Viewing: spring

Spring planting

Sunday, March 10—my due date—came and went without so much as a whimper.

You couldn’t have found three more restless people in Amsterdam that Sunday than Mom, Marlon and myself. There we were, trapped at home thanks to a resurgence of freaky winter weather, trying to keep occupied, silently willing Little Mango into the world. She obviously wasn’t having any of that, because here she is two days later, still lodged comfortably (too comfortably?) in my belly.

Anyway, in an effort to keep busy, Marlon stepped out to the supermarket and came back with bulbs and herbs to plant on our balcony. Amidst the dismal gray, we found a little cheer from bright green of these hyacinth bulbs…

Hyacinth bulb

and the scents of fresh rosemary and thyme.

Rosemary and thyme

In hindsight, we couldn’t have chosen a crappier day to do our spring planting, since it snowed and frosted later that evening. But I think we were all just trying ease our restlessness with some activity.

Marlon planting

We did save some of the hyacinth bulbs for indoors.

Hyacinth indoors in vase

Into a tall transparent cylinder they went, with a modest amount of soil and a sprinkling of water. From what I’ve read, hyacinth bulbs should be kept fairly dry and watered only every two to three days to avoid rotting. They’re also able to grow without any soil—with just the roots immersed in very little water. But I’ll try them this way first and see how it goes.

Hyacinth bulb indoors

As a keep-busy strategy, we could have chosen something more complex or time-consuming. The pop of color was nice, but it took us all of 10 minutes to sink our plants into soil and install the plant boxes on the balcony. Afterwards, Marlon and I were left staring at each other with a “So, what now?” look.

I guess now we wait. Again. And hope that Little Mango comes before the hyacinths start to bloom.

Farewell to spring

Surprise! Spring is over, and in its place is some kind of… weird autumnal hybrid. Did I miss something? Did we just skip summer altogether?
The weather for the past two weeks has been positively dismal: bleak, gray and rainy for days on end. While Holland is spared from the thundering torrents that we’re used to in our tropical corner of the world, this light rain just seems so… endless. So I guess this is the famous Dutch weather they all complain about. I’m straining my neck looking ahead, and there is not a single sunny day in sight. Here’s hoping July and August will be better.
I didn’t even notice that spring ended. When the flowers started popping up in April, I thought they’d be around for at least a few months. Silly me. I guess I’ve gotten used to things being around pretty much all year, as they are in Manila or Singapore. Now the rampant blooming has ceased, and though the surroundings are still alive and green, I wish I took more notice of the flowers. Still, I rounded up enough photos to mount a decent farewell to spring.
Begijnhof
Vondelpark
Museumplein
Practically everywhere in the Jordaan
I never had to go far to get my fill of flowers. Sometimes I just had to look out my window.
Just across the street, my neighbors grow the most gorgeous roses over their front doors. My mom became a huge fan of those while she was here in May.
I miss the easy abundance of spring flowers. I even picked some on my afternoon walks and runs around the neighborhood. (I never picked any of the neighbors’ flowers, of course!)
Free flowers!

 Picked along the river and at the Beatrixpark
I was horrified at the prices of fresh flowers in Paris: €30, €40, even as much as €60 for blooms that would cost €8-10 at the most here in Amsterdam. Thankfully, this is Holland and we can bring in a little bit of spring practically all-year round.  Sunflowers arrived on the scene a week or two ago…
… while my new favorite, peonies, made their first appearance in the market in late April. I’m glad that peonies are still in season. And it appears I’m not the only one.

Product photography = FAIL.

As you can tell, Rogue likes peonies too! Luckily for her, there will always be a little corner of spring to nibble on here at home.

Coriander & co.

Back in Singapore, our condo unit had a balcony with a tiny box filled with soil. “Look, sweetie! We can plant an herb garden!” I sighed with all the dewy-eyed rapturousness of a new wife. In the three years we lived in that condo, you think we ever got around to doing it? Hah.
It turns out all I needed to bring this long-slumbering herb garden fantasy to life was… spring. Just as a deadline spurs a procrastinator into action, the thought of “I can only grow things outside until September!” provided the impetus to finally start cracking my green thumb…
Which started out looking a lot like a black thumb. The first few pots of herbs I bought died a fiery death, sun-dried to a McCormicky crisp during the week that we were away in Portugal. Burned by that experience, I resolved to try a new, two-pronged approach with the replacements I bought. 
Part one consisted of repotting the herbs in bigger pots. Marlon’s logic: bigger pots, more soil, longer to dry out. The afternoon before we left for Oslo, he biked to the nearest Blokker (a Dutch chain with very affordable basic household items) and came back with these stainless steel metal window boxes.

I did the replanting out on the balcony. It was nice to get my hands dirty, literally. I used to love watering the garden and digging up weeds when I was a kid. I haven’t felt soil between my fingers in ages.

Part two of my survival strategy consisted of showing my herbs some love: by naming them and talking to them. (Alert, cuckoo gardening lola in the making!) I was toying between Fernando Cilantro and Alexander Coriander for the (duh) coriander, but ended up going with Alexander. (I think it was influenced by Patrick’s wife giving birth that weekend in Athens and naming the baby Alexandros.)

Paisley Parsley was christened by Therese on Twitter, and appealed to my deep and abiding love for paisley. Marlon later countered that we could have gone with Bob Parsley instead and given Alexander a gay Rasta boyfriend. It’s hard to admit I dropped the ball on this one.

I made up for it, though, by bringing Rosemary Gil into the world. A seriously Pinoy pop culture-deprived Marlon did not get the significance of this name. The real Rosemarie Gil won my eternal devotion as the haughty evil stepmother in the 80s campfest, Nympha, where Alma Moreno played… you guessed it, a nympho.

A peek at her IMDB profile reveals a slew of classics such as Bata Pa Si Sabel, Burlesk Queen, Bagets and Nardong Putik mingling with such dazzlingly campy titles as Bruka: Queen of Evil, Night of the Cobra Woman, and Fight Batman Fight! Plus, she played (ting alert!) Tingting Cojuangco in a TV miniseries. How could I not want my rosemary to take after this fabulous woman?

Beside the divine Miss Gil is the only plant that I have ever tried to grow from seed. A species that’s… uh, abundant in Amsterdam, it has yet to be named but has already begun to sprout. My black thumb might just turn out to be green after all.

Sunny days

Amsterdam has been blessed with abundant sunshine for the past few weeks, especially on the weekends. How our lives have changed: instead of driving me deeper into my bed with the aircon on full blast, hot and sunny days now draw me out into the street to do as the Dutch and soak up the sun… while it lasts. (“It’s all downhill from Queen’s Day” warned Rick, our running group coach.) 
One sunny weekend I got to do three things that had been on my Amsterdam must-try lists for some time. The first was to have apple pie at Winkel, a vastly popular (and always packed) cafe on the Noordermarkt. 

The apple pie here is reportedly the best in Amsterdam. I haven’t met a Dutch appeltart I haven’t liked, but I must say this one outweighs and outsizes all the ones I’ve had. The crust is almost cookie-like without being dry, and the filling is made up of generous chunks of baked apple with some crunch to it, instead of the usual mushy, applesauce-y filling. 
Another tick mark on my list went to the grassy hill (well, wedge really) on Museumplein. It’s been callin’ for some sprawlin’ ever since I first saw it, back in January when we first moved here. 

The Concertgebouw (concert hall) is on the right, while the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum (the contemporary art museum, closed for renovation) are on the left.

Marlon and I killed a good two hours there while waiting for a dinner appointment, just reading, napping and taking pictures. Public spaces like these are another reason why I love Amsterdam.

And one Sunday, Marlon and I went totally Amsterdammer-like with a picnic at the Vondelpark. I even wore my bathing suit to the park, as the locals do when it’s hot. Swimsuits and grass still don’t quite fit together in my head, though.

We packed our brand-new/secondhand picnic basket with some chips, beer, cold water, and a light lunch…

… consisting of oven-roasted chicken and baby potatoes with cherry tomatoes, garlic and herbs.

Did your parents ever tell you not to read while eating? Ours did, to no avail. So out came the books…
… and the Leffe Blond beer. This is my passed-out-in-the-grass lasengga look. 

The day was so gorgeous. There seems to be so much magic in sunshine.

It can transform dogs into swamp creatures…

… and goths into happy campers.

When we found a wishbone in our lunch, Marlon and I both wished for more days just like this one. :) 
Amsterdam, all you have to do is grant that wish… and I’ll love you forever.

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!

Art in the Alps

One of my best friends from high school moved to France, then Switzerland after years of working as a flight attendant with Emirates. Eena and I would chat often about the things we would do when we both moved to Europe, and we would get so excited to be together again in such an awesome location. One of the things she suggested was driving up to the Alps to spend a weekend at her father-in-law’s chalet. Eena said: “We can drive to Italy for lunch! Imagine that!” which of course made me kilig to the bones. 
Two weeks ago, our idle YM daydreams became a reality when Marlon and I flew to Geneva to visit Eena on the occasion of her 30th 26th birthday. Julien, Eena’s Swiss husband (who is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met) drove us from Geneva to the Valais, a region of southwestern, French-speaking Switzerland. “This part of Switzerland gets the most sun,” Julien narrated as he drove. “Thus here we grow all our exotic fruits. Like asparagus and tomatoes.” LOL!

En route to the town of Martigny, we could only gawk at the view: snowy white mountains towering over vineyards and fields of mustard flowers (Dijon, as in the mustard, is just over the mountains in France). We stopped for lunch at Veytaux, a small town on the banks of the Lac Leman, the biggest inland body of water in Western Europe, otherwise known to unsuspecting tourists as Lake Geneva. Glad I got the locals to give me the downlow.

The weather was freaking awesome, by the way. So awesome that by the time lunch was over, my back was sunburned with odd cutout patterns from my dress. “You ‘ave the No Fear logo on your back,” chortled Julien. No Fear! Retro!

We also poked around the old town looking for ingredients for our raclette dinner. Nothing much to see, although I was tempted to break into song. “Little town, full of little people, waking up to say… Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour!

Martigny is a small town with a big history. Hannibal, Caesar, Charlemagne and Napoleon all passed through to Italy via Martigny’s route to the Alps, known as the Great St Bernard Pass (Col. Grand-St Bernard in French). You guessed it: this is where those big, lovable St-Bernard dogs are from. So upon arriving at Martigny, we headed straight for the St Bernard Museum. Its upper floor is dedicated to chronicling these canines throughout history, but the ground floor out back is where you really want to be… with these adorable doggies!

Marlon has always been a big dog kind of guy, and he was in absolute heaven. Betraying my crazy cat lady instincts, I couldn’t resist squeeing myself. Especially when feeding time came.

This girl must have the best job in the town. As she called each of the nine joyously yapping, squirming pups by name and lifted each one over the fence to their feeding bowls, I could feel waves of jealousy radiating from my husband. “Sige nga, pati yung malaki buhatin mo,” Marlon murmured.

Cue wagging derrieres (wagging boddies actually), excited yips, a few fights over food bowls. *MELT* How can you not want one of these for Christmas?

Near the museum was the remains of a Roman amphitheater, where Marlon indulged his debating fantasies (he was a debater in high school and college) and pretended to be a great orator .

On the spur of the moment, we decided to visit the Fondation Pierre Gianadda, a museum that Julien’s dad had mentioned as being worth a look-see. In the late 70s, engineer (and obviously wealthy art patron) Leonard Gianadda found the ruins of an ancient Celtic temple on the plot of land he planned to build his house on. When his brother Pierre died in a car accident that same year, Leonard established a foundation and built a museum around the ruins to honor his beloved brother.

We came so close to not seeing it and I’m so glad we did. This small town’s museum can easily put museums in both the Philippines and Singapore to shame. Its collection of Roman artifacts and art by huge names such as Luce (my new favorite), Monet, Chagall, Degas, Picasso and more was simply amazing. There weren’t only huge names on the walls, but in the cultural calendar as well. Can you imagine one of the world’s greatest living divas performing in our National Museum or the Singapore Art Museum? I didn’t think so.

The antique car museum was equally impressive.

But what I loved most about the museum was the beautiful sculpture park out back.

We wandered around for nearly an hour, until closing time at six.

We were so lucky that day, to see these massive works displayed among trees, sunshine and blue skies.

Everywhere you look, you see the Alps. A breathtaking backdrop for such a collection.

The best came last: two of the most famous works by my favorite sculptor, Rodin: Meditation and The Kiss.

The entwined lovers of The Kiss seemed to belong perfectly in this setting.

I can’t fully explain how wonderful that park was. I know everyone in our group was amazed too. We were all quiet on the way back to the car.

We drove onward, deeper into the Alps, watching the scenery change with every tight curve in the road and every last shifting ray of light. Soon we reached Bourg-St Pierre, and night fell.

Blooming

We’ve had a warm streak the last few days (ranging from 10-15℃), and outside, flowers that were closed just last week have started to bloom!
I’ve finally bought vases, so even indoors, everything is in bloom as well. Fresh flowers here are shockingly cheap and thus we have flowers everywhere! In the living room, atop the crates…
On the dining table…
In the front hallway…
And on the windowsill!
Flowers are also a sign that the house has officially left the territory of mess, and crossed over into the land of the livable. I didn’t feel I ought to buy flowers for the house when it was still covered with boxes, books were piled on the floor gathering dust, and we couldn’t sit on anything. Now, it looks good enough to deserve a treat (or two, or three).
Marlon, always the sweetheart, says I should never buy flowers myself, because it’s his job to buy flowers for me :)