2013: My Year in Travel

The plan for 2013, believe it or not, was to seriously cut down on travel. Looking back at the year in travel, that was clearly a fail.

We might have failed, but we didn’t fail miserably—we had so much fun doing it! Tala’s arrival only slowed us down for the first three months; it wasn’t long until we got itchy feet again.

Berlin Oberbaum Bridge street art

Berlin, Germany was our first trip of the year, and our first with Tala. Cheap eats, great nightlife, street art, Tala’s first museum visit, blogger meetups, and a redemptive visit to my favorite hangout, the Badeschiff, were some of the highlights that cemented Berlin as one of my favorite cities in Europe.

Monkey installation building Berlin

A monkey-covered building I saw in Mitte. Anyone know what it is?

Fueled by so much inspiration, I went on a blogging bender from just five days in Berlin. Look at all these posts!

Tala’s first flight, my first giveaway
Street art sightings in Berlin
Nhow Hotel Berlin
Breakfast in Berlin
Berlinische Galerie
Date night: Berlin edition
A walk to remember
Badeschiff: The return

Alicante Spain beach

As a couple, patience is not one of our virtues. That really showed in our spur-of-the-moment weekend in Alicante, Spain—the result of a too-long winter, a dismal spring, and a summer that seemed to take forever to get to Amsterdam.

Extra large mojito Alicante

Oversized sparkling sangrias (plus mojito o’ clock !) on the beach, cooling off in the Mediterranean Ocean and excellent restaurants mere steps from our hotel justified our spontaneous and kinda crazy getaway.

Alicante: Playa Postiguet
At the beach with baby
Out and about in Alicante
Alicante: Where to eat (and eat and eat)
Maastricht Selexyz Dominicanen

Closer to home, Maastricht was another weekend destination we revisited this year. Good food, contemporary art and a visit to one of the world’s most stunning bookstores made this a fun and fulfilling weekend drive.

Weekend in Maastricht
Selexyz Dominicanen: Heaven for booklovers
Bonnefanten Museum

Naxos port

Greece was actually the only trip we had planned to take this year. As the Big Trip of 2013, Greece did not disappoint. This country captured my heart with its warm and friendly people, mouthwatering food, picturesque villages and beautiful beaches—not to mention the underlying thrill of its epic history and ancient myths. We loved our time in Naxos…

The beautiful beaches of Naxos
Exploring the port of Naxos
Away from it all in Apiranthos
Traditional charm at Taverna Lefteris

Santorini sunset

and ticked a big one off the bucket list in Santorini—even if a sick baby and husband made our trip less than ideal.

7 great places to catch the sunset in Santorini
Oia: Postcard perfect Santorini
Atlantis Books in Oia, Santorini
Greece: a few last things

Dusseldorf Christmas market ferris wheel

In December we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Christmas markets in Dusseldorf, Germany. Gluhwein, gingerbread and gallivanting in the cold got us all revved up for Christmas and put us in the holiday mood for our trip to Manila.

Not bad for two first-time parents with a new baby, eh? What a year it’s been… and it’s not over yet! This weekend, I get to strike another long-awaited destination off our travel wishlist in celebration of our sixth wedding anniversary. I’m so excited!

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Bonnefanten Museum

One last post about our weekend in Maastricht! I couldn’t move on without mentioning our visit to the Bonnefanten Museum, a contemporary art museum near the up-and-coming Wyck area of town. We were lucky that admission was free that day!

This distinctive bullet-shaped building, designed by Italian architect Aldo Rossi, stands out in contrast to the medieval architecture of Maastricht. It makes the Bonnefanten Museum hard to miss along the banks of the Meuse (or in Dutch, Maas) river.

Bonnefanten Museum Maastricht

When you step inside, abundant natural light and a three-story airwell welcome you, together with a regal, winged marble pillar—the Birth of Venus by sculptor Luciano Fabro.

Bonnefanten Museum Venus

Entering the main building, a monumental staircase shows the way. As a mother with a stroller, I’ve effectively kissed my monumental staircase climbing career goodbye. Fortunately, the Bonnefanten Museum has ample, roomy lifts—way better than the newly renovated Rijksmuseum, which I personally see as a curse for anyone on wheels.

Bonnefanten Museum main staircase

The Bonnefanten Museum’s permanent collection houses early Italian, Flemish and Dutch paintings, as well as medieval sculpture, together with contemporary art. An innovative art lease program allows one to rent works from its collection from as low as €5 a month for six months. So first world!

What I found most interesting was the temporary exhibit that was on at the time of our visit. The Big Change: Revolution in Russian Painting, 1895-1917 features contemporary art from the period leading up to the Russian revolution and the downfall of the Tsars in 1917.

Elsewhere in Europe at around this time, the Impressionists were shaking up the art world. So I expected to see a lot of Impressionist paintings. But instead I found a pleasant surprise.

Ilja Masjkov Self-Portrait with Petr Konstjalovskij

I’ve never really seen Russian contemporary art before, and I have to say I loved these paintings. So vivid and intense, moody and mysterious.

Bonnefanten Museum Russian paintings

One of my favorite pieces was a painting by Pavel Filonov called German war, in reference to the First World War. This is just a partial detail, but this complex work gave me goosebumps. To me, it was the mud of the trenches, broken bodies of soldiers, jarring explosions, glimpses of sky amidst the ashes, fragments of half-remembered faces from home, all captured in one immense canvas.

Pavel Filonov, German War 1914-15

At the end of the exhibit, this installation by Marta Volkova and Slava Shevelenko recreated a Russian dacha, or a traditional countryside summer cottage.

Marta Volkova & Slava Shevelenko, Dacha Landscape 1

In this dacha landscape, surrounded by the scent of pine wood and trinkets from home, the artists share how four paintings from the pre-revolutionary period changed their lives. It’s a beautiful, vivid way to share a personal story: by setting it in a little piece of Russia itself.

Marta Volkova & Slava Shevelenko, Dacha Landscape 2

The Big Change exhibit closed on the 11th of August. I feel lucky to have caught it before it ended!

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Selexyz Dominicanen: Heaven for booklovers

There are so many churches in Europe that if you’ve been traveling for a while, you almost feel that when you’ve seen one church, you’ve seen them all. Well, the Dominicanenkerk in Maastricht is different.

Selexyz Dominicanen Maastricht exterior

That’s because this 13th century Gothic church has been deconsecrated and transformed into what is officially one of the world’s coolest bookstores. And I’m not exaggerating here.

Selexyz Dominicanen Maastricht4

I had seen this branch of the Dutch bookstore chain Selexyz on more than one list of the world’s coolest bookstores. I simply couldn’t miss the chance to see it for myself during our weekend visit to Maastricht.

[Read more…]

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Weekend in Maastricht

How was your weekend? We spent ours in Maastricht, the Netherlands’ southernmost city close to the Belgian border. Our first trip to Maastricht two years ago was not the most fun experience (thanks to an expensive food festival and crappy weather) but even then we agreed that this is the kind of place that deserves a second chance. This time around, Maastricht did not disappoint.

Some impressions of Maastricht: its medieval architecture and cobblestoned streets make it a picturesque and pretty place to spend a day or a weekend.

Maastricht houses along river

Maastricht medieval house windows

Maastricht architecture

Maastricht is known for excellent food—walking into a restaurant or cafe here isn’t the hit-or-miss proposition that it typically is in Amsterdam. If I was planning a road trip further down south, say Belgium or France, I’d definitely make Maastricht a pit stop for lunch.

However, Maastricht’s culinary pleasures don’t come cheap; residents simply seem more willing to pay a premium for good food. As you’ll observe when you walk around, this is one wealthy, and thus, expensive city.

Maastricht Rolls Royce

It’s stylish in its own way, too—it feels like there’s higher concentration of preppy Dutchies in Maastricht than anywhere else in the country. The look is very blond, very old, and very Ralph Lauren: just stepped off my sailboat in my red blazer and white jeans (I also saw a lot of mint green blazers with pink trousers). Well, there is a lot of sailing and boating going on here, so I guess it’s to be expected.

Maastricht along the river

Still, there are exceptions, and those are fun to spot.

Maastricht style

And there are free pleasures to be enjoyed, as I discovered (and will share in upcoming posts).

One of the best things to do in Maastricht for free is to sit in its expansive Vrijthof square, which is lined with old bars, cafes and restaurants. During our visit, the Vrijthof was hosting a huge tournament of jeu de boules, so we sat there and watched for a while. I can’t pretend I understand the rules or find it terribly exciting, but I always like people-watching anyway.

Maastricht jeu de boules Vrijthof

Then there’s always the pleasure of aimless discovering: walking around the old town and along the river, browsing museums, bookstores and more.

Maastricht cycling along river

Did you do anything fun this weekend?

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Almost Belgium

One of the things that my friends and I miserably failed to do during their visit here was go on a day trip to Belgium, which is only three hours from Amsterdam by train. Instead, “Belgium” became our new code word for snoozing/puttering/lolling around lazily at home, e.g. “Nag-breakfast na ba sina Pia? Mukhang hindi pa, nasa Belgium pa sila.” LOL!
I didn’t know about Maastricht when they were here, or else I would have suggested a day trip there instead. One of the oldest towns in the Netherlands, Maastricht is in the southernmost province called Limburg, and is within walking distance of Belgium and cycling distance of Germany. I first heard about it from my friend Leigh, who was positively rapturous about how pretty it was with its Belgian/French landscape and feel, as compared to your typical Dutch old town. “Maastricht has hills. Hills!” she raved. Yes, hills are worth raves in this flat-as-a-pannekoek country—and certainly pointed to a town worth visiting. 
Then I found out about Preuvenemint, an open-air food festival held in Maastricht during the last weekend of August. The promise of good food is one of the things that will get Marlon and myself to hop on a train and travel for two and a half hours, so we thought it was the perfect time to finally check out Maastricht for ourselves.

Preuvenemint was held in the Vrijthof, Maastricht’s biggest and best-known square lined by old buildings, churches and cafes. Looming over the Vrijthof (aside from the ominous-looking storm clouds) are two huge churches: the Sint Janskerk with its distinctive red tower, and the Basiliek Sint Servaas.

The food festival has its own currency called lappen. (O kung tawagin sa atin ay chits. Very high school fair!) One lappen is equivalent to 2 Euro.
After a couple of rounds of the festival grounds, we came to the conclusion that Preuvenemint caters to a very well-heeled and mostly old crowd. The restaurant pavilions were filled with groups of very blond, very distinguished-looking Dutch who looked right out of casting for a Ralph Lauren ad campaign, swilling champagne and picking at tiny tasting portions of very elaborate dishes. 

Here, the lappen function as a very clever way of making you forget that you’re paying twice as much for what is essentially a tiny portion. Most dishes were from 4-5 lappen (€8-10) each! Yes, I know what tasting portions are, but this wasn’t what I was expecting in a food festival. There was definitely something lost in translation for me here. Maybe I was expecting something a little more… down-to-earth? Hearty? Festive? I guess you could say I was disappointed.

However, the trip wasn’t a total loss. I managed to finally fulfill my craving for a crepe (not a Dutch pancake, a proper French crepe!), something I didn’t have the time to do on my last visit to France. And for 2 lappen (€4), I had a hot, satisfying snack in the form of tuutsje, a cone of fried smelt fish with ravigote sauce and lemon.

This twist on Vlaamse frites, or Flemish fries (guess they’re too proud to call them French fries around here!) harks back to the origin of French fries, or at least the origin story that’s generally accepted in these parts. What we know today as French fries began as small fish, such as smelt, fried up by Belgian peasants. When fish proved hard to catch, strips of potatoes took their place… and thus Vlaamse frites were born. 
Disappointment with the food festival aside, we were both just happy to be in this beautiful town. It really reminded me of Belgium. We decided to walk around the historic center a bit, but eventually hunger got the best of us and we sat down for a full meal in a small square beside Onze Lieve Vrouwen Basiliek, or the Basilica of Our Lady. 

A horse-drawn buggy is parked outside the basilica. This is for the hourly city tours of Maastricht that cost €10. Maybe we’ll do that next time. I know we’ll definitely be back.

To go with the day’s Belgian theme, I ordered a hot, steaming helping of moules frites. With a big swig of Affligem Blond, it sure hit the spot!

We’d both been obsessing about rabbit after Masterchef Australia used it in a couple of episodes. So Marlon opted for rabbit stewed Maastricht-style.

Maastricht is definitely on the pricier side, but the food was better than what we’d normally have in a Dutch cafe. (Or were we just hungry?) Whatever the case, we agreed that the day trip was a good idea and we were happy with the chance to explore a new place. Soon it was time to head back to Amsterdam.

This was the weather we had pretty much all day. I really have to accept that summer is over!

Belgium may have its own culture, (better) food and different architecture, a little of which we glimpsed without having to hop over the border that day in Maastricht. But they ain’t escapin’ this weather!

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