Skating in De Rijp

After two days of skating on the Amsterdam canals, it was time for a change of scene. Thanks to a friend’s Dutch partner and his family, Marlon and I found ourselves heading north of Amsterdam on Friday afternoon for a last-minute, out-of-town skating trip.  
We caught the 301 bus behind Central Station bound for the medieval village of De Rijp. Everyone on the bus was carrying a pair of ice skates and sandwiches, making it feel like a school trip with total strangers. On the road, we passed people skating on the frozen waterways between towns, and farmlands covered in snow. 
My friend’s Dutch boyfriend Tob described De Rijp as an “adorable little town in the North”… which it is! I’d probably go bonkers living there, but it sure is cute. Still, I’m glad I had the chance to visit—it was so pretty, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have found out about it on my own.

We were the last to arrive after getting lost and feeling like our faces were going to fall off before we found our way. When we got there, our friends were already out on a pond (or small-ish lake) that had been completely frozen over.

It was Marlon’s first time out on the ice this winter. His skates are actually ice hockey skates; they were one of the last few pairs left at the sports store. He’s skated before (in Canada, not just in Megamall!) so he took to it so much faster than I did. Naturally.

Heading out into the frozen North, I began to comprehend the full extent of the Dutch love for skating.


Aside from towering over short people at standing-room concerts, it appears that these infuriatingly long Dutch legs are made for one other thing: speed skating. When the web of waterways that crisscrosses the entire nation freezes over, the Dutch put on their skates and do what they call a “tour.” That means hurtling through double-digit kilometers of frozen countryside…

… in goggles and Mandex.

Yup, they take it seriously here. It’s pretty amazing.

If I had stronger legs, I would have loved to attempt a tour. The countryside is beautiful.

But, helaas, my tropical limbs couldn’t even clock in one kilometer before they started aching in places that I had never thought existed. “That’s right, you don’t use those muscles when you’re lying on the beach,” teased my friend Leslie.

I could have used one of these sleds. They looked more my speed.

So we just kept to our little pond with the babies. Speaking of babies… cuteness break! Aren’t they just adorable? *melt*

Even these little tots were faster on the ice then we were.

And those who weren’t, got pulled along on sleds or wagons. I love how handmade and brand-less their toys look.

Aside from babies, there were quite a few dogs out on the ice too, adding to the cuteness factor.

I think they can sense that Marlon is a dog person; they immediately go for him.

Hot drinks are essential to stay warm, and for that overall cozy-happy-fun atmosphere.

And of course, everything’s better with friends. Especially friends with matching skates (cheapskates, literally)…

friends who know how to have fun…

… and friends who can take our picture as a couple!

Thank you, Holland. This is another awesome memory for the books. Till next winter!

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Bergen aan Zee

Marlon had Thursday and Friday off the week we got back from Paris (they celebrate the Ascension here, who knew?). So it seemed like a good idea to squeeze in a quick getaway to the beach. We picked Bergen aan Zee, a seaside town a short train and bus ride from Amsterdam, and booked an overnight stay at a small hotel in town.
By the time I got back from Paris, I was so wiped out from keeping up with the Glee Club (and Mimi, and the frenetic city itself) that packing for another trip and getting on another train was the last thing I wanted to do. If we hadn’t already pre-paid for the hotel, I would have happily skipped this trip. But because we’d already spent the money, we decided to go anyway, leaving after lunch on Thursday. 
Bergen is a picturesque town with a relaxed vibe, and markedly upscale as I could see from its restaurants and boutiques. It’s full of old, pretty one- or two-story houses like these. 
To get to the beach from our hotel in the center of town, Marlon and I would have to cycle some 4 kilometers… which would have been fine and dandy with me if we didn’t run into the problem I always seem to have in Holland. Which is finding a suitably me-sized bicycle.
With no children’s bikes available at the hotel and the only bike rental closed for the Ascension holiday, there was nothing left to do except strap our beach blanket onto the rear rack of Marlon’s rented bike, hop on, and cling to my huffing and puffing husband for the next 4 kilometers. The bike ninjas of the Netherlands may scoff at this mileage, but for two relative noobs like us, it was no joke. If I ever had any doubts about Marlon’s love for me, he sure proved it with this bike ride. 

Still, it was a beautiful day and a pretty ride. We passed some huge and stunning summer homes, no doubt belonging to obscenely wealthy residents. Tall, lush green trees lined the bike path, cooling and shading us on the way.

I’m beginning to get used to the look of Dutch beaches: grassy dunes overlooking long expanses of sand and shallows. But in Bergen, I saw these for the first time, rows and rows of them harboring sun loungers and stretching for miles along the beach.

I don’t know what they’re called, aside from advertising space. But when the staff at the beach restaurants started packing these up at 6pm, it became all too clear what their function was: to block the wind. Which was damn strong. And cold.  Marlon and I didn’t last longer than 15 minutes on the beach without them. Mapapamura ka sa lamig!

Searching for shelter from the wind, I was drawn to these bright yellow wicker cabins for rent. 

They’re sort of like big rectangular boxes with cushions, armrests wide enough to hold drinks and small plates, and large drawers underneath for your beach stuff. Most importantly, they make an excellent barrier against the wind.

The colorful lining inside makes for pretty pictures too!

After we’d had enough of huddling (and cuddling) against the wind, we decided to bike back to town before it got too dark. Poor Marlon was so tired that we ended up walking a full third of the way back. After a surprisingly good dinner in the center of town, it was back to our little (and I mean really little) room at the Hotel Marijke.

I thought the trip would tire me out, but our quick seaside jaunt recharged my batteries. Then again, I wasn’t the one who had to pedal away with my extra weight. Maybe I need to ask Marlon how he felt about the trip! I’d love to go back to Bergen, though. And next time, I’m bringing my bike on the train.

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Bloemendaal

Somehow, between my sister’s visit and our Easter trip to Portugal, I managed to squeeze in a day at the beach with Leigh, a new friend from the Amsterdam girls’ Meetup group I joined. On a particularly warm day (24℃… yes I know, how things have changed!) I hopped on a bus to Leigh’s place in Bad Hoevedorp, a town near Haarlem and Sloten. It looks far on the map, but turned out to be just 20 minutes by bus from Museumplein.
At Leigh’s place, I saw how much space you can get living outside of the city (it’s pretty, but I’m happy where I am!) and met her adorable (and huge!) pets.
Then we took her car for a 30-minute drive (where we almost ran out of gas!) to Zandvoort a.k.a. The Beach, where apparently everyone and his mother goes on a sunny weekend. At the Anne Frank House, I even saw pictures of Anne Frank and her family in their beachwear at Zandvoort back in the 1930s!

We opted to go to Bloemendaal, the “posher” stretch of beach beside Zandvoort, passing huge mansions on the way. Apparently the only reason it’s posher is because of all these chillax-chic beach bars on the dunes…

… which were a nice enough place to enjoy lunch and a girly gabfest. I still have to get used to sandwiches and salads as beach food, though.
So, this is the beach. It fulfills the two basic requirements: sand and sea. It gets positively scorching up on the dunes, but closer to the shoreline, the sea breeze kicks in and cools you right off.

Speaking of cooling off: don’t even think of going into the water, at least not in April… unless you want to die of hypothermia. No matter how warm it is on land, that North Sea means business. Toto, we’re not in the South China Sea anymore.

With swimming out of the picture, it was nice to just tan on the sand and enjoy a chat with a new friend. Leigh is from South Africa, and it was unbelievable how many commonalities our countries share: from stunning natural beauty to visa woes to everyday tales of crime and corruption that the Dutch we’ve met simply find impossible to comprehend.
Q: Mahangin ba sa labas? A: Sa tingin mo?
If I’d come straight here from the Philippines without being exposed to the sadness that is Sentosa, I would have scoffed at this beach. But the stretch of sand is wide and clean, and it’s near enough to get to in a pinch. I definitely wouldn’t mind doing again, especially with lots of sunshine and good friends!
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Texel, take two

On our second and last day in Texel, the sun finally came out and gave us shivering timbers a break. I woke up feeling like a zombie cast in lead, but as soon as I was out in the sunshine I began to feel like a human being again. So Marlon and I did what we should have done the day before, and went into town to rent bikes.
“I think I need one of those children’s bikes,” I told the bike store lady, pointing to a metallic pink bike with GIRL POWER! emblazoned on the side. “No, no, of course not,” she said dismissively, hauling out regular-sized lady bikes for me to try. After seeing me fail to even lift my leg over the seat of several bikes, she gave in. I may not know much about bikes, but I sure know my legs.

And we were off. Texel is practically synonymous with cycling, and there’s a fantastic network of bike paths running all along the west coast where the dunes lie. My bike-happy friends Elaine and Paul would absolutely love it, and with the sunshine and the gentle breeze urging us along the path, I was loving it too. 

We would stop every now and then, and seeing all the fit Dutch lolos and lolas whiz by effortlessly, I was really feeling the need to get back into shape. Active holidays are normally not my thing, but this weekend showed me just how good they could be.

We biked for about an hour until we reached another walking path that cut through the heath to the beach. “That’s more like it!” I squealed when we hit the dunes. What a difference sunshine can make!

We plopped down on the dunes overlooking the beach, stretching our legs, talking, and just enjoying the moment. Marlon hugged me and thanked me for a perfect weekend, and I was just happy he was having fun despite all the hiccups with the weather, the bikes, and our exhaustion from the day before.

We cycled back to the hotel through the Pelikanse Bos and stopped by the riding school one last time. By this time the horses were starting to look like old friends, haha.

Eunice Tan, isdatchu?

There were lots of families with young children feeding and grooming the ponies. There were larger horses available for adults to ride, and I was ready to indulge Marlon. But he said he was just content to stand around and snap photos of their adorable fuzziness.

After a late, leisurely lunch in town, we were ready to pack up and head for home. From De Koog, we hopped on a bus back to the port at ‘t Hoorntje to board the Dutch equivalent of a ro-ro. It really amazes me that return fare on a vessel of such impressive size and condition is just €2.50 (Php 150). Para ka lang nag-bangka to Puerto Galera from the Batangas pier.

As soon as boarding horn commenced, everyone scrambled for deck seats in the sun.

Back when I used to travel to Europe as a tourist, I used to laugh at how Europeans would go batshit crazy at the slightest hint of sunshine. Living here has made me totally get it.

Speaking of batshit crazy: on our train ride home, an old bald man wearing heavy white foundation, thick red lipstick, blue eyeshadow up to his eyebrows and a frothy, lacy, flouncy white wedding dress waltzed into our car and took the seat across the aisle from us, muttering to himself nonstopI would have taken a picture, but I was too freaked out. Ganda ng lolo mo! Maybe too much sun can addle your brain. 

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Texel treat

My husband started the tradition we now call birthday whisking two years ago when he whisked me away to The Fullerton Hotel on my birthday weekend. I returned the favor with a birthday whisk to the Pan Pacific the following year, with the just-released God of War 3 and his Playstation secretly packed into our suitcase. And my last birthday whisk was to the Marina Bay Sands.

Thankfully, a few remaining freelance gigs enabled me to carry on the tradition this year. Part 3 of my birthday gift to Marlon was a weekend on the island of Texel, largest of the Frisian Islands at the northern tip of Holland (close to Denmark), and one of the first getaway places I’d heard about when I first arrived.

So on Friday after work, Marlon and I embarked on my carefully researched route, which involved a tram to Centraal Station, a 1 hour and 15-minute train to the town of Den Helder, a 10-minute bus ride from Den Helder to the port, a 20-minute ferry from the port to ‘t Hoorntje on Texel, and a 30-minute bus ride from ‘t’ Hoorntje to the Hotel Tatenhove in the town of De Koog. *Whew!*

By the time we got to the hotel, our cozy room, with its mostly new furnishings, spacious bathroom and aggressive heating, was more than a welcome sight.

The next morning, I realized my grand design had a fatal flaw: Amsterdam was set to be fairly sunny that Saturday, but I neglected to check the weather report for Noord-Holland. I think it was because I’d gotten so used to Singapore, a tiny dot with the same weather everywhere. So imagine my surprise when we woke up to a freeze-your-balls-off 2℃. The floral dress I packed to look charmingly spring-ish while biking along the sunny dunes of Texel? Fuhgeddaboudid.

Biking was Fuhgeddaboudid No. 2, as I soon realized the bikes for rent at the hotel were not made for my stumpy Asian legs. I watched with envy, shivering in my leather jacket, as couple after long-legged, fleece-clad couple sped off into the frigid bike paths of De Koog.

With bikes firmly out of the equation, Marlon and I decided to hoof it.

Har har, I couldn’t resist. We didn’t set off on horseback, but we did decide to walk. On our way to the Texel Sand Dunes National Park, we passed a riding school with the most adorably shaggy ponies. This pretty thing cozied up to my husband, which is the only time I will ever tolerate husband cozying by pretty things.

We tramped through the Pelikanse Bos, a woods where I more than half-expected to see actual pelicans. There were no pelicans, but there were lots of tiny, red-cheeked Dutch kids on ponies. Muchas preciosas.

After about half an hour of walking, we reached hilly dry grasslands marked “heath” on our map, a revelation after reading the word in so many books and not having any cultural reference for it. And then it dawned on me… “Do you know what this reminds me of?!? Do you know what I feel like here?!?” I cried, seizing my husband and shaking him with mounting excitement. “It’s like… it’s like.. The Last Unicorn!!!”
Sing with me! “I’m aliiiiiive… I’m aliiiiiiiive…”
Of course, we had to stop and take pictures of me walking despondently through the heath in search of my fellow unicorns, like so.
This is one of the better pictures. 

Oh and if you think I’m a certified Last Unicorn nutjob, I’m nothing compared to the dude who took 3,505 screen caps of the movie and posted them online. (Thanks for the images, by the way.)

In true Last Unicorn fashion, we eventually reached the beach.

And what a frigid beach she was.

Brrr! 

Seeing North Face as beachwear boggled my tropical mind. Combined with the close-to-zero temperature, each gust of sea breeze certainly gave new meaning to chilling out on the beach. But some people didn’t seem to care, like this group of surfers we spotted. “Baliw,” I muttered through chattering teeth.
 
Kaya pala lokang-loka sila sa mga beaches natin, no? Because while I was surprised at how soft, white and fine the sand was, and how expansive the beach was, it was a darn shame about the cold. Mahirap pala talaga yung perfect combo ng water, sand, and weather. At mas mahirap pa na halos whole year round siyang perfect. The Philippines is really so blessed, and we Pinoys are so lucky.
I was pretty surprised to find such a great beach here, and I consider myself spoiled by Philippine beaches. It’s not the first thing you’d think about Holland, for sure, or even the third. The Dutch know that, so they’ve placed this gem of a beach under special protection as a national park. So aside from the high, soft dunes that make you just want to tumble from their heights, the other really special thing about the beach was the wildlife… especially the beautiful sea birds. 
Speaking of wildlife, I saw lots of big, happy dogs bounding along the shore. The Texel dunes are indeed the perfect place for creatures with built-in fur coats and a deep-seated need for frolicking with abandon. This overjoyed poodle ran right into my husband’s arms while he was taking its picture.

After over an hour of taking photos, struggling against the cold and sinking into the sand, we came upon a beach pavilion with an open-roofed terrace that had tall glass windows to shield sun-worshippers against the wind. We grabbed the opportunity to escape the wind and grab some hot chocolate and lunch.

I thought I’d seen it all when I saw the surfers in the near-freezing water, but then I saw a woman in clad shaggy, thick, head-to-toe fur for a beach holiday. Then I decided I’d seen it all.

By around 4 o’clock we were completely exhausted from the shivering and the walking. I think the cold makes you extra tired when you’re not dressed for it. We meandered back to town for an afternoon snack of coffee and crepes along Dorpsstraat, De Koog’s main tourist thoroughfare with restaurants and shops.

Then we caved in to our inner lolo and lola and stumbled back to the hotel. Craving warmth and rest, we stretched out on the hotel patio, with an expansive view of a pond and fields, and soaked up whatever sun Noord-Holland could muster up.

“Nobody in here but us retirees,” I mumbled as I drifted off to sleep, peeking with one eye at the white-haired folk who weren’t out painting De Koog red, but were instead reading, sleeping, and yes, knitting in our midst.

“Tomorrow,” Marlon said. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”

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