NeighbourFood Market

It’s no secret that I love my neighborhood. Among my friends, I’m the unofficial Westerpark Tourism Bureau—I’m always trying to get people to come over to one of the many cool things happening just around the corner.

We are so lucky to live right next to a park that hosts not one, but two awesome weekend markets. On the first Sunday of every month, there’s the Sunday Market; and every third (or sometimes fourth) Sunday, there’s the NeighbourFood Market.

Neighbourfood Market table

With long communal tables, grandma’s living room furniture and homey flower arrangements, the Neighbourfood Market has a warm and friendly community atmosphere. The setting is extremely baby- and child-friendly; seeing young families with babies just like us, Marlon and I felt reassured that moving here was the right decision.

Neighbourfood Market communal table

Neighbourfood Market vintage chairs

Neighbourfood Market Vedett deck chairs

The shared seating makes it easy to start a conversation, so we got to meet people who live in our neighborhood. And that’s really nice. Admittedly, growing up in Manila has made me me suspicious of most strangers, so I’m never the one starting a conversation—but once people talk to me I’m too polite to say no. Then if I decide the person talking to me is totally un-creepy, I’m happy to open up. I don’t bite, promise!

Casual eats in Amsterdam tend to be all the same (read: sandwiches), so I always jump at the chance to have something different. And variety is something that the Neighbourfood Market has for sure. It was tempting to run around trying to eat everything, but I had to remind myself that I live here and that I can try something different every month.

Neighbourfood Market Baq-fiets

Neighbourfood Westerpark chocolate and cookies

Neighbourfood Market Branco bread

The stalls seem to be mostly home cooks and small businesses, with quite a few of them run by expats and immigrants. From Mexican tacos to Vietnamese bun cha, South African style meatballs to American baked goods, it’s a fairly diverse selection. I even had a Singaporean curry puff, although the spice level was adjusted to Dutch palates. Still, it was a nice reminder of my morning walks to the office past Killiney Kopitiam and afternoon escapes to the curry puff stall on Killiney Road. Now if I could only find a good char siew bao

Neighbourfood Westerpark Mexican Vietnamese

Neighbourfood Market meat

We’ve been watching Tala for signs that she’s ready for solid food. She has never shown any interest in our meals, but yesterday she suddenly lurched toward my blueberry cinnamon bun. Looks like someone has inherited her mother’s taste buds!

Tala and the cinnamon bun

And if you want to take away more than just a few extra pounds, the NeighbourFood flea market allows you to bring home a piece of the homey vintage atmosphere.

Neighbourfood Westerpark flea market
I love exploring weekend markets. Is there a good weekend market where you live?

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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?

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Monschau Christmas market

For Christmas markets near Amsterdam, there are a few usual suspects: Cologne, Aachen, Osnabruck and Muenster, all within 2-3 hours from here by train or car. There’s also Valkenburg in the south of the Netherlands, as well as Maastricht in Belgium.

So I had never heard of Monschau until our German Airbnb host mentioned it. Going with a local’s advice is always a smart thing to do when traveling, so after our visit to the Aachen market, we thought… why not?

It turned out to be a great spur-of-the-moment decision! The 45-minute drive from Aachen was like driving through a winter wonderland (check out Monday’s post for lovely snow photos). And Monschau itself, a small town nestled deep in the North Eifel hills, is absolutely charming.

Monschau half timbered houses winter1

Beautifully preserved half-timbered houses (like those in Limburg aan der Lahn) line the banks of the Rur river, which runs through the town.

Monschau half timbered houses winter2

Monschau half timbered house winter

Monschau’s Christmas market is distributed throughout the winding streets of the Old Town, with a small indoor market for those who want to get in out of the cold. Most of the town’s shops and cafes stay open through the weekend (rare for Europe!), so there’s more than just a few market stalls to explore.

Monschau Christmas old town

The whole town seems to have been taken over by Christmas, creating a wonderfully festive atmosphere that can make anyone feel cozy even in the cold. (A little bit of fur and snuggling helps, too.)

Furry creatures

There are plenty of fun finds and delicious treats to be had.

Long Santa hat

Flaming marshmallow drink

But for me, the Monschau Christmas market is not as much about eating, shopping or drinking. Where the magic lies is strolling through this incredibly picturesque town, occasionally looking up at snow-laden rooftops, white-tipped trees, even a castle on a hill, and allowing yourself to be delighted by all the charming details along the way.

Monschau Christmas old town2

Monschau Christmas snowmen

Monschau Christmas decoration

Monschau trees with snow

I’d say the only drawback is that you need a car to get here, but it’s well worth it for a fairytale Christmas unlike anything the bigger, more train-friendly cities (such as Cologne or Aachen) can offer. I think this is my favorite Weihnachtsmarkt experience so far: intimate, picturesque and right out of a Christmas storybook. I’m already looking forward to next year.

A small travel tip: Leave your car parked by the Gymnasium, or high school; then take the Park & Ride bus service to the market in the Old Town down in the valley. Remember to drive slowly as you approach Monschau, so you can spot the Park & Ride signs!

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Minimalist Nativity

One of the Christmas traditions that Marlon and I both grew up with was the belen, or Nativity scene. It was easy for us to agree on having a belen in our home during the holidays—what wasn’t easy was finding one that we both liked. Most of the Nativity sets we saw (mostly in the Philippines and Germany) were either too old-fashioned or elaborate for our tastes.

Well, after nearly five years, the search is over! We finally found our family belen last weekend at the Aachen Christmas market.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene1

I was browsing with my friend Leslie in a store called Käthe Wohlfahrt, which sells traditional German Christmas ornaments. As soon as I saw this hand-carved wooden belen, I fell in love. Clean, simple, no fuss—just the way I wanted it. I brought Marlon back with me to see it, and he was equally charmed.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene3

The small size is perfect for apartment dwellers like us. Though the figures are tiny (no taller than my pinkie), they’re all mounted on one piece of wood, making them less likely to be misplaced. They have a young, Playmobil kind of feel that I like… suited to the kids that (I think) Marlon and I still are in many ways. Plus, it fits this year’s minimalist theme at home, too.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene2

Part of what made our belen search difficult was my tendency to be particular about faces and expressions. These ones, I like. They’re fairly neutral without being dead, and cute without being cheesy.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene-Mary and Baby Jesus

This scene doesn’t include the Three Wise Men, but that isn’t a huge deal. The shepherds and angels were the first on the scene anyway. Besides, I couldn’t resist these tiny adorable sheep!

Hand carved wooden nativity scene-sheep

Our little family is still figuring out and making up its Christmas traditions, but I’m happy that this year, another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place with a quiet click.

Did you grow up with a Nativity scene at home, or do you have one now? I’d love to hear about it!

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Aachen Christmas market

Visiting Christmas markets in Germany is becoming an annual holiday tradition—and one that I really love! After visiting Cologne last year (a major city with eight Christmas markets), I was in the mood for something more low key. So last weekend, Marlon and I rented a car with our friends Leslie and Tobias, and made the three-hour drive to Aachen, a German town right next to both the Netherlands and Belgium.

Aachen’s Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market, is spread out over two of the most central places in town: the Markt and the Katschhof, a square between the cathedral and the town hall.

Aachen Christmas market

This charming town is known for hard, flat cookies called Aachener printen, which are everywhere this time of year. Giant printen men (not to be confused with gingerbread men!) are the mascots of this particular market.

Aachen Christmas market gingerbread man

While Aachen is smaller than Cologne, the market was crazy packed. Our friends had a one year-old in a stroller and had a pretty difficult time of it (because of both the crowd and cobblestones), so this might be a better choice for families with older children. I would love to come back here with Little Mango when she’s no longer so little, if only to see her on this awesome carousel that has vintage bikes and sports cars, helicopters, a Vespa, police car, even a fire truck with a ladder!

Carousel Aachen Christmas market

With no decorations at home and Holland preoccupied with Sinterklaas, strolling around Aachen’s Christmas market was just the thing I needed to get me into holiday mode. Especially when it snowed!

Snow at Aachen Christmas market

Plus, I got to do all three of my top must-dos for any German Christmas market. Read on to find out what they are.

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