lifestyle

Living la Vie en Rose in a Parisian Home

The time spent in Iza and Paul’s beautiful apartment in the 7th arrondissement of Paris was truly magic. We were there for a total of five days during this Easter holiday.

La vie en rose is definitely not a myth, I can tell you that much. It starts in the morning, when pushing the curtains sideways to open the window. The classic white shutters need unlocking and I swear there is no better promise of a new day than making this gesture! The crisp air comes in and the flavoured coffee steam is raising from the cups, into the sunlight. On the dining table, fresh buttery croissants and pain au chocolat from the boulangerie downstairs. And the gentle, warm flickering of candles. Whoever said candles were an evening delight only was definitely not Parisian.

With the traces of sleep still visible on our faces, we would have breakfast together, enjoying the comfort of food and friendship. La vie en rose. The sweet life. We would have a similar ritual late in the evening, with a cup of tea, to share stories about how we spent our day. Needless to say, as visitors, we were out most of the time, wandering the city streets and taking photos, so there was plenty of catching up to do.

As always, leaving Paris was hard. Leaving this sweet home away from home was even harder. Although our friends have only recently moved in and they believe there is still plenty to do in terms of decorating etc., I say they’ve done a great job. They made the place theirs, that’s for sure. Being such a sucker for beautiful details, I had to keep on taking photos of it. I also had to take home a bottle of that same rose scented shower gel Iza was using – my attempt of bringing a bit of la vie en rose to Amsterdam. Will it work? I surely hope so!

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in April 2017 >>

Everything Pink

Today, enjoying the sun on Jharda‘s rooftop in the 9 Streets, a cold drink at hand, I realized I no longer had a problem with routine. Routine is no longer an obstacle between myself and my creative realization because the creative ideas have left me or at least they are on hold. So, I do not feel I am wasting time when I am not being productive, as I would normally feel. Because what else to do with time if not enjoying a sunny day on a rooftop in Amsterdam?

Then the idea to go to Westerpark and see the trees in bloom came. We sat on the grass underneath a tree and looked at the children playing happily in the park. I felt happy, too, for no particular reason. “Whoops! A cherry flower hit me,” said Jharda, and I burst into laughter almost immediately, repeating her words and imitating her voice. It was “raining” with cherry flowers and sunshine.

Life appeared to me as if seen through pink glasses today: the cherry blossom was pink, the cakes were pink, the cups were pink, the shop signs were pink, Jharda’s blouse was pink. And although I was wearing black, as usual, I knew I was pink, too.

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in April 2018 >>

Home in Rotterdam

This past Sunday we paid our first visit to Jennifer and York’s new home in Rotterdam. Like I have already confessed to them, I felt like a kid in a candy shop, trying to absorb all the beautiful details of the space – the light, the mood, their choice of furniture and decoration – and, at the same time, to take photos of everything.

“It’s work in progress,” Jennifer said apologetically, to which I replied I was already impressed, yet was nevertheless looking forward to seeing it in its final form, too.  It really is one of the most charming and full of character homes I have ever been to.

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in January 2018 >>

Sunday Morning in Jordaan

As Amsterdam is getting ready for the Winter holidays, Elena is preparing to leave. For her, Amsterdam has been just a temporary home away from home, one that she says she will definitely miss.

I asked if she would like me to take some photos of her in those places in the city she loved most. She accepted happily and guess what location she picked? The Jordaan, of course!

It has been lovely to walk on those cosy little streets in what it is considered to be the most picturesque part of Amsterdam, especially when the city seemed to be still asleep after a long Saturday night.

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in December 2014 >>

Romanian Home in Bucharest

It’s always a great pleasure to visit Diana of ZSTR into her beautiful home in Bucharest! Back to my hometown to spend time with family, I stopped over at Diana’s for coffee and a little chat – and this time I brought the camera with me.

The central, historic neighbourhood, with buildings reminding of la belle epoque – a time when the city flourished like never before – makes you feel like a character from the books of Mircea Eliade or George Calinescu. You can easily understand why, back then, they called Bucharest “the little Paris”.

Diana’s home is full of light and, with few exceptions, totally see through from one room to the other. The wooden blinds, old lamps, high ceilings, and glass doors are good indicators of the building’s age and its privileged location in the city. With respect to this, Diana and her boyfriend gathered elements of Romanian folk culture – furniture, carpets, ceramics etc. – to populate their home with. The effect is refreshing and traditional at the same time. They’ve created a space to relax and feel connected with the history of Bucharest and with the Romanian culture and traditions. Above all, they’ve created one of the most beautiful homes I’ve seen.

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in May 2017 >>

Paris Visits Amsterdam

It`s soon a month since the visit of Iza, Georgiana and Paula to Amsterdam. Nico and I were the hosts and, needless to say, it`s been a real pleasure to have them here and enjoy a beautiful sunny weekend together.

The girls – Romanian expats living in the French capital – brought with them a considerable dose of Parisian charm, so it was almost impossible to turn my camera away from them during our strolls in Jordaan, De Pijp, or Museum Quarter.

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in April 2016 >>

Summer, Girls, Flowers

Amsterdam has been hot and empty for a couple of months now. And full of roses. No need to book a table to have brunch, no need to hit elbows with strangers when walking down your favourite streets. The city is yours to enjoy.

That was the exact feeling Alehandra and I experienced a few weeks ago when we met for brunch at Café George one Sunday afternoon. We indulged into coffee, eggs, toast and conversation. Then we went for a walk. We leisurely got in and out of shops, a blue pearl necklace the only purchase.

A photoshoot had not been planned, yet her smiling face against rows of jasmine and roses got me in the mood.

“Smell this jasmine,” I told her trying to come up with some sort of composition.

“Like this?” she said burying her nose into the plant.

“That’s too much, I cannot see your face.”

“Damn it!” She stepped back. “Better?”

“Much better.”

My indications were met with laughter, but in the end, it all worked out well. We had fun. And now we have these photos.

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in July 2018 >>

A Day in the Life of… Elizabeth, Walking Around the City

Elizabeth and I spent the last hot day of this summer in Amsterdam together. We met at her place for lunch and coffee, then walked along the city streets for hours on end, chatting, taking photos, losing our way a few times. “This was supposed to be a day in my life, something I do regularly, and here I am, going the wrong way.” We laughed about it and repositioned ourselves. There was no wrong way, we just kept on forgetting we were on a mission.

Now, as I write this, I realize it was pure luck that I managed to get Elizabeth to do this series. She is never in one place for too long. Just like writing – the thing she is doing for a living – travel seems to be in her DNA. It started when she left the United States, essential belongings in a backpack, to travel around Europe. It is by chance that she arrived in Amsterdam and, since 2013, has been calling this place home.

A: Why Amsterdam?

E: Amsterdam is a safe place for me. Safe in the literal sense, where I feel like I can walk almost anywhere alone at night as a woman and be OK, but also in the sense that it is a very cosy city. As people say, it feels like a village, but with all the amenities and interesting activities of a bigger city. There is always something new to discover. And I also love how international it is, like a little bubble where you can meet people from all over the world – and speak only English, even though we are in the heart of The Netherlands, which is really nice but not good for my Dutch. Besides, it’s a sticky city. Once comfortable here, it becomes difficult to leave.

A: What about the emotional bond? Is there any?

E: While I don’t have a soul connection to this city like I do with Portugal or other places, I feel that Amsterdam and I will always have a connection and that the city will act as a home base of some sorts.

A traveller’s only home is the road, and yet, I am happy Amsterdam is home enough for Elizabeth to keep her coming back.

The doorbell is not working. She comes downstairs to pick me up, and I follow her all the way to the top floor. The building looks elegant and reminds me of Paris. Amsterdam vibes return once we enter her loft, the two cats following us closely: exposed wooden beams, angular ceiling, windows with amazing views over the city, and everything that can be classified as bohemian when it comes to furnishing and home accessories.

“Wow, you did a very good job hiding this place from the world,” I say while Elizabeth is busy making coffee in the kitchen. No photos of it on Instagram or elsewhere.

I can instantly picture myself living there, and taking photo after photo. The collection of earrings, the necklaces, the books, the musical instruments – so many details to capture. And then, the corners, one more photogenic than the other: the writing corner, the lounging corner, the sleeping corner – all nested into the rooftop, all super cosy and inviting.

I ask if the centre is where she always lived. It turns out she, too, is a westerner, meaning Amsterdam West was her first home in the city. Does she miss the West? “I like where I live now and how central it is, but I do miss the ease of the West. I feel like you have everything you need there, a nice mix of ethnic markets with hip cafes and things like that. And I always enjoyed wandering around Kinkerstraat and the Bilderdijk area.”

No matter how inviting the weather, it still is a hard task to leave Elizabeth’s place. “I’m going to show you what an ideal Saturday looks like for me,” she says, putting on the golden ballerina shoes I have admired earlier in her shoe collection.

The West is not where we are heading to, and this is a good thing. I’ve always liked people who make new homes of new neighbourhoods. We walk along the Entrepotdok, which can be classified as Elizabeth’s area, en route to her leisure time destinations. We gaze at the gorgeous balconies along the Sarphatistraat and wonder how come no people are to be seen in any of them. “There should be a law to take these balconies away from such people, for lack of use, and instead, give them to devoted fans like us.”

Our first stop is Bakhuys, at Weesperplein. “I come here for my favourite sourdough in town,” she says. “I’ve been craving good bread ever since I returned from Paris.” After getting the bread, we order a cold drink and sit at one of the tables outside. It’s Wednesday afternoon, the terrace quite empty, and yet, it feels cramped, tables pushed into one another. “So much like Amsterdam, right?” we say, squeezing ourselves on two chairs, finally allowing our feet to rest. Eating bread and drinking raspberry kombucha, we talk about obsessions and the like, and Elizabeth keeps on telling me how I remind her of a character in a book. “I will lend you the book, you have to read it,” she says. “Great,” I say, “Not even my obsessions are original!”

We amuse each other like this for a while, until it is time to go again. “Where are you taking me now?” I ask as we resume our walk. “Well, on Saturdays, after buying bread, I also like to get my weekly supply of coffee beans, fruits and vegetables. A real hipster, right?” We laugh and head even more into the East, where both the coffee place and the market are located. The Turkish market is closed, but Rum Baba is still open. After buying some coffee beans, we order two flat whites and sit outside, where the sun rays turn to orange as the evening gets closer. Checking my phone for the time, I realize Elizabeth hasn’t checked hers for what must have been hours. She has been giving me her entire attention, and that feels so old style and reassuring.

“One more place to show to you,” she says as we leave Rum Baba. Soon enough, we stop in front of Equal, the yoga studio on Insulindeweg. Dark windows, natural wood, and plant arrangements draw my attention. “This is where I do yoga,” she says, posing in front of the entrance. “And you walk all the way here every time you have lessons?” I say, at the same time thinking that the walk there is yoga enough. “Oh, but it’s not such a long walk. When the weather is bad, I come by bike or tram.”

I feel content about our photoshoot and the lightness of our afternoon together, and I am ready to say goodbye to Elizabeth and jump in the first tram back home. “How do you get home?” I ask. “Just walking.” I feel guilty for my laziness and decide to walk with her, then take the bus next to her house. Indeed, it is not a long walk. It occurs to me that Elizabeth is lucky enough to not have to rush to the station every day to go to work. Her writing allows her to work from home or cafes, and it certainly allows for such pleasant, unrushed walks around the city. Or is it the traveller in her that keeps her on the move? I cannot tell.

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in August 2018 >>

A Day in the Life of… Ana, in Amsterdam East

The world would be a better place if there were more people like Ana. This is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of my Portuguese friend, who traded Lisbon with Amsterdam in 2012. By profession, Ana is an actor and a writer. As a human being, Ana is real, vibrant, generous, magnetic and full of light. It’s enough to meet her for a coffee and hear her talking to feel energised for the rest of the day – and to feel lucky to have her in your life.

A day in the life of Ana is simply not enough to cover the stretch of her personality and to delve into the relationship with her lover, Amsterdam. Yet I dared to think a couple of hours, between lunch and dinner, would suffice to follow her out and about in the city, to hear her talking, and take some photos, too. “What do you mean you can only stay until two?” she said when we met for this post. “It’s one day in the life of Ana, not two hours!”

We were supposed to cover the Westside, where she hangs out a lot recently, but as I left home that day I got a call. “Change of plans! We are definitely meeting in the East. How could I even think differently?” I was relieved to hear that. I could not imagine a better day in the life of Ana elsewhere. Oost is the neighbourhood where she first lived in Amsterdam and it holds a special place in her heart. “But this is just the East edition, OK?” she added later on. “There are still so many other places I cherish in Amsterdam!”

The East edition could not have started in any other way than with a cup of coffee and a slice of toasted banana bread with butter, at any other place than Coffee Bru, one of Ana’s favourites. She was late, apologetic and extremely excited when she arrived. There were writing assignments to do – some pleasant, some not so much – and she shared with me the latest version of an article she was working on and for which she had a deadline that afternoon. Cappuccino aside, she then turned on the laptop to send the file. If only it were that easy! Ana’s relationship with computers reminded me of my own, which involves a lot of nasty words toward the malicious device and its applications. Peace and harmony were restored once the document left the laptop in the right format and at the right time.

Time for a walk in the Oosterpark. It was a grey and wet day at the end of November, so nature was not exactly glamorous. Wearing her red winter coat, a purple scarf, some dark green leggings and a floral backpack, Ana could not care less about the weather. She was in the mood for photos, and so we took some by the almost naked trees, the flower leftovers and the lake. “Not with the ducks!” she demanded. “Ducks are boring and such a cliché in Amsterdam. But look at that wooden dinosaur! Now that’s interesting!”

When we reached the bridge with the tiny faces, we had to stop. Although she had been to Oosterpark countless times before, as it is often the case in Amsterdam one can still be surprised and feel that he/she is still discovering the city. “I haven’t seen these before!,” she said and I could tell how excited she was. Before I knew it, she started posing next to each face – the grumpy, the bemused, the sad. She was unstoppable in trying to reproduce on her own face the emotions of the red wooden faces. “Look up,” she eventually said, pointing to a tree empty of leaves and full of birds. “There are so many trees in the park, and yet they all decided to sit on this one. So funny!”

Our destination was the TropenmuseumThe Museum of the Tropics. “This is a place I strongly identify with,” she said on our way there. Then, looking at me, eyes wide open: “Did you bring your museum card?” I didn’t. So we just hung around the building, taking photos, and asking Ana to tell me more about her fascination with the place. “Portuguese people and the Dutch share a similar colonial past. Unlike the Portuguese, who still consider a tabu talking about slavery and other such horrendous things from history, Dutch people dare to embrace these subjects, they assume their past. People can come to this museum, learn and discuss these topics. I think this is a conversation that is essential to have.”

Just as before, when she saw the wooden faces on the bridge in Oosterpark for the first time, it was my turn to discover something. There was an almost hidden residential alley behind the Tropenmuseum. “I have walked along this road so many times and yet it’s the first time I’m seeing this!” I said. Ana knew the place and she let me enjoy it the same way she enjoyed making faces on that bridge in the park.

When we resumed our walking, I told her about people who only go out for photos when the trees are green and the flowers in bloom. “No way!” she said. “Yes, it’s a true story. People think grey days like this one suck and there is no reason to bother getting out of the house, let alone taking photos.” I looked at the steam rising up from rooftops in the milky light and at the boats moored along the water at Alexanderplein. Seeing Ana as enthusiastic about our walk and small discoveries as I was filled me with sheer joy.

The next mandatory stop was Kriterion, the cinema-plus-café run by students. I was happy when Ana suggested we had some lunch there and warm up a bit. We could barely find a free table, there were students everywhere. Some were studying on their laptops, some were busy with books. It almost felt as if we were at the University again! “I love this place,” I said while sipping my lemonade. I knew it quite well, my boyfriend and I use to go there for movies. “It also makes me feel so.damn.old!” We laughed.

Our hummus burgers were late and we made a connection between this and the guy going in circles around the tables with what seemed to be two plastic baskets in his hands. I looked at Ana, Ana looked at me. We both looked at the guy again. “What’s going on with these people?” she said. “They’re students! They’re having fun. They couldn’t care less about our empty stomachs,” I said. Ana stood up and went straight to the bar, in search of the guy with the baskets.  She returned with two plastic baskets, each of them containing a hummus burger.

“Now we must go to Brouwerij ‘t IJ,” she said wrapping the scarf around her neck, ready to leave. “Time for a biertje!” As much as I liked Brouwerij ‘t IJ, I knew I reached my limits. There was no way I could put up with Ana’s energy levels. In my head, I was already thinking of changing the name of the post to “A Week in the Life of Ana” and suggesting to meet daily until we finish it. That way, maybe, we could fit it all in. “OK, we leave the brewery for another time…” she said eventually. And then, raising her pointing finger: “But we still go to the Javastraat! I need to do grocery shopping.”

We went to the Javastraat. I had persuaded Ana to take the tram instead of walking. “That’s fast,” she said looking out of the window, at the same time trying to keep her balance. This made me laugh. Did Ana really use her bike all the time? She looked like an alien in that tram. A curious alien.

The moment we got off at Javaplein, Ana’s eyes filled with a fuzzy glow I myself experiment whenever going to the West, my first neighbourhood in Amsterdam. She looked happy and a bit emotional, too. We walked along the Javastraat, with Ana stopping every now an then to look into the windows of the places we were passing by. Not that she was interested in having cocktails at any of the trendy bars or shopping for home accessories at any of the boutique shops that, in the recent years, had popped up like mushrooms after the rain amongst Turkish bakeries and other ethnic shops. It was the realisation of how much the street had changed. I followed her inside a low-key grocery shop. The Turkish man at the cashier smiled and greeted us. Ana bought spinach, tangerines, almond milk, some nuts, and a funny looking vegetable from the cabbage family. “If I ever go as far as to get married, I want this to be my bouquet!” She reached out to me with the hand holding the vegetable, in case I wanted to take a better look or touch it. That would have make a good wedding bouquet, indeed. We went to pay. The man who had welcomed us earlier was making chit-chat with the clients as they were paying. He was so kind and grateful for us buying from his shop, I made a mental note to go there more often. It was one of those rare moments I dared speak Dutch. It was my way of showing gratitude.

I hugged Ana goodbye in front of the grocery shop, then walked back home in the misty, purple light of the evening. Ana returned to Coffee Bru to pick up her bike, then went home to cook whatever her inspiration dictated. “I never plan what to cook. I just get the prettiest vegetables, then come up with something.”

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in December 2017 >>

A Day in the Life of… Alehandra, in Oud-West

This Saturday, I let Alehandra, the happy inhabitant of my former loft in Amsterdam West, show me around her side of town. Alehandra and I first met on a cold day in November 2012, when I handed the keys over to her, and continued to see each other ever since. Some friendships start like that.

I am not at all surprised when she suggests we meet at The Breakfast Club, behind the Food Hallen. She is a big fan of pancakes – and of food, in general – and they surely have good pancakes at The Breakfast Club! It’s a warm Saturday afternoon and Alehandra is “recovering” after a week with her relatives from Romania, who visited and stayed at her place in Amsterdam. “I wish I looked like that when I’m 50,” she says as we are brunching on the terrace, pointing at a neatly dressed blonde lady at a table nearby. If only pancakes could help!

After a long, unrushed meal, I follow Alehandra on what she calls her Saturday afternoon ritual. First stop is Ten Katemarkt. As colourful and ethnically diverse as I can remember it from the times when I used to go there to supply on fruits and vegetables, this market is an accurate mirror of the city area where it is located – the West. From a stand with mouth-watering Middle Eastern delicacies Alehandra gets some hummus with fried onions, and some dates. The air smells, at turns, like caramelised nuts, fresh baked bread, fried dough, cheese, melon, fish, and flowers.

“Now I’m going to show you one of my favourite streets in Amsterdam,” Alehandra says as we turn left of Ten Katestraat and on to Bellamystraat. I realise never before have I walked along Bellamystraat – not all the way to its end, at least. Trees and flowers have grown wild, apparently with no human intervention, and they are now a green lining between the slightly worn-out house façades – a rare sight in polished Amsterdam – and the street itself, where buildings spread on both sides. The abundant vegetation creates mystery and decadence, and I can see why Alehandra likes this street so much. “It reminds me of that place in Great Expectations, where the old woman lives,” she says. “Paradiso Perduto!” I say and instantly agree. The lost paradise on Bellamystraat. I cannot believe I have been living in Amsterdam for seven years without ever seeing it. The atmosphere is idyllic: children playing with the ball in front of the houses, a young mother with her baby sitting on a bench in the sun, sidewalks painted in chalk – blue, yellow, and pink. Living in Amsterdam does feel like paradise sometimes.

We leave the labyrinth of peaceful streets behind as we find our way to Tweede Kostverlorenkade. Across the water, a mosque is shining in the sun. We continue to Postjesweg and stop at the flower shop at the intersection with Witte de Withstraat, right by the bridge. It’s where I used to buy flowers when living in the area. “Today I’m for sunflowers,” Alehandra says, disappearing inside. She returns with a large bouquet, which I offer to carry for her. One more stop – at the Albert Heijn, to get some drinks – and we’re almost home.

“Hummus, dates, beer, and sunflowers,” she says smiling, making an inventory of the bike’s crane. At that point we are already walking down Antillenstraat, only a few blocks away from her place. I tell Alehandra how much I like this street I once lived on, she tells me how she hopes to own an apartment here one day. She parks her bike next to the playground and goes upstairs. I realise I forgot to buy cigarettes – I am an occasional smoker, and being in Alehandra’s loft is definitely an occasion -, so I go get some from the small supermarket on the corner. “How are you?” the man behind the counter – the owner – greets me, visibly surprised and, at the same time, happy to see me. “Do you remember me?” I say just as surprised and happy. I used to shop there sometimes, true, but that was more than five years ago. It suddenly feels as if time stood still on Antillenstraat. When I climb the stairs to Alehandra’s place I see the calendar on the second floor agrees – it is stuck at June 2012.

In the loft I am welcome by a warm, familiar light. The blissful sun rays pouring through the windows make the two kittens lounge and be lazy, and have absolutely no remorse about that. The first thing getting my attention are the prints hanging – or waiting to be hanged – on the walls. I get an explanatory tour of them, ending with Alehandra’s favourite – a portrait of herself shot on film by a friend in London.

In the loft I am welcome by a warm, familiar light. The blissful sun rays pouring through the windows make the two kittens lounge and be lazy, and have absolutely no remorse about that. The first thing getting my attention are the prints hanging – or waiting to be hanged – on the walls. I get an explanatory tour of them, ending with Alehandra’s favourite – a portrait of herself shot on film by a friend in London.

Time flies when in good company. I realise it’s been hours since our brunch. Yet, I am not ready to leave until we have one last beer – this time on the roof terrace. The terrace goes around the building and there used to be no real obstacles to walk from one apartment to the other – not that anyone was ever into that. The lack of borders and the view of the sky could make you feel on top of the world – if you wanted to. In the recent years, however, fences were raised to delimitate property. Alehandra’s landlord made no exception. With or without limitations, the loft’s terrace remains a special place to be. The chimney pipes, painted like mushrooms by a former resident, create a surreal feeling interrupted only by the domestic sounds coming, every now and then, from the other apartments.

I let Alehandra with her two cats in the loft, and I find my way back down the stairs, to Antillenstraat, and finally to Surinameplein, where a tram is waiting to get me back home. As she pointed out, her staying in the loft is the longest of all previous residents. Yet, it only takes a moment to fall in love, and even less than that is necessary when it comes to the loft on Antillenstraat.

<< Post originally published on Amsterdamming.com in August 2017 >>