Monthly Archives: October 2011

My Hobby.

Friends, I have a hobby.  Well, the fact is I have many hobbies, but this is about as “crafty” as it gets.  You may be thinking to yourself, “oh collaging, that’s so 90’s..”  But it just so happens that collaging is timeless, treasured, and an excellent way to relax, while thinking creatively.  How can I combine these different images to get the big picture?  Somehow it gives me unexplainable delight to take these silly magazine cutouts, and arrange them according to my definition of perfection.  I hope you like them. xx Helen Anne

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Literary Friends.

Reading is fun.  Tanja, the eldest of the two girls I look after, absolutely loves books.  She devours them regularly and with intensity; to be precise, every 2- 5 days.  Being nine years old is the best age, because the books you get to read are s0 imaginative and entertaining.  The somewhat dreariness of life’s realities are erased momentarily when you become literally “stuck” in a book.

In my day, I read Nancy Drew books like no other.  Cover to cover in 2 days (on my Summer vacation).  The same went for the other series: Little Women, Little House on the Prarie, and Anne of Green Gables, though those usually took a week or so.

Rediscovering reading (books, that is- not the internet or magazines), is one of the best things that can happen to a person.  Although the internet is tempting- some may say information is too attainable now- I have found it to be extremely satisfying to log off, and get lost in a novel.  With that, I give you some fun titles:

Up Next:

Apollo’s Angels

The Human Stain

Cleopatra: A Life

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Love in the Time of Cholera

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3 Day Getaway: Maastricht and Cologne.

Last weekend I travelled to Maastricht and Cologne on a last-minute getaway.  The weather was lovely, and spirits were high.  I accomplished a couple of things on the trip.   One will shock you, the other will not.

One: I climbed two very tall church towers, the tallest of them (the 509 steps high- Cologne cathedral tower) in high-heeled boots.  For an explanation, see photo below.

Two: I bought my first designer dress!  The dress is not from a major designer like Gucci, or Diane Von Furstenburg.  Rather, it’s from a very small label in Germany called Berg and Kather.  This purchase was made in Maastricht, at a truly amazing shop, of which I cannot recall the name.  Anyhow, this dress is minimalistic, with a touch of glamour in the pleated skirt.  The light grey color makes it suitable for all seasons, which I love.  It was a fantastic purchase, if I do say so myself!

Now, onto more important things, like culture, churches, and chocolate.  I found Maastricht to be absolutely lovely.  It was charming and romantic; historic, and religious.  The Saint Servatius burg gives a wonderful view of the city, and is reminiscent of that “old Europe” I am so enamored with.  The people of Maastricht do not look or speak like Noord-Hollanders.  They have more glamour, talk slower, and seem to be less [shall I say nicely], brutally honest.  But what really sells this city is the old stuff.  I found the city park to be extremely romantic, the 13th century town gate transported me back to the middle ages, and the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwebasiliek (church) was mysterious and extremely gothic in its style, which was very appealing.  It goes without saying that the Vrijthof is one of the most beautiful squares, and the houses in Maastricht are ancient, yet regal.

It was quite sad to leave Maastricht so quickly, but hence, our train tickets beckoned us to Cologne that evening.  It’s fair to say, that I didn’t properly research Cologne before I went, and the spots we most wanted to visit (art galleries) were closed on the Sunday and Monday morning of our stay. Furthermore, the city in regards to its architecture and general beauty, was also a let down.  My travel companion and I adore cities with a long and stunning history.  The tragic part about Cologne, is that it’s one of the most ancient cities in Germany, but because of post war reconstruction, looks as though it’s only been around since the late 50’s .  Aside from a handful of beautiful churches, and prewar German guild buildings, Cologne has been a victim of  poor architectural choices and city planning.

With all negatives aside, my preferred attraction of Cologne was the chocolate museum.  One cannot say enough good things about this place: it had history, a huge chocolate factory you could walk through, nutritional information (?),  information about where cocoa beans come from and who farms them,  and of course, a larger-than-life chocolate fountain.  Looking into the huge vat of churning chocolate in the factory was like being transported into “Charlie and the Chocolate factory”.. if only Johnny Depp were there!  The third floor, which displayed ornate chocolate boxes and advertisements from the past 200 years, was a stunner- talk about vintage design inspiration!  All this was only topped by the chocolate cake in the cafe.  Delish!

Other outings in Cologne included the incredibly huge Cologne cathedral, which was both eerie and majestic, and the Wallraf Richartz museum.  The Wallraf Richartz has incorporated 700 years of art in their modern- looking museum.  They have a truly extensive collection of medieval paintings, but it was the Baroque and Impressionist collections that were most inspiring.  Viewing the Degas ballerinas again was simply amazing!  That about sums up our short trip; a strange variety of religious architecture and icons, fantastic chocolate, dreamy art, and aching feet!  xx Helen Anne

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A word on the Amsterdam Fashion Scene.

Several hundred years ago, during the Dutch Golden Age, present day New York was discovered, riches were brought home from the Far East, and Holland laid the foundation for the first stock market. The Dutch accomplished all of this wearing clogs.

Dutchies do not have fashion in their blood, like the French or Italian. That being said, things have changed since the 1600’s.  There is an emerging sense of stark yet innovative design in the boutiques, and a retro, alternative-chic style seen on the streets of Amsterdam.  For the stylish Dutchie, Amsterdam means vintage stores, eclectic clothing markets, and a touch of minimalism in design.

Street style in Amsterdam is anything but traditional.  This city is famous for pushing boundaries, and for better or for worse, this translates into fashion. Black ripped tights might be paired with military boots, jean shorts, and a vintage fur coat.  Muted colors have been popular here for years, but with the color revolution, more reds and greens have started popping up between grays and blacks.

Dutch designers tend to favor simplicity, and clean lines, with a hint of drama and rawness.  There is an industrial feeling in many of the uber hip boutiques, like SPRMRKT on the Rozengracht, and music venues in the city, like Trouw, famous for its electronic scene.

Music is a very important element of Ilja Visser’s new brand and store: Ready to Fish. This boutique space has a surrealistic vibe, with an all-white interior, TV screens built into old furniture and computers for listening to the store’s compilation album.  The style here is feminine, with a global aspect, and an element of fantasy.

Stylish, edgy Amsterdammers can be found wandering the small, intimate streets of the Negen Straatjes, where independent boutiques and stylish shop owners reign supreme.  The Negen Straatjes reside in the neighborhood of the Jordaan, also home to the Noordermarkt, which is arguably the best vintage clothing market in the city.   Browse the pics below for some of my favorite spots.  xx Helen Anne

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Strange letters, found in my front yard.

The IAMSTERDAM letters have moved to my front yard.  Okay, it’s actually a square in front of our student house, not a yard, but you get the picture.  I actually saw the letters being moved off their gigantic truck, and onto my turf.

Being that there is now a tourist trap in my front yard, hours of entertainment are at my dispense, whether I’m eating breakfast, or unlocking my bike.  There is always something absurd happening on those letters.  However, I’ve yet to see a planker.  Maybe I’d better take that on myself.  I guess I could stretch out between the “a” and the “m.”  Stay tuned!

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Under a Changing Sky.

“It’s clouds illusions I recall,” sang Joni Mitchell in the 70’s. I find myself humming the tune as I cycle to work in the mornings, looking up at the expansive morning sky, and the clouds that flutter to and fro, in a sort of theatrical production.

Midday, I stand doing dishes in the kitchen. I look out of the wide windows again, up into that gorgeous Dutch sky, noticing that the clouds have changed their patterns a hundred times since I last gazed at them.

Later on, as I cycle to retrieve the girls from school, the bright blue sky gives way to an ominous grey, and within seconds, big, fat raindrops begin to hit me in the face. How quickly things can change.

This ephemeral movement in the sky somewhat characterizes life in The Netherlands. The people, the bikes, the children, the waiters, everyone is constantly moving. Appearances change from day to night, appointments are made, friends meet each other for a morning coffee and then a late supper, kids recklessly skateboard after school, grandmothers walk their dogs slowly, and ladies put on their lipstick, before joining evening festivities.

The Dutch sky has long been sought after by artists, who strain to capture the feeling of the extraordinary light, fleeting between innocent clouds.  Those clouds never fail to lose our captivation; rather, they increase our interest with all things romantic and fantastical.  I often feel quite humble when I look up at the sky; a thought waves over me with the suggestion that I’m quite a small and insignificant creature, compared to this complex, interweaving force from above.

But most importantly, I feel inspired, energetic, and (to be so cliché) like I’m alive!  It’s one hell of a beautiful world, and I’m so lucky to be right here, right now. xx Helen Anne

Photographs via John Does Amsterdam

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