Oude Kerk Amsterdam: The Garden Which is The Nearest to God

Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Atzu The Garden Which is the Nearest to God

I have an insatiable thirst for new ways to experience Amsterdam, my adopted home. While browsing Instagram, I saw glimpses of a shining white platform atop the Oude Kerk in the red light district, offering city views I’d never seen before. I knew I had to go and see it for myself.

“The Garden Which is the Nearest to God” is a temporary installation by Japanese artist Taturo Aztu, who “…is internationally renowned for his temporary art projects which transform our experiences of monuments, statues and architecture.

Radically altering our perceptions, his installations provide public and intimate access to elements within our urban environment.”

The installation itself is a roof terrace centered around the weather vane and bell tower of the Oude Kerk Amsterdam, for this summer only.

Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu roof terrace installation

The Oude Kerk (Old Church) is the oldest building in Amsterdam, founded as a tiny wooden chapel in the 13th century. Generations of prominent city residents were buried here, including Rembrandt’s wife and muse Saska van Uylenburgh. It’s undergone three massive restorations since the 1950s.

The architectural, organizational and logistical complexity of putting such an large scale project on such a historic monument boggles my mind. I have to applaud the ambition—and execution—of it.

What is truly special about Aztu’s “Garden” are the amazing city views. There aren’t many tall buildings in Amsterdam, and especially not in the oldest part of the city known as De Wallen. Most visitors know this as the notorious Red Light District.

View overlooking Amsterdam city center from Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu

I went with my friend Angel on a clear, bright sunny day. We could see all the way across the historic city center (yes, it really is that small!) to Central Station and to A’Dam Toren across the river in Amsterdam Noord (both on the upper left of the photo).

For a part of the city with mostly four-story buildings, this is pretty damn cool!

View of Amsterdam historic city center De Wallen from Oude Kerk Amsterdam

I loved looking out on the busy Oudezijds Voorburgwal (try saying that 10 times fast!), the main artery of the Red Light District.

View of Oudezijds Voorburgwal from Oude Kerk AmsterdamFrom a distance and in the sunshine, it loses its neon-lit seediness and could be any charming, picturesque Amsterdam canal.

View of Dutch canal houses from Oude Kerk Amsterdam

It’s also a rare treat to see the characteristic gables that crown Amsterdam’s canal houses practically at eye level. A feast of details for those who love that kind of thing, as I do.

White wall Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu

I love a good wall to take portraits against, and the best one in Amsterdam right now is this one on top of the Oude Kerk. Thank you Taturo Aztu!

Solo portrait at Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu installation

With sunshine reflected off its pristine whiteness, it creates the best natural lighting ever.

Oude Kerk Amsterdam clock tower

While waiting for the clock to strike three, we spent the time chatting, taking pictures and sunbathing. It feels pretty special to be this close to the oldest clock tower in the city when it chimes its hourly tune.

“The Garden Which is the Nearest to God” by Taturo Aztu is at the Oude Kerk Amsterdam until the 6th of September 2015. Book tickets online at the Oude Kerk website.

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A’DAM Toren Amsterdam: Icon under construction

Every city has an iconic landmark. Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor, Paris’s Eiffel Tower or Rome’s Coliseum are all beautiful and recognizable, but these days they mostly serve as backdrops for the requisite tourist selfie. They’re also somewhat cut off from the real life of a city.

As urban dwellers, our participation in the life of these iconic structures is limited. We can’t really know them intimately—run our hands over their bones, poke around in their guts, or watch them grow. What would it have been like to see them as they were being built?

Short of traveling back in time, that’s not really possible. Or is it?

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam The Making of a Landmark

This is why I couldn’t miss out on a very special Instameet organized by the IGersAmsterdam community. To mark Dag van De Bouw (National Construction Day) on June 13, IGersAmsterdam offered 20 local Instagrammers access to the construction site of A’DAM Toren Amsterdam, the city’s newest landmark.

Rising 22 stories high, A’DAM Toren Amsterdam was the former headquarters of Shell, located along the IJ river across Amsterdam Central Station. When Shell moved to their new headquarters, the building designed by architect Arthur Staal—known as Toren Overhoeks, or ‘Diagonal Tower’, for its 45-degree angle to the river—was open for redevelopment.

Concepts were bidded out, and the choice was made: to make the tower into a creative hub, and to finally build the iconic observation deck that Amsterdam never had. Born of a four-way partnership among creative individuals, the vision was brought to life by architects Claus & Van Wageningen. Renovation of the tower began in July 2014 and is scheduled for completion in April 2016.

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam under construction elevator

The plans for A’DAM Toren sound amazing. The tower’s main draw and crowning glory, quite literally, is called The Crown. Sitting on top of the tower, this structure will contain the Lookout: a diagonal viewing deck on the 2oth and 21st floors, with a 360-degree panorama of Amsterdam.

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam observation deck view from The Crown

There is nothing like this in Amsterdam. You can see clear across the city to Schiphol airport, even on a characteristically cloudy day. For convenience, nothing beats the accessibility to Central Station which is a five-minute (free!) ferry ride away.

The Crown took nine months to develop and a mindblowing three days to install. Three days! That’s first world construction for you.

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam shooting view of Central Station

What was fantastic about this Instameet was that we got to climb even higher than the Lookout—right up on the rooftop of the A’DAM Toren itself, which isn’t open to the general public, not even for National Construction Day.

The Lookout will also contain a bar and restaurant on the 20th floor, a revolving restaurant on the 19th floor, and…. a giant swing on the very edge of the roof. Say whaaat?! I have a mild-to-moderate fear of heights, but I. Cannot. Wait.

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam windblown hair

What’s better than going to a super cool, limited-access location? Going there with a bunch of fun, friendly and talented photographers! No need for selfies here—it was so easy to just make friends and hand them my camera or phone. I think the last time I had so many nice pictures taken of myself was at my wedding.

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam Instagrammers on roof

In the company of fellow ‘grammers, nobody twice about lying down on steel beams or taking a picture of your feet dangling off the side of the building. Who says its lonely at the top?

But wait, there’s more to A’DAM Toren Amsterdam than the view. Come and see, after the jump.

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Sorry, not sorry

I was about to sit down with my tail between my legs, and write a sheepish apology for having been away from the blog for so long.

But, after 4.5 years in the Netherlands, the land of confident directness and zero apologies, this exceedingly polite, too-eager-to-please Filipina has learned to distinguish between the apologies that are necessary, and those that aren’t.

So, as the hashtag goes, I’m #sorrynotsorry…

… that I’ve been traveling for work. In the last two months, work has taken me to two of my absolute, most favorite cities in Europe: Berlin…

Berlin Brandenburger Tor

and Barcelona.

El Born Barcelona plaza

As someone who tends to joke I’m just a WAHM who sits at the computer in my pajamas all day, it’s a thrill to realize that my work as a freelance writer and producer can actually be… glamorous. Backing up footage in a hotel room with floor-to-ceiling views of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Ocean can do wonders for one’s perspective.

Barcelona beach view from the W Hotel

I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve been working a lot. Last year I had a Tim Gunn “make it work” moment, when I realized that I need to acquire more local clients in Amsterdam, and develop a network of contacts here as strong as the ones I left behind in Manila and Singapore. Because this is home now.

Well, I’m doing just that. Work has begun to trickle in from local businesses and entrepreneurs, some of whom are doing design-led, inspiring work that excites me (even if the pay doesn’t always).

These days, work takes up most of my writing time and brain. With what’s left over, I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve sought (and found) new things to love about Amsterdam.

WWIM11 2015 Amsterdam

I joined the 11th Worldwide InstaMeet hosted by the local Instagram community in another effort to bring my online life offline. I met like-minded explorers, discovered postcard-perfect spots in my own city, and became more addicted to Instagram than ever. Hmm, time to revive Instagramsterdam?

I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve blown off work to go on weekday dates with my husband. Marlon has had a few weekdays off, and after dropping off Tala at the gastouder, we date like giddy teenagers. Shedding the mom-and-dad routine for a day, we get high on the bliss of afternoon movie matinees. We talk about our pipe dreams. We try “that place” we’ve been wanting to try (there’s always a long list).

ArtDeli Amsterdam

Then toss back a glass or two of wine before cycling back to reality, back to the daughter who runs squealing into our arms, and back to the household we have to keep running.

I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve been cementing our life with traditions and routines. Friday lattes with my mommy friends at the new cafe with the awesome play corner. Afternoons at the playground and Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market. The food trucks of Rollende Keukens and the orange fever of King’s Day.

King's Day for kids at Westerpark

All of that takes time, effort, and energy—all of which goes into solidifying one’s sense of home in a foreign land. And I can’t do any of that from behind the computer!

Finally, and it should go without saying, that the one thing I’ll never be sorry for… is that I’ve simply been away being Tala’s mom.

Reading her books upon books, and singing her Filipino folk songs. Choosing her outfits in the morning (a power I won’t be holding for long), and searching for wooden legs for her new desk on Etsy. Wiping her hands of chalk after she’s gone wild drawing “polka dots” on her bedroom wall, and brushing her hair despite her toddlerrific efforts to resist.

Tala chalkboard wall closeup

Trying to act normal and ignore her throughout Hulk-sized fits of rage (quickest way to end it), researching her school options in our neighborhood, and worrying about why she suddenly seems to hate the babies at her daycare. Marveling at how quickly she falls asleep after a good long cuddle from me, at how much she needs Mama’s touch to feel calm, safe and loved. And so much more.

This is my life lately, a life that has enticed me away from the computer. I have nothing to apologize for, and everything to celebrate. What are you #sorrynotsorry for?

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Cherry blossoms in Amsterdam

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdam Japanse Bloesempark

After a long winter, spring has finally arrived in Amsterdam. And it’s about bloody time! Seasonal affective disorder (SADs) got to me big time over the last six months; the return of sunshine, blue skies, flowers and budding green leaves has brought my energy back with it.

To celebrate the season, and because I really needed some cheering up the other day, I’ve been on the hunt for those most ephemeral symbols of spring—cherry blossoms. So where does one go to see cherry blossoms in Amsterdam?

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdamse Bos

My friend Giova brought me to the ultimate spot to see cherry blossoms in Amsterdam: the Japanse Bloesempark (Japanese Blossom Park) in the Amsterdamse Bos, the park bordering the cities of Amsterdam and Amstelveen.

Because these delicate blossoms are so fleeting, you must see them soon as they burst into bloom. A few days of rain and wind, which are synonymous with Amsterdam weather, can lay them to waste immediately. It helps to have a friend who lives close by to be on cherry blossom patrol.

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdamse Bos wide view

The park has 400 cherry blossom trees, which were planted by the Japanese Women’s Club as a memorial to the victims of the tsunami in 2000. Half of trees bear Japanese women’s names, while the other half are named after Dutch women.

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdam Japanese hanami picnic

The park is a favorite picnic spot of expat Japanese families who miss the traditional hanami, or cherry blossom viewing parties, of their native land. It also hosts a Sakura Festival every 10th of April. For visitors of all nationalities, it’s a beautiful place to take photographs, contemplate nature, and simply enjoy the coming of spring.

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdams Kersenbloementuin photo shoot

I love a good concept photo shoot as much as anyone else, but please, please be gentle with the cherry blossoms! We saw a woman who must have been tugging on this branch for a good half hour while posing for photos. These blooms are so delicate, giving them tender loving care means they’ll last longer for everyone to enjoy.

Unless you are up for a very long bike ride, the best way to reach the Japanse Bloesempark is by car. Closer to the city center, your best bet to see cherry blossoms in Amsterdam is at the Westerpark.

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdam Westergasfabriek

The trees line the cycle path right beside my beloved kinderbadje, with some small picnic tables nearby should you want to dine under the blossoms.

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdam Westergasfabriek cycle path

This is truly one of my favorite spots in the city, and I can’t wait for summer to see it filled with happy, splashing kids, mine included!

Cherry blossoms in bloom Amsterdam Westerpark

Have you seen cherry blossoms in bloom? Tell me all your favorite secret spots. Maybe one day I’ll actually get to see them in Japan. One can dream, right?

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Amsterdam Light Festival: Water Colors canal cruise

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014

Even a beautiful city like Amsterdam needs a little help in the winter. The sun disappears for days on end, and what little light there is fades to black as 3 or 4 p.m. I need a good incentive to brave the cold and dark, to go out and see the city—and I know I’m not the only one. Thankfully, there’s the Amsterdam Light Festival.

Now on its third year, the Amsterdam Light Festival turns the city into an open-air gallery of public art: sculptures, installations, and projections from artists all over the world, all made with light. From over 260 submissions, 39 artworks were chosen to lend Amsterdam a bit of color and brightness in the dark winter months.

There are three ways to enjoy the Amsterdam Light Festival. To go on foot or by bicycle, you can book a guided tour called Illuminade. There’s also a boat route called Water Colors, which is offered by several canal cruise companies from several departure points in the city center.

I went on a Water Colors boat tour and loved it! I didn’t get to take pictures of all the installations (and honestly, some were better than others), but here are some of my favorite artworks from the tour. The first is Light Bridge, an ode to the bridges of Amsterdam by local design studio Tjep. It’s interactive and reacts to movements on the street and on the water.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Light Bridge by Tjep

Rising from the dark canals like a ghostly mangrove forest, Arborescence by Loop.pH (UK) looks both futuristic and organic.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Arborescence

Everyone on the boat fell silent as we sailed beneath the floating circles of Effervescence by Geraud Periole. Simple yet stunning.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Effervescence by Geraud Periole

Inspired by the Mobius strip, Circle of Life by Amsterdam-based architect Rob van Houten turns a symbol of eternity into an entryway for the rush of people flowing into the city.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Circle of Life Brouwersgracht

Seeing this man and woman together on the bridge, I couldn’t help but think: mood lighting, the romantic Amsterdam canals, and a ring? All the ingredients for a perfect proposal. I sense a missed opportunity here!

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Circle of Life by Rob van Houten

See more masterpieces of light after the jump, plus a few tips for enjoying the Amsterdam Light Festival this winter.

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