold in gently. Transfer to the prepared tin.


Bake in the oven for 1 hour. It should be nicely brown on top and shrinking very slightly from the edges. I checked mine with a small sharp knife to see it was cooked through. Leave to cool a little in the tin for 10 minutes.


Then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Now, if you can possibly wait a day or two before trying this, banana bread does benefit from a little bit of ‘maturing’. But then who can resist the wonderful smell of freshly baked banana bread? Certainly not me! I just had to cut into it and have a slice with a cup of tea this afternoon.



I shall take half over to Jonathan and Lyndsey’s tomorrow, but I’ve also discovered banana bread freezes well and that if I cut it into slices, slipping a piece of greaseproof paper between each slice, then wrapping the whole in greaseproof paper and then foil, it freezes really well. I can then take out separate slices when I fancy some. It also toasts well, so I might slip it into the toaster and then spread some butter on top. Indulgence! But a little bit of indulgence is a good thing. And while, of course, lots of cake isn’t good for us, I feel this is a slightly healthier cake than some. And most importantly of all, it’s absolutely delicious. I shall definitely be adding the chocolate again.

Rhubarb & Almond Cake


I had a slice of delicious rhubarb & almond cake from Your Bakery in Whitton last week and thought I really must try making some myself. So when I saw an assistant carrying a tray of packs of fresh rhubarb in Waitrose yesterday, I couldn’t resist following and claiming a pack for my basket.

My ‘forced’ rhubarb came from Yorkshire – just as it should. The forced rhubarb from Yorkshire is so famous and respected that it was even awarded an EC Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in 2010. This means it must be grown within the 9 square mile Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire. Rhubarb is actually a vegetable although we tend to think of it as a fruit. It originates, rather surprisingly, from Siberia in Russia, so obviously likes a cold climate. Its leaves are poisonous and it is the stalks we eat. As a child, we had the outdoor variety growing in our garden and I have vivid memories of having fun pulling the stalks from the ground and my mother would make a rhubarb crumble. The stalks of the outdoor variety become quite thick, tough and stringy as they get bigger; the stems more acidic than the forced variety.

We generally think of ‘forced’ as not good when it comes to food and usually (unless you’re a fan of foie gras!) that is true and forced fruit and vegetables tend to have less flavour. However, with rhubarb it’s completely different. The forcing – growing the rhubarb in the dark – results in a much more delicate and pleasant flavour. The method was developed in the early 1800s. Rather than the greenish stems of the outdoor variety, forced rhubarb has wonderful bright, rose-pink-red stalks. However, even this more delicate variety still needs to be cooked before eating and because it’s very sour it also needs to be sweetened.


  • 400g rhubarb cut into 2cm slices
  • 150g butter
  • 150g golden caster sugar + extra 2 tablespoons
  • 2 eggs
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100g plain (I used spelt for extra taste) flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • about 2 tablespoons flaked almonds

First of all, wash and trim the rhubarb and then cut into 2cm slices. Put in a bowl with the extra 2 tablespoons sugar, mix to coat all the rhubarb, and then leave for 30 minutes for the rhubarb to macerate.


Preheat the oven to 180C/160 Fan/Gas 4. Now make the cake base. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until light, pale and fluffy. Now add the eggs one at a time – with a little flour if it looks as if the mixture is separating – and also add the orange zest.


Next add the flour, sifted with the baking powder, and the ground almonds. Beat until everything is blended in nicely. Then stir in the rhubarb, scraping in any juices.


Transfer to a greased and lined 22cm springform cake tin. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds.


Bake for 1hr 15 mins until nicely browned and firm to touch. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the tin before transferring to a rack.


This is very much a dessert cake and you can serve it warm, though I left it until cold to eat at suppertime. Once cold, I transferred it to a cake stand and sifted over some icing sugar.


Come suppertime, it made a fabulous dessert with a generous spoonful of Greek yoghurt on the side.


Wow! It was fantastic. Very moist, full of flavour; a simply gorgeous cake. It was a lovely way to use rhubarb, which is still a fruit/vegetable not available all year, so you need to make the most of it when it’s available. I’d combined a couple of recipes I found on the internet and it had come out really well. And it was very easy to make. It would be a great dessert for entertaining to make in advance. I’m all for easy entertaining and making as much as possible ahead of guests arriving.



Amsterdam 2016: The Traveller in Amsterdam


I had a lovely time in Amsterdam and despite it being quite a short 3-night trip, I feel refreshed from having spent a good and relaxing time in a city I love. The Dutch are generally very laid-back, friendly people and it’s easy to slip into a relaxed pace. If you haven’t been, then I’d highly recommend you go; it’s like nowhere else. I’ve been thinking about why I like it so much so thought I’d do an ‘overall’ post, and include places to seek out and things to watch out for – especially the bikes!

Where to stay? I’ve spent a lot of time in Amsterdam but rarely stayed in a hotel. My very first visit was with my school friend Nina when we were about 19 and we stayed in a youth hostel – that turned out to be in the red light district! But the Dutch are easy about these things and it’s not such a big thing, and it wouldn’t worry me even now. Then about 20 years ago my ex husband was working in Amsterdam for a couple of years. He came back to London most weekends but half terms and holidays I’d take our kids out, driving from London, and we’d all be together in an apartment in Oudekerk aan de Amstel, a lovely village a few miles out of Amsterdam on the river Amstel. I got used to driving into central Amsterdam but often we cycled in along the Amstel. Two years ago I travelled to the city with my daughter and we stayed in a hotel she knew (she goes to the city for work reasons sometimes), the ‘t Hotel. This is just lovely and on a gorgeous canal in Jordaan. I guess this would be my first choice, but it’s quite expensive when travelling alone and the last two years I’ve booked a ‘deal’ with British Airways when booking my flight. Last year’s hotel wasn’t that great, but I was happy with my NH Hotel this year. It’s a chain but a good one. The only problem for me was that I’d booked into the branch in the Jordaan on Singel (canal) but was moved as it closed in January for refurbishment. The one in the Museum Quarter was friendly and I was given a nice room but it was a bit too far away from the Jordaan for me. Remember when booking, apart from choosing your area, that the canal house hotels rarely have lifts and the stairs are often narrow and steep. Ask if you’re in doubt about how many flights of stairs you can manage.

Which area to stay in? My favourite area is the Jordaan and so I like to stay there or within easy walking of it. This is where you will find pretty canals, lots of lovely cafes and restaurants, art galleries, markets and the Anne Frank House. If however you want to spend a lot of time at the big art galleries, then you might be better off staying in the Museum Quarter.

Why go? As just said above, it’s such a laid-back and relaxed place to spend time that you can easily wind down there. But of course it’s also very beautiful (the photo at the top of this post is typical of what you’ll see walking around) with the lovely leafy canals and attractive canal houses. I particularly like the Jordaan district, the old town which has risen from being a poor area to now being very chic and expensive. You can wander around the canals and find quiet in the midst of a big city, which for me combines all the benefits of enjoying what a great city has to offer with some peace for recharging on your holiday.

Cultural centre: Amsterdam is a great city of culture. There is of course the famous Rijksmuseum:


And just behind it you will find the Van Gogh and the Stedelijk (modern art). I’ve visited all of these but what I really like now is wandering through the canals and coming across lots of little galleries full of lovely artworks and ceramics and other crafts. These places aren’t tourist traps but working artists and you’re likely to be able to find some unique piece of artwork at an affordable price, whatever your budget.


Cafe Society: as someone who loves to hang out in cafes and prefers cafe-style restaurants to posh formal ones, Amsterdam is just the perfect place for me. Everywhere you will find gorgeous cafes – the traditional ones look more like bars, as my favourite in the heart of the Jordaan on Prinsengracht, Cafe ‘t Smalle. I also like Cafe de Jaren in the university area.


But really you don’t have to trust a guide book; just wander round and go into one that takes your fancy, and of course one that is busy and bustling, indicating it’s likely to be good. You’ll find some have live music at times and some are meeting places for the intellectuals of the city who want to talk and discuss.

Food: Well of course the Single Gourmet Traveller is never really interested in travelling to anywhere that doesn’t have good food. Having said this, my general impression of Dutch food has been influenced by all that time I spent here 20-odd years ago and feeling that Dutch food wasn’t that great. But, like London, now a culinary centre of the world, Amsterdam has moved on and there are some great places to eat. Most cafes will serve up good snacks for lunchtime. Restaurants are more cosmopolitan offering food from all over the world, but there’s a special emphasis on Indonesian. Once a Dutch colony, you’ll find wonderful Indonesian restaurants and eating in one definitely counts as ‘local’ food. Typical Dutch food will include a lot of fish, particularly herrings, smoked salmon and smoked eel. They are also famously good at pancakes and you’ll find lots of pancake houses or cafes specialising in pancakes, like Roem on Prinsengracht. Dutch pancakes tend to be large and come with either savoury or sweet toppings. A particular pancake speciality are Poffertjes, gorgeous little bite-sized pancakes smothered in butter and icing sugar. I like the ones at Cafe ‘t Smalle.


Dutch food is quite hearty: thick soups; stamp-pot – a mashed pot of potatoes and veg; sausages and fried croquettes, like bitterballen which they like to dip in mustard. The Dutch like dairy a lot too and eat a lot of cheese – mostly their famous Gouda, which comes in a large variety of ages for different tastes. Go to Tromp on Elandsgracht for tastings and to buy some to take home:


And of course you mustn’t come away from Amsterdam without tasting some of their famous apple pie (visit Winkel or Cafe Papeneiland – both at the top end of Prinsengracht by Noordemarket).


For evening meals my favourite places are Cafe Reiger, Balthazar’s Keuken and a recent find, Cafe het Molenpad. Dinner seems to start early and I found over the weekend that restaurants were filling up from about 6.00pm.

Cafe de Reiger

Cafe de Reiger

Drink: The Dutch are great at coffee so you’ll have no problem getting a good coffee anywhere, and it nearly always comes with a little treat of a biscuit or small slice of cake. With the Heineken brewery in the city and local Amstel beer, they’re also big beer drinkers. A visit to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ microbrewery, which I did with my daughter a couple of years ago, is a good outing. My favourite drink – at night after a meal as a digestif – is Oude Genever, old gin. Served cold in a small liqueur glass, it’s topped right to the brim and the local way to drink it is not to try to pick it up, but bend down and sip it. My favourite cafe for it is Cafe Chris, dating from 1624 and the oldest cafe in the Jordaan. It’s a really fun place to end a day.


Alternative life: There’s a strong ‘alternative’ culture in Amsterdam so you’ll see juicing bars and vegetarian and vegan restaurants; organic clothing and lots of yoga places, chiropractic, etc. It seems to me another aspect of their down-t0-earth pragmatic nature, and living a simple life. They are very open in their living and you’ll notice windows rarely have closed curtains – you walk along narrow roads and see straight into people’s lives. I was told this stems from the strong Calvinist heritage when there were strict rules about talking or being seen with a Catholic or Jew. Thus an open-view window is saying, ‘I’ve nothing to hide.’

Coffeeshops: Never mistake a ‘coffeeshop’ as somewhere to have your morning coffee! Most people know this, of course, but the famous coffeeshops selling cannabis are still much in evidence, despite new laws tightening control on them. I regularly passed several over the weekend with people sitting outside smoking joints. And these weren’t hidden away; they were on the main streets.

Hazards: Well, this is what you need to watch out for! Number One, of course, are the bikes. In Amsterdam the bike rules … The problem with bikes is you don’t necessarily hear them and they don’t seem to ring a bell of warning. Bikes are everywhere – just look around and you’ll see people cycling and bikes chained up to railings and lampposts. Outside Central Station you’ll even see a multi-storey bike park! Another hazard unsurprisingly are the canals. They’re very pretty but you don’t want to end up in one of them. I was told it was mainly men – presumably after a few beers too many- who fell in; their bodies found with their trousers undone. Men –  just look for a proper toilet! Another hazard in the canal area are holes in the pavements. These are actually deep gaps with steps down to basements but they are rarely protected by any kind of railing or wall. As you can see in the photos below, they often stretch across half the pavement so at night can be quite dangerous. So, you’ve been warned – always look carefully where you’re walking


Another pedestrian hazard is that the cycle lanes (and for the cyclist there are wonderful broad lanes just for bikes), are often indistinguishable from the pavement for pedestrians – see photo below: three lanes, left to right: cars, bikes, pedestrians.


I’d often cross a road and find myself walking in the cycle lane by mistake, then nearly getting run down by a fast-moving bike.

Money: on short trips I prefer to take cash to see me through my 3-4 days. In some places this is the best thing as credit cards can at times be hard to use. In Amsterdam however the move is in the other direction. I found a number of places took only cards – no cash. So be prepared.

Travel: there’s an excellent frequent train service from Schiphol airport into Central Station Amsterdam which takes just 20 minutes and costs €5 each way. Once in the city, taxis can be quite expensive but there’s a great tram system (you often need to buy tickets in advance, available in a strip). And, of course, walk! It’s just the most perfect city to walk round. And don’t forget canal trips: it’s a great way to see the city and some allow you to get on and off at various sites.

Well, that’s my mini-guide to Amsterdam. I hope if you’re planning to go there you’ll find some of it useful. And please let me know of any good places you find!

Amsterdam 2016: Last Day


The sun was back for my final day in Amsterdam and as my flight home wasn’t until early evening, I had most of the day to enjoy all my favourite things in the city. There was only one direction to head and that was to the Jordaan. After breakfast, I checked out of the hotel but got them to look after my suitcase for the day. I headed out and cut through to Prinsengracht from the Rijksmuseum. First of all I wanted to go to Elandsgracht where in a toy shop window I saw lots of Miffys yesterday – but it was closed on Sunday. Miffy – the little Dutch rabbit from Dick Bruna books – is a childhood institution and I wanted to buy one for Freddie. It turned out the shop didn’t open until 1pm – common on Monday – so I’d just have to go back after lunch. But the wonderful cheese shop, Tromp, that I discoverd last year when I stayed nearby, was open. That was where I’d buy some gorgeous old Gouda to take home.



It’s the most wonderful shop. I was given a taste of a 2½ year Gouda and a 3½ one. The older the cheese, the stronger and nuttier it is. A young one just a few months old would be creamier and mild. I chose the 2½ year one: nicely nutty but not too strong for me. I bought three pieces (2 for presents) and the lady in the shop vacuum packed them individually for the journey back to London. My cheese bought, I wandered further down Elandsgracht to the bakery I also found last year.


I’d purposely had a small breakfast so I had room for a croissant here with morning coffee. I also had freshly squeezed orange juice.


There were such tempting breads and biscuits that I would have liked to bring home but I had to leave room in my small cabin-sized suitcase for Miffy! I headed back down the road towards Prinsengracht again, passing an organic butcher.


It’s a wonderful road and must be a great place to live. As I passed by Westerkerk, I could see a long queue outside the Anne Frank House even though it was early. There is always a long queue, except at night.


I was happy wandering in the sunny weather for some time and enjoying the pretty canals and houses of the Jordaan – it’s such a special place.


Nearly always in view was Westerkerk, every quarter hour sounding its uniquely Dutch bells.


At lunchtime I returned to my favourite Cafe ‘t Smalle for lunch.


I just love this cafe. It’s quite touristy in the sense that you’ll find it in all the guide books, but I always find it wonderfully laid back and friendly at lunchtime and their soup is the best you’ll find.


I chose perhaps Amsterdam’s most famous and popular soup: pea and ham. Oh it was glorious! Thick and just the most wonderful flavour. It came with the traditional accompaniment of rye bread topped with ham. I also had a small draught Heineken with it – the local brewery! I was so happy and relaxed sitting there that I then ordered tea so I could go on sitting there and reading my book. In Holland when you order tea the hot water is put in a cup and the you’re given a box with lots of different teas to choose from.


Of course – being me! – I couldn’t leave Amsterdam without a final slice of apple pie. I therefore headed a bit further up Prinsengracht to the most famous apple pie in the city at Winkel, by Noordermarkt. I first discovered it with the family about 20 years ago by chance. We were passing one morning and saw a long queue stretching outside and everyone was emerging to outdoor tables with plates of apple pie. Of course we had to try it too and were suitably awed. When I went back there a year or two ago, I wasn’t so sure about their well-cooked, softer apple filling to other pies with clear apple slices with bite. Their pastry is more cake-like too. But then I tasted it again today and if it’s a little bit different – and served warm – it’s really absolutely gorgeous!


What a way for a food lover to finish a weekend in Amsterdam. It was an enormous piece but then I had a long walk back down almost the entire stretch of Prinsengracht to the hotel. Oh, and of course I had to stop at the toy shop again to buy Miffy, who was nicely packed for the flight home!


Amsterdam 2016: Last Evening


The last evening in a favourite place on holiday should be filled with favourite things. We all like a good ending so for me, a last evening isn’t a time to try out new places but to go back to the best I know. There was no contest. I’d known exactly where I’d go on my last night even before I arrived! Favourites places are so subjective: my kind of favourite isn’t necessarily going to be yours but if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know the kind of places I like. I like informal; I’m more cafe society than high-end luxury and formality. This is partly money – I can’t afford very posh restaurants, other than maybe as an occasional treat. But more than that, I like relaxed places with a gentle happy buzz. But of course I also want to eat great food.


I’ve written about De Reiger Cafe-Restaurant before. It embodies all that is good about the term ‘gastro pub’ – top quality restaurant food in a relaxed pub-like atmosphere.


I just love the place and definitely wanted to make it back there this trip so saved it for the end. I even managed to get my ‘usual’ window table looking out on to the Jordaan world outside.


I chose a gorgeous duck confit terrine served with toasted brioche to begin.


My main was fabulous but less adventurous as it was exactly what I had a year ago. Despite some tempting specials offered, the venison with red cabbage, a baked pear and duchesse potato was too good to resist.


I chose the special dessert of chocolate and banana cake with creme anglaise to finish. The cake was wonderfully light and tasty and it was so prettily presented.


It was a leisurely meal. I’d eaten quite early and was in no hurry. I’ve noticed people do eat early here and the restaurants open early; De Reiger at 5pm. When I eventually left I made my way through familiar back streets of the Jordaan to the only place I could go to next.


My daughter Nicola and I discovered Cafe Chris two years ago by chance, cutting through back streets towards our hotel after dinner on our first night. We peered inside. Someone came out and told us it was very good. So we went in. Although I rarely drink gin at home, I love to drink the Dutch oude – old – variety as a digestif whenever I’m in Amsterdam. It’s always served in a small liqueur glass and filled right to the brim. You can’t pick the glass up at first and have to lean forward to sip. Not ladylike at all!


Cafe Chris opened in 1624 making it the oldest cafe-bar in the Jordaan and one of the oldest in the whole of Amsterdam. It’s a wonderful little bar full of lively characters. It’s just the most brilliant place to end an evening – especially on my last night of this trip.

Amsterdam 2016: And Then The Rain Came


After the glorious sunny weather yesterday, I woke to grey skies and drizzle. It had been forecast and fortunately the rain was light but I still needed an umbrella as I set off from the hotel this morning. It seemed a good day for visiting a museum or two. Staying in the Museum Quarter suddenly seemed fortuitous. Except I didn’t fancy the big major museums nearby  – the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh – that I’ve visited before. Thus I decided to head over to the Southern Canal Belt area to see something new: the Museum Willet-Holthuysen, a 17th century canal house on Herengracht that has been a museum since 1895 when Mrs Willet-Holthuysen bequeathed it to the city in her will. There is a more famous house, Van Loon, nearby but I visited that once before and my guide book promised this ‘new’ one was full of beautiful objects.

It was very quiet as I made my way through deserted streets, even though it was nearly 10am. I knew the museum didn’t open until 11am but thought I’d find it and then have a coffee in a cafe and read for a while. However, open cafes seemed thin on the ground this damp Sunday morning – or any I fancied going in. As I made my way along Herengracht I found another museum – and this one was open! The Tassenmuseum Hendrikje opened at 10.00. Now I’d seen this museum dedicated entirely to handbags listed in my guide, but it didn’t seem quite my thing. However, once found, it seemed an ideal way to escape the damp weather while I waited for the other museum to open. And it had a cafe!


The lady in reception who greeted me was so elegant and enthusiastic that I immediately felt this might be a fun thing to do. And so it turned out to be the case. For a woman who tends to buy a new handbag, use it for every occasion until it falls apart, then buys another one … well, I was remarkably delighted by this collection. I was told to begin upstairs on the 3rd floor and work my way down, moving from 16th century bags to contemporary 21st century ones.



Many of the handbags were exquisite. There was excellent information accompanying them too, charting the history of the handbag, through to the advent of the steam train in the 19th century making travel easier along with examples of suitcases and travel bags. There were the famous too, from a special bag made for Hillary Clinton in the image of her cat …


… to Alexander McQueen:


I really enjoyed the exhibition. Coming out, it was still grey and wet but fortunately only a short walk to the Willet-Holthuysen. This museum was about appreciating the house in its heyday and seeing the furniture and room layouts as they would have been.



I was less impressed by this than all those beautiful handbags. There seemed something very soulless about this former home, now museum. Yes, there’s some historical interest, but there was nothing inspiring about it. I came back out into Herengracht.


I was at the far, bottom end of the canal and a little further down was the Amstel, the wide river shrouded in mist. Nearby I found a cafe for lunch (it was in my guide book) and it looked typically Dutch and just the place for a bowl of soup as a light but warming lunch.


Cafe Langereis turned out to be OK but not special. In a city where fabulous hearty bowls of homemade soup that fill you up at lunchtime can be easily found, theirs was pretty mediocre and served with a miserable piece of toast. I was left hungry enough to have to order some bread and cheese after. However, it was a pleasant enough place to relax for a time, reading and sipping some lovely draught Leffe, before the walk back to the hotel. I walked along Herengracht until it was time to turn down towards the Rijksmuseum. I love walking along these beautiful ‘grachts’, even in the rain: Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizergracht. A ‘gracht’ is a city canal with houses on both sides. I left their peace for the busy shopping area around the Leidesplein and back to the Museum Quarter for a quiet time in the hotel before heading out this evening, my last night, in search of a good supper.


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