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Filtering by Tag: amsterdam

Dear Amsterdam


I'll miss plowing through you on my bike like I'm on a mission to careen past every idly pedaling Dutch person on a cell phone which, let's be real, I totally am. I'll miss your bridges strung with lights and your soft, flaky croissants that make your American counterparts curl up in mortification. I'll miss your medieval castles and taking trains the wrong way through Holland and getting away with having the wrong ticket because everyone in your country, from policemen to train ticket collectors to grocery clerks, is just really really nice. I'll miss riding home late at night, when your streets are dark and empty of people but still full of sedate brick buildings that have been standing watch over nighttime pedestrians for the last three hundred years. I'll miss drinking coffee in the sun by a canal. I'll miss eating lunch on the balcony and wandering through stores marveling at the intersection between foreign and familiar. I'll miss your black licorice and the three story windmill that pointed my way home. I'll miss the friends I made, the people I met, and the cats I yelled at for sticking their fuzzy snouts in the butter.

I'll even miss the Red Light District, which totally skeeved me out until I started wondering about the underwear-clad girls posing in those red lit windows. What are their lives like? Why are they there? I wanted to ask them about their stories, what kind of love they have in their lives, and what they think about all this. But I didn't, because how do you ask something like that?

Living in Costa Rica and Amsterdam for the summer taught me that when I travel, I want to have a specific creative project. Specific to the place and specific to my interests - something to frame my time there and give it more of a purpose. To come home from wherever I was for a month and be able to hold or watch or read this thing I made. A creative souvenir that takes the feelings I had and amazing things I saw and molds them into something I can share.

I wish I figured this out three months ago, but that's why you live, right? To figure out the things you wish you could apply retroactively to the rest of your life. But you can't, so you just keep trekking out into the world and hope to whatever sky-dwelling deity you prefer that you remember what you figured out for next time.

At Least Now I Know The Dutch Word For Chicken


Figuring out which soup is chicken in a Dutch supermarket when you're feverish is a daunting task. I could have asked someone, but simply forcing one foot to step in front of the other in a vaguely normal fashion felt like summiting Kilimanjaro without a sherpa or even a water bottle. Conquering my squeamish belief that it's rude to walk up to someone in a foreign country and assume they speak my language was really too much to ask on the day that the insides of my stomach made an abrupt and brutal reappearance. I insist on being a pansy about this, even though everyone in Amsterdam does speak my language - even the yoga classes are conducted half in Dutch, half in English. I should probably just get over myself. But conquering deeply entrenched beliefs and getting over oneself are definitely too much to ask when the only thing between you and what feels like death is a mug of chicken soup. All of this to say, would a convincing graphic of a plump and obvious chicken be too much to ask, Dutch soup makers?


Panda by Brian Andreas. Because he does things like that.

Traveling by yourself to random countries for months at a time can get lonely. I'm pretty good at being alone. I'm even reasonably good at being lonely. But at some point, being good at something stops being a good reason to do it. So you start dating instead.

There was the Italian man who wore his hat through dinner. There was the man who somehow found me on a random bridge after I'd manage to miss the very obvious landmark at which we were supposed to meet. Two days in a row. I missed it twice. Despite having been there many times before. My brain is missing the GPS component that comes standard in most models.

But the true winner in my own personal Dating Olympics was the guy who went to the police station with me instead of to the museum. Because my purse had been stolen on my way to meet him. HI. I JUST MET YOU. HELP ME FIGURE OUT ALL MY SHIT.

When we got to the police station - after I almost started crying into the iPad he very nicely let me use to skype the credit card companies, credit card companies that really really do not want to send replacement cards to the Netherlands - we learned that the efficient and genial Dutch cops had already nabbed the guy. They returned a very strange selection of items - my credit cards and my makeup and my umbrella. But not my purse or my sweater or the keys to my bike lock. But they were very apologetic about making us wait a whole fifteen minutes and told us about how they found the thief sitting in bushes (really) and so the cops crept around the building and hopped out from behind it to wave a cheery five fingered hello before tackling the guy.

If you have to sit in a police station and give a police report, you may as well do it in Amsterdam. Thanks for getting my debit card and my lip gloss back, guys.

On our second date, we did that whole nice dinner, night stroll along the Amsterdam canals thing. This would have been the best date in the world, were I not starting to feel queasy. I thought I was just low energy, maybe an adrenaline let-down from the whole purse thing. It wasn't until I was pedaling home like a 93-year-old grandmother instead of zipping around as many Dutch people on cell phones as possible that I realized I'd contracted the flu. Stopping on the side of the road and reintroducing myself to my lamb entree confirmed it.

First date, purse gone. Second date, flu. Third date...accidental arson? Horsemen of the apocalypse? Dinner theater?

Life Seen From a Bicycle


July in Amsterdam is remarkably similar to July in San Francisco. Gray and drizzly for a week and then the sun comes out one afternoon and everyone goes insane. Parks are clogged and any chair sitting on a sidewalk or along a canal is occupied by someone lifting their face to the sky and looking pleased with life. My apartment for the month comes equipped with a balcony, naughty felines (ask me how many times I've walked into the kitchen to discover a certain cat licking the butter) (TOO MANY TIMES IS HOW MANY), and a bicycle. The bicycle is tall and black and slightly rusty - it looks like something from the Sears Roebuck catalog, circa 1954 - and when I climb on, my posture is forced into corseted Edwardian perfection. When I ride it, I feel like the Wicked Witch of the West in her Kansas incarnation. This pleases me.

Since the sun was out yesterday and I feel slightly more sure of my ability to find the apartment again after I leave it, I cycled into the center of the city to sit along a canal and eat fries. Being a total cliche also pleases me.

My first time on a bike in Amsterdam was petrifying. I was compelled to climb on it after a week of procrastination because I was meeting someone in the center of the city and my bus card was out of money and the only place to refill it was closed on Sunday. Already late, I gamely hopped on. After pedaling an entire two blocks without dying, I started to enjoy myself. Not just because everything was all Dutch and sunny and picturesque, but because I was paying attention to all that bright, pretty Dutchness.

How often do you really pay attention in your every day life? It's so easy to go on automatic when you know where you're going and what you're going to do when you get there and understand all the rules of the system in which you're operating.

I had no idea what I was doing on a bike in Amsterdam. Yes, I know how to ride a bike and I had a city map in my bag, but I didn't know the streets or the road rules or the language, something that might prove handy if someone needed to yell, say, "WATCH OUT FOR THE BUS!" at me. So I went into hyper focus mode. And realized that a lot of life passes me by when I'm not truly paying attention to what's right in front of me.

Cycling past Centraal Station on my way home was oddly calming. My brain is usually concentrated on seventeen different things and at least thirteen of them are worries. Six consistent worries, four variable worries, and three new worries I've invented just for the occasion. But as I pedaled past the train station in the great salmon stream of Dutch cyclists, dodging taxis and tourists and the occasional rogue fish, all my worries and thoughts disappeared into a soundless tunnel and my brain filled instead with "Oh shit, oh shit, oh god, here we go, I'm going to die, we're all going to die, MOTHER OF GOD, WHO DECIDED THIS WAS LEGAL?"

Then I passed the station, filled my lungs with air, and concentrated on finding the giant windmill that points my way home. No, that wasn't a lazy Dutch metaphor. There really is a giant windmill in my neighborhood. The windmill serves beer.

I'd like to say that I'm going to take my first Dutch cycling experience and use it to stop regularly tuning out the world by sticking my headphones in my ears and watching the pictures in my head rather than the road in front of me, but that's absolutely not going to happen. Instead, I'll simply try to notice when my attention is focused entirely on what I'm doing. Because that is peace - and even grace. Something I never thought I'd find on a bike in Amsterdam. Certainly not when I misjudged an angle and almost barreled over an elderly man from Bristol. Sorry, dude. Enjoy your stay.

photo (54)
photo (54)

Given my totally justified fear of bicycle-related death, taking this picture was probably a dumb idea.

How I Accidentally Ended Up in Amsterdam


If you're wondering about the likelihood of ending up in Amsterdam by accident, let me say that if it was possible to take a wrong turn somewhere in Northern California and end up in the Netherlands, I would've done it. I wasn't planning to go to Amsterdam. Yet here I am. Because life enjoys veering seven degrees to the left and often the thing you didn't plan turns out much better than anything you would've planned and that's saying something because you consider yourself a rather impeccable planner, even though it sounds suspiciously like boasting when typed out like this. YES, I'M A TOTAL BRAGGART. IT'S FINE.

Before I left for Costa Rica, I mentioned Amsterdam in a post. Because it was the first city that occurred to me when I needed a random location to end a sentence. Ten minutes later, I got an email from Nicolien saying that she had an apartment in Amsterdam and she was going to Serbia for a month and would I like to come to Holland and watch her cats while she was gone? WHY, YES. YES, I WOULD LIKE TO LIVE IN YOUR AMSTERDAM APARTMENT WITH YOUR CATS.

If you've ever wondered if a blog can wield some serious juju, let me assure you that it can. Make a joke about Amsterdam, end up living there for a month. I think we should all try to maximize whatever wordpress magic lives here. Ahem.


Now it's your turn! What would you like the blog genie to bring you? Leave it in the comments. May I suggest using the caps lock key? Everything works better in caps lock.

(I'll keep you posted on whether or not the universe coughs up any pandas or New York apartments.)

So I'm in Amsterdam for a month, staying in a lovely little apartment with two cats.

photo (50)
photo (50)


My first full day here, Nicolien and her husband took me around the city. We walked past canals and wolfed down a huge pot of cheese fondue and I drank more beer in a day than I've had in the past year. It's a beautiful city, especially in the rare July sun. Every so often, we'd pass a building that pitched forward, as if it was straining to catch up with time. But they never fall, the houses just hover a few feet in front of their neighbors, like they can't wait to find out what's next. I know how they feel.