Month: August 2015

Impressions of Amsterdam

I (am)sterdam were the first words that greeted me when I arrived at the train station in Amsterdam. Eager, slightly puzzled at this foreign-yet-English-speaking place, and excited to see John, I couldn’t help but be a little bedazzled by this Dutch version of Grand Central Station on the water (ok, not that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point). It seemed like a much friendlier and slightly less historic version of Venice; the canals were there, but there were more cars than gondolas and while the buildings were less impressive, the atmosphere was more welcoming. The weather, on the other hand, was not as lovely as the people. Out of the four and a half days I was in Amsterdam, it rained for at least part of every day – storms that suddenly took over clear skies and poured on unsuspecting victims like John and I. That being said, it’s fascinating to see all of these Dutch folk who are constantly riding their bikes around the city, unperturbed even by the rain.

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But what shocked me perhaps most about Amsterdam were two findings: first, how diverse the culture was, and second, how family friendly some of the more “scandalous” aspects of Amsterdam’s culture are. In terms of the first, the easiest way to explain it is that for my first meal in Amsterdam, we had Ethiopian food (which was, by the way, extraordinary). The next day, I was told that the Amsterdam version of Chipotle (aka quick and easy) was a wok place, and then I was told that by way of the old Dutch colonies, the Netherlands has some delicious South Asian food, particularly Thai and sushi. Things I definitely didn’t originally realize… Then there’s the infamous parts of Amsterdam, like the Red Light District. Perhaps my naiveté is truly going to show, but I didn’t realize that the Red Light District was so named because it literally has red lights above certain shops, marking what kind of exchange is going on. Even then, most of the Red Light District was pretty tame and even the shops with prostitutes in the windows were sometimes interspersed with standard stores and restaurants. I for one was really taken aback. Can you imagine if any city in the US tried to implement such a policy? There would be riots. Instead, it’s a very acceptable practice here and because of that it seems almost neatly confined.

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Finally, since everyone knows how much I enjoy the gastronomic elements of visiting a new country, I will say a few words on food. First of all, there is so much mint. Mint tea, mint in pea soup, mint  on your burger, it’s great. Second, apple pie and stroopwafel. Tour guides aren’t kidding when they say that Winkel 43 is the best apple pie (at least that I’ve tried). It’s warm, crunchy on the top, and with a not-too-sweet and wholesome apple interior. And stroopwafel: a beautiful cookie wafer that’s basically two diet-sized wafels (let’s say crunchy) with caramel in the middle. Yum. Amsterdam, you have the Rosa seal of approval.

 **more pictures to be added tomorrow since WordPress is not cooperating tonight

Un Po’ di Mare

I figured I would post once more today in order to leave my next post exclusively for the Netherlands – my brief sojourn visiting John on his exciting study abroad adventure. Sneak peak: my first impressions of Holland are that there’s a lot of cows and sheep and the Dutch people are loud. Very loud. Especially on trains apparently.

they speak my language in the Netherlands! "I am Amsterdam"
they speak my language in the Netherlands! “I am Amsterdam”

BUT, my last few days in Italy certainly merited their own little spotlight. First and foremost is the Bertolucci-Cuppari tradition of going to Viareggio for bomboloni e pizza. For the longest time when we were little, we would go to the beach city of Viareggio and start off in the inland plaza/park where we would rent these hybrids between bikes and go-carts (i grilli). They only have three wheels and are low, and we would race from one end of the park to the other with only the minimum necessary regard for pedestrians. Then, after about an hour, we would pause for bomboloni: the fresh, sugar-coated, Italian version of a donut. Il Gato Nero was the shop we faithfully attended, and it was basically a small shack that sold drinks and bomboloni. The bomboloni came from the kitchen in a mini blimp that dropped all of them into a transparent, rectangular case, like the ones you can make popcorn in. Then, after this stop, we would go to Athos’ Pizzeria: the best pizza in the world (or so my grandpa claimed in his time). There, we would have slightly undercooked (but delicious!) slices of pizza as soon as we could snag a table and seats. Gelato afterwards was optional but highly recommended. Nowadays we usually skip i grilli and rent bikes, or just go to Viareggio to grab pizza from Athos and maybe some gelato. Regardless, it’s always worthwhile to meander around down there and especially check out the pier. The sunsets are also gorgeous 🙂

Sunset from il mollo di Viareggio
Sunset from il mollo di Viareggio
At Athos'
At Athos’

I also lucked out and found myself heading to Livorno for lunch on Friday. If you’re ever in Tuscany and looking for quieter, but cleaner and more splendid beaches than Viareggio, head to Livorno and I can promise you won’t be disappointed. Livorno is a little farther than Viareggio – it took us about an hour – but well worth the drive, and my cousin took us to a gorgeous little restaurant that was essentially on a cliff overlooking the water. The restaurant may not have looked like much from the outside, but ended up being a great choice (shout out to Francesco!). Although we didn’t have our bathing suits with us, we also stopped at the beach for a walk. I’m also pretty sure I managed to tan half my body since I was half in the sun for all of lunch – who doesn’t a nice ombre tan?

The view from Il Romito
The view from Il Romito

Everyone always asks me whether I prefer the US or Italy. It’s hard to compare though; I’m always on vacation in Italy! Life is easy during summer break abroad, even if it’s close to ending (I can’t believe I leave for Jordan in just less than a week!).

Well, off to a new week and new adventures!