Spring flowers in Lago Maggiore

It was still chilly when I left Amsterdam for Lago Maggiore, so arriving to find bright sunshine, brilliant blue skies and spring in full bloom was just the best thing ever. Bursting from trees, growing out of cracks in stone walls, shouting from rooftops… it was flowers, flowers everywhere!

Lago Maggiore Orta spring trees in bloom

Lago Maggiore Orta flowers in stone wall

Lago Maggiore Orta purple wisteria

Mostly, though, Lago Maggiore in the springtime is wisteria heaven. My memories of this weekend getaway with friends will always be perfumed with the scent of wisteria.

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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.

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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.
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.
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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.

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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.
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