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.

public service announcement: you should go on exchange

“I miss being a student,” a 27 year old Dutch guy told me at a party a few months ago. “When you’re a student, if you have to go to the dentist, that’s the thing you do that day. You can go to the dentist and when people ask you what you did that day, you can say that you went to the dentist and that’s accepted as an accomplished day! Now that I am not a student, if I have to go to the dentist, I have to fit it in on my break and still work from 9-5. Man, I miss being a student.”

This conversation was early into my exchange to the Netherlands, so I didn’t entirely relate to him. Back home in Calgary, I’m used to volunteering 5-15 hours a week, waitressing 10-20 hours a week, and studying with practically all the time I had in between. When I first got here, I felt a sense of guilt when all I did in a day was read some articles and go to the supermarket.

But now, after 5 months of living in Amsterdam, I can understand what that Dutch guy meant. I think it’s a bit of a cultural thing – Europeans seem much better at chilling out and enjoying life than us North Americans. The Dutch work fewer hours than any other EU country, with an average of 30 hours a week. They are also ranked as some of the most productive in the EU, which suggests something about their mindset about working is, well, working. The Dutch have a pretty good work-life balance, with perhaps more of an emphasis on the life part.

This can be frustrating at times, such as when you’re waiting to be served and end up waiting over half an hour for a coffee. But this doesn’t happen often, and it tends to not bother me when it does, as I am happy to spend hours in a cafe. I have no job, six weeks off from school, and feel no need to really do anything that I don’t want to do.

It’s pretty ridiculous.

Today I went to a cafe and read a book. The day before I went to a museum and watched American Beauty. Tomorrow, I think I’m going to do laundry. And I’d say that it’s been a pretty successful week.

I am learning in all sorts of ways that can come from being able to do whatever I want with almost every day. Today I learned heaps bout the history of Istanbul and read far too much about bike lanes in different cities. On Friday I learned all about Keith Harring’s artwork and that a McDonald’s in Rotterdam has won an architectural award as the “worlds fanciest McDonalds.” I’m also getting pretty good at creating delicious chickpea curries. 

It’s going to be hard to go back to the responsibilities of work and school and all that lame stressful time consuming stuff back home, but luckily I still have 7 months to live like a Dutch student and perfect the beautiful art of doing a little less while enjoying a lot more.