Party at the park

What a gorgeous weekend we just had! After two full weeks of rain and cold (I’m talking 13ºC here!, the sun finally made an appearance just in time for a special afternoon party at the park.

Tala at Romy's party

It was a double celebration: a going-away party for Peggy and her family who are moving to Sweden very soon, and a birthday party for her eldest girl.

I love Europeans’ fun and casual approach to children’s parties—no big catered buffets or hired mascots here, just homemade goodies made with love, colorful decorations strung up on trees, and children playing in the grass and sunshine. I won’t give away too many pictures from the day, I’m sure she will post some photos on her blog too.

Birthday party decorations

Whether it’s The Hive or a children’s party, this woman always makes it look effortless! Peggy masterminding the celebrations behind the scenes (and behind the decorations).

Mom behind the scenes

It was just a happy, relaxed time in the sun with friends (from blogging, how wonderful is that!) and of course, family.

Birthday party at Oosterpark

Family photo Oosterpark

It was Tala’s first party too! Although she eyed the cake with great interest, she will have to stick to milk for a long while. Sorry, my love. You’ll get your turn.

Mmm... cake

This was just such a lovely afternoon (and the sunshine so rare!), I had to interrupt my stream of Berlin posts to share it. But there will be more Berlin posts (some of my real favorites from this trip!) this week for sure.

How was your weekend?

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Birthday dinner: Brasserie Witteveen

One of the places that I like to go to in the Pijp is Brasserie Witteveen. My friends with kids like it because unlike the typical Dutch cafe, Witteveen’s wide aisles have lots of room for strollers. I just think it’s a really good-looking place to meet someone for lunch or a drink, thanks to the combination of sleek design with cozy elements like the seamless, 16-meter leather Chesterfield couch.

Brasserie Witteveen

I’ve always been curious about the private dining area at the back of the restaurant. Since Friday was my birthday, I thought it was a good excuse to finally check it out for myself.

Witteveen private dining area

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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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Summer at last!

You might have noticed that I haven’t been posting much about day-to-day life here in Amsterdam. Well to tell you the truth, apart from the traveling, spring and summer have been less than inspiring… and the weather has been mostly to blame. Weeks upon weeks of pouring rain and heavy gray clouds made me wish I was somewhere else, and you’ve seen that here.

But this week, things have changed. Summer finally came bearing its gifts: near-cloudless blue skies, blazing sunshine, and a transformed city. Amsterdam in the sunshine is colorful, cheerful, and so very alive—and I’ve spent the last few days offline in an effort to make the most of all that.

This late summer in Amsterdam brings with it the realization of things I once took for granted: walking to the corner store in shorts and flip-flops, enjoying a bowl of cereal with cold milk for breakfast, deciding that you want ice in your drink, getting a tan, even the feeling of breaking into a light sweat without moving a single muscle. (If you only really have to get sweaty a couple of times a year, it’s not so bad.)

But it also brings with it new pleasures: playing with babies and laughing with friends in a lush green backyard, driving to a beach where you never get burned no matter how long you stay in the sun, reading a new book in a sunny public park, throwing steaks and salmon on a barbecue grill (and eating them with salad, not rice). It’s funny how barbecues have become such a huge pleasure because the weather they require is so rare. Back home, there are barbecue grills practically installed on every other street corner, and we don’t even think about it.

So, I’m going offline again to enjoy this elusive, precious summer and all the little things I may again take for granted someday. (That’s humanity for you.) But please come back on Sunday for a special brunch treat… one that’s been way overdue! And of course, there will be more Iceland adventures next week.

Happy weekend!

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Schaatsen op de grachten

… or in English, skating on the canals. Yay!
Just as winter doesn’t automatically translate to snow, it also doesn’t necessarily mean ice. In Amsterdam, where winters are relatively milder, ice is a rare thing. There’s too much moisture in the air here (I know, humid pa pala sa lagay na ‘to) and the city is warmer than the countryside. Smaller canals and ponds outside the city freeze faster, but the canals in Amsterdam are a different animal altogether. 
So when the mercury (and the snow) began to fall, you could feel excitement rising in the air, prickling and spiking with every degree that dropped below zero. The city was literally abuzz with one question: “Are the canals going to freeze?” 
Freeze they did. This has led to my discovery of the one other thing, apart from summer, that creates happiness for the Dutch on a national level. And that is… the ice.  
Heading out to the canals was like seeing a Dutch painting come to life. I was particularly reminded of the Hendrick Avercamp winterscape displayed in the Rijksmuseum. 
Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, image via Wikipedia
I’ve also discovered why ice drives the Dutch bonkers. Simply put, ice = skating. In Amsterdam, it means skating with a UNESCO World Heritage Site as your backdrop. The last time the canals were any good for ice skating was 15 years ago; some parts haven’t been skated on since the 1970s. This winter, the city closed some of the locks, or gates, to help the canals freeze over faster. 
When Megamall opened its ice skating rink in the 90s, I was there on the very first day. So how could I possibly miss out on this?
Photo courtesy of Michelle

Join me on the ice, after the cut!


I wasn’t the only first-timer on the ice that day. It was also a first for Michelle’s baby girl Maddy, who slept through it all.

Natural ice means having to buy your own skates; nobody rents them out here. Most people own their own skates, and many Dutchies prefer the ones with the extra long blades that are made for speed skating. Mine are the most inexpensive kind I could find—just regular figure skates for girls.

Another difference between real vs. rink ice: big ripples and bumps that throw you way off balance. Also, I learned that ice is thinner (or doesn’t form at all) under the bridges, where it’s warmer. 
I was wobbly and tentative, unable to go far without holding on to a friend. But I loved every minute of it.

All I had to do to clear myself of panic was take a deep breath, look up, and see Amsterdam’s historic canal houses and soft glowing sky.

I enjoyed it so much, I had to come back the next day. With a real, palpable fiesta atmosphere pervading the city (especially around the canal belt), a return was simply impossible to resist.

The Dutch bring their culture of gezelligheid (coziness) to the ice, creating an atmosphere of fun, community and warmth (yes, even in the freezing cold!). Everyone was so friendly and happy. You could leave your shoes on the sides and nobody would take them. A guy skated right up to me and my friend and offered to take our photo. People were setting up picnics and parties on the ice…

… and serving hot snacks and drinks from canalside cafes and terraces. Some of the houseboat owners got in on the action and began selling coffee out their windows. And I had a few adorable kids skate up to me and ask if I wanted a cup of tea.

My girlfriends and I skated from one terrace to another, stopping for gossip and gluhwein (hot spiced wine) along the way. My newbie skating legs welcomed the break, and my frozen limbs welcomed the warm wine.

Ironically enough, the only other non-skater in our group was also the only Dutch girl in the group! Sophia (on the left) and I clung to each other for dear life, shrieking and giggling our way down the Prinsengracht. “Of course we can’t skate,” she cried, “we’re intellectuals!” 

In contrast, our friend Karyn was a pro on the ice. She took lessons when she was younger and even once shared the ice with the infamous Tonya Harding.

How I would have loved to get an early start, like so many kids I saw on the canals. Pushing a chair around is how you start learning and developing your balance. And I guess bundling up for the ice is how you start developing a sense of winter style.
I never thought I’d hear myself saying it, but I’m almost sad to see an end to the below-zero temperatures. The days were sunny, crisp and bright, and the ice was just… magical. We won’t get that with temperatures above zero; instead it’s a return to Amsterdam’s prevalent gray and gloom. 

I’ll miss this sight for sure. So many people—especially friends who have lived in Amsterdam for over a decade—told us how extremely lucky we were to experience during on our first winter here. I don’t know if it will happen again while we’re here, but I will harbor the hope that the ice returns to the Amsterdam canals next winter.

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