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Last weekend, Evan and I met in Paris. I took the train up from Nürnberg and he drove down through Belgium and northern France. I arrived a few hours earlier, so enjoyed a relaxing afternoon finding our hotel in the Saint Germain district and walking around in the crisp afternoon sunshine.

I was pleased to find that our hotel was in a great area, near many shops, bakeries restaurants and even the local Saint Germain market. We booked through Hotwire, so had no idea what to expect other than a very tiny hotel room – standard for Paris. I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice place with a terrace overlooking the bustling street below. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time enjoying my view from the room since the sun was shining and I wanted to get out and explore.

Paris
My first stop was Notre Dame, a few blocks away. I strolled over along the Siene River, past all the hawkers selling vintage-style postcards and advertisements for French products along the sidewalk. Their wares are all stored in neat little green wooden boxes that line the sidewalk, and which are loaded up and locked each night with all their belongings. Seeing as it was a Friday afternoon in the sunshine, most were already closed, and some were just packing up their stools, hats and gloves as I passed by.

I arrived at Notre Dame just as the afternoon sun sent off shades of amber and honey throughout the city. Windows glinted, and otherwise gray buildings turned to caramel in the fading daylight. On I walked, through the sprawling grounds of the cathedral. I was most impressed by the sense of space and enormity of this structure and the city that beheld it. Coming from compact, gezellig (cozy) Amsterdam, I could immediately sense the spatial difference in Paris and relished in its openness.
Paris
As I was walking, I caught whiffs of melting butter, chocolate and bakery deliciousness in the air. The only other place I’ve had this experience was in Belgium, where the place literally smelled like sweet waffles. Oh those Belgian waffles. I’ll never get over how good they were. It didn’t take me long to walk to the nearest boulangerie and begin my gastronomic tour of Paris. A croissant and piece of quiche later, I found a bench overlooking Boulevard Saint Germain and sat down to enjoy my feast as I watched people head home after work. Nearly everyone carried a bag with a baguette or two poking out the top. Others stopped by the corner florist to pick up a bouquet of flowers, another European ritual I admire.

I went to a small grocery store and picked up a few Paris necessities: a nice bottle of Bordeaux, a baguette and some pungent cheese. After spending 15 minutes deciding which cheese to buy, I had a moment of panic: we don’t have a bottle opener for the wine! Should I get a twist-off? And then I remembered: I’m in France. Of course our hotel is going to have a bottle opener for me to borrow. And of course our room has two wine glasses in it, just like any other normal French hotel room would. Now I looked just like any other Parisian – heading home after work with a baguette sticking out of my shopping bag, a bottle of wine and some cheese to enjoy with Evan.
Paris
Our snacks turned out to be dinner, which was followed by a midnight walk through the city. Somehow after a 7-hour train ride from Germany and an equally long drive from the Netherlands, neither of us were tired. Or maybe we were just really excited to be in Paris and didn’t want to miss a minute of it.

We walked again along the Siene River and took in Notre Dame by dark. I was surprised that it wasn’t lit up, since that seems to be standard practice in most European cities to show off their amazing structures. Through the dark grounds, along the river and past a clown who had set up on a nearby bridge. It looked like we just missed his display of fire, water and something to do with a bicycle and umbrellas, but the spectacle of his clean-up process was enough to give us a chuckle.

We then happened upon what we thought at the time was the Louvre – an immense building with the iconic glass triangle entrance. We were pretty impressed with ourselves for finding it at midnight and without a map, and at the same time were a bit disappointed with how average it looked in comparison to the rest of the buildings we’d passed. Somehow we had thought it would be more amazing since everyone who has been to Paris raves about it.

The most interesting thing at this so-called Louvre was the team of novice ice hockey players in the midst of a heated midnight match! Their talents varied widely, but all played like it was the most important game of their lives, decked out in soaking wet acid-washed jeans (due to all their falls), and naturally sans-safety gear. Nearby, we saw a huge peleton of cyclists ride by, all suited up in reflective gear and lights for yet another midnight activity in Paris. I guess that’s just what you do in the City of Lights.

Our midnight tour concluded, we headed back to our hotel for a quick sleep before embarking on the next day’s activities. Our favorite way to see a new place is on foot during a morning run. So we headed out in the bright Saturday sunshine for a run through Paris. Once again, the scent of amazing food brought with it pangs of hunger, but we persevered and made our way west through the city along the bank of the Siene River.

The huge cobblestones lining the river path gave our ankles a good workout as we slowly realized that the structure we had found last night was definitely NOT the Louvre! The real Louvre could never have been disappointing, as it stood immense and grand in the center of the city. We ran through the massive grounds, past the gardens and to the other end. We contemplated continuing to run to the Eiffel Tower or Champs Elysees, but decided we would return to see those two landmarks later in the day, after a nice breakfast and coffee.

Feeling refreshed and mellow after our amazing run through the city, we headed to the Saint Germain market. We have grown to love the little organic market near our apartment in Amsterdam, but were blown away by the thoughtful presentation, huge variety and quality of food available at this neighborhood market. It made us wish our little hotel room had a kitchen so we could go home with a basket full of produce and make an amazing meal! We settled instead for a savory crepe, washed down with two delicious cups of coffee each to keep up our energy for the long day of walking ahead of us.
Paris
Fromage

Map in hand, we headed out on foot from our little Saint Germain neighborhood with two goals in mind: Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees. We figured we’d probably take the metro back, but since the sun was out we decided to walk and soak it up. And walk we did! As I have said, Paris is a place with a lot of space, and we covered nearly all of it on foot that day. We soaked up the winter sunshine and shielded ourselves from the crisp wind beneath our hoods and gloves. The cold wasn’t enough to quell our spirit of adventure, so on and on we walked taking in the space and taste of Paris on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Our walk was fueled by fresh pain au chocolate and brioche, along with lots of window shopping the amazing Easter-decorated patisseries on the way. Twelve miles and four tired feet later, we had experienced all the major landmarks of Paris, including the Luxembourg Gardens, Pantheon, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, the Louve and Notre Dame again.
Eiffel Tower


Arc de Triomphe

Hungry and exhausted, we finally made it back to our hotel and passed out for a few hours. We were given the name of a great restaurant in the area by one of Evan’s co-workers, and promised ourselves that we would wake up and have a nice French meal in Paris. Sleep nearly overtook our plans, but we forced ourselves awake, and our sore feet back into shoes.

We stepped into the tiny restaurant and were so glad we persevered. As we waited for our table, the host sang while pouring glasses of rosé for each eager customer lining the stairwell, entryway and any other available space that could be filled while waiting to be seated for a delicious meal. The restaurant was small and had two levels. The kitchen was downstairs, and the one and only waiter upstairs. So, orders were yelled down, and food was sent up via the tall French host singing and pouring wine for waiting customers. Frequent shouts of “garcon!”, lots of impatient yelling, coupled with whistling and singing definitely made for a lively atmosphere, and an unforgettable French mealtime experience. Oh, and the food was amazing too.
Panthéon
Our ‘Tour of Paris’ boxes checked for the most part, it was time to head north the following day, back to Amsterdam. Before we left, we headed out on one last run through the Luxembourg gardens. On our way there, we saw some other runners and were surprised to find that the Gardens are one of the main areas for runners in this area of Paris. Around the perimeter of the Gardens is a well-worn running path and a standard counter-clockwise direction for one’s daily run. We observed our French running counterparts and followed their lead through the Gardens, around and around three times, passing the same people, checking our pace and seeing who was going faster or slower than we were. As we headed out of the gardens, we saw one of our fellow runners who had just completed his last lap running home with two fresh baguettes in hand. Classic.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Another gorgeous morning of sunshine and crisp air made us reluctant to pack up the car and leave. So, we walked up the hill from our hotel, past the Pantheon again, and found another little market where we grabbed breakfast and some snacks for the long ride home. When it was clear we could stall no longer, we packed up the car and headed toward Versailles. The palace was somewhat on the way back to Amsterdam and we figured we couldn’t just leave France and not see Versailles.

Our trusty in-dash navigation system got us right to the palace before hordes of other tourists arrived. And it was our lucky day! The first Sunday of the month is free museum day in Paris and surrounding areas, so we enjoyed our free pass to the immense and massive grounds at Versailles. While the structure itself was impressive, we were more amazed at the finely manicured grounds that stretched on as far as you could see: lakes, fountains, angular-shaped bushes and trees forever in each direction. And runners! More runners than we had seen anywhere in all of Paris! Apparently they must come when it is free day at Versailles too, because the grounds were literally covered with runners going every which direction, through the gardens, along the lake shore, through the grass, effortlessly swishing past slow-moving tourists. I had a pang of jealousy, but knew there wasn’t enough time for a second run today.

Versailles

So, we walked as much of the grounds as we could before we realized that the actual palace entry was free as well. We hadn’t planned on spending hours at Versailles, but we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to experience the history and grandeur of this landmark. The photos will do more justice to the place than my words. Amazing, immense, beautiful, grand just don’t capture the essence of Versailles.
Versailles Palace
The drive home to Amsterdam was gorgeous in the afternoon sunlight with farms on either side, rolling hills and quaint towns along the way. We took a detour in Lille, France, just before the Belgian border, to stretch our legs. We happened upon a town festival, so lingered a bit longer to hear some live music and partake in the festivities. Then we walked into the historic center to see if we could find my only remaining gastronomic wish: another authentic Belgian waffle. I was not disappointed, and was ecstatic to find freshly-ironed waffles on every corner. I settled on the one that offered the sweet cinnamon waffles. Heaven. From there, we continued our drive north through Gent, Antwerp, Rotterdam and eventually back home to ‘gezellig’ little Amsterdam.

Lots of updates on past posts this time around:

GROUND:
I am pleased to report that our San Francisco Ritual Coffee Beans have been transformed into life-giving grounds that we savor on a daily basis. Thumbs up to Evan for finding our local Natuurwinkel and sneakily grinding our beans there.

FOUND + GROUND:
This lovely Natuurwinkel has also been the source of much happiness on my part. Oh yes: I have discovered Zonnenbloempasta – sunflower seeds ground into lovely, smooth, salty-sweet butter! (Thanks, Joanna, for the suggestion!) Just in time too, as my pindakaas addiction was seriously spiraling out of control. Another week, another empty jar. Oh yes, I am not kidding about this addiction.

FOUND:
BBC2 has come through as our in-home Olympics coverage! Evan discovered this at work, inquiring about where we can view the Olympics since our Sky TV subscription lacks all sports channels. How about that Skier-Cross?! Insane.

NEWFOUND GROUND:
Westerpark, our new favorite running route! Our upstairs neighbor (who ironically hails from none other than Lake Oswego, Oregon) told us about Westerpark when we first moved in. We dismissed her suggestion, as the park looks so small on the maps we’ve seen.

After some frustratingly traffic-laden, angry-bike-bell-ringing runs down the Amstel River and back, we finally decided to try another route last weekend. We headed out from our house, down Haarlemerstraat, our new favorite street (Natuurwinkel located here!). Past cute restaurants, cafes with free wi-fi, fashion stores and tempting bakeries through an arch and there it is: Westerpark with its miles of paved running and cycling paths! Right in the middle of the park are barns, ponies, little garden houses for people to tend garden in the summer, fields of dormant tulips and some open space – a rare commodity in Amsterdam.

FOUND:
Saturday organic food market, just blocks from our house! We had been to the Albert Cuyp market the weekend previous, feasting on fresh, gooey, caramely stroopwaffels. Sadly, there is no photo of this experience, as we ate them too fast and could not be bothered to interrupt our enjoyment for a photo opportunity. The organic market was a completely different (and much healthier) experience with fresh organic breads, meats, cheeses and eggs with feathers still attached. Cheese samples abounded and we took advantage, tasting goat cheeses, sheep cheeses and just regular old (amazing) Dutch cheeses. I am going to miss the lovely round Dutch cheeses when I’m gone.

OLD GROUND:
We just booked our tickets to a very old, inspiring place: Sicily. We’ll head there after we wrap up our work here in Amsterdam and Germany. We’re looking forward to visiting some ancient temples (750 BC), hiking near Mt. Etna if it’s not erupting, tasting some wine from old vines, and seeing life as lived by the Corleones.

Converted church. Three levels. Wrap-around balconies. Standing room. Seats. Great acoustics. Bar. Spoon + White Rabbits on a weeknight.

As a vertically-challenged person, it is even better. Dutch people are tall. I am not. There are enough seats for the tall people so that I could stand behind them and see Spoon play an incredible set on the main stage.

One thing we learned: when your ticket says that the concert is at 8pm, it really IS at 8pm. None of this opening band starts at 9pm, main act comes on around 11pm stuff. Nope. We got there at 9pm and completely missed the opening act (White Rabbits), and came in on Spoon’s third song.

I could get used to this.

Spoon - Paradiso

Well, this is embarrassing. Last weekend we received two BEAUTIFUL pounds of fresh-roasted coffee beans direct from San Francisco. We were elated.

We would be even more elated if we could figure out how to turn these beans into a powdery substance suitable for brewing.

You see, coffee grinders are not something that are easy to come by here in Amsterdam. Or perhaps we’re missing something?

Four store checks in Amsterdam. No luck.

Three store checks in Hilversum, where we distinctly remember seeing an in-store coffee grinder. Our minds played tricks on us and that distinct coffee grinder is in fact a coffee maker.

Thus deflated and desperate, I am contemplating a mercy visit to Amsterdam’s only Starbucks.

They’ll understand my plight, being from the NW and all, right? They’ll be willing to grind my beautiful beans and turn them into precious granules capable of creating of dawn’s awakening serum, no?

Oh Michelle and Caspian – thank you for the beans. We can’t wait to tell you how much we’re savoring every drop they brew in our bright yellow espresso maker.

When we rented our apartment, the broker was so excited to tell us that it came with Sky TV – the premier English television service. Being the non-TV watchers that we are, we weren’t that interested.

Now the Olympics are on and we finally have something worthwhile to watch. To our great disappointment, we came to find that our Sky TV subscription includes everything BUT sports stations! 500 stations and not even EuroSport? I guess that means a trip to the local sports pub to catch up on all things Olympic. Know any good sports bars in the Jordaan?

Our first piece of mail in Amsterdam. Thank you M + C!

Ritual Coffee

Ritual Coffee

On a sunny Sunday an Amsterdam, Evan and I set out on foot to find the famed Brouwerij t’ IJ. As far as we know, there aren’t many other microbreweries in Amsterdam. Being from the microbrewery capital of the world, it was imperative that we seek out and sample their wares.

We did our research online and found out that the brewery opened at 3pm. So, we decided to make a day of it and stroll around the city to see what we could find. First to the train station, where Evan became the proud owner of a very official-looking rail pass for his month of 40-minute train commutes into Hilversum now that we’re living in the city. First, obtain pass photos in small photo booth, then to the service desk where the pass is dutifully assembled – rubber stamps, signatures, more rubber stamps, photos cut to exact size, then sealed permanently behind a window of clear plastic: the official monthly rail pass. But it’s more than a rail pass; it’s a souvenir of the highly organized and punctual Dutch rail system.

We took a different bearing from the train station than we’d gone before and headed in the general direction of our much-anticipated windmill. Botanical gardens, canal-side brick factories converted into chic apartment lofts, old boats moored to canal walls – some sinking, others with smoking chimneys, yet others teeming with photosynthetic life. On and on we walked, over bridges, past cafes, through parks, into neighborhoods that were distinctly different from the inner canals of Amsterdam. More peaceful, we thought. Fewer tourists, more hidden attractions, lots of families and noticeably different architecture.

Along one of the main streets, I noticed a sign indicating free entry. We weren’t aware of any museums in this area, but being Amsterdam, surely there were more museums to be happened upon. We had indeed found the old Jewish Theater in de Pijp neighborhood. Beckoned by the welcome of a free entry (something very unusual in Amsterdam where one cannot even get a free map from Tourist Information), we entered and began our self-guided tour through the museum.
Holocaust Memorial - Hollandsche Schouwburg
The museum used to be a theater. For nearly 100 years it served as any normal theater; prior to WWII transformed into a Jewish theater, Hollandsche Schouwburg; during WWII repurposed yet again to gather the Dutch Jews in one place as they were sorted and separated for expulsion to eight concentration camps spanning the European landscape. Most of the signs were in Dutch, but the messages were universal – remembrance, sorrow, hastily left-behind items, official badges, exclusion, expulsion and senseless murder. Amsterdam also houses the Anne Frank house, which we plan to visit during our time here. Contrary to the long lines, tourists and multi-language tours of Anne Frank’s home, the Jewish Theater was a place of solitude and quiet reflection. We felt honored and fortunate to have happened upon it and learn more about Amsterdam’s Jewish history.

Not even a block from the theater is an enormous zoo. On the map, we were sure we could walk through the adjoining park and more quickly reach our windmill destination. Upon closer inspection, amidst the cacophony of excited little shrieks and sugar-high thrills, we were proven wrong and amended our course. We crossed a canal lined with old boats and converted factories. Above each door was a placard with the names of Dutch cities in alphabetical order.

To the other side of the zoo we walked, across a courtyard and there it was: the stunningly curved blades of a giant thatched windmill. The brewery sits on the river IJ (pronounced eye), its logo an ostrich standing above its egg. We walked around the windmill, took photos of the windmill, and waited patiently outside the windmill doors with other eager microbrew fans. We were 5 minutes early. We peered in the windows, greeted by visions of beer bottles lining the walls and a homey, casual interior.

Windmill and Brewery
Then, the windmill doors opened. People rushed in to claim their seats among the long tables that line the beer bottle decorated walls. No doubt we found some Oregon beer representation: a collection of Rogue Ale bottles almost directly across from our table. We contemplated the draft selection in front of us. Not a single beer under 6%, most closer to 9% – equivalent to a barley wine. We settled on our choices and ordered a bowl of salty pindas (peanuts) to accompany our frothy brews. Sip, swirl, taste, repeat. Verdict: delicious. Within minutes our table for eight was filled with old and young alike, similarly enjoying an afternoon beer with pindas and kaas. Children, strollers, dogs, tourists, locals, regulars and us: all enjoying beer inside a windmill on a river in Amsterdam. Sundays don’t get much better than this.

Brouwerij 't IJ

There’s this oddly-shaped building right next to the Amsterdam Centraal train station. It looks like a big metal box with one end sinking into the ground. We noticed it on our very first train ride into the city. On our second ride into the city, we finally realized what it was: a climbing gym! We had done our research on climbing gyms before even leaving Portland, and we were so excited to realize that this was in fact one of the gyms we’d discovered in our search!

We vowed that once we lived in the city, we’d go and check it out. We did just that. One day, searching around the web for running routes in Amsterdam, I stumbled upon a MeetUp site devoted to Expat Netherlands Adventurers. That sounds about right. In my searching, I discovered an event on the very day we were moving to Amsterdam – climber’s night at Klimmuur Centraal.

It was an ambitious plan, but we signed up anyway. We nearly lost our motivation after getting comfortable in the awesome new apartment (post to come on that), but Evan rallied us and out the door we went.

Thirty minutes and a snowy walk later, we arrived at the sinking building. It’s right on the River IJ, and it has its very own footbridge to cross the river and reach the gym. We walked inside and instantly felt…at HOME. There’s something about climbing gyms that always feels familiar. Perhaps it’s the sounds of people comparing notes about a new route, or maybe it’s the smell of sweat and chalk, or it could be the unselfconscious grubbiness of climbers worldwide. Whatever it was, it was a very welcome feeling in a new city.

One thing that was not familiar was the restaurant and bar in the middle of all the action, serving up a mixture of Belgian and Dutch beers on tap and climber-friendly snacks. Oh, yes, you heard me right – beer in the gym. I know it seems a little strange to have a bar in a gym, but at a climbing gym it just makes sense! Climbing is so much more social than a regular gym. Serving food and beer definitely helps foster camaraderie among fellow climbers as they discuss the night’s routes, complain about sore muscles, and swap bragging rights over a piping hot bowl of pea soup and pint of La Chouffe.

Kilmmuur cenraal

Evan and I were in heaven. We were so excited to climb that we hardly even met the MeetUp crew that inspired us to come in the first place. We introduced ourselves to the host and got down to business. We climbed for 3 hours, until our forearms couldn’t take it any longer. We were surprised when we were the first ones to sit down at the tables in the center of the gym. Were we lazy since the rest of the group was still climbing? We didn’t really care. We went up to the bar and each ordered a pint of our favorite Belgian beer. Once you take a sip, you’re done climbing for the night – that’s the rule. Seems sensible, doesn’t it?

The rest of the crew quickly followed. They joined us around one of the three big wooden tables that sit in the center of the gym and we got to know our fellow Expat Netherlands Adventurers. We sat next to a few girls who had lived in the Netherlands for a few years and picked their brains for tips on the city, sights to see, places to go and adventures to pursue. We also talked about windmills and canals and beer and Dutch food. And then they brought it all home in one recommendation:

Brouwerij ‘t IJ – a Dutch brewery INSIDE a windmill that serves Dutch food overlooking a canal.

Guess what we did the next day?

Last Tuesday night in Hilversum, Evan and I decided to go out to our favorite little pub, near the main shopping street in town. It also happens to be the single non-smoking bar in all of Hilversum. I’ve been told that all bars in Amsterdam are smoke-free, but apparently Hilversum hasn’t gotten the message. Or maybe the stars who live here have enough pull to keep the smoke police out.

In any case, our little smoke-free haven was a welcome sight on Tuesday night. We nabbed our favorite corner spot with three low stools and tucked in for a few tasty Wieckse Witte Biers – brewed in the Netherlands by Heineken, but oh so much tastier.

Within minutes, a crowd descended on The Guardian and our extra stool was drawing attention to our little table. Soon enough, a group of eight Dutch people were sitting next to us, also on these low stools…but they only had seven. So, we were neighborly and handed over our coathanger/stool. When two girls approached us with tickets in their hands speaking Dutch, we realized what we had happened upon: Pub Quiz! We politely asked if the quiz would be in English (seeing as this was an English pub), and got the impression that it probably would not. So we passed and decided to stick around and see what it was all about.

The 8-top to our left kept peering over at us, trying to discern if we were competition or not. Finally I caught one of the guys staring and assured him that we weren’t playing, nor did we speak Dutch, but we planned to just hang out and watch. That put him right at ease and he decided that he would co-opt our intelligence in case it might come in handy for his team – a group of IBM employees. We struck up friendly conversation, but once the first question was announced over the loudspeaker, he was fully focused on Pub Quiz!

Amazingly enough, Evan and I realized that we could understand some of the questions! Not to say that our Dutch is that great, but a lot of questions had English words in them, or actors/songs/lyrics/titles/geographies that we recognized! We were so excited. And so were our neighbors! How lucky for them to be sitting next to non-players who wanted to help them out! When they couldn’t get an answer, they leaned over to us, translated the question fully for our understanding, and hoped that they had been so lucky as to sit next to American TV watching, movie-remembering, star-gazing people. Well, we’re not really any of those things, so our help was limited to the number of stars on the New Zealand flag (4), the name of the longest river in Australia (the Darling), and identifying lyrics of the Cheers theme song.

Four quiz rounds later, we had made great friends with our fellow Pub Quizzers, though they admitted that we never would have posed any serious competition to them, regardless of the language. They even invited us back next week. We didn’t have the heart to tell our new Dutch friends that we’d be gone by then, living in Amsterdam starting this weekend. Somehow it just didn’t seem right after singing the following lyrics together with them:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Tot ziens, Hilversum. We’ll miss you.

Oh Peanut Butter.  I thought I’d overcome my addiction to you.

Now I come to the Netherlands and I find you again, but under a different name: Pindakaas.  Cheese of the peanut.  That seems more accurate since you share many of the great qualities of cheese: that perfect balance between creamy, sweet and salty.

At first I resisted.  I’m over you, I thought.  I have graduated from pre-school peanut butter to more sophisticated Sunflower Seed Butter.  This butter I cannot find in the Netherlands, sadly.

One day alone at the grocery store, I see you standing there on the shelf.  I look around, try to walk away, and find I cannot resist you.

I buy the biggest jar of you there is.

I eat the contents of that jar in one week, just like the old days.  I’m hooked.

Pindakaas, you may have tempted me here in the Netherlands, but once I’m back in the land of Trader Joe’s, you’ll once again lose your grip on me.  You’ll be just regular old peanut butter and I’ll have my Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed Butter to help me forget about you once again…

Pindakaas

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