Monthly Archives: March 2011

Getting to know my “fiets”

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From Winter to Spring

Spring has sprung.  Rejoice!  It’s a miracle.  Here in Dutch land, the temperature is rising daily, and the sun has FINALLY begun to show its face.  I am pleasantly surprised by the early spring in Holland; in the States, spring doesn’t really come until mid April.

In the past few days, Amsterdam has started to come alive: cafes have now set up their patio furniture, and literally the whole population comes outside to do everything.  House doors stand open, and old men sit smoking cigarettes in deep thought on their stoops.  Toddlers play in the streets, and teens become flirtacious (and a bit obnoxious on their bicycles).  This is a phenomenom you see as well in the States, but in Europe it’s to the extreme.  I often think, don’t these people have to work?  Can you really spend all day outside at the cafe and in the Vondelpark?  Apparently many can.

To change the subject a bit, let’s talk clothes!!   Spring is great and all, but it often leaves us rushing in the morning, trying to pick out an outfit that is both colorful and warm.   I constantly struggle with this.  I’ve found that it works well to layer your warm dark colored stuff on first, and then add the extra pop of color via a bright sweater, scarf, pair of socks, or other accessory.  The runway showed some pretty serious neons and bold colors for this season, which can be both a blessing and a curse.  I absolutely lovveeee bringht colors, but I cringe if I see someone who has combined all the colors of the rainbow in one outfit.  Therefore, the rule is to always combine your brights with a palette of lovely neutrals.  See some ideas below for a happy medium:


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Paris: these are a few of my favorite things!

What is it about Paris that attracts millions of tourists each year?  A certain je ne sais quoi.  Actually I do know, and I will tell you.  The French simply live life as it should be lived: stylishly, with great art and good food.  They cherish their history, and look to the future.  They portion their food, walk in gorgeous shoes, speak a beautiful language, and stay culturally and politically involved.

The French often get a bad name on the other side of the pond.  They are referred to as snobby, rude, pretentious.  But if you make the tiniest effort to speak a few words of French to them, they change instantly.   You can check out some podcasts to get the accent right.  Pour example: Parlez vous anglais?  Bonjour, je voudrais un cappuncino.  See?  Anyone can do it.

I have never had a negative experience with a French person.  In fact, when I was lost at 1am in the horrible maze of the “Chatelet” metro stop, a kind French couple walked me all the way to the correct line I needed to get on.  It was a 10 minute walk.

Here are a few things I adore about Paris.   Being fortunate enough to have been there twice in the past three months, I have come up with this short list of  my favoirites:

Building or Monument: Opera de Paris Garnier.  If you’ve ever seen Phantom of the Opera, you’ll know why.  It is simply breathtaking, mysterious, haunting, and grand.

Street: St. Germain des Pres (ok, I’m predictable)

Museum: Big Museum-  Mussee D’Orsay, for impressionistic dreaming.  Do stop by and see the Degas ballerinas!   Small Museum-  Musée Nissim de Camondo for a beautiful home and art collection with a tragic ending, in early 20th century Paris.

Patisserie:  Anything with an enticing window display.  I’m a sucker for an opulent visual.  There are some lovely patisseries near and on the St. Germain des Pres. Please try a macaroon.  Do it for me.

Boutique- Everything in Le Marais..  peek into RAG, HippyMarket, and Allison & Sasha

Dessert-  Tarte Aux Pommes

While you’re dreaming about a perfect trip to Paris, download some French jazz.

*Search: St. Germain des Pres Café, in ITunes (I have Volumes 1- 8).

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Around the World.. In Style!

Thousands even millions of people from around the world travel to Europe each year.  What I’ve noticed, and heard from working in the travel industry, is that so many of them are clueless about the basics:  what to pack, how much to pack, what the weather will be like, and should they or shouldn’t they buy souvenirs?  This may sound trivial, but you’d be surprised about the number of tourists in Amsterdam who get caught in the rain, or those who travel to Italy in sneakers, and get chuckled at by local teens.  I’m starting to compile a list for each European region, of what to pack, and what to know before you go.  For now I’ll leave you with the glamorized travel image below.  If only we looked this good on the go!  xx

Collage by Helen Anne

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On Traveling Alone.

Two weeks ago, I was very fortunate to receive a generous gift from my host family here in The Netherlands.  I won’t go into details of how and why, but I was given some money to take a last minute trip in Europe!  Words cannot explain how excited I felt.. however, the word to be paying attention to here is a LAST MINUTE trip.  Mind you, my host mother gave me the opportunity on a Thursday, and the next day Friday,  I was already leaving to go to London on a short vacation with my boyfriend.  When I got back from London on Monday night, I started freaking out– basically I had two days to unpack, repack and start booking tickets!!

Seeing as I would be traveling alone, I was very nervous, and opted to visit a city close to Amsterdam, whose streets I was familiar with.. Paris!  Additionally, one of my close friends from a former job would be there, so I would not be completely alone.  However, because it’s me, I needed to start making things more complicated for my 4 day trip.

First I would take the train from Amsterdam to Brussels, where I would spend the day.  Then I would go from Brussels to Paris that evening and check into my hostel.  The next day would be a free day in Paris.  On Saturday I would take a day trip to visit the Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire River Valley, and Sunday I would take the train back to Amsterdam.  You might think I’m crazy, and for a minute I did to.

When I entered Amsterdam Centraal at 7 am on that Thursday morning, a wave of fear went over my body.  It was a tremor that left my stomache churning and my hands dripping with sweat.  Should I turn back now?  Maybe I should just take a nice day trip outside of Amsterdam?  Noooooo! A determined voice in my head told me to move my feet forwards towards my train platform.

And by listening to myself, I was given so much in return.  My trip was a complete success, the biggest confidence builder I’ve ever had in my entire life.  Traveling alone, you are responsible for everything.  Every train ticket, hostel reservation, metro direction and meal, has to be planned and executed by YOU.  Now, most of my friends know I am extremely forgetful and a bit absent minded at times (cue 4 wallets and 5 cellphones lost/ stolen in the past 6 years).  I’ll be honest, my past history terrified me.  Not to mention that when Simon and I went to Paris in December, he lost our return tickets to Amsterdam, and we had to buy new ones .. 200+ euros down the drain.

Now comes the best part of the story.  I DIDN’T LOSE ANYTHING, NOR WAS I PICK POCKETED!  I believe this was due to my severe neurosis’s on the trip.  I slept with my purse under my pillow at the hostel, and checked to make sure I still had my train tickets about every 2 hours.  My camera stayed in my coat pocket next to my hand, and my phone in a special zippered compartment of my purse.  Whooo!  It was worth it though.  I got on every single train on time (I took around 8 trains total), and was able to navigate the metro with ease.  When I got to the street with my map (and I am a horrible map reader- just ask anyone), I found where I was,  then found where I was going, and traced my finger alone the path I should follow.

You really learn on such a trip as this one, that you can do things you were previously afraid of, and do them well!  I never thought I could hold onto 8 train tickets, get on all the correct metros, and furthermore read a map correctly!  In the past I have always planned where to stay and what to see, and relied on the person with me to do the map reading, and metro planning.  Now I can happily claim that I can do it all.

An additional high you get from traveling alone, is doing only the things you want to do.  There is no boyfriend or mother or best friend putting in their opinion every two minutes.  It’s just you and your map, the foods you want to eat, and places you want to see.  The liberation of that feeling at that moment- the moment when you know you can do anything, is unforgettable.

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Appeltaart

I have a problem.  Ok, it’s not a big problem, but whenever I go into a cafe in Amsterdam, I cannot be satisfied with just ordering a drink alone.  I must, must have an appeltaart, if there is one available.

This is an addiction that goes way, way, back.  I was the little girl at Thanksgiving who ate  a nibble of turkey, and three pieces of pie for dessert.  And then proceeded to eat the pie leftovers for breakfast  the following four mornings.  It’s plain and simple, pie to me is heaven, everything a dessert should be: a bit of fruit, yummy brown sugar, and a doughy crust that leaves you smacking your lips.

However, the best part about Dutch appeltaart is actually the heavy whipped cream that accompanies it.  Heavy, luxurious, hand-whipped cream is to appeltaart, like outrageousness is to Lady Gaga.  They fit so well together.  So here’s a toast to Dutch appeltaart: may you always sit happily in your cafe display case, and remain tasty as can be!

Here’s a recipe for you from Food.com:

http://www.food.com/recipe/dutch-apple-pie-omas-appeltaart-128732

Eet smakelijk! xx

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The Galliano crisis.

I wanted to touch upon a controversial topic that’s been in the spotlight for the past few days.  Recently, as most of you probably know, John Galliano was ousted at Dior after an extremely offensive rant was caught on tape.  As of now the details of the encounter are still unclear (the provocation, recording, etc.) but the outcome is final: his behavior is intolerable, and he will no longer hold post at Dior.  Through reading American articles and blogs about the subject, and also reading and listening to the European perspective, I have stumbled upon an interesting conflict between cultures that goes beyond this news story alone.

I have found through these blog comment arguments, that Americans tend to think that John Galliano is a very bad man; some would even go so for to call him a monster.  Europeans however seem to be a bit more easy going about the issue- not that they are defending him, but rather think that this is an unfair invasion of his personal life, and that he deserves a fair trial before true condemnation begins.  They seemed to have a bit of compassion, even though his words were so clearly inappropriate and insulting.  After reading so many different responses to the issue, I started to become confused- who’s side was I on anyways?

After a discussion with Simon, a fundamental divide began to make itself clear (excuse me for the generalization):  Americans tend to heavily dramatize media events, and automatically place blame on another party, as soon as someone or something has been wronged.  This phenomenon is heavily criticized by Europeans and often called “sensationalism.”

Europeans tend to think that what happens in someone’s private life, is just that- private, and shouldn’t interfere with their profession.  Europeans say that Americans are one sided.  Basically, we don’t think or form opinions for ourselves, but rather just repeat what others have said, jump on the bandwagon, and are quick to place blame.   Of course, I am always quick  to defend my culture when this unintelligent definition of us has been uttered from a European mouth.  But this time, I found myself speechless.  All I could think to say, was that the media knew best right?  They have the best sources, and we have the best and most unbiased newspapers and reporting in the world.  Clearly I am questioning myself.   Is what I know to be true, really true?  Are there other facts and better researched opinions out there that could prove mine (the one I know to be most correct) wrong?  The answer is clearly yes.  And the fact is, I haven’t quite learned how to deal with this yet.

I have heard from numerous Europeans that Americans have extremely strong opinions, but when faced with an intellectual debate, cannot back up their opinions with actual facts.  Rather, they rely on the “shock factor,” to get their view across.  This came across as interesting to me, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I rely on this shock factor to express my opinions.

Now I’m going a bit off topic, so let’s get back to the issue.  I wonder what the outcome of John Galliano’s actions will mean for Dior, for other designers behavior, and for the great American/European divide in the future.  Will we always be fighting over these philosophical issues: which consequence is right and which is wrong, and what should be private or public.  Will we be able to reprimand appropriately, while holding onto a shred of compassion.  These are tough questions, and very serious ones at that, but I felt it important to address and express what I’ve heard so far about this “crisis.”  That’s all for now readers, more lighthearted topics to come next.  xx

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