Life, Travel

Michigan’s own Holland

West Michigan was settled by many Dutch settlers back in the 1800s, so we’ve got cities and counties called “Holland” “Zeeland” and “Van Buren.” The area has celebrated their ancestry ever since, with their annual Tulip Festival, and this year, I decided I’d go. I was expecting this festival to be as unauthentic as fajitas are to Mexico, but I love fajitas, and, anyway, I’d welcome a Dutch-fix of any kind. No matter how tacky vaguely cultural festivals can be, a field of colorful tulips with a classic windmill in the distance is a sight to see.

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And with a Dutch festival so near to me, how could I not go. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of experiencing Dutch culture, food, and architecture, but whatever I got would be good enough. Surprisingly, my family was willing to drive the 3 hours west with me, and we made a day of it. First, the Dutch buffet at The Queen’s Inn. Stampot, mini sausage rolls, Indonesian satay chicken skewers, Dutch apple pie and more. It was exactly as good as I expected – equal in authenticity as Chinese buffets are to actual Chinese food. To be clear, I am neither insulting nor complementing this buffet. It was a good time with my family, and therefore, I liked it just fine. Next we walked around the free part of the Dutch Village, with souvenir shops selling wooden shoes and classy delft products.

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The part of the Dutch Village you paid for was mainly for young families, as it had carousels, windmill mini golf and cotton candy vendors. I would have enjoyed it for it’s little canals and crossroad ‘street’ signs saying “Bruggestraat” and “Kleinestraat,” but I would have had conflicted emotions upon realizing I’d spent money to see this:

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Next on our to-see list was the Art Fair, so we headed to Centennial Park, which commemorated the centennial birthday of Holland, MI. It was nice strolling up and down the crisscrossing sidewalks of the fair, and just as we were as fulfilled as we were going to be from the fair, the Dutch dancing started. Dutch dancers of all ages, dressed in colorful, traditional costumes, filled the entire road – we couldn’t see either end!

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I enjoyed the dancing – it was fun and I loved the sound the wooden shoes made as they danced and stomped on the cement. My brother said he overheard an actual Dutchman, from the Netherlands, saying that he’d never seen anything at all like this before. We concluded that everything that Holland, Michigan celebrates immortalizes what Holland culture had been in the mid 19th century, when the Dutch settlers had come to Michigan, and is as disconnected with modern Dutch culture as, being honest, the rest of America is. It was now time for an early-evening drink, so we headed, by foot, to downtown Holland. On our way, I was telling my family about my wishes that the festival had been even more Dutch – with more Dutch food, Dutch art, bicycles, or at least the popular vendor treat, “Olie bollen” or filled donuts – when my Dad was like, “What, like those?” And he pointed to an Olie bollen stand! It was the one Dutch food vendor that I’d seen yet! Peculiarly translated to “Fat Balls”, my Dad said he’d never let me live down buying one of these. I wasn’t ashamed at buying a Dutch apple “Fat Ball” in the least, but I did ask my Dad to forgive my spending $5 for it.

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I can’t say the festival had no Dutch food, just very little. There was a grocery store in the Dutch Village that sold pannenkoeken, poffertjes and Olie bollen mixes, and even sold a poffertjes pan for the reasonable price of $39.95.

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All in all, the day was a success, and we all had a great time! Even the total of 6 hours driving didn’t seem long at all. Michigan’s agricultural landscape can be very appealing to stare out at, especially in the evening sun. I’d brought Tina Fey’s audiobook “Bossypants” and for the last hour of the trip, we listened to the chapter on her experience portraying Sarah Palin, which we all enjoyed. So we had our faux-Dutch experience. Tomorrow, we’ll have our faux-Mexican experience – Cinco de Mayo and my mom’s birthday!

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Life, Travel

Visiting Los Angeles

I visited my sister (et. al.) in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago. It started as a vacation, but when I boarded my flight back, I felt, once again, like I was being pulled away from my home.

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My sister has been in Los Angeles for just over a year. I’m simultaneously used to it and “like whoa” about it. When talking about her week, it’ll often include L.A.-isms like her friend’s boss being some actor from “Lost”, her landlord being friends with Quentin Tarantino, having attended this or that premiere, or running into celebrities at coffee shops. It’s  bizarre that my sister lives a life where these things can happen.

Not to say her daily life is full of celebrity run-ins. Her day-to-day conversation is more often filled with mentions of getting stuck in traffic on the 101, finding more freelance design work, and moving from one cramped living situation to the next. However, these are L.A.-isms as well, which are, in their own way, fairly surreal too.

Both Kim and  a friend, Ariel, had just signed a new lease that week, and didn’t technically have their own place to stay, so the three of us got the cheapest hotel there was. When looking for the complimentary breakfast, it was so nondescript, Kim and I passed right by it. After asking where it was, we were told we could eat the packaged english muffins or danishes in our room or by the pool. Initially slightly put off, we toasted some english muffins, poured ourselves some coffee and ate and talked by the pool for an hour, and I wouldn’t have traded it for any $7.99 breakfast scramble anywhere.

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Kim and I walking down to breakfast.

Kim’s boyfriend’s brother was also flying in, from their home in New Zealand. He was able to spend an enviable two weeks there, to my 4 days. Also, about half of my close friends now live in Los Angeles, pursuing different careers in the entertainment industry. I was reunited with so many college friends, all at once, and meeting many new people, and it could only last for a few days. It was like starting a really good, anticipated, novel, and losing the book after only 30 pages.

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Catching up with amazing friends in Venice Beach.

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Hanging with the cool kids at Santa Monica Pier!

My first time in Los Angeles, years ago, Kim, another friend Satpreet, and I went to to a desert park scattered with Joshua Trees and had one of the most fun photoshoots I’d ever had!

Desert near Joshua Tree

I’ve loved Joshua Trees ever since, and was determined to go to Joshua Tree National Park. Our group shrunk and grew, and we were able to squeeze into one car for the 2.5 hour trip, leaving way later than intended, and getting there for a fantastic dusk, climbing the rocks, and sitting on top of the desert as the orange sky turned into some of the clearest stars I’d ever seen. It was so much better (and bigger!) than I thought it would be, so I’m definitely going back for a full day hike there next time I’m in California!

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The ‘gents.

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Sunset.

It was an excellent trip! I couldn’t have asked for a better collection of activities! Friends, barbecues, beaches, museums, architecture, landscape, hiking. It could have been improved only with length.

I left wishing Michigan could offer as much excitement, which is a shame, because I know it can, if I only looked. I did go on a hike a week before going to California, to a state park, which was a stark contrast to my hike a week later. It was beautiful, even more beautiful than this photo captured:

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Kensington State Park, Michigan

But California has Joshua Tree National Park.

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Life, Travel

Fall in Amsterdam

I did fall today, actually, off my bike. I was hopping onto my bike, and my leg somehow didn’t make it over the bike… My groceries and I were just fine. I’m really glad I waited to get eggs.*

Fall is by far my favorite season. Michigan does Fall very well, as proven in so many PureMichigan advertisements:

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I always felt, that if/when I left Michigan, Fall wouldn’t be the same without cider and donuts at the local cider mill. I googled “Cider Mills Amsterdam” and found ONE in the whole area.

But Amsterdam’s beauty in the Fall makes up for it’s lack of cider mills! Fall is hard to mess up, though.

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The Netherlands can’t decide if it’s ready for winter or not. It goes from winter-coat-cold back to should-I-bother-with-my-jacket warm. Yesterday, I wore a dress and was completely comfortable. That’s something I wasn’t expecting about The Netherlands! An extended season of warm! I like it!

Yesterday I met up with two friends of mine, Tomas and Nazam, for Indonesian food in a nearby city called Haarlem. Haarlem’s downtown is a bit quieter than Amsterdam, and still retains most of the wonderfully Dutch old-architecture, so it’s a popular place for families to move to. Tomas and Nazam know the family from the Indonesian restaurant, which was very cool.

I can’t believe I haven’t discovered Indonesian food before now! It’s delicious! It’s different from Thai, but it does share it’s love of peanut-based sauces, which I love. I feel like there was a missing element of my diet all my life, and Indonesian Satay is it.

I’m headed to Munich for the Christmas markets, so I’m hoping Munich is better at Winter than Michigan! I give Michigan an A+ for the first week of Winter, then hovering back and forth between a B- and a D for the rest of it.

Cheers!
Beth

* Tip for dropping your carton of eggs – if they don’t crack and spread all over the place, but only have little cracks in the shell, boil them up real fast and have a week’s worth of hard boiled eggs!

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Emotion, Food, Life, Travel

I see England, I see France

I’ve been traveling so much these days! It’s great, it really is, but it’s also nice to have weekend at ‘home’ (home being Amsterdam.) Over the past month I’ve spent weekends in London, Disley, Oxford, Düsseldorf/Bonn and Maastricht, in England, Germany and the Netherlands, respectively.

And I fully understand the benefits of a backpackers backpack now. However, I have a laptop with me, so I have this little rolling suitcase/laptop case. It is really great, but not fun when in a rush or when walking on cobblestone! (Note: when walking on cobblestone, I usually pick it up, hence the annoyance.)

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The brand, London Fog, is so fitting for me, since I’m a proclaimed Anglophile (who isn’t though?). It has “Big Ben” on every zipper😉. When I was buying it, it was next to a Parisian brand that had Eiffel Towers all over it. These brands know who their target markets well, that’s for sure.

So anyway, each weekend I bring like, 1.5-2 outfits, because that’s all I can fit with all the other stuff I’m bringing – journals, laptop, sometimes work stuff. I just have to get creative with my clothes, trying to make them look like I wasn’t wearing it the day before, or sleeping in it.

When I went to London a few weeks ago, I had breakfast with a blogger friend of mine, Sara, from realfunfood.com. I’ve always loved reading her blogs, because I feel like they’re perfectly catered towards me – a young female living in London and likes cooking and fitness and other geeky things. So it was very cool to meet up with her! It was tough picking a restaurant out of all the wonderful options, but we picked one called the Electric Diner in Notting Hill. The restaurant looked super cool and the location was great. I love Notting Hill and I don’t think I could ever get bored wondering through Portobello Market, which we did after breakfast!

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Photo courtesy of Sara at realfunfood.com.😉

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Then I had to rush to the show Les Miserables, which was unsurprisingly fantastic. The only unfortunate thing is that I’ve been exposed to the story so many times now, I think the emotional effect it should have on me is waning…. it’s unfortunate, so (once I finish the book!) I’ll take a break from it for a while. It’s the same concern I had about Harry Potter, haha.

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Who wants one?:

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Is it just me or did they crop the photo on that bag really poorly?

And then I walked to South Bank to meet my friends for dinner and I unexpectedly and delightfully came across Trafalgar’s Square, which was as beautiful as it’s ever been, give or take a couple more blue rooster statues.

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Kim, Warwick Davis was inside this building, below. I’m pretty sure that was his last day of the show, too. (I should specify, the building with the “Spamelot” sign, not the old green taxi station.)

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Looking at the photo below, it’s taking my breath away even now, if that tells you how beautiful the view was in person.

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Right around where I was meeting my friends for dinner, I passed by this outdoor food market, that served hot meals from all ethnicities. It smelled amazing. You have no idea. I told myself that next time I was in London I was definitely getting food from there! However, I was in London the very next weekend, but didn’t make it out there. But NEXT time I’m in London, I really will. For sure.

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And here’s my friend Seb’s photo of the restaurant we went to. By the time I got there it was dark… because I went to the wrong Wahaca! There are two in South Bank! I definitely recommend going to Wahaca, but make sure you know which one you’re going to. I felt so stupid, because I’d given them the address of the right Wahaca myself, and then I went to the wrong one. That’s what happens when you rely too much on the internet and then you unexpectedly don’t have it anymore…

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And for those fans of Pride & Prejudice, I definitely recommend going to Disley, a little town near Manchester. It’s got the Pemberley Estate from the BBC mini series of Pride & Prejudice! I was sooo excited to go, pretending I was Elizabeth Bennet instead of Elizabeth Berens, taking a turn around the gardens at Pemberley.

And I can’t let this irony slip past you: I, Elizabeth, walked out of the courtyard at Pemberley to be unexpectedly greeted by Mr. Darcy himself, soaking white shirt and all.

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The very next weekend, I returned to England to visit my friend in Oxford! She’s just started there 3 weeks before my visit, so it was all new and exciting and surreal. Though, to be honest, I don’t think the omg-is-this-really-my-life-I-go-to-bloody-Oxford feeling will ever fully go away.

I’m seriously seeing Swatches everywhere now. Every airport has them, every flea market! I got one for Sara from an Amsterdam flea market and I remember thinking, “Omg, it’s so lucky this flea market has them!”

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There’s a cool covered market in Oxford. It’s got higher end goods, like boots and vintage clothing, along with product, meats, cafes and lots of cool trinkets. I was in the market for boots, so I went into many of the boot shops, but none of the sales people paid much attention to me. I felt a bit like Julie Roberts in Pretty Woman when she tries to buy nice clothes while wearing her hooker clothing. Haha, no, I was normally dressed, but still not looking the part, I guess. I scoffed a bit at them, but then I looked at the price, cringed, and walked out. So it goes.

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And now ladies and gentlemen, Oxford:

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Did anyone recognize some Harry Potter locations? Yepp, that’s right – the staircase to the great hall, the room they had Yule Ball dance lessons and the courtyard where Draco turns into a ferret – all at Oxford. There was also the Restricted section of the library, but you had to pay for a tour and we didn’t have that much time.

Then we were a bit peckish so we got scones and tea! Of course they were good, but they still don’t match the scones I had at the YHA St. Pancras Hostel!

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After tea time, we decided it was time for another kind of drink, so we headed to the Eagle and Child, a bar famously frequented by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

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They even had board games!

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And though the menu at Eagle and Child had delicious-looking British grub, we weren’t too hungry, so we decided we’d have a night in with pizza, beer and the IT Crowd. I’ve been living on my own for a while, and despite being in Oxford, England, I was really wanting a girl’s night in with my friend. And anyway, the night before, we’d gone to Formal and out to several bars (including one in an old church with very high gothic ceilings!)

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I had to leave the next day because I was also spending a day in London! I met up with a fellow MSU graduate for drinks and also with Sara again! Her boyfriend, also American, met up with us too. First we went to this very cool art deco 1920’s speakeasy-style bar. I definitely want to go back there someday too. Then we went into Chinatown for dinner and little fish-shaped desserts! I had such a great time!

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And then I found out Dan Radcliffe had a stage show in London. :O Gaaah, maybe next time I’m in London.

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Oh, and if you’re wondering about the “I see France” part of my blog title, I’m headed to Paris for a trade show in a couple weeks, for work! I’m meeting up with my friend and colleague from work there too! I can’t wait!

Cheers!

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Food, Life, Travel

A non-cynical view of living alone in a foreign country

So I’m living alone in a foreign country. People ask me, “Have you made any friends?” My answer is a lame-o “eeeh, not really?” I answer almost like a question, as if there’s room for debate whether I’ve made friends. But the truth is, I haven’t. Of course it would be nice to make friends, but I don’t feel at a huge loss. Here’s why:

I’ve always wanted to read more, blog more, write in my diary more, cook more, sketch more. I’ve also got several European friends that I’ve made weekend plans with. I’ve been able to do these things, living on my own. I’ve been able to wander the streets of Amsterdam, going where I like, popping into shops and stopping for photos whenever I want. It’s true, I could do all that with a buddy, but there’s definitely a freedom that comes with exploring on your own too.

After a long hiatus, I’ve picked up Les Miserables again. I started reading it after the movie came out A YEAR AGO. To give me some credit, I stopped reading it in February when I got very busy. Marius was on his way to the barricade for nearly 8 months!

Almost done-ish!

Almost done-ish!

I was excited to hear that my friend Simone also loves the author Bill Bryson, who wrote my favorite non-fiction book, Mother Tongue: English And How It Got That Way. Bill Bryson writes with strong wit and light-hearted sarcasm. I thoroughly regret not bringing it with me, especially now that Simone’s lent me two of her Bill Bryson books, his memoir, The Thunderbolt Kid, and his novel about traveling the U.S., The Lost Continent, I wish I could have lent her my book.

Mother Tongue cover    

Just look at this jolly guy. If he were a professor, I’d audit his class for sure. (I just googled, “Is Bill Bryson a professor?”; it doesn’t look like he is.)

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I’ve only sketched a little bit, to be honest. I’d like to paint a typographic piece of my address here. My sister, Kim, did one of her address in Los Angeles, and it looked so cool! I’ve got the design, I just need to buy the painting supplies! I’d also like to paint my bike basket!

Some of you who know me may know that I LOVE persimmon fruit. So you may know how thrilled I was about the “recall” persimmons at the flea market yesterday – cheap overripe persimmons! So today I made persimmon bread! Or more like persimmon bread pudding, because I didn’t add nearly enough flour and it doesn’t hold together at all and is very moist. But that’s kind how I prefer it to be honest… But for my failed bread, I also deserve some credit – I have no measuring cups or measuring spoons!

Juicy persimmons before adding them to the flour mixture.

Juicy persimmons before adding them to the flour mixture.

It’s hard not buying too much food for one person. I went to the flea market to do most of my grocery shopping and some people gave me odd looks when I’d ask for a 25 kg of dried berries, or the smallest piece of salmon available. But seriously that piece of salmon better be good because I spent €4,20 on it!

So some people don’t like to drink on their own. I, too, once thought this an odd solitary activity. But since living on my own, I now totally understand it. It’s still a nice relaxing accompaniment to evening reading, and honestly, a good stress reliever after a hard day of work. Of course, I don’t waste my money on the good stuff. I bought pretty bad wine for €3-something before, and this time, I found some for €2,49! I’ll let you know how it is.

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And I’ve visited a friend in Maastricht and a friend has visited me here. I have several trips planned in the future – two to England and one to Germany/Austria , and I hope to add a few more trips to the list! I’m so ecstatically thrilled about all of them I can’t even say. I still can’t believe my life has brought me here. I think I could live here 10 years and still be amazed.

Having said all that, I totally just joined several groups on MeetUp.com.

I’ll leave you with two more things: Firstly this Turkish Döner Pizza is absolutely spectacularly delicious. I think they’re popular throughout Europe, but I can’t verify that myself. However, if you come across one and you happen to be hungry, yes, it’s a good good choice.

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And then this: I don’t know much about rowing, so I don’t know whether curvy canals are good or bad for the sport, but at least it’s a beautiful view.

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Uncategorized

Less tourist-y, but still kind of tourist-y things to do in Amsterdam

I’ve been here a month, and I’m starting to feel like a resident of Amsterdam! I’m able to go several places, including places in the canal district, without a map; I finally realized I don’t have to try to speak Dutch when in public; and I’ve baked my first quick bread in my kitchen!

Today marks the longest time I’ve ever been in Europe. I feel a little bit like Samwise Gamgee in this scene:

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Sam: This is it.
Frodo: This is what?
Sam: If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been. 

I should also say that today marks the first day my friend, Christina, is living in Oxford, England! I’m so excited for her and to have her in the same continent as me!

I’m so glad I came to Amsterdam while it’s warm. It’s a daily joy riding my bike around town, running errands, getting groceries, and just meandering for the sake of meandering.

Amsterdam is very small – you can spend a leisure afternoon riding your bike through the entire city, popping into shops, grabbing lunch and stopping for a photo-op at an Iamsterdam sign. I don’t mean to say you can do everything, but you can cover a lot of ground.

But the more you do, the more you see there is to do!

1) Flea Markets!

Last weekend I went to the Noordermarkt, which is a Saturday flea market in the fashionable Jordaan district. There was so much there! The best flea market I’ve ever been to was Pike Place in Seattle, Washington, but this was was very nice, too. There were vendors for fish, meat, bread, olives, dried fruit, nuts, even British pies! There were vendors for clothing, leather, purses, shoes, tights. I bought tights, dried fruit (dried bananas, but not the chip kind, they were chewy, and dried grapes – still on the vine!), 3 single serving British savory pies (sweet potato, veggie lentil curry, and african-something!), eggplant spread and what ended up being my lunch: honey mixed nuts and a persimmon fruit!

I parked my bike. (The one with the wooden basket.)

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One of my first stops was at this heavenly selection of dried fruits. And you could just pick one up and sample it! Or at least the old lady did next to me, and when nobody stopped her (who stops an old lady?) I did the same, and they couldn’t reprimand me after not reprimanding her.😉

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know someone who’d love these watches.😉

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I stopped in my tracks when I saw the pies! I LOVE British savory pies! It was tough picking which ones I wanted.

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If you’ve never tried a persimmon before, you should – they’re light and sweet and very delicious.

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Dried grapes on a vine!

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On the way back I got stuck in traffic.

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There are a lot of flea markets. I was at City Hall for work, and I walked outside to this:

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Can you spot the TIE fighter?

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2) Bagels & Beans Cafe

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Bagels & Beans‘ are everywhere, and have delicious Chai Tea Lattes and bagel sandwiches. They also have free wifi! I’m not yet sure if free wifi is common in most cafes here. I feel like I should know that by now, right?

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3) Heritage House Tours

Wow, it was already 3 weekends ago, but I toured one “Heritage House” of many that were open to the public for one weekend in Amsterdam. The entire tour was in Dutch, and despite the house being nice, it wasn’t nice enough to entice me to see more without knowing their historical significance.

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And on the way out of the tour, there was a boat parade, and one boat had a full band on it!

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4) Public Art

And always keep your eyes open for art cropping up from nowhere.

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Well, those are some of the highlights of my weekends here in Amsterdam. I’ve also gone jogging in the beautiful Vondelpark and Rembrandtpark here, both close to my apartment. Last weekend I visited a friend of mine in a southern Dutch city, Maastricht. I’ll post about that trip later!

Tot ziens,
Beth

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Food, Life, Travel

Eet smakelijk! – Eating in Amsterdam.

I feel like Harry Potter in Prisoner of Azkaban when we as staying in Diagon Alley for two weeks by himself, and loving it! It’s been two weeks since I moved to Amsterdam, and I’ve loved every minute.

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When I was moving, people asked me if I was nervous about moving to a new culture. No, actually, I wasn’t. I’ve been to Europe a few times, lived in London for a bit, and have been to Amsterdam twice, so it wasn’t too unfamiliar to me. I think I’m kind of adaptable, anyway, wanting only a few essential comforts – as long as I can get a decent jar of peanut butter, I’ll be just fine.😛

Speaking of peanut butter. I’ve tried three different brands already:

Calvé peanut butter was very good – slightly gritty and not too sweet.
Dirk van den Broek’s house brand of peanut butter, was very delicious, though extremely addictive for me. I suspect they got some extra ingredients from the coffee shop next door.
I just bought Albert Heijn’s ‘Excellent brand (compare with Meijer ‘Naturals‘, lol) of hazelnut peanut butter – with candied hazelnuts!

Hazelnut Peanut Butter

Hazelnut Peanut Butter

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I mean, just look at that.

Quite delicious. Though it doesn’t go so well in what I THOUGHT would be normal yoghurt… but turned out to be buttermilk yoghurt. I mean, what are those specks?

Buttermilk Yoghurt

Buttermilk Yoghurt

I’m eating a lot more meat than I ever did back in the States. The staples of a Dutch diet seem to be dairy, bread and meat. And you can’t forget the appelstroop! (Appelstroop = apple syrup)

Here’s me constructing a sandwich, with all the goods:

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Making a Dutch sandwich: brown bread, two kinds of liverwurst, appelstroop, tomatoes, cucumbers & young cheese!

Every country seems to have their form of pancakes, and the Dutch are no exception. They have Pannenkoeken (large, very thin pancakes with sweet or savory toppings) and Poffertjes (little bite-size pancakes with powdered sugar)

Poffertjes

Poffertjes

Poffertjes & Kaffee

Poffertjes & Kaffee

As I was riding by one of the fancier food markets (Marqt), I noticed they were giving out samples! Of course I stopped by and met a nice woman who started this business of making food out of local hunted meat. These were her croquettes made from goose meat. I could taste about as much meat as you can see in the photo below.😉 But they were delicious! This croquette in my hand costs about €1 in the store though… so, I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t buy it on my own, no matter how delicious!

Kroket or croquette

Kroket or croquette

More photos to come soon! Next I’ll tell you about the parks near me and how beautiful it is riding through Amsterdam!

Bedankt! Tot ziens,
Beth

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