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  : )


LouLou meets...Flora Tonking

Flora LouLou meets...is branching out. I'm still going to be introducing you to lovely Parisian bloggers but I've also decided to connect with the wider blogging community and bring you some insight into other cities.

First up is the brilliant Flora from The Accidental Londoner. Here comes the back story: I came across Flora and her blog via Twitter in 2011 and remember very clearly the first post I read on her blog, The Man on the Platform, because I was so moved by her kindness and in awe of her ability to tell a story. I've been a dedicated reader ever since and was really touched when Flora emailed me two years ago in response to one of my posts (it was also a relief to know that it wasn't just my sister reading my blog!) We started an email correspondance and met for the first time last year when I was over in London. Since then, we've run a 10k together in Amsterdam (as well as a Prosecco yoga run in Battersea Park in t-shirts which were too small for us), shared many glasses of wine,  discussed our favourite Joy the Baker podcasts and had many conversations which have left me feeling inspired. I feel really lucky to call Flora a friend and I hope you have a blast getting to know her below - this girl is seriously awesome.

Hi Flora, why The Accidental Londoner?

Well, the short answer is I never planned on living in London. I ended up moving here more because the other options open to me were unappealing, rather than having a desire to live in London; I was finding life very slow and job prospects pretty unexciting in the Midlands...oh, and there was a break-up somewhere along the way, and a desire to be back amongst my university friends, many of whom had moved down to the city when we graduated.

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

One day in February 2009 it snowed. I couldn’t get in to work, so I went for a walk along the Thames and watched London taking a day off. I got the urge to write about it and after a little web-research and some name brainstorming the blog was born.

My experience of blogging in Paris thus far is a huge expat blogging community which is mostly separate from the French bloggers. What is your experience with the London blogging community?

This whole topic interests me, Lou, because despite us both being British bloggers, you are very much an expat blogger in Paris, whereas I am a ‘local’ blogger in London. So I wouldn’t claim to know much about expat networks in my city. But the impression I get is that there is a strong expat blogging community, and groups of people supporting one another, meeting up, and sharing ideas, out here. The largest sub-community I’m aware of is American expat bloggers - there seem to be lots of them over here! There seem to be lots of Antipodean bloggers about too.

That said, of the bloggers I’m in touch with and see, most are not originally from the UK. That’s actually one of the things I’ve loved about blogging - meeting people exploring the city like me, but each with their very different backgrounds.

Maybe (and this is entirely off the top of my head here!) because there’s not the same language barrier you guys have in France over here, there might appear to be less of a segregation between local and expat bloggers in London...


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 big city is that there will be things which are not so agreeable about it. Could you describe some positive (and negative) aspects of London life, based on your personal experience of the city? 

Oh man, yes, this! Cities are full of opportunities and challenges, and this means that life here can be amazing but also terrifying and frustrating. London doesn’t have the same reputation as Paris for being a place of romance and wonder, but I do think people have a particular vision of what ‘big city life’ is like. In reality it’s actually not unlike life anywhere else, but you have more options here; which can be both a good and a bad thing. You have more places to go for lunch, but also more things making demands on your time (and more places you can lose your belongings!). Oh, and London is a ridiculously expensive place to live. Insane. I’ve written about the rental market in particular on my blog, which is a good introduction to London’s crazy prices for any new or wannabe Londoner. That would definitely be one of my negative aspects about living here. Others are the grinding commute, the long work hours, and the unfriendly exterior of many of my fellow city-dwellers (and I know I can be pretty cross too when I’m having a bad day!). Positives are the wealth of opportunities and things to do which I’ve already mentioned, and the fact that London is a great jumping-off point for exploring the rest of the world. We have loads of train stations and airports, so if London gets you down...away you go!

London’s best-hidden secrets? 

Most of them lie outside of the central area so beloved by tourists! Hop on a tube or a bus, ride out to the outer limits of Zones 2 and 3, and they’re two-a-penny. London is  really an aggregation of tiny villages and neighbourhoods, each one with its own vibe and unique things to see and do. I’m a sucker for hidden community gardens and green spaces, which you often stumble across when you’re looking for somewhere else. The city is also rammed with museums that aren’t as well known about as the giants (the Natural History Museum, the V&A etc.) that you find in South Kensington; museums about toys, museums about zoology, even my favourite discovery, the Museum of Immigration which is hidden in an old townhouse in Spitalfields - it has an entire tiny synagogue built in its back yard. How cool is that?


You have 24 hours left in London before you move away. What would you choose to do? (Weather permitting of course, because as JB likes to point out whenever we visit, it’s always raining in London).

JB is a wise man. I would pack an umbrella before I set out…

I would spend my day walking and eating probably, and staying up in my own little patch of the city in North London. I’d start with breakfast in the little garden at my favourite neighbourhood cafe, Le Peche Mignon up near Highbury Corner. I’d then set off to Hampstead Heath to climb Parliament Hill for the finest view over the city (actually, I’d probably do that first thing in the morning to have an uninterrupted vista, before the tourists get up there!). I’d grab a coffee and maybe some cannoli from a cafe in Kentish Town, then head down onto the canal, and stride out east. I’d pop up somewhere along the towpath for yummy lunch in Dalston, then spend a sunny (fingers crossed!) afternoon strolling, snapping photos of houseboats and people watching. The day would be finished off with dinner somewhere fabulous - maybe MeatPeople in Angel where we always get a familiar welcome, a great negroni, and the greatest dauphinoise potatoes in the city!

I know you travelled a lot with your previous job. If you could move anywhere in the world for a career opportunity, where would you choose to go and why?

I would kill to work in New York City. It is my dream place to live (although working out there would be even busier than working in London, I think!). I have family there so it’s always felt a bit familiar. I just love the buzz of the place.

My professional life is focussed on people and cities, so as long as I’m in a big, bustling city I’ll be both happy and busy!


One thing on your bucket list?

My London bucket list? I’d love to have dinner up the Shard - just for the views out over the city.

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 am obsessed with that programme! I keep great episodes on my iPod to listen to again…#geek

- the book you’d choose to take with you, on top of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare 

‘The House of the Spirits’ by Isabel Allende (one of the first books I remember being unable to put down - an amazing Latin American family saga of love, magic and politics. Total bliss.)

- one luxury item

A Moleskine notebook that will never run out of new pages, and an never-ending stash of black Bic biros.

- one piece of music

‘Feel the Love’ by Rudimental. It’s the most played song on my iPod, and always puts a great big smile on my face.


Quick Fire questions

Favourite brunch spot? ‘Spoke’ at the top of the Holloway Road

Favourite cocktail bar? Bourne & Hollingsworth

Favourite park (for running)? Regents Park

Favourite market? New Covent Garden Flower Market

Favourite European destination? Rome (or Venice if you could guarantee all the tourists could be banished for a weekend…!)

Favourite touristy London activity? Mooching around Soho

Favourite museum? The V&A

A huge thank you to Flora for her wonderful answers. You can find her on Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram (the photos in this post belong to Flora). Why don't you go and say hello : )

Lou xxxx

coloured houses