All Souls’ at the Vondelpark

Every year, on November 1st, my mom would set a place at the head of the table with chocolates, an unlit cigarette, sometimes a bottle of San Miguel, and a chair that would always be empty. Then she would gather us up—us two girls, my grandmother and my aunt—and drive to Sta. Cruz, the town where she grew up.

We would buy flowers from the same roadside shop each year and do the same circuit of relatives’ houses, before finally heading to the town cemetery. There we would stay until after dark, spending time with our fathers—my mother’s father was buried there too—in the only way that was left to us.

For as long as I can remember, our family was part of that nationwide exodus known as Undas, All Souls’ Day. Moving away from home in 2007 put an end to those visits for me, and I haven’t celebrated All Souls’ Day in years. It seems outside of the Philippines, nobody celebrates it quite like we do.

So when I found out about Allerzielen in het Vondelpark (All Souls’ in the Vondelpark), right in the heart of the city, I felt like I had found a little piece of home. From 7pm to 8:30pm on November 2nd (the actual All Souls’ Day, not November 1st like we do back home), lanterns are lit in memory of loved ones…

Remembering at Allerzielen

… and in true Dutch fashion, are set sail as boats on the water. In this case, the water was the big pond at the Vondelpark, near the Van Eeghenstraat gate.

Allerzielen in het Vondelpark

From the Allerzielen website: “Everyone who is busy cycling through the Vondelpark, on the way home from work or to the pub, can be a witness. A simple and nice gesture, an accessible way to show how loss is part of life. Because it is so, and so can be difficult.

Everyone is welcome to launch a burning light in memory of someone special. And to celebrate life.”

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Welcome to Palazzo Plazo

The joke about running a hotel began a couple of years back in Singapore. Being so close to Manila and a regional hub for flights, Singapore was a frequent destination for a long list of friends, whom we happily hosted in our spare bedroom. It was Pauline who dubbed our one-bedroom “hotel” Palazzo Plazo, and the name has stuck. 
After our “soft opening” and first official guest this spring, Palazzo Plazo Amsterdam got busy. Mom came over after our Oslo jaunt in May, and Jon and Gutsy arrived within days of each other in June. 
Al fresco dining on Palazzo Plazo’s charming terrace

There’s something about Amsterdam that makes all my guests so chillax. Not once did we make it out of the house before lunch time! Luckily, the days have gotten so long that my visitors and I got to do and see so much even with our late starts.

While I’ve had far more than my fair share of visits to the Holy Trinity of Amsterdam tourism (the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum), I’m happy that I got to do a little something different with each guest. There’s really so much to still do and discover in this city!

Mom was pretty low-key. She was content to stay home and share my domestic diva lifestyle. She also spent a lot of time bonding with Rogue.

In Singapore, she absolutely abhorred walking. But this time, the cool weather in early spring made a huge difference. It was a lot easier to plan her itinerary this time around because she didn’t mind walking. So much of Amsterdam’s charm lies in these leisurely strolls in the canal district. 

I also got to try my first rijsttafel (“rice table”) at one of Amsterdam’s numerous Indonesian restaurants while Mom was here. A rijsttafel is basically a meal that consists of rice served with a large-ish number of small side dishes (the usual satay, rendang and so on), which seems to be an entirely Indo-Dutch colonial hybrid; I’ve never had it at any Indonesian restaurant in Southeast Asia.

We also rented a car one Saturday to drive out to the Zaanse Schans, an open-air museum about twenty minutes from Amsterdam. Truth be told, I found it a little too touristy for my taste, but I think it was just Mom’s speed… and made for some pretty pictures.

The best part of the Zaanse Schans for me was getting to see a functioning windmill from the inside. It’s pretty amazing what people will think up to get out of having to work so damn hard.

On the way home, we decided to do a big detour and drive along the Afluitsdijk, a feat of Dutch engineering. It’s a 32-km causeway that dams part of the North Sea and turns it into the Ijsselmeer lake; salt water on one side of the highway and fresh water on the other. 

Since Mom was such a big fan of the neighbors’ roses, I also took her through the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s “floating” flower market. “Hindi ba talaga tutubo sa Pilipinas ito?” she asked, rifling forlornly through the flowers. “Malapit naman ako sa Tagaytay eh!”

With Jonathan, the agenda was completely different and can be summed up in one word: boys. Haha! So our first stop on a scorching Saturday was the Vondelpark, where everyone and his mother/girlfriend/barkada/boyfriend goes to take off his shirt and soak up the (rare) sunshine. While shirtless hunks were in attendance, so were bikini-clad babes.

Still, Amsterdam did not disappoint me us Jon in my our his search for Dutch, er, treats. We were particularly impressed with the array of waiters the city put forth that week. While customer service is far from being one of this city’s strong points, we certainly couldn’t complain about service from waitstaff like these.


Boys aside, we also meandered through narrow side streets…

… and along the canals, which never fail to amaze me.

Jon’s visit was a cause for many firsts, such as our first barbecue on the balcony… which also became the last due to a prompt scolding by our upstairs neighbor. We took it to the pavement outside our building, in true third world style.

It was also my first time to hang out at Leidseplein, a big square in the center of town that every single tourist in Amsterdam seems to naturally gravitate to. I really don’t get it: they just stand around there like huge flocks of sheep. It’s a convenient (but certainly not the best) location to sit down for a drink, but other than that I don’t know what’s so great about Leidseplein.

Jon’s interest in the social sciences led us to the Oosterpark…

… to visit the Tropenmuseum, one of Europe’s leading ethnographic museums. It houses exhibits about non-Western cultures, and includes an excellently curated exhibit about the Netherlands’ own colonial history.

The biggest surprise about the Tropenmuseum was also the most admirable: it very matter-of-factly stated that the Dutch colonial history was very deeply linked with slavery. No whitewashing (pun not intended), no sugarcoating: the simple facts of slavery and how it contributed to the Dutch golden age laid out for every foreign visitor, every schoolchild to see… and learn from.

An old drawing of slaves packed into a Dutch galley for trading

Just a day after Jon left, Gutsy arrived for a weekend. I wish we had had more time together! Still, we managed to pack in a decent amount of meandering…
… with a visit to Anne Frank…

… and even the Homomonument nearby.

Sunday brunch was at the lovely Cafe Belhamel on the Brouwersgracht, with its gleaming green walls and Art Deco interiors… 

… followed by another Amsterdam tourist staple, a first for us: the canal cruise.

We surrendered most of Sunday to a fog of kabangagan that can most adequately be summed up in this photograph.

Let’s just say we were extra happy… because Gutsy was in town! Right Guts? Yay!

It’s been weeks since our guests have checked out, and I miss them already. While playing hostess was tiring, it sure was tons of fun. And I hope playing tourist in this town never gets old.

So, who’s next?

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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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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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Sibling revelry

A week before Easter, Marlon and I welcomed our first official houseguest in the person of my sister, Sheila. 
Many awesome things transpired during, and because of, her visit. First and foremost among them was the cleanup of the spare bedroom, and its transformation from disaster area/dumping ground for assorted junk into a hospitable and rather pretty guest space.

I loved being able to finally do girly things, things that I’ve learned not to foist on Marlon. Such as hours upon hours of window shopping…

Loved this gold bag by A.P.C. Hope to find it at the A.P.C. outlet in Paree!
Move over, Kate Moss… make way for Kate Mouse!

… during which, naturally, some actual shopping also took place.
 My new suede shoes: comfy lace-up sandal/booties from Bershka

Our girly pursuits also extended to gratuitous camwhoring…

Huli ka, Ate!
… and camwhoring’s style blog-inspired subset, known as outfit shots. It was so nice to just go “Outfit shot!” without reservation and have someone automatically know what to do. I haven’t trained the husband in this area yet. Nahihiya pa ako. But with a sister, hiya does not apply.
Outfit shot! on Prinsengracht
Outfit shot! at Museumplein

Outfit shot! in the Jordaan

Finally, it wouldn’t have been a girly week without our shared appreciation of the many… er, ways that Amsterdam is superior to Singapore, KL and Oslo (all cities we’ve lived in). We didn’t agree though on whether or not it is superior to Manila in terms of eye candy. 
 Ben Affleck isdatchu? Maybe 10 years from now!

From the tram rides to the police at Schiphol airport, the Dutch men did not disappoint. It must have been the weather! Salamat, mga ginooat di naman ako napahiya sa aking bisita.

Kikay pursuits aside, it was great to just show my sister around my new home, my new life, and take her to some places that have become fast favorites in the four months that I’ve lived in Amsterdam.

Lipsmackingly authentic Chinese food at Nam Kee in Zeedijk 
(complete with MSG headache!)
Dutch design for your home at Moooi Gallery
merchandised with playfulness and panache 

The yummiest (refillable!) giant margaritas, 
caramel crepes and Mexican grub at Los Pilones
Green serenity at the Begijnhof, a 14th-century courtyard tucked into the busy Spui 
Lazy sun-drenched afternoon at the Vondelpark with a good book
Steak and lobster at Restaurant Red on Keizersgracht

Having my sister around also gave me a great excuse to go out, explore the city, and discover some new favorites. Call me weird, but I prefer to keep my exploring down to a minimum when Marlon is at work. He gets so envious (not that he stops me), I end up feeling sorry for the poor guy—what with me out and about in this gorgeous city while he has to stay cooped up in the office all day, 5 days a week.

 Apres Anne Frank House, La Perla’s crisp wood-fired pizzas

 Enjoying an appeltart, coffee and sunshine at Cafe P96, a boat cafe on Prinsengracht
 The Friday book market at the Spui

Besides, going out and exploring is just so much more fun with company. So I (and Marlon, on the weekend) went on the tourist trail for the first time since moving here and finally got to tick off some tourist staples.

 Requisite tourist photo at Dam Square

 Amsterdam’s ‘floating’ flower market, the Bloemenmarkt

 Rediscovering a girlhood heroine at the Anne Frank House

 After the Rijksmuseum, camwhoring at the giant Iamsterdam sign in Museumplein

Day trip to Keukenhof, Holland’s famous (and eye-popping!) tulip garden

Whew! Ang dami pala naming nagawa! Not bad considering we never left the house before lunchtime, in true Paul fashion.

It’s funny, I was doing the hosting (okay, with significant help from Marlon, haha) but I really have to say thank you, Ate! It was so much fun having you here!

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