Top 5 Things to Do in Amsterdam.

I’ve written about all of the things below in greater detail, but if you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam in the near future, these are the condensed top 5 things i would recommend doing! (See all my writing on Amsterdam here.)

1. Albert Cuyp Market. If you want to see a local side of town, this – the oldest street market in the Netherlands – is it. The market is exploding in stalls of things to try – everything from frites stands (mmm!) to lingerie shops. We took a full morning to peruse the selection and mostly ate our way through, devouring a powder-sugar-covered waffle at Wally’s Wafels and gorging ourselves on local olives. The prices are unparalleled for such gourmet food! (The market runs Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm).

top 5 - market

2. A Bike Tour. Really, i’m sure any company will do you just fine; Mike’s Bikes was great for the youthful, edgy side of Amsterdam (if a little heavy on the information about weed and prostitution for people not looking for that sort of entertainment) but if you want to get the lay of the land hop on a bike and go. It is the local way of getting around, after all!

shop cats make for the best bikes!

shop cats make for the best bikes!

3. The Van Gogh Museum. While the actual Van Gogh museum was undergoing renovations whilst we were in Amsterdam, the Hermitage Museum displayed the bulk of the collection in a special exhibit. Regardless of their housing, Van Gogh’s paintings come alive off the walls and force you to pay attention to their kinetic, vibrant energy. Though this is on the pricier end of Amsterdam museums, it is worth every cent!

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4. Dam Square. Though this is certainly the touristy center, there are so many great little shops to peak in (and wonderful people-watching!).  As a connoisseur of cheesy souvenirs, i loved shopping in Dam Square Souvenirs which is full of beautiful – if pricey – wooden shoes and other lovely Holland-themed merchandise. The best part, though, is the enormous yellow wooden shoe outside. Free mega-tourist-photo-op!

top 5 - souvenirs

5. Eat. Anything, really, but especially the bread, cheese, sausage, and frites! The Albert Cuyp Market is definitely the place to eat your way through, but don’t let your gastronomical exploits end there. Our favorite restaurant was van Kerkwijk, in Amsterdam Centruum. The menu is recited by the wait staff, who are warm and friendly folk, and it’s a selection abrim in quirky combinations (like steak slathered in strawberry sauce and goat cheese – shockingly good!). Another great place was right next to our hotel, the Café Onder de Ooievaar – the cheese and sausage plate made for a sumptuous late-night snack!

top 5 - eat

Bon voyage!

Highly Honorable Mentions:

The Anne Frank House (it was a wee bit crowded for this claustrophobic, but still very powerful – book tickets online & try to go first thing in the morning, rather than in the afternoon!)

if you like my condensed travel reviews, you’d probably like my tripadvisor profile!

current jam: ‘shake it out’ florence + the machine.

best thing: magna carterrrrr!

 

Maps & Gastronomy: Eating and Reveling in Edinburgh

Edward Tufte says maps are metaphors. I’m no infometrics whiz, but i like this idea – if, for no other reason, than my affinity for maps. Splayed across my wall before me is a map of Edinburgh i peeled out of my guidebook. Adjacent to it is a map of Durham, North Carolina that i plucked from a visitor’s desk downtown. Though these maps are from far-away places, the greens couldn’t be of a more identical hue.

I love this metaphor within a metaphor: a town that is known to me and a town that is new are not so very different that they are required to clash. Durham’s streets are reminders of the world that has nurtured me, and Edinburgh’s closes and squares nurtures the at-times-overwhelming feeling of falling in love with a new world.

Yet falling in love with a new place means i need to share this love with the people who make up the home in the map of my heart. I sometimes fear my noticing of the very-matched greens will be a noticing only for me. That while this world i’m coming to know in Edinburgh is vast and exciting and beautiful, it starts to make my own dot on the globe all the farther from the world i knew.

This fear, though, was deeply assuaged this past weekend: i had the delight of sharing my budding romance with Edinburgh with one of my dearest, dearest friends – Nora!

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As she is also studying abroad in the UK, Nora and i threw together a weekend excursion about the city on a whim – a marvelous, serendipitous, and delicious whim. Because i’ve been so focused on making myself feel at home in Edinburgh, i haven’t necessarily done all the typical tourist-y things one might explore on holiday. Having a guest, though, was the perfect excuse to give myself full permission to go light on the schoolwork and heavy on learning all the reasons you should holiday in Edinburgh.

And easily ranked in the top ten reasons to visit Edinburgh would be the food! Thus, this is the first of two blog posts chronicling our weekend together. And it’s all about the food. (Don’t worry, the latter will be about the actual tourist-y things we did!)

Our gastronomical tour began with the comfort food haven, Mums. “Top nosh at half the cost,” according to the website, Mums boasts of a vibrant and edgy charm: they’re home-cooked comfort mixed with urban attitude. I mean, the mac & cheese has a spice kick to it and comes with chips!* Who doesn’t love drowning in cheese and carbs? Their food is locally sourced, their service impeccable, and the deal incomparable to anywhere else. Eating there with Nora was my first time, but it will so most definitely not be my last.

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Having sated our need for traditional fare, the next evening’s meal was one reminiscent of home: Southwestern American cuisine. Living in North Carolina for so long spoiled me, with taco stands and sit-down Mexican restaurants on every block. So to tend to my poor, burrito-deprived needs, we ventured to the local Tex-Mex joint: Illegal Jack’s. It was all i wanted and more, guacamole included.

Our final dinner was at a place i’ve frequented before: 10 to 10 In Delhi, a Halal Indian restaurant with excellent chicken roti and even better student deals. If you’re looking to stretch your pounds, three quid will get you a belly-stretching meal here. We particularly loved the pretty tapestries stretched across the ceiling and the cozy couches!

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Easily the best place we visited, though, was no foreigner to me: The Elephant House Café.

I met Nora in the fall of our first year at Mount Holyoke. She was wearing a Hogwarts crest t-shirt, it was love at first sight, and the rest (as they say) was Hogwarts, A History. Nora and i are no strangers to Harry Potter-themed adventures; in the winter of the subsequent year, we attended the Brooklyn Yule Ball together. On the last day of finals. In Christmas-themed ball gowns. We’d skipped dinner in an effort to catch the last train into the city, downing rolls of bread and Dr. Pepper’s in a convenience store outside the venue as substitutes.

There aren’t many people you can romp about New York City in a gold petticoat with, but Nora has always been an exceptionally genuine and beautifully adventurous friend.

I remember gleefully turning to her, as Harry and the Potters crashed and roared over their keyboard and guitar on stage. “I’m so tired, but i am having so much fun!“she mouthed over the din. It was a magical moment to share with a dear friend then, and it was just as magical to share the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” with her this weekend over elephant-shaped shortbread and excellent cups of tea.

We were sure to leave our own note in the bathroom – signed, as ever, with our nicknames for each other: Padfoot & Prongs.

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

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Feeling known is an immense gift. I feel known by this city – but part of this feeling known comes from sharing it with an old friend. Nora and i have a history of adventures (gastronomical and literary alike!) and to make this weekend a part of that map of stories was such a treasure. My green maps still match, and the loves in my life make the most beautiful harmonies when sung together.

current jam: ‘good morning sunshine’ alex day.

best thing: a beautiful place to be with friends.

p.s. you can always find my reviews of restaurants and attractions on my tripadvisor profile!

*for friends in the states: chips = french fries, just in case your daily dose of the BBC hadn’t kept you abreast of British slang!

Ruins on the Beach: St Andrews Daytrip!

I thought, in all my travel-savvy wisdom, that New England had prepared me for cold weather. “Well, i have lived in Massachusetts for two years now,” i’d chortle, scoffing at well-wishers warning me to pack extra long-johns.

Woe to those who think they are smarter than the people who actually know what they are talking about.

Scotland is cold. Like, i wasn’t kidding when i said i’d seen cold weather. MA is in the negatives (farenheit) at present. But there’s something to be said for scuttling between classes in the frigidity to find solace in stuffy rooms cranking with 100-year-old-and-still-chugging heating systems. At school, i am at most half a mile from the other end of campus.

Not so when half a mile from me here is my school. Not to mention, like, the grocery store. Needless to say, i’m learning all over again how to layer – long johns included.

But none so much as when i spent a day frolicking about a snow-laden St. Andrews.

St. Andrews is a quaint village north of Edinburgh and also on the coast of the sea – the North Sea, that is. Prepped for the cold, i donned an outfit suitable for the tundra in the wee hours of last Saturday morning: thick wool socks, long johns, jeans, tank top, t-shirt, sweater, knitted scarf, Nepalese hat, StayPuff Marshmellow Woman Dipped in Chocolate Coat (TM), fleece-lined wellies, nuzzling gloves, and a pack of kleenex next to my trusty chapstick in my right pocket.

Though you practically had to roll me in the snow to get to the car, i was warm.

We arrived around 10:30 AM to what seemed to be naught but a shy seaside villa – but is a place, in fact, laden with history. Duchess Kate and Prince William met here, at Scotland’s oldest university; Chariots of Fire was filmed on the beach; golf was invented here; and, from the sprawl of castle and cathedral ruins alike i could tell this had been a center of Scottish life for a seriously long time.

first impressions of saint andrews

Naturally, in a place filled with such rich history, we took full advantage of the academic offerings by running amok on the nearest beach and daring each other to splash about in the (COLD!) ocean. It was stunningly beautiful, the clouds dotted with pinks and turquoise and rolling over a crashing sea. Even the frigidity couldn’t stop that salty tang, the taste of the sea.

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the castle ruins as seen from the beach!

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Since the weather, for Scotland, was unusually beautiful we scampered up from the seaside to explore the ruins of a medieval cathedral. Amidst the pink-and-blue sky, jutting out on a cliff overlooking a reflective sea, was the skeleton of a bygone era. There’s just enough left of the cathedral that i could envision what it had once looked like, in all its gothic splendor. Yet the remnants of the cathedral’s history were overgrown with the reality of the present: mortality.  Closing in on what i could only presume was once the perimeter of the church were hundreds of tombstones, some so whitewashed we couldn’t discern a date or name.

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Part of what remains in the cathedral is the above tower, looming over the sprawl of graves and remains. It’s still open for tours, so the lot of us went to work climbing its spiral staircase. This, easily, was the most terrifying part of the day: the stairs were calf-steep, and there was barely room for one person on each step. I spent the entire time clambering up with one hand on the wall for balance and the other in a death grip on the railing.

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Perhaps medieval towers are not the best place to discover one is mildly claustrophobic.

We, my flatmates and i, were a cacophony of swearing whilst clambering up the stairs. It was only as we crested – at last – the top of the stairs that the swearing turned into gasps of shock and delight. The view of St Andrews spread wide beneath us was breathtaking, the little red roofs sharp contrasts with the navy foam-capped sea and slick grey cobblestone streets.

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We drank in as much of the scenery as we could before deciding it was high time for lunch. Thanks to my trust Lonely Planet Scotland guidebook, we found a place revered for its amazing Fish & Chips: Tailend. I’d not had this classic British dish whilst in Scotland, so i thought it was high time to dive into some haddock with my cup of tea. The fish was perfectly battered, the chips ah-mazing, and the tea rounded off the meal beautifully.

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By the time we’d all tucked in, the weather had changed from glorious to gory in typical Scottish fashion. To avoid the onslaught of hail, sleet, and snow balled into one, i went shopping across the street. There was time enough for a quick, and very damp, romp about the castle grounds before finding solace on a warm bus bound home for edinburgh. Alas, the precipitation cocktail prevented me from snapping any pictures from the castle – but i count the day a roaring success nonetheless!

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current jam: ‘feeling good’ michael bublé

best thing: booking flights!

of interest if you like this: my tripadvisor profile.

An Irish Afternoon in Downtown Durham: Bull McCabes

Though i may not be gallivanting about Eastern Africa this summer, abrim with daring tales of seeing the final installment of Harry Potter whilst combatting a bacterial infection, there are still a number of adventures to be had in my hometown. As i’m now living here as something of a qualifiable adult, i find myself branching out farther and wider than ever before in my choices of cuisine and daytime preoccupation. In a way, then, i’m starting to greet the surrounding metropolis of the Triangle* as a new friend, rather than confining myself to the old news of Chapel Hill/Carrboro (though it will forever be first in my Carolina heart).

For this reason, i thought it might be fun to do a series of blogs entitled The Hometown Tourist Series throughout the remainder of my summer on the fun, quirky, worth-seeing, and sometimes bizarre new restaurants and hometown-tourist joints i uncover. Some will be new loves and others will be old staples, but i think regardless of the longevity of our relationships it will be a good way for me to be a continuing nomad in the land of my never-stagnant youth.

Enough preamble. The title of this post encapsulates the very essence of my new most favorite place in all of the Triangle: Bull McCabes Irish Pub.

I first came to discover this delectable pub on a whim; my mother picked me up from work around 8 one night and we decided to drive until we found a new place to eat. Knowing the City Center District and Historic American Tobacco District of Durham were hotspots for good food and enticing atmospheres (and relatively un-traversed by we), the night was commenced with a scouring the streets for a place still open late-ish on a Thursday evening. We quite literally stumbled upon this low brick building on the corner of Main Street and Chapel Hill Street – a most serendipitous and delightful of circumstances.

Ever a fan of a solid English Pub and totally willing to try an Irish-style venue in the states, we entered into a dark, low-ceiling-ed, wide-walled room abundant in cheering football fans (European connotation implied, per the atmosphere). I knew the moment i saw the walls were lined with fraying book and capped off with those enormous cathedral lamps it was true love.

(i’m not sure any photo could convey how massive these are, but this is my best effort!)

And though the atmosphere to a true hole-in-the-wall is key, the food is what makes Bull McCabes unparalleled. Sure, there’s eat-able pub food, but the cuisine served at this place rivaled the stuff i consumed in the UK. Of the menu, i have sampled (or rather, unapologetically gorged myself on): bangers & mash (my favorite), fish & chips, a BLT with added avocado. All come with their great, thinly-cut and perfectly-seasoned fries. And, of course, the beer selection is vast and (i’m sure, though i have not sampled it) sumptuous.

(the fish & chips)

(my sweet tea)

(though this is a diet coke, the caption on the glas sreads: off-centered ales for off-centered people. (love!))

All in all, going to Bull McCabes is ever a treat. Having now ventured with my mom for some great whimsical maternal-themed wandering, a Sunday brunch, and a delightful evening out i’d easily say this restaurant passes for any occasion wherein you seek good food, authentic and awesome atmosphere, and a splendid time.

(evidence of food consumption being of extraordinarily high yumm levels)

Condensed McMizziview:

Price: 1.5 – 2.3 (0 being fast food, 5 being somewhere super-fancy and of multiple courses (this menu is also contingent on size of portion & time of day))             Atmosphere: 5 (0 being fast food boring, 5 being the full experience of delicious things for eyes and mouth and ears!)                                                                                        Delectability of Food: 4.3 (0 being fast food, 5 being mouth-explosion crazed-good)

Things of interest to future McCabes-ers: website; location; full menu

*for non-locals: “The Triangle” is what we Carolinians confined to the cities/greater areas of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, & questionably Cary use to refer to these very places. This is because Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill form something of a geographical triangle on a map (so clever! Bah!).

current jam: ‘mud on the tires’ brad paisley.

best thing: baskets of chocolate shared and family-growing.