This is a hard blog to write because it’s about me having a significant birthday – something I’d rather not talk about too much! However, I had such a wonderful shared celebration with Jonathan (who is three weeks younger than me) that really I cannot pretend it didn’t happen – so here goes!
We were staying with our daughter Hannah and son-in-law Pieter in their home in Pijnacker in the Netherlands and we came downstairs on the morning of my birthday to find the living room beautifully decorated with bunting, balloons, candles and fresh flowers.
A pile of presents and cards sat invitingly on the table and after a delicious breakfast we set about opening them.
We had some fabulous, thoughtful gifts and some really special surprises.
Jonathan really excelled himself by commissioning a beautiful pair of gold earrings made by the jeweller who designed Hannah’s engagement ring.
Later in the day the biggest bunch of flowers I have ever received arrived from our son and daughter-in-law in Australia. We haven’t been able to see them for almost two and a half years so their thoughtful gift and then the arrival of the flowers meant so much.
Hannah and Pieter’s gift came in the form of a mysterious rhyme (see below). How exciting!
We set off in their car in the late morning. All the way “there” we were trying to guess where we were staying. “Is it a windmill?”, “No”; “a castle?”, “No”; A lighthouse, a canal boat, a sailing barge, a shepherd’s cottage, “No, No, No, No!”
Just as we arrived at our final destination (Arnhem) I looked up and saw a Church, and not even serious, I blurted out “is it a Church?”
One look at Hannah’s face and I realised I’d hit the nail on the head! Minutes later we arrived at our destination – The Sint-Walburgisbasiliek, dating back to 14th Century and the oldest Church building in Arnhem.
It was rebuilt after it was extensively damaged in World War ll when a German Messerschmitt crashed into one of the towers and started a huge fire.
Now deconsecrated, the Church itself is being turned into a museum about the Battle of Arnhem (17 to 26 September 1944 – remember the movie A Bridge Too Far?)
Meanwhile the two towers have been transformed into six gorgeous luxury apartments, each one decorated to depict a local tourist attraction.
Ours had a zoo theme (The famous 110 acre Burgers’ Zoo lies within easy reach of the apartments) and everything from the decor to the plates reflected this theme.
We entered the building through the ancient Church door and just inside the entrance sat the original baptismal font. A few steps in and we were in an ultra modern four person lift which took us to our lodgings.
For our front door we turned right but to the left was an extraordinary piece of engineering- a stainless steel and timber bridge that stretched across from one belfry to the other.
Perched high up above where the congregation would have once sat, Hannah couldn’t resist trying out the acoustics and to her surprise received a round of applause from the people working down in the museum site.
Once in our front door, we had a staircase to climb that took us into a cosy and warm living room with a fully equipped kitchen in one corner and a floor to ceiling window.
Up another set of stairs we came to a mezzanine floor that looked out onto the living area below with loads of plants hanging from the gallery – referencing the Burger’s Zoo tropical rainforest exhibit.
On this level was a funky bedroom with a “jungle” ceiling and floral cushions. A very swish bathroom that had a stone basin and copper fittings was also on this level.
Up another set of stairs a and we arrived at a second tower-shaped bedroom with a fabulous four-poster bed and in one corner a ladder.
Of course we wanted to see what was on the next level! At the top of the ladder there was an easy to open trapdoor.
Lifting it up we entered a magical sitting area and to our surprise – right next to it – were two gigantic bells! We were in the belfry!
What a unique and spectacular place to celebrate our birthdays!
That evening it was cold and rainy but fortunately the fabulous restaurant that Hannah and Pieter were taking us to was very close by.
Recommended in the Michelin Guide, this intimate restaurant has a delectable French-Asian fusion menu and all the fruit and vegetables are grown on the restaurant’s own farm. All the meat and fish were raised organically. Every course was paired with a local wine. What a treat!
Then it was back to our quirky apartment for birthday cake and champagne.
After a great sleep in our very cosy bed we woke up to another amazing surprise- it was snowing! Proper big flakes that settled and made the world a shimmering masterpiece! How lucky were we?!
Breakfast was a collection of delicious treats- croissants, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, smoked salmon, fresh fruit, lovely coffee and of course, left over birthday cake.
We were very keen for a walk to enjoy the snow so we packed up ready to leave for the nearby Hoge Veluwe National Park. As we were about to leave we met up with the charming lady who looks after the property and she very kindly let us look round a couple of the other apartments.
Each apartment had its own theme – the first one we looked at was based on the wonderful Kröller Müller Museum which is full of wonderful Van Gogh paintings and drawings. Furniture and walls were decorated in Van Gogh style.
The other apartment had the Church’s war museum as its theme so there were khaki director’s chairs, an aerial battle mural and 1940’s style furniture.
What a fantastic place! Our stay will always remain a really special memory for all of us.
After loading up the car we drove to the National Park and had a beautiful walk.
Everything looked magical with the frosting of snow glittering and the last of the autumn leaves clinging to the trees.
What a fantastic way to finish our fabulous birthday weekend!