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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Date night: Hotel de Goudfazant Amsterdam Noord

On my birthday, Marlon took me out for dinner at a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try: Hotel de Goudfazant in Amsterdam Noord.

Date night Hotel de Goudfazant Amsterdam Noord

Don’t be misled by the name: it’s not a hotel. Hotel de Goudfazant is a casual French restaurant with a cool, industrial-chic vibe. This former garage still shows its industrial bones, despite the awe-inspiring glass bottle chandelier that hangs in its huge dining room…

Hotel de Goudfazant Amsterdam Noord

and the large open kitchen, where you can watch the cooks hustle to get your dinner on the table. I love this touch of drama: the kitchen becomes a theater where the cooks are the rock stars.

Open kitchen at Hotel de Goudfazant Amsterdam Noord

I say “cooks” and not “chefs,” because I actually know one of them personally. One of them is a classmate of mine in Dutch class. “So you’re a chef,” I said.

“No, I’m not a chef, I’m a cook,” he replied emphatically. Seeing my puzzled look, he added: “They are very, very particular about the distinction between a chef and a cook here in the Netherlands. Only the boss is the chef. His assistant is the sous-chef. Everyone else is a cook.”

Makes sense, right? After all, chef literally means head, chief or boss in French.

Oysters and champagne Hotel de Goudfazant Amsterdam Noord

As the birthday girl, I got a glass champagne and oysters on the house, care of my chef—er, cook friend. Now that’s a way to start a date night!

Hotel de Goudfazant has a classic French menu with staples such as terrine, venison, steak and lobster, although there are seasonal variations as well. Here, French doesn’t mean fussy and hip doesn’t mean hoity-toity—the atmosphere is casual and unpretentious, and service is friendly and attentive.

Because of the low ambient lighting, I didn’t get any decent food photos (you’ll find lots on their Yelp page). But I did get to wander around the rest of their amazing industrial space, as well as hang out with the staff after closing time. Check out more of Hotel de Goudfazant, after the jump.

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& Other Stories Amsterdam store opening

Have you heard of & Other Stories? Ever since I stepped into their Berlin store two years ago, I’ve been a big fan of this brand, which is part of the H&M Group. I longed for the day they would open a store in Amsterdam… and they finally did! So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be invited to the store opening of & Other Stories Amsterdam.

& Other Stories Amsterdam opening night

One of my favorite things about blogging is the opportunity to meet wonderful people who become your friends online as well as off. The invitation was the sweetest birthday surprise from my blog reader Angel, a fellow Pinay and travel magazine editor living in Arnhem. We’d been emailing each other about meeting up for a while, and it finally happened. Meeting an online friend in person is a bit like going on a blind date, but Angel and I hit it off right away.

Me and Angel at & Other Stories Amsterdam opening

I had been craving for a girly night out and the & Other Stories store opening provided just that. I thought I’d only stay an hour or two, but I couldn’t tear myself away. How could I? For starters, there were hunky men walking around wearing trays of jewelry…

& Other Stories Amsterdam treat tray

and scribbling cute little notes on bottle after bottle of champagne.

& Other Stories Amsterdam champagne with notes

Funny thing: after posting this picture on Instagram, I bumped into this exact same waiter on the tram the very next day! Sometimes I feel like Amsterdam really is a village. I showed him his picture and all the likes he had gotten, and we had a nice laugh about it.

See more from the & Other Stories Amsterdam store opening after the jump.

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