Seal sanctuary on Holland’s coast

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Seals at Pieterburen rescue centre

Have you ever wondered how you go about weighing a seal pup?

It’s an odd question which I found myself asking when I visited the Seal Rehabilitation Centre in Holland.

Every year, dozens of seals are abandoned or become sick on the Dutch coast as a result of pollution or getting trapped in fishing nets.

Rescuing them and getting them back to full health involves a spell of rehabilitation including checking their health and weight.

Weighing a seal isn’t as easy as you might think. Watch this video of experts rounding up sick seal pups and putting them into a basket to weigh them.

Seal rescue

Seals are fabulous animals – large and lumbering on land but speedy on the sea which is their natural environment.

But it’s easy to take them for granted and forget how vulnerable these mammals can be.  A trip to the seal crèche and rescue centre in Pieterburen in northern Holland is an eye-opening experience.

Grey seals

Grey seals

Founded by the amazing Leni ‘t Hart, an animal rights activist, the centre is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured, orphaned and sick seals.

During the 1970s the Waddensea was seriously polluted and the seal population was being depleted as a result of the damage to their habitat.

It’s a problem that’s still affecting seal numbers worldwide today.

Lenie t’ Hart started a successful campaign to improve the environment of the Waddensea and North Sea.

Her passion for conservation also resulted in her early work rescuing the animals. She started off with one small tub in her backyard which acted as a nursing ‘pool’.

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

After fundraising, Leni went on to found the seal sanctuary which today has become a world leader in the care of sick seals.

With volunteers and a network of helpers, around 650 seals are collected from the coast every year, rehabilitated and released back into their natural environment.

The centre has evolved from basic day care for young seals into a seal hospital with facilities including a quarantine nursery, laboratory and research quarters.

Up close with seals

The Seal Centre is a great, fun place for both kids and adults  You can see the animals up close and watch their every move including feeding and frolicking in the outdoor pools.

The seals are incredibly cute and engaging but there is also a serious message. The seal is the symbol of a healthy sea. So it’s worrying that so many animals are still being brought in for rescue.

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Seal nursery – watching the seals

The seals come mainly from The Waddensea, the world’s largest tidal barrier island system, which has great importance for bio-diversity on a global scale.

Although pollution in the Waddensea isn’t as bad as it was in the 1970s, there are still environmental problems.

The Seal Rehabilitation Centre rescues seals that have been injured by boats or fishing nets and those that have been sickened due to marine pollution.  The centre also rescues orphaned pups.

The rehabilitated seals are released into the wild after their treatment which can last from several weeks to six months. None of the animals remain in captivity.

During their stint in rehab, the seals are monitored and weighed to assess their daily progress. Getting a seal onto the scales is no easy business because they’re slippery when wet. The ingenious solution is to put them in a straw basket – another tricky task!

The seals aren’t always docile during their weighing routine. They can bite and sometimes behave aggressively with each other. It’s intriguing to watch from the sidelines. I don’t envy the staff!

This is real life not a Disney movie so expect a lot of noise, commotion and even some blood!

Seal schedule

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Seals ready for release back into the sea

The nursery has a busy daily schedule which takes in everything from feeding the seals to health checks on the animals:

klok8307:00-8:30:  Preparation of food and medicines for the seals in the nursery kitchen. Each seal has its own recovery programme.  This is followed by a big clean-up of indoor and outdoor pools and hallways to ensure no infections are passed on.

klok9309:30: The vet does the rounds, checking all the seals and monitoring their progress. During these visits, the seals are assessed to determine whether they are almost ready for their release into the wild.

klok110011.00: Weighing the seals. Watch the video of this tricky activity!

klok130013.00: A busy time in the kitchen where portions of fish are prepared, weighed and divided into containers.

klok143014.30: Feeding time.  Very young seal pups get their fish in the form of a paste through a hose and funnel. Others are fed with their allowance of fish.

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Nursery enclosure

klok160016.00: Seals eligible for release are weighed. If they have put on enough weight and have sufficient strength, they are separated so they can be transferred easily into boxes for transportation.

klok70017.00: The seals ready for release are put into a separate pool area. There is fresh fish in the water so the animals can swim underwater and catch the food. From this time, these seals are not disturbed until the next morning.

klok190019.00: Feeding the rest of the recovering seals.

klok220022.00: Final checks on the seals. There is sometimes a late night round of the weaker seals.

Inside the seal nursery

Pieterburen seal sanctuary

The seals relax in the pools

Watching the seals is fascinating from the tiny, vulnerable pups in the indoor nursery to the stronger, recovering animals in the outdoor pools.

The seals receive intensive care for their health problems, mostly lungworm infections.

Once on the road to recovery, it’s great to watch their progress to health.  There’s a massive ‘cute’ factor with lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from fellow visitors. The seal pups with their big, dark eyes are hugely attractive.

Don’t miss ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’, a thought-provoking film in the visitor centre theatre. It tells the moving story of the challenges the seals face from pollution and the fishing industry.

Overfishing, polluted waters and warmer seas mean that greater numbers of sick seals are being rescued from surrounding beaches every year.

I wasn’t the only person sniffling at the end of the film when the rescued pups were released back into the sea to the sound of  Queen’s ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’.

Watching the healthy seal pups lumber down the beach back into the sea is a magical moment that leaves a lump in the throat:

The damage done to the habitats of these wonderful creatures is brought home powerfully. It’s truly shocking to see the negative impact of man on the environment.

Unique habitat

Rehabilitation of seals is not without controversy. Some critics argue that large-scale capture disrupts natural selection and weakens the wild population.

So should we let nature take its course or is it our duty to help sick animals?

I’d agree with the Seal Centre that this is not so much about letting nature take its course than mitigating against the worst effects of man’s disastrous impact on the environment.

Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea

Both Common and Grey seals live in the Waddensea which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s an important inter-tidal habitat for the seals as well as for 20 million birds.

During low tide, the seals haul themselves up onto the exposed sandbanks. They also use the land for breeding and giving birth to their pups.

The Waddensea is the world’s largest habitat of this type which means it’s important for all of us.

It’s sad to think that the seals remain so vulnerable to changes in this fragile eco-system. It’ll be a beautiful day when we don’t have to rescue the seals with teams of volunteers.

Until that time, Pieterburen is hugely valuable. Go along and visit for fun – but also take away its serious message about man’s precious relationship with nature.

Tammy’s top travel tips – Pieterburen seals

The Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre is located in Pieterburen on the north Holland coast in the Groningen region.

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Tammy outside the seal sanctuary

The seal rescue centre is open daily from 10: 00-17: 00. There’s a small admission charge for adults and children. Check out group and VIP tours. 

Although the visitor displays are mainly in Dutch, you can borrow a booklet with an English translation from the visitor desk. Staff are very happy to chat in English to explain the seal nursery activities. The film about the seals can be shown in English or Dutch – just ask at the desk.

There’s a cafe for lunch and snacks.

Time your visit.  The seals are fed daily from 11: 00-12: 00 and between 14: 00-16:00.  Look out for the seals getting weighed – it’s highly entertaining!

Pieterburen seal sanctuary

Weighing the seals at Pieterburen

Why not combine your visit with a trip to the nearby Frisian Islands and Waddensea if you’re on a weekend tour. The Waddensea (Waddenzee)  is a good place for seal watching with organised boat trips and views of seals along the sand bars around Schiermonnikoog.

Watch out for seals bobbing their heads out of the water if you take a boat trip across The Waddensea.

If you’re in northern Holland and spot a seal in distress, call 0595-526 526 to speak to the rescue experts. Once back home, why not adopt a seal?

You can watch the release of seals when they are returned into the Waddensea. Check forthcoming dates on the Lauwersoog Water Events and Pieterburen Seal Sanctuary websites. The seal release takes place on a sandbar in the middle of the Waddensea.



Good UK seal watching locations are the Farne Islands, Holy Island (Northumberland), Seal Sands (Teesside) Blakeney (Norfolk) and Donna Nook (Lincolnshire).

Cheeseburn Grange – Country Home for Art

Mach at Cheeseburn

Artist David Mach is showcased at Cheeseburn

If you have a passion for art, grab your diary and make a date to visit Cheeseburn Grange, a fantastic addition to northern England’s cultural scene.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of things to come when I visited Cheeseburn earlier this week.

Cheeseburn is the brainchild of Joanna and Simon Riddell whose vision is to turn their stunning country house and gardens into a showcase for sculpture, art and design.

Next summer, they’ll be throwing open their doors to art lovers on a regular basis and you’ll be able to browse and even buy some of the art works. View the photo gallery for an exclusive preview.

Cheeseburn Grange

Cheeseburn Grange with sculptures

Exploring the art trail

As we drove up the drive into Cheeseburn, there was an air of excitement about discovering a country home for contemporary art.

Walking through the front gardens, we happened upon an intriguing sculpture in the shape of an urn by Andrew Burton, fashioned in terracotta-coloured clay.


Andrew Burton’s Vessel

Burton reclaims and re-uses elements from his earlier works so it came as no surprise to discover that Vessel is constructed from thousands of handmade bricks previously used in other pieces.

After this encounter, the art works came thick and fast. There are 23 sculptures in the grounds of Cheeseburn plus more in the Stables and other outbuildings.

This metallic shape by Stephen Newby is one of several pieces at Cheeseburn by the artist. I love its reflective shiny surface which changes as the light moves and shifts throughout the day.


Stephen Newby sculpture

Another Stephen Newby work is positioned precariously above a doorway into the gardens nearby.

Stephen Newby has been designing and making inflatable metal sculptures for interiors and architectural sites across Europe.

It’s easy to see why his pieces are so popular. They have a certain plasticity and playfulness. They feel like they’re almost part of the landscape. I love their beautiful, transient surfaces.

Art work at Cheeseburn

Newby’s  sculpture balances above the garden door

Mach’s masterworks

But it’s David Mach’s art works in the Stables that have been attracting the most interest and excitement at Cheeseburn.

Having a major international artist on board is a real coup for Cheeseburn Grange’s owners. As ever, his works in The Stables are bursting with ingenuity and inspired ideas.

David Mach art

Log Cabin by David Mach

Mach’s Log Cabin was produced by the artist after he spent time in the surrounding landscape and woods at Cheeseburn.

This maquette is formed from drift wood but provides the model for a full size building or pavilion constructed from fallen trees.

It draws its inspiration from the many remarkable trees in Cheeseburn’s grounds including this gnarly specimen with its bulbous trunk and woody tentacles.

Historic tree at Cheeseburn

Historic tree at Cheeseburn

Don’t miss the main stable block where more Mach masterworks are on display together with five of his collages which provide an insight into his way of working.

It goes without saying that Mach’s works are head and shoulders above anything else on display at Cheeseburn, although the quality of all the art works is high.

Cheeseburn is lucky to have struck up a partnership with Mach who is no stranger to North East England. His famous Train, a locomotive built entirely from bricks, is down the road in Darlington.

One of the most striking works is Mach’s Stag Head in the hay-loft. It’s one of a series of Mach’s ‘match head’ sculptures which have been shown internationally.

David Mach Stag Head Cheeseburn

David Mach’s Stag Head

Originally constructed with live matches (yes, matches!), the Stag Head sculpture was ignited and transformed leaving a carbonised surface of match heads.

It’s difficult to see this piece close-up because there’s a barrier around the space. My only criticism is that it would be better if visitors could walk around the space, get closer to the sculpture and view the work from different angles.

Mach describes himself as “an ideasmonger” who responds to all sorts of materials. The breadth of his creativity is certainly on display at Cheeseburn with a wide range of his work.

Wood is a prominent theme with three more sculptures strewn across the Stable Gallery’s floors. But one of my favourite pieces is his tilting chair which defies gravity and the laws of physics.

Cheeseburn chapel

Cheeseburn’s Catholic chapel

Over in the chapel, there’s another face of Mach’s work – a collage called Jesus Walks on Water – an impressive futuristic series of images.

It reminded me of Mach’s Precious Light show, inspired by Biblical stories, which I saw at the Edinburgh Festival some years ago. It seemed somehow appropriate to find this work in the house’s historic chapel.

A sense of the new

As well as established names, Cheeseburn also showcases a new generation of artists including Heidi Dent who has created a pendulous sculpture in the barn.

This oddly-shaped ‘teardrop’ hangs from the roof  like an ominous presence. It reminded me of something lurking in the barn of a horror movie farmhouse.

Mushroom shape by Heidi Dent Cheeseburn

Mushroom shape by Heidi Dent

I expected this work to ooze with a strange gloop but, on closer inspection, it turned into a softer, more welcoming presence.

If looks like a giant-sized mushroom with a squidgy centre. Heidi Dent’s use of materials is clever and creative – clearly, an artist to watch out for in the future.

She is fascinated by repetitive, hard work and this piece is actually made from knitted yarns. I wondered how many hours of work must’ve gone into making this striking sculpture.

Natural glories

Back in the gardens, it was time to discover works which blend seamlessly into the landscape with a series of stunning Colin Rose sculptures.

Cheeseburn art work

Colin Rose’s hovering Rope Ball at Cheeseburn

Cheeseburn’s gardens are fabulous in their own right but they come alive with the art works placed around the grounds, many in inspired locations.

Two fabulous works by Colin Rose take the form of large-scale sculptures which hover in the trees as if they’re an integral part of the landscape.

They’re amazing but slightly disconcerting. Perhaps I read too many sci-fi novels where trees become malevolent forces when I was a teenager?

Further along the path a huge acorn-like ‘Pine Ball’ sits on the branches of a tree as if autumn has gone into overdrive and given birth to a giant-sized nut.


Rose’s giant Pine Ball

Leaving behind these strange shapes, I started to question a lot of objects in the landscape including an apple tree with its bright red, luscious fruits.

I had to look closer to work out if this was indeed a real fruit tree or an art installation! It’s a tribute to Rose’s art that he manages to blur the boundaries between art and reality – and forces you to interrogate the natural world.

Apples at Cheeseburn

Apples in Cheeseburn’s orchard

Down in the potting shed at the back of the orchard, something strange was also lurking.

Several visitors were looking at a pile of paving stones, stacked in an artistic heap. Were they a sculpture or paving blocks? Watching their puzzled faces was very amusing.

Inside the shed, artist Gilbert Ward’s curvaceous wood forms – Baker’s Dozen – were impressive with their lovely, sensuous shapes which made me want to touch them (tempting but I didn’t!). 

I saw several visitors musing about whether the plant pots were also part of the bigger art work but in my mind they were just a great setting for Ward’s sculptures. 


Down in the potting shed – Gilbert Ward’s Baker’s Dozen

Strange sightings

As I walked down through the beautiful grounds, I became increasingly aware of Cheeseburn’s clever use of garden vistas and boundaries to show off the art works.

All the pieces make effective use of their surroundings. not least this metal installation by Stephen Newby which mirrors and reflects the environment around it.

Cheeseburn sculpture

Reflecting the landscape

From a distance, I spied a striking terracotta sculpture by Andrew Burton on top of the main garden wall.

There’s a real sense of motion about the sculpture which depicts cattle pulling a huge architectural structure like a giant wagon train.  It’s strangely reminiscent of David Mach’s Train in Darlington.

Cheeseburn art work

Look out for art in unusual places

Garden sculptures

One of the most enjoyable sections of the art tour is the formal garden which is home to around a dozen pieces ranging from small figures to larger abstract shapes.


Figures by Joseph Hillier in the garden

Joseph Hillier features prominently but here his work takes on a human face with this lovely work featuring two figures face to face.

Over on the lawn there’s another Hillier figure – Origin – which depicts Adam holding a tempting apple. There are shades of Antony Gormley but Hillier is very much his own man.

Just when you think that Hillier is all about figurative art, he confounds us with a series of abstract sculptures including a large ‘egg’ covered in what looks like a plastic sheet.

Turns out it’s actually made of bronze and resin.  A cunning trick from this inventive artist.

Cheeseburn art work

Hillier’s Untitled ‘egg’

On a similar theme, Hillier’s ‘mesh’ sculpture in stainless steel – Lure – also plays with space, materials and scale.

Looking like it has risen organically from the land, I couldn’t decide whether this work is sci-fi inspired or rooted in nature. It seems to be a curious companion piece to the nearby mysterious egg.

Hillier's perfect mesh object

Hillier’s stainless steel egg-like Lure

Over in the rose garden, there are some very different works by artist Daniel Clahane who specialises in relief sculptures made from stone.

They have a classical quality and, although I admire them for their craftsmanship, they’re my least favourite works in the gardens.

On the plus side, they have a softness and fluidity which seemed to appeal to a lot of art lovers who were extolling their virtues.

Cheesburn figure

Daniel Clahane’s female figure

Country walk

Back out in the grounds, there are yet more treats in store. Artist Andrew Burton has created a clay tyre in a small outbuilding, which  seems to echo the days of tractors and farming at Cheeseburn.

Clay is Burton’s trademark material and it works well here to represent a very different material and texture – rubber.


Andrew Burton’s tyre in clay

As you move back towards the house, there are interesting works by the tennis courts from artists working in a variety of materials ranging from natural stone and wood to man-made materials such as steel.

Being a big fan of nature, I enjoyed a group of small tree sculptures which reflect the spirit of the woodlands surrounding the country house.


Art rooted in the environment

Arriving back at the country house, I revisited the David Mach sculptures which are the stars of the show. I’m looking forward to Mach’s future artistic collaborations with Cheeseburn.

But Cheeseburn isn’t a one trick pony. There are many artistic highlights from Colin Rose, a personal favourite, to rising stars like Heidi Dent and Joseph Hillier.

The collection is beautifully presented with a great selection of pieces displayed in intriguing locations.

Let’s hope that more international artists are attracted to showcase their work here. Cheeseburn would be a great home for the likes of Antony Gormley and Andy Goldworthy.

Cheeseburn is a country home for contemporary art – what a fantastic vision!.

Tammy’s top tips – Cheeseburn Grange

Cheeseburn figure

Human figure – Joseph Hillier

Cheeseburn Grange is located east of Stamfordham on the B6342 in Northumberland in North East England.

It’s a 30 minute drive from Newcastle upon Tyne.

The art works are only viewable by the public on selected dates during the year so check opening times.

Cheeseburn hopes to host regular open weekends in the summer of 2015.

Look out for future events on the Cheeseburn website. Artist talks, film screenings, lectures and workshops are also planned for the future. Follow Cheeseburn on Twitter.

When going on the art walk, wear sturdy boots as the grounds can get muddy underfoot.

Visit Tammy Tour Guide’s Cheeseburn art trail in this virtual photo gallery trail.

Click through the images to go on a complete guided tour of the grounds.


Brussels in a camper van!

Grand Place Brussels

Grand Place Brussels

Have you ever hatched a holiday plan that sounded fantastic but turned out to be a really terrible idea?

Well, our holiday trip to Brussels in the camper van was one of those moments. Holiday craziness took over from rational thinking.

I’d read that Brussels was a spectacularly unfriendly place for motor homes but still thought we could find a clever way of  ‘doing the city’ in the van.

Camper van hell

Mannequin Pis Brussels

Brussels – the Mannequin Pis

Brussels is a very busy capital city with its mix of European Union bureaucrats, tourists and hard-working locals. It’s also a major transport cross-roads where all routes seem to converge.

As a result, it’s a strong contender for the title of ‘most congested city in Europe’. Worse than Rome. More clogged-up than London and busier than Paris on a bad day.

Brussels traffic

Brussels traffic – don’t expect a parking place

So why venture into the city in a motor home? Laziness and convenience, I guess. I thought we’d save time and hassle by heading to the city centre and by-passing a long ride into town by public transport.

The alternative was to park a very long way out-of-town and travel in by bus and tram, wasting hours of time.

As we drove into Brussels, the traffic got busier and busier. Eventually we came to a complete standstill in a tangled jam of cars, lorries and white vans which barely moved . We should’ve turned back there and then.

Waiting in the traffic we kept up our spirits by planning an action-packed itinerary full of museums, galleries, beer drinking and tours of Tintin territory.

Tammy at Comic Strip Museum Brussels

Tammy in Tintin territory

I was delighted to discover that our Camperstop Guide book had listings for motor home parking in the city centre, although the small print did warn us that overnight stays were forbidden.  We set the GPS to navigate to the recommended car parks.

It wasn’t long before we realised our mistake. After being stuck in another huge traffic queue which crawled along for nearly an hour, we were no further forward. It was nearly lunchtime and we were way behind schedule.

Grand Place Brussels

Missing valuable cafe time in Brussels

After long delays, we arrived at our destination – a car park with camper van spaces near the Royal Palace.

Unfortunately, the police had commandeered the car park and it was surrounded by yellow tape to stop anyone parking. Lesson number one – never assume you’ll find a parking spot close to the city centre.

Not to be defeated, we tried another recommended car park. This one was now a construction site where an office development was springing up. So far, so bad…

Driving in circles

Things were looking dodgy as we drove in ever decreasing circles looking for a parking space big enough for the truck. As time ticked by, we hit another horrendous traffic jam into the city centre. And it wasn’t even rush hour!

A detour down a side-street, as a result of road works and diversions, started the alarm bells ringing. As the streets got narrower and more congested, the camper van squeezed through at snail’s pace with barely a millimetre to spare on each side.

Tammy in Brussels

We should have taken a tram not the van

“Which idiot thought this was a good idea?”, shouted Tony who was getting angrier by the minute. “It was both of us,”, I replied as his temper flared up and the language became unprintable.

After another diversion and GPS meltdown, we got stuck in the neighbourhood of Ixelles – where a series of one-way streets went round in a perpetual loop. It was also white van delivery territory with vehicles blocking every inch of road space.

It took another 30 minutes before we could escape but further blockages lay ahead. Finally, red-faced Tony decided on a change of plan. We would abandon the plan and drive miles out of the city centre to look for parking.

After half an hour of driving, the GPS took us to a large car park on the far side of the city near the Heysel Stadium.

Imagine my surprise when I spotted the iconic symbol of the city, the Atomium, out of the corner of the car mirror . Yes, we had arrived at Brussels’ exhibition and conference parking centre!

The Atomium Brussels

The Atomium Brussels

To be honest, I’ve never been so pleased to see a car park. After parking up, the air of grumpiness continued as we caught the nearby tram into the city, a journey of 30 minutes. At least it was completely relaxing and lacking in traffic stress.

Lesson two – always start with the easiest parking option in a busy capital city, even if it involves multiple tram and underground journeys!

Discovering Brussels  

After a bad-tempered start to the day, finally we hit the streets of Brussels and our frayed tempers disappeared as we visited a fabulous Belgian chocolatier.  The amazing healing powers of chocolate!

Tammy with chocolate in Belgium

Tammy’s chocolate fix

A trip to the city’s museums and galleries also restored our spirits – and by the time we hit the fabulous Grand Place for a Belgian beer in the late afternoon, we’d forgotten the trails and tribulations of the traffic (almost).

OK, I admit that it was a dumb idea to take the camper van into Brussels city centre. Even madder than driving our previous motor home into the crowded streets of historic Prague. That was an accident incidentally – the GPS hadn’t been working!

But Brussels should learn from other European cities like Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Copenhagen which provide city camping and parking for motor homes close to their centres.

Amsterdam City Camping site

Amsterdam City Camping site

There are no overnight motor home sites within easy reach of Brussels – and directions to parking for RVs are non-existent. You have to drive miles out to towns like Lier and Antwerp to find a place to stay.

Fortunately, we managed to spend the night with our lovely friends who live in Overijse, 40 minutes drive from Brussels. But even that driving experience was like running the gauntlet with huge jams and traffic congestion day and night.

To be frank, Brussels should put up signs on its city limits saying ‘Camper Vans NOT welcome’. Given that our truck is the size of delivery van and not a massive RV, it seems a little harsh to be so biased against visitors in smaller motor homes.

Camper van

Our small van found it tricky to overnight in Brussels

Even London has parking for vans at Abbey Wood and further out in the Lee Valley whilst the O2 Arena had good motorhome parking and it’s close to the Tube.

Brussels should think creatively about motor homes rather than having a blanket ‘no go’ attitude. Nearby Antwerp is a case in point. It has a good quality city centre motor home site at Vogelzang park, a short tram ride from the historic quarter. Even Bruges has decent quality van sites within easy cycling distance from the centre.

Antwerp camper van site

Antwerp camper van site

Perhaps a well-designed, overnight site near the Atomium would be the ideal solution?

Until then, the camper van will be staying away from Brussels and we’ll be visiting the city by plane or train. Brussels is a fascinating city but it’s no wonder Tintin and Snowy never travelled by camper van!

Tammy’s guide to Brussels

Stay out of the city centre if you’re in a car, motor home or camper van. Don’t even think about getting close to the Brussels’ conurbation which is hugely congested.

There are some great attractions to visit in Brussels as well as fabulous architecture to soak up. If you’re on a short vacation, head for the spectacular Grand Place for a historic tour of the square’s architecture. Enjoy an authentic Belgian beer in one of the many cafes.

Brussels - Grand Place

Brussels – Grand Place

Art lovers can enjoy the city’s excellent galleries including the Magritte museum, the Comic Strip Museum and the extensive collection of the Fine Art Museum.

The fabulous Horta House, a must for lovers of Art Nouveau, with its fin de siecle architecture and ornate interiors.

Art nouveau Brussels

Art nouveau in Brussels

The best place to park if you’re in a car or camper van is the Atominum on the far outskirts of the city where there are fast tram and metro services to the city centre.  The journey takes around 35 minutes.

There are also small RV camping areas at Oudenaarde and Overijse, quite some distance away from Brussels, if you’re stopping overnight on your way out of the city.  They are not hugely practical for regular trips in and out of Brussels by public transport.

Transport in Brussels city centre is excellent by tram or underground services.

Underground train Brussels

Subway train Brussels

Mondrian – Walking a line with colour


Mondrian's Paris studio reconstruction c/o Tate Gallery

Mondrian’s Paris studio reconstruction

Fancy going inside Mondrian’s studios at the Tate Liverpool?

As one of my favourite modern artists, a trip around the great man’s work space promised to be an intriguing proposition.  And it didn’t disappoint.

This week is your last chance to visit Mondrian and his Studios at the Tate Liverpool. The highlight of the exhibition is a reconstruction of the artist’s studio at 26 Rue du Depart in Paris, as it was in 1911.

Once inside, it’s surprising how the experience sheds new light on Mondrian’s obsession with lines, geometry and colour.

Red, yellow and blue

The Dutch painter was one of the most important abstract artists of the 20th Century. He’s best known for his bold planes of red, yellow and blue.

Mondrian is one of those modern painters whose work is instantly recognisable.  So it’s intriguing to see his works in the setting of his studio, albeit a reconstruction.

One surprise is that Mondrian’s studio in Paris almost seems to become part of his art. For the first time,  I also appreciated the importance of architecture in Mondrian’s artistic vision.


Mondrian in his Paris studio

I hadn’t fully understood that Mondrian saw art and architecture as intertwined elements. For him, painting wasn’t something that simply hung on the wall of a house or office. It was a crucial part of the life of that building.

The great Dutchman told the British artist Winifred Nicholson that “the studio is also part of my painting”.

Wandering around the studio space, it’s easy to see why. Every plane is like an extension of the lines in his paintings. Even the furniture with its simple edges looks like it could be a 3-D version of Mondrian’s art.

Looking at an old photograph, it’s surprising how much Mondrian looks like an architect in his formal pin-striped suit and tie.  His serious round, black glasses also suggest a designer rather than a bohemian artist.

It’s amazing but there’s only a couple of round shapes in his studio, showing just how much Mondrian loved straight lines. A round clock and his curvaceous pipes are amongst the only curvy features.

Grid art


Composition in Line c/o Kroller Muller Museum

Mondrian loved grids – and they’re everywhere in the three studios where he worked throughout his career.

The Tate show features films and photographic images of Mondrian’s New York and London studios.

Once again, they are like one of his paintings, full of lines and bold colours.

But for me, it’s the paintings which shout out loudest and grab my attention in the later rooms in this show.

There’s a great selection of Mondrian’s abstract art from early forays into modernism to his iconic grid paintings.

An early work of crosses and slashed lines called Composition in Line (1916) is a work inspired by nature.

Another painting – The Tree – also reduces nature to a series of lines, almost like an architectural drawing of a building.

After this, things get a lot more geometrical and grid-iron in style.

In his later works, there’s barely a curved line to be seen – the linear is king!

Squares of colour

One of the great joys of Mondrian’s work is his colour, whether shown in fine symmetrical lines or in larger blocks.

I love the way he reduces his palette down to three basic primary colours.  Blue, red and yellow are the key colours in his paintings.


Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red – Mondrian

In 1921 Mondrian decided to pare his colours back to the ‘big three’.

Black also remained a constant line colour. White was the background or base layer.

This led to purely abstract works including his striking Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue, painted in the same year as he moved into the Paris studio.

This began a whole series of line paintings with small blocks of colour filling small squares.

One of my favourites is this composition (pictured opposite) with blocks of yellow, blue and red hedged in by black lines.

Sometimes I wonder if Mondrian’s fascination for lines has a strong connection to the flat, rectilinear landscapes of Holland’s farmland?

Later on, when Mondrian was living in the USA, his lines became synonymous with an aerial view of New York’s street grid-iron street patterns.

Sadly, one of Mondrian’s greatest works, Broadway Boogie-Woogie, isn’t on display in this show but you’ll find it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The power of geometry

So why a passion for three primary colours?


Composition B (No. II) by Mondrian

Mondrian’s love of strong, bright colours is perhaps a reaction to the pastel colours of previous art movements like Impressionism.

One of the fascinating things I discovered in the exhibition was that Mondrian used to place blocks of colour up and down his studio walls in London and New York.

His studios almost became large rehearsal spaces for his paintings with rectangles of colour spanning across every wall.

There’s something compelling about Mondrian’s bold vision.

He even had a great name for it – neoplasticism!

This flat-as-a-pancake abstract art was a radical departure for its time.

Its brothers-in-arms were Mondrian’s fellow De Stijl painters and Russian precursors like Malevich.

Mondrian’s new plastic painting has also been incredibly influential in modern design, something which isn’t covered in depth in the Tate show. A bit of a missing link, if I’m honest.

Fashion designer Yves St Laurent designed his Mondrian day dress in 1945 complete with stripes and small blocks of colour.

In recent years, The White Stripes referenced Mondrian’s style on the cover of their album, De Stijl. It’s an interesting link because Mondrian’s art was heavily influenced by music.

He loved the boogie woogie jazz music of his time which is reflected in the rhythms of his New York paintings.

In 2013 fashion house, Alexander McQueen, designed a summer collection inspired by Mondrian and other modernist painters.


Mondrian’s Composition VI (No. 2)

It’s proof that Mondrian’s influence still continues to hold sway today.

The Tate gallery is also running an exhibition by Nasreen Mohamedi alongside the Mondrian show.

Although the Indian artist has a connection with Mondrian in terms of his fascination with lines, I was slightly confused about how these two exhibitions worked together.

This was perhaps because the Mondrian show flows somewhat unexpectedly into the Mohamedi exhibition with little explanation.

A little deft curation may have helped here.

The Mondrian and his Studios show at the Tate is a must if you’re within striking distance of the North West of England.

The great modern painter Paul Klee once described painting as “taking a line for a walk”. In Mondrian’s case, the artist is taking a whole series of lines and primary colours on a stroll. A journey of geometric discovery.

When it comes to colour and geometry, there’s no denying that Mondrian is the master. Geometry has never been such fun.

Tammy’s guide to Mondrian

The Mondrian and his Studios exhibition continues at the Tate Liverpool until Sunday, 5 October 2014.  There’s an admission price to this temporary exhibition.

Tate Liverpool is located within the Albert Dock complex on the Liverpool waterfront. Car parking is located nearby.  The gallery is open daily 10:00-17:50. Twitter – @tateliverpool

Tammy meets Mondrian at MOMA, New York

Tammy meets Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie at MOMA, New York

Other good places to see art works by Piet Mondrian include:

  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • The Kroller Muller Museum, Arnhem, Holland
  • The Gemeente Museum , The Hague, Holland
  • The Guggenheim, New York
  • The Tate, London

Credits – Images from the Mondrian exhibition are courtesy and copyright of the Tate, Mondrian/Holtzman Trust, Museum Folkwang Essen, Netherlands Institute for Art History and the Kroller Muller Museum.

© Tate Photography, 2014.

© 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA

Stockholm’s Archipelago and 1,000 Islands


On the seas – Stockholm

Guest blog by Tony van Diesel

Tammy and I had such a good time in Stockholm last summer that when I got the opportunity to re-visit the city for a couple of days work, I jumped at the chance. 

So what do you do when you’ve got only a few hours, and both I and my colleague Richard had been there before? 

Of the attractions both of us had missed on previous trips, the Abba Museum was quickly ruled out due to it looking a bit crap  (I’m sure it’s lovely if you like that sort of thing!).

On the water


Sailing in Stockholm

We decided to get onto the water and booked onto a short boat trip around Stockholm’s Archipelago.

Stockholm is built on hundreds of islands, large and small, and this was a great way to get a different view of the area.

We were on board the 1906-built Ostana, and went on a three-hour tour from the central quayside of Strandvagen.


Tony on board the Ostana

Island living

It turned out to be a wonderful insight into the lives of Stockholmers – there is about one boat per 10 of the population.

We passed waterside houses both opulent and modest, each with their own jetty.

It seems to be the place to live, with access to the safe waters of the Baltic at the bottom of your garden.


House with a view Stockholm style

Yachts, canoes and speedboats were scattered everywhere.

One of the smaller islands with just one house on it had been sold the previous year for almost a million euros.

If only I’d been told, I’d have been bidding. Not sure what with though… although it would be tempting if I win the Lottery! 


Your own private island for a million

Getting out on a boat excursion around Stockholm’s Archipelago makes you realise that it doesn’t take long before you can escape the city’s crowds to discover peace and tranquility.

It’s a must for lovers of the wild side of life – and for anyone who fancies buying a small island and a boat!

Stockholm – Tony’s travel tips


Stockholm’s wilder side

The Stockholm mini-archipelago tour can be booked online – which is probably a good idea in high season.

We just turned up and jumped on. There’s a restaurant on board – booking essential for that, although you can get drinks and a sandwich if you can’t get a seat.

Wrap up warm – it’s always colder on the water than you expect, even in summer and autumn.


Wrap up warm on the water

There are a range of tours, starting with the harbour hop-on-hop-off service which is a great way of seeing the central area of Stockholm.

Longer tours can take up to a whole day and take you into the outer areas of the archipelago where things are even quieter. Look out for the 11 hour Thousand Islands Cruise where some of the most beautiful islands await you.


Calm seas and sunshine in summer and autumn

Boat trips run from Nybroplan to the Archipelago islands and Fjaderholmarna (the inner city archipelago).

There are also boat excursions to Sandhamn, Vaxholm’s island fortress and nearby Royal Haga, if you’re looking for other destinations.


Stockholm’s harbour

Historic steamer boat trips go from Stadshusbron (City Hall) to Drottningholm Palace in the summer and autumn.

The trip takes you across Lake Malaren to this royal palace, one of the popular and busiest tourist attractions in Stockholm.  

Drottingholm Palace Stockholm

Arrive at Drottingholm Palace by steamer

Stockholm can be reached from the UK by plane from Edinburgh or London Heathrow airports via SAS. The flight takes approximately one hour.

Read more about Stockholm’s attractions and great places to visit on Tammy Tour Guide’s earlier blog post about the city.


Island living in Stockholm

Eating out 

Eating out in Stockholm can turn out to be a scarily expensive operation.

We ate out twice, once at Eriks Bakficka, Fredrikshovsgatan 4 which specialises in traditional Swedish fare – I had a really good fish and seafood casserole.

Main courses were between 180 and 300 SKE. Good atmosphere, and the feel of an establishment that is comfortable in its own skin.

Stockholm's Gamla Stam or Old Town

Stockholm’s Gamla Stam or Old Town

The second night was a total contrast.

Having failed to get a table at our Trip Advisor-inspired first choice, we went for a Mongolian buffet.

Mongolia Djingis Khan Barbecue on Sveavägen 36, at 190 SKE for all-you-can-eat turned out to be a kind of weird choice for Stockholm, but it must be hard to find anywhere else as cheap.

Perfectly decent food, either from a buffet or cooked to order – you pile your plate high with raw ingredients and they stir-fry them for you.

I’m not sure how authentically Mongolian it is, but then it’s not authentically Swedish either.

Who cares at that price?

Getting around 

Getting around Stockholm by boat is easy and cheap. Buy a hop on, hop off boat ticket with stops close to the city’s main attractions.

Also look out for the ‘jump on, jump off’ buses if you’re going sightseeing.


Hop on, hop off boat in Stockholm


Eltham Palace – Dream house with Art Deco style

Eltham Palace entrance hall

Eltham Palace entrance hall

Eltham Palace is my ideal dream house. I’ve always wanted to live in an Art Deco mansion with stylish and glamorous 1930s interiors.

Walking through the house and gardens, it’s easy to conjure up images of the Courtauld family and their posh friends drinking martinis, playing tennis and partying.

The 1930s was a golden age of flamboyance and luxury, if you were rich – and the Courtaulds were wealthy beyond most people’s wildest dreams. They’d made their money from rayon and textiles.

They were so filthy rich that they spent most of their leisure time cruising in their yacht and touring abroad.

Egypt, South Africa, Ceylon and the South China Sea were some of the exotic stop-offs on their tours. What a pity that they didn’t write a travel blog on their vacations!

Their house at Eltham is so beautiful that it’s criminal that they spent so much time away from it.

Eltham Palace

The gardens at Eltham Palace

Fit for a king

Eltham was originally a moated manor house built by the Bishop of Durham, Antony Bek. In 1305 the Bishop presented the manor to the future king, Edward 11, who developed it as a royal palace.

Eltham Palace's Great Hall

The Great Hall – the only surviving building from the early palace

By the early 14th Century, Eltham had become one of the most important royal palaces in England.

The medievel Great Hall was built in 1470 by King Edward IV with a spectacular wood beamed roof.

Back in 1482 the hall was the venue for 2,000 court guests eating Christmas dinner.  What a feast it must have been!

Under King Edward III the palace became popular for jousting and tournaments which took place in the tilt yard.

Close your eyes today and you can almost hear the thundering hooves of the horses and cries of the crowd during the jousts.

Later, King Richard II created the garden so that he and his queen could enjoy dinner outside in the summer.

He also had a dancing chamber and bath house built. Even in medieval times Eltham was renowned for having all ‘mod cons’.

Eltham is most famous for being one of King Henry VIII’s favourite royal palaces and parks. It was one of only six palaces big enough to accommodate and feed the king’s enormous court of 800 people.

During the 1530s, it was eclipsed by Hampton Court which was easier to reach from London. The Tudor monarchs became less frequent visitors and Eltham started to fall into disrepair.

Eventually Eltham reverted to being used as a farmstead and its picturesque ruins became popular with Romantic painters like J.M.W.  Turner.

Palatial style

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace’s palatial style hits home when you arrive at the gates and walk across the stone bridge into the courtyard.

The imposing moat creates a strong sense of regal power and strength.

The gardens provide a glimpse of what life must have been like in the 15th-16th centuries with remains of the inner gatehouse, grotesque heads and the stone towers of the early moated manor house.

The lawn was partly excavated in the 1950s and 1970s to reveal a great hall floor and a vaulted cellar.

This is great place for both kids and history detectives keen on exploring the palace’s nooks and crannies.

The ruins and gardens provide a compelling journey back through time but the big star attraction is the later 1930s Art Deco house.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace gardens

Art Deco style

In the 1930s the Courtauld family acquired Eltham and set about transforming it from a wreck into an Art Deco masterpiece.

The new house was designed for the Courtaulds by the architects Seely and Paget and some of the top contemporary designers of the day provided the creative inspiration behind its exquisite interiors.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace entrance

This is a theatrical experience as much as a trip around a posh home, starting at the house’s entrance with its grand curved entrance colonnade, copper-clad pavilions and imposing courtyard.

Everything is in the best possible taste. Even the arches of the colonnade were inspired by Christopher Wren’s designs for Hampton Court and Trinity College Library.

Eltham Palace

Colonnade decoration

This is a house designed with sophistication and status in mind. The Courtaulds wanted a home where they could entertain their friends from the worlds of film and the arts.

Their famous visitors would include Queen Mary, Michael Balcon (Head of Ealing Studios), the conductor Malcolm Sargent and film stars.

Not everybody liked the house’s style. One architect at the time compared its design to a “cigarette factory” whilst another proclaimed “romance died at Eltham” with the building of the mansion. 

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace’s moat and walls

In spite of the critics, Eltham is one of the best examples of an Art Deco house anywhere in Europe. If you love Art Deco as much as I do, it’s like being a child in a sweet shop.

In the 1930s visitors must have been surprised by Eltham’s interior which was striking and radically different from other houses of the time.

Walking into the entrance hall there’s a big  ‘wow’ factor.  Designed by Swedish architect Rolf Engstromer, this is where Art Deco style goes into overdrive.

The design is awesome with large illustrated wood marquetry panels by the Swedish artist, Jerk Werkmaster.

The bold illustrations represent the far reaches of northern and southern European civilisation. A Roman soldier and a Viking warrior guard the doors against a background of Italian and Scandinavian landscapes.

Eltham Palace

The Art Deco circular lounge

The elegant wood furniture and contemporary designs make it feel like a stage set from a Noel Coward play where everyone is drinking cocktails.

The difference is that this theatrical space is for real.  Socialising in this beautiful room must have been a fabulous experience.

Elegance and luxury

As you move through the house, it’s obvious that this is no ordinary house, even by the standards of its millionaire owners.

Eltham’s dining room is a fine example of the Moderne Art Deco style with geometrical and stylized shapes and furnishings.

But there are also elements of the classical style which reminded me of the layout and colour schemes in ancient Roman villas.

Eltham Palace

The dining room at Eltham

The striking doors are real statement pieces with their black lacquer and embossed ivory coloured decorations of birds and animals, each drawn painstakingly from real creatures at London Zoo.

Every design detail has a feeling of stylish glamour from the furniture to the wall decorations and the ceiling’s unusual light box.

Eltham Palace

Dining room door with monkey

The clever concealed lighting provides an interesting effect which makes the metallic finishes shimmer and shine.

The room also boasts an early example of a home entertainment system. A loudspeaker on the wall was wired to the record cabinet in the corridor of the great hall.

Daily lives

Every house needs a heart and the centre of Eltham’s daily life was the sycamore-panelled boudoir or study where Virginia Courtauld spent much of her time.

You can imagine Mrs Courtauld drinking tea or enjoying a gin and tonic on the massive sofa, an early example of built-in furniture.

Eltham Palace
Ginie Courtauld’s Boudoir

The stylish contemporary boudoir was presided over by Ginie Courtauld’s parrot, Congo, one of the family’s menagerie of animals.

It’s in complete contrast to the house’s main drawing-room which is more tradionally decorated with eclectic styles ranging from medieval to folk art.

Sweet dreams

Staying overnight at Eltham must have been a glamorous experience with its opulent guest bedrooms.

Eltham Palace

Virginia Courtauld’s bedroom at Eltham

But the most impressive bedrooms were reserved for the family. Virginia Courtauld’s bedroom is stunning with its circular shape, classical designs and gorgeous decorations.

Designed by Malacrida, this is one of the most opulent parts of the house – a room fit for a goddess. You would never had got me out of here once installed for the night!

Just off the main bedroom, there is a gorgeous en-suite bathroom which oozes elegance and luxury.

Eltham Palace

Gilded age – the en suite bathroom

A classical statue of the goddess Psyche presides over the bathroom which has walls lined with onyx and embellished with black slate disks.

The stunning gold mosaic niche, matching bath taps and lion’s ‘spout’ are the epitome of luxury.

Stephen Courtauld’s bedroom suite is a more restrained affair  but is still highly original in its design.

The walls are lined with aspen  and the side wall features an unusual hand-printed wallpaper depicting Kew Gardens. I’m not sure that I could have lived with its bold designs, though.

There’s a walk-in wardrobe and a fireplace with conical shelves to complete the Art Deco look.

Eltham Palace

Stephen Courtauld’s bedroom – Eltham Palace

Off to one side of the bedroom, there’s a striking peacock-blue and turquoise tiled en suite bathroom which is a lot more glamorous than my humble wash room at home.

Even the bathroom sink has a liberal dash of Art Deo style with its geometric shaped mirror and glass shelf. No detail has been overlooked.

Eltham Palace

The bathroom

All mod cons

As you walk around Eltham, it’s fascinating to see how the latest technology was used to make life as comfortable as possible in the 1930s.

The mahogany library has a recess where maps can be pulled up and down on a roller, no doubt to help the Courtaulds plan their many foreign trips.

Elsewhere, there’s a leather-panelled map room with a synchronous electric clock built into the map. It’s the 1930s equivalent of a digital clock today.

Eltham Palace

The Library at Eltham Palace

The Courtaulds loved hi-tech gadgets and the innovations were astonishing for their time.

The house is full of cutting edge technology from kitchen appliances and under floor heating to the loudspeaker system which could broadcast records around the house.

There was a centralised vacuuming system controlled from the basement, a precursor to the robotic cleaners of today.

It was accessed by special attachments in the skirting boards of each room. I could do with this cleaning system in my house today!

A house for living in

Practical designs are also seen everywhere in the house, from built-in furniture to concealed lighting.

A flower room was designed for sorting and arranging cut flowers, located close to the entrance hall. It illustrates the importance of flowers at Eltham.

The house boasted over 90 glass, porcelain and pottery vases. It’s proof that you can never have too many vases, especially if you’re rich and play host to society parties!

Eltham Palace

The flower room at Eltham

The flower room also had another unusual feature – a bamboo ladder which led up to a trap door which enabled the family’s pet lemur, Mah-Jongg, to come down from his quarters during the day.

Even the Courtauld’s pets lived a glamorous and pampered lifestyle. Mah-Jongg had his own lavish quarters on the first floor with central heating and walls decorated with Madagascan forest scenes.

This exotic pet accompanied the Courtaulds for 15 years on their travels and trips to their various homes. I’m not sure if he had a pet passport or not!

Eltham Palace

Mah Jongg’s luxury cage

Another modern feature at Eltham was its cutting-edge communications technology. The family commissioned Siemens to install a sophisticated private internal telephone exchange throughout the house.

For those who wanted to make outside phone calls, there was also a 1930s coin-operated telephone booth for house guests.

Located in a small recess off the entrance hall, it’s fun to imagine the Courtauld’s troupe of visiting friends ringing their mates.

Eltham Palace old phone

Coin operated phone box at Eltham

Garden delights

The Courtaulds were keen horticulturalists so it’s worth spending time looking at their impressive gardens, if you’re interested in plants and landscape design.

A quick tour of the grounds takes you through the sunken rose garden, the herb garden and the rock garden which drops down to the lake. 

The loggia, pergola and triangular garden are pretty places to stop and admire the wisteria in summer. In spring it’s worth taking a walk through the bulb meadow and woodland garden

A huge weeping willow is a distinctive feature of the main gardens which was added by the Courtaulds next to Richard II’s 14th Century moat bridge.  It’s also a popular spot for a picnic.

A place of surprises

Eltham Palace is simply one of those places which is constantly full of surprises.

Eltham Palace

Garden statue

Walking through its rooms today is a slightly surreal experience.

It’s almost as if the family had popped out for croquet or a game of tennis in the garden.

It also comes as a surprise to discover that the Courtauld family lived here only for eight years until they moved to Scotland in 1944.

Later, they lived abroad in Rhodesia and then Jersey until their deaths in the 1970s.

Just like Eltham Palace during Henry VIII’s reign, its owners grew tired of this wonderful place, moving on and abandoning this jewel of a house.

Today’s visitors to Eltham can indulge themselves in the millionaire lifestyle for a few hours as they stroll around the spectacular Art Deco house.

Eltham Palace is one of those houses which is haunting and unforgettable. Don’t miss it.

Tammy’s travel guide – Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace

Picnicking next to the moat

Eltham Palace is located in Eltham near Greenwich in South East London.

It’s a 25 minute train ride from London’s Charing Cross station with regular services every 20-30 minutes. From Eltham station it’s a short 10 minute walk to the gates of the house.

Check the ever-changing opening times. Eltham is open daily Sundays-Thursdays but closed on Fridays and Saturdays during the main season.

The house is closed between 1 November-2014 and 15 February 2015 for the winter season.

There’s an admission charge but entry is free for English Heritage members.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace

Portland, Maine – Culture, coffee and city life


Portland city centre

Portland is one of my favourite small American cities with its vibrant cultural scene, coffee shops and street style.

Its relatively small size and lack of pretensions make this an authentic and relaxing city to hang out in.

It has that great combination of arty attractions, a fabulous waterfront and a bohemian feel, topped with lashings of history and street culture.

Set in the lovely Casco Bay, Portland is a city for hipsters and art lovers. It also boasts seven lighthouses, reflecting the city’s maritime history and importance as a port.

Like many older industrial cities, Portland has reinvented itself in recent decades with a revitalised waterfront, brimming with restaurants, bars, cafes and shops.

Its red brick, 19th Century buildings have been preserved and brought into the modern world with an injection of contemporary style. Many have been converted to gallery spaces, coffee shops, boutiques and hotels.

We stayed at the historic Portland Harbor Hotel not far from the waterfront, a great spot for exploring the city.

Once you’ve strolled along the waterfront and have enjoyed a beer in a charming bar, head into the back streets where you’ll discover some excellent specialist shops and coffee bars.

The city has reinvented itself down the centuries, evolving from its original settlements of New Casco and Falmouth Neck into Portland in the late 18th Century.

Today it’s a booming tourist destination with a rich history and impressive waterfront, a short drive from Boston.

Portland’s cultural scene

Portland boasts a lively cultural scene with the Portland Museum of Art at the heart of its Arts District.

The gallery is one of my favourite cultural haunts in Maine seaboard with cutting edge contemporary works sitting alongside classic painters and American masters like Winslow Homer.

It’s the city’s prime haunt for culture vultures, housed in a building which reflects the city’s ability to look back and forward  simultaneously. The museum is actually four buildings which have been conjoined together.

Portland Museum

Portland Art Museum by Pei

The gallery’s modern extension – the Charles Shipmen Payson Building – was designed by I.M. Pei, best known for his controversial Louvre glass pyramid in Paris.

He has designed a building that merges the old and new. It fits completely with the heritage district which surrounds it. The design acknowledges Portland’s red brick heritage whilst adding a modern, geometric twist.

From the outside it’s an unshowy affair but its architectural punch goes into overdrive once you’re inside. The galleries are light and airy spaces which show off  the contemporary art collection and its changing exhibitions to their very best.

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Inside the foyer – Portland Museum of Art

Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the old building meets the new which is no bad thing.

It’s an impressive building to walk around with a relaxing cafe in its basement, if you feel the need to chill out surrounded by the museum’s colourful glass collection.

If traditional architecture is more your style, it’s worth seeking out the McLellan House at the far end of the museum. Built in 1801, this Federal-style mansion has been restored to its former glory.

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

The McLellan House at Portland Art Museum

Maine art 

Portland Museum of Art’s biggest selling point is its American art collection which stretches from takes in the colonial period and 19th Century painters who transformed European styles for an American audience.

There are the famous ‘Gilded Age’ portraits by John Singer Sargent and William McGregor Paxton; trompe l’oeil illusionism by William Michael Harnett and Neoclassical sculpture by Benjamin Akers and Franklin Simmons.

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

The sculpture court – Portland Museum of Art

If you love American landscape painting you’re in for a treat with works by luminaries such as Winslow Homer, Charles Codman, Harrison Bird Brown and Frederic Edwin Church.

Winslow Homer is the star turn with several of his paintings, watercolours and sketches. His paintings mix realism and impressionism, giving both styles a distinctly American edge.

I love his expressive seascapes which ooze with drama – one of my favourites is Weatherbeaten which shows a raging sea hitting a rocky shoreline.  It’s an evocative work which captures the essence of the Maine coast.

I was surprised to learn that Winslow Homer had a moment of self-discovery after a visit to the “small fishing village of Cullercoats” in North East England as a young man. It was here he discovered his passion for depicting real life  – and the sea.

Who would have thought that this great American painter had been inspired by a place near where I live?!

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Winslow Homer’s Weatherbeaten – 1894

There’s also a chance to see how Winslow Homer worked in his studio including his paints, oils and sketch books.

If you’re lucky, you can book a special trip to Homer’s Studio in Prouts Neck where he lived and painted many of his masterpieces from 1883 until his death. 

Sadly, these trips only run on Mondays and Fridays in the summer – and even odder times off-season so we weren’t able to make this pilgrimage  – a real disappointment.

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Bellow’s Matinicus – lobstermen in Maine

One of the things I love about the Portland Art Museum is its collection of art works inspired by Maine. In the 19th and early 20th Century, Maine was a magnet for artists who sought inspiration from the area’s natural beauty.

The museum’s collection also reflects the flowering of artists’ colonies in places such as Ogunquit and Monhegan Island.

Homer also inspired a new generation of realist painters from Robert Henri and George Bellows to Edward Hopper and N.C. Wyeth.

My favourite work in this collection is Bellow’s Matinicus (1916), a fabulous image of a coastal town in Maine.

Best known for his gritty urban realism and  ‘trash can alley’ works in New York, this is a very different study of life in a small coastal town in New England featuring lobstermen at work.

Impressionism and European art

Renoir at Portland Art Museum

Confidences by Renoir – Portland Museum of Art

There’s plenty of unexpected treats too. I didn’t realise that the museum had an impressive Impressionist art collection

Renoir, Sisley and Monet feature prominently with high quality works that were completely new to me. The works look as fresh today as they did when they were painted in the mid 1800s.

Sisley at Portland Art Museum

Sisley landscape – Portland Museum of Art

There are also stunning works by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin and Auguste Rodin.

I was puzzled why the gallery has such a great collection of these Impressionist painters whose work fetches millions at auctions.

Turns out that it’s all down to good old-fashioned American philanthropism. In 1991, Joan Whitney, a wealthy heiress and New York socialite, gave 20 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works to the Museum on permanent loan. 

One of my favourites is Monet’s landscape painting of the river Seine at Vetheuil, a beautiful scene painted in the open air by the French master.

Monet at Portland Art Museum

The Seine at Vetheuil by Monet – Portland Museum of Art

I was surprised by the range of Modernist styles featured in the collection from Fauvism and Cubism to Expressionism, and Surrealism. A really great walk through all the main periods of European art.

There are important works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst and René Magritte, to name just some of the international artists.

It’s a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the main movers and shakers in 20th Century modern art.

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Impressive modern art at the Portland Museum of Art

Coming up to date, there’s also a strong collection of contemporary art works including evocative depictions of the Maine landscape and seascape.

This is a collection that shouldn’t be missed if you’re visiting New England and Maine. It’s well worth the detour if you’re an art lover.

On the beach - Portland Museum

On the beach – Portland Museum

Special exhibitions

Richard Estes

Classic American Diner by Richard Estes

Portland Museum of Art has a great programme of special exhibitions. When I visited, the museum was hosting a retrospective of works by the wonderful American hyper-realist artist, Richard Estes.

It’s the most comprehensive exhibition of Estes’ paintings ever organised with over 40 Estes paintings, from his trademark New York City facades and scenes of the late 1960s to his widescreen, panoramic views of Manhattan.

As well as his urban images, Estes has a strong connection to Maine, having spent part of each year in the state since the late 1970s. There are stunning paintings of the coastline and atmospheric canvases featuring Mount Desert Island.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that these are oil paintings rather than photographs. It’s what you’d call ‘photo realism’ on a huge scale.  

This brilliant show has a big ‘wow’ factor with knock-out images which stay in the memory for a long time after you’ve seen them.

Here’s a selection of the works by Richard Estes – click through the photo gallery below.

After your trip to the Museum why not walk down towards the Exchange Street area with its boutiques, bars and coffee shops. Relax with a coffee and cake or chill out with an ice cream in one of the many gelato bars.

Portland is a small city with big style. Why not take time to enjoy one of the best small cities on America’s east coast.

Tammy’s Travel Guide to Portland


Portland street scene

Portland is located on the eastern seaboard in southern Maine – it’s about 1.5 hours drive from Boston. Don’t confuse the city with Portland, Oregon if you’re doing Google searches for tourist information!

Portland Museum of Art is located in the city’s Art District at Seven Congress Square. The gallery is open daily. There’s an admission charge to the main gallery and the temporary exhibitions.

The Richard Estes’ Realism exhibition continues until 7 September 2014. It’s your last chance to see the show this weekend.

Visits to the Winslow Homer Studio, 12 miles south of Portland at Prouts Neck, can be booked in advance but check for the erratic opening times. Numbers are limited for the trips which takes place on a mini bus.

Whilst in Portland, why not visit its historic monuments and landmarks including the Observatory (1807), the Tate House (1755.) and the Victorian Mansion (1858). Look out for architectural walking tours.

Portland historic house

Portland’s Victorian Mansion

The Victorian mansion is a strange Italian-villa style house built as a summer residence for the briliantly-named Ruggles Sylvester More who made his fortune in hotels.

Portland Longfellow House

The Longfellow House

The house’s elaborate interior and exterior are either fantastic or over-the-top ugly, depending on your taste.

My partner Tony screamed in disgust when he set eyes on the house and refused to go inside! 

There are many fine mansions in this area of Portland so it’s well worth a walk around the neighbourhood.

Back in downtown, drop in at the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, home to the famous 19th Century poet and Hiawatha writer.  

Sadly, you can only visit by timed tours so plan your schedule ahead. We missed out on a visit because the last tour of the day had left five minutes earlier.

Credits – Richard Estes and Impressionist images are courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art.

Other photos are copyright of Tammy Tour Guide and Tony van Diesel.

Light fantastic – Daniel Buren at The Baltic Gateshead

Tammy at the Baltic

Light fantastic

Light and colour radiate from artist Daniel Buren’s illuminating show at The Baltic in Gateshead.

What a thrill to be bathed in a rainbow of colours as you walk through the gallery’s spaces.

Before arriving at the exhibition, you’re in for a sensory treat with a wall of colour on the front of the BALTIC gallery. The colours of the art installation also illuminate the lift and public spaces as you walk around the building.

Tammy at the Baltic

Daniel Buren’s rainbow of colours at The Baltic

Daniel Buren is considered to be France’s greatest living artist and one of the most influential figures in European art.

Although I’d seen his work before, this new art show is engaging and fun with its beautiful colours and patterns. Many of the works have been created specially for this exhibition.

It also takes over the whole building. Buren has transformed The Baltic into spectacular art work.

Take the lift to the Viewing Box where’s a great view over the main exhibition space. On a sunny day, the dazzling colours bounce across the gallery like a prism of light.

Tammy at the Baltic

Prism of light from the BALTIC’s viewing box

Buren’s experiments with colour, light and reflection remind me of a modern day cathedral with stained glass windows.

The interplay of light and space creates a very clever effect especially when you’re standing some distance away.

The constantly shifting colours play with your visual senses and create changing patterns.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Close up with Daniel Buren

Close up to the works there’s a strange sense of light radiating from within with colours and shapes shifting as you move around the art works.

At certain angles you can see the simple trick of the light. The art installation stands as a plain mirrored surface.

Move a few feet and the colour reappears and illuminates the glass surface with its reflective power.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

I love the way Buren uses the light across the ceiling strips of the gallery to create the cathedral-like effect.

Stand with your head tilted on one side and you get a weird sense of space and dimensions. It’s almost like being stuck inside a weird time warp or tunnel.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Light tricks

I felt like I was trapped inside the vortex colour sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It’s also great that the artist and The Baltic have allowed photos for this show (except for professional photographers). I guess that they would have been fighting a losing battle to stop visitors snapping away.

This is ‘selfie heaven’ for anyone who loves taking shots of themselves on their mobile phone!

Tammy at the Baltic

Tammy’s selfie with the Daniel Buren works

In situ

These impressive light works have been created especially for this exhibition.

The series are called ‘Catch As Catch Can: Work in Situ’ – the large sculptural mirrors are positioned to reflect the light from the coloured windows above them.

The mirrors are 2001 metres square which means, like all Buren’s works, they are divisible by the 8.7 centimetres width of his stripes. The geomtery is lost of me but I guess the proportions have a deeper meaning?

They’re installed on frames that tilt which means that the artist has been able to play with colour, light and shapes. The spectators become part of the art works too – a great immersive experience.

Daniel Buren

Why not star in Daniel Buren’s show yourself?

It’s hard not to go mad taking dozens of photos especially on a day when the light is constantly changing.

A friend visited on a dull day and experienced a very different experience to me. So this is one exhibition that you might want to visit multiple times to witness different light patterns.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Lighting up time

Shapes and stripes

Stripes are the other big obsession in Daniel Buren’s work. When Buren rejected conventional painting, he developed the concept of what he called “a degree zero of painting”.

He developed installations and works which drew attention to the relationship between art and the place in which it is exhibited.

He started by making paintings with fabric woven with alternating bands of white and colour. Today this interest in stripes and fabric has evolved into his luminous fibre optic works.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Fibre optic work by Daniel Buren

The Electric Light series also reveals Daniel Buren’s continuing preoccupation with light, colour, space and form.

At first glance it looks like these pieces are lit from within but talking to the gallery staff, they demonstrated how the works are created by using  a light from above which drops the colour and light onto the flat surface.

It’s a clever trick which creates a luminous aura around the outer edges of the art works.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Daniel Buren’s luminous art

Made with paint, fabric, paper, tape, aluminium, wallpaper and fibre optics, the stripes have a hypnotic feel.

It’s almost as if the stripes are floating in space.

Elsewhere there are examples of other non-illuminated stripe works with bold colours and forms like this green and white, cube form installation (see below).

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Daniel Buren’s bold blocks of colour

In a similar style is a striking yellow work called Bas-Relief which is made up of 14 raised cubes.

It reminded me of an outdoor work I encountered by Daniel Buren on a visit to Paris’ Palais Royale a few years ago.

The Parisian work – called Excentriques – comprises a series of raised, coloured, circular structures covering a large city square.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic
Bas-Relief by Daniel Buren

These works feel more sculptural or architectural in form than what I’m calling ‘the light box’ fibre optic works.

The colours are vibrant and bright but their varied shapes create a strong sense of  form and geometric blocks.

Daniel Buren

Stripes as architecture – Daniel Buren

The stripes have become a signature motif for Daniel Buren – he says that he’s drawn to the stripes because of their anonymity and neutral presence.

I guess that means that the artist wants us to look at the relationship between the art and the space in which it’s exhibited rather than fixating purely on the work itself.

There is definitely a strong sensory quality as you walk through a gallery full of Daniel Buren’s art works.

So why not tread the light fantastic at this illuminating exhibition? It’s an immersive experience which is easy to be drawn into.

Daniel Buren

Sensory space – Daniel Buren

Tammy’s top tips – Daniel Buren 

Daniel Buren is showing at The Baltic gallery in Gateshead in North East England until 12 October 2014. Admission is free.

Look out for special events and talks tying in with this major exhibition including the artist Daniel Buren in conversation on Wednesday 8 October.

Daniel Buren  at The Baltic

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

The Baltic is located on Gateshead Quayside overlooking the River Tyne and Millennium Bridge.  Catch the yellow shuttle bus from Newcastle city centre or park in the nearby car park.

Constant changes in light and weather make this an exhibition that is worth seeing in different climactic conditions.

Ullswater – Messing around in boats in the Lake District

Sailing at Ullswater

Sailing on Ullswater

“There is nothing – absolutely nothing- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing.”  Kenneth Grahame in The Wind in the Willows.

Messing around in boats is one of life’s great joys, so I’m told. Sailing is the latest passion in my family – we’ve even bought a small boat.

I’ve never tried sailing before so imagine my shock to find myself clambering aboard our new boat this weekend at Ullswater in the Lake District.

Tripos had arrived from Wales after a five-hour road trip.

I’ve never been too sure about boats but my partner Tony has become obsessed with sailing over the last year. But will I catch the bug too and prove to be a competent crew member?

Sailing along

Tripos yacht

Tripos unleashed

Tripos is a 17 feet long yawl, a type of dinghy, built in a traditional style that reminds me of a Dutch yacht without a cabin.

It looks really pretty with its deep blue body, wooden masts and billowing, cream sails.

The excitement was huge as Tripos was unveiled on Ullswater’s lakeside.

The Glenridding Sailing Centre is a great place to sail a new boat. It runs classes for beginners and everyone is friendly and full of practical suggestions and advice.

Glenridding Sailing Club

Glenridding Sailing Centre

Early on, they’d twigged that I was a sailing virgin. Perhaps it was my lack of aptitude with the knots or my borrowed life jacket that gave the game away? And the look of pure fear in my eyes!

Tony had spent weeks reading up about the boat and getting up to speed on sailing techniques, having passed his dinghy and crew courses only a few months earlier.

We had all the books and theory but not much actual experience of sailing a boat this size.

We’d also watched all the classic disaster sailing movies – All Is Lost, Dead Calm and The Perfect Storm. Essential for Hollywood’s top tips on what to do when things go wrong on deck.

Sailing boat at Ullswater

Launching a boat on Ullswater

The idea was to start ‘sailing trials’ on what we hoped would be an easy stretch of water – Ullswater in the English Lakes.

But would it be a case of plain sailing or being all at sea?

Plain sailing?

As a land lover, I’ve always been uneasy on water, perhaps because of my fear of the sea. Worse still, I can’t swim which makes me feel very exposed.

Constantly, I have to remind myself that the only thing that lies between the waves and death by drowning is my buoyancy aid!

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

So Tony was sent out on his own on the boat’s maiden voyage.  “I know all the theory, it’s just the practice I need,” he proclaimed rather ominously as he launched the boat.

I blame Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books which Tony read as a child. These days he’s more likely to be spotted reading Sailing and Watercraft Monthly.

All was going well with the launch but soon Tony got stuck in shallow waters by the jetty. Fortunately for him, the sailing club’s  rescue boat was on hand to set him on a straight course.

I confined myself to taking photos from the shore and talking to the master mariners on the lakeside who were keen to observe our new boat – a Swallow Boats Bayraider 17.

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Tripos gets a helping rescue boat alongside

Putting the sails up looked slightly clumsy but soon Tony was sailing into the wind around the small island in the centre of the lake.

There was no stopping him – well, until he drifted slightly off course. His return to the jetty wasn’t too disastrous but lacked a little finesse.

I hadn’t intended to get into the boat till he’d become more accustomed to her pace and the technical stuff.

But Tony was adamant that it would be plain sailing now that he’d grasped the basics of the boat.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself taking to the water. But midway through the trip, it became clear that I wouldn’t be a passenger. I was expected to do some of the hard work on board.

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Hoisting the sails

Relaxing ride

The weather couldn’t have been better – a sunny, clear day with only a little breeze to push us along at a gentle pace. The lake was – to my great relief – as flat as a pancake.

After a bit of a scare putting up the main sail when I nearly got decapitated by a falling boom, we were off up the lake to explore its islands and bays.

So far so good. It was really great sailing along at a relaxing pace. I felt at one with nature and the scenery. A cormorant whizzed by and a buzzard hovered above on the thermals.

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Great views of the Lake District  hills

I was learning the sailing lingo too - there’s the jib, main and mizzen sails plus something called ‘the halyard’ which sounds like a character from Harry Potter.

I even had a go on the tiller and didn’t manage to crash into any other boats. This was fun despite a few glitches with the rudder and sails. Everything kept on get twisted – it was clear we needed better on board housekeeping.

Back on the quayside, after a third trip without any incidents, we congratulated ourselves on our improved sailing technique.

This sailing malarkey was better than I’d thought.

Stormy weather


Dark clouds descend on Ullswater

Next day, the weather looked ominously dark and cloudy over the lake with only a few gusts of wind.

We figured that it mightn’t be ideal sailing weather but decided to head off anyway.

After a smooth launch, we headed up to Norfolk Island in the centre of Lake Ullswater but it soon became clear that not all was well.

The centreboard had become stuck. A loose string has become wedged in, looking it up and reducing the boat’s ability to sail and keep in line.

Ullswater paddle steamer

Watch out for the Ullswater paddle steamer

Despite repeated attempts to dislodge it, it wouldn’t budge. We were stranded in the middle of the lake with the Ullswater Paddle Steamer heading straight towards us.

You learn quickly when you’re a beginner. You’ve got to keep calm and think straight. So down came the sails to stop the boat being pushed into the path of the steamer. Collision averted!

But then we were stuck, bobbing around, stranded 600 metres from the jetty.

Panic stations

I was starting to realise that this sailing adventure had turned from an adventure into a near-emergency.

With no outboard motor, we had only one choice – to row to the shore. Tony took out the borrowed oars and manfully rowed us towards the jetty.

Tony rowing on Ullswater

Tony rows for the shoreline

But the wind had started to blow a hooley and it was getting harder and harder to row against its force.

Feelings of elation had changed into frustration and fears that we were going to have to wave to the rescue boat.

Lesson number two – buy yourself an onboard motor for £550 in case of this type of emergency.

Finally, we made it back on shore feeling exhausted.

Shoreline Ullswater

Back on the shore at the sailing club

But how to fix the boat? Experts were on hand to suggest how to get the centreboard unstuck. We tried everything from a long pole to a sledgehammer and power drill.

Eventually, Tony and his new sailing chum managed to unscrew the unit and get the centreboard untangled.

Lesson number three – always check that the boat’s centreboard isn’t stuck before you leave the safe waters of the yacht club!

Stuck in the middle

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Undeterred, we decided to head back out onto the lake. A helpful sailing man advised us to stick with the jib and mizzen sails but leave the main sail down till we got into the centre of the lake.

At first, this seemed like good advice as the boat sailed along quite gently but when we attempted to put up the main sail, we were hit by a sudden, large gust of wind.

The yard (the big stick at the top of the boat) came tumbling down, I caught it before it went overboard and the boat tilted wildly over to one side.

Still, we didn’t end up in the water but my heart was beating faster and faster. The gentle experience of sailing had turned stressful.

Although we weren’t in any physical danger, it felt scary and out of control.

We limped back to the shore with unpredictable, ever-changing winds buffeting us around.

Trying to manoeuvre in any direction was really hard as the wind kept dropping and shifting. Tony was looking uneasy which didn’t help my frayed nerves.

It took what seemed like an age to get near the jetty – and eventually Tony had to resort to using the oars to get us back in successfully.

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Back on dry land

Phew – was I glad to be back on dry land!

So much for supping champagne on board during the maiden launch. That pleasure will have to wait till we know what we’re doing on board.

But I have discovered sailing in weird weather conditions, the different types of boats and the basics of what’s what on our dinghy.  It has been a steep learning curve.

Sail power

Sail power

Sailing tales

As we moored the boat, an old sailor regaled me with his Ullswater ‘disaster’ stories. There was the crew who – earlier this week – took their mast off in the trees trying to moor their yacht by a quiet bay.

Then there was the capsized boat which pulled its expert sailor underneath and tangled him up in its loose ropes. He only escaped because he had a penknife.

Lesson four – always carry a Swiss army knife close to your person.

He also suggested doing the intermediate crew course which covers falling overboard, emergencies and sailing in tricky conditions.

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Be prepared before you depart

By now, I was feeling a bit like a nervous wreck. But at least there are no sharks in Ullswater – it is, however, renowned for its tricky wind conditions.

“Experts say if you can sail on Ullswater, you can sail anywhere”, a seasoned sailor told me as I took off my life jacket.

Mucking around in boats is great fun but you need to have your wits about you. And where is Sir Ben Ainslie when you need an expert pair of helping hands?

Whilst this sailing thing is exciting, next time I go out on the water, I’ll be taking a few more precautions – a pen knife, a remote radio and an outboard motor!

Rather like this dog wearing a special canine buoyancy aid, a man’s best friend is his – or her – life jacket.

Dog with life jacket at Ullswater

Dog with life jacket at Ullswater

Tammy’s travel and sailing tips – Ullswater

Ullswater is located in the northern Lake District in the north-west of England.

The Glenridding Sailing Centre is located in Glenridding village. The club runs classes and courses for all abilities and age groups. You can also hire a canoe, kayak or small dinghy. It’s a very friendly club with lots of great experts who can help.

Always wear a life jacket or buoyancy aid.  Dogs on board also need one.

Listen to the experts (not me) and tap into their wealth of experience. Learn the art of sailing - don’t plunge straight in.

Clouds at Ullswater

Check the weather

Do your homework when going out on the water. Read the weather conditions carefully, take a compass and try to judge the wind direction accurately.

Don’t go beyond your limits. Ask for help before you leave or call for the rescue crew if you get into trouble on the water.

Read Tammy’s earlier blog about getting started with a sailing boat.

For those who don’t want the challenges of sailing their own boat, try a trip on the leisurely Ullswater steamer from Howtown to Glenridding.

Ullswater Steamer

Ullswater Steamer

There are plenty of places to stay overnight in Glenridding from large hotels like the Best Western and the Inn on the Lake to smaller B & Bs or camp sites.

Zuiderzee – Holland’s best open air attraction

Zuiderzee Museum

Zuiderzee open air museum

If you’re looking for a trip back in time, Enkhuizen is the best place in Holland to experience life in bygone days.

The star attraction is the exceptional Zuiderzee Museum which recreates life in the region before the Afsluitdijk Dam was built in 1932.

The museum revives the stories of people who once lived on the shores of the Zuiderzee with an impressive collection of authentic buildings from the local area.

There’s a church, windmill, fish-curing shed, boatyard, shops and traditional houses from the area’s old fishing villages.

It’s a brilliant place to stroll back in time along the town canal and harbour, soaking up 200 years of history and culture.

Watch Tammy’s video tour of the Zuiderzee open air museum in Enkhuizen.

Walking back through time

The story of Zuiderzee is the story of a community trying to preserve its history and culture for future generations.

But this is no museum preserved in cotton wool – it is a living, breathing place with plenty of activities going on and lots of opportunities for visitors to interact with the exhibits.

Zuiderzee Museum

Recreating a community

For centuries the Zuiderzee people fought to hold back the water for centuries. They lived on the edge of a perilous watery landscape in northern Holland.

The area had a long history of floods and destruction but damaging storms and floods in 1916 were the final straw. Dozens of dykes burst, 16 people were killed and the damage across the region was huge.

There was no other choice but to close off the Zuiderzee for once and for all to protect against future flooding.

Zuiderzee Museum

The Zuiderzee today

The IJsselmeer Barrier Dam was built in 1932.  This effectively cut off the area from the North Sea and transformed its landscape. It became an inland sea – and the salt water of the harbour became freshwater.

Local people were concerned that the culture of the former Zuiderzee region would also be swept away. So the brilliant idea of an outdoor museum to recreate the culture of  the Zuiderzee took shape.

The museum village was built in the IJsselmeer, on the outside of the seawall separating Enkhuizen from the water on its east side. A peninsula was created by spraying up sand from the seabed.

Over time 130 buildings being moved to the Zuiderzee Museum site between 1969-1983. The early buildings were torn down at their original locations and reassembled brick by brick.

Zuiderzee Museum

Brick by brick reconstruction at Zuiderzee

But this was so time-consuming that the museum’s carpenters came up with a better system which involved bringing complete sections of buildings to the site in wooden and steel crates.

Some buildings, like the cheese warehouse, were even transported in their complete form.

Today you can see dozens of these heritage buildings reassembled in the form of a small town, fishing village, harbour and polder.

Zuiderzee Museum windmill

Windmill at Zuiderzee Museum

Meet the ancestors

A trip to Zuiderzee is definitely a case of ‘meet the ancestors’. The ghosts of the past have been reawakened but given a modern twist with the help of modern costumed characters.

The whole experience benefits from brilliant storytelling and fun activities strung across the expansive site.

Zuiderzee Museum

The harbour is brimming with activities

I loved watching the costumed craftspeople in the harbour mending nets, producing rope, preparing fish from their catch or working in the herring smokehouse.

I could have watched them for hours.

Nearby, the basket makers were weaving and plying their trade. I never thought I’d say this but basket making is fascinating.

The intricate craft skills have been lost in some many areas of life today. Watching these experts making beautiful baskets made me yearn for a time when people learned skills and crafts.

Basket weaving at Zuiderzee Museum

Basket weavers

There’s a whole range of traditional crafts from blacksmiths to sail makers and cobblers. Pick your trade!

Sometimes open air museums with costumed staff can feel like they’re trying too hard with ‘actors’ dressing up simply for effect.

But here at Zuiderzee, there’s a real sense of time and place. It’s like stepping back into a community before the dam was built. You feel a real sense of engagement with what’s going on. I also loved the fact that not everybody was dressed up.

At one point I watched for half an hour as simple folk were hanging out washing and going about their daily chores wearing traditional clogs.

Washing day at Zuiderzee Museum

Washing day

Scent of Times trail

Not only can you walk back  in time along Zuiderzee’s streets of reconstructed houses, shops and community buildings, you can follow your nose back to the 19th Century – literally.

The Scent of the Times trail is designed to evoke memories of bygone days. You can take in smells of the past at 20 different locations, from a burning paraffin stove to the pungent aroma of smoked fish hanging to dry.

Smoked fish at Zuiderzee Museum

Smell those smokies!

There’s even a Scent Station where your nose can be aroused by olfactory stimuli from the past and present.

This modern installation offers something different for each generation to sniff, a bit like a giant ‘scratch ‘n sniff’ card.

It’s a clever and  fun idea even if the smell of the fish was overpowering. But the whiff of beeswax and expensive perfume restored my sense of  well-being after the fishy odours!

Shopping in bygone times

Zuiderzee Museum

Chemist shop

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Zuiderzee Museum is being able to walk inside the old buildings and shops.

Pop inside the chemists and you’ll see a perfectly re-imagined pharmacy counter with its multi-coloured pills and potions.

At the back of the shop you’ll be surprised by a collection of historic heads which were once used as signs outside chemist shops in northern Holland.

These weird heads are reminiscent of ship’s figureheads or grotesque gargoyles. Perhaps they were designed to ward off evil spirits and laugh in the face of ailments and ill-health?

Zuiderzee Museum

Chemist shop heads

This fascination with heads continues over at the old toy shop with its fine collection of pre-computer generation toys.

Another large head, this time with a top hat, is prominent on the glass display cabinet at the front of the shop.

Behind it, a series of hand-made toys, funny hats and animal heads complete the surreal display. It’s a far cry from today’s computer games for children.

Zuiderzee Museum

Cabinet of toy curiosities – Zuiderzee Museum

Stories from Zuiderzee’s shores

The Zuiderzee Museum is fascinating and it’s easy to lose yourself for several hours. I lost track of the time so badly that I realised that I had only 20 minutes to run around the indoor museum.

Zuiderzee Museum indoors

Indoor museum at Zuiderzee

Inside the museum  there are fascinating displays of everyday objects from the Zuiderzee. The Netherlands in Seven Floods – The Zuiderzee enables visitors to relive the great storm of 1916 which had such a major impact on the region.

The museum’s highlight is undoubtedly the collection of wooden ships, the largest in the Netherlands.

There are interesting heritage collections including these intriguing Dutch caps, reminiscent of the costumes worn in paintings by so many Old Masters.

Zuiderzee Museum

Dutch caps

Don’t miss the  Journey around the Zuiderzee displays which present stories of life in villages around the former Zuiderzee.

At the end of the trip I felt a real sense of Zuiderzee’s history. Bringing history alive to a modern audience is a tricky balancing act.

But Zuiderzee succeeds in being fun as well as historically interesting. It’s all down to some great storytelling which took me on a journey through time.

This is one journey you shouldn’t miss.

Tammy’s top travel tips – Enkhuizen

Zuiderzee Museum

Zuiderzee Museum

Allow yourself the best part of a day for a visit to the outdoor and indoor museum. Leave enough time because there’s a lot of ground to cover. Watch Tammy’s video of the museum trip.

If driving, park up in the station car park in the town centre and head to the ferry pier.  The museum ferry will take you across the IJsselmeer to the Outdoor Museum in a short but interesting ride.

There is very limited car parking close to the museum site. We parked our camper van in the marina car park (parking tickets can be bought in the sailing shop).

Grab a map of the museum site at the entrance so you can plan your visit effectively. Look out for kids’ activities if you’re taking the family.

Zuiderzee Museum

Zuiderzee Museum

Enkhuisen is a pleasant town so leave enough time to explore its centre and perhaps stay overnight.

If you’re in a motorhome or camper van, there’s a parking area overlooking the town’s main harbour where you can stay overnight for a few Euros.

Wake up to interesting views over the harbour front and dream about having your own boat!

Zuiderzee Museum

View from the camper van parking area