Amsterdam

Cat Café in Amsterdam

I cannot believe I have only just found out about this… but this morning whilst reading tweets in bed (don’t judge me – it’s my day off – we all do it) I found out that THERE IS A CAT CAFÉ OPENING IN AMSTERDAM THIS MONTH!

Kopjes Amsterdam

Photo credit: Kattencafé Kopjes Facebook Page

Sorry for shouting. I am soooooo excited!!

I’ve seen cats in bars here in the Netherlands, well – I should say “a cat in a bar”, several times. But a whole café full of feline friends?? No siree!

It feels like an #onlyinHolland or should I say #onlyinAmsterdam kind of story, only it isn’t. After extensive research (Googling ‘cat cafe’) it turns out that these things already exist! Who knew?

There’s Café Miao in Copenhagen, Cat Town Cafe’s in Oakland, USA and others in Melbourne, Paris, Japan, NYC (of course) Seattle and San Diego. Ok, so I’m totally not with the programme…

BUT, this is the first in the Netherlands.

Crazy cat ladies rejoice!

If it wasn’t enough news that there’s a cat café opening in Amsterdam this month… even more exciting is the news that it was crowdfunded. Woah.

975 people joined the campaign raising a staggering €32.715!! (Source.)

Paris the Cat

Image credit: My Cat

So, what else do you need to know?

It’s called Kattencafé Kopjes and it opens its doors on 22nd April 2015 at 211 Marco Polostraat in Amsterdam.

You have to book in advance via their website.

There will be 8 cats in the café and only 20 visitors are allowed at a time.

Entry is €3 for a two hour slot.

The cats come from animal shelters Stichting Dierenleed and Dierenopvangcentrum Amsterdam. They cannot be adopted as it could be stressful for the animals to have a constant rotation of different cats.

More info on their Facebook & Twitter pages | Cat pictures: Instagram

Dus, ga je mee? 

So, are you coming?

Hayley x

Vier Porties Bitterballen, Graag – A weekend of gluttony

Four portions of bitterballen, please – Een weekend vol vraatzucht

Last weekend, we had friends over from England, so despite my suggestions of a day in Utrecht or Gouda, they were fixed on Amsterdam. No surprises there. So when in Amsterdam… do as the Amsterdammers do. We took them for bitterballen… and they were perhaps the best bitterballen I’ve tasted thus far!!!

Saturday (Valentine’s Day) 

We went to the SkyLounge at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Amsterdam (cor, that’s a mouthful!) because it’s close to the station and THE VIEW… oh, THE VIEW! Undoubtedly one of the best views in Amsterdam. My Dutch friend introduced me to this place last summer but told me I had to keep it a secret… however a) I asked her permission before posting this and b) if you Google ‘best views in Amsterdam’ it comes up anyway… so…

Yeah, the SkyLounge. (Other sky bars are available.)

This place is ultra-swanky, so when paying €8.50 for 6 bitterballen: they’d better be damn good! And that they were! Seriously posh bitterballen – they tasted homemade. So I’ll give them my highest score so far – 9.5/10 with half a point being deducted due to the price. (Ha! Look at me being all Dutch!)

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After devouring our borrelhapjes we set off towards Woo Brothers on Jodenbreestraat. We’ve been here once before for their Asian fusion food (with the same friend – her choice) and yet again, they didn’t disappoint. Here’s their sashimi platter, plus marinated oysters just to the right. Mmmmmmmmmm…

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I love that this place is full of locals and the tourists haven’t cottoned on yet. It’s quite young, hip and trendy (and I realise I sound completely old, unhip and untrendy just by saying that) and the prices reflect the outstanding quality of food. It’s not crazy-expensive, but it’s not cheap either. Here, you definitely get what you pay for.

We had to take an early dinner slot as it was Valentine’s day and they were fully booked after 7.15pm (unsurprisingly – so best to book in advance if you want to eat here). Food tips: the oysters, salt and pepper squid and the soft shelled crab are all finger-lickin’-good!

At the end of the evening – and I have no idea how they managed it – but my friends wanted to order a waffle, so we took them to Delicious on Nieuwmarkt square. Along with The Dutchie, they had a huge waffle, ice cream AND cream each. I didn’t take a photo as I might just have split my stomach in the process!!

Sunday (Tour d’amour)

We were back in the Dam again on Sunday for a Tour d’amour of the Rijksmuseum. A (Dutch) friend of ours is a tour guide, so this was her wedding gift to us. All together now: “ahhhhhhh”.

We went with the Dutchie’s family and some friends, 11 of us in total, and learnt about many of the lesser known paintings in the museum, all with the theme of love.

The tour ended with De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch). Not really about love, but you can’t go to the Rijksmuseum and not visit the most famous painting there, right?

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[Want to see more Rijksmuseum pics? Check out my Instagram account.]

Back to the food: we visited Cafe Loetje which is around a 5 min walk from the Rijksmuseum. (They have seven branches in total, the one we went to was on Johannes Vermeerstraat).

“Specialty steaks & classical Dutch dishes are served at this bustling cafe with a shaded terrace.” Right you are, Google.

So, what did we order? More bitterballen!!! 🙂 I feel full just looking at this picture…

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They look the same, but in fact: the bitterballen on the left are gewoon bitterballen (normal bitterballen) and the ones on the right are garnalen bitterballen (prawns!) In the middle you see vlammetjes! (Spicy ground beef enveloped in a little parcel and deep-fried.)

These bitterballen get 8/10. Love the flags, a really cute touch! But the colouring is too dark and they’re not round! 10/10 for taste though, especially the prawn bad boys!

After the sharing platter (which we shared with the whole table, not just us fatties), the Dutchie had a ‘Bali’ steak, served with a special hot sauce – this place is famous for its steaks, so it had to be done! I went for the slightly less adventurous Pastrami club sandwich. All in all: good grub, good service and the place had a really friendly atmosphere.

And, when the bill came? We went Dutch!! (Everyone paid their own bill.) What else? 😉

A weekend of pure gluttony. Oh… and this coming weekend I have another friend coming over from England! Eat, Sleep, Bitterballen, Repeat. Poor me, eh?

We’re probably going to try Brouwerij ‘t IJ but if you have any other ideas or inspiration, please let me know in the comments below! Thanks!

Hayley x

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I heart Amsterdam

We broke up. My (former) favourite city and I.

I didn’t fall out of love, it just became too difficult to maintain a long-distance relationship. Our love affair began in 2001, at University. We grew up together, formed a deep connection, an unbreakable bond… or so I thought. But then it was graduation and time to get a real job – I moved to Surrey. It was a sad farewell. We tried to make it work. I visited at weekends, whenever I could and we kept the sparkle going for longer than anyone expected… but as the years went on, we drifted further and further apart.

We had a good run, Brighton and I.

But things change, relationships move on, and you can only have one favourite city.

So, here’s the story of how Amsterdam wooed me…

Sex appeal || Street Art

You can go to the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum when it’s raining! If it’s not – walk. Amsterdam is a piece of art in itself!

The architecture, the canals, the people, the Street Art. Spend a day walking around Amsterdam and you’ll learn just how damn sexy it is. And I’m not even talking about the red light district!! Walk the entire length of the Prinsengracht  (one of Amsterdam’s three main canals) and you’ll experience countless pieces of modern art. Thought provoking, fun and above all: brand spanking new! These talented artists see a bit of blank wall or a garage front and create masterpieces. Not so great if you happen to own that garage or piece of wall, but hey, it’s all in the name of art.

Street Art, Prinsengracht, Amsterdam

Street Art, Prinsengracht, Amsterdam

One of my favourite pieces (pictured) can be found just 300m away from Anne Frank’s House. As you can *just* see, it’s number 185 on Prinsengracht. (Fingers crossed it’s still there!) This particular piece has suffered a bit of graffiti, but then again, what is graffiti and what is art?

If you’re really into it, you can even go on a Alltournative (ha ha!) Street Art and Graffiti Walking Tour.

Sense of humour || King’s Day 

Amsterdam isn’t afraid to be playful or to take the piss out of itself. The best day of the year to visit Amsterdam? 27th April. Without a doubt! On Koningsdag or King’s Day, aka Europe’s biggest street party, the whole city turns orange, otherwise known as oranjegekte (orange crazy). Yep, that’s right – lots of people will be dressed head-to-toe in orange! The sillier the better! Even the more modest people will bring / wear / buy at least something orange. Some people even dress their pets in the colour. Seriously.

The whole of the Netherlands is a massive party on this day, but nowhere more than in Amsterdam! The main roads are closed off to cars and trams so that crowds can party in the streets and there’s live music, LOTS of booze and an electric atmosphere wherever you go! You could even call it gezellig! 😉

To add another level of craziness, the whole city turns into an open air flea market for the day. Time to get rid of some old tat, or let the kids test their budding entrepreneurial skills!

Kings Day 2014

A typical King’s Day outfit

The biggest and most atmospheric vrijmarkt  (free market) is in Vondelpark. Can’t visit for King’s Day on 27th April? There’s a flea market on Waterlooplein 6 days a week. Buy some crazy orange stuff ready for next year!

The other amazing thing about King’s Day (even despite the date being moved – it was formerly Queen’s Day on 30th April) is that the sun always shines!! Now, I don’t want to jinx it… so work with me please, weather gods, but the last five King/Queen’s days have benefited from glorious weather, making it even more gezellig! (If that’s even possible!)

Good teeth || Food 

The third and probably most attractive quality of Amsterdam is the food. It’s a real food lovers paradise!

The Netherlands doesn’t have the best reputation for its grub, but in Amsterdam you’ll find culinary delights to suit every taste and budget! To try some traditional borrelhapjes (borrel  is drink and hapjes is small bites – so snacks to accompany an alcoholic drink) head to Nieuwmarkt. My absolute favourite area of Amsterdam!

Here you’ll find tons of cafes and kroegen (pubs) serving:

  • oude kaas (‘old’ mature cheese)
  • leverworst (liver sausage)
  • kaasstengels (literally: cheese sticks) or kaassoufflés (both based on deep-fried cheese) 
  • vlammetjes (spicy ground beef enveloped in a little parcel and deep-fried)
  • and of course bitterballen!! (Yup, you read the name of the blog, right?)

My favourite places to go are Gewaeght Cafe, Cafe Del Mondo and Cotton Club. The latter only serves drinks, but be sure to check out the toilets which are floor to ceiling tegeltjeswijsheid (Dutch wisdom tiles) very traditional and very funny!

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Looking for something more sophisticated? Try Woo Brothers at Jodenbreestraat 144. (They don’t have a website because they are TOO COOL and they don’t need to!) Asian food at its absolute best.

Oh, and don’t even *think* of leaving the country until you’ve tried patatje mayo (chips with mayonnaise). Get them from a street vendor; they’ll come in a cone, drowned in mayonnaise! Lekker!

What’s your favourite thing about Amsterdam? Or, if you haven’t been yet, what are you most looking forward to checking out?

Hayley x

A Day of Mourning

Today’s post will be short one, because at 16.00 local time (it’s currently 15.15), there will be a minute’s silence for MH17. The first plane bringing home the Malaysian Airlines victims is expected to arrive in the Netherlands today at that time (at an airbase in Eindhoven), and it is officially a national day of mourning. In addition to the one minute of silence, flags are flying at half mast and a “Silent March” is taking place in Amsterdam at 20.00, departing from Dam Square.

Flags at half mast

Flags at half mast

I would also like to share another link with you: a powerful and eloquent speech by Frans Timmermans (Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs) to the UN Security Council.

Hayley x

Having visitors means… Going to Amsterdam!

When you have visitors to The Netherlands, you have to go to Amsterdam… right? I love it! The perfect excuse to visit this beautiful city again and again! My best friend came to stay at the weekend and it was wonderful to be able to give her a guided tour.

Like any tourist, top of her list was a visit to Anne Frank’s House. I had warned her that the queue may take a couple of hours – as we hadn’t been organised enough to book (months) in advance – but when we arrived there around 11am it was even a surprise for me! RIDICULOUS!! The queue was so long we couldn’t even see the end of it!! Must have been at least a 4-5 hour wait… so thankfully, it was off the cards. Instead, we did what I love to do best: rondlopen.

I’m a total street art geek, so it’s my idea of heaven…

Street Art vlakbij Anne Frank's Huis (Street Art near Anne Franks House)

Street Art vlakbij Anne Frank’s Huis (Street Art near Anne Frank’s House)

If, like us, you get caught out by the queues at AFH… worry not, there’s plenty in the area to keep you entertained! Her house is located on the famous Prinsengracht (Prince canal!) which has tons of cafes, bars and shops… as if the beautiful canal itself wasn’t enough! 😉

Cheese Museum, Amsterdam

Cheese “Museum” – it’s basically a shop, but I’m not complaining! It’s a good shop!  And next door is the Tulip “Museum”…

Tulip Museum

Tulip Museum

Did I mention it’s a great street for tourists? 😉

When in Rome...

When in Rome…

Tourist shop

Tourist shop

A great little shop for souvenirs (opposite Anne Frank’s House) and not too over-priced. They have everything from magnets and mugs, to stroopwafels and clogs!

And did I tell you about the Street Art in Amsterdam…? Keep your eyes peeled, it’s lurking around every corner!

Street Art, Prinsengracht

Street Art, Prinsengracht

Penguins, Amsterdam

Penguins on Prinsengracht, Amsterdam

Ok, not technically street art… this is actually the window of a Nursery, but still kinda cool…

Nursery window

Nursery window

More Street Art Amssterdam

Once we’d done Prinsengracht to death, we pretty much did a full lap of central Amsterdam. I’ve been to the city 15+ times, but I’ve never seen as much as I did on this particular trip!! Props to my best friend, she was the perfect partner to explore with – enthusiastic, full of energy and despite only being 5′ 2″ she kept up with my long legs all day.

Canals, canals and more canals… aren’t they beautiful?

Canals, Amsterdam

Oudkerksbrug

Oudkerksbrug, Amsterdam

I found out after taking the picture that the first boat on the right actually belongs to a friend of ours! Where was he when we needed a canal tour, huh?? 😉

Oudkerksbrug, Amsterdam

#nofilter

#nofilter

We also had to visit Museumplein, of course…

Van Gogh Museum

Outside the Van Gogh Museum, with bikes in shot… naturally!

And the famous I amsterdam letters!

iamsterdam

Iamsterdam letters, located on Museumplein

And what outing would be complete without the best Dutch delicacy known to (wo)man???

Bitterballen at Cafe del Mondo, Amsterdam

Bitterballen at Cafe del Mondo, Amsterdam

My friend loved them (I’m yet to find a meat-eater who doesn’t, actually!)… and I’d give Cafe del Mondo (Nieuwmarkt) a very respectable 9/10 for their near-perfect plate of bitterballen. A minus point because they weren’t perfectly round and the rocket on the side was slightly sad looking 😉

Amsterdam… ik hou van jou. (Amsterdam… I love you.)

Hayley x

 

Being Dutch – Part 6: Koningsdag!! (King’s Day)

I simply love Queen’s Day King’s Day (Dammit! I keep doing that!) aka Europe’s biggest street party!

King’s Day (formerly Queen’s Day) is my favourite Dutch holiday and this year I just happen to live here, so it’s double spannend!

Queen's Day 2011

Queen’s Day 2011

A little bit of history:

King’s Day celebrates the birthday of the King, Willem-Alexander and is to be held annually on the 27th of April (or the 26th if the 27th falls on a Sunday – like this year). 2014 is the first ever King’s Day in the Netherlands. Formerly Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), last year saw the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander on 30th April 2013 – the last Queen’s Day following the abdication of Queen Beatrix. (Full story.)

So now, it’s ALL about the King!

Apart from the name change, I’m expecting the same level of enthusiasm, atmosphere and celebration in Amsterdam as the past 3 years I’ve attended!

So what happens on King’s Day?

Basically everyone goes oranje gekte (orange crazy) … lots of people will be dressed head-to-toe in orange! Even the more modest will wear at least something orange. Some people even dress their pets in the colour. Seriously.

It’s all a show of pride for the Dutch Royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau… and man are they proud!!

Our King's Day accessories box.

Our King’s Day accessories box. Every Dutchie I know has their own collection of orange memorabilia for special occasions.

The whole of the Netherlands is a massive party on this day, but nowhere more than in Amsterdam! The main roads are closed off to cars and trams so that crowds can party in the streets and there’s live music, LOTS of booze and an electric atmosphere wherever you go!  You could even call it gezellig! 😉

What should I bring?

In addition to your orange get-up:

1. Loose change. Make sure you have plenty of loose change as many toilet facilities charge between 50 cents – 1 euro to use their powder room on King’s Day.

2. Comfy footwear. You will do a lot of walking and/or dancing – so wear comfortable shoes!!

3. Beverages (and money for more beverages!) Strictly speaking, you must not carry more than one alcoholic drink with you but I have never seen this enforced.

4. Camera. You will obviously need a camera to take #selfies of you and your mates having an awesome time (yes, I am taking the piss)… I am way too old for selfies or hash tagging.

5. Phone = pointless unless used for number 4.  You can try to use your phone… but it won’t work. Generally the networks are as crazy as the parties on King’s Day.

What can I expect to see / do?

Well that’s up to you of course! There’s plenty, believe me!  Just walk around and you’ll find parties of all sizes and description, live music, fun attractions, games and general drinking and merriment. 

Vrijmarkt: If you want to buy some old tat, or just soak up a great atmosphere, head for Vondelpark. Special rules on King’s Day mean that anyone can sell their second-hand things on the streets and in parks, thus turning the city into a vrijmarkt (free market)! Anyone can take part, so there’s a load of old junk on offer! Vondelpark is swarming with children selling their wares. There’s a buzzing atmosphere in the park, with singing, dancing and children-turned-street performers for the day! There are also a wide variety of stalls and games, from wet-sponge throwing to funfair style games.

Looking in a box cost me 50 cents...

Looking in a box cost me 50 cents…

Parties: there are parties all over the city, ranging from small bars with live music acts, to huge organised events (for these you’ll need to buy tickets in advance). Visit iamsterdam for details.

Personally, we just prefer to bar crawl, that way you get to see more of the city and check out various venues before making your choice. A firm favourite of ours is the Kashmir Lounge bar on Jan Pieter Heijestraat with it’s relaxed vibe.

Go around the party please.

Go around the party please.

Canals: The canals are absolutely heaving on King’s Day, you will probably only see a sea of orange rather than any actual water. It’s all in good fun though and a sight not-to-be-missed. If you’re lucky enough to know someone with a boat, take a boat ride after 8-9pm… the lightweights have drunk too much and will have headed home by then, so it’s much less busy 😉

Maybe see you there. I’ll be the one with the gold tiara, orange jumpsuit and a bottle of orange fizz!

Hayley x

Een middag in Amsterdam

Following a glorious New Year’s Eve on a rooftop in Amsterdam and a well-needed hangover day on the 1st January (zzzzz until the afternoon, short walk, pizza, darts on TV and early to bed) … on the 2nd it was time to embrace the world again and step out into the city! The Dutchie and I first headed to Waterlooplein to check out the market stalls and see if we could grab ourselves a bargain. If you’ve read about me you’ll know I’m we’re getting married in August, so we’re currently on the hunt for wedding paraphernalia! After that was a general wander around the area: soaking up the atmosphere, taking a photo or two and street-art spotting!

Street Art near Waterlooplein, Amsterdam

Street Art near Waterlooplein, Amsterdam

Alas, not much weddingy stuff to be found – but we did buy a Delfts Blauw (Delft blue) style souvenir… a Dutch boy and girl kissing. The ultimate, naff, cheese-with-extra-mature-cheddar-on-top… but it had to be done!

"Delfts Blauw" style souvenirs, Waterlooplein, Amsterdam

“Delfts Blauw” style souvenirs, Waterlooplein, Amsterdam

Next was a quick stop at Café de Sluyswacht which according to their website is “one of the cutest spots on the famous canals of Amsterdam”. I can’t help but agree!  This historical little building used to be a lock-house (Sluyswachterhuisje) and was built in 1695. It is located in Amsterdam’s former Jewish Quarter and was one of the (lucky) few buildings in the area to survive WW2. Wonky, wonderful… and well worth a visit!

Café de Sluyswacht

Café de Sluyswacht

The Amsterdam canals are simply stunning. I could walk around them all day. Dubbed “Venice of the North”, they’re a must-see for tourists. *Sigh* If only I could have taken a better photo…

Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam canals

Before heading back I managed to snap a quick shot of the spire of Zuiderkerk (Southern Church). It was built between 1603 and 1611, with the spire being finished in 1614. The outstanding architecture in Amsterdam Renaissance style is by Hendrick de Keyser, who was also buried in the church in 1621.

Zuiderkerk, Amsterdam

Zuiderkerk, Amsterdam

A tiny, tiny glimpse of Amsterdam – and that’s the great thing about this city – it just makes you want to come back again and again!

Hayley x

Being Dutch – Part 1: Top 2000

As part of my integration into the culture, I try and do as many “Dutch” things as possible. In the past this has included, but is not limited to: eating raw haring (herring), dressing head to toe in orange for Koninginnedag (Queen’s day now King’s Day!), cooking mini meat products on a bakplaat (hot plate for cooking things ON the table! Weird! Also known as gourmettensee photo below), kissing strangers on the cheek 3 times, attending Dutch circle parties and enjoying a canal boat ride or twenty.

However, Top 2000 is without a doubt one of  my favourite things about the Netherlands. Each year, one of the biggest radio stations, Radio 2, opens its website for stemmen (voting) for just one week and you have to choose your top 15 all-time songs from their list… plus 5 songs of your own choice. (Voting closes this Friday, 6th December, so if you’re quick you can still vote now.)

Then on 25th December at midday they begin the Top 2000. Yes, the station literally plays 2000 songs, as chosen by the public… non-stop all the way until midnight on 31st December!!! Since it started running in 1999, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen has been number 1 twelve times, beaten only by Hotel California by the Eagles in 2010 and by Dutch legend, Boudewijn de Groot with Avond in 2005.

What better driving music is there?

What better driving music is there?

The Dutchie and I are HUGE music fans, so it’s a very exciting time for us! From the excitement of voting, to actually hearing the first song on Christmas Day to find out which songs only *just* made the cut! There’s always a huge pull-out sheet in the newspaper to tell you what date and time the songs are on and quite often over the past 5 years we have left the radio on at night or set and alarm just to listen to one of our favourite songs. Yes – we can listen to that song any time, but this is different, this is the Top 2000!

Of course there are always people moaning because their favourite song/band is missing from the list, but I try to look on the positive side and just make the best out of what IS there. We would never have anything like this in the UK, so I have to make the most of it! Last year a Facebook group was formed to get SLAYER in the Top 2000 (much like the campaign to make Rage Against the Machine number one in the UK) anyway, it worked and SLAYER Angel of Death was number 199 in 2012! We stayed up until 5.30am at a party to celebrate and listen to it being played among ABBA and Sting! Very surreal!

Slayer and a grillplaats (Gril/hot plate) all in one!

Slayer and a bakplaat all in one!

Following 6 days solid of pure music pleasure… the magic really kicks in on New Years Eve when you get to the pointy end of the chart and into the Top 100 or so. Some personal highlights from last year were:

Alice Cooper – Halo Of Flies (number 167)
Neil Young – Like A Hurricane (no. 146)
Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights (no. 144)
Radiohead – Creep (no. 116)
Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (no. 97)
The Cure – A Forest (no. 42)
Billy Joel – Piano Man (no. 36)

… you get the idea, it’s TUNE after tune! (Unfortunately “our song”: Roxy Music – If There Is Something only ends up being around the 1000 mark every year… such a shame. Amazing song, it really takes you on a journey. Totally underrated!)

Anyway, the best is yet to come… New Years eve is of course fantastic wherever you are.

BUT…

If you are standing on a roof terrace in Amsterdam with your best friends in the world, listening to the Top 2000 whilst fireworks are going off all around the city and you have a 360° panoramic view… well, then it’s just EPIC!! I can safely say that belting out Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of my lungs, champagne in hand, in Holland’s capital was one of the best nights of my life, EVER. I think I even shed a little tear. So thanks, Top 2000, ik hou van jou.

Hayley x