Have you ever had an experience that you had high expectations of but turned out to be way better than you could even have imagined? Well that was this last week for me. I have had to have a few days to come off Cloud 9 before I could even write this post. See Steve’s post about this on Philofaxy here
Steve and I had never met before. We have had contact for many years, as I have been reading Philofaxy since 2007 and when Steve took over I often used to leave comments on the blog. Then when I began my own blog he used to feature me on WebFinds (thanks Steve) and after I joined the Facebook groups we got to know each other even better.
We have always just missed each other though. The mini Filofax meets I have been to in the UK have been ones Steve couldn’t attend and when I met Rita and Sharon for my birthday this year Steve had to cancel his planned surprise ‘drop in’, due to having visitors in France at the time.
So when Steve suggested in about August that we go and visit the VDS factory I jumped at the chance. After a few discussions we set a date and then told Petra we were coming. She was (thankfully!) very enthusiastic and so plans took shape. We wanted it to be a surprise for the Facebook group and I was terrified I would accidentally let slip somewhere that we were going but I didn’t. Phew!
My plane was due to leave Stockholm at 8.05am on Wednesday 8th but was an hour late due to weather delays at the airport. Petra kept contact all the time which was amazing because I know how busy she is.
I was traveling with just hand luggage and my black ostrich travel bag – it is actually a handbag I designed but I always use when I travel as it has so many pockets. I can also use it as a weekend bag. The suitcase I have is a limited edition expandable Samsonite Fashion Spinner in navy blue with bright pink lining. I usually use it if I have to carry heavy books for work but it is a brilliant cabin bag as well. I love wheelie cases with four wheels as they are easier to manoeuvre (did I spell that right?).
I arrived in Amsterdam exactly an hour late and quickly found the high speed train to Rotterdam. Schipol is one of my favorite airports as it is very easy to find your way around.
It took only about 20 minutes from Amsterdam to Rotterdam and I texted Petra as I got off the train to say I had arrived. Walked down the stairs and heard someone say my name. There she was! Smiley and beautiful Petra! She gave me a huge hug and we immediately started talking like old friends. She drove us to the new market hall where we had lunch, talking non stop about handbags and leather and binders. The windows you can see in the pic below are apartments! Petra uses one of her own bags and wallets and they are gorgeous! I was planning to buy one when I was there but ended up gorging on binders instead!
Soon it was time to meet Steve. Petra knew exactly where he would be arriving and there he was! Just like he looks and sounds on Facebook and in his blog. We all chattered non stop on the way to the hotel, which was right by the water. The Tulip Inn (stock photo below)
Steve had a room with a balcony on the 3rd floor and I had a renovated room without balcony on the 5th floor. Gorgeous room! Very big too with a wonderful view, and with a bath AND a shower! Waiting for us were Van Der Spek brochures and a bag full of swatches!
Petra gave us half an hour to unpack and rest if we wanted and then we met in the lobby. We walked to a restaurant by the water where we had drinks (Cokes all round!) and then we walked a little way to a water taxi. What a ride! The skipper had a ball with turns and swoops and small little detours to look at boats. For me, coming from South Africa, this was very interesting as Jan Van Riebeek came to the Cape of South Africa on 6th April 1652 to establish a refreshment station for the Dutch ships on the way to the east for spices and silks and we have such a strong Dutch influence in South Africa.
After that we went on a short walk to Petra and Leon’s lovely apartment by a canal. It was very stylish and trendy and Leon is wonderful. He and Petra make a beautiful couple and he is also very interested in Van Der Spek and our group.
We sat and chatted with drinks and snacks then walked to a restaurant where we ate ourselves silly. I stuffed my greedy face with honey spareribs. After that Steve and I walked across the bridge back to the hotel to have a good sleep in preparation for our visit to the factory.
The next day we met up at 8.15am for breakfast – I had my favorite muesli and natural yoghurt every day with four glasses of orange juice and coffee – bliss! We were so excited before our visit to the factory.
Petra picked us up at 09.30 and off we went. It is about a 25 minute journey to Puttershoek with genuine Dutch windmills on the way. And then we were there! We were welcomed like old friends by Mr and Mrs Van Der Spek (René and Andrea) who both have good English. I understand Dutch but even if I didn’t we would have all made ourselves understood anyway as we speak the international language of binders!
We didn’t stop talking all day – we went around the factory, watched the processes, chatted, laughed, looked at old stock, photographed the products, made videos, sat and planned new products and had a yummy lunch in the cosy kitchen! I had the same both days it was so nice.
After a long day (we finished at about 6pm) all of us went for pizza at Vapianos. We didn’t stop speaking for a second. It was wonderful and Steve and I were made to feel like one of the family. The love between the Van Der Speks is wonderful to see.
Petra gave us a choice as to what to do the next day – perhaps see Rotterdam? But no, Steve and I wanted to go back to the factory. After that it was to bed, though my head was spinning with everything I had seen that day!
A lovely breakfast the next morning and Petra picked us up at 09.30 again. It was another fantastic day – knocking up prototypes for new products – Mr Van Der Spek actually made them on the spot – plus more videoing and rooting around in leather and their stock. What treasures are hidden away! I felt honored to be allowed to go to places visitors are usually not permitted.
I cannot say what prototypes we worked on but I can say that Petra listens to everyone in the group and wants to give us all the things we want. There are some exciting new things planned for all of us in 2015!
A new gem on Friday was JP Frumau, the cutter. What a character! Speaks 6 languages, hugely stylish and so very very funny. I laughed so much with him that my stomach was aching. He is 77 and has worked with leather since he was a teenager. Look at his outfit – his t shirt is coordinated to his shirt and so are his jeans. He had a very nice handmade Madras leather belt, a tortoiseshell Swatch watch and has had lovely glasses designed. I used to be a fashion journalist and know style when I see it!
On Friday Petra and Steve and I designed custom binders and Mr Van Der Spek made me a custom notebook from start to finish. It was lovely to see the process. I chose an A5 and a standard in saddle leather and I also bought two Touch Mes and pen cases, plus a pink ostrich binder.
At the end of the day we went to another wonderful restaurant – René, Andrea, Petra, Leon, Steve and I. Leon had just received a promotion so congratulations Leon! I had another huge plate of spareribs. Yum!
After that we said our sad goodbyes to the Van Der Speks and Leon, and Petra dropped us off at the hotel. I went straight to sleep but the next morning I got up early to pack.
Petra drove us to the station where we said our goodbyes, posed for selfies and declared that we would meet again soon! We both caught our trains (me to Schipol, Steve to Paris).
I bought a little Delft gold clog charm in sterling silver and blue to hang on my charm bracelet as a memento of a lovely time. I started writing blog posts as soon as I got on the plane so I would not forget anything. And by 4pm I was home with my cats, feeling like I had had the best dream ever!
I want to say a big thank you to Steve for coming up with this idea, and for being such a huge support during the trip. And also to the wonderful Van Der Spek family who opened their hearts and their factory to us. Getting to know you all was an honour and a privilege.