Creating a Fab City in Amsterdam

This post original appeared on Sustainable Amsterdam and was edited by Cornelia Dinca.

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What is your vision of what makes a really great city? For me, the key things that come to mind would be green space, urban farms, bikes, and happy people everywhere (sounds a bit like Amsterdam, doesn’t it?). Asking different sorts of people –  engineers, designers but also artists and kids – to share their vision of a great city is not only a great conversation starter, but it is also an important step in creating amazing cities for all of us to enjoy.

The people over at the temporary Fab City campus are showcasing different visions and projects that are contributing to improving cities. Located on Java-eiland, the Fab City campus has been organized with the six-month Netherlands EU Presidency in mind. From April 11 until June 26, the campus is showcasing different sustainable solutions to urban issues, with 50 different pavilions and prototypes that are operated by over 400 students, professors, artists and designers.

The Fab City campus is part of a global Fab City initiative, with the goal for future cities to become entirely self-sufficient. The initiative focuses on the importance of locally produced and globally connected cities. One of the key concepts of Fab City is the shift from the “Products In, Trash Out” to “Data in, Data Out” urban model. By finding innovative ways to reduce and reuse waste products and producing locally, Amsterdam can work towards a zero-waste and carbon-neutral city. Some key principles behind the Fab City initiative are designing cities for people from the bottom up, focusing on the human scale in urban living environments, creating for local qualities in a globalized world and focusing on circular communities.

A festival ground of sustainable solutions and innovative ideas, the Fab City campus facilitates inspiration and collaboration. Bike on over to Java-Eiland, grab a coffee from the Fab Café, and walk around to go see different visions and plans people have for the city of the future.

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Fab Cafe

let’s talk about the current state of things 

I want to talk about this election. I want to talk about it because I feel the need to do something about the current state of things, and putting some words down felt like a good place to start.

It scares me that a man that stands for so much hatred of the ‘other’ is now the President of the most powerful country in the world. I am scared for the Muslim families that are waiting for their approval to move to the States. I am afraid for the little Latino boy who feels unsafe walking to school. I worry about the LGBTQ people who feel betrayed by their country. I am scared for the women who are making appointments to get an IUD today before their reproductive rights potentially get stripped away from them. I am afraid for the state of our precious environment.

I think we all should be a little bit scared, because this man should be taken seriously. He has been dismissed too much for being a joke, which led him all the way to presidency. Even if he is a joke, his jokes have serious ramifications. But overarching fear is not productive, and will only lead to further division.

So I want to channel that fear and transform it into motivation to stand up for what is right, and to eradicate all of this hate with some damn good love.

I want to give every person I see a massive hug. I want to tell the Americans I know that I love them and we will all find a way to get through this. I want to actively challenge racism in small and large ways. I want to further understand what white people should do to help enable and demand equality for people of colour. I want to have conversations with people who disagree with what I believe in, with hopes for dialogue and understanding as opposed to increased polarization. I want to find the key organizations to donate to that need our help right now. I want, for myself and all the other nasty women out there, to shatter as many glass ceilings as absolutely possible.

I want to be able to tell my future daughter that the world we live in is really damn amazing. I want to tell her that although a sociopathic, orange, misogynist, racist, hateful man ran America for a little awhile, people came together, stronger than ever, to protect their neighbours and communities from hate.

x j

An Ode to Albert Heijn

I moved out of my place in Amsterdam today, and am currently on the train leaving the city. It’s a little bit heart breaking, as there are a number of things I’m going to miss about this wonderful city. Of course there is the biking and the canals, the amazing friends I’ve made and am going to miss oh so dearly, but maybe most importantly what I am going to miss is Albert Heijn. If you have ever been to Amsterdam, I’m sure you’ve been to an ol’ Albert Heijn to pick up some food at one point or another. The Dutch supermarket chain seems to have quite the grocery monopoly in Amsterdam, with an AH consistently being within at most a 5 minute bike ride away. From where I lived, there were five AH’s within a ten minute walk. It’s an expensive supermarket, and there are definitely cheaper options in the city, but I developed some serious supermarket loyalty. They reel you in to a life-time of loyalty with their bonus-card that gets you (small) discounts (infrequently). In the winter, my roommate and I collected hundreds of stickers so that we could receive free knives, but we never got around to redeeming the stickers. It was fun though nonetheless. Often times, my friends and I would consider going out for dinner, but then we’d crave something from our local Heijny, and we’d decide to just go there instead. There is an Albert Heijn museum in Zandaam that I unfortunately never got to go to. I’m not sure if Albert was that interesting of a guy, but maybe the museum would have free gouda samples? I guess I’ll never know. Some of my favourite foods that I will miss are the pikante (that means spicy) hummus, the old Amsterdam cheese and mustard sandwich that I get every time I get off of a train in Amsterdam Centraal and the freshly squeezed orange juice. There are also the fresh stroop waffles and just outta the oven white chocolate macadamia nut cookies that I will probably dream about and wake up with drool on my pillow. It wasn’t someones birthday without an Albert Heijn birthday cake and hand drawn decorations from the AH icing. Another lovely aspect of AH is the free coffee that people don’t seem to know about but that definitely exists at most locations! A supermarket that provides free caffeine is no doubt a friend. Not only did Albert Heijn provide us with delicious food, but also it has been a place of education that has taught me basically all of the Dutch that I know. Kip, for example, means chicken. Zee Zout? See Salt. Wortel? Carrot. Melk? Milk. Ingang? Entrance. See? I’m basically fluent. It’s at Heijny that my only “Dutch” conversations took place, and they always went as following:

CASHIER: Bonuskaart? (Bonus card?)

ME: [I then do not say anything, but I hand the cashier my bonus card]

CASHIER: Vijftien vijftig (15.50 euros – note, I do not actually know Dutch for most numbers, but it is always displayed on the screen, so it is very easy to fake)

ME: [I then pay and bag my groceries]

CASHIER: Bonnetje mee? (Would you like your receipt?)

ME: Nee, dankjewel (No thankyou!)

CASHIER: Goed avond! (Good evening!)

ME: Doei! (Bye!)

 

Doie-doie Amsterdam and Albert Heijn! You will be dearly missed.

xo Jean

 

 

greenery goodness

This post was written originally for Sustainable Amsterdam. See the original post here. Edited by Cornelia Dinca. 

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As the spring weather gets warmer, the parks and streets in Amsterdam become greener and our moods get brighter. Many links have been made between exposure to green spaces and enhanced well being. People who experience daily doses of nature are proven to be happier, more generous and healthier. Green neighbourhoods are also seen to be safer and enhance community cohesion. Green spaces in cities also have multiple environmental benefits. Greenery attracts biodiversity, filters air pollution, reduces air temperature and helps with water retention. With this long list of benefits, it makes sense why the most livable cities are usually bursting with green. The best urban areas have diverse green spaces on all scales, from large immersive parks all the way down to little hints of nature on every street. Amsterdam has many spaces, diverse in size and function, where we can get our regular doses of nature.

Pot plant gardens and wild flowers
Amsterdam may not have many large front lawns or extensive gardens, but the creative sidewalk gardens and hints of green that pop up wildly provide constant exposure to small-scale flowers and greenery within the dense built environment. These random hints brighten up and add personality to the sidewalks, and makes streets feel cozy and warm.

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Greenery on tram tracks
Many tram tracks in Amsterdam are covered in greenery, which has a number of benefits. The green vegetation is much more attractive than asphalt, and it reduces the loud grinding tram track sounds. These green spaces can be created in dense areas that do not necessarily have room for large-scale natural spaces. Greenery on tram tracks also helps water retention and provides a habitat for insects.

Parks
There are a number of fantastic parks in Amsterdam, from the famous Vondelpark to the quieter Westerpark in the west and Park Frankendael in the east. The parks in the city range in size and vegetation. One great aspect of many parks in Amsterdam is the frequency that they are used as thoroughfares for bike commutes. One can make use of the parks scattered through the city and get a daily dose of green whether it is a part of one’s commute, a place to read a book and listen to the birds, or spot to jog.

Amsterdam Bos
On one of the largest natural spots near Amsterdam, Amsterdam Bos, allows one to fully immerse themselves in nature. Forty-five minutes away from the city centre by bike, the Amsterdam Bos was designed in the 1920s with many trees, waterways, forest, grasslands and open water. This is the perfect place to get lost in a forest of green and let the positive mental effects of nature do its thing.

tackling food waste, one meal at a time

This post was originally written for Sustainable Amsterdam. See the original blog post here. The post was edited by Cornelia Dinca.

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It is said that at least one third of the food produced worldwide goes to waste and at the same time, one in nine people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy life. This contradiction between the vast amount of wasted food and food security is very unsettling, as John Oliver explains in this Last Week Tonight episode.  Luckily there are a number of organizations within Amsterdam working to provide local solutions to this global issue, and they are the topic of this post.
Taste Before You Waste

Taste Before You Waste is an Amsterdam-based organization that works to raise awareness and reduce food waste. Over 250kg of food is collected from supermarkets and grocers that would otherwise be thrown away each week. They redistribute this food to local charities and also use the food to host a dinner every Wednesday at De Meevaart in Amsterdam Oost. A three-course meal is served between 6pm and 8pm. There is often excess food up for grabs at the end of the dinner too, so you leave happy, full, and with some extra veggies and bread your next night’s dinner.

Café de Ceuvel

De Ceuvel is Amsterdam’s clean-tech playground, and its Café works to be as closed-loop as possible. The kitchen team experiments with the produce they collect, with the goal to cook with the most ecological, local and nutritious food they can get their hands on. As well as a multiple course “Farm to Table” meal, De Ceuvel also offers a “Dumpster Dish” – a simple meal made of market veggies that were saved before going into the dumpster.

De Peper

De Peper is a not-for-profit café that is run on a volunteer basis open on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 7pm. The set menu changes daily, but is consistently vegan, organic, and delicious. It is located in the lively OT301, a legalized squat that always has something going on – whether it is a movie night, live band or theatrical performance. Although not entirely focused on using saved food from supermarkets, the meals are pay-what-you-can with a suggested donation amount, because De Peper believes that everyone should be able to afford healthy, nutritious meals.

Kromkommer

It is estimated that at least 5% of fruits and vegetables are thrown away because of their imperfect looks, and Kromkommer is a product line of ready-made soups that are made from these weird shaped veggies that supermarkets do not sell. The first official soups were put on the shelves in the spring of 2014. Selling their different soups at over fifty stores within the Netherlands, Kromkommer (a play on words between crooked and cucumber) is helping combat unnecessary produce waste, one delicious soup at a time.

Instock

As mentioned in a previous post [for Sustainable Amsterdam], Instock is a restaurant in Amsterdam Oost (with a second, takeaway location in De Pijp) that transforms unwanted food from Albert Heijn into creative and delicious meals. Of the daily food that is served, 90% of it would have otherwise been thrown away, with the remaining 10% essentials such as spices and olive oil. The founders met while working at Albert Heijn and are committed to tackling food waste. 

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checkpoint

Last week was my halfway point here in the lovely land of Europe. As everyone says about the confusing concept of time, my days here have flown by so quickly and simultaneously it feels like a lifetime ago that I arrived in ol’ Amsty dam. I felt that because of this halfway point, a blog post is in order. So I’ve compiled a short list of some things I miss about Calgary and some things that I am not missing at all.

I’m excluding the whole people component and the list is basically only about food, so it’s not particularly comprehensive, but here it is nonetheless:

I miss:

  1. Caesars: my mornings/afternoons/evenings (hungover or not) just aren’t the same without the delicious spicy comfort of clam juice, vodka and tabasco. I found one place in Amsterdam that sells caesars for 9 euros. My innate frugality cannot justify 9 euros on even my favourite drink. Dairy lane, as soon as I’m home, I’m coming for you and your affordable caesar.
  2. Counter space and an oven: My room is in an amazing location and I’ve got a great roommate and high ceilings and beautiful window sills that you can sit on, but the kitchen component is lacking. There isn’t enough counter space to do much at all, and not having an oven is really limiting my roasted vegetable and brownie intake.
  3. The mountains: It’s nice how flat the Netherlands is because biking is easy, but I miss my proximity to the endless nature that is the Rocky Mountains. (It doesn’t help that I’m reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed right now that is all about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.)
  4. Sweet potato fries: The Dutch have some good fries here that they smother in mayo (and peanut sauce if you want to get wild) and you eat with a tiny fork, but man do I miss the sweet potato fries and spicy aioli back home.
  5. Not paying rent (and having income): It just isn’t much fun watching your bank constantly decrease. Living at home has got some serious perks.
  6. $9 ramen: It’s 15 euros here! Nonesense. Menyatai, you’ll be visited frequently when I get back to yyc.
  7. Understanding the primary language: Amsterdam is officially bilingual and I have developed some Dutch language knowledge, but it still can of course cause confusion and frustration from time to time.
  8. My bed!!!: The bed here gives me back pain 😦

I don’t miss:

  1. GST: having all of the tax included in prices makes splitting bills and spending money in general so much easier.
  2. 30 degree winter: Another no brainer… Lots of warm climate folk I know in Amsterdam complain about the torrential downpours and the knock-you-off-your-feet wind, but I gotta say, I like it a hell of a lot more than the frozen tundra that Calgary becomes.
  3. Driving: I’ve become a loud and proud bike enthusiast (not a huge surprise there) and do not miss the traffic jams, paying for gas, parallel parking, or anything else about driving.
  4. Working / studying / volunteering (which leads to far too busy weeks every week): Although income is nice, so is having time to read books and watch good movies and cook dinner with friends without the stress of my filled up schedule getting to me.
  5. Sinks and counters that are not too short: Everything here is designed for people my height! It’s amazing!
  6. Country music clubs: Not that I ever went to any in Calgary, but I’m glad that the idea of going to somewhere with line dancing and country music has never not once been on the table of options over here (love all you country-music-loving-folk out there, it’s just not my cuppa tea)
  7. Living in a residential, fairly sprawled out neighbourhood: I live a five minute walk/bike ride to anything I need here. Coffee? Got it. Groceries? 3 minute walk. Want to go grab a beer? At least 6 choices within 4 minutes. Need to study at a library? That’s just 5 minutes.

xx, J

Australian approved coffee in Amsterdam

As seen originally in the Calgary Herald (February 6 2016):

In four months living in Amsterdam I have learned many things.

I have learned that the Dutch love the word lekker to describe just about anything that they consider enjoyable, from a sandwich to the weather to the cute guy across the street. I have learned to ride a bike into a stream of cars knowing they will yield to me, and I have learned a lot about coffee.

A proper cappuccino is made of one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third milk froth. The latte, on the other hand, is generally composed of one shot of espresso, a cup full of steamed milk, and a very small amount of foam on the top. And then we have the flat white, a coffee coined by Aussies, that is apparently more than just a latte in a smaller cup — although I still haven’t quite figured out what else is truly different. I’m used to finding my coffee bliss with a simple large cup of black coffee from Good Earth or Higher Ground back in Calgary, but since arriving in Amsterdam and hanging with a number of Melbourners (who all have some serious coffee standards), I seem to have made the switch to the strong cappuccino.

The Melbourners I know here act as my cafe culture guides, and often times our conversations seem to steer towards comparing the bean and froth quality of different cafes (I tend not to have much to contribute to these conversations).

One late night not too long ago, two of them got into an extensive and enthusiastic talk about their favourite cafes in Amsterdam on the dance floor. A Melbourner named Chaz introduced me to the app “Beanhunter” that helps you locate quality Australian standard cafes wherever you may be. This is every bit as useful as the app Buienradar that Amsterdammers use to predict the rain — to the minute.

Although Amsterdam may be known for its coffee shops that sell joints and hash instead of lattes and carrot cake, it seems to me that coffee is taken pretty seriously over here. And I think Australians have definitely contributed to this (and perhaps they’ve also contributed to the other kind of coffee shop). Almost every time I go into a cafe in Amsterdam, whether they are the owners or the servers or the customers, there are Aussies near.

And while I may not have an Australian fine-tuned cafe standard, I offer a few of my favourite, most lekker coffee spots that I’ve discovered in Amsterdam (so far):

1. Back to Black: Located not too far from Museumplein, Back to Black has become a favourite study spot for me. The pet cat and comfy couches contribute to the living room gezellig* vibes. This is also where I eavesdropped on a 20-minute conversation between two Australians about their favourite cafes in the Netherlands. I suggest the coconut-date power balls and cappuccinos.

1. Coffee and Coconuts: A fellow Calgarian introduced Coffee and Coconuts to me on my first day in Amsterdam. This three-storey space was a cinema back in the day and it’s filled with plants and beanbag chairs. The wooden tables are held up by rope attached to the vaulted ceiling and the art work includes a massive photo of John Lennon that stares at you — peacefully — while you sip your coconut smoothie. The surfer relaxed atmosphere is apparently very Melbourne. If you go, order the scrambled eggs and avocado toast and the orange-ginger tea.

1. Ivy & Bros: Located in the centre of the Red Light District**, Ivy & Bros is a concept store and specialty cafe that wins for the coolest foam art I’ve ever seen. The barista, an Aussie of course, drew a very intricate face in my cappuccino. Major points for this place too because he also served us cold mint water, without even having to ask.

1. cloud art and coffee: Located in the Jordaan, cloud art and coffee is a frequent spot for me. Doubling as an art gallery, the displays on the walls are constantly changing. Right now, they are covered with white mice sculptures. Although my Aussie friend says “the beans aren’t strong enough,” each coffee is served with a mini stroopwaffle (a sweet Dutch delicacy), so I always leave happy. Sit by the window, order some carrot cake to supplement the stroopwaffle and spend your afternoon watching tourists and locals walk by.

*Gezellig (heh-SELL-ick): A word that is literally translated to “cosy” but encompasses much more than just coziness. It means friendly, comfortable, relaxing, and enjoyable. This word encompasses the core of Dutch culture, and people love all things gezellig.

**The Red Light District is a very interesting spot that has been changing within the past few years. The city is trying to push out some of the prostitutes and stoners and attract the specialty flat white drinkers and boutique shoppers. Policies have been put in place to make this happen and entrepreneurs are given subsidies to move into the area. As a result, you can sip on a coffee, listen to Bon Iver and watch British lads marvel at the prostitutes in the adjacent alleyway — all at once!

a few things learned in eastern europe

I just got back from a ten day trip to Prague and Budapest with a few friends, and here is a quick (but not comprehensive) list of some things I learned:

  1. Budget airlines take their baggage requirements seriously. Pack light and wear all of your layers to save the cheeky 60 euro fee they will charge you if your bag doesn’t fit their requirements.
  2. Airbnb hosts are sneaky. Our host in Budapest sent me a nice email asking me to rate him with 5 stars and write an extensive review, so I did, and then I saw his review which was “Jean was fine.” Bastard.
  3. There is nothing better than beer that costs less than one euro. Nothing!
  4. Snow is a very foreign concept to Australians. If travelling with Australians in winter months, prepare for excitement and endless awe when snow starts to fall.
  5. The one thing that is almost as good as beer that costs less than one euro is kebabs that cost less than two.
  6. That five star cafe that your friend recommended you is worth it. Go. A good meal and/or cappuccino will always make your day a little bit brighter.
  7. If someone asks you to take a photo of him and his girlfriend at a beautiful vantage point in Budapest while the sun is setting, prepare for the possibility that he will propose to said girlfriend and you will have the stressful but beautiful duty to take a whack ton of photos of two people who you’ve never met getting engaged.
  8. If you are travelling with people who have similar eating and spending habits, have a communal pot of money to make the trip way easier. One day you feel great because everyone is buying you food and drinks, and the next day you feel great because you are the kind soul that is buying everyone else everything.
  9. When you get to a new city and don’t know what to do, go on a free walking tour. They tend to take about three hours and give you a good gist of the history and landmarks of the city. You get good tips about the city and potentially will even meet a cool person or two!
  10. Do not book shuttle buses with Wizzair because the bus will never arrive and you’ll lose 20 euros.
  11. Do book buses with Student Agency if you’re travelling Eastern Europe because they will have a TV so you can watch Brokeback Mountain AND Factory Girl.
  12. If you drag your friends to a Canadian Poutine place that is 45 minutes away, call first to make sure they’re open. Because they might not be open and you might then feel like a dickhead.
  13. Do not say yes to the Segway tour in Prague. You look like a dork.
  14. Do not get too hyped up on what happens at the top of the hour at the Astronomical Clock in Prague, it’s nothin’ special.
  15. Do not fall off any of the towers in Prague or Budapest. It’s happened before recently, apparently. Not a good way to go.
  16. Prepare for a heavy meat and bread based diet. If you are a vegetarian, expect a fish or chicken dish, even when you ask for no meat. Vegetarianism is something that is not entirely understood when it comes to traditional Czech and Hungarian cuisine.
  17. Hungarians wear a lot of fur.
  18. The movie Eurotrip’s depiction of how far a dollar goes in Eastern Europe is not quite accurate, but still pretty spot on.
  19. Do not ever watch the movie Eurotrip.