A Tale of Three Cities

16 November 2015
Ben Pentreath

This blog was going to be called A Tale of Two Cities; London, and Amsterdam. On Friday night, Charlie and I were in Amsterdam on a tiny break, happily celebrating my birthday. We rolled in to bed late, and woke to grim news on Saturday morning.


So, let’s start with a moments’ reflection. Paris is a city that we know (in parts) pretty well, really, because I guess that twice a year for however long it is now, Bridie and I have made a trip – sourcing and buying for the shop. Here are some quiet photographs from the last trip that we made, that sort of capture my mood.
P1050512 P1050456 P1050466 P1050449 P1050429

Our thoughts are with every Parisian at this time – and especially with Colin, here in the office in London, who’s worked for so long now looking after our shop website (and this blog).


To be honest I wasn’t sure whether to carry on writing. But I think in bad times, it’s good to know that in a sense, the best of life carries on as normal. And the one thing I feel sure of is that now, more than ever, it’s doubly important to carry on as normal. We must pause and reflect; and realise that the world is full of horror – but in my view, it’s much more full of hope, and happiness, and beauty, humour, friendship, collaboration and fun.  I’m an optimist. So I hope you don’t mind. That’s what this blog is going to be about. We had a wonderful time; I’d like to share that even more than usual.

We’d decided on a little trip a few weeks ago.

Charlie said the one place, the only place, he really wanted to visit was the Restaurant de Kas, the famous Amsterdam restaurant in an old 19th century glasshouse where they grow all their own food in the gardens and on a local farm.  If you know Charlie, you’d know that that is totally up his street.  But by the time we’d got ourselves organised, bookings were completely full.

We got to our hotel to see if there was any chance they could find us a table for Friday or Saturday night. They called… everything was full up… unless we wanted to come for lunch, um, now? We jumped in a cab and dashed across town.

The glasshouse was bathed in beautiful sunshine, and we started a dream meal.


At which point the heavens opened and a massive rainstorm swept in.P1040918 P1040919

We left after the most delicious lunch and pottered around the potager in the rain.

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Before hopping across the road to meet my old employee John who lived round the corner.  We meet for a beer, which turned into another, and another, and the sun came streaming through the clouds as we put the world to rights. It was a lovely catch up….

And incredibly useful too, as local knowledge mapped out a plan or two for the following day…P1040939

History doesn’t relate the rest of Friday night. Zoe, who runs the office, had delivered a bottle of champagne to our room, and that was that.  We had a great time!

On Saturday morning we set out to see Amsterdam.  The giant sign outside the Rijksmuseum seemed to be the most popular attraction in town…P1040941

….. but the ice rink preparations seemed to be a little behind London, I had a feeling.P1040942

There were no queues at all to the Rijksmuseum as we walked by, and we thought to ourselves that there was no better time that the present.  And even if The Night Watch was a little busy (nothing compared to later…)P1040948

…nothing else was, and we enjoyed so many spectacular paintings and objects and sights that we cannot wait to visit again. In fact I came away thinking that I must (must, Must MUST) spend a little more time looking at the treasures here at home in London. Somehow, there’s never time – but it’s a shame to only to make time to see things when you’re away.  Occupational hazard.P1040950 P1040951

Vemeer was of course a dream.

But so many other unknown treasures caught my eye:


And looking beyond the subject matter I dreamed of the perfect, soft, beautiful colours and thought how fine they would look in rooms that we are decorating (I hope that isn’t disrespectful to paintings?)…P1040963 P1040964

Sensational petrol, olive, grey, pale yellows…P1040967

And staring at some of these paintings reminded me that the world has always been a place of strange violence.P1040972

The Rijksmuseum library is astonishing and beautiful, like a dreamP1040975 P1040976 P1040977 But I was thrilled to see even here my favourite kick stool.

More treasures were in store.P1040983 P1040988 P1040989 P1040992 P1040998 P1050002

I loved these modern stained glass panels following the recent restoration.

Easily missed, I think, but stunning, are the delft rooms and special collections downstairs.P1050020

Of which perhaps the most amazing was the Navy Model Room.P1050024 P1050027 P1050030

Every detail of these model boats was perfect, including the tiny signs.P1050032

We dragged ourselves away vowing to return.

And then we pottered and meandered, taking life in;P1050045 P1050047 P1050048 P1050052

Drinking in Amsterdam’s quiet monochrome beauty:P1050059 P1050062 P1050063 P1050069 P1050074 P1050076 P1050078 P1050079

Pottering about in markets, P1050082

Dreaming of buying entire sets of 1920s Belgian china, but not quite sure if it would fit in our hand baggage.P1050085 P1050089 P1050091


(few photographs require a commentary, but the following is included merely to prove my rule that everyone ultimately ends up looking like their dog):P1050094 P1050097 P1050100 P1050101 P1050102 P1050105 We bought some wonderful souvenirs in this little children’s vintage bookshop:P1050109

And every blog needs to contain a photo of a great old Merc somewhere.P1050112 P1050119

We ended our huge walk at the Botanical Garden which I’d visited years before with Monica, and never forgotten.P1050126

The giant water lily had gone in to retreat. Here it is lurking in its pond… waiting for another year.P1050128

The garden, though out of season, was beautiful…P1050132 P1050135 P1050136 P1050139 P1050146 P1050150 P1050159 The back of the perfect orangery where we had tea and cake.

And then we walked home, through streets increasingly wet and stormy, loving the wide tall windows and beautiful apartments on display (Amsterdam does not like curtains)…P1050177 P1050182

And back to our beautiful hotel, the Conservatorium, whose conversion from 19th century music school to 21st century building was confident and superb.P1050184

New storms flooded in, and that was fine because Charlie and I had already decided nothing could be nicer than staying in our room and ordering room service and watching a rom com…. sometimes the best thing you can do when you’re away. And we had a lazy Sunday morning, and then caught the early flight home, and pottered around in London, which is always the nicest thing to do at the end of any trip – however short – to feel happy and blessed at having arrived home.


And this is how the blog was going to end, back in London – and with a tiny bit of news that fills me with great happiness, even if it is a bit inconsequential.  If you are a regular blog reader, you will doubtless remember about my Roque Map of London that just somehow, just somehow, perfectly fitted the back wall of our flat here in London.  Here is a photograph from sometime a couple of years ago.


The map has been consistently one of the most questioned items in our flat. “Where did you get the map?” “How can I get a copy?”.  The problem was it was the last ever print made, back in the 70s… well, you can read the whole story in the link above.

Well, at last, it gives me huge pleasure to say that Bridie and I, together with Giles Margery who’s father printed the first map, have been able to sort a new reproduction. We’ve been working on this project for 2 years now. And it’s arrived in the shop this week. Here is the link. It’s been beautifully bound in pink card covers, so you can use it like a book – or cut out the sheets and frame it just like mine.

And I can’t help but think – that’s a small bit of good news. The Rocque Plan is back.

I hope you have a very good, safe week.

29 comments on this post


Having been to Paris and Amsterdam in October as a family we could relate to so many of the photos (although admittedly not as good) and also to your sentiments…
Like many others, I adore the London map, but one must have the right wall so it looks stunning as it does in your pad. If the Chinese jars are back in the store before Christmas , my letter to Santa might do its magic!
And maybe next time I won’t be too shy to say hi to Charlie.
love from Rugby to Rugby Street.


I was so happy to read your uplifting post following a very sad weekend. We live in Amsterdam just off the bridge you feature and it was lovely to see our city portrayed with such affection. Things were very quiet as we are all absorbing the weeks events and the remnants of the storm Barney but you and Charlie really managed to put together a wonderful taste of the city in your brief time- even to making the Noord Market it appears! Visit soon and make time for the Van Loon Museum or some of the other small museums set in the old canal houses. The architecture, art, gardens and the peek of the domestic world of these grand houses are stunning. And rent a small boat to explore the canals, the city looks even more magical from the water. We will go to Paris next week to walk the city and remind ourselves that to be afraid of living gives power to those who would terrorize us. With thanks.


Thank you so very much for sharing the photos from Amsterdam. It is one of my favorite cities.


Nice to smile after looking at your blog post and seeing lovely photos. Your comment about how museum paintings might look in a home reminded me of something my husband and I do when we visit an exhibition–we each choose which would be our favorite painting to hang over our sofa! If only….


Love the photos – as ever. Just thought I’d let you know that picture of the Dutch courtyard is not by Vermeer, but is by Pieter de Hooch.




actually Dee I just checked! It is by Vermeer…!


Thank you for all the nice pictures of Amsterdam, and all the positive energy you give us. For the next time you are in the Netherlands you also have to bring a visit in Vila Augustus in Dordrecht, delicious food, garden and you can also sleep there, you will love it.


I’m very glad you decided to carry on writing. An uplifting antidote to the depressing news lay for me in the pictures from the Rijksmuseum, the ceramics, and even the model ships. Thanks for taking the trouble. Best, Nicola

Gorgeous photos! Ive always wanted to go to Paris and these recent terrible events have made me shelve the idea but these photos have inspired me once again

What an uplifting tale in such a sad time. Thank you for sharing your Amsterdam experiences. Although I’ve lived in Amsterdam I’ve never had the opportunity to see the library of the Rijksmuseum.
Make sure to include the Teylers museum and the museum “het schip” in your next visit.

Good work with the map. Fittingly, given the context, I have a reproduction of Turgot’s Plan de Paris 1739 – bought from the Conran Shop, and still in its folio, a lack of wallspace precluding me from framing it and displaying it as you have done yours of London.

Mary Lou Bethunesays:

I am from North Carolina. Thank you for this beautiful and warm post. Yes, your warmth shines through and it’s helpful for those of us who feel helpless.

Have you ever noticed how the Dutch never close their curtains? They don’t have thing for privacy, I guess.


Spot on, Ben; spot on. Thank you.

Ben, after a lot of thought, I have come to the conclusion that we reside in Purgatory, but we have a full view of Heaven and Hell and can journey to either of them at will. Hell is hate, war in all of its guises, homelessness, starvation, abuse and cruelty, drug addiction and mental illness, &c. Heaven is love, kindness, charity, the beauty and miracles of the natural world, and the creations of Humankind in pursuit of the sublime. When I tune into your blog, I see Heaven. Thanks for that.


Thank you for a gorgeous, gorgeous post. The details in the A’dam paintings: the nacreous tones, the plasticity in the modeling of the figures and the boats….and the tulipieres! All very life affirming. (Sigh! “Perfect”.) Glad you had a good weekend and could share it with all of us. You didn’t even mention Charlie, your garden and pics being in the NY Times! Lovely to see you there too. Stay safe.


Love Amsterdam, never managed to beat that bloomin queue at The Rijks! Sounds like…despite the sadness in Paris, the PERFECT weekend 🙂


Yet another wonderful post; thank you! …and at long last, I can feel excited for my own travels instead of envying yours, as I’ll be in Amsterdam next spring.

My husband’s family is Dutch, and I was told on my first visit to Holland that the Dutch don’t like curtains as a rule; no one from Holland would even dream of peeking in through someone’s uncurtained windows. Necessary etiquette in a country where there isn’t a lot of “personal space”?


Thank you Ben. I loved the article on Charlie in the NYT.

Pierre B.says:

Thank you Ben for being, as Balzac wrote, “in the opposition that is called life” (free translation).


I love your blogs, I love your pictures, I even love you quite a bit – but please! stop using the word “perfect” sixteen times per blog! Argh!!!!!


😉 perfect Maisie B xxxxxx

Thank you for posting despite the weekend’s atrocities. Life must go on, or they will have won. Spending time with loved ones seemed to me to be the best way to bear the news from all over the world that kept arriving over the weekend, so I am glad you and Charlie did the same.
I am delighted to hear that owners end up looking like their dogs – I have a wonderfully svelte Italian greyhound cross. I cannot wait to resemble him a little more!
I have been obsessed by your map prints since I first saw them. In fact, I have bought a set of vintage frames to house my own map – an enlargement of an 1870s map featuring our house and the surrounding area. Getting the scale of the prints right is proving a little tricky though, but I will prevail! (And maybe put the London print on my Christmas list!)


Yes, carry on Ben!

David Sanderssays:

As someone who has a bit of French ancestry in my lineage, I am finding what happened in Paris quite incomprehensible… I can’t really say much more… it’s just too horrific. As you say, one has to remain an optimist; otherwise we would all end up being very sad indeed.

Thanks for the little tour of Amsterdam Ben; it brought back some nice memories.

A lovely blog post, thank you for sharing. Happiness needs to be spread and shared more than ever. My daughter posted an unattributed but fitting quote this morning – happiness can be found in even the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. Have a great week.

Charlotte Ksays:

Amsterdam weather! I love the place though and your pictures make me want to runaway there. It has that certain something.

Congratulations to Charlie on the NYT spread. I think your pictures of the garden are better, though!


Thank you for sharing your wonderful time and giving us something positive to think about.

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