I was super-thrilled to be invited along with Nancy, our travel expert, to advise Alice on her new art venture. I thought too that Van Gogh was the right choice as he is probably the best known of the great masters and had such an interesting if flawed life. Nancy said that where you are going to pitch the tour in terms of price, luxury and knowledge is going to be the key. My brief was to assess the hotels and restaurants.
We are staying in the Grand Hotel Carel V, named after the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V whose kingdom extended over much of Europe. The hotel had an interesting life, being a monastery and then a hospital – you can see the traces of both as the building are shaped around a internal square. This has the disadvantage of the hotel rooms not being integrated in the main house but in a separate annexe. No one led us on arrival to our rooms which were not that easy to locate. I am amazed how few hotels on arrival – the first impression – do not do more to “bed the guest in”. The best I have ever encountered is the Willowbrook Lodge outside Cape Town, a small hotel, where the owner prepared a cafetière and spent a good 30 minutes showing us how the room worked and the local attractions (though that did not include a gorgeous blond rugger player hunk from the high veldt!!!).
The food in the hotel brasserie was good. The set menu was smoked salmon, venison on mash and panna cotta. The only criticism I would make was that the Miatre D, dishy but knew it, arrived in the dining hall and addressed all the diners for a few minutes on the dishes. I found this intrusive and Bob Tickler never likes to be interrupted in full flow. The MD repeated roughly the same speech at our table. Again one of my pet hates is the intrusive waiter.
I have a large comfortable room. Having spent many nights in cool boutique hotels where it’s style first and basic comforts – good lighting, easily comprehensible plumbing faucets, enough drawers – second I was pleased to find a large enough wardrobe to accommodate Narnia, a lighting system that you could switch on and off by the entrance door and King Carel-sized bed. I know my readers will laugh and speculate when I tell them that during the night I fell right out of the bed!!! No I was not pushed and there was no other activity!!! I simply went over board!!!
The hotel though suffers from a lack of atmosphere as its huge with long corridors and palattial but empty lounges and dining rooms. You can imagine it as a hospital .
Last night we went to dinner at Polmans in the centre of Utrecht. This had a high ceiling with stucco but very few other diners. Generally I was disappointed by a bland pumpkin soup – the one at 28-50 was very much tastier – and a dry pheasant. I told Alice that, if she intends to cater for big groups, set menus might encounter difficulties with fads, allergies and religious dietary considerations.
We found ourselves talking a great deal about Van Gogh. The light space of the Kroller Muller museum in the national park at Ottlerlo showed their fine collection of Van Gogh, rich in colour and content, to their best advantage. There were also divine Seurats, a Monet, Gauguin, Sisley, Picasso and Braque so it’s a museum of modern art worth a visit. The Dutch are keen to involve and educate their young in art but his had the effect of noisy groups going from picture to picture without any real appreciation.
Over dinner we discussed the creative mindset of the tortured genius that was Vincent Van Gogh. In plain Daffers language he was bonkers, but Bob asked Alice would he have had the same prolific output of creativity had he been treated by medication and more advanced psycho-analysis. This technical psycho stuff is way over my head but my view was that there was a linkage and ironically we all benefited in terms of wonderful art by Van Gogh being nuts.