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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Sinterklaas printable paper ornaments

Sinterklaas is jarig!

Sinterklaas and Piet printable ornament

That’s Dutch for “It’s Sinterklaas’s birthday!” Today is Saint Nicholas Day, the most well-loved holiday in the Netherlands and the Dutch equivalent of Christmas. I’m savoring the last year before all the Sinterklaas hype starts becoming real to Tala—it’s huge at Dutch daycares and primary schools—and we’ll need to start celebrating both holidays.

That gives me a whole year to start learning all the Sinterklaas songs, watching the daily Sinterklaas News (!) to keep up with the latest movements of Sint, buying carrots for Tala to put in her shoe for Sinterklaas’ horse, and buying Tala a Piet costume that she can wear to the arrival of Sinterklaas from Spain. Yep, it’s a whole other world.

Zwarte Piet printable ornament

For now, I’m perfectly happy to enjoy the peace and quiet with a few touches of Sinterklaas, like these adorable free Sinterklaas printable paper ornaments by Studio Momoki.

Aside from Sint, you can also download three of his helpers, the Pieten. There’s also a black and white version for kids to color in and cut out as a fun craft project.

Vincent Van Gogh Christmas ornament

And, this is totally unrelated to Sinterklaas, but if we’re talking about Dutch icons… I couldn’t resist snapping up this Van Gogh self-portrait ornament at the Van Gogh Museum shop. Perfect for our alternative Christmas tree!

If you celebrate Sinterklaas, a gelukkig Sinterklaasfeest to you and yours. And if you’re getting ready for Christmas like I am, I hope you find something fun to give your holiday decorating a fresh twist. Happy weekend!

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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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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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