Posted in Travel, Writing

Expecting the Unexpected

A post about chance encounters on our most recent holiday in our camper van
(Originally written for the May 2016 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser)

Giant Dutch Master painting reproduction with flower arrangements in front
We knew the Dutch had mastered tulips, but the displays at Keukenhof Flower Gardens near Leiden took our breath away, both figuratively and literally (that’ll be my hay fever kicking in)

As always, the highlights of our Easter holiday are the things we do not plan. The chances of being surprised on our travels are always high, because we are notoriously bad at planning our itinerary before we set off. We once embarked on a month-long tour of France with neither a country map nor a guidebook.

Serendipitous pleasures along the way may be as simple as arriving in a town to find it’s market day. Once, in Montreuil, having parked for the night in its deserted market square, we awoke next day to find the market in full swing around us. The stallholders had kindly allowed us to sleep in.

This Easter, when we toured northern Europe, we were enamoured of the witchcraft museum in the small Dutch town of Oudewater. The proprietors weigh visitors on historic market scales to test whether they are witches. Medieval folk believed that witches were very light, so that they could fly on broomsticks. Traditional punishments for the guilty included being burnt at the stake, but if you carried an Oudewater certificate stating your innocence, no-one could burn you alive. Well, you never know when that might come in handy, we thought – it’s definitely worth paying the extra Euro for one of those.

Gordon on giant old-fashioned scales
A nervewracking moment as they weigh up my husband to see whether hes a witch

By the time we hit Gouda Cathedral a week later, my husband was cathedralled out. While my daughter and I viewed its famous stained glass, he went off in search of liquid refreshment, returning, jubilant at the appointed time. “I’ve found this amazing Italian bar where everything’s free,” he said. “They’re having some kind of open day. The proprietor told me to bring you.”

No Such Thing as a Free Beer?

The Dutch sign in the window of the Delizie restaurant confirmed that he’d stumbled upon their official opening party. Inside, musical entertainment was provided by an excellent accordionist and a guitarist. We lapped up the congenial atmosphere, as well as the free bar and buffet, and joined in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. We feature in the official photos taken to commemorate the event.

However, I missed one great selfie opportunity of an event, which, for all I know, may currently be the lead story in Gouda’s equivalent of the Tetbury Advertiser: “British tourist’s hair catches fire at Delizie’s launch event”.

Yes, I was that tourist. Leaning back to stretch, I did not notice the lit tealight on the shelf behind me, set at just the right height to ignite my shoulder-length hair.

You know how when the waiter brings in a candle-lit birthday cake for a restaurant guest, everyone turns to look? It was just like that, only with my head substituting for the cake.

Fortunately my husband and I quickly batted out the flames with our hands before any serious harm could be done. Only later did I realise where I’d gone wrong: I’d left my Oudewater certificate back in our camper van.

Trio of musicians rehearsing
Another unexpected pleasure: discovering a rehearsal of baroque music in the crypt of Bremen Cathedral

More posts about our latest camper van tour to follow shortly. In the meantime you might enjoy previous posts about: 

Cover of Young By Name book
Available in paperback and ebook

If you enjoy my monthly column in the Tetbury Advertiser, you might like to know that the essays from my first six years writing for them is now available to buy in paperback and as an ebook called Young By Name – available now from all good booksellers.




English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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