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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?

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?

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!

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!

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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Notte Bianca in Florence: Night Market (2 of 3)

You may have noticed that my husband and I like food. (No, really?!) We also like markets. So after getting our faces made up for Notte Bianca in Florence, it was only natural that our next stop that night would be the slow food market at the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, which was part of a slow food festival open that week only.

Food market by Santa Maria Novella

Like everything else in the Centro Storico that night, the market was throbbing with people.  It seemed that every region in Italy was represented at this small-seller market, so it was like getting a mini-culinary tour of Italy.

Notte Bianca food market at Santa Maria Novella

We walked around for a good twenty minutes, canvassing the scene before choosing what to have for dinner. I was particularly tempted by a gelato flavor I’ve only seen in Tuscany: cantuccini e vin santo, biscuits and sweet wine (which tastes like communion wine or mompo, thus the name). But I was raised not to have gelato for dinner (only for breakfast!), so I moved on.

Sandwich plates Gelato Vin Santo & Pasta di MandorlaOlives

Tuscany is serious about its meat, particularly pig… and in these parts, pig doesn’t mean cute pink farm-raised pig. It means brown, hairy, forest-roaming wild boar, or cinghiale.

Wild boar

The moment I saw a boar head nailed to one of the stands, I knew what Marlon was going to have for dinner. You don’t spend nine years together and not learn how to predict these kinds of decisions. However, he decided to go for cinghiale’s domesticated cousin instead: stinco, or pork hocks. I suspect this tempting sight reminded him of good ol’ Cebu lechon.

Stinco

As for me, I decided to go for an Italian calorie bomb: Silician arancini, “oranges” stuffed with meat sauce, mozzarella and rice. I made sure to get some gelati for dessert, though.

Arancini Siciliana

These two photos pretty much sum up the kind of food choices my husband and I make. He’s savory, I’m sweet. And they also sum up how happy food and markets make us.

Happiness, his and hers

If we were less compatible in this area, we’d probably be a lot skinnier! But I wonder if we would be as happy. His-and-hers happiness, what could be better?

Market walk in Bologna

With just 24 hours to spare in Bologna, there was only one thing on my mind. Can you guess?

Bologna alimentari

Known to Italians as La Grassa, or The Fat One, Bologna has earned a solid reputation as a foodie paradise. In a country that takes its food very, very seriously, such a nickname can only be a compliment of the highest order.

Walking through Mercato di Mezzo, a cluster of narrow market streets off Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, it becomes apparent that La Grassa isn’t just a nickname for the city. It’s a warning: La Grassa, The Fat One, is what you may very well become by the end of your visit.

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Amsterdam’s biggest flea market

I love me some old things, so I was delighted when one of my friends suggested a girls’ day out at the the IJ-Hallen flea market in Amsterdam Noord. 
Held in a huge warehouse in the old shipyards of the NDSM-Werf (or wharf), it has over 500 stalls selling second-hand items, making it the largest flea market in Amsterdam. The IJ-Hallen flea market is held on the first weekend of every month and costs €4 to get in. Sometimes, they will have a second market day focusing on certain kinds of goods; this March, it’s toys, miniatures, dolls and dollhouses. 
The IJ-Hallen is not nearly as atmospheric as, say, Les Puces de St-Ouen in Paris, but it has its own unique vibe being in a huge industrial complex where ships were once built.
Click “read more” for the full IJ-Hallen thrifting experience, plus our finds for the day!

As with most thrift shops and flea markets, majority of the items for sale are junk. Still, if you are diligent and have a keen eye, there are treasures to be found, ranging from the pretty… 
to the quirky… 
… to the simply nostalgic. 
I was in the market for a vintage wool coat in an interesting color or pattern. I found racks upon racks of winter coats for just €25 apiece, but I was not lucky that day. Check out how far above me the coats are hanging; this is a very typical short-person-in-Holland problem. 
Still, I was happy just rummaging and taking photographs.

As my designated pack mule, Marlon was the only guy in our group. I love how he not only indulges my love of old things, but has also come to appreciate them. For his time and patience spending a day thrifting with a gaggle of girls, he rewarded himself with a handful of funky old die-cast cars from the 1960s.

As for me, I fell in love with these vintage postcards featuring hand-tinted photographs of Zaandvoort and Scheveningen, the beaches closest to Amsterdam and the Hague. They were postmarked between 1903 and 1910, making them over a hundred years old.

I love it when I stumble upon something combines several of my many loves. In the case of these postcards, it’s the beach, vintage, paper and, on the back, beautiful cursive handwriting. 
Can you believe everyone used to write like this, back in the day?
We also picked up a couple of things for the home: a tiny crate to use as a magazine rack in our equally tiny toilet, and a vintage glass decanter, which is the kind of purchase that makes you feel very grown up.

And yes, my bathroom reading material is proudly Filipino!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the warm, humid frenzy of Manila!
I flew home with Marlon via KLM last Saturday. Since then, we’ve been spending time with family and friends whom I’ve missed, thus the inactivity on this blog. Next week, we’re off to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary in Boracay (yay, warm waters and white sand!) so there will be more radio silence through New Year’s. 
In the meantime, let me leave you with some photos that should get you in a lovely Christmasy mood (if you aren’t already feeling it!). I’ve always wanted to visit the famous German Christmas markets, so Marlon and I took the train to Koln (a.k.a. Cologne) a few weeks ago for a weekend trip.
I’ve been to Koln with the Glee Club. That was 10 years ago, and I never thought I would come back. Being there with Marlon, and looking up to see the massive Dom (Cathedral) all lit up, gave me goosebumps. I simply couldn’t believe I was there again. It was another one of those “funny how life works out” moments.
Being at a Weinachtmarkt, or German Christmas market, was like being in a Christmas Disneyland. I’d been warned by German friends that Koln was rather commercial as Christmas markets go, but that didn’t faze me.
With much to gawk at, laugh at, buy, eat, drink and enjoy, how could I not love every single shimmering, sparkling moment of it?

After the Christmas market at the Dom, which is the biggest one in the city, we walked to the one in the Alter Stadt, or Old Town. This one was smaller, more intimate and felt more quaint.

It was also mobbed by 10pm!

This year, the Alter Stadt market was all done up in an adorable gnome theme that I loved!

On our last day, before catching the train back to Amsterdam, we dropped by the Markt der Engel, or Angel’s Market, at Neumarkt.

Three out of eight Christmas markets is not too bad, right? It was a wonderful weekend that really put us in the holiday mood. I would love to visit other markets, in other towns, next year. I’m sure each one has its own charm… and its own selection of tasty treats and pretty baubles.

Wherever and however you’re spending the holidays, I wish you lots of laughter, music, good food and great company. I wish you joy and belonging amongst the people you love most and who know you best. Because that’s what Christmas is to me. 
Merry Christmas from me and Marlon!

Five faves from… Istanbul

Hoo boy, I’ve been busy busy busy these past two weeks! I had so much about Istanbul that I wanted to blog about, but I figured if I had to wait until I actually had time to write about all of it, it would just never happen. And so much has happened since that trip, that I really need to blog and be done with it.

So I’m wrapping up my Turkey posts with a roundup of my five favorite things about Istanbul. I think the tag “five faves from…” could easily apply to anyplace and anything, so watch out… it might just become a regular feature around here!

1) Sweets at Saray. There are lots of sweet shops selling pasha lokum, more famously known as Turkish delight, along Istiklal Caddesi. But all of them pale in comparison to Saray Muhallebicisi, a restaurant, tea and dessert shop that’s been satisfying Istanbul’s sweet tooth since 1935. Saray’s huge storefront window, filled with a tempting array of Turkish sweets, is completely mesmerizing.

Until Saray, I never knew watching syrup drip could be so hypnotic. You are getting sleeeepy… you will want to eaaaat meeeee

Brisk, efficient staff in old-school uniforms dish out tray after tray of sweets to a packed house and long queues at the takeout counter. Towering stacks of treats disappeared literally in minutes. It was fascinating to watch.

Inside: bedlam. Four completely packed floors of sugar frenzy. Those servers were practically mobbed!

Speaking of sugar frenzy, this was another one of those moments where everything was so yummy I forgot to take pictures. Just take it from me, those sweets in the window are every bit as rich and delicious as they look. Best washed down with a hot Turkish tea or strong Turkish coffee!

2) Aya Sofya. It was a photo of the Aya Sofya (or Hagia Sophia) that first made me want to visit Istanbul. The city’s most ancient, and most famous monument was built by Emperor Justinian in 537 AD, and was many things in its long and tumultuous history: a church, a mosque, then a museum.
Behold the splendor, after the jump!

With a soaring, seemingly unsupported dome (a true architectural feat of its time), what Aya Sofia is today is… magnificent.

From the stunning ceiling that once held 30 million gold mosaic tiles (tesserae) to the chandeliers that hang overhead, Aya Sofya left me in awe and simply thankful to be there.

Some beautiful mosaics still remain on the second floor. Great detail, vivid colors, and lots of gold—which I love! They seem to glow even after more than a thousand years.

3) Sunday market at Ortakoy. A neighborhood on the European shore of the Bosphorus, Ortakoy has lots of interesting little shops, cafes and restaurants lining the riverside. It’s also home to a small open-air market every Sunday.


With winter coming and most of the sellers being middle-aged and elderly women, the market was full of cozy, colorful hand-knit items. Right beside the displays were their proprietors just knitting away the whole afternoon.

When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for a funky accessory or two to take home with me, and markets are great places to look. These chunky rings fit the bill perfectly!

I found Ortakoy to be a really nice, relaxed, and very local place to walk around. People just hang out by the riverside for a chat, a snack or a glass of tea (or all of the above) while enjoying the view of the Bosphorus. That’s Asia on the other side of that bridge, by the way.
 

4) The ultimate baked potato. Most travel guides I read mentioned fresh seafood as the thing to eat at Ortakoy. But looking around the area, it seemed the locals were trying to tell me something else.
It turns out Ortakoy is famous for the many stalls selling kumpir, or stuffed baked potatoes. Or should I say, the ultimate stuffed baked potato.
And when I say stuffed, I mean stuffed—we’re talking 10 or more toppings here. Butter and cheese are just the foundation of this wonderful creation.

Steaming hot and loaded with toppings, it was the perfect lunch on a chilly fall day. It was cheap and filling too!

5) Cross-continental cruise. After shopping at the market and stuffing ourselves with kumpir, Marlon and I hopped on a ferry that took us on a short cruise up and down the Bosphorus. This strait connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmaris, but more importantly, has Europe on one shore, Asia on the other.

Aside literally putting you between Europe and Asia, the Bosphorus cruise is also great for sighting all the ultra-wealthy homes (stately mansions and chic, all-glass apartments) lining both shores, with their jacuzzis and yachts out front.

Like the strange and silly couple we are, Marlon and I had a laugh sticking our noses in the air and showing off our “summer mansions” to an imaginary yacht full of imaginary guests.

To me, it was all very Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But to Marlon, this photo was all about “I’ll bet my orchids, it’s brewed!” Can anyone remember what commercial that was?