Viewing: Jordaan

Market day

Our little family is beginning to find its rhythm on the weekends. Mornings are slow and lazy, with everyone—including Rogue!—staying in bed for Tala’s first feed at around 7 or 8 a.m. After we have breakfast and coffee in bed, Marlon gets to do what he’s been itching to do all week: cuddle Tala and play with her while she’s still adorably fresh (read: not fussy or tired).

This frees me up for an hour or so of me time, in which I go back to sleep, enjoy a long hot shower, or take my sweet, sweet time getting ready to go out. Going back and forth over what to wear (not that my nursing-friendly wardrobe leaves me with a lot of options), blow-drying my hair, putting on eyeliner—all of that really relaxes me. Never underestimate the therapeutic power of clothes and makeup!

Then we head out for lunch and a walk, with Tala falling asleep in the stroller. I love exploring our new neighborhood and finding new things to enjoy. This week, we found the perfect chai tea latte and carrot cake at Small World Catering, a deli style shop and tiny (often packed) cafe on a street corner in the Jordaan…

Chai and carrot cake

… which we enjoyed in a rare seat in the sunshine, always a tough thing to find on a beautiful spring day. Tala graciously let us finish lunch and dessert before demanding her own meal. Look ma, no nursing covers!

Sitting in the sunshine

Then we strolled down one of the prettiest canals in Amsterdam to the Lindenmarkt, which runs just behind the popular Noordermarkt. While the former is more of a regular neighborhood market, the latter is a farmer’s market with organic and specialty items.

Lindenmarkt tulips and cheese

 

Aside from being open on Saturdays, both markets have another thing in common: an abundance of tulips and cheese. How very Dutch indeed!

How was your weekend?

Exploring the Jordaan

Full term and 37 weeks today! At this point I’m in serious nesting mode, reluctant to leave home unless absolutely necessary—kind of like how mama cats hole up in a dark corner before giving birth. With Little Mango heavy in my belly (2.6 kilos, or 5.7 pounds!), walking is becoming uncomfortable and tires me out easily.

This is why it’s been hard to find the energy to explore our new surroundings. It’s a bit of a shame, because I was so excited to move here! Not only is our new ‘hood Westerpark diverse and interesting in itself, it’s also just off the Jordaan, one of Amsterdam’s most picturesque, charming neighborhoods.

I practically have to force myself to get out of the house for short weekend strolls. I don’t always succeed! But when I do, I end up wide-eyed and delighted. I become a tourist all over again… or maybe I never stopped being one.

Jordaan red shutters

For example, just minutes from our doorstep lies what I think is one of Amsterdam’s prettiest canals: Brouwersgracht.

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House hunt: Choosing a neighborhood

Buying an apartment in Amsterdam has given Marlon and myself a lot to think about. I’d like to think we know much more about life here than when when we first went house-hunting, nearly two years ago. Plus, buying is so much more complex than renting. So I decided that before showing you some of the places we’ve seen, I’d share some of the peculiarities of house hunting in Amsterdam to give you an insight into life here.

The first thing I wanted to share is, to me, the most striking difference in looking for an apartment here versus the two cities I lived in previously. And that is how much impact choosing a neighborhood has on your decision.

In Manila, your neighborhood is determined pretty much determined for you by budget and commute time. For example, as a prospective Pasig resident, you might love the feel of Valle Verde… but only really have the budget for Barangay Bagong Ilog (lol). Reducing the amount of time you spend sitting in traffic is also a major concern, so proximity to a school or workplace usually seals the deal.

In Singapore, the neighborhood hardly matters as everything feels so.. alike. With very few exceptions, you will find the same HDB flats and condos, the same malls with the same shops, the same infrastructure everywhere. That’s why it’s so easy to just settle in. The sameness eliminates the guesswork about what is the right or wrong neighborhood.

Even people I know who lived in Geylang (the “red light district”) had a cushy condo just minutes from an MRT station. The area you live in hardly comes into play unless you’re trying to get your kids into a certain school or achieve a certain status. When we were looking for a condo in Singapore, our decisions never hinged on how Yio Chu Kang “felt” versus, say, Novena. Character is just not a factor.

In Amsterdam, the first question I’m usually asked by friends I’ve told about our decision to buy is, “Where are you looking?”

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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…

Green

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

Cascades

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?

G&T’s Really Really Nice brunch

Brunch used to be a weekly event back in Singapore. Every weekend would find us at places like Wild Honey, PS Cafe (my tried-and-tested brunch favorite), Riders Cafe or Food for Thought. Our wallets didn’t seem to feel it back then, although our waistlines sure did.

Because the Dutch don’t seem to be all that into brunch, and because we’re trying to have all these European adventures on a single income, brunch has been demoted to a quarterly event. (I know, sad.) So when we do brunch, I like to make sure it’s at a really, really nice place…

… like G&T’s Really Really Nice Place, an ex-brown cafe in the always charming Jordaan.

Brunch at G&T's Really Nice Place

True to its name, Canadian-run G&T’s is a really really nice place: warm, cozy and eclectic, with an expat-friendly air that may have to do with the surfeit of English-speaking customers dressed in very hip clothing.

I’m serious about the hip factor. Take this conversation overheard between a female diner in a rockabilly-nerd chic getup and her friend, who entered the place in a plain navy blue sweatshirt:

Rockabilly Chick: Hey! *exchange of pleasantries* What are you wearing?

Sweater Girl: *stares for a second, as if not believing what has just been said* Oh, that’s right. I’m not cool enough for this place. I should go. *mock-steps out the door*

Rockabilly Chick: Oh! I didn’t mean— *giggles nervously* Don’t be silly! Hahaha!

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. That simply means you’ll see people who look really really nice, in surroundings that are also really really nice. The little old lady in me loved the repurposed gin bottles and flowery old china—it’s the kind I’ve always wanted to hoard from flea markets, and the kind that receives the husband veto.

Gin bottle and old china

Brunch would have been really really great… if not for a 30-minute wait and a wrong order. My challah French toast with bacon and maple syrup arrived as a breakfast burrito, which was not very nice. Marlon had to eat most of his eggs Benedict alone while I waited for the kitchen to rush out the correct order. Eating alone is Marlon’s pet restaurant peeve and not really what you’d expect at a place that seems to promise North American levels of service (i.e. better than the average Dutch eetcafe).

Thankfully, the fantastic (but rather pricey) bloody Mary took the edge off the wait. And the French toast, when it came, was indeed really really nice. So was the fact that they wrote it off the bill.

Bloody Mary and French toast

Also really really nice about this weekend’s brunch: not being the only one behind the lens.

Bumping into a Pinay friend at brunch meant a rare picture of the two of us, and Marlon finally buying himself an Olympus PEN EP3 meant proper documentation of my brunch outfit. Yay!

G&T’s Really Really Nice Place
Brunch Saturdays & Sundays 11:00-16:00
Goudbloemstraat 91 hs, Amsterdam
reserve@reallyniceplace.com

Do you brunch? I’d love to know about the best brunch places in your city.

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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Walkabout

I had to take care of some work while my guests were gallivanting around Amsterdam, so it was only really on their last day that I got to take them around some of our favorite places.

While Cathy was getting some much-needed rest, Marlon organized a boys-only cycling trip to Vondelpark. He recently bought himself a proper Dutch bike, so Jonel took his old bike from Singapore out for a spin

Meanwhile, I went with Trina and Pia on a leisurely walkabout of Amsterdam’s many little streets—specifically the Jordaan, a district that I’ve long wanted to explore.

It’s been a while since I’ve just aimlessly walked around, and I was reminded how much I love this town. Whether old or new, there’s always something interesting to see.

I’ve started learning Dutch (which deserves a separate post!) and expanding my meagre vocabulary bit by bit by bit. Each new word is like a key that unlocks a small part of the city at a time. Out of the indecipherable jumble of letters that Dutch often seems to be (“parang Ingles na minali-mali ang spelling”, observed one guest), words now pop out with their meanings fluttering in the air like flags.

It’s not unlike being deep in thought and not really seeing anything until you realize a friend is waving hello. This was how I felt when I recognized the word boom, meaning tree, on this building. Then I saw that nearly the whole block was painted with the names of different trees. A mini-revelation!

In a summer that’s on the list of the five worst Dutch summers in a hundred years, I’ve come to realize that bright blue skies and big fluffy white clouds are a rare gift. We were blessed with them that day.

Shops, even when closed on Sundays, always beckon. I felt a bit of buyer’s remorse upon seeing this armchair. This is exactly the kind of chair I wanted, but we ended up getting something else.

The things we see always seem to link back to people we know. We thought this pink turban would be perfect for Dada (or at least her alter ego, Doña Nelda)!

And bikes always mean Elaine and Paul. I wouldn’t mind one of these turf crates for myself either.

I’d love to live in the Jordaan. There’s so much character in its narrow streets. But I’m not so sure I’d like to live in this blister-infested house.

Crazy cat lady alert! It’s the first time I had ever seen a cat being walked. I wonder how Rogue would take to it?

Of course, there were the famous canal views.

Never get tired of these. I wonder if I’ll get to the point where I can tell the names of all the canals by sight.

I still have one big item on my must-do list that I haven’t ticked off: rent a boat and go for a leisurely ride around Amsterdam with good friends and a bottle of wine. This is such a common sight and it always looks like the people in the boats are having so much fun.

We couldn’t let our guests leave without tasting Winkel’s famous apple pie.

After dessert, dinner: Dutch pannekoeken at the Pancake Bakery on Prinsengracht. Maybe not the best pancake place for me (I think the one we took Gutsy to was better, lucky girl!), but the only one that would fit a group our size.

This is how we felt to have our happy house emptied the next day. LOL!

Okay, maybe I wasn’t too sad… because I ended up leaving with them for a few days in Paris! But that deserves another post.