Thursday, August 27, 2009
"I need you to do me a favor," he said. "Check how many bags Transavia (the Dutch lowcost airline) allows you to take."
"What? I thought we were going to Bloemendaal (a Dutch beach)" I am so confused.
I hear his co-workers laughing in the background, obviously in on the surprise.
"Just pack accordingly..." he says. According to what?!
"Is it hot where we're going?" I had just finished packing for Bloemendaal, meaning that I checked the weather forecast and was bringing tons of layers in anticipation for cool nights and rainy days.
"Yes, it's going to be very hot where we're going, so pack accordingly."
Ok, I am SO confused now! I literally have no idea where we're going, but it sounds amazing...
I've never been so surprised in my entire life, and as someone who likes to take control of situations, I am really flustered about all of this (in a good way, I really do love surprises!) So with that, I'm off to haul out our big suitcases from the garage and get packing my tropical summery clothing!!!
I'll let you all know where he ended up whisking me off to when we return!
Last night, Gabriel told me to start packing my suitcases. For what? We have no plans to travel anywhere, we're going to a fabulous restaurant for Dutch Restaurant Week, and its my birthday weekend...
Apparently my amazing boyfriend decided to surprise me by taking a 5 day long vacation from work, and is whisking me off to a beach house for my birthday! He has something up his sleeve that he's not telling me...such as why we need to be on the beach at 7 am for a mystery activity...hmm...
I am so incredibly lucky to be his girlfriend. After almost four years together, he still surprises me. I had no clue he was planning something, that sneaky one!
So for the next five days, I will be off at some beach, somewhere, enjoying some rest and relaxation :) I have strict orders to leave the laptop in Amsterdam, so no blogging until Wednesday! Enjoy your last August weekend!
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
1. Thickly woven chunky sweaters in neutral colours: cream, beige, chocolate, grey
2. Leather bomber jackets in brown, grey, and black leather
3. Tall knee-high equestrian boots in black, brown, and grey leather
4. Hints of fur and feathers in purses and jackets
5. Thick long scarves wrapped twice around
6. Skinny jeans, both dark and light, and slighty ripped or faded
7. Fringe on boots, bags, and jackets
8. Plaid shirts
9. Oversized men's shirts in silky or denim fabrics
10. Vintage graphic tees
11. Embellished bib necklaces
12. Soft pinks, taupes, and blushes
13. Sharp black blazers embellished with studs, zippers, or cuffs
14. Sequined mini skirts or cocktail dresses
15. Large leather carry-all bags
Are these similar to styles found in North America for fall? (I've been away so long I have no idea what people are wearing back at home!) My favourites are the cozy sweaters, a pair of comfortable jeans, a brown leather bomber jacket, a knit scarf, and some tall riding boots.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Don’t you just love seeing cafes’ chalkboards outside their doors, scrawled with the daily specials? Almost every cafe or restaurant in Amsterdam has a chalkboard outside, either detailing their entire menu, or just a few choice selections.
In Amsterdam, you really must visit a “bruin cafe” (brown cafe). These are cafes found on most corners or lower levels of canal homes, and usually only have seating for roughly 30 people. They’re called “bruin cafes” because of the brown smoke-stained walls and the dark wooden furniture found inside.
I love cozying up at a “bruin cafe” for a cappuccino and appeltaart (apple cake). There are always thick wooden tables with huge dripping candles and stacks of beer coasters. Some cafes even have shelves filled with board games, cards, and checker/chess boards.
The best part? No one will ever shoo you away. You can stay as long as you like in a bruin cafe, sipping coffee for hours, talking and playing a cozy game while the rain pours down outside. Just don’t make the mistake of calling them “coffee shops”…here in Amsterdam, a “cafe” refers to a place to eat and drink, while a “coffee shop” refers to a place to smoke marijuana and drink. Big difference, and often easily confused by visiting people!
Monday, August 24, 2009
Let’s take a trip to the market, shall we?
It’s been a while since I last posted about my trips to the market. Not to worry, I’ve still been frequenting it almost every day, although in the summer it’s so busy that I try to go early or just at closing.
The saturated colours, smells, and sounds of the Albert Cuyp will forever remind me of Amsterdam. There is nothing I like more than filling up my bags with fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, and cheese, before tucking a bouquet of flowers under my arm and making the short walk home.
You can always pick out people visiting Amsterdam. A purse with a strap across the body, to protect against muggings. A money-belt popping out of a shirt. A man wearing a backpack on his front.
When I first visited Europe, my Dad warned me against pick-pockets and instilled in me the lessons of keeping your purse zipped and under your arm at all times. I obeyed, and guarded my little Nikon camera with fervor. However, after living here for a year, I must admit that my safety measures have become a bit more lax.
I carry my purse around, always aware of the zipper being closed and in front of my body, especially in crowded areas like the market or the tram. However, I don't fret constantly and generally feel very safe in Amsterdam. There are signs advertising pick-pockets and reminding people to watch their wallets/purses. However, I've never seen any problems related to thieves. It happens, of course, especially in areas like the Red Light District and crowded tourist areas. Tourists, I've found, are easy targets. Walking around staring up at the canal homes, oblivious to their surroundings, with a thick wallet bulging out of their back pockets.
When you visit Amsterdam, pick-pockets are the number one safety concern you should have.
Yesterday, Gabriel and I visited the American Book Store. With fresh reading material we settled into a little terrace on the Prinsengracht to read and enjoy some freshly squeezed orange juice. My leather purse, containing my wallet, Gabriel's wallet and phone, and all of our identification was sitting at my feet. We were hardly in a tourist area of town, just outside of it actually. The area was not very busy, and we were right near the edge of the canal, the street at our backs. When I sat down, I put my bag so that it was touching my ankles, aware of it at all times. I really didn't think I had anything to worry about, however, since I was with my boyfriend in a residential area of the city.
Engrossed in our books, I suddenly got a strange feeling when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a man walking quickly up behind me. Headed for us (there was no where else for him to be going besides into the canal!), he walked with purpose and an anxious spring in his step. I turned around a split second before he reached us, his eyes fixed on my purse, and in an instant I had kicked my purse into my hands and was turning around to face the man, who was actually no older than 15 years old.
He quickly got the "deer-in-the-headlights" expression on his face and changed paths abruptly, headed down the street again and anxiously looking over his shoulder at his friend, who was eying me and my purse with a creepy intensity, unwilling to walk away so easily. He kind of lingered there, as if wondering if he could snatch it still and run away. I was shaking, speechless, and unable to tell Gabriel what happened for a few seconds afterwards.
"Gabriel! Those two boys..." I said, pointing as they quickly jumped onto a tram and sped away, likely to find a new purse to snatch. "They were trying to steal my purse!"
"What?" He had no idea. The exchange between me and the boys took less than a minute, but I knew instantly what they were after, and my entire body was shaking with fright at what could've happened.
Thankfully, nothing did happen. Everything was fine. In fact, it may serve to be a reminder to me to be a bit more aware of my belongings, even though I believe that I've been hyper-sensitive, perhaps paranoid at times, to this sort of thing.
So there you have it. When in Amsterdam, do pay attention to the many warnings of pickpockets and muggers. It does happen, and obviously can happen to anyone, anywhere. It's not like they are running rampant through the streets, but a little extra caution can go a long way.
Some safe tips:
1. Keep your purse tucked under your arm when walking around, or towards the front of your body.
2. Always keep it zipped, with the zipper on the front side of your body (otherwise they can easily just zip it open and grab something from the back).
3. For men, keep your wallet in a zippered or buttoned pocket, also on the front of your body.
4. Dont' bring all of your money/ ID cards out with you. Use hotel safes or keep them in alternate pockets if necessary.
5. Be aware of what's around you at all times, and be aware of where your belongings are.
6. In Amsterdam, there are specific problems at outdoor terraces. While enjoying a nice meal or coffee, with your purse at your feet, many items get stolen when people aren't paying attention.
7. Be careful in busy areas like markets, on public transportation, and busy shopping streets. In Amsterdam the worst places typically are the Kalverstraat, the Dam Square, and the Red Light District.
Friday, August 21, 2009
I have a confession to make. Pigeons hate me. I'm not sure why, but these omnipresent birds are always on the hunt for me.
My dislike of pigeons began when, a few years ago, my friend Yvonne told me the story of a pigeon scraping its talons through her hair on the way to her work. She was so upset by this that she immediately turned around and went home to take a shower. Since hearing that story, I have been creeped out by all pigeons I encounter.
Of course, living in any European city, there are an abundance of pigeons everywhere, especially in open squares. Whenever I go out, whether alone or with a group of people, I am always a target of pigeon attacks. Seriously! They fly right for my head, swiftly moving at the last second....sometimes they don't move, and I have to duck and scream!
It's become so much of a joke now that I've just accepted that it's bound to happen. For instance, last week Gabriel and I were sitting at Ijscuypje, enjoying a late evening ice cream cone, when a pigeon flew right at my head, before turning upwards and pooping on my foot. My bare foot in a sandal. I was so incredibly disgusted, and generated lots of good-natured laughs from the Dutchies around me. In my state of horror and shock, all Gabriel could muster was, "meh, ahh well, just wipe it off..." What?!?! I wanted to go home and dip my foot into bleach.
Today, my pigeon-dodging reached an all-time high. Laden with grocery bags from Dirk, I was walking through the empty Heinekenplein (a huge square by my house), when all of a sudden, all 100 pigeons that were snacking on bread decided to get up and fly directly at me all at once. It was so frightening that I literally screamed and turned around to duck and cover! They went careening past me, some brushing against my grocery bags. For a moment I was shell-shocked, standing there with the chills, recounting the horrible sight of 100 evil pigeons flying straight for me.
So, back at home, I had to share this not-so-good aspect of living in Amsterdam with all of you. I'm sure it doesn't happen to everyone. In fact, I know it doesn't, since a pigeon has never, ever lunged at Gabriel when we're together, only at me.
I'm not sure why... maybe it's because of my curly blond hair, reminding them of their cozy gezelligheid nests? Does this happen to anyone else?
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Last night marked the start of Amsterdam's Rialto In De Open Lucht Festival. The open air film festival will last until Saturday August 22nd, and each night a different film airs at 21:30.
The open air theater is set up in the Marie Heinekenplein, directly behind the Heineken Brouwerij (Brewery).
Gabriel and I walked over last night to see the screening of the Uruguayan film, "Gigante" by Adrian Biniez. Since Gabriel was born in Argentina, and raised in Uruguay, he had a special interest in seeing this film. Adrian was even at the screening, and introduced his work of art for the entire audience!
As the sun set, the tiny lanterns that had been strung up around the Heinekenplein began to twinkle, and the beer/wine carts buzzed quietly in the corner. We scored the last two chairs, and beside us some people hauled out their couch from their apartment to sit on. The ground was filled with people who had brought their own furniture, or were just sitting on the floor. Everyone was sipping Grolsch and munching on the snacks they brought. It was amazing to sit beneath the stars, the soft glow of the city around us, and watch the film in the midst of such a quiet and gezellig audience.
The film was good, although I wouldn't say it was a favourite. It was slow moving and done in a similar style to Napoleon Dynamite. It took place in Montevideo, Uruguay, and allowed me to see what parts of Uruguay are like, which was great since we are planning a visit there this winter.
The evening marked a very special occasion for me, however, since it solidified my grasp of the Dutch language. The film was in Spanish, but with Dutch subtitles. Obviously this posed no problem for Gabriel, who happily followed along in his mother tongue. I, however, was stuck with the task of deciphering Dutch subtitles... Surprisingly, I was able to understand 90% of the dialogue, and even understood the jokes! That is a pretty good accomplishment, and I felt happy to know that a year here in the Netherlands has at least taught me some of the language :)
We're planning on returning to the open air theater in the evenings this week. Tonight is a story of a Sri Lankan Handball Team that fakes their credentials to move to Austria...and tomorrow is one called London River about a young girl's disappearance.
This is just one of the reasons why I love this city...there are so many free, outdoor, cultural experiences going on. We've already decided to bring our air mattress and a picnic to the next film we view!
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
This morning I visited The Royal Palace in Amsterdam. Located in the Dam Square, The Royal Palace has just re-opened after being shut for renovation/restoration since 2005. On all my previous stays in Amsterdam, the palace had always been closed. It loomed over the bustling Dam Square like a majestic, yet silent, work of art.
The Royal Palace was built in 1648, initially for use as a city hall. Remnants of the city hall past remain, although the glamor of royalty has taken center stage. In 1808 the city hall became used for royal purposes, and today the palace is used mainly for entertaining guests of the Royal Family. When the Royal Family is not in the palace, it is open for visitation, at a cost of 7,50 euro for adults.
I have always been curious as to what lies inside the formidable walls of the palace, which seems worlds apart from the crazy hustle and bustle of it's front yard: The Dam Square. Inside, the palace is a serene and stately work of art, with an incredible art collection that rivals that of the Rijksmuseum.
When the palace closed in 2005 for renovation and restoration, a great deal of concern was put into making sure the palace met health and safety standards. Asbestos was removed from the walls and ceilings, and every inch of the palace's interior was restored to its former glory. Now it can match any royal palace that you will find throughout Europe. The sculptures, the chandeliers, the fabric walls, the guest rooms (still used today), and the main hall (used for important banquet functions) are all absolutely breathtaking.
In all my time wandering through Amsterdam's many museums and galleries, I have never used an "Audio Tour". Today was my first experience with an audio tour, as it came free with admission (ps. if you're a student, admission is only 6,50 euro!)
I really enjoyed listening to the audio tour, as the rooms weren't labeled and it would've been impossible to understand what you are looking at without it. Short enough to keep your attention, but long enough to share the value of the room, the audio tour was a great asset. While the palace is a beautiful work of art, and a testament to hundreds of years of artisan and craftmanship, it is also a testament to the dedicated crew of architects and restoration specialists who brought it back to its original splendor.
The entire visit took roughly 2 hours, but could be seen in a shorter time. I loved wandering around snapping photos and taking in the beautiful sights. Oh...to be a Royal...
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
In Amsterdam, there are seven bridges, all half-circular, in a row, that are lit up at night.
You can find them if you walk south of the Rembrandtplein on the Reguliersgracht. Follow the Reguliersgracht south, across the Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht, and you will be able to count seven lit-up bridges.
In the summer, the lights come on at around 9:45pm. One moment they are still, brick bridges...the next they are transformed into glowing golden masterpieces. The Reguliersgracht has become my newest favourite canal to wander down in the evenings. The homes are stately, and most are lit up at night showing off their impeccably beautiful interiors (Dutch people rarely close their curtains at night, so it's impossible not to see inside their homes!)
Everything is swathed in a golden glow...the gently rocking boats, the lonely rusty bicycles tied up to the thick iron bridges, and the sleeping cars pointing in towards the canal. I love how the bridge lights dance on the water, and how every so often a boat will silently chug along the canal.
If you are in Amsterdam, do visit The Seven Bridges at night. It is the most beautiful place to see night-time views of the canals, with lots of gezellig restaurants and bars dotted amongst it.
Monday, August 17, 2009
The people of Amsterdam are what make this city my favourite place in the entire world. It's so small, that you begin to see familiar faces day after day...
Such a liberal, vibrant city...you are bound to see some "characters" here...
Like the man with the multitude of colourful scarves, a yellow feather stabbed jauntily into his floppy hat, who trails street musicians and performs interpretive dances to their music...
The baker from the Turkish bakery who wheels his cart of fresh bread down our street every morning...
Like the dignified white-haired gentleman, always wearing his favourite crisp pinstripe suit and bright red stiletto heels...
The harmonica-playing busker at the market, sitting under a ratty beer tent umbrella, playing for a few coins dropped into his cardboard box...
Like the street artist, rubbing and smudging pastels into beautiful representations of Amsterdam...
The overweight Batman that stands guard outside the Royal Palace in the Dam Square, asking for change when you take his photo...
Like the men with dreadlocks down to their knees who stand outside the next door "coffeeshop", their laughter bouncing off the narrow street...
The businessmen on bikes, the cafe newspaper readers, the new-age "hippies" searching for the Amsterdam of the 60's....
Amsterdam is a city of characters.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Today's Summer Around the World feature is from the veteran traveler Ella Everywhere, from the blog Here. There. Everywhere. While Ella lives in Canada, she spends her summers in her native Germany with her family. It seems she's always jetting off on another trip, whether it be to green Ireland or historic Romania! Here Ella shares with us what summer in Germany is like.
Where do you live?
I jet between Frankfurt and Dusseldorf, Germany.
What is your idea of a perfect summer day?
Warm, dry weather. Enjoying a bite to eat at an outdoor cafe overlooking either one of the rivers (the Main or the Rhine) or scenic countryside.
What is the summer weather typically like in Germany?
Eeeek, it generally fluctuates between cold and rainy or hot and humid.
Is there a special summer food that defines Germany?
White asparagus is very popular and coveted but only available until the 23rd of June. Fresh vegetables and delicious summer salads are popular in the summer too.
What do people in your area of the country do to "beat the heat"?
When it is actually hot, people swarm to the "Freibad" (outdoor swimming pool) or stroll through the woods where its cool.
Please list 5 things that visitors to Germany should experience this summer.
~ The Kirmis in Dusseldorf (giant amusement park/fair)
~ An outdoor cafe anywhere, especially in small towns
~ Outdoor farmers markets
~ Berlin, great city full of history
~ An old castle or cathedral. They are found in practically every small town and usually have a lot of history behind them.
Thanks for giving us a glimpse of summer in Germany, Ella! This concludes the Summer Around the World Series. Click here to view the rest of the series. Thank you to all of this year's participants, I've really enjoyed getting a peek of how other countries celebrate the summer season!
Friday, August 14, 2009
On Yvonne's last day here in the Netherlands, we visited the picturesque cities of Edam, Volendam, and Monnickendam. Edam hosts a cute (but touristy) cheese market on Wednesday mornings, and we were able to try samples of Edam cheese, see the Heineken horses, and watch the trading/bartering of cheeses. Then it was off to a quaint cafe for cappuccinos and appeltaart, after which we rented bicycles from a local shop.
We cycled through Edam and into Volendam (only a 10 minute bike-ride away). Volendam is a fishing village on the Ijsselmeer, however, it is so touristy that it's really not that enjoyable. Souvenir shop after souvenir shop line the streets, and the roads are so packed with tour bus patrons that it's hard to move through. We quickly cycled out of there and headed for the last stop on our tour, Monnickendam. The ride took roughly 45 minutes, and on our way there we randomly stumbled upon a "cheese factory", where a woman dressed in traditional Dutch clothing popped out of a door and welcomed us in. We learnt about how cheese is made, and then treated ourselves to copious amounts of cheese samples! Yum :)
After reaching Monnickendam, a pleasant little residential city, we cycled through and looped back up to Edam. The whole way home Yvonne was snapping pictures en route of the countryside, and of us cycling. Her picture-taking skills are amazing, there were hardly any blurry or bad photos! Crazy!
I'll never forget cycling through the countryside with one of my closest friends...passing windmills, waving at tour buses, and laughing the whole way back to the bus station.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
The Otherist was one of our favourites. Tucked into the bottom of a canal home on the Leliegracht, the Otherist offers unique "handmade and modern curios" for your home and body. The items were reminiscent of what you would spend hours scouring Etsy for, including fabulously quirky salt and pepper shakers, a cute tea service, beautiful prints of Amsterdam, and bird mobiles. The merchandise was so well thought-out, and I'm loving how I just discovered their online shop and blog too!
Another fun store is Kitsch Kitchen. Filled with kitschy colourful vintage-esque items for your home, it also offers tons of printed vinyl fabrics and unique furniture. It would be so fun to decorate a kitchen using these items, like large tin vintage serving trays, frilly 50's aprons, and enamel themoses.
On our way back from P.C. Hoofstraat, we stopped by Sissy Boy to see their Fall basics. Sissy Boy (strange name, good clothes) has racks upon racks of wardrobe staples. Beautiful white pants, soft cardigans, and basic tees fill the unpretentious warehouse-looking store. I purchased a basic black long-sleeved tee and butter yellow cardigan sweater.
Perhaps the shopping mecca for those looking to purchase something special in Amsterdam is De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets). This shopping district houses some of the most beautiful, handmade, and vintage boutiques in the city. If you are underwhelmed with the fare sold on the Kalverstraat (think H&M, Zara, Foot Locker, etc.) head a few streets east to this district. Luckily The 9 Streets are coincidentally located on the most beautiful canals of the city, so a day of shopping can be easily co-mingled with breathtaking sight-seeing. The whole district has a radius of a half a mile, and many independent and cute terraces and restaurants are located here as well. If you are searching for some vintage clothing, of which Amsterdam is world famous for, this is the district to visit.
Finally, the Noordermarkt has a vintage clothing and textile sale on Monday mornings, from around 8:00-1:00pm. The Noordermarkt is a quick 3 minute stroll North of the Anne Frank Huis on the Prinsengracht. Here you will find heaps of vintage clothing, beautiful furniture, quirky jewelry, old postcards, and some food vendors. We loved sifting through the mounds of scarves, old Dutch farm clothing, colourful bangles, leather purses, and white linen blouses.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Since Yvonne's arrival on Saturday, we have been non-stop exploring Amsterdam and surrounding Dutch cities. Shortly after showing her our apartment, Yvonne and I headed off to the Prinsengracht to visit the Anne Frank Huis. This was my fifth time (!!!) visiting, and I have to say that I was still moved and inspired by it. When people ask me what to do in Amsterdam, I always recommend the Anne Frank Huis. It's unique to the city, and represents an enormous piece of Dutch history.
The rest of the day was spent seeing the major sights of Amsterdam: Begijnhof, the Dam Square, the Red Light District, the Nieuwemarkt (which was having a farmer's market), the Bloemenmarkt ("floating flower market") and the main Golden Age Canals. We met up with Gabriel for a lunch at Burgermeester in De Pijp (the best burgers in A'dam!) and then drove 50 minutes south to visit the beautiful picturesque city of Delft.
More stories to come, including our guide to shopping in Amsterdam!