Last week, I spent an afternoon in my hometown. Yes, I did! Starting off with lunch at Gartine, a small restaurant that specialises in mouth-watering, organic food and serves lunch, cakes, and high tea using home-grown ingredients from the proprietors’ kitchen garden and orchard in the Beemster. Gartine is in the Taksteeg, an alleyway between Kalverstraat and the Rokin. Exceedingly popular amongst those in the know, and with only about twenty covers, I definitely recommend reserving for lunch during the week and anytime during the weekend.
A short stroll away is the secluded courtyard, the Begijnhof. Arriving here from the brash commerciality of the Kalverstraat, it’s as if one has slipped through the back of C. S. Lewis’s wardrobe into an ancient and quite different place. This enclosed former convent dates from the early 14th century. Away from the hustle and bustle, it exudes peace, with miniature houses and beautifully manicured gardens encircling a luscious green courtyard. The Beguines were a Catholic order of unmarried or widowed women who cared for the elderly and lived a religious life without taking monastic vows. The last true Beguines died in the 1970s. Contained within the courtyard is the enchanting Begijnhof Kapel, a clandestine chapel where the Beguines were forced to worship after their former Gothic church was taken away by the Calvinists.
The other church in the Begijnhof is the Engelse Kerk (English Church), built around 1392 which still serves as the city’s Presbyterian church. I confess to only visiting this beautifully austere church once a year, on St David’s Day when the church is filled with the heady scent of daffodils and the wonderful Rachel Ann Morgan plays harp and accompanies other artistes celebrating Wales’s musical heritage.
Reluctant to leave Narnia just yet, I walked through the nearby, Schuttersgalerij, which is a long corridor that forms part of the Amsterdam History Museum. Exhibited there for six months, is a 40 metres long carpet by textile artist, Barbara Broekman. The carpet celebrates the diversity of nationalities that live in Amsterdam. The artist chose a signature textile design from each country represented and put them together in a patchwork design that is an eye-watering explosion of colour and pattern. Broekman fully exploits the metaphor of woven textile, merging disparate pieces into one abundant and cohesive whole. A symbol of cultures merging together, but at the same time each one retaining its own unique heritage and richness.
Full of good food, my spirit nourished and senses uplifted, I cycled back home thinking how lucky I am to live in a city that has so many hidden gems.