Amsterdam Light Festival: Water Colors canal cruise

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014

Even a beautiful city like Amsterdam needs a little help in the winter. The sun disappears for days on end, and what little light there is fades to black as 3 or 4 p.m. I need a good incentive to brave the cold and dark, to go out and see the city—and I know I’m not the only one. Thankfully, there’s the Amsterdam Light Festival.

Now on its third year, the Amsterdam Light Festival turns the city into an open-air gallery of public art: sculptures, installations, and projections from artists all over the world, all made with light. From over 260 submissions, 39 artworks were chosen to lend Amsterdam a bit of color and brightness in the dark winter months.

There are three ways to enjoy the Amsterdam Light Festival. To go on foot or by bicycle, you can book a guided tour called Illuminade. There’s also a boat route called Water Colors, which is offered by several canal cruise companies from several departure points in the city center.

I went on a Water Colors boat tour and loved it! I didn’t get to take pictures of all the installations (and honestly, some were better than others), but here are some of my favorite artworks from the tour. The first is Light Bridge, an ode to the bridges of Amsterdam by local design studio Tjep. It’s interactive and reacts to movements on the street and on the water.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Light Bridge by Tjep

Rising from the dark canals like a ghostly mangrove forest, Arborescence by Loop.pH (UK) looks both futuristic and organic.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Arborescence

Everyone on the boat fell silent as we sailed beneath the floating circles of Effervescence by Geraud Periole. Simple yet stunning.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Effervescence by Geraud Periole

Inspired by the Mobius strip, Circle of Life by Amsterdam-based architect Rob van Houten turns a symbol of eternity into an entryway for the rush of people flowing into the city.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Circle of Life Brouwersgracht

Seeing this man and woman together on the bridge, I couldn’t help but think: mood lighting, the romantic Amsterdam canals, and a ring? All the ingredients for a perfect proposal. I sense a missed opportunity here!

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Circle of Life by Rob van Houten

See more masterpieces of light after the jump, plus a few tips for enjoying the Amsterdam Light Festival this winter.

[Read more…]

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Urban Jungle Bloggers: Cozy & Green Bedroom

Even a self-confessed plant killer such as myself can’t help but be swept up in the Urban Jungle Bloggers‘ love for all things green and living. For my first UJB post, I invite you to step inside our cozy green bedroom and see how we’ve gearing up for the winter—with a fresh green twist.

Chilly, gray and gloomy, November is the time of year when we start bringing our balcony plants indoors in preparation for our yearly escape to the sunny shores of the Philippines. Our cozy green bedroom becomes not only a sanctuary for us, but for our plants as well.

We don’t have a bedside table, only an Ikea Brimnes headboard that we revamped with scrapwood wallpaper. So everything—from wire clamp lamp to Indian miniature paintings to plants—goes on top of the headboard or into one of the hidden built-in shelves.

Urban Jungle Bloggers November 2014 Cozy Winter Bedroom

It’s also this time of year when we bring out what my husband and I call “the fabuloush“—the beautiful cashmere throws we bought while on honeymoon in Rajasthan. As gullible newlyweds, we spent hours in a tiny shop in the Jaipur market stacked floor to ceiling with every kind of blanket you can imagine, mesmerized by the sales pitch of a birdlike Indian man who sssshhh’d his s’s.

“We ssshhell our productsshh to Etro and Hermesshh,” he announced, winding a cashmere blanket with a stunning black and silver paisley pattern around my shoulders. “Feel it. Feel it. Feel it. If you leave without thissshhh, you will regret it for yearssshhh!”

“Ssssho ssshhoft. Sshho fabuloussshh,” he kept on repeating, like some kind of hypnotic spell. In the end we went into considerable credit card debt to buy not one, but three of them, including the deep purple one you see here.

He said fabuloush so often, that it became our nickname for these blankets—yes, we actually say things like, “I’m taking the purple fabuloush to the cleaners. Can you put the turquoise fabuloush on the bed?”

Urban Jungle Bloggers November 2014 Cozy Winter Bedroom Windowsill

You know what? He was right—we did regret the one fabuloush we didn’t buy (the one with the paisley print). And we still talk about it, seven years later. But the ones we do have are pretty, and keep us warm in the winter.

Since this is my first Urban Jungle Bloggers post, I wanted to spotlight the plants that started it all for me—the ones that actually survived my black thumb and made me believe I could actually care for plants without killing them. One of them is the kalanchoe, a flowering succulent known as “mother of thousands.”

My Dutch kraamzorgster (maternity nurse) gave me a kalanchoe when Tala was born. Almost two years later, I still have the original plant—and have even started propagating a few of my own. This yellow kalanchoe is a welcome pop of sunshine during gray November days.

Urban Jungle Bloggers Winter Bedroom Baby Succulent and Yellow Kalanchoe

 

UJB co-founder Judith gave me a few leaves from her own succulents when we met in Milan earlier this year. Not all survived, but this one did—and has since turned into a lovely little plant. There’s hope for me yet.

 

Urban Jungle Bloggers Winter Bedroom Baby Succulent

That puts the ‘green into our ‘cozy green bedroom’. But what makes it cozy?

Urban Jungle Bloggers Winter Bedroom Pepernoten and Books

My recipe for winter coziness: the warmth of the fabuloush, the company of a good book, and the smell of anise, cinnamon and clove wafting from a bowl of pepernoten. With the Dutch feast of Sinterklaas just around the corner, I’m never too far from a bowl of these traditional Dutch cookies.

What special details make your bedroom cozy and green?

Urban Jungle Bloggers is a monthly blog series hosted by Igor (Happy Interior Blog) and Judith (JOELIX.com) that shares ideas to create an urban jungle through styling, DIYs, and green tips & tricks. Find inspiration on the Urban Jungle Bloggers Pinterest board and Facebook page. To join, visit the UJB website and use #urbanjunglebloggers on Twitter and Instagram. Let’s bring some green into our homes and blogs!

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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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