Two Years

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Amsterdam, two years ago.

Two years ago Emily and I were eating apples and going to the Rijksmuseum and seeing MisterWives at Paradiso. I wrote directions to the venue on my upper thigh so we wouldn’t have to bring our phones and we stuffed our cash in our bras and shoes. We found out that the Dutch don’t party on Saturday nights like I thought they would. We were told by some family friends that Amsterdamers prefer to go out on Wednesday or Sunday nights, oddly.

We stayed in the apartment of a family friend close to the Albert Cuyp market and got sushi to go on a rainy evening. We spend time in the Hortus Botanicus and the Artis and ate delicious Indonesian and Vietnamese food. We had proper dim sum for the first time in our lives and I had a love affair with some duck crepe thing and a shrimp dumpling.  I lost close to ten pounds just being on my feet all day every day seeing what this old, vibrant city had to offer, and it was so refreshing to be in the motherland in a place where our long, strange last name was perfectly reasonable, even if Dutch still sounds so strange to my Anglo ears.

I cannot wait to go back someday, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Amsterdam Redux

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Going through my harddrive and found hundreds of photographs I had not previously thought worthy of keeping.

Taking thousands of photographs a year means that I get a free ride down skewed memory lane, and yesterday morning I got one- the sunshine, smells, and crowded streets of Amsterdam. Emily’s face when I insisted on photographing her again and again. The bright coats and hairstyles, sturdy boots and terrifyingly fast bicyclists.

I would write more but I’ve got so much work on my plate it seems foolish to continue reminiscing- for now.

 

Artis and Hortus: Places of flora, fauna, and fawning.

Emily and I walked over a mile to both of these places, the Artis Zoo and the Hortus Botanicus, located in the Plantage part of Amsterdam. I didn’t take too many photographs of the critters that proliferated at the zoo, as there is still some feeling that it’s not right to keep animals in artificial environments like that.

However, the butterfly garden at the Artis was magnificent. It was hot, humid, and replete with fluttering insects. Fruit trays were laid out for the butterflies to feast upon. Many of the butterflies would land on each other before figuring out that their companions weren’t, in fact, food. Oops.

The Insectarium held some beautiful specimens, including the beautiful brown and white mantis! It reminded me of the lovely, if beautifully intimidating ghost mantis a friend of mine is rearing.

The Hortus Botanicus holds over 400 years of history, and thousands upon thousands of plants! Probably my favorite was finding out that there is a tree literally covered in spines, called the silk floss tree. I had to research a bit about it because Nature is so insane, and found out that it grows in tropical and sub-tropical Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The spines hold water so it’s drought resistant, and it can get over 80 feet tall. All I can think is holy kapow. Also, where can I get one and bring it here to dry Montana?

I walked around the Hortus, where the light came in through the leaves of various trees and plants in the most gorgeous, vivid shades of green, yellow, and brown. The cactus greenhouse was full of desert species, and I stumbled upon several enormous varieties of aloe plants, large enough that I could almost take a nap on one of the leaves and wrap myself in others. They had endangered species of palm trees, ancient varieties of plants they were preserving, and I couldn’t stop reading the labels.

The Hortus also  had the neatest addition ever- an apiary! I meandered on a path and heard the familiar buzz of bees. Ever since I helped my friend Julia with her honey harvest (blog post here) I have fallen in love with the efficient and beautiful lives that bees live. Sure enough, the apiary was busy! Signs warned visitors about the bees, but they went about their business without bothering a soul, merely pollinating and making food for themselves in their fantastical, algorithmic ways.

I could go on and on about all the naturalia but I’ll leave you with a litany of photographs instead. Hasta luego!

The beginning of our trip!

The flights from Denver to Reykjavik and Reykjavik to Amsterdam were monotonous. Plane flights these days are things best done while not fully aware of the conditions you voluntary enter into. I listened to music, watched the free movies, and didn’t sleep much.

We arrived in the early afternoon at Schipol. We were being picked up by Helen, and whisked into the city in her car. She brought us straight to our hostel and then took us to a delicious bakery/cafe, De Bakkerswinkel. We walked around the city a bit. Emily and I were quite tired but I immediately found myself taking pictures of the rooflines. I was entranced by them, looking up. I don’t know how people in Amsterdam or other architecturally saturated cities don’t constantly run into each other- looking up in awe all the time made me prone to bumping into people, running into my sister, and just plain ignoring what was in front of me. (I did at one point step directly into the path of a speeding Vespa- oops.)

Amsterdam was chaotic. We stayed at Hotel Internationaal, right in the Red Light District. It was noisy 24/7- Emily and I were armed with ear plugs, thank goodness. (We mutually agreed that if we had known how chaotic it was we would have stayed elsewhere.) There were so many people, and so many bikes. We heard Dutch everywhere and I came to the conclusion that it was indeed akin to very very drunk German with more guttural noises.

I remember when we stopped at a bar and I attempted to order a beer. I was dead sober and struggled mightily to pronounce the phrases properly and in the end reverted to the most Neanderthal action ever: Point and grunt. Well, not quite grunt but gesticulate in the direction of the beer I wanted. That, sadly, was more successful than words. (I’d like to clarify here and point out that 95-100% of the Dutch speak excellent English and this was more me trying, stubbornly, to work in another language other than my own.)

Anyway, Amsterdam was magnificent to walk around. If you ever go bring sturdy shoes and explore. There are enough church towers and markets and squares that you can easily find yourself if you’re lost. There are lovely quiet pockets and louder more crowded areas, all scattered across the remarkably flat landscape. Do beware of the bikers though! I have to say that riding a bike in Amsterdam to me seemed akin to suicide or homicide- you would surely either kill yourself or slaughter others. The  Dutch ride their bikes with a speed that borders on reckless- they use their bells ferociously and dodge humans, cars, and other bikes fiercely. If you’re a visitor and you’re up to speed on biking in cities, go for it, but if you’re like me and from a largely rural area don’t unless you’ve got organs lined with steel and a skull made of sheet metal- collisions are imminent.

Now to the important part: the food culture that exists in Amsterdam is one to take full advantage of. Thank god we walked everywhere or I would have come back quite a bit larger. We had incredible Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish food, among many others. For me, one of the best parts of traveling is eating and drinking the culture, which I believe can give you a lot of ideas about who the people are, what they think they are, and how they define themselves or want to be defined. There’s a lot of complexity in food and drink woven into cultural landscapes. Not that I’m delving into this sort of thought while I’m devouring a plate of food, but I have to justify my eating habits somehow. I will definitely be elaborating on all the food we ate, because eating is one of my favorite things to do.

More to come! Til then, tschüß!

Amsterdam: the coffee

Oh goodness.

The coffee.

I can’t even make words about the caffeinated perfection that comes in neat ceramic cups in Amsterdam. I became a fiend- Emily and I would get up and head off to an adventure and I’d have to stop and get a double espresso to go or we’d sit down and I’d savor every bit of the experience. I could become a poet or a folk singer just devoted to singing the praise of the coffee there.

Just kidding. Mostly.

Not really sure how to even begin to post about all the incredible things we ate/saw/did so I’m haphazardly breaking it down in small bits and will most likely sprinkle enormous posts here and there. Stay tuned- I”m queuing posts so that they’ll be regularly posted!

Currently: an update

We are currently avoiding the miserable and relentless rain and wind as they pelt the windows of our small cottage in Hafnarfjöður.

The complete lack of posting is all to blame on this: the longest holiday I have taken in a very long time. We have been in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Bruges, and Iceland is our final stop. We (sadly) depart this Wednesday from Keflavík Airport to fly back across the sea.

In the meantime, here are a few iPhone photographs from our time in Amsterdam. A wonderful family friend, Helen, picked us up from the airport at Schipol and took us to our hostel.

We unwittingly ended up in the heart of the Red Light District, with noise unabated 24/7. Nonetheless we were able to enjoy this fascinating city, navigating the narrow streets and crossing bridges, all while dodging the homicidal bikers that fly with dizzying speed around corners, seemingly fearless.

One aspect of Europe that never ceases to amaze me is just how old it is. America is a toddler compared to many European cities, and as we walked past buildings that were 500 years old and still standing I was left with my mind reeling.

We visited gardens and zoos and walked for miles, a visitors map in hand. Truth be told, Amsterdam was often a struggle for my mind and body, as the large masses of people clogged streets and bars and seemingly every available space. I am not at heart a city dweller; the comfort of Montana and it’s expanse of space and my largely rural-ish (relative to this) upbringing can make me bolt and dodge people as if escaping from something.

Regardless, we had a blast. The food scene in Amsterdam is certainly one that will get praise in upcoming posts, and many gems of the city we encountered I want to delve into further.

I hope that these images suffice for the time being, until I have access to a computer (I am posting from my iPhone, and apologize if formatting or image sizes are off!). Farewell for a few more days, friends!

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