Winter uniform: Isabel Marant for H&M

As a Catholic school girl, the word “uniform” always brings me back to years of white starched blouses and strictly monitored hemlines. I couldn’t wait to break free of my school uniform and was happy to leave that word behind. Well, here I am using “uniform” to refer to my personal style for the first time in years.

Confession time: I’ve fallen into the habit of wearing tight bottoms with oversized tops. Honestly, it took me a few months to realize I was dressing as if I was still pregnant! Once I discovered I didn’t need to be in an Outfit to drop off Tala at the gastouder or to swing by the Kruidvat for a pack of diapers, it was easy to succumb to the warm, forgiving embrace of sweatshirts and leggings. Winter, when it seems pointless to dress up because it all gets covered up by a coat anyway, has simply reinforced that attitude.

But wait! I haven’t given up just yet. Comfort and style don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I figure if I’m going to stick to the basics, those basics ought to look good. If I’m going to just throw on a sweatshirt to pick Tala up from daycare, it might as well be a cool one, right?

This was how I justified the madness of queuing up for the Isabel Marant for H&M collection last November. It turned out to be a logical decision, because I’ve been living in my Isabel Marant loot all season long.

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M Balenciaga

In the earlier half of winter, I could get away with just a warm angora cardigan over this black-and-white linen t-shirt—which is, by the way, from the men’s collection. Seeing the clothes-crazed violence in the women’s department forced me to sneak up to the men’s floor as both a shopping and survival strategy. I barely escaped with my life, plus a few good buys!

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M duffle coat

This is the coat I throw over everything: my navy wool blend duffel coat from Uniqlo. I love how roomy it is, although I wish it was more resistant to pilling.

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M

I thought I would swear off roundneck t-shirts after turning 30, but I couldn’t resist this cute feather-printed linen tee. With a pop of fuschia stretch velvet and SuperCosy fleece tights from Primark, it’s one of my more dressy errand outfits that’s surprisingly comfy.

Mom style Isabel Marant for H&M red sweatshirt

Another menswear score: my favorite sweatshirt of the season! This sold out almost instantly, and I wasn’t prepared to inflict bodily harm on anyone to grab the last piece in the women’s department. I just love the combination of color and comfort, print and practicality.

Mom style Indian silver and lapis lazuli necklace

Isabel Marant’s modern spin on bohemian chic inspired me to dig out some of my favorite pieces of ethnic jewelry, like this silver and lapis lazuli necklace I bought while on honeymoon in Jodhpur. I thought it was a bit much for laid-back Amsterdam, but somehow it works with the casual ease of a sweatshirt and boots. I’m glad to get a little more use out of it!

Do you have a “uniform” too? What are your go-to outfits, and how do you keep them fun and fresh?

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Christmas in Amsterdam: Winter scenes

It’s almost time to fly to the Philippines for Christmas! This first half of winter has gone quickly for me. I’ve noticed a big difference from previous winters, when I would get to a point when I was practically crawling to the plane and towards the sunshine.

Maybe it’s because of Tala, who constantly pulls me into action, leaving me zero time to mope on the couch. Or maybe it’s because I finally started taking vitamin D supplements (read this great post on the importance of vitamin D in the winter darkness by Traveling Mama).

Whatever the reason, I’ve enjoyed roaming the city this winter, absorbing the subdued way that the Dutch celebrate Christmas. I’m savoring the quiet restraint here, knowing I’m about to be assaulted by Christmas cheer in Manila (where everything is always an assault). With my camera in my coat pocket (yes, it fits!), I’ve captured a few winter scenes around Amsterdam to share with you.

Amsterdam ice skating on Museumplein

Surrounded by three of the city’s most important museums—the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum—under a glowing winter sunset, the ice skating rink at Museumplein is one of the most picturesque places to enjoy an afternoon in the city. There’s also a skating rink at Leidseplein, but this one is bigger and more photo-op worthy.

Amsterdam winter canal Prinsengracht

The elms have shed all their leaves now, leaving them floating on the canals like shining gold coins in the water…

Winter pigeon bare branches

and leaving stark, bare branches that only the hardiest of Amsterdammers could stand to nest in.

Amsterdam oliebollen stand

Brightly lit gebakkramen, or pastry stands, popped up all over the city in the late fall. Their main offering are oliebollen— big, deep-fried balls of dough that are a popular cold-weather treat, and one of the few seasonal street foods you’ll find in the Netherlands (raw herring is another).

The fact that oliebol literally translates to “oil ball” should tell you why I’ve avoided them so far. It’s also quite telling that the Dutch word for “baked” (gebakken) also means “fried.” There’s almost no separating the two here, just as there’s no separating the Dutch from their deep fryers.

Amsterdam Christmas lights Utrechtsestraat

Every neighborhood has its own signature Christmas lights—nee, sorry, winter lights—that they put up every year. These are on the Utrechtsestraat, a nice but rather high-end shopping street just outside the center…

Amsterdam Christmas lights Nieuwendijk

in the old city center, on Nieuwendijk (which I think is one of the seediest streets in Amsterdam, but looks pretty anyway)…

Amsterdam Christmas lights Haarlemmerstraat

and on the Haarlemmerdijk, my favorite shopping street in the Jordaan.

Amsterdam Prinsengracht by night

The winter nights may be long and dark, but Amsterdam’s canals reflect light and make the nights brighter. On evenings like this one, when the water is mirror-still, it’s just beautiful.

Now I’m getting sentimental. Sssh, don’t tell… but I might actually miss Amsterdam while I’m gone!

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Gaga over glühwein

One of the things I love most about Christmas markets in Germany is drinking glühwein, or hot spiced wine. Marlon and I once received a bottle of glühwein as a gift when we were still living in Singapore, and it stayed untouched in our refrigerator for over a year simply because we couldn’t bear the thought of drinking hot wine in a hot, humid climate.

The whole atmosphere is part of the enjoyment of glühwein: being all bundled up, feeling the cold winter air on your face, warming your hands with the cup, standing under the twinkling lights that brighten up a prematurely dark afternoon or evening.

I think we must have hit every single glühwein stall in Dusseldorf. To attract attention in a thick crowd, every stall has its own little gimmick, and that’s part of the fun too.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein carousel

I’m pretty sure this glühwein carousel on Flinger Strasse features celebrities, whom you will probably only recognize if you’re German. I’m willing to guess that the portly lady on the left is Angela Merkel.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein stall chandelier

There’s kitschy… and then there’s classy. These beautiful chandeliers lit up the stall at the Sternchenmarkt, or Little Star Market, on the Stadtbrückchen square.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein copper pot

Traditional or trendy? These huge copper pots at the Marktplatz market are both, and they’re attention-grabbing, too. I loved the simple, clean lines of the terracotta mugs at this stall, but I sat out this round so I didn’t get my hands on them.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein

Every glühwein stall has its own mug with the year and the name of the market. A small deposit is built into the price of the drink, which you can forfeit if you want to take the mug home.

After three winters of Christmas market trips, Marlon and I have found ourselves with a small collection of these glühwein mugs. Still, we never seem to have enough mugs at home at this time of year, when we’re constantly making coffee and tea at home.

Dusseldorf Christmas market Schneehuttendorf gluhwein

This year we added another one to the collection, mostly because it’s the coolest one we’ve seen so far: a tall, skinny frosted glass mug from the market on Schadowplatz.

I can just imagine Tala in her teenage years rolling her eyes at our mugs. “Can you please get rid of this tacky glühwein mug collection? Please?!”

Dusseldorf Christmas market Sternchenmarkt gluhwein mug

Sorry, anak. I got you one of your own: a little star mug from your first Christmas market. Mommy can’t throw that away, now can she?

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Christmas markets in Dusseldorf

Just two hours from Amsterdam by train, Dusseldorf was an easy and convenient choice for this year’s annual Christmas market trip. This is the third winter we’ve traveled to Germany to visit Christmas markets with friends, and I love how it’s become a real holiday tradition.

Dusseldorf has five Christmas markets spread out over its main city center. Rather than congregating in one central marktplatz or square, the city’s markets are best experienced by taking a long, leisurely stroll from the Alter Stadt (Old Town) to the promenade on the bank of the Rhine river.

Dusseldorf Christmas market Heinrich-Heine-Platz

Everyone is on foot here, so the flow of human traffic is constant and busy. It was easy to tuck our maps away and simply follow the crowd as it swirled and moved: from the Engelchenmarkt (Little Angel Market) on the sprawling Heinrich-Heine-Platz…

Dusseldorf Christmas market

among the stately buildings that make up the commercial heart of the city…

Dusseldorf Konigsallee winter

across the stone bridges spanning the Konigsallee, Dusseldorf’s main upscale shopping street…

Dusseldorf Christmas market snow village

to the schneehuttendorf, or Scandinavian-inspired “snow hut village” on the Schadowplatz, a modern spin on the traditional Christmas market.

Along the way, there were scents to entice, trinkets to tinker with, flavors to enjoy, and copious quantities of gluhwein (warm spiced wine) to drink.

[Read more…]

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Short days, early sunsets

I’m not terribly excited about winter. When we first moved here, I often wished we could just stay here the whole winter and travel around Europe instead of flying home to Manila. Two winters later, I know I need those three weeks in the sun just to cut winter in half and make it more bearable.

But making things just bearable isn’t enough. So I’m challenging myself to find things to embrace, even enjoy, about winter. One of them comes on the flip side of winter’s long, dark nights. And that is an early sunset. This time of year, sunset comes at the time of day when I’m usually out and about: taking Tala out for a walk, commuting home from Dutch class, or running errands.

Amsterdam’s short days may be depressing, but this time of year, its sunsets are almost always beautiful. These pictures were taken during the golden hour, between 3:30 to 4:30 in the afternoon.

Amsterdam black bike

North of the equator, the golden hour is a full hour, not the few fleeting minutes it is back home. Here, there’s no mad rush to take beautiful photos. Nobody rushes in this city anyway—people in shops and cafes always tell me “rustig, rustig,” or ” slow down, slow down.” That’s this laid-back city for you.

So I take a few minutes to enjoy this soft golden light as I walk through Amsterdam’s streets…

Amsterdam sunset bridge detail

crossing some of its 1,200 bridges…

Amsterdam winter sunset Westerkerk Singel

before finally making my way home for another long winter night.

By the way, on the left side of this photo you can see the hooks on top of each apartment building. That’s how people move furniture into their houses here, by hoisting them up with ropes and through the window. Another Amsterdam quirk.

Amsterdam winter sunset street lamp

This last photo was at 4:30 p.m., too early for the street lights to come on. One of my neighbors greeted me “Good afternoon!” at this time and I felt so disoriented, I answered “Good evening!”

I know the days are only going to get shorter, so I’ll just enjoy these lovely early sunsets as they come. In the meantime, I hope you find something beautiful to embrace too, whatever you’re facing this weekend. Have a good one and see you next week!

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