This is a listen up: It's Istanbul, Not Constantinople! BT Dubs

The past 2 weeks have blown by.

In between then and now I have had a great time with new friends, including some Dutch locals :-).  I love the kids in my 'Obama' class as well as the professor.  Even though he is in his 60s, he tries to relate with us and always asks about what we are up to, etc.  My friends in the class (who are mostly Dutch except for one from the Czech Repub. and a couple Americans) and I decided it would be a great idea to have a weekly borrel, Dutch for social gathering.  We have since gathered after class, at 6pm, and chilled till the wee hours of the morning. The past two weeks we invited our professor along--he stayed for a couple hours and had drinks with us. It was super fun.  Last week, he cancelled class and took us on a bike tour of some nice towns around Amsterdam where we had snacks and later, dinner together. It was a glorious day. We biked to Holysloot and the area around there, which ended up being a 15 mile bike ride! After, we headed to dinner at De Engelbewaarder. My legs killed the next day, but for a great cause.

Sad news: My granny bike finally gave in to the powers of the earth and collapsed. I swapped out my bike and got a brand new one that rides like a dream!  The new name: Winnefred Breeze.

Last week, I got back from being on vacation with my family. They came over to visit me in Amsterdam. We also went to Istanbul, Turkey.  It was a great way to celebrate my sister's spring break as well as enabling me to miss a week of class to do some serious traveling and exploring with my family! My favorite! I showed my parents and sister around to some of the places I enjoy in Amsterdam as well as going to some new places including the Rijksmuseum, the Heineken Experience, some great restaurants (Toscanini--Italian food), and store browsing.  We left on Wednesday (March 31st) for Istanbul.  Istanbul was like no place I had been before.  I had never seen so many headscarfs or heard the call to prayer 5 times a day until then.  The city is gigantic. It is HUGE and is the only city in the world that spans two continents-Europe and Asia--a true east meets west experience. We saw a part of the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market. We also crossed the Bosporus Strait to Asia and went to a market there as well that was mind-blowing. It was so cool to be able to go to two continents in one city let alone one trip! Asia is mostly residential with not that much "stuff" right when you get off the water taxi.  It is beautiful and more relaxed than the European side.  One night, we ate food right on a busy shopping and tourist street. Kebap tasted so good, but it also could have been aided in flavor by the great environment surrounding us at the time. I also enjoyed trying to figure out how things are pronounced since Turkish uses many characters English does not. Some of the sounds were extremely surprising.  All in all, it was a trip to remember.

This past weekend (4/10) I met my friend, Lily, from high school in Dublin. Dublin is a city we both really wanted to go to and we both had a weekend free.  We met up at our hostel and started the trip off right by heading to Temple Bar, a fun area with bars, restaurants and fantastic music both on the street and off.  We went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, a great fish 'n chips place, Kilmainham Gaol Museum and Jail (in Panopticon style--Foucault, sweet), great bars with cool people (British rock stars, buddies who are spending their last night together for a long time from Poland), St. Stephen's Green, and Grafton Street among other places.  There is music pouring onto all surfaces of the city and the people are the nicest I have met--super genuine, lots of soul, really interested in others' stories, and good conversation. Lily went home Sunday morning and I stayed an extra day and a half by myself to wander the streets and soak in as much Irish culture as possible.  I attempted to walk the movie 'Once' as it is my current (and for the past 3 years) obsession, which was super cool to see the sights that my favorite musician walked.  I cant wait to go back and tour other parts of Dublin and just outside the city, in addition to Northern Ireland.

It always takes a little bit once I get back from a trip to re-enter Amsterdam life, but I am always quickly reminded why I love Amsterdam so much.  This coming weekend, my close friend Jess is coming into town from Florence to hang out and tour. I am definitely looking forward to seeing her since it has been nearly four months!

Hasta luego and Sláinte


"I am a jelly doughnut" -- "Ich bin ein Berliner"

I got back from Berlin a couple weeks ago and have since neglected to post...yet again.  It was a really great trip--such a cool city and abundant in history as well as innovation.

Since I haven't posted in a while, I'll start from Friday, March 19th with my 'Cities' class. We took a field trip to Bijlmeer, which is in the south of Amsterdam.
Here is the sheet our professor gave us with a complete discription and history, feel free to read or skip. Nonetheless it was incredibly interesting to see Amsterdam's social housing issues with my very own eyes. Amsterdam is known for its good urban planning and social services and housing. As you can imagine, after years of dealing with water (canals), the planners figured out efficiency and functional yet great aesthetics .The area we went to somehow flopped. 

Some background information.
In December 1966, the Mayor of Amsterdam lays the foundation stone fore what was then regarded as a unique urban planning experiment in Holland: the Bijlmer. More than 25 years later, the urban planner’s dream has turned into a nightmare and now the Bijlmer is already in a radical process of special and social renewal. In the early 1960’s the Weesperkarspel council to help realise major Amsterdam housing plans bought it. Since 1987 the Bijlmer has formed part of the South East municipal district. It has been the construction of a ‘functional town’. A town where living, working, traffic and recreations are separated. This idea was not new. Le Corbusier (Swiss architect) used it in his plan for Voisin near Paris. The topic was discussed at the 1933 CIAM conference. The Dutch architects Stam, Duiker and Rietveld attended. Chairman was Van Eesteren, director if the Amsterdam planning Department and responsible for the AUP of 1934. Le Corbusier published the results in his famous ‘Charte d’Athenes’(1941.

A functional town.
The concept for the Bijlmer largely comprised high-rise (10 floor) deck-access apartment blocks in a honeycomb pattern. Of the 18.000 units, 12.500 were built this way. The units were large by Dutch standards. Also the ‘green spaces’ between the blocks were large. Bicycle and pedestrian routes were also created there. Car traffic was led above ground level to multi-storey car parks. Metro lines crossed the roadways.
In 1975 it was ready for occupation. There were long waiting lists for these homes, but many Amsterdam residents decided to move to single–family dwellings in one of the overspill communities around Amsterdam. And in spite of the enormous housing shortage at that time, there were still vacant flats in this Bijlmer area. The plan costs much more money than had provided for (the frequent breakdowns of the lifts, the not functioning waste disposal system, the completion of the housing units far ahead of public facilities as shops and metro, the lack of maintenance). The inhabitants felt the car parks, interior walkways and the green public area unsafe particularly at night. The district tumbled downward and around 1985 25-33% of the homes were unoccupied.
National policy, slower growth of population, relative high rents compared to the 19th century housing area, maintenance problems, less families than foreseen were the most important reasons for the bad image of this part of Amsterdam. The Bijlmer became an area that attracted many people who couldn’t find anywhere else to live (and often left again if the got a chance). Around 1975 many Surinamers came to the Netherlands as a result of the independence of Surinam, once Dutch Guyana. The Bijlmer was the only place they could easily find a home and also the immigrants from the Dutch Antilles settled down. It is the largest community in the Netherlands of the Surinamese, Antilleans (and also Ghana’s) immigrants.
There is still a group of inhabitants – the ‘Bijlmer Believers’- who took arms against the problems. They focussed on the advantages of the Bijlmer, the green, the spacious, safe from traffic lay out and campaigned for facilities such as a children’s zoo, a local broadcasting station and local bars runs by volunteers.
But the images deteriorated and too less people were moving to the Bijlmer to compensate the high percentage of leavers.

Renewal process.
In 1992 the reconstruction process started. Based on spatial, social and management renewal.
Spatial renewal: Demolition of 6500 of the 12.500 flats, no interior walkways, and new functions for the storage spaces, no aerial walkways to the car parks, new refuse systems and so on. The 6500 houses marked down for demolition will be replaced by 7.200 new ones: 30% free market rental, 40% owner occupied and 30 % owner occupied and rental sectors (1/3 social rents). The shopping centres (situated beneath car parks and traffic ways) and market locations are renewed and rebuilt. Many roads are lowered and brought to ground level so to prevent unsafe places. Cars can now be parked in front of the homes. The green area (English landscape style) will get a new lay out easier to maintain and where people feel safer. Clean, whole and safe are the essential propositions
Social Renewal: Childcare facilities and facilities for ethnic minority’s organisations are created. Health enters, sport facilities and also art and culture will be stimulated, and a new cultural building is constructed. Street of the 100 cultures, new primary schools,
Management Renewal: The Nieuw Amsterdam housing corporation, the district Council of South East and the City of Amsterdam started a renewal process."

My Berlin Trip

I boarded a train with my friend, Mo, at 7 pm.  We had a great time on the long train ride as we had an entire old school cabin to ourselves. We dimmed the lights in the cabin, spread out over 6 cushy seats, put our headphones in and enjoyed the soothing motions of the train.  Everyone should take a long train ride at some point in his or her life. I am really into the idea of taking the trans-siberian train from Moscow to China and hope to do it at some point. We finally got to Berlin at 4:30 AM and didn't know what to do till things opened. We wandered around outside as it was nice out (thank gosh, that would have totally bombed otherwise) and landed at our hotel at 5:30 AM.  Mo and I explained that our train got in super early and we were wondering if, for some great chance, our room was ready. It wasn't so they showed us to a lounging area near the workout equipment upstairs and we fell asleep for the next four hours.  When we got up, we decided we wanted to get acquainted with the city--which I highly recommend doing.  We landed on a Famous Tour led by Insider Tours.  It was the best thing we could do.  The tour guide was direct, gave the perfect amount of information about each place so that we could remember it when the tour was over, we saw all the main sites, and we knew our way around pretty well afterwards. 
On the 4-hour tour we saw:

Museum campus, some Nazi sites including where Hitler shot himself--now a parking lot but what once was his underground lair, the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, the Reichstag building (the parliment building, really cool), the TV tower, the beautiful Protestant and Catholic churches, Checkpoint Charlie, and where the Berlin Wall was forcibly taken down in the Revolution of 1989.  

We also saw sites where various US presidents gave speeches about how the wall needed to come down.  This is where the title of this post comes in... 
JFK gave a speech in Berlin where he said in very terrible German, "Ich bin ein Berliner" which translates to "I am a (German) jelly-filled doughnut" passionately instead of saying that he was a citizen of Berlin in solidarity with the people.  Supposedly this is questionable if he did in fact butcher what he was supposed to say, but I thought it was pretty funny, especially in a time when he was trying to spark change and revolution.  Here is a site to read more about this incident: http://urbanlegends.about.com/cs/historical/a/jfk_berliner.htm

After the tour, Mo and I checked in to the hotel and chilled for a while as our feet were exhausted from all the walking. We then headed to Kadewe, which is Germany's huge department store fashioned after Harrod's.  We examined the gourmet food floor--an incredible site with anything you could imagine eating and more.  

Mo and I landed on a German restaurant for an authentic meal--do as the Germans do and eat sausages and potatoes! Yes, I know I blew my no red meat rule just this once and sort of regreted it later that night.  After dinner, we both wanted to go back to the Reichstag, the German Parliament building, to walk up the cool walkway and get a great view of the city as well as an intimate view of parliament.  The German government purposely built a new portion of the Reichstag on top of the old since a) the old part was mostly blown up during WWII and b) to show the transparency of the parliament--one walking on the walkway can see directly into the government room where important decisions are made.  Pictures will be posted to my facebook page.

The next morning, we got up and ate the wonderful breakfast at our hotel. We then went to the New National Gallery and the Pergamon museums--both of which I greatly enjoyed. We nabbed a quick lunch and crepe on the street and then headed to the East Side Gallery. There, we saw remnants from the Berlin Wall which were decorated by INCREDIBLE murals from artists all over the world.  I took at least 100 pictures (which, again, will be posted to facebook) of the works of art representing various messages--anything from freedom to questioning God--all pertaining to the many meanings of the Berlin Wall. When we were finished seeing all of the gallery, which is probably about a mile long, we found a huge crowd gathered just beyond the last peice of the wall.  There was a film crew and several stunt actors and cars. We stood and watched while they filmed car stunts for a movie--super cool. Mo and I split up and I headed to the Jewish Museum.  It was interesting to see how different Jewish museums try to convey Jewish-ness to various audiences, especially the non-Jews. Later, Mo and I tried to go to Solar, a bar on the 12th floor of a hotel where you sit on swings overlooking the city, but it was closed.  We headed back to the hotel for a good night's rest.

The next day, Mo caught an early train back to Amsterdam and I stayed and wandered the city by myself for several hours.  I headed to the Synagogue (sephardic) that was significantly destroyed during Kristallnacht.  It was jaw-dropping--the building and its beauty as well as seeing the destruction and how the people didnt purposely rebuild it. I looked around until I could no longer see straight and finally decided I needed a cultural plunge.  I walked down random streets away from the synagogue. I love purposely getting lost. I think that is when you find some of the best things.  I saw art gallery after art gallery, eventually turning into funky store after beautiful store.  I landed in a really cool, hip, and artsy area of Berlin. I walked around for 4.5 hours, ate lunch around there, and grabbed great coffee. I was super content.  I didn't realize how much time I spent there until I looked at my watch to find that I was running late for my train back to Amsterdam.  I bolted to the hotel through the intricate, yet really helpful train system, and managed to gather my belongings and get to the main station for my train with 4 minutes to spare.

Berlin was such a nice place. I am not sure if because everything worked out so well, the weather was stunning, the trains worked well, the people were friendly or any combination of those but I just fell in love with the city.  Volkswagen and Mercedes haven proved itself surprisingly well.

 Spending a long weekend there led me to some conclusions. I have concluded that Berlin is affordable, trendy, haunting, new, and historical all at the same time. Plus people are friendly, even though I went into it thinking German was a harsh language--still,no question about it--but after being around Dutch for the past two months I am pretty used to the sounds (which are very similar to each other in both Dutch and German) . A part of me couldn't stop thinking about all the Jewish people that were deported from Berlin or were murdered there, some in the exact spots where I stood just 70 years ago. Or how some escaped into the forests which I gazed into from my seat on the train ride back to Amsterdam.  I cant help but stay positive--Berlin is a thriving and beautiful city despite its dark history.  


Geneva, Montreux, Lausanne, and Beyond! Pictures

Geneva, Montreux, Lausanne, and Beyond!

It's been a whirlwind of excellency these past few days.  Friday night, I hopped a plane to Geneva, Switzerland to meet David, Steve, and Mike at our hotel located off of Rue 31 Decembre.  It was a cozy, very dated and pretty centrally located hotel with a great breakfast in the morning. After dropping our luggage, we went in search of food and landed on the classic gruyere and mushroom fondue with incredible french bread for dipping. Later, we grabbed beers and watched some tv as we found out quite quickly nightlife in Geneva wasn't its strong point.    Saturday we got up relatively early and headed out for touring.  Geneva is a take on a French city. I thought someone pulled a prank on me and told me I was in Switzerland when actually I was in France. Surrounded by well dressed people, fancy cars, the french language, french cuisine--much more visible during the daytime when people were actually alive and out and about--and macaroons, I couldn't help but indulge in the all-around delicious culture. Macaroons (not the semi-gross coconut kind that one eats during passover, but these are pronounced with an 'oh' sound at the end and not ooo) at the La Duree shop located near the center of town was a give-in. Bitter Chocolate (which wasn't so bitter) is the best cookie I have ever had and nothing will ever compare. Ever.   I'm pretty sure this should be the next dessert fad America should catch on to, once my beloved cupcakes become unpopular Macaroons should fill that popularity void. Small, expensive, and superbly delicious.

Next stop was the United Nations building.  In front of the massive structure, there was an extremely large chair with a leg looking like it was blown off. This was to represent the landmines and how they can create such a dishonest and frightening culture in cities where landmines were/are planted.  I'm sure the three legged chair has other symbolism too.  There were flags lining the entry way from every country a part of the UN. The UN has several buildings attached to each other, each with a different purpose.  Unfortuntately, we forgot it was Saturday and that the place was closed for a tour.  Bummer.

Then, we headed over to the Red Cross museum, which was really interesting. The museum provided an in-depth look at the evolution of the Red Cross and what services it has provided over the years of its existence and relief to specific disasters both human-caused and natural.  The Red Cross logo is a reversed Swiss flag-- a great way for people to recognize that it was swiss founded and yet carry a known meaning of relief or aid.

Hungry, we headed to Poulet Pizzabox (shout out to Eliezah who gave us FANTASTIC suggestions for Geneva) for cheap pizza as everything else was extremely expensive.  After that it was on to the Patek Philippe Store and watch browsing since Switzerland is known for its watch craftsmanship.  The Patek Philipe store was incredibly intimidating. We had to ring a bell to be let into a first door. Then that door had to close completely and the doorman had to let us through another door into the store.  A bunch of young 20-somethings clearly were not there to buy anything so I am sure they were a bit hesitant at first, but then more people entered and we didnt feel as bad.  Mind you the watches we were looking at started at $10k and went up to well beyond a million dollars.  A million dollar watch seems quite crazy, I cannot even imagine what that must feel like to have something like that dangling around my wrist and its only function is to look pretty and tell time. College education and a nice house and many other combinations of things or a watch? you decide.

Thoreau writes--and I couldn't agree more--in his Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, "I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion"

We walked along the water front for a little and then into Old Town. There we went to St. Peter's church and climbed to the top to get an incredibly jaw dropping view of the city.  My friends and I hung out there for a while to absorb the mountains, Lake Geneva, and the city.  We made our way down and walked to a nearby park that many people use for recreational sports--anything from ping pong to roller hockey and ice skating. The park had several huge chess boards with giant pieces.  Many people were watching a few games going on between seasoned chess players. It got intense at various points with shouting and later laughing.  A great mixture of people from all walks of life enjoying a game of chess, some beer and wine, and a sunny (albeit cold) day in Geneva.

The next day, David and Mike left to head back to Amsterdam as they had been in Geneva a day earlier than me. Steve and I were all set to go paragliding (google it) in the Mont Blanc mountains in Chamonix,  when I called our tandem rider only to find out that the conditions weren't good.  We were left with an entirely empty-of-excitement day. Quick thinking and a sense of adventure led us to purchasing a train ticket to Montreux.  The only reason why I picked Montreux out of all the places on the map to go investigate was because of the many live concerts I had heard of my favorite (and some of the most famous) artists. Jimi Hendrix, Queen, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Marvin Gaye to name a few, and the renowned yearly jazz festival that takes place there.  We hopped the next train to Montreux and did not regret it one bit. The train ride was one of my favorite things of the trip.  It was stunning. The train took us along the Swiss Riviera--along the coastline of Lake Geneva. We were surrounded by the Swiss alps the entire ride, the sun was shining and I zoned out into my own world the entire hour it took to get to Montreux.  Once we got there, we realized everything was closed--literally everything except for the tobac stores and a doner kebab place, no surprise--and that VERY few people were outside.  We started wandering, walking up many flights of stairs. Once we stopped, we realized we climbed a third of the way up a mountain.

"The swiftest traveller is (s)he that goes afoot"- HDT

 It was a beautiful hike and we got a genuine taste of swiss architecture, the crisp mountain air, and the gorgeous mountain ranges that were reflecting the different colors of the sun throughout the day.  I felt as though my friends and I were the only people who walked the streets we walked, an inspiring feeling for a few hours.  I tried finding music venues and jazz clubs, but again, everything was closed. After exploring a cool town, we got back on the train and headed to Lausanne--in between Geneva and Montreux. Once we turned the first corner in the city center, again we realized everything was closed and just went on a nice walk to get a feel for the town.  It got frustrating at the end when all we wanted was a nice cozy place to have a drink and we couldn't find anything open and that there were no beautiful mountains in site or nice homes to make up for the eery quiet-ness.

After getting back to Geneva, I decided it would be a wonderful idea for all of us to take a nap. It was a great decision that ended up taking us into this morning.  My friends and I purchased our last bars of swiss chocolate, hopped on the plane and as I sit here writing this reflecting on my Swiss journey, I can say that I really enjoyed my brief encounter with the awe of nature.  Switzerland reminded me to take a break from the hustle and bustle and realize the wonders of natural existences.  I can study the formation of mountains (and Dinosaurs and Other Failures) all I want in my one-credit science classes to fulfill the science reqs., but it means way more to see them, feel the fresh air they emit and recognize that the pollutants we are emitting every second of every day are causing the moments like I had in the Swiss mountains to become a cherished experience, a rare moment.  To take a deep breath of fresh air is going to become harder and harder--that's scary!

I also--perfectly timed-- finished Henry David Thoreau's Where I Lived, and What I Lived For a few weeks ago and had time to reflect on it over the course of the weekend.  It has become an important book in my life and the messages I will always carry with me  (I am also in the process of writing a much longer personal entry on the book).  Themes such as taking the time to enjoy the atmosphere you created or worked for and not be judged by the clothes you wear, but by the places you have been and experienced are quite relevant at this point (among pretty much the entirety of his book).
I will leave you all with one of the many fantastic quotes from Henry David Thoreau.

"Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prjudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, Through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d'appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge...a Realometer, that future ages might now how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces...and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow....Be it life or death, we crave only reality"


And All That Jazz...

Here are some links to check out of things mentioned in my last post:

The store's website: http://www.aboriginalart.nl/php/index.php

Lies playing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-Zu4ffLIlI&feature=channel

I forgot to mention several things in my last post as I was in a hurry to catch a plane to Copenhagen.  

1) I have been to Cafe Alto--an incredible jazz club in Leideseplein--twice now. Each time is pretty much a life-changing experience.  When I walked in for the first time, it was exactly how I imagined a fantastic jazz cafe to look. Dark, cigarette smoke encrusted walls. A huge multi-shelf bar that takes up the back half of the place. Too many people in a much too small of a place. Where you have to squeeze your way through the packed standing room to the front in order to see the virtuosic musicians and then stake a claim in a piece of hot real estate called a table. Those are coveted.  Once you sit down, you are left breathless by the sheer brilliance of the improvisation--literally like the wind was sucked out of your insides.  There, you can easily sit and listen and watch for hours on end. 3-4-5 in the morning. Where older men come to relive the days of yesteryear and buy the college kids drinks, "to a great future, to the next generation." Sometimes, you can just sit back and close your eyes and feel like you were there in the days when Davis, Coltrane, Rollins, Smith, Monk, and other talented heros spilled their souls on stage. The wailing guitar, the sax, hammond b-3 organ, piano, drum set--any variation of these instruments make for a guaranteed mind-blowing night.  

2)Ok, I'll stop attempting to be poetic. On to biking...

There have been several near death experiences riding my bike here, but I think everyone can attest to that. I have to admit, biking has been such a great thing. I can go any place at any time of the day or night without being bound to a train schedule or paying for an expensive cab ride. It is incredible exercise--I am hoping to have huge calf and quad muscles by the end. I feel much more of a native Amsterdamer when I am biking then when I am taking the tram. It is a ton of fun to ride with friends, and I am sure it'll be even more enjoyable when it gets warmer out--to not just bike somewhere to get to that place. Biking at like 3 AM is one of the most pleasant things I have done in my life. There are few-no cars or trains running at the time and there are very few people out.  My friends and I sit much more relaxed on our bikes and absorb the beautiful surrounding space with very little talking as we head to our dorms. In my opinion, it is the best way to see the city and most of what Amsterdam has to offer--at 3 am, on bikes with one person who knows where to go, with a few friends and no fear of getting run over by another force of manmade machinery nature. Pure peace.

I am planning on checking out a lot of other jazz and music clubs in the near future and will compare the other places.

3) I still have absolutely no idea how to navigate this city.

4)  Do you ever have those moments where all of a sudden you just start to smile and know/feel something is going right? Like a wave of relief and sheer happiness and the ability to stay in the 'now'? Yeah, I am very happy here--I'll definitely be excited to come home in a few months, but I am extremely content now.

5) People here and I think, generally speaking, in the rest of europe, are SO trendy and beautiful.  I dont know if they feel that way when they see American students. I'm also not sure Im seeing through non-rose colored glasses myself, but there are some really well-put together people in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. I think we are fairly behind on the fashion trends in the US and base everything on European fashion making it popular a couple seasons later.  No one would dare to wear sweatpants or a hoodie to class or be seen near school not dressed nicely, which is surprising to me.  Who wants to get fancy at 9AM? It is mildly intimidating.

6) Went to Copenhagen last weekend
Some thoughts:

Places we didn't get to go to:
the National Gallery, the Little Mermaid Statue, Louisiana Museum, Tivoli Gardens

a) It is a very nice city, really trendy
b) super cold, and I definitely see the potential in the place when it gets warmer. The harbor is great and can only get better when its 70 degrees and sunny.
c) Copenhagen and every other Scandinavian country is EXTREMELY expensive. 7 kron (kroner) to the EURO. A bottle of water costs approximately 25 kroner. From what many people have told me, Norway is double what it is in COPENHAGEN!!! Ridiculousness.
d) Traveling is exhausting and am reconsidering how many places I should go to (I want to travel and go everywhere, but its time consuming getting places!)
e) People there were really friendly and willing to help out with directions and recommendations.
f) its practically socialist so the people pay very high taxes but receive many wonderful benefits that makes the quality of living quite  high.
g) people ride bikes there like they do here in Amsterdam
h) went to Christiania--look it up online!  An incredibly inspiring place.
i) Danish children are adorable.
j) the first thing I saw when we got into the downtown area was: Build-a-bear. great.
k) the Danish Design center is totally where the party is at!! I am hoping to write a long blog post about this place as it redefined coolness for me!

I posted my pictures on Facebook in the album with Copenhagen in the title.

7) Drag Queen Bingo at Queens Head is a lot of fun!

This weekend and coming week: Tomorrow I am headed on a day-trip with my program to Urk and Groningen. Urk is a former island and fishermansvillage. It is in the middle of the ‘newly created land’ in the centre of the Netherlands. The ‘new land’ now makes Urk mainland. Groningen is a college town in the northern part of the Netherlands. We are going to explore the city, tour a castle, and hang out a bit there. Sunday, I am going to go to some museums around town as I have yet to do many touristy things since I have been focused on wandering around the city. Monday, I plan on checking out a few markets and cool streets.

Wednesday--My program is taking all of us to a huge soccer game between the Netherlands and the USA. It should be a ton of fun.

Friday through Monday I will be in Geneva, Switzerland.  A few friends and I are going paragliding over the Mont-Blanc mountains in Chamonix, France--only an hour bus ride from Geneva!

Hope all is well and will post some pictures here at some point in the next few days.

Looking Forward To Picnics, Sun, and Warmth Soon! Love,





Wow, have I neglected to post in the past few days...

Not a ton has happened--I have been getting more and more acquainted with the city and am absolutely in awe of its beauty in every respect.  The weather has been pretty bad--cold, windy and rainy/snow every day. Some days, the grossness lasts the entire day and others it comes in waves. It does not make it pleasant getting around the city by bike and yet I try and avoid the trams because biking gives a completely unique perspective of the city one cannot get sitting and staring out a window. 

My knees are finally healing, but that could signal another fall off my bike is going to happen soon. 

Friday (2/12), my hall had a potluck dinner.  I officially suck at cooking.  Anoop brought an Indian chicken dish,  Creamy (English name) from China made a noodle dish with ketchup and mini hot dogs, A girl from France who lived here last semester and happened to be visiting made the most incredible chocolate mousse, The Romanian girls brought another chicken dish with garlic, oil and a ketchup chili flavoring, and Ola from Poland brought vodka.  Hahaha…seriously.  And, I clearly wasn’t going to make cheeseburgers or deep-dish pizza so I made some sautéed vegetables, pretty much the easiest thing to make.  It was wonderful tasting a little bit of each hall mate’s culture.  We also had great conversation again on Obama, studying abroad, Amsterdam among other topics.  A few of us ended up going out for a little afterwards.

Saturday (2/13), I took a day trip with my program around Amsterdam to places that we wouldn't normally go on our daily routines. We got up pretty early--especially after a night of partying--to bike across town to the architecture museum on the northwestern side of the city.  Here, we were given a tour of a neighborhood that represented the larger city's construction--a constant battle between Protestants and Catholics. This was represented in building and home styles.  Pretty fascinating that even religions and politics can determine architecture styles.  The social housing buildings are insanely nice looking compared to what was/is built in the US.  And, these federally funded units are in a nice area so the people living there don’t feel like outcastes and probably are living among people who are relatively wealthy or at least part of the middle class.  It’s essentially a functioning mixed-income housing development/program.  Another interesting feature of the tour is that the building the starting point of the walking tour is in, was an old post office designed by a famous architect who was a literalist—he created the building with purpose in design such as the ceiling made to look like a stamp and the “employees only” sign in the shape of a police baton among other cool features.  
After we were done touring the various sites, the group had lunch at the museum’s restaurant.  It was delicious! Great juice, fruit, soup, sandwiches and a sweet bread that is part of Dutch cuisine. A good meal for a cold day. 

The next part of the day, the group went on a ferry to the north side of Amsterdam, located across a much larger canal.  The Noord Amsterdam Island is home to an artist colony.  David and I had to get back to do some work and catch up on sleep so we left after lunch. We grabbed a quick cup of coffee on Haarlemmerstraat—a swanky area near Jordaan (another young and posh area)--and talked with a local man who wanted to improve his English. I offered my tutoring skills, but in the end he just wanted to speak enough English to get a girl he met in Dallas to date him. J

On Wednesday I gave a presentation to my Religious Diversity in the Netherlands Class on France’s probable ban of the burqa and theoretically what that means/might mean if the bill passes as well as comparing that to the Swiss’ ban of minaret building among other conflicts between church (more mosque than church) and state. 
After class I met up with some friends for a bit of wandering around Spui and Spuistraat—a cool area with lots of restaurants, bars, and fun stores.  We ended up popping into an aboriginal art and instruments store, which was LOADS of fun.  The woman who worked at the store let us bang on drums and blow into a range of digideroos, which were so much fun to play. Lies (pronounced like Lisa without the ‘a’) is a world famous digideroo player who worked with DJ Tiesto and played in front of 30,000 people. She has some cool stories as well.

There, we met a squatter who, while playing with us, discussed squatting.  He comes to the shop to play every day and sweeps the floor in return for the entertainment.  He said that many squatters are people from other countries who came to Amsterdam in search of something, there are many fistfights at the homes. The squatter also noted how the squatters basically take over $1 million + euro homes to crash at.  I will write a longer entry about squatting as it is something that I am fascinated by and hopefully I will have more conversations with the man at the art and instrument store.  After the fun store, we went to De Beerkoning, “The Beer King” store where they import SO many kinds of beer from all over the world. You can buy a single bottle to try or an entire case.  My friends and I are having a competition to see how many kinds from the “good” shelf (the shelf suggested to us by the owner of the store) we can try and by the end we will each by a glass with our favorite’s logo on it (which they also have an entire wall of glasses from random beer companies).  After purchasing a select few, we rode our bikes back to our dorm while watching the sun set over the canals. 

Little Tid-Bits

Travel plans- This weekend I will be in Copenhagen, next weekend taking a day trip to a college town in the Netherlands called Groningen, and the following weekend I will be in Geneva and possibly Zurich Switzerland.  I am looking forward to exploring the world, except it is way more expensive than I anticipated. Sure there are cheapy intra Europe flights, but they are only at inconvenient times and in random places (like 2 hours south of Amsterdam to catch the flight). Planning in advance is essential otherwise a $200 ticket is not uncommon.

Netherlands is ranked as the #2 happiest country in the world and I believe it.  The number 1 and other number 2s are Iceland, Sweden and Denmark.  I completely believe that these countries have the happiest people.  They seriously have fewer issues than people in the US have and can live on less material things and yet have greater intangible sensations (happiness).  There are very few things to worry about here, that could be that I am a student living abroad with very few things to worry about, but just talking to people and hearing their stories (which I LOVE, by the way) has been most refreshing to not listen to complaints but rather adoration for their country. We may be home of the brave and a land of the free, but somehow the US, in all its free glory dragged a bunch of crap into the mix. I am not bashing the US by any means—one is critical of what he or she loves as the saying I think goes—and the Netherlands sure has its problems too, like religious issues. Ill post more about this another time…

Burgermeester might have the best salmon burger I have ever eaten.

Amsterdam’s famous brown bars are incredible.  The scene is exactly how you imagine. Dark stained walls (probably aided by tobacco smoke from long ago) people sitting within close proximity of each other and enjoying everyone’s presence and the cold great beer and munchies. The hole in the wall place one dreams about when wanting to have an intense philosophical conversation about the meaning of life. Awesome. 

Presentations in class- Each professor requires individual presentations…I think that’s a Dutch thing, how important it is to present information well in a public domain.  Next week I have a debate (more like a presentation) on whether the political system in America can change—that’s for my Obama class.  The professor, for this class, by the way, ended our heated discussion this past week on personal interests (like why Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope and such) by saying that there were no personal political interests and then said “class dismissed” and stormed out. It was quite funny, as he intended it to be.  He’s an old guy with a young heart who just LOVES the US.  I also have a presentation on colonialism, militarism and prostitution with an emphasis on ethnicity for my class on prostitution. 

There is a joke in Amsterdam that clogs are obsolete, Crocs are the clogs of the 21st century.  I thought it was pretty funny, considering that nobody here wears clogs and that perceptions of the Dutch are slightly skewed in that regard.  

"Can't wait for Copenhagen"/ "I am running to catch my flight" Love,



Pictures from yesterday and today

ool graffiti on SpuistraatCoco'smy first attempt at cooking...not too shabby!

The bike situation, football, classes

A lot has happened since I last posted (before coffeeshops).  

I'll work backwards starting with today. 

Mondays and Tuesdays I dont have class--yes it is very nice--and I thought today would be a great opportunity to personally get oriented with the city, to finally figure out how this thing called "navigating" works.  I am quite lonely without the map feature of my iphone. It sounds obnoxious, but seriously I appreciate the iphone in ways I never knew...guess the "dont know what you got till it's gone" slogan comes into action here.  I attempted to go to Waterlooplein market to buy some things to brighten my insane asylum-esque room and white walls, but that was a failure.  I was riding bikes with my friend Steve and a car came up right beside mine and I always get freaked out when cars drive next to me. I spazzed and fell over attempting to go over a large curb onto the sidewalk that my granny bike was/is clearly unable to successfully accomplish. This isnt the first time this has happened. Unfortunately my steering got messed up so I had to take my bike in to the bike doctor. The guy fixed it, but I have no idea if Granny will make the entirety of the semester, especially with me riding her in my strange spazztastic ways.   I grabbed an incredible cup of coffee at Schuim, the cafe with the cool walls pictured a few posts earlier to temporarily ease the pain in my knees.  I think I actually have a bruise the size of a softball now that I fell a second or third time in practically the same spots as I previously fell in, but thats a whole other story.  

Anyways, I watched the superbowl last night at a bar/restuarant called Coco's. It was basically the only place in Amsterdam showing the game so all the Americans piled into the place to watch with a sprinkling of European football lovers.  Personally I am not a football fan, but I had such a great time watching the game in Amsterdam. It was a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by, just for a brief period, Americans singing the national anthem and cheering for their favorite teams.  A bunch of friends and I camped out at Coco's from 9:30pm onward to make sure we got comfortable seats.  Between 9:30 pm and 4 am I met a ton of people and met a PhD philosophy student who goes to University of Michigan who is taking time off from Mich to get a degree at UvA in Logic and knows one of my GSIs (graduate student instructors).  Unfortunately, the situation got incredibly awkward when this guy emailed the gsi from his phone in the bar  telling him that I said hi. Well, intro to philosophy wasn't my hottest class--in fact my worst--and that particular gsi and I ended not on the best of terms.  Whatever. He ended up paying for my friends drinks because we gave him one of our prime seats.  I guess Michigan connections have turned out to be really good...      When the Saints won, the guys I were sitting next to picked me up  and the whole place went crazy, especially since people were following the beer is cheaper than water rule. Great fun.

On our way back home at like 4-4:30AM I attempted to do what the Dutch do when one person forgets to bring his or her bike along--hop on the back of someone else's.  This takes incredible skill--a running start and mad steering strength.  Failure, but not a long walk home thank gosh. 


Classes began last week. the end.  I was quite sad when classes started--to be bound to a schedule where each class lasts 3 hours and the need to do homework became inevitable. I have to read two books by this week and write a little paper among other things. I totally was not expecting this much work and thought that after working really hard for two and a half years, this was going to be a breezy time.  Not so much.  I will work hard, just not that hard if ya know what I mean ;)   Plus, grades dont really count--passing does. Never thought I would go with this mentality, but it happens. When you are put in a great city full of adventure and fun, why would one spend time cooped up in a room studying?

My professors all seem legit. Two are from Germany and the other two are from the Netherlands.  The classes are all taught in English, but the profs. English is pretty broken which makes it difficult to understand everything. When its difficult to understand everything, one can get a little sleepy. So you give them a cookie, but if you give them a cookie then you need to give them a glass of milk! Just kidding, wrong story.  Sorry mom and dad that I slept partially through the first classes. 

I am taking "Change We Believe In": What has happened in Obama's First Year, Regulating Cultural and Religious Diversity in the Netherlands, The Local and Global Complexity of Prostitution, and the Social and Cultural Climate of Cities: The Case of Amsterdam.  The cities class is cool because each class we spend part of the 3 hours taking a walking tour of a particular area of the city to see what we discussed in class with layouts and social constructions, etc.  The religious diversity class is pretty interesting because it focuses on the issues the Netherlands and particularly Amsterdam has with its Muslim population and the faith itself.  The class on Obama's first year will be great because it is my most diverse class consisting of many dutch students and many european students with only a few American students. We are going to have debates about perceptions and such.  My favorite class so far is *huge shocker!* my class on prostitution. It is relevant to the area and the rest of Europe as well as the world.  My assignment for Friday is to knock on a prostitute's door and try to talk to her in addition to checking out the Red Light District from an academic standpoint and not in a sleazy way.  Everyone couldn't believe the professor when she said to wait till some guy comes out from a door in the RLD to see his expression and if he went with friends, what did the friends do when he came out after they waited for him,  among other things in the RLD (she even said to go to a peep show and do an intense case study on the colors and structure of the place--shout out to my AmCult 350 buddies back in Michigan). A very social science-y experience I guess. Nothing like I have ever done or imagined doing before. In this class, there will be a guest speaker nearly every week including but not limited to: a prostitute/sex worker, a sex worker union leader, a client, and lawmakers from the city. Should be quite interesting!

Anyways I gotta run to do some skim reading.  

"I hope the red light district experience goes well" Love,



More Pictures

(my room)(the pop-up urinals that are brought out at night)(the view from my room)(the view from my room)(the view from my room)(the outside of my building)(sitting area connected to kitchen)(my room)(kitchen and dining area I share with 7 other people)

Impressions: Coffeeshops

First impressions continued... A slight delay

The inevitable topic: Coffeeshops, Drugs, Culture, Tolerance, and Regulation vs. Deregulation

I haven't quite figured out how to discuss the coffeeshop (where they sell marijuana and hash) experience(s) yet in this blog (I actually probably won't go into too much personal detail as I am applying to grad schools or getting/attempting to get a job soon), and feel free to comment as to how to explain it, but now I will discuss how the shops are integrated into culture. Most people think weed and hash among other "soft" drugs including mushrooms and herbal powders and pills are legalized by the federal government.  They are not.  However, coffeeshops and smart shops (where they sell shrooms, marijuana seeds, herbal powders and such) exist because "soft" drugs are tolerated. "Hard drugs"--cocaine, heroine, LSD, etc.-- are socially forbidden and outlawed because of the enormous possiblity for addiction contrary to "soft" drugs. Tolerated means police dont care and "turn the other cheek" when "soft" drugs are present or an issue.

One can be walking around with a decent amount of weed and the toleration still continues; it is when you are smoking or taking other drugs and creating a ruckus or (significantly) stocking up on drugs when trouble can ensue.  This is an effective system because police spend their time doing more meaningful and useful things for Netherlandian society and not waste money and time on the petty things like smoking a single joint. Mushrooms and weed are being slightly more regulated now because of the tourist incident that happened not to long ago when some french tourists took 'shrooms and thought they could fly so they jumped. 'Shrooms were outlawed in 2008, but are still easily accessible which I am still confused about...maybe they are fading them out of the shops?  But, that is a rarity and one hears of very little incidents regarding drugs in Amsterdam or the Netherlands. I recently talked with somebody about the tolerant policy and she said that as a Dutch citizen, it is especially fascinating to see the Netherlands crack down on what it has been so tolerant of and known for (to some extent) and seeing the US become more liberal in the things previously prohibited--take California and its weed policy that seems to be changing/evolving every day into something that eventually might become the decriminalization of marijuana.

Tolerance only opens the eyes of its citizens and thus leads to greater toleration if not acceptance and support in other realms such as gay marriage and euthanasia--and pretty much every other controversial hot topic in the United States. And because these soft drugs are regulated, it means for healthier drug intaking if one chooses to do so since lacing would be nearly impossible/people wouldn't really have the desire to lace or stretch drugs. The US should decriminalize soft drugs in addition to the economy boost it could provide as well as creation of more hemp products--like hemp grocery bags--and then eliminating plastic bags, which in turn could provide a healthier and greener (no pun intended) USA. There are also plenty of health related benefits to the pronged green leaf--a stress reducer, a natural pain reliever from headaches to chemotherapy, and a natural anti-depressant/anxiety reliever among other things.  As you can tell I am not very liberal in my social policy beliefs. Just kidding.

**As of today, I learned that 'shrooms were replaced by truffles...I guess thats how the Dutch get around prohibition of certain things--by finding something identical and declaring it different?

In coffeeshops, people grab a cup of coffee and just sit, read the newspaper, chat with others in the shop and enjoy a smoke or whatever they choose to do and since tobacco isn't technically allowed. It is tolerable/enjoyable to sit and do the very things mentioned in a chilled out way without the threatening scent and effects of tobacco and cigarettes. Everyone is friendly and willing to share any information about the city, such as favorite places to hang out or go, see and do.  If one is just looking for coffee, snacks and food/more meal-y items one goes to a cafe, not a coffeeshop although in coffeeshops the employees definitely want you to buy a drink (non-alcoholic--no booze is served in coffeeshops for safety reasons) in addition to marijuana if not in place of.