Viewing: flowers

Amsterdam’s front door gardens

Living in Amsterdam, it helps to have a short memory. That way it only takes a day or two of warmth and sunshine to forget three weeks of drizzle and gray. When the sun is out, all is forgiven and everything is transformed. Over the weekend, I spent some much-needed time in the sun and rediscovered some of the little things I love about living in Amsterdam.

Front door gardens are one of them. Flowers are abundant and cheap in the Netherlands, but growing your own flowers is how locals get them even cheaper. Apartment living doesn’t stop Amsterdammers from gardening; thus the presence of gorgeous blooms on doorsteps, where they have the best chance of catching the sunshine they need.

StepsFlower pots Purple

It’s June and all the front door gardens are in full bloom. A walk around the Jordaan shows an abundance of bright green spilling over gates…


… of colors cascading over doors, and roses tumbling down over windows.


Where does your garden grow? Out of brick walls, crates, buckets… even old wooden shoes, apparently.

Hanging on brick walls

I have a despicably black thumb (Paisley Parsley, Alexander Coriander and Rosemary Gil all died prematurely), but my weekend walk inspired me to give gardening another try. Have you had any success growing plants at home? Any tips for a newbie apartment gardener?

A pop of (water)color

I’m usually pretty impatient when it comes to making things. If it can’t be done in one sitting, I tend to rush it or just give up altogether. So I consider it a big achievement to have spent three consecutive Tuesdays working on a painting for my watercolor class. I finished it last week, left it to dry in my teacher’s studio in Haarlem, and finally brought it home!

This is the first painting that I’ve produced out of this class that I enjoyed doing from start to finish and am really, truly happy with. My first few lessons were a little awkward and unsure; with this work, I feel I’ve hit my stride and grown in confidence and technique.

I’ve gotten quite a few compliments from Penny on this, and it’s been great to walk into the studio on Tuesday afternoons and find my other classmates—my geriatric barkada, LOL—gathered around my work and talking enthusiastically about it.

My favorite bits are the flowers, naturally. I love how the red flowers really pop, thanks to the contrast of the dark green around it. (I think I’m getting better with contrast!) I did the pink flowers by dipping a rough natural sponge in some green paint and blotting it quickly on a wet, watered-down red wash.

Penny remarked that my style is turning out to be more illustrative than painterly—nothing wrong with that, just a matter of style. To help soften the whole painting, she suggested painting over the stark white background with a quick wash of pale green blurred with lots of water.

Voila, the finished work!

Do you like it? Tell me what you think!

Pale October

Now that I’ve finally let go of September, it’s time to say hello to my first official fall!
Though autumn is known for its bright and fiery palette, I welcomed the start of the season with uncharacteristically muted hues. 

When I spotted this bouquet of pale, almost dusty lavender roses at the corner bloemenwinkel (flower shop), I simply couldn’t resist. I’ve never seen roses this shade before.

Flowers are one of the things I really love about living in Holland. On days that are just totally bleargh, they are a small, but very welcome reminder that here, something new, interesting and different is always—sometimes literally—just around the corner.

Peony in pencil

I never liked peonies before. I always associated them with Chinese paintings and bad tattoos. I’m not a fan of either.
But ever since I first found them in the market here in late April, they’ve become my favorite flower. I love the huge blossoms (statement blossoms?), especially the ones that are colored intense shades of fuschia and coral. And I love how the petals don’t dry up or simply drop off, but fade slowly to white, each blossom at a different pace. Death by ombre, what a way to go.
The only thing that I could conceivably hate about peonies, I discovered during my last Monday sketching session. And that is the fact that they are a real b*tch to draw.

I almost gave up a couple of times. Now I know why the Chinese have stylized their shapes, otherwise these would never make it into traditional motifs. The repetition would have driven the illustrator (at least, a lesser one like myself) totally nuts.

Luckily, we have scanners and printers today. So, working with some fluorescent papers I bought for my Singapore job hunt more than three years ago, I reproduced the sketch I made to create my own peony print. I used Mod Podge for the first time and had awful wrinkles everywhere. Thankfully, most of them disappeared with a little ironing.

The fluo on black kind of reflects how I’ve been feeling about having these flowers at home: they were the only visual bright spots for me during the first two dark, dismal weeks of “summer.” Summer, I’m beginning to suspect, is a figment of the imagination over here, with as tenuous a connection to reality as corporatese, or marketing jargon. 

Ah, enough about this fictitious summer. If I can’t get it outside, then I’ll just have to find some way to enjoy it in my home. In petals or on paper, by nature’s hand or by my own.

Farewell to spring

Surprise! Spring is over, and in its place is some kind of… weird autumnal hybrid. Did I miss something? Did we just skip summer altogether?
The weather for the past two weeks has been positively dismal: bleak, gray and rainy for days on end. While Holland is spared from the thundering torrents that we’re used to in our tropical corner of the world, this light rain just seems so… endless. So I guess this is the famous Dutch weather they all complain about. I’m straining my neck looking ahead, and there is not a single sunny day in sight. Here’s hoping July and August will be better.
I didn’t even notice that spring ended. When the flowers started popping up in April, I thought they’d be around for at least a few months. Silly me. I guess I’ve gotten used to things being around pretty much all year, as they are in Manila or Singapore. Now the rampant blooming has ceased, and though the surroundings are still alive and green, I wish I took more notice of the flowers. Still, I rounded up enough photos to mount a decent farewell to spring.
Practically everywhere in the Jordaan
I never had to go far to get my fill of flowers. Sometimes I just had to look out my window.
Just across the street, my neighbors grow the most gorgeous roses over their front doors. My mom became a huge fan of those while she was here in May.
I miss the easy abundance of spring flowers. I even picked some on my afternoon walks and runs around the neighborhood. (I never picked any of the neighbors’ flowers, of course!)
Free flowers!

 Picked along the river and at the Beatrixpark
I was horrified at the prices of fresh flowers in Paris: €30, €40, even as much as €60 for blooms that would cost €8-10 at the most here in Amsterdam. Thankfully, this is Holland and we can bring in a little bit of spring practically all-year round.  Sunflowers arrived on the scene a week or two ago…
… while my new favorite, peonies, made their first appearance in the market in late April. I’m glad that peonies are still in season. And it appears I’m not the only one.

Product photography = FAIL.

As you can tell, Rogue likes peonies too! Luckily for her, there will always be a little corner of spring to nibble on here at home.

Orange fever

Here in the Netherlands, the biggest holiday of the year is Queen’s Day on April 30 (I can’t believe that was nearly a month ago! I have so much blogging to catch up on!). Marlon and I were so excited to be getting back from the Algarve just in time for our very first Queen’s Day. 
On Queen’s Day, Amsterdam turns into one huge flea market. Anyone and everyone can set up a stall on the sidewalk to sell… well, pretty much anything and everything. Around a week before Queen’s Day, people start staking out their spots on the sidewalk with chalk. 
Our Dutch friends from our beginner’s running group told us that our neighborhood is one of the best places to start exploring the flea market. “Wake up early, all the good stuff is usually gone before 8am,” they warned. So that’s just what we did. I’m not an early riser, but few words can rouse me to life the way “flea market” can. 
Sure enough, at 5am, people were setting up their wares along the sidewalks. 

By 7am, the flea market in the Oud Zuid was in full swing and there was a bright-eyed, cheerful party atmosphere everywhere.

There was definitely a lot of junk. Mostly old clothes, which I didn’t care for.

But we managed to score quite a few bargains later in the morning, such as this virtually unused wicker picnic hamper with a four-piece set of plates, cutlery and cups for €5 (Php 300)…

a large green glass jar for €2 (Php120)…

and a set of vintage crystal champagne glasses for €8.

We carted our purchases home and caught up on our sleep. After lunch, we decided to head out towards the city center on foot. On the way we saw the public library selling books…

Some little boys hooked up to a mic singing Katy Perry’s “Firework”…

And bars overflowing with orange-clad revelers.
To start getting into the swig, er swing of things, we got some beers to drink while walking.
As we walked, I realized that dolling up for Queen’s Day entails more than just wearing orange, the national color (after the House of Orange, the Netherlands’ ruling family). My cutesy splash of orange just didn’t cut it. Head-to-toe and nutty is the way to go. 
What a tragedy. Cute pa naman sana siya.
Ridiculous head gear is also a must.
This conehead gets plus points for improvisation.
So we picked up some orange headgear along the way…
 and decided to be king and queen for a day.

Heading into the canal belt past Museumplein, the general patronage atmosphere of the South gave way to party central. Police presence was noticeable, but there was nothing much going on apart from serious drinking, dancing, and yes, most probably drugging.
Okay pa ba kayo diyan?
Something like 800,000 tourists come to Amsterdam every year for Queen’s Day, and most of them don’t make it past the canals. So to say that the canals were packed is an understatement. Both on land…

… and in the water.

Partying on a boat is another great Queen’s Day tradition. I had been thinking about renting a boat with some friends, but when I saw this mad crush of orange, I was glad I didn’t. It was way more fun to watch.

After boatwatching for a good hour or so, we headed to a friend’s apartment right on the Prinsengracht, overlooking the canal. Outside, some dude had marked off part of the street with some “crime scene” tape and started his own street party, which had been well under way for a good six hours by the time we arrived. “The only crime here is white people dancing,” I observed.

At nine the police came, all Miami Vice-like, to break up the party. 

I think the party people tried to invite the police to stay for some booze and Eurotrashtronica. Alas, this is not Manila and the Amsterdam police appear to have some dignity. So after about half an hour of begging and bargaining, the party began to die a natural death as people flitted off in search of a new and un-policed dance floor.

I guess even orange fever has to cool off at some point. Same time next year, Amsterdam.


We’ve had a warm streak the last few days (ranging from 10-15℃), and outside, flowers that were closed just last week have started to bloom!
I’ve finally bought vases, so even indoors, everything is in bloom as well. Fresh flowers here are shockingly cheap and thus we have flowers everywhere! In the living room, atop the crates…
On the dining table…
In the front hallway…
And on the windowsill!
Flowers are also a sign that the house has officially left the territory of mess, and crossed over into the land of the livable. I didn’t feel I ought to buy flowers for the house when it was still covered with boxes, books were piled on the floor gathering dust, and we couldn’t sit on anything. Now, it looks good enough to deserve a treat (or two, or three).
Marlon, always the sweetheart, says I should never buy flowers myself, because it’s his job to buy flowers for me :)

Take a bow

While cleaning the living room this morning, I was aghast to find that the tulips Marlon gave me just the other night had… er, taken their final bow.

Dying swan ang drama. Bow.

As in salampak! This puts the “over!” in overnight. This has never happened to me, not even in Singapore.

Ganun ba kainit kahapon? It’s been fiercely sunny the last couple of days, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been warm. By some weird winter logic, sunny cloudless days actually have lower temperatures of -2 to 3℃ while cloudy gray days are warmer at about 6 to 9℃. And yes, my tropical friends, 9℃ is warm. Masaya na ako doon.

Time to hie off to the bloemenshop for some new tulips…