A’DAM Toren Amsterdam: Icon under construction

Every city has an iconic landmark. Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor, Paris’s Eiffel Tower or Rome’s Coliseum are all beautiful and recognizable, but these days they mostly serve as backdrops for the requisite tourist selfie. They’re also somewhat cut off from the real life of a city.

As urban dwellers, our participation in the life of these iconic structures is limited. We can’t really know them intimately—run our hands over their bones, poke around in their guts, or watch them grow. What would it have been like to see them as they were being built?

Short of traveling back in time, that’s not really possible. Or is it?

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam The Making of a Landmark

This is why I couldn’t miss out on a very special Instameet organized by the IGersAmsterdam community. To mark Dag van De Bouw (National Construction Day) on June 13, IGersAmsterdam offered 20 local Instagrammers access to the construction site of A’DAM Toren Amsterdam, the city’s newest landmark.

Rising 22 stories high, A’DAM Toren Amsterdam was the former headquarters of Shell, located along the IJ river across Amsterdam Central Station. When Shell moved to their new headquarters, the building designed by architect Arthur Staal—known as Toren Overhoeks, or ‘Diagonal Tower’, for its 45-degree angle to the river—was open for redevelopment.

Concepts were bidded out, and the choice was made: to make the tower into a creative hub, and to finally build the iconic observation deck that Amsterdam never had. Born of a four-way partnership among creative individuals, the vision was brought to life by architects Claus & Van Wageningen. Renovation of the tower began in July 2014 and is scheduled for completion in April 2016.

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam under construction elevator

The plans for A’DAM Toren sound amazing. The tower’s main draw and crowning glory, quite literally, is called The Crown. Sitting on top of the tower, this structure will contain the Lookout: a diagonal viewing deck on the 2oth and 21st floors, with a 360-degree panorama of Amsterdam.

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam observation deck view from The Crown

There is nothing like this in Amsterdam. You can see clear across the city to Schiphol airport, even on a characteristically cloudy day. For convenience, nothing beats the accessibility to Central Station which is a five-minute (free!) ferry ride away.

The Crown took nine months to develop and a mindblowing three days to install. Three days! That’s first world construction for you.

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam shooting view of Central Station

What was fantastic about this Instameet was that we got to climb even higher than the Lookout—right up on the rooftop of the A’DAM Toren itself, which isn’t open to the general public, not even for National Construction Day.

The Lookout will also contain a bar and restaurant on the 20th floor, a revolving restaurant on the 19th floor, and…. a giant swing on the very edge of the roof. Say whaaat?! I have a mild-to-moderate fear of heights, but I. Cannot. Wait.

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam windblown hair

What’s better than going to a super cool, limited-access location? Going there with a bunch of fun, friendly and talented photographers! No need for selfies here—it was so easy to just make friends and hand them my camera or phone. I think the last time I had so many nice pictures taken of myself was at my wedding.

A'DAM Toren Amsterdam Instagrammers on roof

In the company of fellow ‘grammers, nobody twice about lying down on steel beams or taking a picture of your feet dangling off the side of the building. Who says its lonely at the top?

But wait, there’s more to A’DAM Toren Amsterdam than the view. Come and see, after the jump.

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Instagramsterdam: November

In these pictures, Amsterdam looks so still and peaceful, doesn’t it? November is when the city starts to calm down. The summer crowds and the last bargain-hunting travelers from shoulder season have left, leaving the city pristine and quiet.

It is for this reason that I’ve begun to love November. We’ve had a beautiful one this year, with a surprising bounty of the crisp sunny days that show off this city’s beauty.

Instagram Amsterdam November 2014

I usually hate going to the city center, particularly the touristic parts around the Red Light District. These areas are dirty, seedy, crowded, don’t reflect the real Amsterdam, and have nothing to do with my own life as a resident of this city, so I avoid it whenever I can.

But surprise, surprise! November has made me rediscover the city center all over again. All but one of my favorite Instagram pics this month were taken in exactly the areas that I hate so much. Heading into winter, the city center sheds some of its touristic grime, revealing the true beauty of some of Amsterdam’s oldest and most historic parts.

Amsterdam’s cycling lifestyle has helped me appreciate this city and this season so much more. I’ve found true pleasure in pulling my bike off the road, parking it for a few minutes and soaking it all up. You can’t do that when you’re stuck in a subway or in a car in a traffic jam! Those few minutes can simply transform the morning rush.

What have you been posting on Instagram this November?

Instagramsterdam is a blog series rounding up my favorite Instagram posts about Amsterdam every month. For me, it’s a way to appreciate the little things I enjoy about living in Amsterdam, and to embrace my adopted city a little bit more.

If you haven’t yet, come FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM

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What’s in the birthday box?

Who doesn’t love getting presents on their birthday? When I was a kid, it was all about quantity—the thrill of seeing a pile (the bigger the better) of gifts waiting to be opened, the sheer delight of ripping through present after present.

That’s changed a bit over the years. I’m happy to open just one present on my birthday, knowing it’s been selected with care by someone who knows me well. Being the person who knows me better than anyone, my husband always hits it out of the park.

Birthday gift sketches on kraft paper

This year, Marlon had me at hello. It was impossible not to cry upon the sight of these doodles on kraft paper, and I almost didn’t want to open the package. Our family, our journey, our story so far…

Marlon's sketches on kraft paper1

 

… our dreams, our future and all the stories to come.

Marlon's sketches on kraft paper2

Stories of which I am clearly, and happily, this family’s designated documentarian.

Sony RX100 II

As much as I love my DSLR and lenses, I’ve been dying for a point-and-shoot ever since Tala was born. As the pack mule for my and Tala’s stuff, I really feel the added bulk and weight of a DSLR and one or more lenses. Digging in my bag for the camera, not to mention changing lenses, seems to take forever, like Tala’s moving at warp speed and I’m underwater.

I wasn’t satisfied with my iPhone 4 camera, but needed something small, light, and fast. Having lived in the land of manual settings for the last three years, I couldn’t go back to just any old point-and-shoot.

Enter the Sony RX100 Mark II. I first heard about its predecessor, the Sony RX100, from The Diplomatic Wife, a conscientious shopper who did her research and found it a consistent favorite on lists of top digital compact cameras. Marlon took a big risk buying me a camera without any involvement or research from me, but he nailed it with this choice.

 

The Sony RX 100 MII gets raves on most reputable tech sites, such as Digital Photography Review and Gizmodo. What I’m loving about this camera: small size, big sensor. “How many megapixels?” is for noobs; it’s the people who ask about sensor size who know where it’s at. Simply put: the bigger the sensor, the more light and thus information a camera can capture, which translates into better images (for a more detailed, well-written explanation, check out this article).

This camera also has the all-important shallow depth of field (two words: blurry background) I just can’t live without, plus the option to shoot on manual, shutter speed priority and, my personal go-to mode, aperture priority.

Best of all, it slips into a coat pocket, making it discreet (for those times when I want to be a stealthy blogger ninja), convenient and easy to whip out for split-second flashes of brilliance/activity/cuteness. A great compact camera for me, more pictures and videos of Tala for everyone. Win-win for all!

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JR’s Inside Out Project in Amsterdam

I discovered the street art of JR a few months ago while visiting Berlin. After seeing his large-scale paper pastings in Berlin, I became interested in his work and hoped that one day I might be able to participate in one of his art projects. So this weekend I was thrilled to find JR’s Inside Out Project in Amsterdam, right in my own neighborhood!

The Inside Out Project is a global participatory art project launched by JR when he won the TED Prize in 2011. Instead of taking photographs of people and pasting them in different location all over the world, as he normally would, JR invited the public to share their portraits as a way of standing up for something they cared about.

Since then, more than 130,000 people in over 108 countries have taken their own portraits, sent them to JR via the Inside Out website, and received large format posters to paste in their own communities. Most of them are groups that have used the Inside Out Project to make statements on everything from LBGT rights and violence, to dreams and memories. The Inside Out Project has also sent traveling photobooth trucks all over the world, most notably this year at Times Square in New York.

This weekend, the Inside Out Project came to the Unseen Photo Fair at the Westergasfabriek in my neighborhood park.

Inside Out Project by JR at Unseen Amsterdam

So cool! How could I not participate?! So on Saturday afternoon, Marlon, Tala and I queued up at the Inside Out photo truck to have our portraits taken.

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Newborn photo session

The photos from Tala’s newborn photography session arrived yesterday… and I can’t stop looking at them! These were taken when Tala was a little over three weeks old, and already I can’t believe how small she was just two short weeks ago.

Not only did lifestyle photographer Melody Rae do a wonderful job capturing our home and our family in these images, but she was also generous with them—we received over a hundred post-processed photos, with color and black-and-white versions of each. That way we can just choose which ones we want to print, without having to pay a set price for prints.

I love the way the photos all feel so relaxed, like it would be on a regular Sunday at home. We couldn’t have gotten this same vibe at a studio. It’s hard to choose favorites, but here are some of mine.

Family photo black & white

Family photo shutters black & white

Tala and Daddy black & white

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