Amsterdam’s biggest flea market

I love me some old things, so I was delighted when one of my friends suggested a girls’ day out at the the IJ-Hallen flea market in Amsterdam Noord. 
Held in a huge warehouse in the old shipyards of the NDSM-Werf (or wharf), it has over 500 stalls selling second-hand items, making it the largest flea market in Amsterdam. The IJ-Hallen flea market is held on the first weekend of every month and costs €4 to get in. Sometimes, they will have a second market day focusing on certain kinds of goods; this March, it’s toys, miniatures, dolls and dollhouses. 
The IJ-Hallen is not nearly as atmospheric as, say, Les Puces de St-Ouen in Paris, but it has its own unique vibe being in a huge industrial complex where ships were once built.
Click “read more” for the full IJ-Hallen thrifting experience, plus our finds for the day!

As with most thrift shops and flea markets, majority of the items for sale are junk. Still, if you are diligent and have a keen eye, there are treasures to be found, ranging from the pretty… 
to the quirky… 
… to the simply nostalgic. 
I was in the market for a vintage wool coat in an interesting color or pattern. I found racks upon racks of winter coats for just €25 apiece, but I was not lucky that day. Check out how far above me the coats are hanging; this is a very typical short-person-in-Holland problem. 
Still, I was happy just rummaging and taking photographs.

As my designated pack mule, Marlon was the only guy in our group. I love how he not only indulges my love of old things, but has also come to appreciate them. For his time and patience spending a day thrifting with a gaggle of girls, he rewarded himself with a handful of funky old die-cast cars from the 1960s.

As for me, I fell in love with these vintage postcards featuring hand-tinted photographs of Zaandvoort and Scheveningen, the beaches closest to Amsterdam and the Hague. They were postmarked between 1903 and 1910, making them over a hundred years old.

I love it when I stumble upon something combines several of my many loves. In the case of these postcards, it’s the beach, vintage, paper and, on the back, beautiful cursive handwriting. 
Can you believe everyone used to write like this, back in the day?
We also picked up a couple of things for the home: a tiny crate to use as a magazine rack in our equally tiny toilet, and a vintage glass decanter, which is the kind of purchase that makes you feel very grown up.

And yes, my bathroom reading material is proudly Filipino!

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Van Dijk & Ko

Be prepared for a slew of thrifting posts from me over the next few days. I’m obsessed with finding a desk for my soon-to-be home office, and since I’m on a budget, checking out second-hand sources has been my top priority. One (rare) sunny Saturday morning, my search for the perfect second-hand desk led me across the river IJ (pronounced “eye”) to Amsterdam Noord, which is 14 minutes by ferry from Centraal Station.
Amsterdam Noord is still largely industrial, but it’s considered an “up-and-coming” (i.e. increasingly livable, secretly hip) neighborhood. With wide roads, little greenery and a surfeit of warehouses, it feels like a different planet from the rest of Amsterdam. 
It’s also a killer bike ride, because nothing cuts the wind, which (on the day we were there, at least) is inescapable and so very strong. I felt like 20-pound weights were hanging from my handlebars. 

But my fietsje (little bike) and I forged ahead anyway. I say “little,” because my trusty baby blue cruiser who came all the way from Singapore is microscopic by Dutch standards. I feel like I get strange looks whenever I’m out biking; I’ve seen 11 year-olds riding bigger bikes than mine.

In contrast, Marlon, who bikes to work everyday, has a proper Dutch bike. They call it an oma fiets (granny bike). It’s higher, so you can fully extend your legs while biking and prevent damage to your knees. I don’t bike often enough to care about that stuff, although I should.

Anyway, there was a good reason for the killer bike ride: to explore the 2,500 square-meter second-hand wonderland known as Van Dijk en Ko.

Step inside, after the jump!

All those cliches about shining eyes and a song in your heart? That’s me entering a place like this. Imagine four times this long warehouse space, filled with old books and furniture from the Netherlands, Belgium, France…
… Romania and Hungary. You could kind of tell which pieces were from Eastern Europe: the ones that were folksier, with more pattern and color.

Another Hungarian import sold at Van Dijk en Ko: gorgeous hand-blown glassware. They are brand new, not second hand.

We have way too many glasses as it is, but I need to come back for some of these.

Old mail sacks made of linen, also from France and Hungary, are sold by the meter. I would love a classic French armchair reupholstered in this material.

Aside from books and furniture, there are also lots of old building materials and parts of houses. Iron gate as headboard, anyone?

I could have grabbed a roll of vintage wallpaper for future projects. But I have too much paper at home already.
If we hadn’t been on our bikes, I would have loved to pick up a few of these giant beakers, in arresting hues of emerald and cobalt. 

More impractical but no less eye-catching: a card catalog (remember those?) and a black horse on wheels. I’d love to see someone cycling around the streets of Amsterdam on that!

Though I took my time browsing and loved doing so, I was a good girl that day. My only purchase was a jar of fountain pens (for my newest hobby) at 50 cents apiece.

Unfortunately, my desk eluded me. On to the next!
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Vintage treasures from Mom

My appetite for travel is something that I most definitely inherited from my mom. While I was growing up, if she wasn’t jetting off to a foreign country then she was packing us—her two girls—into the car for weekend jaunts to the beach.
In addition to being a consummate traveler, she was also an insatiable collector—or as we like to say, a hoarder! She would always bring things home from her trips: anything from heirloom-worthy pieces from Europe to whatever was the latest trend in Japan or the US or wherever she happened to be. I remember being the first family we knew to have a Discman and to wear t-shirts emblazoned with the faces of The Simpsons (whom I thought were really ugly and weird) as early as 1990.
Mom has since declared her jetsetting days pretty much behind her, except for the rare occasions when my sister and I succeed at convincing her to get on a plane and visit us. But some of the things she picked up on her travels still remain. And since we’ve been ragging on her to de-clutter, she decided to pass them on to us, her two daughters.
So out came the tablecloths she amassed in Europe over 20 years ago. Not only are they beautifully handcrafted, but now, they’re also vintage! #doublewin

I was torn between this lovely ecru lace cloth from Portugal, above, and an embroidered cutwork tablecloth with handmade lace, from Belgium. Each fits a table for 10-12 persons and comes with matching cloth napkins.

After much agonizing, I chose the latter. The details simply won me over.


Mom decided to wrap them up for Christmas—you know, just because it’s more fun that way!
She also threw in a set of handmade Belgian lace coasters…


… and matching cocktail napkins. I’ve never used cocktail napkins (I didn’t even know such things existed!), but now I’m racking my brain for an excuse to debut them.
Finally, Mom brought out the most delicate little demitasse cups in refreshing pastel hues. That was when I squealed like a tickled piglet.
Aren’t they cuuuuuuuute?

Even Marlon, who’s been known to veto any additions to our home that are too overtly girly, couldn’t help but be charmed.

Feel free to come over to our house anytime for the most precious espresso ever.

Really. It’s my pleasure.

Now this is how you recycle gifts for Christmas. Thanks, Mom!
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Les Puces de St-Ouen

I’m a lucky, lucky girl: last week’s visit to Paris was my sixth. Having been there several times with my family and friends, I’ve managed to check off most of the tourist staples, such as the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and more. On my last visit five years ago, when I got engaged in Paris, I started working towards the lesser-visited sites such as Ste-Chapelle and Musee Rodin.

Still, I’ve only just touched the tip of the tip of the iceberg that is Paris. With every visit, there’s always too much that I want to do, see, taste… and buy! Having experienced the city at different ages (5, 18 and 25, for example), my tastes and interests change between visits, which always makes each time new, fun and different.

Two things that I was never really interested in on my past visits to Paris, but absolutely love now, are vintage and flea markets. So I just had to visit Paris’ biggest flea market: Les Puces de Saint-Ouen at Clignancourt. Lured by Jordan Ferney’s beguiling photos and guided by her bright, cheery and very accurate map, Marlon and I headed there our first morning in Paris.

Les Puces (The Fleas) are made up of different markets spread out over numerous city blocks. It’s reportedly the largest flea market in the world. It’s about half the size of Bangkok’s massive Chatuchak market, but filled with nothing but antique and vintage furniture, clothing, odds and ends.

Both of us have been searching for the perfect living room armchair for the last six months. Les Puces were full of gorgeous pieces that we were dying to take home. You’d think delivery overland from France to the Netherlands would be somewhat affordable, right? Wrong! Estimates of at least €400-500 for shipping alone dashed our French armchair dreams to bits. So we simply made ourselves content with roaming the narrow maze of alleyways and resolving to come back some day with a car.

If you can’t carry a piece of furniture home with you, memories and photographs are the next best thing to take home from Les Puces.

In this aspect, you will not be disappointed. At Les Puces, each alley reveals a fascinating vignette for your camera and mind’s eye to capture.

Turning a corner can spark desire by discovering an entire alley full of objects you want to take home…

… or can simply mesmerize you for a moment with eye-catching textures and colors.

Each turn can remind you of a friend…

evoke a bygone era so vividly, that you wished you were born in it…

… or even make you see yourself in a new and different way.

Wandering the alleys of Les Puces, you come upon everything from the beautiful…

to the chic…

to the oddly humorous…

… even to the faintly disturbing. That potent mix of everything and anything, carefully chosen yet haphazardly thrown together, I love.

There is magic in a place like Les Puces where, like these bits and pieces from dismantled chandeliers, the old, broken and useless come not to die, but to regain life and beauty…

and where unconventional combinations give a new power and vibrance to the ordinary.

Or maybe it’s not magic. Maybe I just really love flea markets… or maybe it’s simply Paris!

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