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

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

cinque terre

“Welcome to family,” Francesco said as our small glasses of wine clinked together on our first night in Cinque Terre.

After 24 hours in Milan, where pizza was eaten in excess and even the little kids were more fashionable than I will ever be (yes I’m talking about you, little Italian girl in sparkly Doc Martens), my friend Dilara and I hopped on a train to Cinque Terre and arrived at Francesco’s hostel.

5terrebackpackers is in Corvara, a twenty-minute twisty drive up the mountains from Monterosso, the northernmost village of Cinque Terre. We arrived in Monterosso with enough time for seafood spaghetti, white wine and a seaside view before catching the shuttle up to 5terrebackpackers. After Francesco showed us around, we quickly found ourselves swapping stories with fellow travellers on the deck. I’m not sure if it was intentional, or if it is just a weak Wifi connection, but the Internet only worked in the communal outdoor living room. Forcing all of us, and our iPhones into the same room resulted in some serious interaction, which was pretty cool. It didn’t take long to start reminiscing with a few American girls about hand-clap-songs from our childhood (stella, ella, hola, tap, tap, tap) and playing each other our favourite John Oliver videos.


The next morning, Dilara and I had a grand old time exploring Cinque Terre. A set of five coastal fishing villages, Cinque Terre is on the east coast of Italy between Genoa and La Spezia. One of Rick Steve’s favourite spots, the area attracts heaps of Americans and was bustlin’ with tourists even in late October.* There are beautiful hiking trails that link the five towns, so you can hike from one place to the next, working up your appetite for gelato/focaccia/ pasta/more gelato. Which is exactly what we did. We started off in Monterosso, the northernmost town and hiked a couple of hours on the main trail to Vernazza, where focaccia was on our menu. After another two hour hike, we arrived in Corgnilia, where it was time for gelato. In Manarola, we drank white wine in the sun. Back to Monterosso, we swam and (of course) ate pasta. In the evening when we arrived back at Francesco’s hostel, there was more pasta waiting for us, which really isn’t surprising, because Italy is a dream world. After dinner, Francesco popped into the dining room in his red apron to ask us how everything was. The homemade wine, strudel and pasta was all to die for, we told him. It’s pretty evident that Francesco has put his heart and soul into getting 5terrebackpackers up and running. The place closes down in the winter, and he’s looking forward to it. He needs a break, he said, “to sleep, to take care of his body, to travel, to drink a beer with his friend – those kind of normal things like that.”

After working as a lifeguard and bartender for twelve years in Monterosso, Francesco decided it was time to start his own business. He tried to buy property in Monterosso, but at 10, 000 euros per square metre, he decided to look elsewhere. The building that Franscesco did decide to buy is over 300 years old, and renovations took longer than expected. But he salvaged as much as he could, giving the renovated building a contemporary and rustic feel. 5terrebackpackers opened last year, and it looks like things have gone pretty well. Just check out all of the online reviews. Staying somewhere with scheduled shuttle bus rides (two in the morning and two in the evening) may not be ideal for everyone, as it can limit your time in bars and things like that. “This hostel is more for the traveller than the tourist, I think,” Francesco said. I’d have to agree with him, and for Dilara and I, our stay in Cinque Terre was perfetto, as they say.




*I don’t know much about it, but Cinque Terre seems to have suffered quite a bit from the consequences of mass tourism. I could definitely sense that the region was catered almost entirely to tourists and that the locals weren’t necessarily happy about it (for rightful reason). I plan to learn more and write more about the problem with mass tourism in the future, so stay posted.


Last weekend, a few of us decided to embark on a midnight bike trek to a squat festival an hour west of the city. The festival was put on by ADM, one of the last large squat communities in Amsterdam. They were celebrating their 18th year of existence with a weekend long birthday party that was open to all.

here are some blurry iphone photos
“there is no culture without subculture”

We biked for an hour out west past the Amsterdam suburbs, graffiti-ed train stations and putrid biodiesel industrial plants to the west harbour wharf where the party was taking place. It was late and very dark by the time we arrived, and I imagine the darkness hid many of the quirky gems that would be found at a squatting community. Not to say that there wasn’t enough eccentricity to captivate our interests. On our way to find something to eat (we worked up an appetite on the bike journey), we went past a number of giant art installations made out of various materials that lit up the pathway through the area. Past the ‘eco-friendly television’ (people in costumes performing enthusiastically to their audience behind a cardboard TV cutout), people were sitting atop a giant ship enjoying the music playing from below. We found the Guerilla Kitchen stand, an Amsterdam based group that takes food from supermarkets that would otherwise be thrown out and cooks up somethin’ good for whoever is hungry. I’m not entirely sure what we ate, but there was cilantro and pumpkin and bread involved. While snacking away, the Violent Femmes were echoing through the speakers and two older men danced to their own beat in front of us.

another blurry iPhone photo!
another blurry iPhone photo!

(When I’m out walking / I strut my stuff / And I’m so strung out.) Right beyond the men a woman was dancing with a fire hula-hoop. I think I could have watched people dance with fire the entire night. When we finished our food, we wandered farther and found a DJ playing inside a scrap-metal giant piranha sculpture. We climbed onto a ship and sat in plastic chairs while we people watched and talked about our thoughts on the whole squat community concept.

Amsterdam experienced a squatting boom in the 80s, when the economy was in a slump and the city was experiencing a huge housing shortage. A number of renewal plans threatened many aspects of the urban fabric of the city. There were plans to tear through the centre of the city to build large roads and to replace a number of old historic buildings with modern urban developments. For many, squatting became a strong political movement – people were fighting for the right to decent and affordable housing. Many historic buildings, and some say even the neighbourhood I live in right now, the Jordaan district, have been saved from demolition due to squatters occupying these once abandoned places. Squatters can bring life and creativity to forgotten areas in the city. For quite some time, squatting was legal in The Netherlands. Beginning in 1994, if a building had been vacant for at least one year, a squatter could legally establish residence, as long as they had a table, bed and chair set up.

Squatting in Amsterdam has declined rapidly since its peak in the 80s, but some communities, like ADM, still exist. Over one hundred people of all ages live in the ADM live-work community. This “cultural free-haven” focuses on alternative ways of living and find ways to shift their daily focus away from time and money. Since 1987, when the first squat community was established in the ADM area, a number of court cases to remove the squat have taken place. The act of squatting is technically banned now in The Netherlands, but there are still ways around the laws (people seem to find loopholes around authority very well in this country).

Breaking and entering has always been illegal, so squatters tend to enter abandoned spaces in groups with tools that make breaking the door open a quick process. -- Photo by Hans Bouton
Breaking and entering has always been illegal, so squatters tend to enter abandoned spaces in groups with tools that make breaking the door open a quick process.

Photo by Hans Bouton
Photo by Hans Bouton
Squatters moving in tables, beds, and chairs. — Photo by Hans Bouton

I still don’t know much about the whole squat culture here in Amsterdam (or anywhere else for that matter), but from what I’ve seen and read it appears to be a pretty important aspect to the cultural fabric of this city. In its heyday, the squatters’ movement attracted a lot of radical protesting and anarchist violence – there were over ten thousand squatters in Amsterdam in the 80s. These days, the political action seems to have simmered down and squatters’ main goal isn’t necessarily radical change – they just want to have a roof over their head while being a part of creative communities that enrich their society. Heaps of squat communities put on events in Amsterdam that are open to the public; such as the ADM festival we went to last weekend. These events are affordable and vibrant and allow exposure to groups that don’t particularly agree with mainstream capitalist lifestyles.

piranha dj!

After more wandering and dancing at the festival, we decided to begin our journey back home. Even though the food we had that night gave us all mild food poisoning and my scarf still smells like burnt biodiesel from biking past the industrial plants, I think I’ll be checking out similar events while I’m here – these alternative communities are an essential part of the multi-layered amazing complexity of this city.


cool light up structure that I am pretty sure is a green house?

smiles in the city

I’m amazed by this city. It’s a beautiful, stimulating and fantastic place. Every day, I see something in the streets that makes me laugh.

Yesterday, it was a woman who set up her easel in the middle of the sidewalk to paint a picture of the autumn afternoon. The day before, I couldn’t help but smile at the group of elderly people who set up a table on the street next to a canal to eat their supper. There was a white tablecloth, candlesticks, wine and everything else you need for a proper dinner party. A week ago, my laughter was sparked by an American tourist sitting on a patio wearing a shirt, that barely fit over his protruding stomach, and read “POWERED BY PIZZA”. On my way to class the other day, the loud sound of someone in a houseboat banging away on their drum set caught my attention, and once again, I couldn’t help but laugh. Speaking of houseboats, there is one on my street and on hot summer days, the people who live there fill up a kiddy pool on top of the boat, and lounge in the pool. Another one of our neighbours is an old skinny man who, on a hot day, is guaranteed to be contently sitting shirtless on the sidewalk reading his book. Every time I see a puppy in the basket of a bike (which is more often than you might think), my heart melts a little bit more.

This city is pulsing with eccentric energy, and it makes my days a little bit brighter every time I walk out my front door.

impressions about canada, from around the world.

I haven’t met any fellow Canadians since I’ve arrived in Amsterdam. I have, however, met heaps** of people from all other corners of the world. As a result, the weather is no longer the go-to topic of small talk when you first meet someone, and instead, conversation seems to concentrate on where we are all from. The most common responses when I tell them I am from Canada seem to be: “Are you from Vancouver?” or “Do you speak French?” To these people’s disappointment, neither are the cases for me. The second most popular questions are if I ski or “ice” skate, and I tell them I am a poor representative of my country, because I am not particularly talented at either.

Two different people asked me in one night if we are like the head-bobbing animated Canadians in South Park. I’ve also been told at least three times that I am like Robin Sparks from How I Met Your Mother. I’m tall and Canadian, and so is she, so, I can understand the connection, I guessml5ocjttfoabsivkjs2n.

A few Brits were really excited when I said I was from Calgary, because they knew all about the Jamaican bobsled team in the ’88 Olympics. A couple of people have seemed to recognize the name of my home city, thanks to Bon Iver and his track Calgary, or from Death Cab’s I Will Follow You Into the Dark.

My Swedish friend asked if we actually eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches in North America (hell yes!). An American immediately asked if I was a Belieber (hell no!). A girl from LA got fed up with the terms toque and tobogganing and told me that she refers to Canada as “America’s Hat”. I had never heard that one before.

At an Oktoberfest party with a Calgarian friend who was visiting from London where she’s on exchange, we sat on the ground and started eating hummus and melba toast from my backpack. We had been a lot of places that day and had figured we’d save money by bringing a bunch of snacks. Two Dutch boys in lederhosen turned around and joined in on the late night picnic in the bar. We had talked about bears and beers and other random things and as I took out my 1 litre Nalgene bottle, the lederhosen boys said, “Wow, you Canadians are really resourceful.” Sam and I liked that one, and decided to roll with it. The conversation then led to us talking about how Canadians have got to always be prepared, because we’re so often out in forests and on top of mountains and other outdoorsy things like that.

The same night, a German post-grad asked me if it was true that Canada’s government is as scandalous and dishonest as he had heard it was. He said he was surprised to hear such a thing, and had always assumed that the USA would take the cake on our continent for being the politically messed up ones. After all, to some, we are just “America’s Hat.”  Who knew a hat could be so shameful and anti-democratic!  I told him about the upcoming election and that people are so incredibly fed up*** with our current leader, that things ought to change for the better after October 19.

I certainly hope they do, so we Canadians can go back to wearing our toques with pride wherever we go in the world.



**I’ve been spending a lot of time with Australians, who use the term ‘heaps’ so often that it has naturally entered my vocabulary.

I like this one better than “America’s Hat”

***One of my favourite stories regarding the whole “anything but Harper” movement was when a woman passed away and her obituary read: “In lieu of donations, Catherine would want you to do everything you can to drive Stephen Harper from office, right out of the country, and into the deep blue sea if possible. Also, she would like you to fix the CBC.” You go, girl.


You hear from everyone that travelling and studying abroad is “the best experience of your life” and that “there’s nothing better” and “it’s life changing” and blah blah blah blah you really ought to go. You think yeah I bet it’ll be fun, sure why not? You get to go on a little adventure and see really cool cities and drink different beer, and apparently it’s the greatest thing ever, so sure, I’ll take your word for it, society. And then you arrive and you’re like “wow cool I live in Amsterdam (or Singapore or Edinburgh or wherever it is you go), this is really incredible, everything is so beautiful and amazing wow!” Then you realize that you have no friends, you don’t speak the native language, you own zero furniture so your room is depressing and your internet is broken. You’re intimidated to just go meet people and you don’t really know what to do with yourself, so you spend a lot of time reading and doodling. You’re still having fun but it is by no means the best experience of your life (yet) so you’re kind of annoyed at the people that made the experience out to be way better than it is (so far), but you keep moving forward because that’s what we ought to do. And then, at some point, things pick up and you meet people that you can have real conversations with. You meet one who likes Tame Impala as much as you do, and you meet another one that shares the same academic interests, and you meet another who reminds you so much of your friend from home that you love them automatically, and you meet another who’s fashion sense is so on point and another many who you have not much in common with but you just love being around them, and all of a sudden it feels like you have a little community here. And everyone you meet is from a different corner in the world, which is the coolest thing. And you think, ok cool, this is it, it’s starting now. And then you start to bump into people you know on the streets and you notice yourself doing things you wouldn’t have done a month ago. You strike up conversation with anyone you see in your building and you buy tickets to a music festival ten minutes after meeting the people that invited you to join them. And it’s not forced, it’s a genuine interaction and you just feel comfortable meeting anyone because a social boundary has disappeared. And it’s remarkable. And then you talk to your new friends (that you met three days ago but you already feel close to) about how cool the entire experience is shaping up to be and then some random drunk Dutch man comes by and starts to do some weird snap-clap-dance move and he sits down and he just keeps snapping and clapping and instead of making shifty eye contact with each other and thinking “we gotta get out of here,” you just snap and clap and laugh.

evanescent days

The streets in this city have a sense of ordered chaos, with perhaps more chaos than order. Any traffic rules appear to really just be guidelines, with mopeds speeding in the bike lanes, the bicyclers leisurely criss-crossing paths at the uncontrolled intersections, and tourists stopping dead in the middle of the street to check their map, or maybe use their selfie-stick for a group photo on a picturesque canal bridge.


The pubs and café’s are filled with all sorts of people enjoying the final August moments of sun and relaxation, with a Juliper in one hand and a rolled cigarette, or maybe an Amsterdam guide book, in the other. Colourful flower baskets hang from windowsills and families have picnics while floating down the canals on their small, wood finished boats.
On an almost daily basis for the past two weeks, I’ve seen Dutch frat boys with their combed hair and coordinated navy blue blazers and khaki pants participate in initiation fraternity rituals throughout the centre of the city – drinking beer in the morning, yelling chants, struggling to transport couches in shopping carts to who knows where and setting off flares in the wee hours of the night.

As many say, the streets are the arteries of the city, and Amsterdam’s streets are surely pumping with energy. Even the quieter streets have a gentle, charming buzz, with young girls perched on the side of the canal eating lunch, and even younger boys biking home over the uneven cobblestone road, causing their bike bells to softly jingle.

There is something special about the fleeting days of summer in any place, but here, in the lively mixed streets of Amsterdam, the end of August seems to be particularly wonderful.