Creating a Fab City in Amsterdam

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


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.

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




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

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. 


new years resolutions

I love New Years Eve. Sure, there is too much pressure for the party to be perfect and people tend to overdo it with the glitter, but I love it. We all made it hopefully unscathed from 2015 and who knows what 2016 holds for all of us. I like to think great things. I always like to focus on at least one new years resolution, and the resolution doesn’t necessarily last past January, but I’d say its still worth trying. So here is a list of things I am hoping to maintain/start doing in 2016:

  1. Have no expectations: This having no expectations thing is I think one of the most important mindsets I’ve developed since I’ve arrived in Amsterdam. From the start, I would say yes to any event or get together as the only way to meet more people and see more of the city. I’ve ended up in a lot of random situations that are maybe not the most fun but we always leave thinking it was a good night, because we didn’t expect anything in particular from it. I hope I’ll keep it up for the next semester in Amsterdam and when I’m back in Calgary.
  2. Make every day count: I’ve managed to spend entire days here doing absolutely nothing, which I really don’t like. I only have a limited number of days in Amsterdam, and above that, none of us know how many days we have left on this precious little earth. And anything can happen in one day. So I’ve been trying, and will continue to try, to be productive or do something noteworthy everyday. Days full of nothing are good too, as long as you can find something to be grateful for what happened that day.
  3. Stop wasting your life away on the internet: Yeah so this is a hard one. I really want to unplug. It scares me how many hours can go by staring into the screen of my laptop. Sure, a lot of the time I’m doing pretty productive and useful things, but we weren’t put on this earth to stare into screens and lose our lives in the vortex of the internet. One of the little ways I plan to unplug is by:
  4. Reading more books: It’s pretty pathetic how few books I read. But I want to change that so I plan on going out and buying some books for me to read today! If you have any suggestions of good reads, let me know.
  5. Eat more vegetables: This was my resolution last year, and I figure might as well keep it on the list for 2016. We could all use a little more broccoli and carrots in our lives.
  6. Keep stepping outside your comfort zone: I think I’ve developed a comfort zone here in Amsterdam, but I hope that I can keep expanding past what’s comfortable. I hope in 2016 I’ll continue meeting new people, going to new events, and asking new questions.
  7. Don’t say negative shit: I think it’s good for all of us to check in once in awhile to see if we are spreading negativity. And if we are, we might as well stop and switch it up for something more positive. I know it’s not always that easy, but it’s worth a shot.

A few additional things I should probably work on are drinking less cappuccinos (and beer), eating less stroopwaffles, and being more careful with my money. But, I’m on exchange and don’t fancy stopping any of those things, so those personal improvements can wait until 2017.

Happy new year kids! May there be champagne and friends and glitter for you all!

xx j

holiday eats

A couple of weeks ago, over twenty of us crammed ourselves into a (very) small kitchen in a student building to have an early potluck Christmas dinner. There were people from all corners of the world, so the homemade holiday dishes were of a great variety. We had the British mince pies, the Australian mulled wine, the Canadian Kraft Dinner (because, why not??) and the Turkish potato salad, to name only a few.

I brought Lee’s eggnog, a boozy delight that is always on the table over the holidays. I messed up the recipe a bit, as I always do here because of the whole Dutch language thing. Who knew slagroom was the same thing as whipping cream? (Not me).

I also brought Mary’s maple-bacon brussel sprouts, one of her ten plus side dishes to her extravagant Christmas dinners. She out does herself every year, and maybe next year can make two dinners to make up for my lack of presence this year?? Hey Mary? Let me know what you think.

Last but not least, I brought my mom’s sweet-potato carrot casserole that she makes every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She thinks that the dish is beyond average and that Lee and Mary just ask her to bring it to keep her busy. But we all know that’s a lie and I don’t know if it’d be a true Christmas without her orange mashed dish.


My friend Dilara and I got to The Hague today to housesit a family friend’s place for a few days. There’s an oven and a couch and the hallways don’t smell like garbage, all of which are major pluses compared to our student rooms. Dilara doesn’t do Christmas much back home so I am channelling my inner Santa and will try to show her the ropes. We’ll watch Jesus Christ Superstar (the movie that taught me most things I know about Christianity), make croissants and hard boiled eggs for breakfast (couldn’t find imperial cheese – major bummer), and, to shake it up a bit, go to the beach. We are going to make some frozen pizza and Dutch pancakes tonight, which might have to be added to the list of traditional food necessary for the holidays.

We might be making Cath’s hot milk cake, a recipe I’ve always loved.  About five years ago, I was having dinner at Cath’s place when she made the cake just like her mom used to. It was to die for and I don’t think I stopped talking about how much I loved that cake until I went back home to Calgary. After that point on, Cath, being one of the most thoughtful women I know, started to send me recipe cards every birthday and Christmas with different desserts and dinners that have been in our family for quite some time.

This Christmas, I am not with any of my family, but their recipes are still around, and I’m finding that pretty comforting. They might say Christmas is about trees and decorations and Jesus and big family gatherings, but I think I’ve decided food (and people to share it with) might be the most important part.

Wherever you guys are all this Christmas, I hope you have some comforting food and friends or family to enjoy it with!

xx. ho ho ho jroe