Bubbles & The Royal Ascot, UK

There are many wonderful things I could tell you about my trip to London for the Royal Ascot. I could tell you about my awesome friends Erin and Alex, who rounded up a big crew to experience one of their favorite pastimes. I could tell you about the Queen, the horses, or the amazing dinner we had at the hotel in Kensington the night before the races. And instead, the story I am going to tell you is an honest and sloppy one. Because apparently bubbles and horse racing go hand in hand, almost as tightly as gambling and big, fancy British hats. I’d never been to the races before, and so I didn’t quite know what to expect. My friend Erin, who frequents the races and makes intricate and stunning derby hats, prepped me accordingly. The Royal Ascot is the crème de la crème of horse racing. There is a strict dress code, a rich history behind the event, and even the queen herself is present! I expect a major fashion event, opulence, and spirited gambling. What I did not expect was the sheer amount of champagne consumed before, during, and after the event – to put it politely, it was a royal shit show. Continue reading

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Fall in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is stunning in the fall. A light haze has set in above the city, complimenting the earthy hues that mast Amsterdam’s cobblestone streets. Golden sunlight slips through the trees, and sparkling shadows are cast along the canals. There’s a buzz in the air as people scurry a tad bit faster on bikes and scooters to avoid the city’s new, frigid state. 
IMG_0345I truly can’t believe it’s mitten weather again already, but this past weekend, an undeniable chill arrived in Holland. While summer is my favorite season, the cold air of fall makes my lungs feel alive again. And so while the foliage slowly dies, I’m awakened by chilly fingers and crisp oxygen in my chest. On Saturday, following a leisurely brunch with my girlfriend Sophie, I decided to take a long stroll around the city to enjoy the autumnal sunshine and capture Amsterdam’s golden glow with my camera.

Here are a few photos from my walk :)

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Exploring Münster, Germany

Last weekend the Dutch girlfriends and I planned a little escape. Fall was in the air and we were craving a change – a weekend outside of Amsterdam or a day in another city. We marked the weekend in our calendars without making a concrete plan. If the weather was sunny and gorgeous, we could head up to Texel and stroll the beach. If it rained, we could spend the day shopping and eating in Antwerp. And if it was a clear, fall day, we could trek a bit further and spend the day in Germany, drinking crisp beers and exploring a new city – which is exactly what we ended up doing!Visiting Munster Germany_9919Melissa picked us up at the crack of dawn. I’d gone out on Friday night and was *dead* after only three hours of sleep, but the adrenaline of visiting a new city for the first time is often stronger than a good cup-o-joe, and so by the time we reached Münster (our decided German destination) I was refreshed and ready to go! This post is going to be more beautiful than informative, as I did no research on Münster ahead of time and don’t have a boat load of recommendations to share. We looked at good ol’ Google Maps once or twice for navigation guidance, but left the rest up to luck! We stumbled into shops, ate at random stops, and gawked at the numerous stunning churches.  Continue reading

A Night at The Duke Hotel, Den Bosch

As I used up almost all of my paid leave visiting the States this summer, I’m trying to squeeze in mini-holidays over the weekends so I can still explore Europe and travel with friends. Last weekend, The Duke Hotel kindly invited me for an overnight in Den Bosch. And so on Friday night after work, I packed my overnight bag, grabbed the boyfriend (I still feel weird saying that!) and hopped on a train down to den Bosch to enjoy a short city break in Holland. Den Bosch the Duke Hotel - 13 of 102The formal name for den Bosch is ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which translates into The Duke’s Forest in English. The name is often abbreviated to Den Bosch, which simply means The Forest. And so we took a train down to The Forest, where we saw many birds, dragons, and beautiful buildings (but oddly not a whole lot of forest!) Continue reading

Sid Lee does St. Tropez, Part 1

While I love blogging, my day job is also pretty cool. I work at a global advertising agency called Sid Lee (some office photos here), where we make ads for clients like Facebook, Red Bull, and Absolut. Advertising is very much a work hard play hard industry, and the brands you work with often contribute to the overall culture of the agency. There are countless late nights and busy weekends, but on the flip side, at Sid Lee, there are also expensed dinners, cool colleagues, agency parties, and many, many Absolut cocktails. Recently, to say ‘thanks’ for a long year of hard work, the Sid Lee Amsterdam team was treated to a long weekend in paradise. IMG_7551I briefly mentioned our travel regime in my previous post – our airplane left Schiphol at 6am – which meant we had to meet in the airport lobby bright and early at 4.15am. Of course I pulled an all-nighter (I was THAT person at the airport) and stumbled through security and found my seat on the plane in a tipsy, blurry haze. After a few hours of dozing on the plane, and then on a bus, we arrived in St. Tropez.  Continue reading

Babes on Bikes in Barcelona

On Friday night I left work and grabbed a cab to the airport. Melissa, my longest and closest Dutch friend (I’ve told you about her here and here) had been kidnapped earlier in the day and whisked away for a surprise trip to Barcelona. Melissa is getting married in two week’s time (eee!!) and our jaunt over to Barca was her last ‘hurrah’ before the big day. Friday night in Barcelona was low-key, as we had a bright and early start planned on Saturday. We kicked the weekend off with a champagne breakfast and some silly games, followed by a walk to the bike shop where we all rented bicycles for the day. The Dutch are known for their love of bikes, and ironically the bike shop owner in Barcelona was also Dutch! After renting 16 bight orange bikes, we hit the road for a self guided tour around the city, stopping in large centers and at beautiful parks to complete inane tasks and drink more champagne.IMG_5401Most of the photos in this post were taken one-handed from the back of my bike (yep, I’m also pretty Dutch at this point!) so excuse the lack of a concentrated subject matter. Hopefully the abundance of palm trees and blue skies will make up for it :) Continue reading

Villandry, London

One of the many reasons I love London is because they freakin’ rock the brunch scene. In my opinion, a good brunch menu should have a handful of healthy options (think hearty salad, fresh fruit, homemade muesli, yogurt), the absolute breakfast basics (croissants, jam, fresh bread, porridge), a selection of morning cocktails (especially mimosas), some classics for the mainstream (eggs benny, buttermilk pancakes), and a few ‘wow’ entrees that go above and beyond your average breakfast expectations. Bakers and Roasters and Little Collins tick all the boxes here in Amsterdam, but otherwise, an exceptional breakfast spot is hard to come by in the ‘dam. However, in London, almost every brunch establishment knocks it out of the park – inventive mimosas, flaky croissants, and all.

On my last Sunday in London, Roshni and I popped out to meet up with Emily. The three of us lived together in Leeds, and haven’t all been in the same room since 2010! And what’s the best way to reconnect? Over brunch of course! We set off for Villandry on an ironically wet morning.
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King’s Day in Amsterdam

On Saturday, along with the rest of Holland, we celebrated our first ever King’s Day. Up until last year the very orange, open air city festival was known as Queen’s Day, in celebration of the lovely Queen Beatrix. However, last year she passed along the title to her eldest son Willem-Alexander, and the holiday underwent a slight name change to represent our new monarch. Despite the holiday’s new naming convention, the crazy antics have remained the same, with endless street food and thrifting options, outdoor stages and bands, drunks, raves, party boats, and more orange than a citrus farm in Florida.

The night before King’s Day is referred to as (can you guess?) King’s Night, and on this evening the city-wide party kicks off. Stages are erected, bars are set up along the canals, and everyone in this tiny country flocks to Amsterdam, in hopes of celebrating in the cool evening air with the masses.

As our flat is very centrally located, year after year we have a front row view of the insanity below. Of all places, a stage is set up across the street directly facing our windows, and the pedestrian walkways below become flooded with people, kicking off an insane evening of Dutch rock, hip-hop, and crazy euro beats.

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Dinner at Marathonweg

I really, really dislike flying. When I was younger I was prone to anxiety. Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better at taking a deep breath and finding balance in life. These days, the only time I get that I’m-crushed-I-can’t-breathe-I’m-going-to-die feeling is when I’m on a plane. Usually I squeeze B’s hand so tight, pumped up on drugs and adrenaline. But lately, I’ve been flying more and more for work. At least once a month. This means I can’t take my happy-flight pills because I have meetings. And I can’t squeeze B’s hand because I’m flying solo. So I’m dealing with it, but not in the best way. Every time I get in a plane I have to come to terms with death, which really sucks. I hate not being in control, and the thought of being tossed around in a helpless box way up in the sky with no power over my destiny is a panic-stricken thought. I hate that my mind goes there, I hate turbulence, I hate being scared. But I’m can’t help it, so I’m doing the next best thing – dealing with it. And the best method I’ve found to deal with this fear is via distraction. I read magazines, I snuggle deep into my coat hood, and I write blog posts. So the good part about flying is that I have some spare time where I can catch up with you. Because there’s no wifi or phone reception, I’m not expected to send work e-mails or take business calls. And so it really is a retreat from the real world. A death box sky retreat.

Anyways, now that you know a bit more about me and my biggest fear (which is very ironic for someone who is addicted to traveling!) let’s move on to the point of the post. Last weekend B’s friend Marshall was in town. B and Marshall went to university together. They’re lad friends who get up to mischief and reminisce about the good old days – before Marshall was a financial hotshot in London and B was a pot-smoking strategist in Amsterdam (I kid). Despite living a 45 minute plane ride away, Marshall has never been to visit us – and it’s been more than three years! But he made up for it by kindly taking us out to dinner, to congratulate us on our engagement, and I think also secretly get B drunk enough to rave with him until 5am. Boys will always be boys.

IMG_1773A Friend had recommended Marathonweg, saying ‘Ohh! They have really good sides!’ I’m a sucker for sides (and condiments!) so Marathonweg made it on the to-try list. After an online poke at the menu, we decided it was just the place to take an out-of-town guest – good wine, good food, and good atmosphere, for good company.

Upon arrival we were taken into a back room and seated at a large booth. At first I thought I might be the one with two dates. But after a while, it became clear B and Marshall were the lovers. They cuddled in the booth, split a meal, and went out together afterwards – so I guess I was the third wheel!!

IMG_1753Although the food (which I will get to momentarily) at Marathonweg was good, the atmosphere was even better. The room was illuminated by candlelight, the space was roomy and comfortable, and there were a lot of natural accents – wooden beams, tall plants, and fresh flowers. Just my kinda place.IMG_1772As I said, Marshall and B slid in on the same side of the booth. Two dates for me?IMG_1745Nope. Clearly these two are the ones on the date!IMG_1746IMG_1747Water was brought to the table in a cute Marathonweg branded carafe. IMG_1751And wine was brought to the table as well.IMG_1755Followed by a platter of fresh bread, with homemade butter, homemade aioli, and a tea pot filled with olive oil.IMG_1759We all got starters – I think B had a salad, Marshall had a meat platter . . .  and I had sardines! Served straight from the can with a few lemon wedges. Smeared on some fresh bread with a drizzle of olive oil, this was a fantastic starter. I often wonder why I don’t try to make such simple and delicious meals myself at home!
IMG_1760And then came our dinner.  B and Marshall ordered the steak for two – it was gargantuan piece of meat – the free range kind that is fed delicacies and massaged every day, before being brought to a humane death and aged gently for 30 days. I don’t know if I buy into the cow crap. ‘Ohh, this cow comes from this valley, and lives by this river and eats this diet.’ Sure, the cow’s heritage plays a small role in the taste, but it’s really about what you do with the meat that matters. How it’s cooked, stored, aged. Anyways, point of the story is that this cow was fan-frickin’-tastic. I don’t know what they did with it in the kitchen, but I must learn how to replicate this at home!
IMG_1766I had the much smaller pork belly from a Limburg abbey, served with pulled pork and potatoes.IMG_1770The whole meal was complimented with fries, green beans, and eggplant. Ahh, the delicious sides :)IMG_1768IMG_1756We cleared our plates and then moved on to coffee, and more wine. Between the three of us we had two bottles, so the cab ride home was giddy to say the least. The boys, fueled on the biggest steak known to man, then went out and danced until 5am. I had a slightly different evening and was in bed, sound asleep by midnight. I’m such a snooze sometimes!

If you’re interested in a meal at Marathonweg (which is currently one of my top five Amsterdam picks) you can find them here: Marathonweg 1-3-5 1076 SW Amsterdam. I recommend calling and making a reservation ahead of time: 020 370 3731.

PS. I have a contributor article on The Blog Wander this week, you can read and check it out here. It’s quite insightful if you’ve ever wondered how I met B, and what it’s like living abroad, being away from family.

xo Ali

Exploring the Rijksmuseum

B isn’t a huge fan of getting his photo taken. He puts up with his snap-happy blogger girlfriend, but isn’t really fond of posing for the camera (ask him why, he will tell you some funny stories). So I was surprised when last weekend, he suggested we bring my camera on along our Sunday playdate to the Rijks. Usually I have to ask politely before I bring my camera on an A+B outing, but this time B suggested the notion without my influence. He took most of these photos, and I promised I would credit him on the blog for his artistic eye.

Recently, we went to the Rijks for Museum Nacht, but vowed to return as we only got to explore the first two floors. This place is massive, and I won’t hesitate to go back again and again. You really can get lost, and engulfed in history and books and some of the most brilliant paintings of all time is a sublime place to lose yourself, and perhaps even discover something new.
IMG_6168Standing in the Rijks is a marvel in and of itself. The architecture is a beautiful juxtaposition of old and new, timeless history and modern thought.IMG_6249^ ^ I swear I am reading a history map and am not texting!!IMG_6256^ ^ This one is photo-credit-Ali, as I had to steal the camera from B to capture this owl!IMG_6250^ ^ My favorite piece in the museum. 
IMG_6232^ ^ I took this photo as well, as the people admiring Rembrandt’s work were almost as thought provoking as the painting itself. I love people watching – wondering about other’s relationships, where they are from, what they think of their surroundings. I often ask the same questions when looking at art.
IMG_6237 IMG_6200B and I have created a photography game that we play when we’re out with the camera. We both take a photo of the same subject, and then afterwards compare and contrast the two, and vote together on which one is the best. I’m really competitive and B is really talented, so it’s a fun game for both of us. B’s photo of the Rijk’s library is on top and mine is below. We both have such a different eye for photography. I love that B has the ability to see the world in a completely different light, and is always opening my vision to a new perspective. We operate on different sides of the brain, and sometimes I feel like he fills this huge gap in my life that I didn’t even know existed. Anyways, I didn’t mean to get sappy! These two photos very accurately reflect our personalities. I like symmetry, and find beauty in balance (Libra!). B is careful but always looking for a new, creative perspective. Which photo do you prefer?
IMG_6205 IMG_6193^ ^ Some proof of B’s creative perspectives! v v IMG_6184 IMG_6179^ ^ I found this funny. ‘Still life with Asparagus’ IE. What the Dutch did instead of Instagraming food photos in 1697.IMG_6264^ ^ The exhibit on the very top floor was all about airplanes. B’s brother is training to be a pilot and B just made a film of them flying together, so B took a timely interest in the planes and their history.
IMG_6261IMG_6172IMG_6273On our way out we stopped to listen to a busking orchestra play Four Seasons by Vivaldi. After having such a visual experience in the museum, it was lovely to just close our eyes and reminisce about the day, taking in the music.