Seven months!

My baby turns seven months old today!

Tala 7 Months

Sorry for the crappy lighting… this dismal gray fall light is not the best for photos!

This month, Tala started going to a gastouder twice a week. A gastouder (the direct translation is guest parent, but loosely it means a childminder) runs a mini-daycare in their home, with a maximum of three or four children. When I was learning about childcare options in Holland, I wasn’t ready to put Tala in daycare with its bigger groups of up to nine kids and more institutional system.

Then I discovered the gastouder option, which seemed like a good middle ground. The idea of fewer kids and a cozier setting in a home environment was really appealing to me; the Dutch ideal of coziness has really sunk in after nearly three years of living here!

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Van Dijk & Ko

Be prepared for a slew of thrifting posts from me over the next few days. I’m obsessed with finding a desk for my soon-to-be home office, and since I’m on a budget, checking out second-hand sources has been my top priority. One (rare) sunny Saturday morning, my search for the perfect second-hand desk led me across the river IJ (pronounced “eye”) to Amsterdam Noord, which is 14 minutes by ferry from Centraal Station.
Amsterdam Noord is still largely industrial, but it’s considered an “up-and-coming” (i.e. increasingly livable, secretly hip) neighborhood. With wide roads, little greenery and a surfeit of warehouses, it feels like a different planet from the rest of Amsterdam. 
It’s also a killer bike ride, because nothing cuts the wind, which (on the day we were there, at least) is inescapable and so very strong. I felt like 20-pound weights were hanging from my handlebars. 

But my fietsje (little bike) and I forged ahead anyway. I say “little,” because my trusty baby blue cruiser who came all the way from Singapore is microscopic by Dutch standards. I feel like I get strange looks whenever I’m out biking; I’ve seen 11 year-olds riding bigger bikes than mine.

In contrast, Marlon, who bikes to work everyday, has a proper Dutch bike. They call it an oma fiets (granny bike). It’s higher, so you can fully extend your legs while biking and prevent damage to your knees. I don’t bike often enough to care about that stuff, although I should.

Anyway, there was a good reason for the killer bike ride: to explore the 2,500 square-meter second-hand wonderland known as Van Dijk en Ko.

Step inside, after the jump!

All those cliches about shining eyes and a song in your heart? That’s me entering a place like this. Imagine four times this long warehouse space, filled with old books and furniture from the Netherlands, Belgium, France…
… Romania and Hungary. You could kind of tell which pieces were from Eastern Europe: the ones that were folksier, with more pattern and color.

Another Hungarian import sold at Van Dijk en Ko: gorgeous hand-blown glassware. They are brand new, not second hand.

We have way too many glasses as it is, but I need to come back for some of these.

Old mail sacks made of linen, also from France and Hungary, are sold by the meter. I would love a classic French armchair reupholstered in this material.

Aside from books and furniture, there are also lots of old building materials and parts of houses. Iron gate as headboard, anyone?

I could have grabbed a roll of vintage wallpaper for future projects. But I have too much paper at home already.
If we hadn’t been on our bikes, I would have loved to pick up a few of these giant beakers, in arresting hues of emerald and cobalt. 

More impractical but no less eye-catching: a card catalog (remember those?) and a black horse on wheels. I’d love to see someone cycling around the streets of Amsterdam on that!

Though I took my time browsing and loved doing so, I was a good girl that day. My only purchase was a jar of fountain pens (for my newest hobby) at 50 cents apiece.

Unfortunately, my desk eluded me. On to the next!
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Six months

On Sunday, July 10, Marlon and I celebrated our first six months in Amsterdam.

Update: I just remembered a few months before we left Singapore, when we were agonizing over whether to move or not, give up the bigger (joint) income or not, and basically freaking out all the bloody time. We couldn’t talk about anything else for weeks. Finally one afternoon in the pool (pool! I miss swimming!), Marlon said, “You know what, six months from now, we’ll be in Amsterdam laughing about this and wondering what took us so long to decide.”

Well we are now at that six-month point. And what do you know… we are laughing. No regrets.

We used to ignore our Singapore anniversaries (left before I hit my third), but as you can probably tell, things are different here. We slept in on Sunday morning and spent a long time cuddling drowsily on the daybed. Though it sounds normal, it’s actually rare for us to do that on a weekend, so the day started off feeling pretty special.

Then, a huge milestone for me: I went out on my bike. We brought our bikes to Haarlem one weekend and spent some time cycling along the canals. But Amsterdam, with all its traffic (pedestrians, bikes, scooters, cars), is a different animal. Since my goal is to bike by myself regularly, I thought becoming familiar with the route to a place that I actually frequent would be a good start. So with Marlon as my guide (and hawiboy, haha), we biked to the Albert Cuypmarkt.

Intersections are the bane of my beginner’s existence. I’m completely atrocious at starting up again after a stop, so I veered and wobbled into quite a few cars’ path, and probably left quite a few bikers behind me rolling their eyes. One particularly tricky intersection where the bike lane disappeared completely shredded my nerves, and I took to wheeling my bike across the pedestrian lane on several occasions.
The market was closed when we got there, but… I got there! Woohoo! So we took to a bench in the Sarphatipark to calm my frayed nerves, celebrated with some excellent lemon cheesecake ice cream from Het Ijspaleis, and I resolved to keep at it until both my biking skills and confidence improve.

It was only on my bike ride home that I noticed that I had been wearing a tight frown and chewing on my lip all throughout. I made a conscious effort to iron out my features (like my flamenco teacher used to insist we do). And looking calm and collected—even happy—was easy, because the ride home was much, much better. Marlon led me down a different route with fewer intersections and less traffic, and I had a much easier time of it.
On the way home, my big loving bear of a husband bought me yellow roses to celebrate. Yes, arriving home in one piece, insurance intact, deserves flowers. He also pulled a first by biking home one-handed, with a bouquet of flowers in one arm. So very Dutch! Now all he needs to do is mount a baby between his handlebars and start texting with the other hand, and he’ll be a full-blown Amsterdammer.

In the evening we got all dressed up for dinner at Lucius, a seafood restaurant in the city center. And no, we didn’t bike there. But I look forward to hopefully, someday, becoming one of the legions of Dutch superwomen who get dolled up in heels and a dress and think nothing of biking to dinner.



Just as I look forward to more adventures in Amsterdam with my one and only partner in crime. Happy six months to us, Amsterdam. Let’s make the remaining (at least) 4.5 years count.

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Bergen aan Zee

Marlon had Thursday and Friday off the week we got back from Paris (they celebrate the Ascension here, who knew?). So it seemed like a good idea to squeeze in a quick getaway to the beach. We picked Bergen aan Zee, a seaside town a short train and bus ride from Amsterdam, and booked an overnight stay at a small hotel in town.
By the time I got back from Paris, I was so wiped out from keeping up with the Glee Club (and Mimi, and the frenetic city itself) that packing for another trip and getting on another train was the last thing I wanted to do. If we hadn’t already pre-paid for the hotel, I would have happily skipped this trip. But because we’d already spent the money, we decided to go anyway, leaving after lunch on Thursday. 
Bergen is a picturesque town with a relaxed vibe, and markedly upscale as I could see from its restaurants and boutiques. It’s full of old, pretty one- or two-story houses like these. 
To get to the beach from our hotel in the center of town, Marlon and I would have to cycle some 4 kilometers… which would have been fine and dandy with me if we didn’t run into the problem I always seem to have in Holland. Which is finding a suitably me-sized bicycle.
With no children’s bikes available at the hotel and the only bike rental closed for the Ascension holiday, there was nothing left to do except strap our beach blanket onto the rear rack of Marlon’s rented bike, hop on, and cling to my huffing and puffing husband for the next 4 kilometers. The bike ninjas of the Netherlands may scoff at this mileage, but for two relative noobs like us, it was no joke. If I ever had any doubts about Marlon’s love for me, he sure proved it with this bike ride. 

Still, it was a beautiful day and a pretty ride. We passed some huge and stunning summer homes, no doubt belonging to obscenely wealthy residents. Tall, lush green trees lined the bike path, cooling and shading us on the way.

I’m beginning to get used to the look of Dutch beaches: grassy dunes overlooking long expanses of sand and shallows. But in Bergen, I saw these for the first time, rows and rows of them harboring sun loungers and stretching for miles along the beach.

I don’t know what they’re called, aside from advertising space. But when the staff at the beach restaurants started packing these up at 6pm, it became all too clear what their function was: to block the wind. Which was damn strong. And cold.  Marlon and I didn’t last longer than 15 minutes on the beach without them. Mapapamura ka sa lamig!

Searching for shelter from the wind, I was drawn to these bright yellow wicker cabins for rent. 

They’re sort of like big rectangular boxes with cushions, armrests wide enough to hold drinks and small plates, and large drawers underneath for your beach stuff. Most importantly, they make an excellent barrier against the wind.

The colorful lining inside makes for pretty pictures too!

After we’d had enough of huddling (and cuddling) against the wind, we decided to bike back to town before it got too dark. Poor Marlon was so tired that we ended up walking a full third of the way back. After a surprisingly good dinner in the center of town, it was back to our little (and I mean really little) room at the Hotel Marijke.

I thought the trip would tire me out, but our quick seaside jaunt recharged my batteries. Then again, I wasn’t the one who had to pedal away with my extra weight. Maybe I need to ask Marlon how he felt about the trip! I’d love to go back to Bergen, though. And next time, I’m bringing my bike on the train.

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Texel, take two

On our second and last day in Texel, the sun finally came out and gave us shivering timbers a break. I woke up feeling like a zombie cast in lead, but as soon as I was out in the sunshine I began to feel like a human being again. So Marlon and I did what we should have done the day before, and went into town to rent bikes.
“I think I need one of those children’s bikes,” I told the bike store lady, pointing to a metallic pink bike with GIRL POWER! emblazoned on the side. “No, no, of course not,” she said dismissively, hauling out regular-sized lady bikes for me to try. After seeing me fail to even lift my leg over the seat of several bikes, she gave in. I may not know much about bikes, but I sure know my legs.

And we were off. Texel is practically synonymous with cycling, and there’s a fantastic network of bike paths running all along the west coast where the dunes lie. My bike-happy friends Elaine and Paul would absolutely love it, and with the sunshine and the gentle breeze urging us along the path, I was loving it too. 

We would stop every now and then, and seeing all the fit Dutch lolos and lolas whiz by effortlessly, I was really feeling the need to get back into shape. Active holidays are normally not my thing, but this weekend showed me just how good they could be.

We biked for about an hour until we reached another walking path that cut through the heath to the beach. “That’s more like it!” I squealed when we hit the dunes. What a difference sunshine can make!

We plopped down on the dunes overlooking the beach, stretching our legs, talking, and just enjoying the moment. Marlon hugged me and thanked me for a perfect weekend, and I was just happy he was having fun despite all the hiccups with the weather, the bikes, and our exhaustion from the day before.

We cycled back to the hotel through the Pelikanse Bos and stopped by the riding school one last time. By this time the horses were starting to look like old friends, haha.

Eunice Tan, isdatchu?

There were lots of families with young children feeding and grooming the ponies. There were larger horses available for adults to ride, and I was ready to indulge Marlon. But he said he was just content to stand around and snap photos of their adorable fuzziness.

After a late, leisurely lunch in town, we were ready to pack up and head for home. From De Koog, we hopped on a bus back to the port at ‘t Hoorntje to board the Dutch equivalent of a ro-ro. It really amazes me that return fare on a vessel of such impressive size and condition is just €2.50 (Php 150). Para ka lang nag-bangka to Puerto Galera from the Batangas pier.

As soon as boarding horn commenced, everyone scrambled for deck seats in the sun.

Back when I used to travel to Europe as a tourist, I used to laugh at how Europeans would go batshit crazy at the slightest hint of sunshine. Living here has made me totally get it.

Speaking of batshit crazy: on our train ride home, an old bald man wearing heavy white foundation, thick red lipstick, blue eyeshadow up to his eyebrows and a frothy, lacy, flouncy white wedding dress waltzed into our car and took the seat across the aisle from us, muttering to himself nonstopI would have taken a picture, but I was too freaked out. Ganda ng lolo mo! Maybe too much sun can addle your brain. 

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