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. 

 

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.

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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.

-J

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*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.

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.

-J

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

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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.

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.

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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.

-J

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