The Big League.

The run stretched from the fold of my knee to my ankle. I toppled out of the car, engine still purring, legs wobbling at their unaccustomed new altitude.

“Just stay in the car!” i craned my neck back at Jonathan, his fingers still thrumming on the wheel. He’d probably put NPR back on without me there. I’d been too nervous to listen to the latest exposé on Joy Division, or whatever.

The lady behind the Rite Aid counter gave me a perplexed once-over, my shimmery pink swath of a dress and elegantly messy bun a vision of out-of-place.

“Y’all carry tights?” i was practically yelping, in need of an inhaler but afraid to elevate my heart rate any more.

“Back row, near cosmetics.”

Heels clacking and eyes as wide as my eyeliner would let them, i flailed my way to the rear of the store. My salvation: rows on rows of Leggs silky-sheer. Five dollars later, i was doubled over in the dingy back bathroom struggling to pull a mess of nylon over my prickly legs. Hopping from foot to foot, i plucked off the ring my Grandmother had given me for my high school graduation, gingerly placing it on top of the toilet paper dispenser. As beautiful as the blue stone was, the beast was the reason for this four-inch-heels sprint through the drug store.

And there i was: legs in nylon knots, trying not to collapse into a hypoglycymic meltdown Rite Aid toilet stall, twenty minutes before the moment i’d been dreaming of since second-grade carreer day.

It was the night of the Talking Taboo book launch.

My book, the real book – not the Advanced Reader’s Copy – was tucked next to my vintage leopard-print coat in the car. I’d outlined in pencil the excerpts i would read, rehearsing with a hairbrush-as-microphone like i was still sixteen and auditioning for American Idol. I’d spent the afternoon slathering myself with hollywood mascara, not caring that i’d be overdressed because you only get one first book launch and this was the dress i felt the strongest in. Pink, effeminate, swishy, and tender. Not a congruent image to the ball-busting feminist ricocheting off the Rite Aid toilet stall walls, but just as much me as the foulmouthed bra-burner found on page 170.

I wound a stretch of scratchy toilet paper around my hand, dabbing at the smears in my foundation. Surrounded by flourescent lights and graying tiles, i stared myself square in my mirror-face. You can, you will, you have. I plucked up my Grandmother’s ring and smoothed down the faux-silk of my skirt.

Jonathan had turned NPR back on by the time i wobbled my way into the passenger seat. Graciously, he turned the volume off and gave me his best honey-you-can smile. With one hand on the wheel and one hand wrapped tightly around mine, he drove the final two miles to the Reality Center downtown.

“You got this, babe.” He’d donned a sport coat and khakis for me, never letting me be the only one overdressed again. In his pocket was a pen, one i’d use later to sign my first book.

“Do i have lipstick on my teeth?” i blurted. He shook his head. “And you’ve got my inhaler?” He tucked the red plastic next to the pen. “Okay, okay, let’s just take a second.” I envisioned myself on my yoga mat, drinking in oxygen as muscles popped with tension-release. Whispered a prayer of thanks, a prayer for confidence, a prayer of humility.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

Half-wobbling, half-strutting, we made our way inside.

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush and my own Jonathan at the event!

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush, and my own Jonathan at the event!

current jam: ‘rise to me’ the decemberists.

best thing: signing mary’s book!!

buy my book!

Seasick on the Strait of Gibraltar.

Anchovies aside, our two-and-a-half days in Spain had been on-the-whole lovely. But we weren’t in Spain as our primary destination: Sevilla was a port of departure for a trip to Northern Morocco.

The Strait of Gibraltar from our bus ride through the mountains!

The Strait of Gibraltar from our bus ride through the mountains!

I was beside myself. Having traveled rather extensively in East and West Africa, i was eager to dig my heels into some Northern Africa territory. Obviously, this was to be a light flavoring of even what all of Morocco has to share and show, but i was hankering for my camel ride and stroll through the fairytale blue streets of Chefchouen.

I was not hankering for usurping my lunch over the bow of our ferry. Even without anchovies, that was not a sight anyone wanted to see.

My motion sickness is embarrassingly debilitating. I can’t sick in the backseat of a car bound for the grocery store without turning green, much less handle choppy waves and gusting winds over the Mediterranean sea. But the worst part wasn’t trying to suck down salt air between waves. It was trying to keep my too-tiny lungs from wheezing in too much secondhand cigarette smoke.

It’s no false stereotype: at least a dozen people stood on the deck puffing on a pack and a half the whole ride over. I’ve been struggling in Europe with the smoking levels everywhere i go, but this was the absolute worst. No consideration for anyone else, the clusters of people blew their excess toxins right into my already-ill face. Nevermind my obnoxiously red inhaler clutched in my greening fingers. Had i not been feeling like my stomach had been replaced with a heavy-load washing machine, i might have assumed soapbox mode and asked for a little awareness of our little-lung neighbors.

After an hour that lasted an asthma-ridden lifetime, we chugged into the Tangiers harbor. The feral cats who inhabited the luggage terminal were my fast friends, and a few mews later i was feeling like a new woman. It’s the simple pleasures, right?

First cat sighting in Morocco!

First cat sighting in Morocco!

Fast friends.

Fast friends.

Another (blessedly smoke-free) bus ride later, we were in our swanky Tétouan hotel where plates of fresher vegetables than i’d seen in months were on the table before us. Morocco was looking seriously good, if for the tomatoes and cucumbers alone.

And my hotel bed was looking even better. So thankful for fresh air and greens not of the seasick-variety, i was for bed.

current jam: ‘holy ground’ taylor swift.

best thing: my dad comes tomorrow!

Sevilla & Málaga: Spring Break Part 1!

(i’m back in edinburgh now, jetlagged and tired but happy to be back. at last, my blogs on spain and morocco are being published!)

I was struck first by the heat. When i can’t so much as leave your desk without unraveling a blanket and donning another sweater, walking outside without so much as a sweater on made me feel utterly nude. And there were palm trees! Actual greenery, not just peeps of emerald grass between halfhearted plops of snow!

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flying in over the andalucían mountains!

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Spain was looking to be an excellent choice for Spring Break.

We cleared customs in Málaga without so much as a who-are-you, acting like stereotypical Americans giggling over our stamps and mispronouncing every Spanish word in sight. We were giddy with the heat. There was a train and cab ride to the hostel, where our driver got lost in the network of Málaga tiled streets. He pointed down an alley that better resembled a linoleum-floored kitchen than a road, and we found at last our place for the night. There were drinks and tapas and superb sheep’s cheese. Really superb.

The next day was spent in jeans and tanktops – a delightful breath of fashion-themed fresh air – walking around the pier and beach. I dipped rainboot’ed toes into the Mediterranean, and before long we were on a train to Sevilla.

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Actual TILED streets. Who knew?

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And though i’d not only worn a tanktop, seen the Mediterranean, and actually tasted humidity, this was the best part of the day. Our route wound itself through the Andalucían mountains, painted in white pueblas and craggy rock-face mountains underneath the bluest stretch of skies. Fields of grapes textured the landscape. It was breathtaking.

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Once in Sevilla, where the streets no longer required mopping, we found a haunt to dine. Spain has a meal consumption time unlike anywhere else i’ve been – my guidebook (trusty Lonely Planet, as ever. I’m still waiting for my sponsorship) even bore an entire chapter devoted to the subject. You snack, at various hours, throughout the day until a MASSIVE lunch come 2 PM-ish. Then there’s dinner, around 9 PM, with more snacking.

Lucky for travelers catching mid-morning trains, it was prime lunch time in Sevilla.

Unlucky for non-Spanish speakers, we hadn’t a clue what the menu offered. So we played my favorite travel food game: ask the waiter in sign language, point at random on the menu, and hope for the best.

I’ve had delectable surprises in the past, especially at Indian restaurants. You can’t really go wrong there.

Apparently in Spain, though, you can. A steaming plate of fried anchovies on a platter of boiled carrots arrived. We looked at each other, mildly horrified. Our first course of paella (deliciously seasoned rice with a plethora of seafood) had just gone so well.

Appetizing.

Appetizing.

Real-time reactions.

Real-time reactions.

A trashcan stuffed with suspiciously fishy napkins later, we left a hearty European tip and walked out. For future reference: átun does not mean tuna.

My favorite part of Sevilla, needless to say, was not the cuisine.

My favorite part of Sevilla was, in a move totally outside of my character, the enormous cathedral-mosque in the heart of El Centro. The builders conceived it with the hope that future generations would think them mad. I think they achieved their goal.

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It’s jaw-dropping. Even after my nine-church-tour of Edinburgh/London/Paris, the 7800 pipe organ and orange grove garden was humbling. The clash and harmony of Moorish architecture with Spanish gothic sung a beautiful melody of history and beauty. Besides, i’d love being in any garden in a comfortable sixty-seven degrees farenheight. The fact that the cathedral had a darling orange grove within it made it all the better!

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The warmth of Spain had yet to abate. In two days, we’d seen the beaches of Málaga and the cathedral of Sevilla, survived a meal of anchovies and made up for it with plenty of Spanish wine. It was a delightful start to what was promising to be a delightful week!

current jam: ‘sons & daughters’ the decemberists.

best thing: cotton leggings.

A Camel Ride Along the Mediterranean!

We unfurled ourselves from the bus onto a fat stretch of parking lot. Puffs of red dust clouded around my feet with every step, the sun burning itself into my neck. I could hear, beneath the cliff, the thrum of waves on the beach. Cars were clustered around the periphery of the lot, but the main attraction sat squarely in the center: five rather unamused looking camels.
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It was like going to the state fair, but with the Mediterranean sea as a backdrop instead of fried snickers bars stalls.

Our Russel-Brand-lookalike guide hollered for a volunteer to be the first to ride a camel.

Two ladder steps later, volunteer #1 grasped the reins and giggled with delight. It had been years since i’d been on a horse and only seconds since i’d made a decidedly eff-it decision and jumped in the saddle. There was no watching how it was done, no hanging back to figure out the rhythm or canter or trot, just a blazing leap and brassy sense of confidence.

Until the camel started to stand. I wasn’t ready for the weird knees, the lurching forward as the camel rose to its full, much-taller-than-a-horse height. The humps that secured the fat wad of fabric connecting me to the animal seemed considerably less stable as the sea beneath the cliffs dropped another ten feet below me.

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I think the sound i emitted would best be called a shriek-guffaw. There was a lot of shouting and laughing and swearing. I clamped my legs and promptly forget every riding lesson from third-grade horse camp i ever knew. In the grand total of the three minutes i got to spend trotting around the parking lot, i think i spent at least two and three-quarters cracking up.

Camel grins!

Camel grins!

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The camel knelt to the ground and once again i was on a rollercoaster of backwards-and-forwards bingo. I felt like the Star Wars All-Terrain Armoured Transport crashing into a pile of ton-ton ridden snow, except in a parking lot surrounded by tourists. No stepping ladder was to be found near my camel, this round. Instead, the camel guide’s hands were suddenly clamped around my waist and unceremoniously plopping me on the ground in a guffaw-shrieking heap of HOLY MARY’s.

I gave the camel an affectionate pat. Our lunch-lurching three minutes were extraordinary. They were also ridiculous. Mostly, though, our three magical minutes together were my favorite three minutes in the whole of Morocco.

I’m back now, nursing a lobster colored sunburn and swaddling myself in wool sweaters. It was an incredible trip made especially incredible by two darling flatmates, Joan and Abby.  I have so many more tales to share – a wander through the blue city of Chefchouen, a grazing over gelato and tapas and wine in Spain, a ghastly menu error that resulted in fried anchovies, to name a few.

But i also have another plane to catch in some 16 hours or so, bound across the Atlantic for Carolina skies. My grandmother is not well, so i am going home for the week to be with my family. There will be more stories soon, though! Thanks for sticking around.

current jam: ‘ho hey’ the lumineers.

best thing: camels! by the mediterranean sea!

Self-Reliance & Southern Fried Chicken.

My inability to cook anything more than rice and eggies-in-a-basket has been a running joke in my family since my brothers learned how to grill steak circa age eight.

I called it my feminist anti-domesticity clause. “I don’t cook because i don’t adhere to gender roles!” i’d stomp and snap. Meanwhile, all my self-prepared dinners consisted of frozen pizza or my tried-and-true favorite eggie snack.

So much for self-reliance.

I knew, in spite of my claim to anti-domesticity, that cooking is not inherently an anti-feminist thing. Obviously, all people have to eat. And i was growing older and pizza for dinner was getting to be repetitive and unhealthy. When i moved into my own flat for the first time on January 11th here in Edinburgh, i knew this was to be the semester of learning and growth abroad.

Fundamental to the growing pains? Learning how to make a balanced meal for myself.

It started slow, tortellinis cooked in slightly salted and oiled water. A few days in i was making sautéed spinach salad, and my first foray into baking chicken was an endeavor of it’s-still-pink-so-five-more-minutes? (For the record, it turned out pretty moist and edible and non-salmonella-filled). I then tried my father’s go-to: honey mustard chicken. A few rounds into those baked delights, i was feeling more assured of my own abilities.

The time had come. My friend Megan and i decided to undertake cooking what we Southern ladies missed the most: fried chicken.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

It was a semi-disaster. We knew, vaguely, that it was best to soak the chicken in some kind of egg-or-butter wash before slathering it in flour and bread crumbs. I always hated how warm the milk was after my mom had kept it beside her while frying up her famous Second-Helpin’ recipe, so i figured milk went in there somewhere.

With a decidedly eff-it-we’ll-make-it-work attitude, we threw all the ingredients together in one bowl. Which turned into dough.

Oops.

Half an hour of packing dough onto chicken legs ensued. Merlot was drunk. Potatoes began to boil. At last, dough dripping off those once-running legs, we threw our concoctions into a pan of oil and prayed to the Almighty Steal Magnolia that She would help us make our mothers proud.

Having no tongs, Megan expertly wielded chopsticks to flip the chicken over until, all but surrendered, we popped them into the microwave to ensure they were fully cooked.

In the pan floated the remains of our dough.

As we sat down to the table, we contemplated our creation. The mashed potatoes and corn, if nothing else, looked exquisite. Bravely, we took a bite of the chicken. Not bad, i thought. Not too bad at all, for making up the recipe on the fly. Sure, it was no Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ but it certainly was good enough for the bone to be licked clean. Megan and i exchanged smiles of victory.

Round 1.

Round 1.

When i told J, the other fried-chicken-master-maker of my life, how our endeavor had gone i think he actually wiped tears from his eyes he chortled so much. My pride mildly wounded, i emailed my mother for her Most Secret Recipe for Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Fried Chicken.

A Tesco trip later, i was armed for round two.

And this time, i must say, it went peach-pickin’ perfect. I’d had to improvise slightly, because Bisquik isn’t exactly available in Scotland (to my knowledge). But one sizzling pan later, i proffered the generously full plate to one of my flatmates, a hopeful grin tucked into the corner of my cheek.

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Round 2.

“Daaaa-aaaamn!” she exclaimed. There was a pronounced diphthong in her reply, even with a mouth full of chicken. Paula Dean would be downright green in the face.

I’m not sure which was more satisfying: the fact that i’d finally made something worth craving (and not just edible) or the chicken itself. As delicious as the food in Amsterdam was, nothing really compares to the warmth of my Southern Mama’s cuisine.

I’m sure there are immeasurable numbers of my peers who scoff at my simple pride in learning how to balance a budget, much less cook a meal (again, my brothers could grill sirloins before middle school). But i think growing up sometimes can be so taken for granted it’s hard to remember a time when you didn’t know what you know now.

So i’m taking time to appreciate the learning, even if it involves clumps of should-have-done dough and try-harder-next-time chicken. Because nothing tastes so sweet as knowing my own capability, domesticity and all.

current jam: ‘kiss you’ one direction (unashamed!)

best thing: self-reliance is the new sexy, ya’ll.

other cookery blogs: cheese buns & rice.

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).

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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!

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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!

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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!

 

Markets and More Eating (Amsterdam, Day 2!)

If the Albert Cuyp Market was a field, i was a plow.

I’ve never been surrounded by so many sumptuous and tempting things to try – from the wafels to the hot chocolate to the small bucket of olives i purchased. Plus, as a mayo-loving french-fries eater whose allergic to ketchup, i just adored the frites stand that sold paper cones stuffed with fries slathered in mayo. And the cheese, sweet Holy Mary the cheese! The displays were utterly intoxicating.

(Note the bicycle!)

(Note the bicycle!)

We’d decided, for our second day, to set aside the whole morning to explore the oldest street market in the Netherlands: the Albert Cuyp Market. Lining the block were some of the most eclectic stalls i’d ever beheld (including my experiences in pre-burned-down Owino Market in Kampala). There was an entire pharmacy spread wide under a tent and in the cold, more lingerie shoppes than i could count, a plethora of places to purchase scarves and the like, and a few stalls reserved for Amsterdam-themed souvenirs. Interspersed between the flower stalls (oh, the tulips!) and garter belts were the main attraction: street food.

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(Van Gogh had followed us, even here!)

(Van Gogh had followed us, even here!)

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It was as good as it looked!

It was as good as it looked!

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Making the famous frites!

Making the famous frites!

frites!

Frites!

I love street markets – the chaos, the food, the cool vintage things you can find, the food, and the experience of feeling like a local. As much as i may love doing silly tourist-y thing (see me in a large wooden shoe, below) i always try to find at least on thing per travel destination that gives me some sense of what it would be like to live there. Naturally, we were not the only tourists strolling about the market. But tourists were in a serious minority here, amongst the clamor of Dutch-speaking voices selling flowers and toothpaste and lingerie. I’d easily say this was one of my most-favorite things we did in Amsterdam!

Having sufficiently eaten our way through the market, we made our way over the Dam Square for more sightseeing. At the sight of THE LARGEST SHOE i have ever seen, there was a lot of squealing and leaping in to take pictures. So much for trying to blend in!

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About a block or so up from Dam Square is the (in)famous Red Light District. We chortled our way through all the funny little shops and such surrounding the red-lamped alleyways, but they definitely are not the reason i’d wanted to go to the city. And the whole district is clearly geared for people visiting the city, not the residents themselves. The gift shops are certainly amusing to visit, but once i’d cracked up at enough genitalia plastered on velvet hats (et cetera) i’d had my fill. Definitely would not say this was the family-friendly place to go on a holiday to the city, but as two young women walking around in the middle of the afternoon we felt pretty safe and took the whole thing in with a sense of humor.

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This is not the Red Light District, but it IS a picture of a red lit sign at night, so it metaphorically serves a purpose!

This is not the Red Light District, but it IS a picture of a red lit sign at night, so it metaphorically serves a purpose!

By then it was high time we ate, again. Utilizing a combination of my Lonely Planet guidebook and the MOST EXCELLENT TripAdvisor City Guide App, we arrived at the quirky and chic van Kerkwijk. With whitewashed, wood paneled walls and candles adorning the tables, we knew this promised to be a unique place to dine.

Turned out there’s no written menu at van Kerkwijk, so our gracious waitress just plopped right down at our table and talked us through the extensive list of their eclectic combinations. When asked what was a truly Dutch thing to try, she explained that the port-city-nature of Amsterdam meant all Dutch food was really a mash-up of European and Indonesian cuisine. We asked for an appetizer that involved bread and cheese, so she brought out a bleu cheese paté-type-thing that was incredible. For our entrées, Abby had steak with strawberry cream and goat cheese, and i had Indonesian chicken. We split a salad and (of course!) frites with glorified mayo.

The incredible cheese-and-bread combination!

The incredible cheese-and-bread combination!

It was an exquisite capping off to two days and three nights of fabulous dining. But, alas, the next morning we were whisked off to the airport leaving behind Amsterdam’s canals and bike lanes for a flight home to Edinburgh.

Though we’d only had an all-too-short time in Amsterdam, i was utterly entranced. It is a beautiful place (even in the cold!) and i am ever grateful for the opportunities i had to visit.

current jam: ‘day that i die’ zac brown band.

best thing: productivity. back to dale martin, for now.

of interest: i’ve added a new page at the top of the screen! it’s still a work in a progress, but have a look if you like!

Of Blossoms & Boats: Van Gogh at the Hermitage.

Refreshed from our wine-and-cheese induced sleep, Abby and i awoke in Amsterdam ready to brave the cold and wanting to explore. After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (have i mentioned the cappuccino machine?) we took a gander about the southern canal/De Pijp neighborhood, drinking in the quaint little bridges and houses stacked against each other.

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Some ten minutes away was our destination: The Hermitage Museum. Since the Van Gogh Museum is presently undergoing renovations, the bulk of their collection is temporarily housed here. I’d been waiting to see this exhibit really since my 12th-grade AP Art History class, when i’d first really studied Vincent.

It was sublime. Is there really any other word for visiting with Van Gogh’s work?

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Unfortunately, photography was strictly forbidden, so i have no photos to share of the actual exhibit. In some ways, i find restrictions like this liberating because it means i’m truly present with the art instead of constantly fiddling with the shutter speed on my Olympus.

Some of my favorite things we saw, though, were not the most famous members of the collection (like Wheat Field with Crows, though that was transcendent). There was a whole section devoted to Van Gogh’s study of Japanese prints, and his painted recreations of some of the prints in his own collection. To see how these pieces really shaped Van Gogh’s perspective as an artist in his formative years was really cool – especially the harsh angles and vibrant colors.

But lest we forget, the more famous works were also amazing to see. I hadn’t known that Almond Blossoms was painted for Vincent’s newborn nephew. Somehow, this idea that the blossoms were meant to celebrate new life made this work all the more endearing.

And the greens! Oh, the greens! I’ve always been enchanted by Bedroom at Arles­ and its quirky, incandescent spirit (my Art History teacher said once he always felt like the chairs were about to start dancing around the room). But it is even more lively in person – the dark patches outlining the bed and making up the floor are such rich tones of emerald that they illuminate the whole work. I was utterly intoxicated by the greens – the fishing boats at Saint-Marie series had me entranced.

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Bedroom in Arles, 1888.

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Almond Blossoms, 1890.

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Some two hours later, we exited the gift shop (postcards in hand, of course) and made our way to Kerkestraat for the (aforewrittenabout) bike tour! Our afternoon was thus consumed by exquisite art and wheeling about town – what more could you want from a long weekend in Amsterdam, really?

That was really the bulk of our first day; the cold was too potent to spend too much time out with the sun going down. We returned to our new favorite bar/café, Onder de Ooivaar, for yet another round of wine and cheese. The next day promised a tour of the Anne Frank House, eating our way through the Albert Cuyp Market, and GIANT YELLOW wooden shoes!

current jam: ‘tout doucement’ feist.

best thing: ravioli.

of note: photos of van gogh’s paintings from here. 

Aimless in Amsterdam: An Arrival Gone Astray (And Other Alliterations)

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It was nearing 11 pm, the Amsterdam air was bitingly frigid, and we were hopelessly lost.

Having taken the advice of a tourist information man upon our arrival in the city, Abby and i had elected to take the Metro instead of the tram. We’d arrived, some five blocks away from our hotel, at a station i could only assume is pronounced “Wheee-sper Plain!”

We should have taken the tram.

I’d carefully traced my fingers around the contours of the map before we left. Studied the route from the main train station to our hotel. Yet somehow, in the darkness, all the streets didn’t seem to line up with our disoriented departure from the metro station. A lot of asking people on their bikes for directions ensued. The streets of Amsterdam are all well-lit, because everyone rides bikes until, you know, the wee hours of the morning. But lamps do little for the cold.

So while we were grateful for the lamps, our toes were going numb and our patience was wearing thin.

Resigned, we hailed a cab. Four euros and two blocks later, we were deposited at the elusive Hotel Prinsenhof.

Oh.

As frustrating as it was that we’d been so close and yet so lost, i definitely do not regret those four euros being spent on the security of being dropped off precisely where we needed to be!

A note tacked to the door of the small bed-and-breakfast style hotel told us to ask the bartender at the café adjacent to the hotel for our keys. From over the bar counter, he produced an envelope enclosing both our keys and vouchers for complimentary wine from the bar (score!). Eager to defrost from the sub-freezing temperatures, we made our way up the three most narrow flights of stairs i’d ever beheld before beholding our room.

A re-creation of Rembrant's "Night Watch" in the hotel's dining room!

A re-creation of Rembrant’s “Night Watch” in the hotel’s dining room!

For all the strife of finding the place, the Hotel Prinsenhof was worth all the wait. Our room overlooked the canal, the reflections of lamps and house-lights glittering in the water between docked boats. We’d learn the next day that the breakfast served was delicious and simple, made all the better by the cappuccino machine (accessible all day!).

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But for the night, there was a much-needed drink to be had and food to be found. The café, Onder de Ooivaar, turned out to have the most incredible cheese-and-sausage platter i have ever had. After what had been such a stressful night getting into the city, my first real bite of Holland was this incredible Gouda.

And just like that, i was in love with Amsterdam. The infamous “they” say the way to a girl’s heart is through her stomach (or whatever). I say it’s through cheese. Or wine. Or, you know, both in a picturesque European city glistening with stars in bike-lane lined canals.

The next day was going to be a packed one – a bike tour, the Van Gogh exhibit at the hermitage, and more eating (naturally) – but after our second glass of Spanish red and second platter of cheese, we were ready for much-needed sleep.

We awoke the next day to sounds of dinging bike bells and shopkeepers opening their tulip stalls, ready to see the splendor in a new, and warmer, light.

current jam: ‘same love’ macklemore + ryan lewis.

best thing: bagels and cream cheese.

The Only Way to See Amsterdam is from the Seat of a Bicycle.

Amsterdam boasts of being the only city in the world that houses more bikes than people. The bicycles clutter the canal sidewalks, over-run the cars in the streets, and nowhere can one be found in the City Centrum where there isn’t some whizzing ding of a bell making music. (Especially if you’re a tourist walking in the bike lane). There are even special traffic lights just for the cyclists!

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bike lane from inside a tram!

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Naturally, then, the best way to see the city is like a local. At the advice of one of my flatmates, on day 1 of our Amsterdam Adventure, Abby and i took a gander with Mike’s Bike Tours. The ride spanned 2.5 hours and the major circumference of the city – seeing everything from the Anne Frank House to a Picasso statue in Vondel Park. The bike shop even had two shop cats!

CATS AND BIKES

The tour definitely does not shy away from talking about the naughtier sides of Amsterdam (as in, prostitution and drugs) so i wouldn’t recommend it for anyone wanting to stick to pretty canals and old churches.

But Abby and i had a blast wheeling around Jordaan, the Museumplein, and sweet little streets lining the canals. Our fingers and toes were frozen solid in the sub-freezing weather, but there was a pit stop for a much-need hot cocoa and the most delicious apple turnover i’ve ever had in my life at the Bertram & Brood. And, since you asked: yes the Red Light District felt safe, and yes: going about it during the daytime is certainly less seedy than at night. The women who work there are, after all, human beings engaging in a legal and heavily guarded profession.

Right: best place for apple turnovers i've yet found; Left: the church next to the Anne Frank house.

Right: best place for apple turnovers i’ve yet found; Left: the church next to the Anne Frank house.

I have to admit, though, i sort of pictured the Red Light District to be like a scene from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. You know, 19th-century can-can dresses and simpering red lips. I fear to say my imagination did not match the reality at all!

Riding a bike in Amsterdam, though, is no joke. Sure, the whole city is as flat as Kansas, but being on a bike here is kind of like driving a car in New York City. You have to constantly be aware, assertive, and unafraid to stick to your decisions (even in the face of an oncoming tram!). At one point, a father and his toddler son whizzed past me so fast i – literally – backpedaled. The most embarrassing part? The kid had one glasses like me and looked ridiculously cool for someone who couldn’t have been older than four.

Europeans, ya’ll. I am constantly being out-fahsion-ed. Even by the babies.

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It doesn’t get more quintessentially Dutch than a windmill and bikes!

 Our noses falling off from the cold, our legs sore from out-pumping oncoming traffic, and our ears stuffed with fun tidbits about Nieuwmarket and the vivacity of Dutch life all made for a great afternoon in Amsterdam. Should you ever get the chance to voyage to this once-quaint-seaside-villa, be sure to include a bike tour into your stay!

current jam: ‘lovely ladies’ from les misérables. (i can’t help it! stuck in my head after all that!)

best thing: apple turnovers.