Sunday 6 September 2015

European Inspiration

After the joy and pain of the Festival of Quilts, we thought a holiday was in order, and while my body was crying out for a week on a beach and a good book, my mind and husband had other ideas, so a European road trip it was! As we have good friends in Hamburg, we decided to head there first, then make our way back slowly through the Netherlands – our second home.

Having spent a lovely weekend in Hamburg, we left the car and took the train to Berlin for a couple of nights. We’d never been to Germany’s capital before, but had heard great things and were not disappointed. Berlin seems to be a city in which normal people actually live, work and play… let’s face it, you have to be fairly rich to live in central London these days! There’s a good neighbourhood vibe, and though it’s a sprawling city, it’s easy enough to walk around - that’s what we do you see, wander the streets, admiring buildings, and for me, seeing quilt designs at every corner!

One of my favourite buildings that we passed on a boat trip along the river Spree, was this modern Government building, the Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt). Designed and built after the fall of the wall, it symbolises the joining of East and West Germany with ‘ribbons’ of bridges crossing the Spree. 

I am obviously a sucker for bold shapes, and I really loved the sharp angles of the roof softened by the huge circles in the walls. This building’s juxtaposition with the much older Reichstag (with exception to Norman Foster’s impressive glass dome) and surrounding museums, really sums up Berlin today, a mixture of old and new, tradition and modernity, looking forward and not back. My feet did not thank me for “doing Berlin” in a day, which I’m sure we didn’t, but I did enjoy the city a lot and look forward to going back one day.

We spent another night in Hamburg where we went out for food and drink in the hip and trendy Schanzenviertel district. The more we see of Hamburg, the more we can understand why our friends moved there. They live north of the city out in the countryside surrounded by fields, horses and gorgeous houses. Jump on a train and in 30mins you’re in the centre of Hamburg –which not only has even more amazing modern architecture and historic docks, but also multi-cultural streets such as the Schanze, full of relaxed bars and wonderful restaurants – we went to the Südhang restaurant, superb food and great wine - highly recommended!

The next day, after fond farewells, we started our week-long journey home. Our first stop was the beautiful star fort in the town of Bourtange, just over the German/Netherlands border. Justin’s love affair with the Netherlands started long before mine, and years back he bought this book… 

…which he turned to when planning another of his adventurous ‘magical mystery tour’ style holidays – he loves it! Anyway, a little history - this fortification once played an important role in the Eighty-Years-War (1568-1648) against Spanish rule, and later in smaller conflicts, but then became unused and rundown, and was finally taken off the list of military fortresses in 1851. Thankfully, since 1971 the buildings and roads have been fully renovated and today it is a working village, where ordinary people live and work. For around five months of the year it is also a tourist sight and for good reason. 

The fort is surrounded by a moat in the shape of a star, which then has high grassy banks, which you can walk along. The grounds are so well kept and on a sunny afternoon it was a pleasure to wander round while Justin got snap happy with the camera! The centre square and lanes coming off it reminded me of a Cotswold village, each of the gardens were full of flowers in bloom and veg patches overflowing with goodies – I’ve never seen so many pumpkins!

There are two restaurants, and a couple shops, plus a candle-maker. There is accommodation on Fort Bourtange, we had a room in what was once the barracks building - our cupboard bed looked very authentic! 

I highly recommend staying here for a night, it’s so peaceful and relaxing. The fort’s website is in Dutch and German, though if you find it via Google you can click on translate. The website also has a great little film - I love the dramatic music!

After a restful night’s sleep in our ‘cupboard’, we moved on, next stop Apeldoorn and the Paleis Het Loo, the so-called “Versailles of the North”. This palace was inhabited by three generations of the House of Orange, and after years of re-building and enormous restoration, is now back to its original state when King-Stadtholder William III lived here. We took the tour of the opulent rooms and halls, a little ostentatious for our tastes, but beautiful all the same. We really came to see the gardens where surprise surprise, quilting inspiration soon hit… about time I hear you say!

Sadly the box hedges all caught a disease last year, so have all been replaced, but they still looked beautiful, I love the symmetry of the shaped lawns and flower beds – these would make great free-motion quilt patterns don’t you think!

We spent the next two nights – a weekend(!) – in a campsite on the outskirts of Amsterdam. We didn’t actually camp thank goodness, but hired a so-called Wagonette at Camping Zeeburg, about 3miles outside of town. 

The site is situated on an island on the river Ijmeer and is surrounded by cycle paths and walkways – so far from busy city life. We had taken our bikes with us in the car, so on the Saturday decided to cycle into Amsterdam, something I get the feeling Justin has always wanted to do! Now, I’m not the best cyclist in the world, in fact, I’ve only been cycling in the last couple of years - when you have a cycling instructor for a husband, you finally have to give in and try! 

And I have to admit, I’m quite enjoying it, especially in the Netherlands where the cyclist takes precedence over the motorist, and sometimes even the pedestrian I felt! The designated cycle paths are lovely and wide, there are traffic lights for bikes, separate from pedestrians and cars, and it all makes sense, I didn’t even notice the difference with driving on the right. I was doing really well… until we hit the centre of Amsterdam on one of the most busiest weekends of the year. 

The town was playing host to a huge tall ships regatta – we had never seen so many people in Amsterdam! It was totally bonkers, and we decided of course to ride straight through the mayhem in front of the Centraal Station! I have to say, I did feel very proud of myself that I didn’t either hit anyone or fall off… I think Justin had a worse time of it, he was behind me (in true instructor fashion) and worried himself silly about me! Ha! The one thing I didn’t like were the motorised scooters that came flying up behind us – should they really be on the cycle paths??

Anyway, we managed to find a clear railing to secure the bikes and went for something to eat, and then a wander – Amsterdam is great for a good wander! Justin got his ‘bike shot’ and was perfectly happy, (the bike above is actually mine, she may be old, but she looked after me well!) We then headed back to the wagon and a barbecue tea at the campsite’s bar where we listened to a great live salsa band, that was until the growing crowd suddenly took to the dance floor and started gyrating Strictly-style... we quickly left them to it! We both had strange dreams that night… maybe something to do with the sweet aroma of a Amsterdam campsite on a Saturday night…

After fresh croissants from the site shop on Sunday morning, we went for a little ride around the island and crossed over into Ijburg where we found this stunning housing estate. We both love modern house design and one day would love to design and build our own home. We would certainly be looking at this town for inspiration!
That afternoon, we decided to ditch the bikes and take the tram into town, where we spent a lovely sunny afternoon wandering around the De Pijp district, just south of Centraal Station. Similar to the Schanze in Hamburg, this vibrant and cosmopolitan area is full of trendy bars, great restaurants and cool coffee shops.

For our final three days we drove down to Den Haag where we stayed in a wooden cabin at Camping Duinhorst. The bikes came out again, and we found a lovely cycle track through the sand dunes down to the seaside town of Scheveningen, where my body finally got a chance to sit in the sunshine! Alas, this didn’t last long, our luck with the sun came to an end, and we had two days of intermittent torrential rain and rainbows!

This didn’t spoil our one and only art gallery visit though, I was over the moon to find a M.C. Escher museum in Den Haag – Escher in Het Paleis - I have loved this artists’s work since art college, and have always dreamed of designing a quilt from one of his metamorphosis drawings. I love how he turns one shape into another, and plays clever tricks on the eye. 
His tessallations also scream 'quilt' at me... maybe I have this man to thank for my love of pattern. Fortunately we were allowed to take photos (no flash) so I have added to my research and will get working on my grand plan one day soon!

The more into quilting and designing I get, the more I seem to notice colour and design in everyday places, from the paving stones on the ground in the Binnenhoff in Den Haag, to the ceiling at the main station. 

I may not have spent a week in the sun doing as little as possible, but I have really enjoyed this European adventure and feel inspired and raring to go, bring on Christmas!!

Sharing some quilting inspiration with Sew Fresh Quilt's Let's Bee Social - pop along and say hello.


  1. I think that you were literally just around the corner from me!... were you in Noderstedt? There's lots of fields, horses, and the city is still pretty close to get to. The Schanzenviertel really is fun and is so diverse. I love the contrasts between modern and new and old and historical that you see in Berlin. I can't really say that it's my town, because I guess Hamburg will always hold that top of the list place for me.

    Breathtaking gardens!... how lovely! I could imagine doing some kind of FPA project that looks like that! Love the fact that you can find patterns and inspiration where ever you go.

    1. We were in Bergstedt, very nearby, it's a lovely part of the world! Thank you for your lovely comments :)

  2. What a lovely post... and a lovely holiday, too, I'm sure!!

  3. Looks like you have a lot of inspiration happening there! Sounds like a fantastic trip, too. Lucky you.

  4. Sounds like you had such a wonderful vacation and your photos are gorgeous. I've noticed the same thing in my life: the more I learn about design, the more I see patterns and design everywhere I look! Thanks for letting us share in your adventure!


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