29 September 2014

Staying true to making my blog more of a love letter, I’m starting a new blogging series called “InstaDutchland” posted (ambitiously) every Monday. Naturally, the hashtag I’m using is #InstaDutchland.

Inspired by my blogger friends Deepa from Currystrumpet and Esther from Urban Moms, I’m going to share with you guys my favorite new discoveries and regular places that nourish my soul. It’s also a special nod to one of my first readers who asked me to show her the Netherlands. There’s so many wonderful gems, especially hidden ones, scattered throughout this small Western European country. Hopefully it can ignite some wanderlust. Or even encourage locals to play tourist. At the very least, I hope it inspires people to simply step out of there homes and find beauty (nature, art, love, random acts of kindness) waiting outside of their doorstep.

On a more personal level, it’s a way for me to pause and to document the little things that bring joy to me and my family.


Here are my favorite “finds” for the week of September 22-28, 2014 (Yes, my “week” is from Monday to Sunday, at least for the first time around).


Verfdokter (Springweggarage)

verfdokter utrecht


We were happily surprised to discover an artistic rendition of Utrecht’s historic Oudegracht at one of the most unlikely places – at the side of the Springweg garage. Graffiti artists Hendrik and Robert-Jan Brink, also known as the verfdokters (the paint doctors) painted the scene with the owner’s permission. It’s conveniently located right behind the Oudegracht and in close proximity to our favorite stores. We were absolutely thrilled and couldn’t resist a spontaneous photo shoot with my son.


The Zelfgemaakte Markt (ZGM)

Utrecht Art Fair


The Zelfgemaakte Markt (ZGM) is basically an Etsy’s fanatic’s dream come true. It’s a market where handmade and handcrafted goodies made by local Dutch artists, designers, gourmands and anything else that falls within the artisanal category. The clever namesake “Zelfgemaakte Markt” is translated as “I made it myself.” Adding to it’s novelty is the location – the Mariaplaats, a historical market site since 1391. Staying true to the Dutch love of thrift, all the items were reasonably priced and many would be considered steals. I couldn’t resist buying my toddler son a whale and two pillows made by SpijkerGoed for €40. SpijkerGoed is a new initiative started by two sister-in-laws bringing some new life to old jeans in the form of pillows, stuffed animals, and bags. I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have been their first customer!


Bartimeus Moestuin Doorn

Moestuin Doorn


When my dearest friend invited me to Baritimus Moestuin Doorn for a family date, I came with an open-mind. The website was relatively nondescript about the vegetable garden, leaving lots of room for imagination. In all honesty, I was more interested in seeing my friend and her family more than exploring a new place. Just entering the walled grounds where the garden was located was breathtaking. It’s possibly the most peaceful place I’ve ever visited for a while. We were completely awestruck to say the least.


It felt like a hipster’s fairy tale, the kind that you read in magazines, come to life. The inner geek in me was suddenly reminded of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – a magical place where one goes to seek sanctuary among the blooms and with one another. I’m convinced that it’s one of those places that have to visit yourself to fully comprehend it’s beauty. The added bonus: it’s literally only a five minute bike ride from my own home nestled in the woods of Doorn.


Perhaps my favorite find in vegetable garden is Theehuis ’t Sand. It was by far the prettiest cup of coffee I’ve ever had. I felt so fancy. And it might be just the right place for me to occasionally get some writing done. 

Next Saturday (4 October 2014) there is going to be the stekken-en-oogstmarkt (cuttings and harvest market) from 11:00 am to 3:00pm. Entrance is € 2,50 per person. Address: Driebergestraatweg 44, Doorn.


All photos taken on my IPhone 5s cause I’m “old school” like that. Come follow me on Instagram – I’d love and appreciate the company!

Going Country Bumpkin

19 May 2014

exciting news dutchland

I have a confession to make. It’s been brewing for a couple of months now. And my heart had been bursting to share for quite a while now. But my pragmatic Dutch husband asked for my silence until everything was settled. Now that all the contracts have been signed, sealed and delivered, the world can officially know.

My family and I going country bumpkin on you folks.


We are moving next month to Doorn, a small Dutch village nestled in the nature forest reserve area of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug (Utrecht Hill Ridge). The Dutch who live in a country that would be about 44% submerged underwater if it wasn’t for Dutch ingenuity would refer to this area as hills.


After seven years in the Netherlands, this expat-that-could is going to go where very little expats have dared venture out to, deep into the heart of the Dutch sticks.


Okay, maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration. This is the Netherlands we’re talking about – a country where it only takes about 2-4 hours (depending on where you to start) to drive across entirely. We will still be only half an hour drive away from Utrecht and forty-five minutes away from Amsterdam. But Doorn feels like an entirely different world.


I have always been a city girl at heart, but it’s not who I am anymore. Not at this moment. Right now, I am a mother to a precocious and adventurous two-year old boy who loves nothing more than to play outside. And I find myself being more at ease and being able to enjoy the experience more when he’s exploring in a natural playground setting rather than the confines of an urban jungle, or non-descript suburbia.


Granted, there are also lots of dangers to learn about and be aware of like ticks and snakes for example. But it’s a trade-off we’re willing to make for wanting him to grow up close to nature and as my husband and I figure out what this whole balancing of parenting and being both career-driven personalities is all about.


And I’m also a writer. I’m craving the time, space and quiet to be alone with my thoughts. All this writing about happiness precipitated some serious soul-searching. I want to be an authentic, genuine voice – as an Asian (Filipino)-American mother, wife and writer currently living in the Netherlands (Europe).  I have my heart set on bringing diversity to the written and blogging world. And I’m utterly convinced that moving to Doorn will be what I need to develop myself – a sort of healthy compromise between the real-world demands of my husband’s blossoming career and my need for a writing sanctity.


So we’ve notified our landlord, contacted the movers and are now are looking forward to a month of preparing for the big move.


Hope you continue following me on my adventures of making a home in the Netherlands. Here’s to Finding Dutchland, where ever you may be.

7 Reasons Why Utrecht Is Awesome (Most Beautiful European Canal City)

16 April 2014



Contrary to popular belief, the most beautiful canal city in all of Europe is not Venice, Amsterdam, Saint Petersburg, Annecy, Hamburg or Bruges. Rather, according to Berlin-based travel search engine GoEuro, the honor is bestowed upon our very own city of Utrecht.


In what appears to be a democratic process of voting, the canals of Utrecht have won the hearts of voters around the world. This is an incredible honor for a Dutch city that has remained virtually obscure, especially in comparison to mesmerizing, world-renowned Venice and the more internationally acclaimed sister, Amsterdam. 


I’ve often been snubbed (on more than one occasion) by other expats (mainly from Amsterdam and Americans) when they learned that I lived in Utrecht. I don’t blame them. After all, it takes a certain je ne sais quoi to recognize the gem of a city that Utrecht is. To be able to appreciate Utrecht, arguably a genuine hipster’s paradise, you need to embrace independent thinking, creativity, progressive politics, and hundreds of years of history – preferably with a Dutched state of mind. Most importantly, Utrecht attracts only those who yearn to go off-the-beaten path.




For the culturally-sheltered mainstream tourist, Utrecht will appear a bit too far (35 kilometers away from Amsterdam) and too unknown (who’s ever heard of Utrecht?). And with all the accolades that Utrecht has been receiving through the years and yet still remains in the limelight, I have a sneaking suspicion that the locals would actually prefer to keep tourists away. After all, part of Utrecht’s charm is that it’s the best kept secret of the Netherlands. Utrecht for the Utrechters some might say.

So please forgive me for joining the bandwagon of publicly recognizing Utrecht as a wonderful place on my little space on the internet. Since I’m a firm believer in appreciating not only the aesthetic beauty of the canals of Utrecht and yearning beyond the superficial, I would like to further elaborate why Utrecht is awesome:


1. Utrecht is awesome because it is the only inner-city canal in the world to have wharfs.

As mentioned by GoEuro and my Dutch husband (as local as you can get), Utrecht’s canals are one of a kind in the world with its wharfs and wharf cellars. Back in the Middle Ages (circa 12th century) when the main flow of the river Rhine moved south, parts of the old river bed were dug out to create the Old Canal (De Oudegracht) and wharfs were added to create an inner city harbour system. Clearly a direct example of Dutch ingenuity, boats were able to directly dock and unload their cargo onto the wharfs lining the canal. The wharf cellars had pedestrian walkways and provided storage at water level, hence creating a unique two-level street system along the canals.  While Utrecht may no longer be an important trade center, the unique wharfs of Utrecht now dotted with restaurants, craft shops, cafés and boutique still hold tribute to its former glory and significance.




2. Utrecht is awesome because it embodies the European café and restaurant terrace culture.

If you want to experience an authentic, genuine Dutch city, head over to Utrecht. Thanks to its canal wharfs and various squares serving as restaurants, bars and cafés, Utrecht has arguably one of the largest outdoor terraces in Europe. An added bonus is that it’s a car free pedestrian zone albeit everyone should be on the lookout for cyclists.


3. Utrecht is awesome because it is quintessentially Dutch. 

If you want to get a genuine, unadulterated impression of the Netherlands, you’re seriously wasting your time in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is an enchanting, international city, complete with a strong expat bubble community, but it fails to represent what the Netherlands is all about. Utrecht will definitely show you what it is like to live in a bustling Dutch city, complete with a lasting accurate impression of the Dutch culinary scene, how the Dutch translate customer service and hospitality, and other Dutch pleasantries. Guaranteed you’re in for an experience, especially if you take advantage of the wharf terraces that can’t be found anywhere else in the world (not even Amsterdam).


4. Utrecht is awesome because it is one of the happiest places in the world.

According to BBC travel, Utrecht is the fourth happiest place in the world.  Utrecht provides all the big city amenities while still maintaining a provincial, small town vibe. For happy-obsessed Americans, it might be worth visiting Utrecht to see what true happiness looks like.




5. Utrecht is awesome because it has Hoog Catharijne.

One of the largest indoor malls in The Netherlands, Hoog Catharijne houses over 150 stores. It is connected to Utrecht Central Station, making the city easily accessible to the rest of the country, Europe and the rest of the world via Schiphol. And it is usually the first impression a tourist  gets when they venture into Utrecht. Whether or not that is a positive first impression depends on who you ask.


Hoog Catharijne serves as a litmus test as to whether or not you are a genuine Utrechtser. If you loathe Hoog Catharijne, than welcome to the club of Utrechters who vehemently despise the monstrosity. If you actually enjoy visiting the mall, then chances are you might be a foreigner and/or an outsider. On the positive note, Hoog Catherijne works to filter out the nearby villagers and foot traffic streaming into the city. It also provides a welcomed, consumer-driven distraction for those who are less inclined to appreciate the cultural aspects of Utrecht.


6. Utrecht is awesome because you just need one day to navigate the city center by foot with your eyes towards the Dom tower.

Part of Utrecht’s charm is that the city center is actually quaint, especially in comparison to other world cities. Initially designed and preserved as a Medieval fortified city, the heart of the Utrecht is enclosed by an inner canal ring that is a little less than 6 kilometers around. You’ll naturally gravitate towards the Dom Tower, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands and the reigning symbol of Utrecht.




7. Utrecht is awesome because it masterfully relishes in the old world beauty that inspired the Dutch masters while gently embracing the beauty of its present.

Utrecht thrives not only in the aesthetic beauty of its canals and stately buildings, but also in her artists, poets, musicians, writers and anyone else who possess an artistic spirit. Utrecht is a slice of bohemia, a haven for everyone and anyone that wants to call her home- free thinkers, philosophers, wanderers, conservatives, and entrepreneurs.

To fall in love with Utrecht is to fall in love with life, its possibilities and all the different hidden and unexpected treasures that await you.  I hope you’ll consider visiting Utrecht, one of the world’s unsung heroes.


Insider tips when visiting Utrecht:

1. Visit Utrecht on a Sunday morning, preferably before 9:00am.
Since the Netherlands is the part-time work champion of Europe, visiting Utrecht during a weekday may not guarantee avoiding the crowds. After all, since a lot of people work part-time chances are that the terraces will be filled with people, especially if there is a remote possibility of sunshine. The most ideal time of visiting the canals of Utrecht would be on a Sunday morning before 9:00 am when the rest of the city is still sleeping in from a night out. Once you’re done strolling around the canals and taken the requisite photos,  terrace cafés will be opened.


2. Contrary to popular belief, the best place to get a panoramic view of Utrecht is not climbing the Dom Tower but at the V&D Department store in the East side of Hoog Catharijne. Located at the top floor of V&D is La Place café, a glass covered cafeteria style eating establishment offering sweeping views of the city. Plus, it saves those who are less physically inclined a trip up the 465 steps of the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. Out of politeness, grab yourself a cup of coffee and take in the views.
p.s. Care to waste more time on the internet? Come join me on my Facebook page. I promise I won’t get too annoying.

p.p.s. You can also follow me on Instagram, capturing random moments of my Dutched reality.

Oh The Places to Live: Village, Suburb, or City

7 March 2014


View from our previous apartment in Utrecht, the heart of the city center.

My husband would have made an excellent salesman. He’s charismatic, charming, persistent and has boyish good looks. Being a San Francisco Bay Area native, I had once publicly sworn (pre-motherhood) that I would never live in a Dutch village. Acclimating to provincial Utrecht was challenging enough. Living in a small Dutch town was inconceivable and unimaginable. Or so I thought.


Almost one year into parenthood, my husband sold me the idea of living in the Dutch suburb of Houten. Living in the heart of Utrecht was a memorable, privileged experience.  But our fourth-floor walkup became a nightmare with a baby.  We also bought the idea that family life translated into needing certain amenities – a large garden, plenty of space, and lots of privacy.  As a single-income household, our best chances of finding what we could afford and what we desired led us to the suburbs. At the very least, it would be like taking an extended vacation in an idyllic Dutch setting – a one year adventure where we would immerse ourselves in the local Dutch culture.


Choosing where to live is a very personal decision based on one’s lifestyle, philosophies and circumstances. My everyday reality doesn’t consist of going to local cafés, having brunch with friends, trying out the latest new restaurants, shopping at trendy boutiques, or visiting local museums. Rather, my daily life pretty much revolves around the eating-nap-play schedule of my toddler son and home-base takes center stage. He’s a child of the world, ready to explore and get in all sorts of trouble. As an aspiring writer, what I actually need most is the time, solitude and space to write. And as for my workaholic husband, he simply requires a comfortable place to unwind and sleep that’s conveniently located not too far from his office in Utrecht.


An important factor that shouldn’t be left unwritten and unsaid in determining where we live are finances – we’re a single-income, middle class family aspiring for a decent life and giving our son a happy childhood.




Still uncertain about my decision to move to the city or stay in the suburbs, I started asking different moms about their own experiences. I ended up asking a Facebook mommy group consisting of over 4,700 members, “Out of curiosity, if you had a choice between living in an apartment in Amsterdam or in a stand-alone home with a huge garden and plenty of rooms in a Dutch village, which would you prefer, keeping in mind that you have a toddler who loves being outside. One means being socially isolated and the other one means being in a vibrant, international city with lots of like-minded mommy friends.”  There were over 100 moms who chimed in (a definite conversation starter) and not surprisingly, I received very different, passionate answers.


Some thought it would be inconceivable to leave their beloved city (Amsterdam). Others had enough of the stressors associated with city life and craved for space and quiet, the much sought after garden, and not having to manage waiting lists for everything imaginable (schools, swimming lessons, and other extracurricular activities for children). In hindsight, the question was polarizing because living in one place or the other doesn’t necessarily translate into social isolation, or feeling connected to a community. And reading all their answers left me even more confused than ever before.


A fellow mommy-blogger who moved to Zeist after living for several years in Utrecht confided, “I simply got fed up lugging all the stuff to the park . And I was tired of looking down at the ground making sure there weren’t any hypodermic needles lying around.” I’m not sure whether or not she was being facetious, but her comment made a lasting impact. The suburbs made me feel safer as I watched children playing outside in their gardens (my son included), or simply out on bicycle-only streets without any supervision. But the recent burglaries in my neighborhood and being encouraged by the local police to be more alert made me reconsider just how idyllic and rose-colored our circumstances actually are.


Now one year into our suburb experience and our lease up for renewal, I can’t help but revisit and re-examine our housing situation. And to be perfectly honest, this questioning happens to coincide with me going through a personal-inventory of my own life, values, role as a mother, personal goals and desires. I’ve always said that “happy parents generally raise happy kids.” Are we really happy parents? Do we need to live in such a big, fancy home (in Dutch standards) with an enviable garden?



It’s been fun playing “house” yet living in the Dutch suburb of Houten has several inconveniences that I didn’t anticipate. I’m also the first to admit that my gripes are more “first-world problems” – limited selection, diversity and opening hours of stores (closed on Sundays), , being the only foreigner in a predominantly Dutch neighborhood, and feeling psychologically distant and isolated from any major city.

While I’m also a creature of habit that absolutely loves being a homebody, I also thrive on the energy that a city like Amsterdam gives. A city girl at heart, I simply get a natural high when walking around Amsterdam, taking in all the positive energy and channeling it into my hopes, dreams and aspirations. Suffice to say, Amsterdam makes me feel alive. But so does seeing the wonder and delight in my child’s eyes as he discovers the world around him, free to explore under my watchful eye.


The biggest deal breaker happens to be the one problem we didn’t consider when moving to Houten – my own son’s loneliness.  We were surprised and shocked at the long waiting lists for the local pre-school (peuterspeelzaall). I had naively assumed that the lack of resources for preschool was endemic to only major Dutch cities. The rapid population expansion, high concentration of young families, and limited budget made it a challenge for towns and cities to accommodate the needs of the growing population. Ironically, although my son happens to the only toddler on our street (and hence his loneliness), we were informed that we live in a catchment area with lots of young children his age. If we were to be on waiting lists anyway, I would also prefer having a lot of different options rather than being limited to a select few. The recommended alternative would be to send him for a couple of hours to créche (day-care). However, créche it’s not the same substitute as play-based learning, one that I’m keen on letting my son experience and can be prohibitively expensive.


Living in Houten, however, does have its benefits. We appreciate the privacy and the small town feel where, as the local pharmacists kindly told me, “Houten may be home to 30,000 people but we still like to take care of each other.” There are a lot less crowds. It’s also world renowned for being the bike capital of the world – suburb completely designed to be bike friendly for all ages.  And let’s not forget how happy my son simply playing outside, whether in the garden or out into the streets without a care in the world.


Where would you personally live and raise a family? Are suburbs the only answer or is it possible to enjoy a thriving city life while raising a family? Are Dutch villages the way to go for a more community feeling? Is it possible to find a middle ground where we can live in a bustling city, yet still create a safe place for children to play outside?


Stay-tuned for my blog post coming up about renting or buying a home in the Netherlands. The most liberating aspect of choosing where to live is that we have a reasonable amount of freedom and flexibility as renters.


Shameless self-promotion: If any of you know a benevolent property owner of a three bedroom (minimum), unfurnished house or apartment with a parking spot/permit in Amsterdam, Utrecht or the surrounding areas who would be excited to have tenants like me and my family for a reasonable rent, please email me at We’re keen on finding a house (and or apartment) to love and care for and make it a home for the next two to three years.

6 Fun Trivia about Utrecht, One of the Happiest Places in the World

31 October 2013

I can’t help but wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something. I not only live in one of the happiest countries in the world, surrounded by the happiest kids in the world, but the city I used to live in, Utrecht, was recently proclaimed as one of the happiest places in the world according to BBC Travel.


However, BBC Travel isn’t the first one to sing praises of Utrecht. The Lonely Planet listed Utrecht as part of the world’s 10 Unsung Places, describing it as charming city off the beaten track despite its wondrous charms. Even New York Times, enamored by the vibrant Dutch city of Utrecht, describes it as a dutch town that nurtures its quirks.

I must confess that my love for Utrecht did not come naturally. I’m a San Francisco-Berkeley girl, and it took quite a while for this provincial Dutch city to charm me over.  My heart always flirted with the more glamorous, world renowned, international Amsterdam. I knew there was some sort of wonderful party going on, but like a deaf girl at a disco, I couldn’t hear the amazing music. 6 years of having lived in the heart of the city center, I’ve gained some privileged insight as to why Utrecht is arguably the most beloved city in the Netherlands.

Here are six fun trivia about Utrecht, one of the happiest places in the world:

1. Utrecht embodies genuine “gezelligheid“. 

Gezelligheid is one of those untranslatable words – it embodies cosiness, quaint, pleasant atmosphere, general togetherness, the feeling you get when you see a good friend after a long absence, the peace of spending quality time with loved ones. Gezelligheid, some would argue, is what is at the very core of Dutch culture. It’s not hard to let nostalgia take a hold of your senses when you’re walking around the beautifully preserved medieval streets.


2. Utrecht is as authentic Dutch as you can get.

Although more and more tourists are braving this obscure town, the streets of Utrecht remains quintessentially inhabited and occupied by the Dutch. There are plenty of times when you would be hard pressed to find a tourist.  And unlike Amsterdam which is much more accommodating to English speakers, Dutch is the preferred lingua franca of Utrecht.  However, for non-Dutch speaking people interested in giving the city a visit, never fear.  Chances are you will run into a proud Dutchie who would love to show off his or her English speaking skills with you.

3.Utrecht embraces art with reverence to the past, passion for the present and a special nod to the future.

Utrecht’s historical and cultural legacy boasts the largest density of treasures in the Netherlands with over 9 museums and a plethora of historical monuments. It a thriving city where “new ideas are taking shape in old buildings resting on ancient foundations.” Utrecht is home to Netherlands’ beloved children’s author Dick Bruna, offers Cultural Sundays,  and even has a living poem etched in stone.


4. Utrecht is the center of Utrecht province, the most competitive region in the entire European Union.

While this trivia is quite surprising given other European powerhouses such as London and Berlin, Utrecht Dutchies can give themselves a pat in the back for doing something right. The ranking of 73 European regions was based on evaluations of the area’s institutions, infrastructure, macro-economic stability, health and school education. Money makes the world go round and Utrecht province has figured out a way to keep it going. The full report can be read here.

5.Utrecht is home to Utrecht University, the largest university in the Netherlands.

There’s no doubt that the creative and entrepreneurial spirit endemic to academia (Utrecht University) filters over to the city of Utrecht. Students, professors, researchers, and their families from all over the world bring a microcosm of the world right at Utrecht’s doorstep. The energy of college age kids also makes Utrecht city center one of the best places to party starting from Thursday evening.


6. At the very heart of Utrecht is the Domtoren, the tallest church tower in the entire country.

It’s not too hard to catch a glimpse of the 112m high Domtoren when walking around the center of Utrecht. After taking almost 300 years to complete, the cathedral (Dom) and its tower was completed in the 14th century. An infamous hurricane-like storm in 1674 blew down the cathedral’s main nave, forever separating the tower and the cathedral. The Domtoren, an enduring symbol of Utrecht, resonates tenacity against all odds, an undefeatable spirit and sincere love for the people who call it home.

Correction: A reader kindly informed me that the Dom tower is the highest climbable tower in the Netherlands. The tallest tower in the Low Countries is the Gebrandy Tower.


Bonus 7

My husband and son were both born in Utrecht. That is reason enough to make Utrecht one of the happiest places in the world.

Important Insider Tip when Visiting Utrecht

If you’re not a fan of hoards of endless crowds, do not visit Utrecht on a Saturday. Being the most loved city in the entire Netherlands, it’s no wonder that the Dutchies would flock to it on their day off!


P.S. Want to read one more article? Check out my most recent post called “How To Piss Off The Dutch“, or more accurately,  “How Not To Make Friends With the Dutch and Alienate Dutch People”.

P.P.S. Want to waste more time? Come join me on my Facebook page to get regular updates of my adventures in the Low Countries and random but guaranteed interesting (parenting) articles circulating around the web.