Amsterdam Light Festival: Water Colors canal cruise

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014

Even a beautiful city like Amsterdam needs a little help in the winter. The sun disappears for days on end, and what little light there is fades to black as 3 or 4 p.m. I need a good incentive to brave the cold and dark, to go out and see the city—and I know I’m not the only one. Thankfully, there’s the Amsterdam Light Festival.

Now on its third year, the Amsterdam Light Festival turns the city into an open-air gallery of public art: sculptures, installations, and projections from artists all over the world, all made with light. From over 260 submissions, 39 artworks were chosen to lend Amsterdam a bit of color and brightness in the dark winter months.

There are three ways to enjoy the Amsterdam Light Festival. To go on foot or by bicycle, you can book a guided tour called Illuminade. There’s also a boat route called Water Colors, which is offered by several canal cruise companies from several departure points in the city center.

I went on a Water Colors boat tour and loved it! I didn’t get to take pictures of all the installations (and honestly, some were better than others), but here are some of my favorite artworks from the tour. The first is Light Bridge, an ode to the bridges of Amsterdam by local design studio Tjep. It’s interactive and reacts to movements on the street and on the water.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Light Bridge by Tjep

Rising from the dark canals like a ghostly mangrove forest, Arborescence by Loop.pH (UK) looks both futuristic and organic.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Arborescence

Everyone on the boat fell silent as we sailed beneath the floating circles of Effervescence by Geraud Periole. Simple yet stunning.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Effervescence by Geraud Periole

Inspired by the Mobius strip, Circle of Life by Amsterdam-based architect Rob van Houten turns a symbol of eternity into an entryway for the rush of people flowing into the city.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Circle of Life Brouwersgracht

Seeing this man and woman together on the bridge, I couldn’t help but think: mood lighting, the romantic Amsterdam canals, and a ring? All the ingredients for a perfect proposal. I sense a missed opportunity here!

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Circle of Life by Rob van Houten

See more masterpieces of light after the jump, plus a few tips for enjoying the Amsterdam Light Festival this winter.

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Sinterklaas printable paper ornaments

Sinterklaas is jarig!

Sinterklaas and Piet printable ornament

That’s Dutch for “It’s Sinterklaas’s birthday!” Today is Saint Nicholas Day, the most well-loved holiday in the Netherlands and the Dutch equivalent of Christmas. I’m savoring the last year before all the Sinterklaas hype starts becoming real to Tala—it’s huge at Dutch daycares and primary schools—and we’ll need to start celebrating both holidays.

That gives me a whole year to start learning all the Sinterklaas songs, watching the daily Sinterklaas News (!) to keep up with the latest movements of Sint, buying carrots for Tala to put in her shoe for Sinterklaas’ horse, and buying Tala a Piet costume that she can wear to the arrival of Sinterklaas from Spain. Yep, it’s a whole other world.

Zwarte Piet printable ornament

For now, I’m perfectly happy to enjoy the peace and quiet with a few touches of Sinterklaas, like these adorable free Sinterklaas printable paper ornaments by Studio Momoki.

Aside from Sint, you can also download three of his helpers, the Pieten. There’s also a black and white version for kids to color in and cut out as a fun craft project.

Vincent Van Gogh Christmas ornament

And, this is totally unrelated to Sinterklaas, but if we’re talking about Dutch icons… I couldn’t resist snapping up this Van Gogh self-portrait ornament at the Van Gogh Museum shop. Perfect for our alternative Christmas tree!

If you celebrate Sinterklaas, a gelukkig Sinterklaasfeest to you and yours. And if you’re getting ready for Christmas like I am, I hope you find something fun to give your holiday decorating a fresh twist. Happy weekend!

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Autumn on the Dutch dunes: Wijk aan Zee

It’s a Saturday morning in the Netherlands. It’s November and all of 4 degrees Celsius outside, but at least the sun is out. What is there to do?

Go to the beach, of course!

Autumn on the Dutch dunes Wijk aan Zee

On a Saturday morning like the one I’ve just described, we bundled up in full winter gear and headed out to Wijk aan Zee, a small, pretty town tucked into the Dutch dunes on the North Sea.

Cycling on the Dutch dunes Wijk aan Zee

That I can even conceive of this as an enjoyable activity is a testament to how far I’ve come since I moved to the Netherlands almost four years ago.

I arrived here a die-hard beach snob. Coming from a tropical country with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Philippine beaches—their white sands, warm turquoise waters, stunning sunsets and perfect weather—had spoiled me rotten.

Looking around for the nearest beach to sustain me, I turned to the North Sea—and was less than inspired by what I found.

Walk on the beach Wijk aan Zee

I almost froze to death on my first trip to Texel, one of a chain of islands so far north it was practically nudging Denmark. I wrinkled my nose at the frigid, muddy-brown waters of Zandvoort, Bloemendaal, and the towns along the Dutch coast who all shared the same last name “aan zee”. (Although I had to admit the Dutch dunes were pretty.) Den Haag’s Scheveningen was mobbed and frenetic. And the city beaches of Amsterdam depressed me outright.

So what was a sun-starved, beach-loving tropical girl to do? Live with it. Tolerate it. Make do with what I had.

But somewhere along the way, something strange happened. I fell in love.

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Instagramsterdam: November

In these pictures, Amsterdam looks so still and peaceful, doesn’t it? November is when the city starts to calm down. The summer crowds and the last bargain-hunting travelers from shoulder season have left, leaving the city pristine and quiet.

It is for this reason that I’ve begun to love November. We’ve had a beautiful one this year, with a surprising bounty of the crisp sunny days that show off this city’s beauty.

Instagram Amsterdam November 2014

I usually hate going to the city center, particularly the touristic parts around the Red Light District. These areas are dirty, seedy, crowded, don’t reflect the real Amsterdam, and have nothing to do with my own life as a resident of this city, so I avoid it whenever I can.

But surprise, surprise! November has made me rediscover the city center all over again. All but one of my favorite Instagram pics this month were taken in exactly the areas that I hate so much. Heading into winter, the city center sheds some of its touristic grime, revealing the true beauty of some of Amsterdam’s oldest and most historic parts.

Amsterdam’s cycling lifestyle has helped me appreciate this city and this season so much more. I’ve found true pleasure in pulling my bike off the road, parking it for a few minutes and soaking it all up. You can’t do that when you’re stuck in a subway or in a car in a traffic jam! Those few minutes can simply transform the morning rush.

What have you been posting on Instagram this November?

Instagramsterdam is a blog series rounding up my favorite Instagram posts about Amsterdam every month. For me, it’s a way to appreciate the little things I enjoy about living in Amsterdam, and to embrace my adopted city a little bit more.

If you haven’t yet, come FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM

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Urban Jungle Bloggers: Cozy & Green Bedroom

Even a self-confessed plant killer such as myself can’t help but be swept up in the Urban Jungle Bloggers‘ love for all things green and living. For my first UJB post, I invite you to step inside our cozy green bedroom and see how we’ve gearing up for the winter—with a fresh green twist.

Chilly, gray and gloomy, November is the time of year when we start bringing our balcony plants indoors in preparation for our yearly escape to the sunny shores of the Philippines. Our cozy green bedroom becomes not only a sanctuary for us, but for our plants as well.

We don’t have a bedside table, only an Ikea Brimnes headboard that we revamped with scrapwood wallpaper. So everything—from wire clamp lamp to Indian miniature paintings to plants—goes on top of the headboard or into one of the hidden built-in shelves.

Urban Jungle Bloggers November 2014 Cozy Winter Bedroom

It’s also this time of year when we bring out what my husband and I call “the fabuloush“—the beautiful cashmere throws we bought while on honeymoon in Rajasthan. As gullible newlyweds, we spent hours in a tiny shop in the Jaipur market stacked floor to ceiling with every kind of blanket you can imagine, mesmerized by the sales pitch of a birdlike Indian man who sssshhh’d his s’s.

“We ssshhell our productsshh to Etro and Hermesshh,” he announced, winding a cashmere blanket with a stunning black and silver paisley pattern around my shoulders. “Feel it. Feel it. Feel it. If you leave without thissshhh, you will regret it for yearssshhh!”

“Ssssho ssshhoft. Sshho fabuloussshh,” he kept on repeating, like some kind of hypnotic spell. In the end we went into considerable credit card debt to buy not one, but three of them, including the deep purple one you see here.

He said fabuloush so often, that it became our nickname for these blankets—yes, we actually say things like, “I’m taking the purple fabuloush to the cleaners. Can you put the turquoise fabuloush on the bed?”

Urban Jungle Bloggers November 2014 Cozy Winter Bedroom Windowsill

You know what? He was right—we did regret the one fabuloush we didn’t buy (the one with the paisley print). And we still talk about it, seven years later. But the ones we do have are pretty, and keep us warm in the winter.

Since this is my first Urban Jungle Bloggers post, I wanted to spotlight the plants that started it all for me—the ones that actually survived my black thumb and made me believe I could actually care for plants without killing them. One of them is the kalanchoe, a flowering succulent known as “mother of thousands.”

My Dutch kraamzorgster (maternity nurse) gave me a kalanchoe when Tala was born. Almost two years later, I still have the original plant—and have even started propagating a few of my own. This yellow kalanchoe is a welcome pop of sunshine during gray November days.

Urban Jungle Bloggers Winter Bedroom Baby Succulent and Yellow Kalanchoe

 

UJB co-founder Judith gave me a few leaves from her own succulents when we met in Milan earlier this year. Not all survived, but this one did—and has since turned into a lovely little plant. There’s hope for me yet.

 

Urban Jungle Bloggers Winter Bedroom Baby Succulent

That puts the ‘green into our ‘cozy green bedroom’. But what makes it cozy?

Urban Jungle Bloggers Winter Bedroom Pepernoten and Books

My recipe for winter coziness: the warmth of the fabuloush, the company of a good book, and the smell of anise, cinnamon and clove wafting from a bowl of pepernoten. With the Dutch feast of Sinterklaas just around the corner, I’m never too far from a bowl of these traditional Dutch cookies.

What special details make your bedroom cozy and green?

Urban Jungle Bloggers is a monthly blog series hosted by Igor (Happy Interior Blog) and Judith (JOELIX.com) that shares ideas to create an urban jungle through styling, DIYs, and green tips & tricks. Find inspiration on the Urban Jungle Bloggers Pinterest board and Facebook page. To join, visit the UJB website and use #urbanjunglebloggers on Twitter and Instagram. Let’s bring some green into our homes and blogs!

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