Open Monumentendag: Amsterdam Heritage Days

Amsterdam is famous for its 17th-century canal houses. As a resident, I still get a little thrill riding by the Grachtengordel (Canal Belt) on the way to a Saturday night movie or lunch with friends. Plus, since we’ve started house-hunting, I’ve managed to peek (online) into canalside apartments, partially satisfying my never-ending curiosity about them.

But unless you have deeply lined pockets (or a fat expat package), canal houses are mostly off limits to regular folk—particularly those on the Herengracht, or Lords’ Canal. The Herengracht has been ultra-prime real estate since the 1700s—a fact documented in a now-famous study called the Herengracht Index, a 400-year overview of property prices by Dutch professor Piet Echholtz from the University of Maastricht.

Herengracht houses are proper mansions, so large and highly priced that individuals can rarely afford them; most of their owners today are law firms, banks or cultural foundations.

Herengracht canal houses

That’s why Open Monumentendag (Heritage Days) is so fantastic. It’s a weekend in September when the Netherlands opens over 4,000 designated monuments (54 in Amsterdam alone) to the public. Since it’s highly unlikely that I would ever own, rent or work in a Herengracht house, this was the perfect (and only!) opportunity for me to finally see inside these 17th-century mansions.

Share my voyeuristic pleasure. Please.

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Do not disturb

Sorry for the blog silence this week. There’s been much to write about—Open Monument Day, our first house-hunting tour, and the discovery of a neighborhood that I just might be in love with… and I’m frustrated that I can’t seem to find the time or energy to do it.

I’ve been busy with an unusual amount of work the last two weeks. Not complaining… income is always a good thing! When I’m not working, I’ve been sleeping a lot because I’ve been feeling under the weather on and off since last week. It’s more than a little frustrating to not be in control of my body and energy, but I’m trying to remind myself that duh, I’m pregnant! And that makes taking care of Little Mango’s housing situation (a.k.a., myself) my first priority.

Today I’m finally going to the midwife to get a quick checkup just to make sure everything is okay. Then it’s another busy weekend, with a few more apartment viewings and a free trip to Inside Design Amsterdam (!). So I know I need to get as much rest as I can now to avoid being a total zombie on Monday.

So, I’m offline for now. Be back soon!

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Missed the boat

I spent what was probably the last sunny, warm Sunday of the summer—of the year!— in Amsterdam’s famous Canal Belt for Open Monument Day (more on that in a separate post). While walking from historic one canal house to the next, I felt dizzy and had to stop for a break. Marlon and I ended up spending a good half hour sitting by the canals, just watching all the boats on the stately Herengracht…


… and the smaller, but more charming Leidsegracht nearby.

Boats on Leidsegracht

It was a gorgeous day to be out. For the Dutch, to be out on such a day invariably means getting on a boat and heading out on the water.

Boats on Herengracht

This is probably one of the things about I love the most about the Dutch culture: their affinity with water. It seemed like everyone was out on a boat that day, from crusty old-timers and their shaggy dogs in rust buckets to silver-haired, linen-suited gentlemen in sleek white pleasure crafts.

I love watching the Dutch in their boats. They just look so happy. It doesn’t take much apart from a boat, the water and some gas. Just throw in some food, drinks, a big squishy cushion…

Boat on Herengracht

… and you’re all set. Don’t forget the babies (and a change of diapers)!

Family boating in Amsterdam

If not in a park, on the water is where you’ll find the Amsterdam summer. For the ladies, it was the last chance to slip into those maxi dresses and sandals, and wear the last neons of the season before swapping them for sweaters, boots and varying shades of gray.

Friends boating in Amsterdam

And for the lads, it was the last chance to ogle tanned female bodies on display, and perhaps tempt them in passing with their shirtless goods. Sorry, boys. No more bare shoulders from here on in. Oh and in case you were wondering… Dutch gents really do slather on that much hair gel. This is not a summer thing, it’s all year round.

Lads boating in Amsterdam

I spent the summer (a.k.a. my first trimester) mostly curled up in bed asleep, waking up to occasional pangs of guilt at being indoors while many a sunny day went on without me. Now I realize I haven’t been out on a boat all year. Summer is gone, and with it goes boat season… and I just missed it!

Amsterdam boat bumper

Well, maybe there is no such thing as boat season. You just know these crazy Amsterdammers will still be out on the water in October, heck, maybe even November. If I get desperate enough, I might just join them.

Related reading: check out last year’s boat trip on the canals (and the bridge that nearly decapitated us) here.

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Change of plans

When Marlon and I first got married, we had a five-year plan all mapped out. It looked like this:

Year 1 and 2: Travel.

Year 3: Get pregnant. Have baby.

Year 4: Buy house.

Year 5: Do whatever one does with baby and house.

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way (it never does). Instead what has happened is this:

Year 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5: Travel.

Quite a few of our peers back home already have a house, a car, one or two babies. We have none of that, but we’ve visited 23 countries in 5 years (some more than once), three of which we actually lived in. “Hmm. So this is why we don’t have savings,” Marlon said when I gave him the final tally.

So The Plan has changed a bit; no regrets, we obviously had a lot of fun straying from it. Now it gets interesting, as we have decided to squelch three years’ worth of major life changes into the next few months.

Last 6 months of Year 5: Get pregnant.

Last 3 months of Year 5: Buy house.

Yep, we’re buying our first house. In Amsterdam. And the search officially commences today.

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First trimester: Scan me twice

I was lucky enough to have an ultra-normal first trimester: no strange cravings, no debilitating morning sickness or vomiting (apparently another genetic blessing from my mom), no moody hormonal outbursts. The only thing that was unusual was that a) I slept through most of my first trimester, and b) I got to have two ultrasound scans, right within two weeks of each other.

I had my first scan at 8 weeks, which I posted here. When I called my midwives’ practice to set another appointment, they were surprised that I hadn’t been told to come back at 10 weeks. Then they insisted that I had to come back for another one, because the baby was now the proper size to get an accurate measurement (and a fixed due date).

This was all last minute, the day we left for Budapest. I had a lot of freelance work to finish up, and Marlon couldn’t get away from the office. I was thoroughly annoyed, but I went anyway—alone.

During the first ultrasound, the baby looked like this.

“Those are the legs, arms, feet and head,” pointed out the rather perfunctory ob-gyne on duty. (Okay, we were late, so he had a right to be a bit short with us.)

“Hmmm,” I muttered, squinting hard.

“And now the baby is moving,” he said, when the little mango-shaped blob gave a little wriggle.

“Oh. Wow,” I coughed, a little more enthusiastically.

The second ultrasound appointment was a world of difference. Whatever irritation I felt at having to come back for another scan completely disappeared when I saw this.

My baby’s parts didn’t have to be pointed out to me, and I could see them clearly for myself: the head (with a tiny nose and chin!), torso, bottom, legs, even a shadow of a hand near his mouth.

Then suddenly that little hand shot out, like a punch, and two tiny legs straightened and stretched out, flash-quick. In my mind I went heng! heng! which is the sound my muay thai trainers back in Singapore made with their punches and kicks. Silly, I know.

This is going to sound dumb, but that was the first time I started to believe that there really was a baby inside me. The fog of unreality was still there, but it was lifting.

And not only was there a baby inside me, it was growing. Our little mango had grown from 21.3mm (less than one inch) to 46.3mm (about two inches). It doesn’t seem like much, but to actually double in size in just two weeks is a huge difference! And I’m glad I had the chance to see that difference for myself.

I realized how stupid I was for being annoyed about that second appointment. Any opportunity to see my baby, to know that she’s still inside me, healthy and growing, could never be an inconvenience. This mommy-to-be still has a lot to learn.

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