Viewing: Life in Amsterdam

Giveaway winners + survey results!

Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate in my first-ever reader survey!

When Marlon, who works in market research and helped create the survey, said we should aim for 50 responses for a valid survey, I was doubtful—it’s a long survey with many open-ended (a.k.a. essay) questions. But we got 52 awesome responses. Hurray! 

As promised, I drew two winners at random to receive this bag of goodies from a few of my favorite shops.

Birthday giveaway

Congratulations to… JL and Jeni Villaraza! I’ll be in touch soon to arrange shipping.

Aside from announcing the winners, I also wanted to share a bit about the results of the survey.

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Date night: Lion Noir

Much as I love our little tradition of traveling somewhere (or being “whisked away”, as Marlon and I like to say) to celebrate a birthday, I just couldn’t muster up the energy to do it this year. Not even within the Netherlands, not even to a hotel in Amsterdam. How life changes with a baby! The pinnacle of my ambitions could be summed up in four words. Babysitter. Heels. Cocktails. Dinner.  

My dashing date gave me all of that in one smooth move by taking me out to Lion Noir, a restaurant on the Reguliersdwarsstraat in the center of Amsterdam.

Lion Noir Amsterdam exterior

The Reguliersdwarsstraat is one of the most happening streets in the city center for wining, dining and partying. It’s also a well-known gay and lesbian strip, good to know if that’s what you’re after. I love my gays, but I wasn’t out to be a fag hag that night. I just wanted to put on red lipstick, totter around in heels, and get all fancy.

Lion Noir Amsterdam birthday dinner

Lion Noir, with its stylish interiors and moody, slightly mysterious atmosphere, is the perfect place to do just that. The dim mood lighting also gave me a chance to test my new Sony RX100 MII in low light.

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The cardigan that (almost) got away

We’ve all heard of buyer’s remorse, but you ever been haunted by something you didn’t buy?

It rarely happens to me, but when it does, I’m capable of obsessing for a ridiculously long time. I’m still haunted by purchases I passed in 2006 (gorgeous silk Persian carpet in Mumbai, way out of my budget as a copywriter); Marlon and I still talk about the black, silver and gray pashmina bedspread we didn’t buy on our honeymoon.

When I passed up the chance to buy this outfit in Santorini, I immediately regretted it.

It’s from Heel Athens Lab, a Greek label that makes fun, artistic clothing with a sense of whimsy. I was drawn to Heel’s colorful, chic boutique, which stood out by leaps and bounds from all the tourist shlock in the center of Fira, and fell in love with this backless halter dress and Greek toga-inspired cardigan. But with the prospect of fall and winter in Amsterdam, I felt I had to be practical and let the outfit go.

It began to haunt me almost immediately. I  took the bus back to Fira from Imerovigli (twice!) but was never able to catch the boutique open again before we left. Then I begged a friend who was traveling to Santorini to buy it for me. Finally, two months later, Heel put up the cardigan on their online shop.

Here I am, happily reunited with the cardigan that got away! Well, almost.

Heel Athens Lab polymorphic cardigan

What I love about this cardigan is how it can be worn in different ways. You may be familiar with that staple of late-night home TV shopping, the infinity dress; this is a cooler version of that dress.

By the way, thanks to Heel Athens Lab, I don’t have to ever utter the embarrassing and slightly awkward phrase “infinity cardigan.” I can use the far cooler term “polymorphic” instead.

Heel Athens Lab polymorphic cardigan front

Call me crazy, but I just love me some clothing that needs its own instructional video!

Heel Athens Lab polymorphic cardigan back

Even after watching the video, I spent so much time swishing around and entangling myself in this cardigan that Tala was able to take a snooze during our little photo shoot.

Behind the scenes outfit shot

But I guess getting lost in your own cardigan is all part of the fun of dressing up. It is fun, Tala, I promise! Just wait a few years, you’ll see.

Do you have a fashion equivalent of the one that got away? Were you ever reunited with it? And have you, like me, spent too many late nights watching the home TV shopping channel? Hit the comments and let me know I’m not alone!

Creative space: NDSM-Scheepsbouwloods

Scheepsbouwwwwhat? No, it’s not a Dutch tongue-twister (or maybe it is, when you try saying it ten times fast). Today I wanted to share more of the awesome venue of my *ehem* totally low-key, intimate birthday brunch. It’s called the NDSM-Scheepsbouwloods, which translates to NDSM Shipbuilding Shed or Hall.

(By the way, if you want another tongue-twister, NDSM stands for Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij, or the Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company. Let’s just stick to NDSM.)

NDSM-loods typography

“Shed” or “hall” are modest ways to describe this immense industrial space. Part of the former ship yard NDSM-Werf, this 100 by 200-meter hall was taken over by a foundation called Stichting Kinetisch Noord, which envisioned it as a creative hub. They built basic structures and gave free rein to the tenants—artists, set builders, theater groups, events companies, all creative people—to finish them and thus control the design and budget of their studios, workshops, even homes.

The results are some pretty awesome creative spaces—10,000 square meters of them. We didn’t have time to explore the entire complex, but we did have a few minutes after brunch to take a little peek.

Amsterdam Noord NDSM-loods art installation
Amsterdam Noord NDSM-loods office
Amsterdam Noord NDSM-loods office deco

This portion of the NDSM-loods also houses a 2,000-sq. meter skate park floating seven meters above the ground. Seems like a really cool place to skateboard!

Amsterdam Noord NDSM-loods floating skate park

It wouldn’t be Dutch without the ever-present bicycles. These black, single-speed city bikes are kind you’ll most commonly find in Amsterdam, called oma fietsen (granny bikes).

Amsterdam Noord NDSM-loods black bikes

With an oma fiets, so there’s no hunching over like you would on a mountain bike. It makes most Amsterdam cyclists look relaxed and laid-back while on their bikes… well, until they curse you, give you dirty looks or run you over. Bike rage exists, people, and it lives in Amsterdam.

The one with the high crossbar is a men’s bike, while the one with the low-slung crossbar is a ladies’ bike—because it wouldn’t be becoming for ladies in skirts to swing their leg over a high crossbar to mount a bike. Also note the number of locks—two heavy chains per bike is pretty standard around here. I’ve heard it said that a bike is stolen in Amsterdam every 9 seconds!

Amsterdam Noord NDSM-loods industrial initials typography

We found our initials lying around the NDSM-loods. Type-spotting is always fun!

A significant portion of the NDSM-loods is dedicated to youth activities like theater performances and exhibits, and some of the tenants build sets for theaters. We saw a few glimpses of that here.

Amsterdam Noord NDSM-loods theater set

I love creative spaces like these. When we lived in Singapore, it seemed like something was always being bulldozed over to make way for a shiny new “hub” for something or other—a youth hub, a technology hub, a cultural hub, you name it. Man, just typing the word “hub” brings me back to those government briefs trumpeting one hub after another. And did they really become those buzzing centers of creative energy? You tell me, I don’t live in Singapore anymore.

Creative spaces like the NDSM-loods, and the NDSM-Werf in general, appeal to me because they have an authenticity and character that speaks of resourcefulness, a kind of fighting spirit. They speak of creativity that doesn’t simply come from throwing money at something (although money helps!). It may not be perfect, but it sure is real. And that’s what makes it more than just very cool.

Big Brunch at NDSM-Werf

For my birthday, all I really wanted was to be surrounded by people and things that I love. If you know me, you know what a few of those are: I love my daughter and husband, I love food, art, living in Amsterdam, food, and art… and I love brunch. So, what better way to kick off my birthday weekend than with brunch?

The birthday factor required extra oomph. It couldn’t be just any ho-hum brunch. It had to be Brunch with a capital B. Something Big. In a Big place. With Big things going on.

And the Big Brunch at the NDSM-Werf was it.

Welcome to the Big Brunch NDSM Amsterdam

As part of the 24H Noord festival, five cafes and restaurants operating out of the NDSM-Werf—, , IJkantine, Bbrood and Loetje—joined forces to cook up one Big Brunch… right on my birthday morning! It was a gift from the brunch gods, dropped right on my brunch-loving lap.

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Fall colors on Instagram

Can you tell I really didn’t want to leave Greece behind? All those blog posts were my way of coping with the end of summer and of our Greek adventures. But fall is, and has been for some time now, really and truly here.

Much as I love summer, fall has its own pleasures. Those first few days of a change in the air, that crisp, cold summer air that made me want to breathe in deep lungfuls of it. Leather jackets and long knit cardigans, not to mention the dark tights that are so flattering to short, curvy ladies such as yours truly. Evenings with warm bubble baths, fluffy bathrobes, and full-bodied, smoky red wine.

And of course, the colors, which I’ve been documenting on .

Amsterdam fall on Instagram

There are not a lot of striking fall colors in Amsterdam, which makes the beautiful bright yellow of the elms so special. Amsterdam is filled with elm trees, particularly lining canals like ours. Seeing the yellow of fall reminds me of this same time last year, when we first fell in love with our home and our neighborhood.

Gray is another Amsterdam fall color—and much as I love gray, seeing it everywhere for weeks is not fun. It’s not the deep, velvety gray of gathering storm clouds, it’s just a sullen, flat gray, endless and kind of depressing. Ugh. On to happier thoughts.

I’ve come to associate fall with a time to buckle down and get to work. With the weather forcing lots of indoor time, it’s a season for starting creative projects, looking inward and focusing on home and family. This fall, I’ve taken up Dutch language classes again and signed up for a couple of cool classes on Skillshare.

I’m also working on plans for this blog, so stay tuned. And if you haven’t yet, come for more fall colors and other bits of everyday life in Amsterdam.

Seven months!

My baby turns seven months old today!

Tala 7 Months

Sorry for the crappy lighting… this dismal gray fall light is not the best for photos!

This month, Tala started going to a gastouder twice a week. A gastouder (the direct translation is guest parent, but loosely it means a childminder) runs a mini-daycare in their home, with a maximum of three or four children. When I was learning about childcare options in Holland, I wasn’t ready to put Tala in daycare with its bigger groups of up to nine kids and more institutional system.

Then I discovered the gastouder option, which seemed like a good middle ground. The idea of fewer kids and a cozier setting in a home environment was really appealing to me; the Dutch ideal of coziness has really sunk in after nearly three years of living here!

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JR’s Inside Out Project in Amsterdam

I discovered the street art of JR a few months ago while visiting Berlin. After seeing his large-scale paper pastings in Berlin, I became interested in his work and hoped that one day I might be able to participate in one of his art projects. So this weekend I was thrilled to find JR’s Inside Out Project in Amsterdam, right in my own neighborhood!

The Inside Out Project is a global participatory art project launched by JR when he won the TED Prize in 2011. Instead of taking photographs of people and pasting them in different location all over the world, as he normally would, JR invited the public to share their portraits as a way of standing up for something they cared about.

Since then, more than 130,000 people in over 108 countries have taken their own portraits, sent them to JR via the Inside Out website, and received large format posters to paste in their own communities. Most of them are groups that have used the Inside Out Project to make statements on everything from LBGT rights and violence, to dreams and memories. The Inside Out Project has also sent traveling photobooth trucks all over the world, most notably this year at Times Square in New York.

This weekend, the Inside Out Project came to the Unseen Photo Fair at the Westergasfabriek in my neighborhood park.

Inside Out Project by JR at Unseen Amsterdam

So cool! How could I not participate?! So on Saturday afternoon, Marlon, Tala and I queued up at the Inside Out photo truck to have our portraits taken.

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The Lobster House

Lobster again?! I know, I know, we had a fabulous lobster dinner at home just a few days ago. But weekends are too short, and Marlon and I have been feeling the need to spend more time together during the week. So a few days ago I took Tala to visit Daddy at the office, and we walked to The Lobster House nearby for a mid-week lunch out.

Lobster House bakfiets

The Lobster House is a new-ish snack bar at Frederiksplein that serves up fresh seafood as is, or in the form of light, casual bites such as burgers, soups, salads, wraps and pastas.

Lobster House Amsterdam restaurant

The specialty of the house, as you can probably guess, is lobster.

Lobster House Amsterdam

My husband loves their deep-fried soft shell crab. Me? I love being able to grab a ginger beer from one of the fishing baskets under the counter. Ginger beer, particularly the Bundaberg brand, is one of those rare expat treats that’s hard to find in Amsterdam.

Lobster House ginger beer

There’s also a big industrial shelf with a small selection of deli items. Truffle mustard and cookie mix in a milk bottle? Intriguing. This definitely deserves a closer look on my next visit.

Lobster House deli

Since it was a nice day out, we ordered a couple of lobster burgers to go, ate by the fountain at Frederiksplein. I enjoyed the crispy bread and zingy sauce, but was dismayed to find the entire bone of the lobster claw still in my burger. I also felt this was somewhat closer, size-wise, to a sandwich than an actual burger.

Lunch by the fountain

Still, I’d give The Lobster House another try—if only for their perfectly crispy, wide-cut triple-cooked fries!

Lobster House triple cooked fries

We finished our meal with gelato from nearby chocolatier Van Soest (disappeared too quickly for pictures, sorry!). Altogether, it was a lovely little mid-week pick-me-up. As a kid, I loved visiting my mom at her office, so I hope we can make these weekday family lunches a tradition of our own.

This weekend we’re staying in again and gearing up for a big trip. More details to come… in the meantime, have a great weekend!

Guest post at Eclectic Trends

Today, you can find me over at Gudy Herder’s blog Eclectic Trends with a guest post!

Store Without A Home Haarlemmerdijk window

Gudy is a stylist, visual merchandising trainer and ceramic lover with impeccable taste. So when she asked me to do a shop visit as a guest post, I decided to feature a beautiful interior and living store right in my own neighborhood. Store Without A Home is full of dreamy, whimsical things for the home, located on a fantastic shopping street just a few minutes’ walk from my own home.

Here are some more images that didn’t make the cut for the final blog post. For the full tour of this lovely store, head on over to Gudy’s blog!

Store Without A Home Haarlemmerdijk dresser table

Store Without A Home Haarlemmerdijk ceramics

Store Without A Home Haarlemmerdijk neon Dream On

It was my first time to approach a store about taking photos for a blog post. I was a little nervous at first, but shop owner Janwillem was so kind and welcoming (and so very particular about placing things just so!). It was fun and I’m glad Gudy gave me the opportunity.

I’m curious: is this the kind of post you’d like to see more of on Currystrumpet? Let me know!