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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Paris shopping: Merci & Bonton

Do you sometimes get the feeling that you’re the last person on earth to do something or go somewhere? I had that feeling for the longest time about Santorini—as if everyone I know had been there except for me (and Marlon).  More recently, I’ve felt that about watching Frozen. 

This is also the feeling I’ve had about the iconic, supercool Paris lifestyle store Merci. As I write this post, I’m picturing readers out there who will scan the title, sigh and close my blog. “Not another Merci post, yawn.” Forgive me, supercool people! After this post, I will join your jaded ranks. For now, allow me to be a wide-eyed first-timer.

On my last afternoon in Paris, I met Judith for lunch and a stroll around the Marais, but mostly to pop my Merci cherry.

Merci Paris typography suitcases

After lunch at the Merci Cinema Cafe, we elbowed past tour groups of worshipful, black-clad, carefully Eurodressed Japanese tourists—no belt bags and safari vests here—to explore three floors of supercoolness for every aspect of life. I tried to take pictures of everything (not supercool, I know) because it’s just that kind of store: it makes you believe that acquiring these artfully curated and displayed goods will make you a supercool version of yourself.

Merci Paris home section

The basement is stocked with smaller design items for the home and kitchen, and is also wire cage lamp heaven.

Merci Paris cage wire lamps

I had such a hard time finding our bedroom cage lamps online. Apparently they’ve been hiding en masse at Merci all this time.

Merci Paris lightbulbs

Call me weird, but if I had to move back home to the Philippines tomorrow, I would find a way to hoard light bulbs. Yes, light bulbs. If I never have to see another fluorescent bulb in my life, I will be fairly happy. Merci has a great selection.

Merci Paris valises star print

So, valises are apparently a thing. “They’re all the rage in Paris!” Which is the kind of thing your most annoying aunt would say.

Merci Paris valises Liberty

I loved browsing the living and dining furniture on the third floor… it just made me dream.

Merci Paris living room furniture

And it made me realize I can achieve this nonchalantly distressed, thousand-Euro effect by letting Rogue attack an armchair for a few years. “They do this in Paris,” I’ll tell visitors with a casual wave of my hand.

Merci Paris antique armchair

Post-Merci, we walked a few doors down to Bonton, a truly gorgeous (and yes, supercool) children’s store.

Bonton Paris entrance

I told you valises are a thing!

Bonton Paris spring valises

I immediately fell in love with the gorgeous colors, natural fabrics and classic yet unfussy aesthetic. But with price tags ranging from €44 for a pair of cotton bloomers to over €90 for a baby cardigan, this newly blossomed love is destined to remain a long-distance affair. Thank goodness for the bazar (read: small and cheap, but still cute and fun things) in the basement.

Bonton Paris children's clothes spring

I wish I’d known in advance that Bonton also has a coiffeur. I would’ve booked an appointment for Tala and totally become that hateful mother who can’t shut up about her daughter’s first haircut in Paris.

Bonton Paris children's coiffeur

We capped our window-shop-walk with macarons at Pierre Herme, which has officially dethroned Laduree as my favorite Paris macaron. I mean, just look at them!

Pierre Herme macarons Paris

With unusual flavor combinations such as green tea and bourbon, white truffle and hazelnut, and pistachio, cinnamon and cherry, they taste even better than they look.

Macarons Pierre Herme Paris

 

I enjoyed my window-shop-walk around the Marais, and now feel a thousand times cooler… I hope you do too!

Paris museums: Modern art at Centre Georges Pompidou

Once you’ve ticked the obligatory tourist boxes, Paris really begins to open up. Though it’s within walking distance of the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay, the Centre Georges Pompidou seems to get only a fraction of the crowds that besiege its neighboring museum heavyweights.

None of those for me this time around. I decided to dedicate an entire afternoon to the Centre Pompidou’s high-tech urban architecture and vast collection of modern and contemporary art.

Paris Centre Georges Pompidou

The most striking thing about the building, obviously, is the glass-encased escalator that snakes up and across the facade. Architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers designed the building so that all facilities for public movement and technical equipment would be funneled (their word was “centrifuged”) outside, leaving the inside floors completely free and usable.

Paris Centre Georges Pompidou with stroller

Because I had Tala with me in a stroller, I didn’t get to ride the famous escalators. Boo. But that’s okay. What wasn’t okay was wrestling with the effects of a nasty oyster, leaving me in a less than ideal mindset to, ehem, digest all that modern and contemporary (and, let’s face it, hard to understand) art.

So there I was with a baby, dashing to the bathroom every half hour, soaked in a cold sweat and feeling pukey. But never underestimate the power of art to penetrate even the worst of oyster-induced agonies. Here are few of my favorite works from the museum’s collection, and—I’ll save the best for last—the most spectacularly unmissable thing about the Centre Pompidou.

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Paris with a baby: Walk everywhere!

After visiting Paris several times, I’ve settled into a pace and style of travel that allows me to truly savor the delights of this enchanting city. Fortunately, it also happens to be a great way to experience Paris with a baby—maybe even the best way, but I might be biased here.

My entire “Paris with a baby” philosophy can be summed up in these words: Don’t plan too much. Walk everywhere. Let yourself be surprised.

Paris walking baby along the Seine River

By far, the best day we had in Paris as a family was an entire Sunday with only two things on our agenda: brunch with friends and a picture at Trocadero. A stroller is not something any parent wants to be folding, unfolding and schlepping around the Escher-esque labyrinth of stairs that is the Paris metro. So, to fill in the rest of our day, we simply walked everywhere.

Paris taking baby for a walk

We allowed ourselves a generous two hours to wander from our hotel in the 2nd arrondissement to brunch in the 17th, then another two hours to stroll home along the banks of the Seine from Trocadero. And it was simply perfect: relaxed and refreshing, with flashes of the Paris that exists beyond the tourist snapshots and postcard views.

Want to see just how much we enjoyed Paris on foot in just one day? Take a look.

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Paris eats: Le Dome Cafe’s seafood platter

More than romance and lights, Paris to me means fantastic restaurants and superb food. After living in a city with rather limited dining out options, I salivated over the idea of being able to waltz into practically any cafe or brasserie and feast on more than just the regular complement of sandwiches and soups.

We decided to splurge on our first evening out in Paris with dinner at Le Dome Cafe in Montparnasse.

Le Dome Cafe Paris Montparnasse

Le Dome Cafe is the quintessential Paris brasserie at its turn-of-the-century, glamorous best.

Le Dome Cafe Paris Montparnasse outside seating

All sumptuous reds and gleaming brass, Le Dome is a throwback to turn-of-the-century Paris, where leading intellectuals, artists and authors of the day would gather here for food and conversation. 

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Paris eats: Du Pain et des Idées

It isn’t every day I can savor breakfast from one of the best bakeries in Paris—if not the best. So, one crisp and sunny morning, I trekked across Paris on foot, baby and husband in tow, to worship at baker Christophe Vasseur’s temple of bread and ideas…

Du Pain et des Idees Paris boulangerie

the aptly named Du Pain et des Idées.

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Eleven months!

This is about a week late, but I can’t let it just slip by. Tala turned eleven months old!

Tala 11 Months

Not today, obviously, because she turned 11 months old while we were in Paris.

Tala yawning at the Eiffel Tower 11 months

“The Eiffel Tower? That’s for babies!” *yawn*

I thought it was super cool to celebrate that milestone there. She was… well, less than enthusiastic. I can’t wait to show her these pictures one day and watch the retroactive wave of coolness hit her.

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Paris, then and now

Am I getting older, or is it just getting harder to recover from travel? We came back from Paris on Wednesday and I’m still more than a little dazed. Tala brought a raging diaper rash back with her, the house is a mess and I’m paying for my oyster-greediness with a mild case of food poisoning, but of course you don’t want to hear about that. You want to hear about Paris!

Trocadero Paris Eiffel Tower with fiance family and baby

I’m thankful for the chance to keep returning to this vast, complex, beautiful city. Each visit is always mix of well-loved favorites and first-time experiences. Yet each time, I keep discovering things that I haven’t yet done and still want to do, and I just want to keep coming back for more.

I’m incredibly thankful to have returned to Paris with both Marlon and Tala. In 2006, Marlon proposed to me in Paris; seven years later, we’re back not as fiancees, but as a family. We tried to recreate this picture at Trocadero as best we could, marveling at how little and how much things have changed since then. Funny and amazing, how life works out.

I’ll be back next week to write about Paris in more detail: food, shopping, sights, and our favorite experiences together as a family. Till then, have a wonderful weekend!

A Paris Valentine

Well, this is unexpected. After years of (mostly) turning a blind eye to Valentine’s Day, we’re changing it up a bit. Not only do we have plans for tonight—a cocktail workshop at Amsterdam’s historic House of Bols—but in a serendipitous twist, we’ll also be celebrating Valentine’s weekend in the most romantic city on earth.

Oui, Paris!

Paris is always a good idea

A work trip to Paris fell into Marlon’s lap came along at just the right time. After agonizing over budgets and schedules and other boring, adult, parent-like things, Marlon threw caution to the wind and offered me the weekend in Paris as a Valentine present. How could I turn down such a present? Besides, as Audrey Hepburn famously said, “Paris is always a good idea!”

I’ll be back next week to report on Valentine cocktails and Parisian pleasures. In the meantime, happy Valentine’s Day and have a love-ly weekend!

Winter uniform: Isabel Marant for H&M

As a Catholic school girl, the word “uniform” always brings me back to years of white starched blouses and strictly monitored hemlines. I couldn’t wait to break free of my school uniform and was happy to leave that word behind. Well, here I am using “uniform” to refer to my personal style for the first time in years.

Confession time: I’ve fallen into the habit of wearing tight bottoms with oversized tops. Honestly, it took me a few months to realize I was dressing as if I was still pregnant! Once I discovered I didn’t need to be in an Outfit to drop off Tala at the gastouder or to swing by the Kruidvat for a pack of diapers, it was easy to succumb to the warm, forgiving embrace of sweatshirts and leggings. Winter, when it seems pointless to dress up because it all gets covered up by a coat anyway, has simply reinforced that attitude.

But wait! I haven’t given up just yet. Comfort and style don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I figure if I’m going to stick to the basics, those basics ought to look good. If I’m going to just throw on a sweatshirt to pick Tala up from daycare, it might as well be a cool one, right?

This was how I justified the madness of queuing up for the Isabel Marant for H&M collection last November. It turned out to be a logical decision, because I’ve been living in my Isabel Marant loot all season long.

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M Balenciaga

In the earlier half of winter, I could get away with just a warm angora cardigan over this black-and-white linen t-shirt—which is, by the way, from the men’s collection. Seeing the clothes-crazed violence in the women’s department forced me to sneak up to the men’s floor as both a shopping and survival strategy. I barely escaped with my life, plus a few good buys!

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M duffle coat

This is the coat I throw over everything: my navy wool blend duffel coat from Uniqlo. I love how roomy it is, although I wish it was more resistant to pilling.

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M

I thought I would swear off roundneck t-shirts after turning 30, but I couldn’t resist this cute feather-printed linen tee. With a pop of fuschia stretch velvet and SuperCosy fleece tights from Primark, it’s one of my more dressy errand outfits that’s surprisingly comfy.

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M red sweatshirt

Another menswear score: my favorite sweatshirt of the season! This sold out almost instantly, and I wasn’t prepared to inflict bodily harm on anyone to grab the last piece in the women’s department. I just love the combination of color and comfort, print and practicality.

Mom style Indian silver and lapis lazuli necklace

Isabel Marant’s modern spin on bohemian chic inspired me to dig out some of my favorite pieces of ethnic jewelry, like this silver and lapis lazuli necklace I bought while on honeymoon in Jodhpur. I thought it was a bit much for laid-back Amsterdam, but somehow it works with the casual ease of a sweatshirt and boots. I’m glad to get a little more use out of it!

Do you have a “uniform” too? What are your go-to outfits, and how do you keep them fun and fresh?