Amsterdam after dark

One of my weaknesses as a tropical-blooded person in a cold climate is that I tend to shy away from going out in the evenings, especially when the nights start to get longer and colder. But when I do end up going out at night, I always end up happy and thankful to live in a city that looks so pretty after dark.

My friend Michelle’s birthday last weekend was another chance for me to savor Amsterdam by night. She kicked off her celebration with drinks at the Sky Lounge of the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel beside Centraal Station, and the pleasant weather allowed us to stay out on the terrace to enjoy sweeping views of Amsterdam by night.

Part of the Sky Lounge terrace overlooks a side of Amsterdam tourists normally don’t see: the broad expanse of the IJ, with (from left to right) Westerdok, Centraal Station and the Eye Film Institute

… as well as the Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ (Music Hall on the IJ), the Movenpick Hotel, and Marlon’s former office building. This is where the big cruise ships dock when stopping over in Amsterdam; there’s one on the lower left of this photo.

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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…

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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Iceland: Fun with glaciers (Part 2)

Allow me to continue with my list of fun things you can do with glaciers in Iceland. So far, we’ve covered walking on, drinking from, and finding wildlife on a glacier. Here’s a couple of things you can do with a glacier’s many smaller offspring: those glistening, floating chunks of fun called icebergs.

4) Drift among them. When the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull receded from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, it left behind a lagoon known as Jökulsárlón, now the deepest lake in Iceland. (You may recognize it from A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Tomb Raider or Batman Begins.) Floating in this lagoon are chunks of ice that have broken off the glacier, and you can take a boat cruise to find yourself bobbing alongside them.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

Marlon and I chose to take an hour-long Zodiac boat tour, which includes floatation suits and life jackets. The smaller size of the boat allows a more intimate group, and enables you to weave in and out of the icebergs more easily.

Jokulsarlon_Zodiac boat

That way, you enjoy a chance to get up close and personal to some truly impressive creations of nature.

Jokulsarlon boat cruise captain

Uh, I meant the icebergs.

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Getting the boot

Have you ever realized you had a completely blank schedule on a beautiful, sunny Saturday and thought to yourself: “Omigod! It’s absolutely perfect! Today is the day! We can finally get the boot!”

Probably not. But that’s because you didn’t know that boot is the Dutch word for boat!

In this city of canals, one of the most popular weekend pastimes is boating. With large cushions and blankets lining the deck, wine glasses in hand, in their preppy-chic Ralph Lauren/Tommy Hilfiger-type sailing getups (on cloudy days) or shirtless (on sunny days), a fluffy dog or two peeking out from the prow, the Dutch are experts in taking cozy chic to the canals. And yes, many of them actually own their own boats. I’ve seen so many happy Dutchies on boats since spring that I’ve developed an entirely new form of envy… boat envy.

I’ve had a standing reservation at Mokumboot, a boat rental company two blocks from my house, since April. Weather had been so uncooperative, especially through our crappy rainy summer, that I feared I would never get to use it. Whenever I had the odd sunny day in my sights, boats would get fully booked up a week in advance.

But September gave us a stunning gift: a rare, two-week stretch of blissful sunshine and good vibes. So on one glorious Sunday morning, the planets aligned. And we could finally, finally get the damn boot.

Marlon and I showed up at the Mokumboot dock at 11 in the morning to pick up our boat. I actually got us out of the driveway, so to speak before handing the wheel to my college friend Jec. She moved here with her boyfriend KD for work, and I’m lucky to have a Pinay friend I already know pretty well!

Steering is not as easy as the Dutchies make it look. You need to keep the steering wheel going pretty much continuously, constantly going back and forth between left and right, to keep the boat going in a straight line. Also, being an electric boat as opposed to a gas-fueled boat, our top speed was pretty pathetic. But it was all good. We were all just ridiculously excited to finally be on a boat!

Jec’s boyfriend KD took over as captain of the ship for the first half of our four-hour boat ride. Marlon got started chilling the wine…

… while I unpacked our picnic basket, filled with snacks for grazing: chips, cheese, olives, bread and a highly addictive truffle tapenade from the Albert Cuypmarkt.

I also served up a vegetarian lunch of fusilli with roasted broccoli and walnuts.

We set off from the Olympic quarter, our neighborhood, in the direction of Amsterdam’s famous canal belt. Along the way, autumn waved its cheery greeting from the apartments of the Old South.

Passing the Rijksmuseum, or the national museum, was a signpost telling us to expect very busy waters up ahead.

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