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Kirsi

Good Life

Finnish Midsummer Night’s Dreams

June 23, 2016
Finnish Midsummer

Just look at the light and enjoy!

Christmas and Midsummer: the two most quintessential Finnish holiday times that mark the darkest and lightest times of the year (yes, you can hear me crying now…). I’ve been out of the country for couple of Christmas holidays and several Midsummers and it has always evoked mixed feelings.

My first Midsummer out of Finland was when I had moved to Amsterdam. Obviously, Midsummer is not a thing in the Netherlands. On the Midsummer evening, I had been working late (now you can hear me and the labour unions weeping and wailing together). I was biking home through Vondelpark when I saw a bunch of Swedes erecting a maypole. I almost joined them. Maypole is not even a Finnish Midsummer tradition, drinking beer and going to sauna is. I resisted, because … what a self-deception: a Finnish person barging into a Swedish Midsummer festival in Vondelpark and thinking, “I’ve come home”. Just to make clear: I do love Swedes, Sweden and the Swedish boats as well when they don’t have any of the nasty stomach bug epidemics going on.

Anyway, the next day, I wanted to barbecue to have at least a little piece of the painfully missed Midsummer experience. So we head to Vondelpark with our mini grill. I accidentally drink a whole bottle of Pernod, which I took with us that we could have small aperitifs while waiting for the food to be ready. Note: even though I enjoy a glass or two of wine, in general I’m really not a big drinker. We end up in a strange fight with a lady with two teenagers about how we should have rather shouted at her kids than kindly asked them not to kick their football into our grill. The absurdity of the discussion and too much Pernod makes me cry. We are ready to go home. However, instead of going home we go to our nearby restaurant stinking smoke (with the grill!) and have couple more drinks. When we get home, I feel like, I’ve just returned from war.

The next morning I realise, I managed to pull through a Finnish teenage Midsummer without even noticing. Now, I solemnly believe that wherever a Finnish person is during the Midsummer time, some version of the Finnish Midsummer experience will take over her/him and there will always be a Midsummer. God bless us all and let it not be the teenage version. If you have a feeling that could happen, seriously consider joining the Swedes for happy pole dances instead.

This year, I will go to the summer cottage. There will be a sauna and a lake. Barbecue, beer and sausages. There will be fresh food that has the unique taste that can only develop under the constant northern sunshine. There will be mosquitos and the smell, and unfortunately taste of mosquito repellent, because some of it always somehow ends up in your mouth. There might be a bonfire as well.

 

Here is my little checklist for Finnish Midsummer celebrations.

It is very simple, because that’s what Midsummer is.

 

Sauna and swimming

Barbeque, beer, sausages

Bonfire

Strawberries

Boiled fresh potatoes with butter

You can also stay in a city, check Helsinki Midsummer events here.

 

The nightless night will be there for you and keep you awake no matter where you are. Look at the light, enjoy and be grateful!

 

Good Life

When in Finland: Go to the Forest

May 25, 2016
hiking in forest

This is my kind of a forest! The pic is taken from Nuuksio National Park’s Haukkalampi trekking trail.

I have always found it extremely funny to land at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport. I actually have to concentrate to refrain from not laughing out loud. The laughter I’m holding is laughter with a little bit of irony (as we Finns know the value of irony!), but most of all it is full of love. Let’s imagine together that we are now in a plane together going to Helsinki and the plane starts descending. We get closer and closer to our destination: the most densely populated area in Finland, the Helsinki metropolitan area. We reach out to the little window to see how our destination looks like. What’s out there? I can tell you what’s there: trees. Welcome! You have arrived to the forest!

I can also confess that I haven’t always felt like laughing when I’ve seen this view. I might have cried too. I never really thought of what forest means to me, but when we lived in the Netherlands, I really started missing the Finnish forest: those thick, dense, messy forests, with fir trees and the actual possibility of getting lost. Not that I would really want to get lost in a forest. I’m too urban for that and would most likely die after walking around in circles in a blueberry overdose. Anyway, the only time I have run away from my parents was when I was 7 years old and they refused to go picking blueberries with me… at 10 pm in the evening. I grabbed my berry bucket and bike and went for the adventure alone. They found me in the nearby forest and I got not only a small bucket full of berries, but pancakes to go with them as well. If you ever tasted a fresh blueberry straight from the bush, you will understand the motivation behind my escapade. I have spent countless hours in the forest playing and building huts out of leaves and sticks when my mom has been picking berries and mushrooms. The tradition was first to fill in the buckets with berries and on the way back to the car take off your shirt and fold it into some kind of a bag where you could pick the mushrooms that you simply could not leave in the forest (for your neighbour’s delight).

I often felt in my bones the contrast between my two beloved home cities Amsterdam and Helsinki, but was not able to put my finger on the fundamental difference in these two places until recently when I moved back to Helsinki. Here I have found myself constantly wondering where all the people are. Woohoo, anybody home? Is there an ice hockey match on TV that I don’t know about? And let me remind you: I live right in the centre of Helsinki.

With this feeling I went to see the population density statistics and it became clear that I have moved between one of the most densely and least populated areas within Europe. I, of course, knew this already, but never really put any thought into it. Wikipedia tells us that whereas the Netherlands has 393 people per square kilometre Finland only has 16. Goodbye people, hello nothingness!

And then to the good news: Wikipedia also tells us that 72% of Finland’s land area is covered by forests. Netherlands’ corresponding number is 8.79%. Finns often explain negative or difficult phenomena in our culture with the fact that it is such a short time since we came out from the forests. I do not like it when we mix up our complexes with the forest. Forest is our superpower. It brings out the best in us. In the forest we show respect and carry our responsibility. There is no reason to leave the forest, but rather we should invite others to join us too!

If you spend time in Helsinki, you can easily go explore the Finnish Forest in Nuuksio National park:

http://www.nationalparks.fi/nuuksionp

If you drive around in the Finnish countryside, you can find forest basically anywhere (and more national parks as well of course). Read here about the Finnish everyman’s rights so that you know your rights and responsibilities when roaming in the wild:

http://www.nationalparks.fi/hikinginfinland/rightsandregulations

PS. If you just booked your trip to Helsinki and hate going to the forest, do not panic! Helsinki is a peculiar, lively and amazingly beautiful little city that has a lot to offer for forest-haters too. 😛

trekking in Nuuksio National park

What a pretty view! Forest and water, the most fundamental elements of Finnish nature. The picture is taken in Nuuksio National Park.

Good Life

How To Use a Sauna

May 17, 2016

sauna pic

A lot of things have been difficult and are driving me crazy now that we have moved back to Finland, but a sauna is not one of them. The sauna situation is absolutely fantastic here!

First, there are plenty of saunas and it is ok to talk in a sauna… not too loud of course, but that’s just a general rule in Finnish culture that applies always and everywhere, except for when you are drunk in the public transportation during weekends after midnight. I also like it that in the public saunas there are no exhibitionists, nor hourglasses on the wall that people desperately follow and do not leave the sauna unless their time is up even when they are about to faint on the sauna benches.

I’m especially grateful to this dark, cold country that here it is not possible to end up in a sauna where you can find neither a water bucket nor the stove. You can just hear the electric ticking of the sauna stove somewhere, but there is no access to it for the sauna goers. This type of a sauna makes a Finnish person wonder if he/she is actually on the candid camera! It feels like some kind of a cruel prank: there you sit in a sauna that’s a little too cold and there is nothing you can do about it. This type of sauna should not exist.

The years we lived in Amsterdam, I got to know a little bit of the Dutch sauna culture, which is quite different from what I am used to. First, I went to the sauna in our gym. It was a mixed sauna where people wore towels and it was the first time I learned that the sauna is “a quiet room”. I think the sign appeared on the sauna door after we had been there a couple of times with my husband just talking about how our days went, like you would talk over dinner in some other countries. It’s not an easy thing for a Finn to admit that you have been too loud or talkative, because we never are. Anyway, I adjusted and kept my mouth shut so that people could go do their sauna in peace and quiet. However, it took out some pleasure from going to the sauna.

I also don’t like to go to sauna wearing a towel. It gets all sweaty and it just does not feel right, but anyway I was ready to live with it, because I really needed my weekly sauna. I stopped going to the gym sauna after sitting on the sauna bench with bunch of guys wearing their sweaty boxer shorts after a workout, because… God knows the reasons. Anyway, it was too much. I could not adjust.

After that I went looking for the perfect sauna in different spas. The first shock – surprisingly – was that many Dutch spas are no-swimsuit & mixed-sex spas. In Finland public saunas and pools have different dressing rooms and saunas for men and women, and in the pool areas you always wear swimming suits. I got over the shock relatively quickly, because, well, I needed my sauna. Talking about my “naked” spa surprise with the Dutch, I discovered that many Dutch wanted to go to spas but the fear of running into their boss or colleagues naked was too big to overcome. I also realised the interesting difference in Dutch and Finnish sauna cultures: for Finns it is ok to go to the sauna with your family, friends and yes, even colleagues, but the idea of a mixed spa with people you don’t know feels weird. I guess for Dutch the idea of going to a mixed spa is still more ok than going to sauna with friends, not to even mention colleagues.

I went regularly to spas in the Netherlands and learned to enjoy the abundance of services and different kinds of pools they offer. I also found couple of ok saunas. The most ridiculous things I saw in Dutch spas were people laying naked outside on the spa lawn in the fall when temperature does not support this kind of behaviour (I think they were either having sex or dead, I did not go check) and exhibitionists who place a chair just in front of an entrance so that everyone who comes through the door can enjoy the view of their carefully exposed penis. I’ve also had a fight in a spa sauna…. on a Christmas eve… because apparently I threw too much water on the stones. I’m not proud of it, but just that you know: I threw less than half of the amount I wanted to as a nice Christmas gesture towards all the meditating, hourglass-watching sauna amateurs.

But back to where we started. Now that I’m back to my original sauna environment I do have to say, I’m really enjoying it. I’m sure there are people who struggle to adjust to Finnish sauna habits or are wondering if they dare to take the first step and go to the sauna in the first hand. For all those people, here are my tips on how to do Finnish sauna:

  1. Go naked, nobody really cares how you look like.
  2. Always when you go in or out of the sauna, CLOSE THE DOOR. Only children leave the door open.
  3. Go with friends, they love you the way you are and don’t really care how you look like.
  4. Talk, but not too loudly. Talk about fun stuff. Talk about difficult things. What you talk in the sauna, stays in the sauna.
  5. Drink water and beer, but not too much.
  6. Go out to cool down and then back into the sauna. Talk and drink while doing this. Repeat several times. Also consider: swimming, rolling naked in the snow, dipping yourself in a hole in the ice.

Good luck!

 

Good Life

On Honesty and Openness

May 3, 2016

merisatamanranta

You might not believe what I’m going to say now, but I will say it anyway. I have come to the conclusion that Finns are actually very open bunch of people. I will tell you how I have come to this conclusion.

I went to several mama groups when I was living in Amsterdam and as much as I loved them, I often had a feeling that in a big group you don’t really learn to know anyone and the relationships stay on a superficial level. The fact that 90% of the time you are running after your child, feeding and changing diapers combined with months of not sleeping also does not exactly help you to connect with new people. I talked about this to my Finnish friend (expat in the Netherlands for a long time) and she said to me: “That is such a Finnish thing that you want the relationships immediately to go to a deeper level or alternatively nowhere.” This comment really made me think.

Both Dutch and Finns are famous of being honest. From a Finnish perspective a friend or colleague who is always “ok” and “doing well and fine” is suspicious. People become real only at the moment when everything is not ok. And no, I don’t think, it’s the famous vahingonilo – a joy for another person’s misfortune (yes, we have a word for it!) – but a moment when you see a little deeper, a little more of somebody else and understand that we all have our own little struggles. It hit me that Finnish honesty is actually openness to reveal yourself and your life relatively easily to the outside world. Finns are often disturbingly honest about themselves. Answer to the question how are you, can be “I have a shitty day today” and it is ok.

Dutch on the other hand are honest about others: “Oh, you are married and have taken your husband’s surname, that is so old-fashioned!” Or midwife at the maternity hospital: “Oh, you have the same surname (talking about the mother and father of the yet unborn child). Are you related?” At this point I was already used to the Dutch humour/directness and replied: “Yes we are, Finland is a very small country” and then we all laughed together. It would have been even funnier if I did not have those damn contractions coming and going.

Dutch honesty was a lot more difficult for me to digest than the Finnish honesty is, because I’m not born with it, but do not get me wrong: there are a lot of benefits when people are not afraid to speak up their mind.

I personally realised that the more loose and superficial friendships are also significant and important just the way they are. You cannot expect people to open up their hearts after the first “howareyous” unless you are in Finland. Not to be completely delusional about Finland and Finns: the challenge here is more in how to get to the “how are you”-part. But be aware, once you get there, the Pandora’s Box is open and there is no turning back. 😀

Good Life

On Running

April 27, 2016
Running in Westerpark, Amsterdam. I remember it was sunny and windy. I remember being surprised I could still run 8 kilometres!

Running in Westerpark, Amsterdam. I remember it was sunny and windy. I remember being surprised, I could still run 8 kilometres!

I never did sports when I was a kid. However, I did run around the fields, climb in trees and jump in muddy puddles and ditches all day long. To shock a little all the non-Finnish readers: I also never went to kindergarten and started school only at the age of seven. By high school I had obviously stopped playing catch outside till midnight and tried to start jogging – that’s how it was called back in the day – to have a little bit of counter balance with spending time indoors and reading. Running felt terrible and I always barely made it to my grandparents’ house, which was two kilometres away from my home. My grandmother offered me an extensive meal and my granddad drove me back home in his car. During the visits my grandparents would point out several times what a tough girl I was to run such a long distance (I think in their eyes I was still two years old) and they also always praised me for all my small achievements in life so far. As a result, I never felt really bad after these failed attempts of trying to become a runner.

Then I entered the university. I was reading more and more and gaining weight at the same time. Finally my boyfriend gave me a gym membership as a birthday present and against all my prejudices, I went to the gym for the first time of my life. It turned out that I loved it and after a while I also started running on a treadmill. I think I started from six minutes at a time, but the day came when I could run on the treadmill for half an hour and it felt good. I started running outside and longer and longer distances. This was probably in 2003. For years I ran almost every day. I never checked on my pulse, I never knew exactly how long or far I had run. People were always very surprised to hear that running was my hobby and most of the times the discussion went around the reasons why they don’t run: “I have bad knees” or the other legendary “I get this terrible ache in my chest if I run”.

Running in Eiranranta, south of Helsinki in March when the ice in the sea has just melted.

Running in Eiranranta, south of Helsinki, in March when the ice in the sea has just melted.

For years my hobby continued the same way: a solitary exercise that nobody wanted to talk about. Then something strange happened. Other people started running too and completely new topics to talk about arouse around running. Now the first thing people asked was: which race are you training for? I had never run to prepare for a race. I have participated in some, especially now that there is such a big selection of running events: you can rock and run, nightrun, mudrun, run in the forest, highways or mountains not to even mention all the marathon races. This is of course absolutely fantastic! Let all people run and be healthy! However, it made me think my running had become somehow inferior and still I had nothing to talk about my running with the other runners, because I was not interested in measuring my performances or going to a lot of crowded running events and eating the gels that make your stomach go upside-down.

Now I have had a long, long break in active running, so I can just tell everyone I run when I can and that’s it. It’s difficult not to add that I was actually the first original running hipster and now that running has become so mainstream, I stopped. What a blessing that I can write it here that you all know! The break and decreased quantity of running, however, made me realise what my running is all about. I run to feel my body is alive and not to go crazy inside my head. It is meditation: an exercise of letting go of all the troubles I happen to have in my life. If I add there any elements of competition or performance – gel or Vaseline – the meditative part is gone. It is not about how fast or far, but about going. I like my running!

Good Life

Don’t Talk to Me. Let’s be Really, Really Quiet.

April 21, 2016
Kamppi Chapel, also called the "Chapel of Silence" on the side of a busy Narinkka square in Helsinki: music to your ears and eyes!

Kamppi Chapel, also called the “Chapel of Silence” on the side of the busy Narinkka square in Helsinki: music to your ears and eyes!

I think something’s gone really wrong in my brain when it comes to enjoying having people and life around me, and still appreciating quiet and silence to the extent that I cannot live without them. Having been born and raised in the Finnish countryside I’m used to having an audible silence descend upon my good night’s sleep in the evenings. In our new home in Helsinki the effect is very much the same – just a distant hum of the city in the background – and I have to admit I love it.

However, every time I walk out the door, I’m slightly disappointed by the absence of people, cars, bikes and urban troubadours who can only play that one damn song with their saxophone and are so lazy that for the three months that they stand playing outside your balcony, they cannot make an effort to learn at least one more song… Even for example Brother John or Mary Had a Little Lamb. Anything?! I think I’ve come to the age when you feel angry that you cannot have everything, including noisy and quiet at the same time. Who would have guessed that this is how your life turns out!

But seriously speaking, research shows that chronic noise is very bad for the brain: “Numerous studies now show that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills and have lower reading scores.” Read more here. I do not find this result very surprising, because it is extremely difficult for me to concentrate, learn or understand new things in a noisy environment, not to mention how it can mess up your sleep. Noise and sounds just get my attention immediately and it’s a struggle to block them off. I have earlier thought that kids do not mind noise as much as adults, but the first weeks when I took my girl to the daycare and when I picked her up and asked how your day was, she’d respond: “Don’t talk to me, let’s be really, really quiet!” We are all of course a little different in this respect (too), as my husband can have music on, watching football while reading.

What I find very interesting is that we also know that noise and sounds do not only travel from your ear to your brain, but the other way as well: from your brain to your ear. Because of this when you switch off sounds completely, you can still hear… what your brain wants you to hear. Spooky, right? Read more (intelligent comments) here. Whatever amount of silence you need, I think we all need it sometimes, so wherever you are, take a moment to find a quiet corner, sit down and listen. Or you could also hop on a plane and come and listen to what your brain wants you to hear in the land of silence and quiet called Finland. We have a lot of silence here: inside the amazingly well isolated houses, in the countryside, in the forests, in the parks, between people. 😉 And whatever you may think, I say there is a lot of beauty in that abundance of quiet.

Amos Anderson museum offers exhibitions primarily on Finnish 20th century art. There is also a small chapel where you can rest your tired feet and mind.

Amos Anderson museum offers exhibitions primarily on Finnish 20th century art. There is also a small chapel where you can rest your tired feet and mind. Quiet is a relative concept: in this chapel you can listen to classical music.

Style

My Spring Style Tips for Colder Climates

April 14, 2016

I love to look for style inspiration – especially in Pinterest. For more than a month already it’s been super easy to find a lot of new spring outfits and ideas. However, a lot of the inspiration comes from warmer climates and as lovely as the skirts, dresses, leather jackets and pumps look like in the pictures, they are far too cold for the Nordic spring… unless you are a teenager. Teenagers can follow and execute the summer trends in -30 degrees or alternatively wear winter boots in the summer. It’s ok, they can do that, I don’t mind, because I on the other hand have been going out in ski pants for the last three months. Going out with a kid to the playgrounds is just utterly boring if you cannot go on the slide yourself every now and then (read: all the time until your child wants to go home).

Well, for the month of January I actually walked around the parks of south Helsinki in my husband’s ski jacket and pants from the 1990s, because I had given up all my winter gear during the five years in Amsterdam. The colours (black and yellow) and style were actually pretty nice and fashionable again, but somehow three sizes too big clothes always give out a baggy impression, no matter how nice they are otherwise. Finally in February, I bought a really good pair of ski pants with an avalanche detector; it’s good to be on the safe side with those toddlers and playgrounds.

From this perspective now being able to go out in jeans and saying good-byes to my ski-crazy alter ego feels extremely liberating. And do not try to force that sportswear trend upon me, I will not get onboard! So what could you wear to make your Nordic April not feel and look like the previous three months? See my tips below.

Do something new with your hair. However, do not ruin your hair just in a spring fever. I will not take responsibility if you do that.

Buy new cool sunglasses, because you need them and they will take you through the summer as well!

Get a thinner beanie so when the sun comes out the woollen one won’t tickle your forehead. Or a floral beanie or a head band!

Get a pair of cool jeans. Try out a new color or model. They might also take you through the summer if it never gets warmer than this. 😉

Travel

Cruising on the Eastside

March 16, 2016

Roest swings

This is my last Amsterdam post. I have noticed that I could just go on and on and on with this topic, because Amsterdam is so lively, full of great places to eat, play and explore … and because I miss Amsterdam. Always when I see a picture or a video from there I cannot help but thinking that I want to live there again. I’m happy to be back in Finland and Helsinki, it feels right, but I’m afraid Amsterdam has stolen a piece of my heart for the rest of my life. I will just have to learn to live with it. Oh life! So here it goes…

The first destinations of this tour are not in the east, but actually in the centre, although they are on the way to the east from the Central Station. You should start your day visiting the famous OBA Central Library. The Central Library has a fantastic children’s department in the ground floor (or more like on the -1 floor). There are of course lots and lots of books to read, big armchairs were you can sit down, a tiny tepee where to play, small exhibitions for kids and last but not least the fantastic Muizenhuis – a miniature mouse house – that you could stare at for hours and hours taking in all the beautiful details. Upstairs in the Library there is a cafeteria La Place with nice lunch options (you will definitely find something for your kids from here as well, the selection is so big) and a terrace with cool views over Amsterdam.

One of the greatest museums for kids in Amsterdam is the Science Center Nemo. My two year-old learned to recognize the ship-shaped building from far away very quickly and would always point at it: “I want to go there”. It is really designed for kids, so there are a lot of things they can do themselves (build dams in a metal trough, make massive soap bubbles, construct windmills or sailboats etc. – the activities change). I have spent there 1,5–2 hours easily with a two year old and for older kids there is even more entertainment. Because the place is so awesome, it does get crowded during weekends and holidays. However, I would go there anyway. In the summertime you can enjoy the sun at the “ship’s” top terrace and there is a paddling pool with toys for kids. It’s Heaven on Earth!

If you continue a little further to East from Nemo, you will come to the Maritime Museum. I thought (my bad, I know) this would be a very boring place to go and went there for the first time with my friend, because I knew there would be booze and a Museumnacht party. We ended up spending a couple of hours there just exploring the exhibition. Later I went there several times with my girl to see the basic exhibition again and especially the old ship they have in front of the museum and once to a whale special exhibition. The Maritime Museum is maybe not as obviously fun as Nemo for kids, but it is definitely worth a visit and better than you would think.

After running in museums you will need some easy, relaxing time and food. Continue even further to east to a beautiful bohemian restaurant and city beach called Roest. At the back of the city beach area they have a combination of a jungle gym and swings. It’s not any standard plastic jungle gym, but a self-made wooden gym with ropes, swings and hanging car tyres (see the top picture!). Very entertaining both for adults and kids! If you have some shovels and buckets with you, you can easily spend an entire afternoon playing, eating and drinking here.

I assume this would be day two or three already when you hop on your bike and go to see the Amsterdam Artis Zoo. There are plenty of things to see here, but what I especially like about it is that it is not too big. I have been to Artis so many times, both in the pre-child and post-child eras, that I now know the place like my own pockets. If you are hungry already when you step in, on the right side of the entrance there is a small petting zoo where you can buy poffertjes (tiny pancakes) before starting off. At the back of the zoo there is a huge jungle gym with long slides that your kids will love. There is also a place where they can play with water (there is a water pump they can use). This said, if you plan to go there – and you will if they see the place – take a pair of boots or/and an extra set of clothes with you. In front of the playground there is a restaurant with a terrace called Cheetah. It’s also ok to eat your own food at the terrace. At least I’ve done that several times and no one complained. In general Dutch always have their own sandwiches with them and they eat them wherever they want. It’s like a basic human right in the Netherlands: the right to eat your lunch sandwich wherever you want whenever you want (can also happen while biking). My favourite places in Artis are the Butterfly and Monkey Houses.

Very close to the Artis Zoo is the Botanical Garden. It is not a big place, but it’s beautiful and cosy with a little cafeteria where you can go get breakfast and lunch. It’s definitely a good place to start your morning or have a little rest during the day.

If you are dreaming of a little beach holiday, your dreams come true further away in the east on a bohemian city beach called Blijburg. I always recommend biking, but you can get there by tram as well. In the summer time there is at least one restaurant at the beach to serve you drinks and food.

However, if you are dreaming of beaches on a bigger scale, then I would recommend you go to Zandvoort aan Zee. That’s NOT East Amsterdam, but it is a little town by the North Sea to the West.

Zandvoort

The train from Amsterdam takes about 40 minutes, and the walk from the train to the beach 5-10 minutes. The beaches are endless and clean and hardly ever crowded and the restaurants offer nice food. Check out beach club Far Out for a chilled out beachfront terrace with good music. Like I said in the beginning, I could go on and on with writing about Amsterdam and the fun things you can do there and in the nearby areas and yes, now I find myself writing about Zandvoort. I simply cannot NOT mention Zandvoort, because I’ve been there soooo many times and spent there such historical moments as my last “childless” holiday and my girl’s first birthday. Anyway, it has to be my last tip for this series…. for now. J Go to Amsterdam! Go and enjoy! Let me know if you have any questions!

 

Travel

Culture and Countryside trip to the North of Amsterdam

March 1, 2016

bike path noord

When we moved to Amsterdam we did our first longer bike trips to the district Amsterdam Noord – the North of Amsterdam – and then we went again, and again and again over the years. When you cross the IJ on one of the free ferries (“pontjes”), and the bikes and scooters zoom off to the horizon from the boat, you can already feel how the busyness of the central Amsterdam fades away. You suddenly find space for your thoughts and for your own bike on the bike lane.

The boats to the North leave from behind Central Station and the ride to the other side is free. There are three different boats so pay attention which one you get onto!

The boat to the NDSM takes you to the old shipyards where you can find one of the best flea markets in Europe, IJ-Hallen. It’s open once per month (Sat and Sun). There is a small entry fee but if you are into second hand and flea markets, it’s worth it. Take some coins with you to pay your entry fee, because then you will most likely not have to queue: you can pay your ticket with an even sum to a guy who will walk next to the line and tell that if you have cash, you can just pay him and walk in.

After the market you should go and check out a couple of the nice, bohemian bars and restaurants in the area. First, there is Pllek that also has a city beach in front of the restaurant in summer time and Noorderlicht a little further away, because it is just an amazing place. Check some pics from here so you will understand!

For the bike trips we always took the boat to Buiksloterweg which is just opposite Central Station and the boat trip takes less than five minutes. The architecturally amazing film museum EYE is just to the left when you reach the North side and is definitely worth a visit even if you are not interested in the exhibitions (read = if your little ones are not interested, because why would you not be interested in movies otherwise??). Inside the EYE building there is a beautiful amphitheatre and big windows facing towards the water and Amsterdam, so you can see the city from a new point of view. You can always find people hanging around there, talking, having drinks and resting their feet. At the bottom of the amphitheatre there is a restaurant and if the weather is good, there is a large terrace outside, obviously, with the most amazing views.

From EYE you can go back to where you arrived on the boat and follow the canal along Buiksloterweg all the way to Noorderpark. There are a lot of events organized in the park and a lovely and quite adventurous wooden jungle gym for kids where you can even cross a little canal on a swaying bridge. Close to the jungle gym there is a tiny cafeteria called Noorderpark Bar which is open on Sundays (also every Sunday there is music and programme for kids!). They serve drinks and some food and snacks. We went once to Noorderpark to see a little local circus group perform and it was a massively successful family trip, not least because the show lasted only about half an hour which is the perfect time for a two year olds attention span.

A little further down the canal at Noordhollandschkanaaldijk 19 there is a lovely petting zoo with sheep, chicken, ponies & some toys for kids as well. If you make it here with little kids you can already congratulate yourself and maybe turn back towards the ferry. However, IF you and your kids are hardcore bikers (or you have a bakfiets where the little ones can take a nap) you can make it a real adventure and bike all the way to Durgerdam. It’s about 10 kilometers to the east. There are great bike paths and already on this small trip you will see the beauty of Dutch countryside and this charming tiny village by the sea will not disappoint you. It is just one line of old wooden houses facing the sea, behind them are just the flat fields – it is so, so beautiful! We always had a break at De Oude Taveerne at Durgerdammerdijk 73. They have a nice terrace/pier where you can have your drinks and snacks and in the summer you can take a dip in the water from the pier as well.

durgerdam pier

The shortest way back to Amsterdam is about 7 kilometers, so it is not a trip for everyone, but if you are up for a challenge and some sweating, this is your chance to see a bit of “The Netherlands” as well during your trip to Amsterdam which is hardly a representation of the rest of the country.

Also good to know: tram number 26 takes you relatively close to Durgerdam if you want to make a bike-tram combo tour there.

 

Travel

Exploring Jordaan with Kids

February 16, 2016

Jordaan cat pic

There are many cute areas in Amsterdam, but Jordaan is probably the cutest. Despite the large amount of tourists in the area it is still a place where real people live, work and do their everyday things. Jordaan is full of nice restaurants and cafes and often the streets resemble a small village with children playing, and people having drinks and eating on the narrow terraces, and chatting with friends, neighbours and fellow shop owners. The Noordermarkt square has an organic farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and a flea market on Monday mornings that you should go and check out. At the Saturday organic market you can have breakfast or lunch or gather ingredients for a nice picnic later on for yourself. On Saturdays there is also another, bigger market on nearby Lindenstraat which is definitely worth a visit. Westerstraat is less cute but has also plenty of shops and restaurants for the hungry ones.

My favourite street in Jordaan is Tweede Tuindwarsstraat. It is squeezed in between two other almost equally lovely streets Tweede Egelantiersdwarsstraat and Tweede Anjeliersdwarsstraat (not to be completely confused check the area from the map: it is one street where every block has their own street name). There is a nice Italian restaurant called La Perla that makes great pizzas, for coffee and/or beer I would stop by at Café de Tuin. Pinxtos restaurant La Oliva has a great selection of pinxtos sandwiches and the Japanese Pancake World a little further down the road is a great place to eat as well. La Oliva is often very busy so make sure to have a reservation (their address is Egelantiersstraat 122-124 as they are in the corner of the two streets) and the Japanese Pancake World is often closed for a longer time in the winter so check that out before getting fixated on a Japanese pancake lunch. For hot days there is a small ice cream shop Monte Pelmo’s IJs. In between the cafes and restaurants there are a lot of small boutiques that sell new and second hand items. If for some mysterious reason I would have to live the rest of my life on one street, I would choose Tweede Tuindwarsstraat.

Tweede Tuindwarsstraat was also on the way from our home to our favourite playground, the Kip and Konintje (Chicken and bunny) in the end of Slootstraat where I have spent countless afternoons playing with my girl and having picnics. First of all the playground is surrounded by houses so there is no traffic anywhere nearby and the chance of escape is zero if you keep an eye on the only gate there is (the handle is also so high that little ones will not reach it). In accordance with the name there is a small house with chickens and bunnies for the kids to look at. There are a lot of small bikes available, swings, sandpit and a small slide. I think it is the best playground for toddlers, but not necessarily so interesting for the bigger kids. For parents there are chairs and a picnic table where you can have a nice lunch together with your family. When the sun starts to shine in the spring you can choose a sunny corner from the playground and enjoy the warmth while your kids play in a safe environment. Because it is in an enclosed inner yard there is also no wind, which makes it the warmest corner of the city basically any time of the year.