2013. THE HIDDEN GARDEN IN BRIGHTON   

Once every few years I go on a trip with a couple of girl friends. This time it was my turn to choose the destination. I looked through some travel guides, scoured the internet and asked my family and friends what their favourite destinations were.

That night I couldn´t sleep well at all. I dreamt of a fabulous palace. The residents of the palace were very mysterious and the palace was surrounded by a beautiful garden full of scented flowers and exotic birds.

When I woke up, it hit me. I had seen the palace in my dreams before. But where? That afternoon, while I was weeding the kitchen garden, I remembered. When I was a little girl, while staying with my cousins Wout and Niels, I had found a thick, dusty book in the attic. The book had lots of drawings of the palace in my dream.

I was so enthusiastic that I phoned cousin Wout straightaway and asked him if he still had the book. Wout immediately knew which book I had dreamed about and promised to go and look for it.

A few days later I received a package. The fairy tale palace really existed. It was The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, a small palace on the English coast.

I phoned my friends and told them that I had found our holiday destination. Their reactions were less enthusiastic than I had hoped. Brighton? What on earth would we do there? I explained to them exactly why this was a great destination: the palace, the beach, the sea, high-tea with the sweetest of cup cakes ... and they agreed.

The boat trip and the drive there felt as though we were bit players in an Agatha Christie film. The bed & breakfast where we stayed was a typical English cottage and was run by a friendly elderly couple. When we told them why we had come to Brighton, the elderly English lady jumped to her feet. She told us about her grandmother from whom she had inherited a golden key. That key was supposed to have come from the palace. She had kept it all these years. As the couple had no children, she thought that I should become the owner of this special key.

We left the bed & breakfast early the next morning. With all the chatter in the car it was hard to remember to drive on the left side of the road. But luckily we arrived at The Royal Pavilion in one piece.

From one minute to the next we entered a whole new world. An exotic, fairy tale world. The palace was not a typical, classical building, let alone the type of palace that you would expect in this area. It was a manor house, but then, it wasn’t really. It had cupolas, pagodas and towers. Everything was in white relief. In the background was the sea.

The palace exceeded our expectations on the inside too. Candelabras in the shape of flower buds, hand painted wallpaper with birds and flowers, the most wonderful mosaics, luxurious draperies with golden designs and colourful carpets.

In the meantime, the key was burning in my trouser pocket. But there were so many doors and cupboards that I didn’t know where to start. Anna encouraged me to just try. Clumsily, I tried to insert the key into one of the many keyholes, but it was too big.

We decided to walk around the garden. Then my eye fell on a peeling wooden door in the stone wall that enclosed the garden. The door was barely visible. I tried to push the rose bushes aside. It couldn’t possibly be ... I took the key and turned it in the rusty keyhole. I was just about to give up when the door started to give. I pushed the door and fell inside. My friends laughed nervously at my clumsiness.

The bushes in the courtyard were metres tall. At the back of the courtyard we could just see the roof of a gazebo. We pushed a way through the wilderness to get a close look at the gazebo. We peered inside and as we opened the door, a hare, which had found shelter here, ran out. We heard voices and left. I tried to lock the door again, but the key broke.

You won’t be surprised to hear that since I went on this special trip I have read everything there is to read about this mysterious palace. But I can’t find anything about the secret garden. So I use my imagination to weave a story about ...

A handsome prince is under the spell of a witch. The witch had turned him into a hare so that he can no longer live in his palace. But to still be close to his family, he lives in a secret place in the palace garden. He is waiting for a special girl who can break the spell ...