Viewing: Life in Amsterdam

Babies ‘n Bacon: Tala’s first birthday brunch

If it feels like birthday central around here, that’s because it is. After Mom’s and Marlon’s birthdays, finally, here’s my full report on Tala’s birthday brunch!

As I’ve said, kiddie birthdays here are very low-key. People usually host them at home, with birthday cake and a finger-food buffet that would leave most Filipinos hungry light nibbles—no themes, no magicians, no big deal. Anticipating busy travel and work schedules, Marlon and I decided early on to have the party at a cafe. I got Marlon to approve my birthday brunch idea by adding “bacon” to the name of our party: Babies ‘n Bacon.

On Tala’s birthday, we felt every bit of our DIY European lifestyle as we juggled our morning routine—feeding, playing, changing—with party prep. Marlon was in charge of balloons, blowing them up himself with a tank of helium that he’d lugged home on his bike the night before. (Yes, ganyan talaga dito. Sariling sikap.)

Tala's first birthday outfit

Naturally, I was in charge of dressing the birthday girl. Her comfy bleach-spattered sweatshirt is a custom print job from local Amsterdam label, Believe The Hype. I considered printing “It’s fun to be one,” but it seemed overdone. The sweatshirt went perfectly with funky geometric leggings from my all-time fave googoo&gaga.

Tala's first birthday sequin hairpiece

Naptime gave me a few minutes to stitch together a quick birthday hairpiece: stars, sequins and the number one, of course.

Tala's first birthday walking with balloons

After Tala’s nap, we walked to our party venue with thirty balloons wildly gyrating in the stiff Amsterdam wind. Not an easy task!

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Spring has sprung!

Spring is finally here!

After three winters in Amsterdam, my tropical self can now truly relate to the joy that comes with the return of sunshine, warmth and blue skies. The change of seasons creates a shared, unspoken feeling of celebration in the air, unlike any I’ve experienced back in the tropics. In the sun, everyone is happy and life starts looking a hundred times better.

To celebrate, we headed to the Amsterdamse Bos (or woods), a sprawling park straddling the cities of Amsterdam and Amstelveen. We hardly ever go to the Bos because it’s further down south, so it felt like going out of town.

Amsterdamse Bos spring lake

Three times the size of Central Park in New York, the Bos covers 1,000 hectares and includes lakes, ponds, walking and cycling trails, picnic and camping areas, farms, restaurants and cafes, even a nudist area!

With such a huge space to explore, we felt a bit lost and decided to head straight for the one place we knew exactly how to find: Boerderij Meerzicht. It’s an charming, incredibly kid-friendly pancake restaurant with a petting zoo and playground.

Boerderij Meerzicht sunny terrace

By the way, spring isn’t all picnics, tulips and sunshine. It also means frequent battles for a table on packed, busy terraces like these. Totally a first world problem.

Tala at Boerderij Meerzicht Amsterdamse Bos

We found a place in the sun and noshed on some quintessentially Dutch nibbles—bread, butter, sausages and Gouda cheese with cumin—while waiting for our pancakes. Tala is beginning to really love bread!

Boerderij Meerzicht bread and cheese

Traditional Dutch pancakes are the specialty at Boerderij Meerzicht, and the ones here are the best I’ve had in Amsterdam.

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Date night: House of Bols cocktail workshop

Paris was our Valentine weekend treat, but on Valentine’s Day, Marlon and I changed it up a bit. After years of staying in and ignoring this most commercial of holidays, we actually went out for a Valentine-themed date night.

Oh, stop cringing, themed dates don’t have to be cheesy. In fact, they can be fun—as we discovered when we did a Valentine cocktail workshop at The House of Bols: Cocktail and Genever Experience.

Amsterdam House of Bols Genever

Home to the world’s oldest distilled spirit brand, The House of Bols has been distilling liqueurs in Amsterdam since 1575. Its signature product is jenever,  a blend of distilled malt wine and juniper berries that is Holland’s national liquor and the predecessor of modern-day gin. The house brand Bols Genever (hello, gorgeous bottle!) is one of the first-ever cocktail liqueurs and dates all the way back to 1820.

Our evening started with a tour of the House of Bols Museum, which has won the Dutch Design Award for Best Exhibition and Experience. From elegantly calligraphed labels to its gleaming copper distillery, this smallish, cozy museum offers a sensory experience of Bols’ history and heritage.

Amsterdam House of Bols Museum

My favorite part of the museum was the room where we got to “taste” each of Bols’ 38 flavored liqueurs… with our noses. *sniff sniff* Such an unusual and fun experience!

Amsterdam House of Bols cocktail bar

The “museum” part of the visit ends when the “cocktail” part of it begins: with a cocktail at the Mirror Bar, which is included in the price of admission. I wish Bols had a standalone cocktail bar outside the museum—their menu features some truly fabulous cocktails!

Amsterdam House of Bols typical Dutch height

I just had to snap this picture because it is the perfect example of what I have to deal with as a 5’1″/152cm Filipina living among the tallest people on the planet.

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Babyconcertjes: Live classical music for babies

Do you remember the first time you heard music? I can’t identify a particular song or artist as being the first, but I remember gradually becoming aware of music at about three or four.

My earliest musical memories include being upset at not being allowed to go to a Menudo concert with my mom and sister (I was appeased by a Menudo poster, so my reasons might not have all been musical). Mom’s folksy-hippie favorites John Denver and Peter, Paul and Mary sang of magic dragons and mountains in springtime on long weekend drives to Laguna. I learned to sing nine year-old Lea Salonga’s I Am But a Small Voice in kindergarten, and burst into tears whenever she sang about missing her Mama.

Like most Filipino kids, classical music was never part of my formative experiences with music. I heard classical music for the first time when I joined the Glee Club in college. While rehearsing for competitions in Europe, we were half-envious, half-terrified by stories about how our European competitors grew up with the Kodaly method or knew how to read notes from childhood. And though my friends—many of whom are now professional soloists, conductors and choristers—infected me with their passion for classical music, I still don’t know a whole lot about that world.

That’s why I love the idea of Babyconcertjes: live classical music performances for babies 0-2 years old. I love the idea of giving Tala something I never had: exposure to classical music at an early age. How could I not seize such an opportunity?

Babyconcertjes Amsterdam baroque violin and cello

Founder Anna Smith created Babyconcertjes to give parents and babies an opportunity to enjoy beautiful, thoughtfully chosen pieces of chamber music in a relaxed environment. Each 45-minute concert is different, featuring local musicians who play solos, duets and small ensembles. Babyconcertjes are held in Utrecht, Den Haag, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Gouda and Haarlem.

Babyconcertjes Annabelle Ferdinand baroque violin

Last weekend, Marlon and I took Tala to her first Babyconcertje, featuring Annabelle Ferdinand on the baroque violin and Marike Tuin on the baroque cello.

Babyconcertjes Marike Tuin baroque cello

They played a small selection of pieces by Handel, Corelli and a few others, and presided over a mini sing-a-long for the little ones. We participated mostly via “smile and nod”, as all the Dutch parents knew the songs, but we didn’t!

Tala at Babyconcertjes Amsterdam

At first, Tala seemed more interested in the other babies than in the music. Sitting right up front was a good move—then she listened to the musicians for a surprisingly long time.

Tala listening to live baroque music

Movement was part of it too. Daddy swayed her around in time with the music, and held her when she got really excited and started bouncing up and down.

Tala and Daddy at Babyconcertjes Amsterdam

Did Tala like it? Seems she did. Will she remember it? At this stage, no. Is it good for her? Science says yes, with numerous studies documenting the benefits of music to developmental aspects such as spatial reasoninglanguage learning and more. Did we enjoy our first Babyconcertje, and would we take her to one again? Most definitely!

Find more information about Babyconcertjes on their blog and Facebook page.

Meanwhile, back in Amsterdam…

As you can probably tell from the last few blog posts, being home in Philippines stuck with me for a while. Blogging about Manila, El Nido and my family helped me extend the experience just a little bit longer.

I might’ve been somewhere else mentally and emotionally, but in reality, life goes on here in Amsterdam. And it hasn’t been so bad. The Dutch have been complaining about this “non-winter” (hardly any days dipping below 0ºC, and no snow) but I like it—it’s made the transition back from the tropics easier.

Here’s what we’ve been up to at home over the last few weeks.

Dam Square Amsterdam National Tulip Day

To celebrate the start of the tulip season, Dam Square became a pick-your-own tulip garden for a day—specifically, on National Tulip Day. It was a bit touristy for my taste and we came too late, but it was fun seeing something a bit fresher and greener than the usual living statues and street performers on Dam Square.

Cafe Tabac Amsterdam coffee and tulips

Tulips are indeed starting to pop up all around the city. It will take another month or two until they grow big, bold and bright, but right now they are a welcome pop of color in this dreary winter.

Taschen winter sale

Another mid-winter perk-me-up: sales! Many stores go on sale to start creating space for new spring inventory. After Manila, I declared a shopping moratorium on clothes for Mommy and baby… but not on books!

Taschen books winter sale

Cologne-based publishing house Taschen is one of my favorite publishers. I can’t get enough of their beautiful and affordable books on design, architecture, film, art, culture and fashion. So I couldn’t resist hitting up their mid-winter sale for some seriously discounted books! I’ll share my loot in another post.

Bloody Mary Bennys and Marys pop-up brunch Amsterdam

Getting back to our regular routines has made life easier and more comfortable. But on weekends, I love to find a little something out of the ordinary, like a new pop-up brunch… and a wickedly good Bloody Mary.

Speaking of pop-ups, a city icon popped up right in our backyard!

iAmsterdam Westergasfabriek

There’s a permanent Iamsterdam sign at Museumplein, but there also seems to be a traveling one. This one came to our neighborhood park together with Amsterdam Fashion Week.

iAmsterdam sign D

Guess who tried to climb it, but realized he isn’t 12 years old anymore? iAmsterdam sign Westerpark

It wouldn’t be an Amsterdam winter without lots of gloom and rain. We’ve spent many a day indoors, nursing a cough or cold, watching the world from the warm confines of the living room. Thank goodness for giant windows, and a baby who likes to watch the rain.

Inside on a rainy day
But whenever I can, I try to override this mid-winter slump with a walk around the neighborhood. Even running errands in a city like this is enough to perk me up.

Brouwersgracht houseboats Amsterdam
What’s been perking you up lately?

2014: First quarter goals

I’ve never been the type to make New Year’s resolutions. I tend to associate them with forgetting and failing, which is probably not the best way to start the year.

Goals are different. I don’t think I set goals as often as I should. When I do, I end up pleasantly surprised for having achieved them somehow, even when I haven’t been all gung-ho and determined.

In setting my goals for 2014, I’ve divided the year into quarters. I find this helps to keep me from feeling overwhelmed. It also gives me the flexibility to change my plans and be open to opportunities.

I have three things I want to accomplish in the first three months of the year. I wrote them on my window in pink window marker, so I’ll always have my goals in front of me!

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Time, choices & goals: Lessons from 2013

The first week of 2014 sure went fast! I spent most of it hurting from jetlag, functioning on zombie mode and wanting to give my timezone-confused child away to complete strangers, which is why my first post of the year comes so late.

I wanted to post my personal goals for the year. Before I do, I realized that 2013—and becoming a mother—taught me a few useful things about myself, time and making choices. These lessons helped me formulate my goals in a way that I’ve never thought about before.

Have you set your goals for the year? Maybe my 2013 lessons will give you a couple of things to think about. It’s a long post, but I hope you’ll find something that resonates with you.

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Nine months!

This is a bit late, but… Tala turned nine months old in the Philippines. Yay! She’s now spent as much time in the great wide world as she did inside my womb.

Tala 9 Months Old

As you can see, I’ve been having fun with her hair. This is my favorite hairdo: the baby Bjork.

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Christmas in Amsterdam: Winter scenes

It’s almost time to fly to the Philippines for Christmas! This first half of winter has gone quickly for me. I’ve noticed a big difference from previous winters, when I would get to a point when I was practically crawling to the plane and towards the sunshine.

Maybe it’s because of Tala, who constantly pulls me into action, leaving me zero time to mope on the couch. Or maybe it’s because I finally started taking vitamin D supplements (read this great post on the importance of vitamin D in the winter darkness by Traveling Mama).

Whatever the reason, I’ve enjoyed roaming the city this winter, absorbing the subdued way that the Dutch celebrate Christmas. I’m savoring the quiet restraint here, knowing I’m about to be assaulted by Christmas cheer in Manila (where everything is always an assault). With my camera in my coat pocket (yes, it fits!), I’ve captured a few winter scenes around Amsterdam to share with you.

Amsterdam ice skating on Museumplein

Surrounded by three of the city’s most important museums—the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum—under a glowing winter sunset, the ice skating rink at Museumplein is one of the most picturesque places to enjoy an afternoon in the city. There’s also a skating rink at Leidseplein, but this one is bigger and more photo-op worthy.

Amsterdam winter canal Prinsengracht

The elms have shed all their leaves now, leaving them floating on the canals like shining gold coins in the water…

Winter pigeon bare branches

and leaving stark, bare branches that only the hardiest of Amsterdammers could stand to nest in.

Amsterdam oliebollen stand

Brightly lit gebakkramen, or pastry stands, popped up all over the city in the late fall. Their main offering are oliebollen— big, deep-fried balls of dough that are a popular cold-weather treat, and one of the few seasonal street foods you’ll find in the Netherlands (raw herring is another).

The fact that oliebol literally translates to “oil ball” should tell you why I’ve avoided them so far. It’s also quite telling that the Dutch word for “baked” (gebakken) also means “fried.” There’s almost no separating the two here, just as there’s no separating the Dutch from their deep fryers.

Amsterdam Christmas lights Utrechtsestraat

Every neighborhood has its own signature Christmas lights—nee, sorry, winter lights—that they put up every year. These are on the Utrechtsestraat, a nice but rather high-end shopping street just outside the center…

Amsterdam Christmas lights Nieuwendijk

in the old city center, on Nieuwendijk (which I think is one of the seediest streets in Amsterdam, but looks pretty anyway)…

Amsterdam Christmas lights Haarlemmerstraat

and on the Haarlemmerdijk, my favorite shopping street in the Jordaan.

Amsterdam Prinsengracht by night

The winter nights may be long and dark, but Amsterdam’s canals reflect light and make the nights brighter. On evenings like this one, when the water is mirror-still, it’s just beautiful.

Now I’m getting sentimental. Sssh, don’t tell… but I might actually miss Amsterdam while I’m gone!

Christmas in Amsterdam: Tree of Light by Studio Droog

Now that Sinterklaas is over, the Dutch are finally letting Christmas into their lives. Christmas trees are popping up all over the city: on sale in every neighborhood, dragged home by strapping daddies and excited kiddies, beaming out into the night from cozily lit apartments.

While walking recently, I caught the eye of a woman in the Jordaan who was decorating her Christmas tree by the window. We smiled at each other before I walked on; it was one of those nice little Christmas moments I’ve been searching for lately.

Yep, I’ve been searching. By far, the most impressive Christmas tree I’ve seen this season is the one that hangs in the huge, light-filled Rijksmuseum lobby. It’s a Christmas tree from the future—a 3D holographic tree!

Amsterdam Rijksmuseum holographic Christmas tree

Created by *the* Dutch design company Droog, the Tree of Light is the biggest ever 3D light projection of a Christmas tree to date.

It brings together the work of Anne-Mari Ahola of Ahola Production Design and content by Maurits Engelen of Eyri with the technical expertise of head contractor The Beam Brothers, projection specialists tasked by Droog to manage the project. Maarten ten Holt and Michel Taanman from Van Dik Hout Decor created scale models for testing before commencing on the final construction.

Amsterdam Rijksmuseum Tree of Light1

Menno Iping from The Beam Brothers was kind enough to share a few fascinating technical details from behind the scenes:

- The tree is projected on a ‘canvas’ measuring 6 by 7.5 meters, which is actually made up of 33 acrylic panels in different depths.

- The acrylic panels use nano parts of titanium oxide to capture and reflect light while still keeping a translucent look (which for me, adds so much to that quiet, magical feel!).

- A total of four projectors with a stunning light output of 20,000 AnsiLumens each were used to make the animation visible in the light-filled atrium of the Rijksmuseum lobby.

Amsterdam Rijksmuseum Tree of Light2

I love the animation on this tree. I would have uploaded a video, but I can’t get my Final Cut Pro to work. Projected onto a translucent fabric that moves with the slightest breeze, the tree rotates ever so slowly as it twinkles and drifts overhead. It turns from green to blue to icy white, with a burst of stars along the way.

Amsterdam Rijksmuseum Tree of Light3

This Christmas tree is quiet, it’s restrained, but it’s no less beautiful—just like the Dutch approach to Christmas. Sinterklaas uses up all the pent-up holiday frenzy, leaving Christmas much more subdued, but meaningful nonetheless.

I like how this tree is a soft, deep sigh instead of a big, shiny, over-the-top wow; I love how it gives people passing through Rijksmuseum tunnel an opportunity to stop, look and savor a moment of peace amidst the relentless holiday rush. With Christmas just two weeks away, we all know how hard those moments are to come by!

What’s the most impressive Christmas tree you’ve seen this season?