LouLou meets...Ali Ronca

Bike RiddingWelcome to the latest edition of LouLou meets...This is a first for me in the series - I haven't actually ever met Ali in person. We were both chosen as part of the Radisson Blu 2014 Ambassador programme, and I was instantly a huge fan of Ali's blog Pressed Words. I find both her photography and writing are of a consistently high standard and was delighted when she agreed to be a part of the series. Ali has had a rough 2014, it isn't my story to tell and she shares it so beautifully here, but her attitude in the aftermath has shown her to be one tough cookie who is determined to create happiness in her daily life - for this she has my ultimate respect. Settle down for a cracking read about expat life in Amsterdam.

Hi Ali, why Pressed Words?

I used to follow a tumblr account called ‘anicelittle.tumblr.com’, and I really liked how the domain name was incorporated into the URL. When I decided to use Wordpress as a blogging platform, I chose to do the same. And thus pressedwordsat.wordpress.com was born! I’ve actually been considering a name change soon – something more unique to me and the blog, but we shall see :)

What was your motivation for starting the blog and what does it mean to you now compared to back then? 

When I first moved to Europe, I would send family e-mail and photo updates quite often. One for my grandparents, one for my sisters, one for my parents and one for all of my friends. After two years of individual e-mails and many, many photo attachments later, I decided it would be easier to start a blog – everything in one place for everyone to enjoy! I also suck at printing photos and maintaining albums so blogging helps me keep all of my photo memories in one place. Now, Pressed Words feels like a home. If I’m having a bad day, I can vent and get lots of virtual hugs. I’ve made a lot of great friends through blogging and love the community aspect – something I never imagined coming to life in the beginning.

Can you explain to us what your work is in Amsterdam and how you got there?

By day I’m an Account Manager at an advertising agency called Sid Lee. We make ads for Microsoft, Absolut Vodka, Red Bull, and Coke. It’s a great place to work – we have breakfast together every Monday, and cocktails together in the office every Friday – the drinking culture tends to get a little crazy when you have a vodka client! The office is right by Westerpark and is absolutely stunning – we have a huge indoor moss wall, our bathrooms are called ‘my precious’ and are in a two story gold cube, and there’s a massive wigwam wall with hidden workspaces and revolving walls. Sid Lee is a sweet place to work and advertising culture in general is awesome.

I initially moved to Amsterdam to be with my partner, but now I’m on my own and loving Amsterdam all the more – it feels like home, and I’m choosing to be here simply because I love it!

Houses in Amsterdam

My experience of blogging in Paris is a huge expat blogging community which, for the most part, is separate from the French bloggers. What is your experience with the Amsterdam blogging community?

It’s funny – most of the bloggers I have met are also expats. Sometimes I am invited to local shop openings or gallery events, and I encounter a lot of bloggers who are native to Amsterdam. Almost everyone speaks English in Amsterdam, so communication is not an issue, but often I don’t stumble upon blogs that are written in Dutch simply because I’m not using Google in Dutch! So I would say that yes, there is a divide, and the majority of my blogging buddies are expats as well.

I think a lot of people have this very romantic idea of what it would be like to live in Paris. But the reality of living in any city is that there will be things which are not so agreeable about it. Could you describe some positive (and negative) aspects of Amsterdam life, based on your personal experience of the city? 

I am a huge advocate of living in Amsterdam. It’s the most adorable city – the canals, historic architecture, and bikes give it so much life and charm! Life is very simple in Amsterdam and sometimes it’s compared to a village. You can bike anywhere in the city in less than 20 minutes, it’s a very safe place to live, there are artisan shops and farmer’s stands on almost every corner, and Dutch men come with their own unique charm ;) Negative aspects are hard to think of. The housing situation is not great – finding a good apartment at a decent price can take a few months of hunting. The food scene is a bit bleak, and it’s hard to get a ‘blow your socks off meal’ in this city, especially at breakfast. Thankfully Belgium and France are only a stone’s throw away. And the weather in Amsterdam is not ideal. It’s only really summer for a month or so, and the rest of the year is usually quite neutral and dreary. However, I once had a friend say that the cool weather keeps all of the douchebags away ( you know the beefy, topless bros who thrive on an orange tan and the materialistic valley girls?) and at the risk of being controversial I somewhat agree ;)

Amsterdam’s best-hidden secrets? 

Bike to Durgerdam in the north. It’s an adorable fishing village and there are scenic harbours and windmills along the way. Check out the national rail website for some greatly discounted city trips – you can often get a hotel and two round trip train tickets to a cute Dutch city for €90. Visit in November and time your trip with Museumnacht (Amsterdam Museum Night). All museums in the city can be accessed with one €15 ticket, and are open from 7pm till 2am.

Scandanavian Embasy Coffee

You have 24 hours left in Amsterdam before you move away. What would you choose to do? 

10am: Rent a boat and cruise through the canals with friends Noon: Dock at the Brouwerij 't IJ (an awesome brewery beside a windmill) and drink some Dutch beer in the sun 2pm: Go to  Trust in de Pijp for lunch (raw pad Thai salad is a must) 3pm: Lie in the grass outside at  Museumplein and watch the clouds float by 4pm: Take one last quick stroll through the Rijks 6pm: Enjoy a fancy four-course dinner at  Marius, followed by cocktails at  Mystique Midnight: End the evening with a cheeky nightcap in de Pijp 8am: Squeeze in one last breakfast at either Little Collins or Bakers & Roasters.

I remember the moment when I felt like Paris was my home. Do you have that feeling about Amsterdam and when did it happen for you?

My love for Amsterdam happened over time. When I first moved here, I thought it would only be for a year, maybe two years max. However, I’ve slowly been pulled in and now can’t imagine finding life this lovely anywhere else. The next city I move to will have to have bike paths, a great array of culture, shops where the weekly grocery bill comes to €30, great health and wellness benefits, beautiful architecture, easy weekend escapes, and awesome people. I feel really lucky to live where I do, and the thought of leaving or calling somewhere else home is a hard concept to grasp.

One thing on your bucket list?

Can I name three? :) A weekend in Maastricht. Dinner at de Goudfazant (I’ve only been for drinks but the food looked fantastic). Cocktails at the Double Tree Hotel (you can see the whole city from their rooftop bar).

I’ve been listening to the BBC4 Desert Island Disc podcasts recently. So, in the very unlikely scenario of you being sent to a desert island, please tell us: 

I love this question!

- the book you’d choose to take with you; Any book with a shirtless man on the cover. Trashy romance novels are my favourite beach reads :)

- one luxury item; My camera*. *The camera would have to have unlimited battery life ;)

- one piece of music; Dancing On My Own by Robin. I guess if I’m going to be on a deserted island by myself, it makes sense to have some hanging out by myself pump up music!

- one social media application you would like to keep; Facebook. I use Facebook to stay in touch with my really close friends and family – even my Gramma is on Facebook!

Sunset in Amsterdam

Quick Fire questions

Favourite brunch spot? Little Collins. I can never decide between the pork belly, the coconut crumbled French toast, or the corn and coriander fritters. And their fresh rhubarb Bellini is a must!

Favourite cocktail bar?  Mystique Amsterdam. Slide into the couch in the back, and ask the mixologist for a surprise creation – you will not be disappointed!  

Favourite park? If I were going to spend an afternoon in a park, I would pick Amsterdam Bos. They have an adorable baby goat farm that is my all-time Amsterdam happy place.

Favourite market? Albert Cyup market. Can’t beat 20 sunflowers for €5, fresh pressed stroopwafels, or farm stand steals !

Favourite European destination? Oh so hard !! I think I’m still trying to discover Europe. I’m going to say Italy, but that encompases all of Tuscany, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast.

Favourite touristy Amsterdam activity? Museum hopping, boating in the canals.

Favourite museum? The Rijks. Van Gogh is a close second.

Just outside Amsterdam

Many thanks to the lovely Ali for her time and the photos which accompany the post. Go and say hello to her on Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter  : )