sisterMAG Blogger Feature: Urban Island

Oh hey look, I’m in sisterMAG! What a great way to start the week.

Issue #14 of “the journal for the digital lady” is all about Islands this summer, and celebrates the Urban Island for those who spend their summer holidays in the city. I’m part of a sisterMag blogger feature that highlights what summer is like in the “urban islands” of Barcelona, Hamburg, Essen, Munich, Vienna and of course, Amsterdam.

Amsterdam canals Instagram

Spring with the famous Dutch tulips in full bloom is great for visiting Amsterdam. But for me, summer is the best time to actually be living in Amsterdam. Because Tala doesn’t go to school yet, Marlon and I like to travel off-peak, during the months of April to June and early September.

That leaves the summer for discovering my adopted city: fighting for tables on packed terraces (and discovering new ones), feeling more like myself by wearing sandals and skirts, biking in the sunshine, seeing the canals by boat. I actually feel cheated when we’re away during the summer and I find out that Amsterdam’s been having awesome weather. When the sun’s out in this city, I often feel thankful for my life here, and feel that there’s no place I’d rather be.

I’m happy to be celebrating my favorite season in Amsterdam by being part of this issue of sisterMAG. You can read Issue #14 right here—skip ahead to page 195 for the Urban Island section, or take your time and savor the whole magazine. It’s fab summer reading. Enjoy!

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Life is beginning again

Doreen Fernandez

It’s oddly prescient of our food-loving relationship that Marlon and I met in the freshman English class of Doreen Fernandez, the Philippines’ foremost food scholar, food writer and food critic.

Both of us loved Doreen, although perhaps we didn’t appreciate her as much as we did after we left her class, and especially after she passed away in 2002. Maybe because in our classroom, she wasn’t the Philippines’ foremost food writer, scholar, critic and all those amazing things—she was simply Ma’am Doreen.

Her Facebook page, run by her relatives after her death, says:

She has taught us that food writing can be a scholarly pursuit, eating an erudite experience, and the celebration of Filipino cooking an affirmation of our national identity.

But what she taught me was that I was good at writing, that I could take it beyond the formal theme books of high school, and do more with it than impress teachers with my precociousness. I’m a writer today because of her generous marks on my essays; because she called me to read my writing out loud in front of the class; because when I wrote about a creepy supernatural thing that happened to me, she believed me (and told me to contact Danton Remoto and join the Spirit Questors); because of her gentle ways and ever-present smile.

It was a delicate time in my life, but I didn’t know that then. At the time I needed it most, she gave me the stimulus I needed to write, a structure within which to write regularly, and the gentle encouragement to keep writing well.

As chair of the Communication department, her door was always open for a chat. I remember talking to her about wanting to live in Europe, and if I should do it as a singer or as an English teacher. “Sing!” she said without hesitation. “If I could sing, I would! You can teach English when you’re old, like me.”

I’ve been rediscovering her food writing, or at least trying to. Her books are hard to get hold of outside the Philippines, but some of her wonderful essays are excerpted in this blog. That’s how I found this quote, which I think is a wonderful way to start the week—or any day for that matter. The reference to food makes it uniquely Doreen, and resonates with a foodie like me.

So, happy start of the week, everyone! I wish you a fresh and hopeful day, an upbeat spirit, and life that begins anew. Oh, and good food, too.

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Instagramsterdam: July

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m on Instagram a lot. Rather than feel like I have to catch up on so much blogging backlog, I love posting quick updates on Instagram.

Instagramsterdam is a new blog series rounding up my favorite Instagram posts of the month about  Amsterdam. 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.

For you, it’s a way to see glimpses of daily life in Amsterdam—hopefully, to get to know the city the way I know it, and see that it’s so much more than the tired stereotype of weed and wooden shoes. I also want to introduce you to some of my favorite Instagrammers from Amsterdam and beyond.

Instagramsterdam July 2014-8

I didn’t spend much of July in Amsterdam, but there were some beautiful moments nevertheless.

July was all about blue skies and fluffy clouds, a rarity in this land of overcast and gray; yummy, summery meals at the Neighbourfood Market; stolen moments to lie in the grass and read a few pages of a new book; rediscovering the city on my new bicycle (it’s that orange one in the foreground!); finding a new place to work on the water; and simply enjoying being home after a long trip.

Now August begins, the last month of this wonderful summer we’re having. Let’s make the most of it.

P.S. If you haven’t yet, come follow me on Instagram!

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Street art in Vienna

I can’t resist a bit of street art spotting whenever I travel. The easiest place to see a bit of street art in Vienna is the appropriately (and obviously) named Street Art Passage, which connects the Museum Quarter to the Spittalberg district.

Vienna Street Art Passage

This is one of six passageways leading into the Museum Quarter, each one a mini-museum with its own theme. The Street Art Passage features permanent installations by InvaderLois Weinberger and BUSK.

Invader Street Art Passage Vienna


Lois Weinberger Street Art Passage Vienna

Lois Weinberger

BUSK Street Art Passage Vienna


More importantly, it’s an ever-changing gallery of exhibitions by different street artists. Read about them in the mini-magazine Beton Blumen, which is sold from a postcard vending machine on the premises.

Bible Street Art Passage Vienna

The Street Art Passage is kind of the obvious place to go, as far as street art in Vienna is concerned. But it was missing that unique frisson of surprise and delight that comes with spotting street art in an unexpected place.

No, that little kick was something I found elsewhere. Read on to share my discovery.

[Read more...]

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Five faves: Things to do in Vienna

5 fave things to do in Vienna

The gardens at Belvedere Castle, Vienna

Vienna surprised me. Born of a long history of wealth and empire, modern-day Vienna struck me as likable, livable, underrated—a city that wears its historical, artistic and cultural treasures with an easy, quiet grace. Though I was there 10 years ago and stayed a full week, I don’t remember liking it as much as I did on my recent trip to meet up with my friends from the Ateneo Chamber Singers.

Apart from being a choir groupie, I got to explore Vienna on my own and was pleasantly charmed. A list of things to do in Vienna should be way longer than this, but for a quick city trip or weekend break, I’ve chosen my personal top five.

See Klimt’s The Kiss at Belvedere Castle.

As a lifelong fan of both Art Nouveau and Gustav Klimt, I couldn’t miss seeing Klimt in his hometown. Nestled among manicured gardens, Vienna’s Belvedere Castle houses the largest collection of oil paintings by Klimt, including Lovers, more popularly known as The Kiss.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Taking photos of The Kiss is forbidden, but I couldn’t stop the goosebumps. Seeing Klimt’s masterpieces up close, it’s amazing how bright and bold they are—just as if they were painted yesterday.

Gustav Klimt The Bride Belvedere Castle Vienna

Detail from “The Bride”, Gustav Klimt

The Belvedere Castle is also a wonderful introduction to the art of the Vienna Secessionists, and the haunting pieces of another famous Austrian artist: Egon Schiele.

Egon Schiele The Family Belvedere Castle Vienna

Detail from “The Family,” Egon Schiele

The Belvedere consists of an Upper and Lower part, with separate admission fees for each. If it’s Klimt you’re after, head straight to the Upper Belvedere.

Have a Viennese kaiserschmarrn and a Turkish coffee at Cafe Central.

Vienna is a star of turn-of-the-century European cafe culture, like Paris, Prague and Budapest. Built over 130 years ago, Cafe Central is the city’s most famous cafe, where intellectuals such as Freud, Lenin and Trotsky were regulars.

For a royal experience, combine a visit to this empress of cafe culture with the emperor of Vienna’s dessert scene: the Kaiserschmarrn.  Plainly said: you have to try the Kaiserschmarrn, and you have to have it here.

Vienna kaiserschmarrn at Cafe Central

The modest description “shredded pancake” did not prepare me for this fluffy mountain of cake, crowned with crunchy jewels of burnt caramel and a glossy, ruby-red sauce of stewed plums. It was my first meal of the day, so I attacked it with gusto; however, faced with a serving platter that could easily feed two or three (for just €8.50!), eventually I surrendered to the mighty Kaiserschmarrn.

Why a Turkish coffee and not a cafe Vienna? Personally, I found the Wiener Melange, a kind of Viennese cappuccino, kind of bland. This Turkish coffee, served in a copper pot, is the real stuff—a potent brew worthy of the magnificent Kaiserschmarrn.

It’s also a nod to Viennese history: at the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire attempted to capture Vienna twice, with two sieges 150 years apart. If the Turks had managed to capture and rule Vienna, who knows how Europe might look today?

Oh, and hey, Cafe Central is gorgeous too.

Vienna Cafe Central interior

It’s a celebrity in the cafe scene, but there are many others worth visiting in Vienna. Check out this great guide to Vienna’s cafes—I’ve bookmarked it for a return visit.

[Read more...]

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