Monday, September 28, 2009

now i know what happiness tastes like


it was a generic asian store in chinatown (which for whatever reason is located in the red light district), so the selection of actual korean products were quite limited. but i did manage to find some chili garlic sauce in case i decide to cook my own ma po tofu. i am also now heavily stocked in 신라면. no chappaghetti though. then i walked over to the Wok to Walk and had some delicious noodles. there are asian restaurants around here, but for some reason nothing satisfies me like the local takeout place.

i miss korean food. i love cheese and fresh baked bread but after a while one gets tired of eating cheese sandwiches...and if i lived on the other stereotypical dutch food (bitterballen, krokets, pancakes, stroopwafels) i would grow to be a very large woman indeed. i have not yet found a korean restaurant here, although i hear they exist. when i went to Stockholm, i found a Korean restaurant and was very excited about it until i realized that they pretty much only served Japanese Stockholm, by the way, seems to be quite in love with sushi. you pretty much can't throw a rock without hitting a sushi place. if only the rest of the world had the same passionate love for 순두부찌개...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

swedish shenanigans

i'm packing my bags to get ready to move on to Stockholm today but i figure i have a few minutes to post...and to try to piece together the various events in the last few days to figure out how i keep getting this raging headache...i suspect following a swedish guy back to his apartment to sample the local whiskey was probably one of many contributing factors. but i've always been about sampling the local cuisine.

a few comments first:
  • they sell tampons in the H&M here.
  • the Swedish word for "cake", apparently, is kaka.
  • following my love of street meat, i tried a "french hot dog" that the chip stands were selling. i've been to france, and i have never seen this "french hot dog" there before, although strangely enough i do remember seeing something like it in Vienna. Suffice it to say that it vaguely resembles a regular hot dog, only it seems far more impressively obscene. i will try to post pictures later.
  • i don't know if it means something else in Sweden, but the grocery stores here appear to sell potted salvia.
  • McDonalds is always good, in any country, after the bouncers send you out of the club
i had a wonderful time yesterday. i got a good walking tour of the city as well as the university, and then i joined sinead and her dutch and south african girl friends for Taco Night. i can't express how unbelievably welcome this Taco Night was in my life. last weekend i spent the weekend in Belgium with the boys, so most of the time was spent chugging beer, and talking about girls and bowel movements. fun, but after a while you start worrying that you're going to grow an Adam's apple. this weekend was a interesting inverse, hanging out with pretty girls who sip wine, cook delicious taco from scratch (I HAVE BEEN MISSING MEXICAN FOOD HERE) and carry discussions about Yugoslavia and apartheid (interesting to hear about from a dutch girl and a south african girl). then we went to a club called Heartbreak Hotel and lost all pretenses of being proper ladies....although i have to say, no matter how much we let loose, i feel like we just cannot compete with some of the Swedish girls here. i wonder how many of them realized that they forgot to finish dressing last night? like, forgot to wear pants?

one of my favourite moments: we dropped by a party nearby, where a bet was made and a Canadian was shotgunning a beer. this was no difficult task; i feel like we canadians are taught these skills as children and it's probably one of the requirements for immigrants writing a citizenship exam. while he was shotgunning, the three other Canadians in the room started singing O Canada at the top of our lungs. in both official languages. it was a proud moment. i'm having a great time out here, but no one can tell me that i've forgotten my roots.

off to take the train to Stockholm now. Sinead has promised me a crazy time. given the fact that we spent the last two nights hunting for after-parties at the wee hours of the morning, i shudder to think what a "crazy time" is going to be...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gävle! Waterloo!

well, once again i find myself in a country that speaks a language that i do not understand. not a single word. well, at some point last night somebody taught me to say "cheers", but after many cheers-ing, i forgot. this situation is worse than dutch though. i don't even know how to pronounce the name of the town i'm in (apparently it's yav-leh, rather than gavel like i thought), nor do i know what to do about all the extra little symbols the Swedes put over their vowels.

still, i was excited to go to a country that i'd never been to before. would it be full of snow and blonde girls dressed in christmas elf costumes? would everything look like an Ikea display room? would i get to have some swedish meatballs?

well, sweden's been keeping me pretty busy since i arrived here yesterday - mainly busy converting swedish kronas to euros in my head. i'm staying with my girl friend Sinead, who i met while i was in Kamloops, a totally amazing character, a piercing artist/ belly dancer / geomatics student at the University of Gävle / general awesome person.

the first thing i noticed was that once again, i had not packed properly for the weather. i don't know why it is such a surprise to me that Sweden is cold, and like a non-Canadian idiot i only packed a hoodie. it's certainly no Belgium here. the second thing i noticed on the train ride over was all the nature...actual natural nature. i guess because the climate is similar to Canada's, they have similar greenery here, and after spending all my time in manmade Amsterdam, i remembered how much i missed the wilderness. and then, i remembered that i'm allergic to nature. so, i can't report on what sweden smells like because my nose is plugged up and i always look like i'm crying. it's Victoria all over again.

we went out to the Pubes last night, which is what the students call the neighbourhood bar here (it's actually called Pubenpuben), where i tried some swedish (i think?) cider and chatted with an assortment of swedes, germans, and finnish folks. Sinead also introduced me to The Dance, i guess their version of the Macarena or the chicken dance. i was very impressed at how an entire bar of beer drinkers could suddenly perfectly coordinate their dance moves. pretty amazing.

after the bar, we randomly crashed somebody's party, where the house was so packed, you could barely breathe. a kid was deejaying in a dark room using youtube. the german boys were drinking tall thin glasses of pink margaritas with a relish that comes from coming from a country, i guess, where men can drink tall thin glasses of pink margaritas while fully confident in their masculinity. we were all having a good time until the cops were called in to throw everyone out - sinead and i snuck out and went home, sneaky as cats.

and then, sometimes you wake up the next morning groggily and discovered you have inhaled an entire bag of potato chips in your sleep.

i'm going to go into town now to hunt for ABBA. must resist the urge to shop.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

i posted this on facebook but...

dear Schipol Airport:

i like having my boobs roughly handled by a middle aged lady in uniform as much as the next girl, but isn't it time you invested in handheld metal detector so you don't have to cop a feel from every traveller with a face full of metal?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

late night junk food cravings

we went to burger king and discovered that here in amsterdam they do not have dollar menus nor bacon cheeseburgers, but they do have these deliciously disgusting things called King Snacks, which are more or less deep fried chili cheese.

in a few hours i will wake up and fly to sweden.

Monday, September 21, 2009

15 things i actually remember about Belgium

we got back from belgium last night, but i haven't quite fully recovered enough to have the energy to post about the weekend. i'm sure brussels and bruges are still recovering from the canadian storm that hit them too. it was all whirlwind, heat, and flash, to quote my favourite band. and educational too. i learned all sorts of things about myself, my friends, and the belgians.

1. after you travel to many new places, you start seeing things like this (yes, he's wearing sunglasses) and not blinking.

2. Belgium has some of the best beer in the world. however, you stop noticing the fabulous taste after ten of them and instead find yourself standing on a table in a bar at 4AM.

3. if you stay at a hostel right in the heart of downtown Brussels, you take on the risk of heading back home one day, only to find a bunch of uniformed soldiers shooting cannons down the street towards your hostel. do the belgians find our love of ketchup on french fries that offensive?

4. Brussels...really excited for some reason about statues of little boys peeing.

5. i have this theory that "flu power flu" must mean something to the people of Brussels, but despite my basic French-speaking ability, i have not yet figured it out.

6. white people in blackface...not quite yet an offensive thing yet for Belgians. not quite sure this would go over as well in north america.

7. Delirium beer is an excellent part of a complete breakfast. Also an excellent part of a complete breakfast: a walk around the chocolate shops to get free chocolate samples everywhere.

8. okay, for people who like a more traditional breakfast, Belgian waffels - every bit as awesome as the hype builds them up to be. even waffels off the street.

9. my french gets much better when i drink. or at least i think it does. this skill is not particularly useful in countries where people speak Dutch, however, in Brussels it came in handy to be able to ask NATO workers at the bar where the *real* NATO headquarters were, and what NATO *really* does. and whether they have a bat cave with a batmobile

10. i was quite sad to leave Brussels and find out that French is not the dominant language in Bruges. i've been spending so much time, here in amsterdam, not knowing what people or signs were saying, that it felt very nice for a while to not be totally clueless in the french part of Brussels. when we moved on to Bruges, i was sadly back to not understanding what a single thing on the menu was.

11. ...but not that sad. i mean, despite the frenchlessness, Bruges turned out to be a very quaint, breathtaking city.

12. playing hearts is an excellent way to pass the time on the train, as long as you don't mind the fact that you suck incredibly hard at it, despite years of playing it on the computer as a child.

13. abandon all hopes of a cheap meal if you're wandering around tourist traps. also, avoid all hopes of efficient respectful customer service and free things. we learned this with our waiter who very condescendingly told us that we do not do mashed potatoes or tap water here in Europe...and then immediately offered to sell us weed. i guess he didn't know we live in Amsterdam.

14. be careful when you order mussels. you might get a lot of mussels.

15. 11AM check-out times always seem so reasonable at the time. i don't care if my traveling companions are weak. going to bed at 6AM and checking out in time is so do-able...just not for us.

Friday, September 18, 2009

dutch indie

went to go see some dutch bands playing at one of the indie showcases held at the Bitterzoet. I'd met this girl at Cafe Sappho on Tuesday who told me that her band The Secret Love Parade was playing, so i decided to check them out:

i'm really glad i went. i missed Roe's set, the founder of the Amsterdam Songwriters' Guild, but i did come in time to see this other act, I Am Oak, which i enjoyed a lot. it kind of sounded like Sandro Perri with a dutch accent.

after the show, the Bitterzoet was turned into a dance club, where we were pleasantly surprised to discover that there is, indeed, a club in Amsterdam that plays old school hiphop. i mean, we all love euro techno, but after a while i feel like i need to be doing a lot more drugs to really dig it...

today me and the canadian boys are going to belgium!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

cafe sappho

i performed at the open mic night at Cafe Sappho, a popular lesbian bar in Amsterdam (no, mom, i'm not going to come home a lesbian pothead - maybe one or the other, but not both). it was a great night. i met a lot of musicians, including one guy who actually bikes farther than i do to get to the bar...and i bike twenty kilometres a night. i got to meet Ro, the founder of the Amsterdam Songwriters Guild, and a few very talented lady musicians. a very friendly bar, even though there weren't actually that many lesbians there, for a lesbian bar.


We went to Utrecht yesterday. it was only about a twenty minute train ride from Amsterdam. i'm pleasantly surprised at how close everything is around here. a twenty minute ride from Ottawa would take you to....Kanata. and we all know there isn't much to see there. but in Utrecht we had a chance to walk around the old town, the sunken canal, the old church where the protestants went all Rambo on the Catholic statues, and had a bite at a neat little cafe where they, for some reason, gave me shot glasses of water with the coffee. Utrecht seems to be a pretty good shopping area as well, although i still have not solved the problem that i am about five clothing sizes smaller than the average Dutch woman.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


we went to the Zandvoort coast today, just outside of Haarlem to see the North Sea. it was a brisk, windy 20 degrees. everyone else wrapped themselves up in their jackets and sweaters. the canadians - me, colin, jeff - stripped down immediately and jumped into the water. the water was fine. ignore my blue lips. i've been in colder water before. i am canadian; we've done polar bear swims when there was still ice frozen on the lake.

then we took a long stroll with my ukulele through Zuid-Kennemerland National Park which featured some pretty incredible dunes, horse poop, and this totally random racetrack. like the dykes, the draining of the swamplands, and the windmills, i will never fully appreciate the dutch habit of taking the wilderness and completely transforming it into something manicured and manageable. it was a pretty good day, except for the part where the sea stole my shoes and i had to wander around Zandvoort barefoot until i could buy another pair of shoes. North Sea: 1, Gloria: 0.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

in search for the Dutch equivalent of Preloved

despite having lived in Vancouver (Random Rain City) and Ottawa (where the climate ranges from -40 degrees to plus 40 degrees), i am finding it extremely difficult to dress properly for Amsterdam weather. i was given the name of a reliable weather watching website - however, it's entirely in Dutch. i've come to the conclusion that i simply did not pack the right clothes. so i found myself needing to go shopping once again. as if i didn't spend the whole summer in vintage haven Vancouver replacing my entire wardrobe.

Spui and its surrounding streets seem to be a major shopping district. most of the shops are not my style - Mexx, Esprit, H&M etc., all the places you can find in any city. i'm still searching for the local Dutch designers, but during my shopping trip, i made a pleasant discovery: the Individuals brand produced by the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. all of the clothes are designed by the students at the college, and even better, the store was having a major sale. i found the clothes to be rather hit-and-miss in style. some outfits were breathtaking, and others were probably a bit too hipster for my tastes. my main complaint was the available sizes - clearly these dresses were designed for tall Dutch folks, rather than wee Asian girls. still, i'm glad to find this store and do intend to keep an eye out on it in the future for the next season's releases...hopefully in my size. i can dream.

on my way home the other day, i came across a band rocking out on the roof of an old building. they were doing a cover of the Beatles' Get Back, and a crowd was gathering in the streets, dancing and enjoying the free show. it was pretty sweet to watch. colin comments on the fact that he finds the Dutch to be a cold people, practical, sensible and direct almost to the point of being rude. obviously it can't be all true - Vincent Van Gogh was certainly the emo rock star of painting, for example - but i do agree that all we foreign students ever see of the Dutch is them carrying out their every day duties, grocery shopping at the Albert Hein, biking to work, feeding their kids at Ikea. tourists and foreigners remain quite insulated from the local arts culture. so it was pretty nice to see people hanging out and enjoying the spontaneous street party. one day i'll break out of the foreign student bubble and find the cultural underground. maybe i need to learn some dutch first though.

i weighed myself at the Ikea today on one of their sensible practical bathroom scales, and i weight exactly the same as the last time i weighed myself in Canada. I guess all the weight i would have gained from my cheese heavy diet is being balanced by the fact that i bike between 20 to 40 kilometres a day.


jeff commented that Tuesdays are the new Sundays. I suppose he means the fact that Tuesday nights we go out to the borrel and then have to face morning classes the next day, but realistically that's every day. we've worked out this rhythm: weeknights are for partying, weekends are for travelling. somewhere in there we also try to study too.

Tuesday night i went out to the weekly borrel that we have at the Cafe Heffer. It got way too crowded and hot there, and i'm not actually a fan of being packt like sardines in a crushed tin box (being 5 foot 2 inches means that i am about nose-to-armpit level to the average dutchman), so after the bar closed, i followed jeff and colin to a speakeasy near their place. it's this underground bar that's unlicensed so anything goes - you can smoke anything inside or just hang out. me, i was a fan of the one euro beers and the cosy dimly lit atmosphere - just a bunch of dutch folks keeping to themselves and relaxing while some old school blues plays in the background. jeff says that some nights they put a movie up on the projector and you can just curl up on the couch and just zone out for the night. i could *really* use a place like this near my place.

last night i went out to hang out in the Containers. yes, i'm serious, that's how we refer to the houses there. there is a major housing shortage crisis in Amsterdam (which is why i'm way out in Diemen) so they've been making pretty creative solutions to accommodate the massive amounts of foreign students that come in every year. like sticking them in this giant plastic containers, which i joke is a few steps above living in a refrigerator box. i kid. they're actually quite nice, sturdy and clean - probably the equivalent of the portables that we went to school in as a kid. but they do have the strangest look: my friend Ioana who lives there, describes them as having almost a simulated digital look, as though they are pixelated, these plastic buildings oddly juxtaposed with the green green grass. Picture the SITE building on the University of Ottawa campus, only more...pixelated. inside, with the sterile clean plastic walls, you get the odd feeling of living inside an airplane. made for a pretty interesting party atmosphere.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

exploring the randstad

in retrospect, i probably should have gone to bed a bit earlier last night. but there was a party in Diemen, and i knew that this was going to be a rare event because as soon as people learn how far Diemen is from the amsterdam city centre, they will never attend a diemen party again. so i attended, was persuaded by some wily Romanians to drink slightly more than i meant to, mourned with the Americans about our unfulfilled cravings for Mexican food, and watched amused/bewildered as a Scandinavian boy took off all his clothes in the kitchen (is this a Finnish custom i am not aware of? or is it just a boy thing?).

this means that i was not quite as a fresh and bubbly as i meant to be when i took the train through Holland to meet up with Gavin and his geo-physicist friends in Rotterdam. nevertheless, Rotterdam needed to be explored, hangover or no hangover, so i put on a brave front - and napped at every park bench we happened to stop at.

two important facts need to be known about Rotterdam. first of all, it's one of the world's largest ports - lots of imports and exports going on those boats there, and it historically helped build the Netherlands to be the wealthy nation that it became. so that explains the awful "this puts the rot in rotterdam" smell when you walk by the industrial harbours. it's the smell of capitalism. and Protestant sweat.

secondly, while most european cities have a beautiful old city section, the Nazis bombed the crap out of Rotterdam during WWII, so most of the beautiful old buildings are gone. Rotterdam seems to have decided to embrace the future instead of mourning its lost (bombed) history, so instead of the quaint brick house buildings that dot Amsterdam's cityline, Rotterdam is full of crazy fancy daunting avant garde architecture. it's just so newfangle-dangled that a n00b like me who knows nothing about architecture cannot even begin to describe the fancy buildings. so i won't.

some of the highlights of the trip for me included taking a water taxi. given the fact that we were not actually at sea, i have no idea why the waters were so choppy. is it even possible to get seasick in a canal? do the dutch employ a wave machine in their waters like the Kanata Wave Pool does?

we walked by Euromast, supposedly the Netherland's tallest tower for many years...but a Canadian would scoff. At 600 feet, it's no CN tower. on the other hand, nobody rappels down the outside of the CN tower, and we certainly saw three guys just sliding down a rope down the Euromast. i really hope this was part of a paid tourist activity and not some strange not-so-covert ninja operation we witnessed, because there are much simpler ways of descending the tower (ie, the elevator).

afterwards, i decided to follow the geophysicists back to their home in Delft, which was quite the contrast to Rotterdam. if Rotterdam's buildings are THE CUTTING EDGE FUTURE, Delft is a handful of sweet old-fashioned nostalgic quaintness, exactly the sort of thing that makes me want to pick up my Canadian roots and move to Europe. gavin and i took a stroll through the old part of town, and he pointed out to me the Markt and the old church and the "new" church (built only in the 1500s...). Delft is the home of the famous blue and white Delftware tiles, but i refuse on principle to get excited about pottery. it was pretty quiet and peaceful, i guess because it was a Sunday afternoon, but i'm pretty sure this is where Vermeer lived and his paintings were pretty good at looking serene as well, so maybe chillaxing is just a Delft thing. or maybe it's because pot is legalized in the Netherlands.

i had the opportunity to enter my first Dutch McDonalds this afternoon, where i ordered a Bitterballer, without knowing in the slightest what it was. i still have no idea, even after eating the whole thing. it appears to be a deep-fried something. let's just say i know what a Bitte is in French, and i hope that's not related at all. at any rate, it didn't taste particularly bad - sometimes a deep-fried mystery will cure a hangover far better than you'd expect.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dear! Holland! Stop! Raining! and other loving complaints from a Canadian

for two weeks now i have been living in Amsterdam as a resident, not a tourist. this means that no, i have not seen the Sex Museum or rolled a joint in a coffeeshop or gawked at a hooker or partied at a red light district hostel. but i have agonized at a grocery store trying to figure out what is the local dish soap brand, used Google Translate to decipher what a dutch website is saying about the local weather (the only accurate weather website is for Dutch people only, apparently, like a secrety society), shopped around for the best bargain guitar, and tried to get some free medical advice from the Dutch Telehealth line. this, i think entitles me to say a few words about the city.

1. first of all, i do love this city. it's a comfortable size, with the same population as my hometown Ottawa, but with centuries more history and therefore much more developed. i love that biking is an actual transportation option here. i love that most people speak at least a little English (which is more than I can say about many Canadians). i love that everything is close. i love their love for cheese. i love their love for chocolate (chocolate: not just a dessert topping anymore). i also love that i only six hours of class a week. i love many many things. i don't, love however...

2. the rain. PLEASE. HOLLAND. STOP. RAINING. please. i just moved here from Vancouver. there are many similarities between Vancouver (where topless girls sell you weed) and Amsterdam (where clothed girls sell you weed), namely, as you can guess, weed and rain. i think eight months of rain will kill me. Mother Nature, you heartless bitch, you take a young girl's dreams for a Friday night and cruelly toss them into the stormy wind. and then you break her umbrella. isn't it a bit much?

3. the questionable bike paths. i'm not complaining about the existence of bike paths, i'm just questioning what seems to be the definition of a bike. why are motorcycles on the bike paths? they are much much faster than bikes, plus people who ride them are obnoxious, even more obnoxious than bicyclists. and the other day, i swear on my heart that i saw a Smart Car driving in the bike lane. WHY??? dear Smart Car, you may be a pathetic excuse for a car, but you are still a car.

4. paying for bathrooms. for men, there are unsightly public urinals all over the streets so men can yank it out and relieve themselves while admiring the view of the canals. free of charge. for women, we have the exciting opportunity to pay 50 cents to use a washroom that isn't particularly clean or fancy. come on, if i'm paying for a bathroom, there better be a Renaissance-style water fountain for me to piss into, and there better be a string quartet to accompany the sounds of me peeing, and there better be a well-groomed barely post-pubescent towel boy massage-drying my hands for me. or at the very least, i want a public urinal too. i am so filing a human rights complaint based on gender discrimination.

5. i know the legalized pot thing is part of the big draw for the tourism industry, but stoned tourists are sooooo annoying. the only thing more annoying than white people on drugs are white people on drugs that can't stop talking about being white people on drugs.

6. the street signs. whoever is in charge of these street signs needs to go back to school. if i was living in Toronto and wanted to go to a destination, getting there is easy. you take the address (1 King Street East). Pop it into Google Map, and note the intersection (King and Yonge). you make note of the streets that come before and after, and then you can find your way there. sometimes you can use Google to print out specific directions.

i have learned time and time again that this is not the dutch way. first of all, you can look at a map and note to yourself, "all i have to do is go in a straight line" but you will rapidly find out that you will still get lost going in a straight line, and not just because the city centre is a series of concentric circles. streets will magically turn into other street names with no warning whatsoever and then when you're not looking, turn back into the original street. you will arrive at intersections, major intersections, where none of the streets are labeled, not a single one - you have to make a random turn and much later on a small sign will congratulate you on making the right guess, against all odds. maps are wrong, and some streets are not labeled at all on the maps. sometimes you will have two streets with the exact same name, perpendicular to each other. Jake, my bike companion tells me that Google Maps will allow you to plan a trip using bike paths in some cities in California. Not so here. in parts outside of the city, bike paths do not necessarily follow the streets (they dance and twirl around the roads and sometimes perilously dart right across), so using google directions to bike across the city is useless unless you're brave and stupid enough to bike on a highway with the trucks.

you can try using the canals as guiding landmarks, but there are so many of them that it won't work. you basically have to draw your Jedi sense, learn to ride your bike with your eyes shut, be prepared to swallow your pride to ask the locals for directions many times (and many times they too will squint confused at your map), or else hope that there's a clear sky so you can follow at the moon and the stars, just like your ancestors did when they were stomping around and living in caves.

7. have i mentioned the rain? has it somehow been coordinated so that it only starts raining when i unlock my bicycle? what does the world have against me recovering from my cold?

the nice spanish boy who walks me home tells me all about his hometown every night. in spain, it is always sunny. in spain, it's so hot that people have siestas. in fact, it is forty degrees in spain right now. clearly i need to move to spain next. i wonder what their bike paths are like?

lovingly yours,


Thursday, September 3, 2009

i am craving pizza hut

this probably has to do with the fact that i've been so feverish with the flu, i haven't eaten an actual meal since monday morning (and that was a bowl of soup). but all night i was dreaming about pizza hut's lunch buffets. mmm. when i was a teenager, my friends and i used to pile up in a car (scotty would go in the trunk), and we'd drive over to the Pizza Hut down the street. Buffet takeout meant that for five dollars, you could walk out with as much food you could stuff in a single takeout container - the lid doesn't have to close. mmm. it was a satisfying part of my adolescence.

anyway, google informs me that Amsterdam has Pizza Hut! woo! now, i just have to figure out how to deal with my mexican burrito craving...