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From Lago Maggiore with love

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed the hashtag #blago2014 on my recent pics from Italy. The seed for that hashtag was planted almost a year ago, when Jillian approached a few blog friends with the idea of meeting up in Lago Maggiore, where she lives. Just an hour by train from Milan, it would be a good base from which to visit Milan during the Salone del Mobile. She gave our trip the working title Blago (Blog + Lago) and it stuck!

From Lago with love

Relaxed, idyllic Lago Maggiore was indeed the perfect home base for a girly blogger getaway. With the Alps shining in the distance like a mirage, Lago was a dreamy background for early evening aperitivi (an Italian must-do!)…

Aperitivi at Lago Maggiore

fabulous lunches in hole-in-the-wall enotecas, (read Judith’s mouthwatering post for the full report)…

Lago di Orta Al Boeuc charcuterie cheese platter

plus the occasional gelato, long rambling conversations about anything and everything, and breathtaking views around the rim of the lake.

Lago Maggiore Isola San Giulio

I admit, life could have been harder.

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Greece: a few last things

Whenever I come back from a trip, it takes me ages to unpack. For me, the magic of travel doesn’t end when the plane touches down, or when I step inside our home—it’s when all my things are packed away and my suitcase is empty. Reluctant to end the spell, I often leave my suitcase on the floor for days, picking things up and putting them away one at a time.

I feel that way about my photos from Greece. I take a ridiculous amount of photos when I travel, and only post a fraction of them on the blog. I was feeling a little sad about relegating all those images to my hard drive, so I thought I’d choose a last few details to share as a sort of farewell to Greece.

There isn’t really much of a story to tie them all together. But these are the little things that made me smile:

Waking up in, and coming home to, our lovely room at the Kavos Hotel in Naxos.

Naxos Hotel Kavos

Aromatics—dried lavender and garlic—hung over doors in Naxos’s old town.

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Nhow Hotel Berlin

I first saw the Nhow Hotel Berlin last year while sunbathing at the Badeschiff, looking across the river Spree to Friedrichshain. You can’t miss it: it’s a distinctive piece of architecture, a giant glass box perched atop a sprawling brick building.

Nhow Hotel Berlin exterior2

Back then, I didn’t know it was a hotel. And I didn’t know that I’d find myself staying in it a year later! When my husband’s company put us up at the Nhow Hotel for a work event, I finally got to see its quirky and interesting interior, designed by no less than Karim Rashid.

Want to know what I found inside?

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Mother’s Day at The Conservatorium

Marlon totally scored 10 out of 10 for organizing my first Mother’s Day. After Tala’s breastfast breakfast at 7am, he put me to bed, whisked her out of our bedroom and let me sleep in until her next feed at 11am. As the mother of an eight week-old baby, you think you’ll never ever sleep in until 11am again, so this was definitely the right way to get the party started.

I woke up to breakfast in bed: chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup (a hard-to-find commodity in the Netherlands) and bacon. No pictures, sorry—I demolished everything before I remembered the camera!

Then it was off to a top-secret location for my Mother’s Day surprise. He put me on the wrong tram and took me the long way around the block to throw me off, but eventually we reached it: The Conservatorium Hotel on Museumplein, and in its basement, the Akasha Spa.

Conservatorium Akasha Spa1

Obviously I couldn’t take pictures of people in a spa state of undress, so all spa images are via The Conservatorium.

He deposited me at the spa, took the baby, and disappeared for the next five hours. Left to my own devices, what was I supposed to do?

Conservatorium Akasha Spa pool1

Image via The Conservatorium

Nothing. That was the plan, apparently: for me to do absolutely nothing. To do nothing in the steaming marble hammam, or the Finnish sauna, or the pool, for five blissful hours.

Conservatorium Akasha Spa2

Image via The Conservatorium

Oh, right, I had an Ayurveda massage. But I didn’t have to do anything there either, just lay there like a blob while hot sesame oil was slathered all over me. I hate hard massages, so this soft and gentle treatment was perfect for me. My husband, he knows me well.

I’m not a spa addict, but after the beating my body took from pregnancy, birth and caring for a newborn, this was like being reborn. After gorging myself on idleness, I emerged from this sleek and gleaming paradise of pampering to meet Marlon and Tala upstairs in the hotel. I had been here only once before, and this time I got to take a closer look… and take pictures, of course!

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Sofitel staycation

Disaster struck when I returned to Amsterdam from Manila: my entire hard drive crashed. I last backed up right after learning I was pregnant, which means all my digital keepsakes from my entire pregnancy—ultrasounds, weekly belly photos, videos—except for what’s on this blog, are gone. I don’t want to think too much about it, it hurts my heart.

Thank heavens for small blessings. While trying to piece together what little I had left, I discovered the pictures from our fifth wedding anniversary still in my SD card. Marlon and I like to celebrate anniversaries at the beach, but I couldn’t bear another flight on top of two long-haul ones between Manila and Amsterdam. So this year, we opted for a weekend staycation at the Sofitel Manila, which we’ve never been to and had an appealing resort-in-the-city feel.

I’m so glad I still have pictures to remember this wonderful weekend: breakfast in bed, with a side of something special

Sofitel anniversary breakfast in bed

which turned into lazy afternoons (we had two!) by Sofitel’s gorgeous pool, lined with tall coconut trees and directly facing Manila Bay.Sofitel Manila pool

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Birthday staycation: Hotel Vondel

In the grand Paul-Plazo tradition of the birthday whisk, Marlon whisked me away to a top-secret location for my birthday weekend. Like all our previous birthday whisks, it was all a big secret until we pulled up in a taxi (he knows how to push my buttons, this husband) to the front door of the Hotel Vondel, right in the center of Amsterdam.

Like I said, Marlon knows how to push all my buttons. He knew very well that sleeping late in a cloud of white sheets, padding around in fluffy bathrobes and ordering in room service for our Top Chef Masters marathon would make me the happiest little birthday girl in Amsterdam. And he was right!

I loved our room on the top floor with its slanted roof and black shutters. It had a nice mix of coziness and luxury that was great for a weekend staycation.

The rest of the hotel was not bad either!

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Whisked away to Prague

Marlon’s birthday weekend was one of the high points in my short “career” as a wife. Continuing our private tradition of birthday whisking, I decided to whisk him away to one of the most beautiful cities in Europe: Prague. 
The best part was that Marlon had absolutely no idea where we were going until we were actually inside the plane! No, I didn’t blindfold him—I just checked us in online, did the bag drop myself, held on to the boarding passes and documents so he couldn’t see the gate number, and shepherded him past the sign on the gate. KLM cooperated by not doing any kind of boarding announcement (surprising). I also think men can be really dense when they want to! So, to see his face light up when the purser announced our destination was a huge payoff for me. Worth every penny and every minute of secrecy!
I kept the surprise under wraps since December, when I found a great deal for a flight+hotel package on KLM. Without it, this lowly freelancer wouldn’t have been able to afford three nights at the 4-star Art Deco Imperial Hotel in Prague’s Stare Mesto, or Old Town. The room we got was small, but after a year of budget travel in Europe, it was such a luxury. 

It’s also been a while since we enjoyed a good hotel buffet, so breakfast in the stunning Cafe Imperial (frequented by the likes of Kafka) was a real treat. 
The hotel was also superbly located, just a short walk from everything you could want to see in the Old Town, and not too far from the New Town either. Just on the same street, we found a great Czech restaurant called Kolkovna Celnice, where we celebrated the birthday boy with a very late (and very Czech) lunch of local beer and spicy sausages.

It was a gorgeous day, sunny but with a slight chill in the breeze—perfect for walking and exploring the Old Town. We passed gorgeous buildings like the Gothic-era Powder Tower…

… and the House of the Black Madonna (where there is in fact a Black Madonna, well protected, on the right), a Cubist building from 1911.

It was only a few minutes before we reached Prague’s Old Town Square. Click on through to see one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe.

I’d been to Prague once before, with the Glee Club in 2001. More than 10 years later and the buildings on the Old Town Square are still as stunning as I remember them.

This is no little town square. It’s expansive and grandiose in scale. 

It has not just one, but two massive cathedrals: the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, and the St. Nicholas Church.

I couldn’t remember where the famous Astrological clock was supposed to be. Then I saw this sea of people massed in front of the Old Town Hall. Of course!

It was just about to strike five o’ clock and everyone wanted to see the famous clock in action.

The four figures on the clock—Vanity, the miser, Death and the Turk—are set in motion at the turn of the hour. The last time I was in Prague, the clock was being repaired. And this time, we missed it by just seconds! This means I really have to come back to Prague and see it.

There’s also a trumpet player who plays a short fanfare every hour on the hour, from the top of the Old Town Hall. This is a fairly new “tradition” and is also done from one of the towers on Charles Bridge—and Charles Bridge deserves its own post.