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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An afternoon at the opera

Confession: I often feel happiest when I’m doing little old lady things. I often find myself in the company of retirees: in watercolor class, for example, or at hotels (all the young ‘uns are out backpacking). It gets to the point when I have to remind myself I’m only 30 and I should do “cooler”, more age-appropriate things now lest I find myself yearning to become a DJ at the age of 70.

Taking a guided tour of the Hungarian State Opera House was one of these little old lady things. I couldn’t imagine leaving the hotel before 3pm on a scorching afternoon for anything else, not even Budapest’s famous baths.

Built in the 1800s, the Opera House’s old-world opulence is apparent from its very doorstep. The stone sphinxes outside made me wonder what it would be like if everyone had to answer a riddle before they could come inside. No stupid people allowed!

Budapest opera exterior details

The Opera House offers guided tours in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish at 3pm and 4pm daily. The tour guides are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and you can tell they love not just the building, but opera itself. Our guide made turn-of-the-century Budapest come alive for me, with stories of secret lovers passing notes in the narrow smoking lounge, their rendezvous hidden amidst thick clouds of smoke…

Budapest opera smoking room

… and the royal family gliding up a special staircase reserved just for them.

Budapest opera royal staircase

I won’t tell all the tales, since it’s a lovely tour and I think you should take it if you ever find yourself in Budapest! Instead, let me show you around the Opera House and its many sumptuous details.

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Classical music on the canals

Every summer, Amsterdam holds the Grachtenfestival, a 10-day festival of free classical concerts around the historical center, particularly in the grachten, or canals. The biggest event in the lineup is the Prinsengrachtconcert, which took place last weekend on a floating stage in front of the Hotel Pulitzer on the Prinsengracht, as it’s been since 1997.

I didn’t intend on going this year, but after some errands in the center, Marlon and I found ourselves right around the corner from the Prinsengracht. So we decided to head there, and this is what we found. Crazy.

Prinsengracht Concert

An estimated 80,000 people turn up each year for this concert, and many of them show up in boats. On land, it was no less mobbed.

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Calle 13

Nearly two weeks ago at the Amsterdam Roots Festival, someone handed me a postcard advertising a gig by Calle 13 at Melkweg. I’d never heard of them before, so I decided to check them out on Spotify.

They turned out to be a really fun, not to mention Grammy-winning, reggaeton (a.k.a. Latin American hip-hop) group from Puerto Rico. Their music consists of awesome beats layered with Spanish lyrics, a language that I love the sound of. I’ve sampled reggaeton in the form of Daddy Yankee and Pitbull, but so far this is the group I’ve liked the most; they have a musicality and upbeat vibe that I’ve just been missing from the (admittedly mainstream) reggaeton acts I’ve heard so far.

The lyrics are mesmerizing enough to just listen to, and some of the quick and few flashes I’ve been able to translate have made me chuckle. Translated, some of their lyrics simply flow like poetry. Heck, in this particular verse I liked, they could very well be singing about life in the Philippines.

Tú no puedes comprar al viento,

Tú no puedes comprar al sol

Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia,

Tú no puedes comprar al calor.

Tú no puedes comprar las nubes,

Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría,

Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.

You cannot buy my sun

You cannot buy my rain

You cannot buy my heat

You cannot buy my clouds

You cannot buy my happiness

You cannot buy my pain.

– “Latinoamerica”, Entren Los Que Quieran (2010)

In need of something new to listen to, preferably in a neighborhood where Latin flavor, eclectic influences and kickass beats meet? Then give Calle 13 a listen on Spotify.

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Rooting around

There are so many music festivals on in Netherlands (and around Europe) now that it’s officially summer. Of the dozens of choices out there, the one I really wanted to go to was the Amsterdam Roots Festival, a week-long world music festival capped with a big, free concert at the Oosterpark. 

From what I gather, the Oost (East) of Amsterdam is where most of the immigrant and minority communities live. I’d been to the Oosterpark once before with Jon, to visit the Tropenmuseum located inside the park. Since the museum deals with the Dutch history of slavery and colonialism, I found this sculpture near the museum particularly poignant: chained slaves emerging on the other side of a portal to gain power and freedom.

Both Womad and the Roots Festival represent world music and are hugely popular events; that’s pretty much all the similarity they share. The Roots Festival is definitely bigger in scale than what we got in Singapore: five different stages compared to two. And the crowd was so diverse, which was such a pleasure to behold. No predatory expat-hunting posers in stiletto heels sinking into the grass, no boho uniforms of ethnic-print maxi dress, chunky jewelry and gold sandals. Just a laid-back vibe, lots of sunshine and good music. You could say we were pretty happy.

All around the park were stalls selling various world cuisines at affordable prices, jewelry, clothing, even art.

I was really intrigued by all the soul food and Caribbean cooking. We just don’t get that in our part of the world! The Dutch once held sizable colonies in the Caribbean, such as Surinam, a country of which I’d never heard until I moved here. Surinamese food is a big thing here.

For €4, we each sampled a Surinamese bara, which is a flavorful Hindustani-influenced fried bread made with bean flour. Mine was filled with grilled chicken and slathered with the spiciest sauce I’ve tasted since I moved to Holland, which turned my mouth into the Pacific Ring of Fire. And I mean that only in a good way; I’ve missed this kind of spice. The bara kept falling apart, but it made a real lip-smacking kind of mess, one that I’d definitely have again.

It was the best kind of Sunday afternoon. We wandered around the park, ducking into tents and drifting into crowds. We got into some Colombian funk and Portuguese fado… 

… mixed with some Dutch hip-hop. I love hip-hop, and being in the midst of the crowd who seemed to know all the songs and not being able to sing along was one of those frustrating moments when I really, really wish I spoke Dutch. I was proud of myself for understanding the words “left” and “right” in Dutch though. It made it easier to wave my hands in the right direction in a timely and thereby non tool-ish manner. Links en rechts, yo!

I’ll say it again, I really loved the crowd. I love that moms bring their babies to events like these (there is life after childbirth!), I love that people dance like nobody’s watching (because nobody does!) and I love that you can find people of all ages grooving together with such joy. Europeans must be solar-powered… because when the sun comes out they really just come alive.

Here’s me in my concert outfit: shorts with a floaty, semi-sheer, neon-dabbed top that I christened a drouse (dress/blouse). I’d been so excited for the weather to get warm enough for me to wear it, and it finally did. Yay summer!
In between acts, we would fall upon one of the park’s many sun-drenched grassy stretches to just lie down and chill. Many others had the same idea, although some were better equipped.

It was nice just to watch people go by. So many attractive people, diverse nationalities, and colorful characters. These two were my favorite passers-by: a guy with a face shaved into the back of his head (shades and a moustache!), and a fully-tattooed guy who would look kind of scary if not for his little stumpy adorable dog.

I would totally make this trip to the Oosterpark for the Amsterdam Roots Festival a yearly pilgrimage. On days like this, I just love this town!
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