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Travel not only broadens the mind, but fosters a love, respect, and understanding of cultures both close to, and diverse to our own.

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy far flung adventures in the past, and the pandemic was a stark reminder of how privileged we are to live in a world where global travel even on a shoestring budget is possible.

Now the worst of the pandemic seems behind us, and travel is opening up once again, I’ve enjoyed rediscovering countries closer to home. The Netherlands is a hop, skip, and a jump away, so I booked a ticket, and as a serial shopaholic went to explore retail opportunities overseas.

They say that sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself, and I very much enjoyed getting lost in Leiden where my interests led me to the Horticultural Gardens, where I spent a happy time marvelling at the most sensational pendents of Thunbergia mysorensis I’ve ever seen.

After the TM marvelling, I stumbled across the most gorgeous shop, Pluum, and enjoyed a chat with the owner, Nathalie, a woman after my own heart, who started it 9 years ago. It’s the most wonderful space, crammed full of heavenly things:

A chance encounter with a golden pineapple spoon at Kek Coffee and Crafts, Delft, led me to Groene Vingers (Green Fingers) also in Delft. The owner, Karin, has brought together homewares and botanicals in an enticing urban oasis:

‘t Goede Soet (The Good Sweet) in Amsterdam is a chocolate shop with nothing to prove. Started 20 years ago, it doesn’t have a website, but you can find it at Keizersgracht 95. Needless to say, the treasures I bought from owner Mireille barely made it back to my hotel.

Eponymous croissanterie Hans Egstorf in Jordaan, Amsterdam, is run by Hans, the kindest, friendliest man, who made me the most indulgent hot chocolate of my life, accompanied by one of his delectable chocoladebroodje. There’s no website, Hans doesn’t need one, his traditional bakery speaks for itself. I defy anybody not to be smitten.

Other food options that I can personally recommend are Dr Smooji near Westerpark in Amsterdam, which is a delightful juice bar with an equally delightful owner, Yalda, a brave lady who opened during Lockdown One, and who was working hard with her Dad on Father’s Day (she treated him to breakfast as a reward). The family togetherness touched my heart, as many of you will know that my dad put on a pinny and helped me out in my shop in the early days. Yalda’s Pineapple Surprise sent me to juice heaven:

Restaurant De Kas in Frankendael Park, Amsterdam, is the Dutch answer to Petersham Nurseries, with its glasshouse structure, and “plant to plate” ethos: It’s the perfect place to fall in love, over and over again.

Ok, not Dutch, but Il Pacioccone is an authentic Tuscan restaurant in Amsterdam. A romantic, family-run gem serving simple food with the best quality ingredients. At the end of my meal, the owners gave me a Brutti ma Buoni meringue-style Italian cookie, which made me smile, because the name translates as “ugly but delicious” due to their unrefined appearance but yummy taste: I took a moment to savour both the biscuit and the name, in this superficial world of ours.

De Hemel Op Aarde, a great find offering globally inspired tapas really was Heaven on Earth in Rotterdam. My dinner companion and I enjoyed lobster croquettes, carpaccio with truffle, and devils on horseback stuffed with almonds as part of our dinner:

Finally, Marlies from Healing People welcomed me with a divine cup of herbal tea, some candied figs, and a chat about the importance of posture and life balance: Marlies helped me get my mind and body back together with a wellness massage, and a reminder to take care of myself. My soul was singing when I left.

It was wonderful to meet independent business owners working in their independent shops, restaurants, cafes, and studios, telling their stories, and sharing their experiences of the pandemic. The most important thing is that their businesses have survived the shutdowns. Long may they continue.