Archive for October, 2011

Tuesday was our last full day in Amsterdam, and we left our footprints all over the city that day, zipping from one end of town to the other and back again, several times over, to eat/sight-see/eat/sight-see, etc.

We started the day at the Albert Cuyp market, after hearing from several people that this huge outdoor bazaar is a destination for tourists and locals alike. I expected to find stall after stall of fine, hand-made Dutch goods, and a good smattering of delicious food stands stocked with brightly colored produce, but was surprised to find that the market’s offerings were more of the discount-bin genre, with hot deals on everything from toothpaste to leather boots. Bright colors came in the form of wigs and leggings, rather than berries and squash. We didn’t stick around long, deciding we’d rather spend the morning checking out a few of the sights at the north end of town.

We took the tram north, just past the train station, and hopped out to check a few somewhat recent additions to Amsterdam’s contemporary architecture scene. Amsterdam really does feel like the best of both worlds, architecture-wise – perfectly preserved centuries-old buildings, and new, exciting projects that blaze new trails rather than trying to mimic the old. I didn’t love every modern building we saw, but I appreciated the willingness to innovate and make bold architecural statements. We could use a little more of that in Seattle…

Music Building on the IJ by 3XN:

Public Library by Jo Coenen:

NEMO Science Center by Renzo Piano:

And to walk just a couple of blocks from this crazy new modern stuff and still find this rich, charming, old stuff – that’s pretty cool.

Building-gazing had made us hungry, so we trammed over to the city center for lunch at Cafe de Jaren. Hot tomato soup and a toasted cheese sandwich (with chevre, honey, and thyme – mmm…) never tasted so good. We were re-fueled and ready for more. We headed south to what I assume is Amsterdam’s business district, filled with interesting new skyscrapers:

The Rock by Erick van Egaraat:

Tower with crazy outdoor staircase:

I loved these fun vertical fins on the back-side of an other-wise simple building. These pops of color are such a good surprise, especially in a climate as gray and rainy as Amsterdam’s (again, we could use more of this in Seattle):

Architecture appetite whetted, we headed back into town to do a little more canal-side strolling. Unfortunately, the high winds had given way to a steady rain, and we were starting to feel chilled. And damp. And possibly a bit cranky. The solution? Dutch apple pie topped with an insane mound of whipped cream, paired with a steaming cup of tea. One bite of this beauty from Cafe Papaneiland in the Jordaan neighborhood, and all was right with the world again.

We hung out in the cafe for over an hour, actually enjoying the rain (rather than cursing it) from our warm, cozy window-side table. As tempted as I was to stay there all day, we did want to do a bit more exploring, so we buttoned up our rain-jackets, grabbed our umbrella, and went back at it:

We ended our walk with dinner at Lion Noir, a French-inspired restaurant near Rembrandtplein that was only so-so, but followed that with one of the best desserts ever from Cafe Morlang (we had our first meal in the city at this place on Saturday and thought it would be a fitting way to end our trip). A hot waffle topped with honey, star anise ice cream, and fresh mangos; a head full of pleasant Dutch memories; and the certainty that someday, we will be back; and we said our bittersweet goodbye to charming Amsterdam.

We decided to spend yesterday checking out some of the small towns outside of Amsterdam – friends had recommended both Delft and Haarlem for their quaint, old-town sights. We boarded the train at Amsterdam Centraal and one hour later, we arrived in Delft, home of Johannes Vermeer, a heap of famous old hand-painted pottery, and plenty of canal-side charm. The first thing on our list was to climb the old church tower and get a birds-eye view of the city. Sadly, the tower was closed due to excessively high winds, and so we settled for a spin through the main part of the church to gaze at the centuries-old stonework and brilliant stained glass. Not a bad consolation prize.

After leaving the church, we grabbed lunch at a cute little cafe, enjoying the chance to get out of the wind and listen to the happy chatter of Dutch coming from a nearby table. If I ever manage to master the French language, I’m picking up Dutch next.

Fueled by our broodje (Dutch for sandwiches, unless I really misread the menu), we strolled up and down the canals, hardly believing that places this old and this lovely still exist in today’s modern world.

Our wandering eventually led us back to the station, where we caught a train back toward Haarlem. Haarlem has fewer canals than Delft, but the streets are just as charming, with beautiful brickwork and flower-filled pots on every other doorstep.

And the bikes – oh, geez, the bikes! Everywhere we look, it’s hard to find a single tree or railing or sign post that doesn’t have at least 3 or 4 bikes chained to it. Everyone in Holland seems to get around on two wheels – teenagers chatting on cell phones, business men in expensive suits, moms peddling away with a kid or two tucked into the their little bike-rigged buggies, you name it.

The wind and the walking began to wear on us, and so we ducked into a warm, lively bar for some liquid energy – I opted for mint tea, which is served here as a cup of hot water jammed full of fresh mint leaves (so, so good), and Shane chose a glass of whatever beer on the menu he thought he could pronounce correctly.

We headed back to Amsterdam for a simple pub-style dinner and a little more canal-side strolling, which was cut short by the onset of steady rain. Thankfully, there isn’t any shortage of cozy cafes and bars in which to take refuge from the weather, so we ended the evening with a glass of wine at a little hole-in-the-wall and then called it a night…or a ‘nacht’. I’m catching on.

After 16 hours of being in transit, we arrived in Amsterdam yesterday afternoon, weary, but so, so excited that our much-anticipated vacation was finally beginning. And from the moment our train from the airport rolled into rolled into town, I knew we were in for something special. The charm of this city is undeniable – it hits you around every corner and will make you ooh and ahh like the most unsophisticated of tourists, as evidenced by the fact that I grabbed Shane every two minutes to ask ‘could this place possibly be any cuter?!’ The unique-but-perfectly-matched brick facades, the dreamy canals, the lively sound of Dutch rolling of the tongues of the locals…I was immediately smitten.

I was also ravenous, as we hadn’t had a real meal for nearly a full day (turns out those tickets on Iceland Air were so cheap for a reason), so after dropping off our bags at the hotel, we set out in search of a place to grab a bite. Our wandering landed us at Cafe Morlang, a cozy little canal-side bistro where we scarfed down a grilled ham sandwich and a perfectly-fried order of fish and chips.

Bellies full, we enjoyed the feeling of the sun streaming through the windows and it was all I could do not to curl up in my plush booth and take a little nap – jet lag was quickly setting in. And so we peeled ourselves out of our seats and set out to a little more walking. Cue charming canal:

We were about to head back to our hotel when we saw a crowd gathered at a nearby plaza and headed over to see what the draw was. We spent the next 15 minutes watching an impressive troop of break dancers put on quite a show. I couldn’t help nodding my head to the beat and joining with the cheering spectators. These little surprises are one of my most favorite things about Europe.

We ended the day with a short stroll through Vondelpark, before succumbing to our tiredness and turning in early (as in, 6 pm!). We’d thought a little power nap would be all we’d need to recharge and then head back out for late-night cocktails, but once our heads hit those pillows, we were out.

We awoke to rain this morning, but didn’t let that deter us from heading out for a leisurely walk to the Pancake Bakery for breakfast. We stuffed ourselves on pancakes (which were more like crepes), topped with ham and cheese, and then bananas and rum, and we fueled for another stroll though town. Again and again, I was struck by the quaintness of each street we crossed.

Just as the rain was threatening to soak through our rain coats, we took refuge in the Van Gogh museum. We ended up cutting our visit a little short due to the massive crowds, but were there long enough to gain an entirely new appreciation for the artist – did you know that Van Gogh practiced art (without any formal training) for only 10 years before his untimely death, but left behind over 800 paintings and some 1,100 drawings? You can stick that one in your art trivia memory bank.

Post-museum, we decided we’d get an architecture fix and take the tram to the edge of town to check out a couple of projects I was interested in seeing (but not before snapping the requisite tourist photo).

First on the list was ‘The Whale’, a contemporary housing project by de Architekten Cie. I was one of those ‘how did they come up with this?’ kind of buildings. And I dug it.

After taking in The Whale, we walked over to the Borneo housing development, master planned by West 8. Each row-house along the pier was unique, creating an interesting collage of facades. Shane and I picked out our future home and will begin negotiations with the owners as soon as possible.

A few more photos, and then the rain really started to chill us, so we hopped back on the tram toward the city center for dinner. We landed at De Prins, another cozy little bistro, where we proceeded to have one of those meals that will certainly go down in the books as an Amsterdam highlight. Part of it was the ambiance (candlelight, rain falling outside), part of it was the food (a simple linguine, followed by an exceedingly rich cheese fondue, paired with a crisp white wine), part of it was the fact that today is my birthday (indeed, I am no longer in my 20’s…), but mostly it was just the chance to thoroughly enjoy the feeling of spending an evening abroad with my very best friend. Our conversation tonight wasn’t anything especially revealing or life-altering, but I was struck several times by just how much I really, really like hanging out with this amazing guy that I get to be married to. He’s a catch, that Shane… We ended our meal with a cappuccino and a glass of Port (you can guess who ordered what), and then headed back out into the drizzle.

And because it was my birthday and all, we stopped for gelato just around the corner. Fondue, coffee, and dessert? I was one happy camper.

It continued to drizzle on and off, but we didn’t let that deter us from a nighttime stroll, enjoying the ripples in the canals and the reflections of the lights on the cobblestone sidewalks. It’s been a full-but-relaxing day – packed with those ‘there’s no place else I’d rather be’ kind of moments. Happy birthday to me.

After a hectic week of work travel and deadline-ing back at the office, then scurrying around at home to get our bags packed and the house cleaned (I’m kind of neurotic about pre-vacation housekeeping), we. are. off! And praise God, ’cause we need this getaway. Shane and I are both feeling dog-tired right about now. I’ve been focused on trying to prepare for the trip properly, wanting to make sure we see the best museums and eat at the best restaurants and speak the right language, but now, what I want more than anything from this vacation is deep, quality, life-giving rest. If this means skipping a round of cocktails to turn in early, so be it. If we decide to pass on the Louvre for the sake of spending an afternoon reading in a cafe, that’s a-ok with me. Then again, maybe there’s rejuvenation to be found in liquor and art – I’m just committing to making sure the want-to’s take priority over the should-do’s. We’ll see where the Dutch winds blow us (the forecast for Amsterdam is 30 mph winds and rain, so this isn’t just a metaphor!). I’ll report from the other side of the pond – a bientot…


When I boarded my plane to Paris 8 years ago to begin my 10 months of studying abroad, I had only a handful of French words and phrases under my belt. I knew the days of the week and the words for bank, bathroom, and bread, and I think I could conjugate ‘etre’ and ‘avoir’, but that was the extent of it. I spent the entire flight from California flipping through my French/English dictionary, rehearsing the conversation I expected to have with my new landlords, piecing together questions like ‘when is the rent due?’ and ‘where do I take the trash out?’. Thankfully, I had a couple of French-speaking classmates that were already in Paris and offered to help me through this first true encounter with the language barrier, but once my check-in was squared away and they headed back to their place, I remember sitting alone in my tiny little studio apartment and thinking, Oh. Mon. Dieu. I was in way over my head. Especially considering I had to spend the first couple of weeks in Paris running from office to office to get my student visa, which I needed to set up my French bank account, which I needed to set up my French phone line, which I needed to be able to call Shane and hear the sweet sound of English being spoken. I would wait in lines with my French dictionary clutched in my sweaty hands, praying that they wouldn’t ask me anything that would force me to deviate from my carefully prepared script of questions and responses. That said, this crash course in the French language forced me to become proficient within my first few months there. And while I never realized my dream of truly speaking as the French do, I learned how to hold my own. And it felt magnifique.

With our trip to France just a few days away, I’ve dusted off the old French workbook and have been spending my evenings making use of my Rosetta Stone access pass. And holy cow, I’ve fallen way off the wagon. I’m slowly picking things back up, but there have been bouts of shouting with the computer during the speaking portion of the lessons, when the computer rejects my pronunciation and I yell ‘Ecoutez-moi! That’s what I said!’. Yes, I certainly won’t be chatting it up with any Frenchies in their native tongue while on our trip, but I do intend to order our carafe of wine in French. And maybe catch a snippet or two of conversation from the table next to us. And I’ve made certain that I can say ‘Un pain au chocolat, s’il vous plait’ flawlessly. What else does one need, really?