Sunday, September 27, 2015

happy hours in amsterdam-oost

I stood at the door. The host had given me clear directions to the flat and promised me his friend would meet me at 3 o'clock with the keys. It was 4:18pm (or, 16h18). I called the friend. "Oh, your friend should be inside. She was on time." Which friend, I wondered. Following his instruction, I buzzed up to the flat. It wasn't long before I heard feet running down the stairs. Marie's cousin greeted me. Though I'd never met her in person, I was relieved to immediately recognize Charlotte. She felt the same; little introduction meant she could rest her lost voice. She turned to lead me up three steep and narrow flights. I practically held my suitcase above my head.
Fortunately, the airbnb was as cute and airy as expected. Worth the hike, in other words. My brother rang up a few minutes after I'd caught my breath. Soon after, Marie followed. Properly reunited and introduced, we set out on a leisurely walk to the De Gooyer Windmill. We had made plans to meet Lorelei for happy hour al fresco at Brouwerij 't IJ, Amsterdam's leading organic microbrewery.
The evening advanced organically (pun intended) from there. Thanks to Lorelei's local scoop and Dutch data, we tipsily strolled over to Roest. The laid-back industrial setting was perfect. We enjoyed a couple more beers with a casual spread of picnic food. We also boldly participated in the inflatable backyard fun--a bungee run and a two-man joust--until we discovered it'd been rented for a private event...
Eventually, the night winded down with gin cocktails, whiskey, and wine at Walter's, the Walter Woodbury Bar. It was a classier yet just-as-local haunt with a beautiful interior that was clearly influenced by its namesake--the 19th century English photographer who was one of the first to capture the "exoticism" of the Dutch East Indies. Given the atmosphere and plethora of libations, our conversation became a debate on culture and identity. My brother was absolutely enthralled. "The wonder of grad school abroad," I told him with a smile as we walked back to the airbnb. What a special understanding Jorgie and I now share.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

tour de den haag

Rachael headed out for a meeting on Thursday morning as I packed up my things. Suitcase in hand, I stopped into Quarantacinque for coffee before making my way to King's Cross-St. Pancras Station. Hurrah. It truly is satisfying to be self-sufficient in a new city.
After soaring beneath the English Channel, across a sliver of northern France, and through Belgium (with a brief stop in Brussels), I arrived at Amsterdam Centraal. And though I'd originally intended to go directly to the Hague from there, I waited in the station for a familiar face. My brother had asked if he could please meet me for dinner. My heart nearly burst as he revealed how much he already understood the highs and lows of living abroad. He went on to treat me to the Vietnamese street food I'd introduced him to.
I don't think Jorgie realized how much that one meal and conversation means to me. My almost-23-year-old brother (his birthday's this weekend) is growing up! I'm so incredibly proud of him for taking on the challenge and enrichment of life abroad as he does.
With all that warm sisterly pride in tow, I finally took the train to meet Lorelei (who I hadn't seen since this past New Year's in Brooklyn!) in The Hague. We had a couple of glasses of wine in a cute city square as we caught up. Being with friends is so much sweeter than keeping in touch by email and texts, for the record :). From there, we took the long way back to her apartment so she could show me around the third largest city in the Netherlands. It's beautiful yet quaint--an expression of Dutch humility perhaps?
As we got ready for bed that night, we made a plan for tomorrow: We would meet for lunch after my leisurely morning of wandering my way back into the city center. Then she'd return to work and I'd go back into Amsterdam to meet up with my brother and ma soeur.
I almost wish I could spend my time like that always. Lorelei had warned me about the adorable boutiques I'd pass along the way, as well as the endless possibilities for coffee (and sandwiches). She'd also mentioned the Dutch commitment to "cozy". It was so cool to see it all firsthand on that sunny morning. By chance, I ventured into the Namasté Café for tea and a lovely conversation with the Dutch-Indonesian owner. It left me just enough time to check out Lola Bikes & Coffee on my way to Hometown Coffee.
I passed on more quality caffeine while Lorelei had an espresso. Then, we leisurely made our way over to a café with an open terrace for... sandwiches. I appreciated the simplicity my dear friend has tired of; more than that though, I appreciated the glimpse into her daily life and current home, just as I had in London with Rachael. Our whole worlds have changed so much since graduation.
I was struck, too, by how amazingly "at home" I felt. The sentiment must have little to do with where one is, and everything to do with who one is with. It's as if I'd forgotten such a heartwarming fact, and my entire time in the Netherlands generously reminded me of it. More to come.

Monday, September 21, 2015

west end lite

According to, West End has a fantastic range of theatres, tourist attractions, hotels, shopping, and iconic streets. I had little desire to spend any time there (as I insist on not being a "tourist"), but! catching up with the lovely Daisy de Plume was a must.
After that full day in East London, I nearly slept in until our lunch date at Bea's of Bloomsbury. What a treat--both sleeping in and lunching with her. And though I may have stumbled through a bis exchange (gosh darn reassimilated American!), Daisy, the kind soul and adorable pregnant momma that she is, didn't seem to mind.
Following our date, I ventured over to the nearby Charles Dickens Museum to spend my time wisely while waiting for Rachael.
Yes, I'm aware this move made me a tourist. So be it! It was raining again and I'm quite the fan of Oliver Twist.
To continue with the touristing, Rachael and I went on to have cream tea at Soho's Secret Tea Room. And as we finished up our last bites of scone with raspberry preserves and clotted cream, we looked into theaters and well-reviewed plays nearby.
Then we ran over to purchase last-minute tickets to The Play That Goes Wrong. We got lucky with great seats at a very discounted price. To celebrate, Rachael and I clinked glasses of champagne before going in to laugh our asses off at the Dutchess Theatre.
And laugh our asses off we did. My empty stomach was sore by the play's end! To remedy the situation, and cap off a spontaneously hysterical evening, Rachael and I made yet another fabulous decision to late night-dine on fancy fish and chips at The Ivy.
It was the most perfect British send-off. The next morning I boarded a train to Amsterdam to visit my brother and Lorelei...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

a day in east london

The following morning, I awoke bright and early to brief blue skies. (England is such a tease). I was feeling great, well-rested and sprightly, with a false sense of not-jet lag. Rachael and I decided on a very loose East London-themed itinerary for the day. I texted my sister to invite her and however many of her roommates to join us. They promised to meet us at the Bethnal Green tube stop.
But first, coffee. Rachael and I strolled over to Quarantacinque to pass the time as Deanna and friend made their way east. This tiny Italian gem served some serious caffé as well as sweet and savory bites. We stood at the counter (as Italians would) to wait for our caffeinated drinks and one delectable ham and cheese croissant; and to gawk at pretty much the most amazing wallpaper:
The barista told us the graphic coffee leaf wallpaper was bespoke for the space. What a gorgeous backdrop.
Later, while meandering back towards the tube stop, I had to remark how "normal" everything felt. I hadn't and I still don't really know London, and yet it, made sense for me to be there. There was an of course-ness to my mild ignorance. I felt at ease in my role as an outsider, and stimulated in my ability to observe, learn, and blend in. I was so distinctly aware of it all.
Months before, when Deanna was with me in L.A. (which I must also eventually reminisce with you about!), I admitted to her how much I missed being special (read: an expat). I missed the challenges and gratifications. There's a very particular satisfaction that comes with making a new normal work for you; living it sharpens your appreciation for where you are, and where you came from.
Anyway :) with all that in mind, I gleefully set out with Rachael, Deanna, and Jamie to "do" Hackney. First up: Hackney City Farm.
After vegetable gardens, sheep, chickens, and donkeys, we walked up to the site of Broadway Market. Though it wasn't a weekend day, and thus market-less, the street itself had quite a few shops and cafés. I nearly bought a vintage book. I still think I should have.
An hour or so later, it really started to rain. We hustled through London Fields and into Sutton House--a worthwhile stop.
And from there, Well Street Kitchen. Brew for Two would've been more convenient given the pouring skies, but they were closed due to flooding. (Point taken). We didn't care once lunch was served anyway. My leek & celeriac soup with pancetta was beyond.
When the rain finally did let up, we left our empty bowls, plates, and tea cups (so British) to mosey over to Hackney Wick. There was some killer street art as we got deeper into the industrial area; an awesome recycled clothing store, too, and the cozy Crate Brewery.
Inside, we enjoyed late afternoon brownies and beer--it's just what one does in the company of four when she realizes she wouldn't rather be anywhere else but in this gorgeously dreary city with her sister, so young, open, and brave, and her tenacious friend, tirelessly carving out a life of passions with such grace in yet another foreign city. There were big thoughts on that first full day.
As the sun set, Rachael and I parted ways with Deanna and Jamie. (Note to self: live closer to your sister, soon). We returned to Rachael's flat briefly before heading out to Paradise Garage for a late dinner. She'd heard great things.
Feeling especially indecisive and slurge-y, we opted for the tasting menu a.k.a. the best produce, meat, fish, and cheese (un-pictured). Then we had a palate cleanser, shared our dessert choices, and finished off with homemade blackberry marshmallows. We decided it was one of the best meals we'd had all year. Special occasions like that one (spending an entire Wednesday together again) have become fewer and farther between as we've moved to new places with demanding full-time jobs, less friends, and more debt. She most definitely deserved it. I'm hoping I did, too. We had one last digestif with the devil before calling it a night.