White peonies

I am so glad that it is now peony season on this side of the world. Seeing my favourite flowers around always makes me happy as does the colour white. White symbolises a clean slate, a fresh start and is so full of hope and promise, which is exactly what I need right now. This weekend I’m taking a moment out to read over-due magazines, gather my thoughts and make a couple of important decisions.

Amsterdam guide

Amsterdam is the kind of city that steals your heart; you’ll arrive full of anticipation and leave wanting to stay forever. There is a whole lot more to Amsterdam than its seedy reputation will have you believe. Away from the flashing lights of the red light district lies an incredibly beautiful city with far too many hotspots to contemplate squeezing into one weekend, but here’s to trying our very hardest.

THE BEST AREAS

JORDAAN

Jordaan is a great area to escape the often tourist flooded streets of the city. It has a more hipster feel to it but still with the beautiful Dutch architecture of gingerbread houses. Don’t miss the courtyards which are open to public viewing during the daytime and make sure to enjoy a beer on one of the cafe terraces.

NINE STREETS

These cobbled streets set around the canals are a shoppers dream with independent boutiques, vintage shops and lots of cute cafes for plenty of coffee breaks amongst all of that browsing.

SEVEN BRIDGES

This spot is the perfect photo opportunity for that memorable photo of Amsterdam. You can see so far down the canal that you’ll see seven brick bridges in one go and after all nothing screams Amsterdam more than canals and bridges.

I AMSTERDAM LETTERS

Located just behind the Rijks museum, it has become somewhat of an icon of Amsterdam and a tourist tradition to get a snap in front of it. The real challenge is to get a photo without anyone else in it.

TOP EATERIES

COTTON CAKE

Blueberry and lavender spelt waffles, need I say more? Cotton cake has the prettiest interior and beautifully presented dishes to match. Part concept store, part cafe; as small as it may be, it will keep you contended for a whole afternoon.

Address: 1e van der Helststraat 76-hs, 1072 NZ | Open: Monday-Friday 10am-6.30pm, Saturday 10am-5.30pm, Sunday 11.30am-5.30pm

REIN

This health conscious cafe offers fare to nourish the mind and body. Head there for a super healthy breakfast which I guarantee will be generously sprinkled with superfoods.

Address: Rijnstraat 58A, 1078 RD Amsterdam | Open: Monday-Saturday 9am-8pm, Sunday 11am-6pm

YOGHURT BARN

The yoghurt barn is a wonderful concept, it’s a spot entirely dedicated to pure, organic yoghurt. Not too dissimilar from frozen yoghurt stands, here you can choose amongst the selection of healthy toppings such as fresh berries and home-made granola which come sprinkled over thick, creamy yoghurt.

Address: Eerste van der Helstraat, 80, 1072 NZ | Open: Monday-Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday-Sunday 9am-7pm

PLUK

This very recently opened cafe is right in the heart of the Nine Streets and is a welcome addition to the area which is already buzzing with great eateries. Think watermelon and feta salads and delicious smoothies.

Address: Reestraat 19, 1016 DM, Amsterdam

SLA

Literally translated to lettuce, this salad and juice bar is one of a kind. The enormous bowl of green goodness that you’ll get served is as healthy as it is delicious. So good.

Address: Westerstraat 34, 1015 MK Amsterdam | Open: every day 11am-9pm

MARIE-STELLA-MARIS

Downstairs there is a tiny cafe stripping coffee drinking back to basics with just tea, coffee and water on offer and croissants if you’re peckish. Upstairs lies a beauty store selling a selection of heavenly products favouriting aroma therapy. For each product purchased, a sum will be donated to drinking water projects.

Address: Keizersgracht 357HS, 1016 EJ | Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 2pm-5pm, Monday 12pm-6pm

SCANDINAVIAN EMBASSY

My biggest regret was not having the time to go here. The coffee is supposedly superb, the cinnamon bun even better and the salmon and eggs look so good. Please go for me and let me know just how good it is. Below photo by Silvia Falcomer

Sarphatipark 34, 1072 PB Amsterdam | Open: Monday-Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday-Sunday 10am-5pm

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SPECIALTY COFFEE

Amsterdam is quite literally bursting with specialty coffee shops, below are just a few of the best that the city has to offer.

HEADFIRST COFFEE ROASTERS – speciality coffee shop serving what some argue to be the best flat white in Amsterdam. Opened by two coffee fanatics who always share their love for good coffee with their customers.

COFFEE AND COCONUTS – an enormous three story café which serves fresh coconut water straight from the source alongside its coffee. Lively, fun space with loud music.

BACK TO BLACK – this cafe not only serves great coffee but also curates and sells local art from all over the Netherlands, including the furniture which you’ll be sat on.

ROOST – located in the Oosterparkbuurt area of the city where there seems to be an abundance of cute cafes opening recently. Unlike the others in the area however, Roost focuses solely on good coffee with just  a few baked goods on offer.

BAKERS AND ROASTERS – an Australian style cafe which not only serves the same standard of coffee that they do down under but also the same standard of breakfast. Here you can get every egg dish imaginable, fresh fruit platters and large stacks of pancakes.

SWEET TREATS

IJSCUYPJE ICE CREAM

This ice cream parlour is always busy which must say something about the quality of the ice cream. A great variety of flavours and happy customers leaving its doors are two very good signs to me. Best enjoyed along one of the many canals.

STROOPWAFEL

If you haven’t heard of these then let me introduce you to the wonderful world of stroopwafels. Two thin waffles sandwiched together with sweet caramel. So dangerous but so good. The best apparently come from Lanskroon, we sampled them and they were delicious but not much like the usual stroopwafel. For fresh warm ones made in front of your eyes head to the Albert Cuyp Market. I always enjoy eating them with fresh berries, so don’t forget to take some home either from Markt or Stach.

SHOPPING

Amsterdam is the ultimate shopping city; it has all of the high street brands and designer stores but the real attraction lies in the little boutiques which are entirely unique and include a plethora of vintages shops and concept stores.

For all of the high street brands head to the Kalverstraat and the Leidsestraat. Of the two, the Leidsestraat has the higher end brands. Make sure not to miss & Other Stories and Hay which aren’t far.

For individual boutiques and hours of browsing head to the Nine Streets for unique finds.

A few of favourite concept stores of mine were Anna & Nina, Charlie & Mary and Cotton Cake although it’s pretty difficult not to spend your whole travel budget inside them. 

The P.C. Hooftstraat is where you’ll find all of the designer stores so for a spot of window shopping on Amsterdam’s most exclusive street this is the place to come!

Amsterdam photo diary

Amsterdam would have to be one of my favourite European cities. I left the city with a firm knowledge that I would one day spend a year of my life fully discovering its cobbled streets and picnicking along every canal. There is simply far too much to squeeze into one weekend and I am already yearning to return to the places which I simply didn’t have time to uncover. It is bursting with adorably cute brunch spots and concept stores. I had no idea just how many hotspots there were nor just how cute they would be. I hope this photo diary gives you a little glimpse into this wonderfully diverse and liberal city which has stolen a piece of my heart. I’ll be publishing my Amsterdam guide very shortly as well.

Tulip fields

It always feels so satisfying ticking something off of your bucket list. And it seems to be that the longer that it’s been sitting on that list, the more satisfying it feels when you eventually come to do it. I had long wanted to visit the tulip fields in the Netherlands and the other day I had the opportunity to live out my Dutch dream and it was even better than I could have hoped. We skipped the manicured gardens of Keukenhof which seemed to be swarming with tourists and instead hired bikes to take in the tulips at our own pace. It was a magical day and it seemed that the sun came out just for us as the minute we stepped off the train the clouds started to dissipate and then soon returned when we later boarded the return train home. The tulips fields are so vibrant that it’s difficult not to continually smile when surrounded by such colour. They come in every hue, but undoubtedly the pink fields were my favourite. I felt so thankful the whole day; for the company of my wonderful friend, for the blue skies and for being able to cycle care-free. I always make sure to appreciate days when I don’t have a worry in the world as they seem very seldom nowadays.

Wearing wide-brimmed straw hat from J.Crew

Photos of me taken by Merrit Koek

Cape Verde

Cape Verde is an island off the coast of Africa, not far from the Gambia and Senegal. It’s often dubbed the African Caribbean and having been to quite a few of the Caribbean islands I can see why. With very little to do on the island, it’s the ideal place to unwind on the never-ending white beaches. Its still relatively untouched by tourism and therefore remains unspoiled. Life is simple there; their days revolve around catching fish, cutting it into portions and then either selling it to restaurants or taking it home to be cooked. Fish doesn’t much fresher than that. People sit on the pavements seemingly all day, sometimes socializing and sometimes sitting quietly and everyone seems to live by the mantra of ‘no stress’. There is something so attractive about their outlook to life where they prioritize their families over money, working hard to send money back to their native islands to feed their younger siblings. There is something to be learnt from their big hearts, if they can find happiness with so little, then why do we struggle to find happiness with so much?

All photos taken by me

Cape Verde photo diary

I just got back from a holiday to Cape Verde with my Mum and my brother and I’m already missing it. It was relatively uneventful, but it was always intended to be that way. I’m not usually a huge fan of such holidays that tend to revolve around the swimming pool, the beach and relaxing. I tend to be slightly more active and always seek adventure, being too fidgety to sit still in the name of relaxation. I’m of the mindset that you have to do as much as possible or else live in regret of not knowing what you missed out on. However that being said, it was surprisingly lovely to take some time to recuperate with the help of the sun, sea and good food. After working solidly for months now, it was just what I needed. My brother had us in fits of laughter the whole time as he usually does, sprits were high and it was great to spend some quality time together with my family. Our days started with fresh watermelon and oranges for breakfast and ended with a couple of beers watching the sunset over the beach. Of course it wasn’t solely sun bathing; we swam with sharks, snorkeled the glorious reefs and dived into rock pools; the Cape Verdean islands are not short of water activities. Of course visiting a new place always sparks a surge of wanderlust in me and I leave with a whole load of new locations to add to my bucket list. I left Cape Verde with a huge desire to visit more of mainland Africa and places such as Zanzibar, Kenya and Mozambique have rapidly shot to the top of my list. Also did you know that there is a naturally pink lake in Senegal? Take a look at lake Retba and tell me it doesn’t make you want to fly to Africa immediately.

The beach bag

Prior to my holiday to Cape Verde, which I’ll be sharing more of soon, I was in search of the perfect beach bag. The one that fits in all of the beach essentials yet still looks chic off the beach. When I came across J Crew’s summer collection it was love at first sight. The bag that I ordered could not have been more ideal, a soft buttery leather bag which retains it’s shape and comfortably looks after everything from my towel to my note book to my rose water. When I’m by the sea I always carry around this bottle of rose water which smells heavenly and keeps my skin hydrated, I purchased it in the most beautiful pharmacy Santa Maria Novella in Florence and it is the best I have ever used.

The Broken Arm

I first noticed the Broken Arm on the radar thanks to the delicious purple-ombre cheesecake on the menu. Word of this speciality began to spread quickly around Paris and it soon became known as Rachel’s cheesecake, due to the wonderful lady who created it. Cheesecake aside, the Broken Arm is a delightful cafe with a conscience for healthy eating and clean living. You can enjoy daily salads, green juices and thirst-quenching cucumber water on the outside street terrace dotted with potted plants.

12 Rue Perrée, 75003 Paris | Métro Temple | Open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-6pm

It’s worth mentioning that the famed creator of this cheesecake now has her own cafe dedicated to American delicacies; Rachel’s Pont aux Choux, which can be found around the corner from the Broken Arm.

The Best Gardens in Paris

 Paris is abundant in little gated squares, parks and tree-lined avenues, so you rarely get the feeling of being trapped in an urban jungle. Even so, even in a city with as much greenery as Paris, sometimes you seek wide-open spaces and luckily Paris has a mighty fine selection of these too. From the famous Tuileries gardens to the lesser-known Albert Kahn museum, I’ve curated a list of my favourite green spots, each of which is breathtakingly beautiful and unique to the next.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Located in the 6th arrondissement, the Jardin du Luxembourg is one of the prettiest gardens boasting the beautiful building of the Sénat, an orangery and the Medici fountain. The gardens come to life in spring when Frenchmen start their days early with a traditional game of boules and children drive the model sailboats in the water feature.

Tuileries

No garden is more quintessentially Parisian with its backdrop of renaissance architecture or more ideally situated. The Jardin des Tuileries is surrounded by some of the most iconic buildings in Paris, located in between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde with the Musée d’Orsay in sight. Every season breathes new life into the gardens; summer brings with it flowers of every shade and autumn brings burnt orange leaves scattered along the tree-lined promenades.

 

Albert Kahn

A little slice of foreign culture within the confines of the périphérique; the Albert Kahn museum will have you feeling as though you’ve been transported to Japan. Walk over oriental bridges that cross the pond where lotus flowers float and koi fish come to the surface for air. The best time of year is sakura season when the gardens are dotted in nature’s pink and white confetti from the cherry blossom trees.

 

Parc de Bagatelle

Not everyone knows that there’s a castle in the center of Paris and that is perhaps why the Chateau de Bagatelle remains one of Paris’ best-kept secrets. The chateau itself is rather sweet, but it’s the gardens that are the real attraction. Luscious grass rolls into manicured rose gardens that roll into established flowerbeds – these gardens really do have it all. Keep your eye out for the peacocks that roam the grounds showing off their glorious colours.

 

Buttes Chaumont

The main pull of this park is the outstanding views over the city that can be best enjoyed from Temple de la Sibylle, an Italianesque pagoda at the highest peak. The park is unique to any other as it is landscaped around jugged cliff faces with a lake and cascading waterfalls.

Parc Monceau

Parc Monceau has a palatial feel to it; enclosed by gold gates reminiscent of Versailles and overlooked by classic Haussmannian architecture. The park becomes very lively in the warmer months filled with Parisians enjoying their lunch break al fresco and seeking a little calm from the working day.

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris and the vintage lampposts and 17th century redbrick buildings which frame it wouldn’t have you believe anything else. A couple of minutes from the bustling Marais area, this is just the spot to enjoy one of the famous falafels that you’ll find along rue des Rosiers.

Les Serres d’Auteuil

This beautiful botanical garden is home to a selection of greenhouses with astounding collections of plants. One is dedicated to cacti with varying shapes and sizes of these prickly plants. Plant enthusiast or not though, this garden will please all of its visitors. Make sure not to miss the beautiful bird aviary in the central building.

L’arc de triomphe du carrousel

I remember when I very first saw the l’Arc du Carrousel, I was amazed yet confused at the same time. Why had I never seen a photo of it nor heard of it before? I’d been exposed continuously to the original Arc de Triomphe which paled in my eyes in comparison to this beautiful arch. To me it was a prettier, daintier version of the Arc de Triomphe, more modest and not as imposing. Whilst I understand the historical significance of the Arc de Triomphe, I still secretly prefer it’s little sister, the rose marbled Arc du Carrousel.