On Friendships

Picture this: Two young women are walking down the sidewalk, looking at their phones and accidentally bump into each other. They apologize and smile at the same time, then realize they are carrying the same purse. Want to be friends? one of them asks. Yes! is the answer. Then, they hook arms and head into the nearest coffee shop and a beautiful, meaningful, real friendship blossoms. 

THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN.

I just moved to a new city where I don’t know anyone. How on earth do I make friends? Anyone who has moved can probably relate in some way. I would like to think I’m outgoing, personable, even funny sometimes, but it’s not like I can walk into a bar and be like, hey, I like your shoes, wanna be friends? Or interrupt girls dining at the same restaurant as me  and say, hey, you guys remind me of my friends back home, can I join you?

We have now been in Portland for a month and I’ll admit, I haven’t made any connections yet. Unless you count the barista at the cafe across the street. We’re real tight. I’ve let myself be consumed by this house hunt. The only way I can try to change this is by getting active in Portland and getting out. I have to “put myself out there.” Which can be really uncomfortable, even for a social person like me. It’s like… dating. Yuck. It’s intimidating. I think especially so since we’re back in the U.S. where everyone always appears established. Comfortable. Not with a sign on their back saying, hey I want new friends, come talk to me. 

When we moved to Europe, it took awhile to find friends there. I would pass little pow-wows of hip women having drinks together or shopping together and sigh. I want that! It took… four months to finally meet people. That’s a long time. I ended up stumbling into a group of other new ex-pats (none were American, interestingly) and we formed an instant bond over that commonality. Jaro once said that being an ex-pat is like being on a deserted island. You make do with what you have. And he’s right. We ended up forming unlikely friendships with people that we may not have been friends with if we were back in our cozy bubble of Chicago. I now treasure those friendships even though I may never see those people again. Isn’t that interesting?

The other thing about those ex-pat friendships is that somewhere in the back of my head, I knew it was temporary. And so rather than fully immersing myself into the group, I held on more closely to my friendships back in Chicago. This was a delicate balance that I think, in retrospect, I tipped too far. I gripped my life back in the States so hard that it was really difficult to focus on my life in Amsterdam. Most weeks, I had at least five or six skype dates, always an hour or longer. Always varying times, and varying days. It was like a job. It kept me tethered to my apartment. And, unfortunately, it prevented me from really putting myself out there in the city where I lived. That, combined with all the travel we did (I traveled a solid 1/3 of the 14 months) and wanting to spend quality time with Jaro (which was never enough), I never really got settled. I don’t have regrets, but moving forward (pun absolutely intended) I’m going to do things differently.

Now that we’re in Portland, I can’t act like this is temporary. We just bought a house for crying out loud. We are going to be here for a long time. Maybe forever. This is my life. Here. In Portland. Time to start acting like it.

With Jaro’s work schedule (he was traveling this entire week and we spoke maybe twice, for instance), I will need to focus on myself. I’m proud to say that I’m starting! Here are some things I’m going to try and where I hope I’ll meet some new friends:

  • I joined a yoga studio, CorePower Yoga.
  • I signed up to volunteer with the Oregon Humane Society.
  • I’m going to take photography classes. (started researching some options)
  • I bravely stuck my name on a sign up board at Powell’s to join a writer’s group here in Portland. (and already got one response!)

And that’s just the beginning. I’m also thinking about language classes (would love to be fluent in Spanish and eventually French), possibly a book club (’cause this girl loves to read) and maybe, just maybe, I’ll work. That’s a whole different story in itself as that would also include a career change…..

Any tips? I’d love some insights from others that have gone through a move and needed to create a new life for themselves. I admire anyone that has had to go through it. It takes so much courage.

xxx

P.S. An insightful article about making friends as adults. Anyone think I can spearhead a Portland social club?

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An Expatriate Guide: International House Hunting

Let me preface this by saying it is WAY overdue. I had started writing it back when we were apartment hunting in Stockholm and things… well… things changed and we didn’t end up there. I think it could still be useful, and so I’m sharing it anyway.

Amsterdam

In case you’re new here… hello. My husband and I went through the process of moving abroad once (almost twice) and it was a HUGE learning experience. If you are faced with the same opportunity to move abroad, God help you. Kidding, guys. I’ll help you! Moving to a new country, in the mix of all the excitement, can also be stressful. Having survived a major move from Chicago to Amsterdam just over a year ago (which I excitedly documented here and here), we were totally naive, but stumbled through the process and ended up with a great result. We want to share what we learned, so that maybe we can be helpful for someone else. Here be my tips:

  1. Understand your perspective. It is much different to visit a place as a tourist versus a soon-to-be resident. It’s important to distinguish the two. Don’t focus on being close to the tourist attractions necessarily, but rather areas with livability based on your lifestyle and interests. Sometimes that overlaps with touristy stuff and that’s okay too.
  2. Do your research. Learn as much as you can about different neighborhoods by reading through online expat guides, local blogs, etc. Know someone that has lived there? They are probably your biggest resource. Even if they don’t share your taste, it’s helpful to talk with someone who is living there and understands the area from a dweller’s perspective. Expat bloggers can be especially helpful, provided the writer is responsive.
  3. Get an “overall feel.” This is kind of vague, but walk around. Drive around, if walking is not practical. Go to as many distinct neighborhoods as you can, see if they match up to what you researched. Eat local food. Check out some shops. Grab a drink at a neighborhood pub. Turn down that residential street. Can you see yourself living here? What are you liking about it and also not liking? Hopefully, you can do this in a visit before the actual move, so you have time to reflect on what you experienced.
  4. House search all over the city. See as many as possible. Even though we initially preferred one specific area, we saw apartments all over the city. You know why? So we could say with confidence that we were focused on the right area for us. As much as cities are different, they are the same. Most cities have a touristy area, as well as a high rent district, a hipster-ville, a downtown, and just plain old undesirable areas. What did you like/not like about where you have lived previously? Is that still relevant to your current life stage? Living priorities might be different if you are young &/or single or older &/or have children. We happen to like “hipster-ville” so that’s where we ended up.
  5. Think about your surroundings. You know what they say in real estate: Location, location, location. As an expat trying to settle into a new country, this is especially important. You need to feel comfortable and safe. How important is it to you to be within easy walking distance of bars and restaurants? What about public transportation? Or the grocery store? The bank? Does that park on the corner look safe or full of drug addicts? Seriously. Imagine yourself walking home at night.
  6. Know what you need versus what you want. Say you find an area that seems to fit you & your lifestyle. You’re halfway there! With the homes in that area, be flexible on dropping amenities down the priority list. When we attempted to move to Stockholm (which ended up not happening after all), we thought we “needed” a dishwasher. Guess what. Many places in Europe, even those with brand-spanking-new kitchens, don’t have them. You know where I’m going with this. As we were house hunting in Stockholm, it quickly dropped down to a “want”. Besides, Jaro can be dishwasher (but seriously, how do people survive without a dishwasher?). Same for gas stoves, closets, large bathrooms, etc. Be open to living simply. You might even find it surprisingly refreshing. …Unless you are sacrificing A/C in a hot climate. In that case, I feel sorry for you.
  7. Be firm with your agents. Relocation rental agents, as we learned, have a job. It’s not to guess your preferences, it’s to get you settled as quickly as possible. Don’t cave in if you don’t feel good about it! When in Stockholm (again, a blessing in disguise that we didn’t get a place), we almost went with a beautiful apartment in a neighborhood that just wasn’t right, but caught ourselves and realized we’d regret it. I know this depends a lot on your situation and whether you have guaranteed temporary housing, but be honest and direct with the rental agents to keep them focused on your needs.

This method worked for us and we find ourselves following it as we attempt to buy our first home back in the U.S. After reading back through this list, it is not necessarily specific to moving abroad. Is this helpful? I’m curious, what are some other tips for helping others house hunt abroad?

xxx

{image of Amsterdam taken by me}

Slight Change of Plans…

Hi everyone. I know there has been a lot of speculation about our circumstances as I haven’t written a blog post since our moving day. You know, the day we were leaving Amsterdam and heading to Stockholm. Well, it was great! Better than we could have imagined, actually. Here is all our stuff awaiting delivery to Sweden:

Moving Day

Here we are in our huge, empty apartment:

Moving DayHere are our very symbolic, key(less)chains, waiting for keys to a new home:

Moving Day

And here we are, just like last year, at the airport (please excuse my crazy hair):

Moving Day

Except we weren’t boarding a flight to Stockholm. We, in fact, had one-way tickets to CHICAGO.

That’s right, folks. There was literally a last minute change in plans.

The morning of our move, with our stuff already packed and the movers already loading the truck, Jaro received a call from his manager in Sweden. She told him to sit down. He couldn’t as our chairs and couch were already being loaded. Her call was to inform him that there was a fantastic opportunity in Portland, Oregon and she didn’t want to stand in the way of him accepting it.

After another call, a quick lunch and a short list of the pros and cons, we decided what was right for Jaro’s career and, more significantly, our life and future. That Wednesday evening, we canceled our flight to Stockholm.

On Thursday night, we froze our shipment and booked a flight to the U.S. By Friday afternoon, we were in Chicago. Only my brother knew we were coming. You know where I’m going with this… Since we arrived nine days ago, we have orchestrated several surprise appearances, including randomly showing up at both our parents’ houses. How could we not? It’s truly the chance of a lifetime since everyone expected us to be settling in Sweden. And yes, we caught some on camera.

Like my sister at her college, Marquette University:

Surprise

And our cousin Roman, on his birthday, no less. Also, please note the awesome effect of Roman being in Jaro’s reflection on the glass door (that was unintentional, but perfect):

Surprise

I even got my girlfriends on their way to our other girlfriend’s wedding shower after a high-speed car chase through the city:

Surprise

And tagged along with them on the road trip to Michigan to get Stacy, the bride, as well:

SurpriseThese surprises were hilarious and we had SO MUCH FUN doing it. Seriously, the reactions, the screams, the tears, the swears… were all worth it. Thank you to all our unwitting victims. We’ll never forget the love we felt by sharing this excitement with you.

The secret’s out now. We’re back. We’ve only know ourselves for a week and a half, what a whirlwind! Because of the timing, and the fact that we were homeless in Amsterdam, we thought it would be best to be home with family and friends until we figure out the next steps. Incredibly, we will be here for the holidays. Yay! It looks like we’ll be heading to Portland in January where Jaro will be working from Nike’s world headquarters. I’m infinitely proud of him. And so excited for this unexpected twist in our extraordinary journey through life. While we may be stateside, we’ll always be Those Dam Americans. Can’t wait to continue sharing our story with you.

Not to be a big cheeseball about this, but this much I know is true: Sometimes life does throw you curve balls. And sometimes, you get to knock them out of the park.

Thrilled to be back, America. Can’t wait for this new adventure.

Julie

It’s moving day.

Happy Halloween, peeps! I hope everyone is celebrating safely and happily. We are having an unusual Halloween this year. We’re moving to Sweden today. Which means it’s our last day as residents of the Netherlands. As such, I’ve written up a little goodbye.

Amsterdam, it’s been real. You have been an incredible home to us for the past 14 months. You have opened our eyes to new experiences that we never could have imagined. Thank you. And thanks for all the amazing memories that we will cherish forever. It has truly been a pleasure. You will always have a special place in our hearts as our first home away from home.

Here is a little recap of the fun we had this year:

Yours truly,

J+J

Stockholm: 5 Second Impressions

You can see my first impressions here.

The movers are here! This time they have a permit to be parked in the street; we’re off to a good start. (When we first moved in, they didn’t, and had to park at the end of the street and carry all our stuff down the street by hand.) As they begin to pack up our things, I figured I should stay glued to the computer as long as possible share some impressions from our second visit to Stockholm, just two weeks ago. While our house hunt was a bust (and still is), we otherwise had a really great visit getting to know our new home.

  1. The dining scene is fantastic, as we expected from our initial culinary adventures. This second visit cemented it. The Swedes really care about food (like me) so this will be a good bonding point for us. With dinners at trendy AG and swanky Riche, we were impressed. We tried some local dishes and loved them! Skagen is basically a cold shellfish salad on toast, so good. We also had Isterband, which is a pork sausage with potatoes and beets. Reminded me of corned beef, also delicious. And Biff Rydberg, fried tenderloin chunks that comes with a raw egg yolk to mix up with potatoes and horseradish creme. Yum! We have heard that it’s more common to host dinner parties at home than eat at a restaurant, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing our fair share of both.
  2. The city as a whole feels huge. It’s roughly eight times bigger than Amsterdam, geographically. We’ll be getting to know that public transportation system real quick. Walking from our hotel, Nordic Sea, to Södermalm took me over 30 minutes. I can walk across the entire city of Amsterdam in that time.
  3. Despite this leap in size, each island/neighborhood feels small and cozy. After several more days of wandering around, we still love Södermalm the most. It feels the most “us”, as the Pijp did here in Amsterdam.
  4. It’s cold. I was not surprised by this as I do not live under a rock, but I was surprised by my body’s very averse reaction. …And it was just October. I have really got to develop a thicker skin for winter (either that or invest in some thermal tights). I’m from Chicago for goodness sake. You would think I can handle it. To make it worse, everyone has warned us that we are moving there at the darkest, coldest, wettest, ugliest time. Yay. Can’t wait. Really though, we’re okay with that. Because it will only get better… right?
  5. We found out about cool celebrations that are totally unique to Sweden. Midsummer in June with dancing under the midnight sun and crayfish parties in August where you better take gulps of schnapps are just the beginning. The Swedes live the good life.

Enough chatter. It was a quick trip and much of it was spent on the house hunt, so we didn’t have a lot of free time. Here are a few pics. Both visits, we noticed we haven’t taken the best pictures, so I apologize for that. These don’t really do Stockholm justice. It is a really beautiful city.

xxx

Monday Travel Memory: One Way Tickets

Moving AbroadThis is us at O’Hare Airport on our moving day just over a year ago. One-way tickets from Chicago to Amsterdam. We were starting a new adventure and receiving a new title: Expats. I remember being so excited I could barely sleep or eat. I remember laughing with Jaro’s brother and sister-in-law as they drove us to the airport. But, I also remember sitting in the lounge crying on the phone with my dad. The range of feelings I experienced that day was intense. Eager, nervous, giddy, sad, proud, anxious, happy… all of it. It was one of the most emotional days of my life. I spilled my champagne all over myself and my seat when we boarded the plane. I was a mess.

This week we have one-way tickets from Amsterdam to Stockholm, our second international move. Over the next three days, we are packing up our apartment and saying goodbye to Amsterdam. It’s not as difficult as our first move, but it is still a mix of sadness and excitement. I guess we should take a picture of ourselves at the airport again, huh?

Looking at this picture and thinking about that day, I can’t help but reflect on how different our lives are. Not just where we reside, but also how much we’ve changed.

It’s been a good year. Here’s to another.

xxx

P.S. My first travel memory (sort of).

A Visitor’s Guide to Amsterdam

Sometimes when visiting a new city, people like getting advice from a local. Not from TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet or even the New York Times, like everyone else. A local. That’s a badge I now wear with honor in Amsterdam. I’ve been asked many times to provide tips for visitors and I’m really happy to do so. Having lived in Amsterdam for fourteen months and hosting dozens of guests, we have done and seen a LOT. Rather than continue sending individual emails, I thought it would be smart to make one giant list, so going forward, I can just send someone this link. It was impossible to cut this down; there are so many things we love about this city. I did my best to explain everything and hopefully this will be useful to someone! So here we go, my massive list of suggestions on what to do, see, eat and drink.

Sights There is a lot to do in Amsterdam despite its small size. This mighty mini-city packs a punch. These are my top picks and how long you need:

  • Van Gogh Museum A sizable collection of this artist’s works, curated by his family. Doesn’t have several of his masterpieces, like Starry Night, but it does have others you’ll recognize such as The Bedroom and Sunflowers. Ton of other stuff like works of artists that influenced him, etc. 2 hours
  • Anne Frank Huis While a sobering experience, it’s something worth seeing. Read or re-read the book before the visit, it makes a much bigger impact when her story is fresh in your head. Buy ahead, the queue can easily be over an hour alone. 1 hour
  • Stedelijk Museum Newly reopened modern art museum. The building itself is an interesting hybrid of old and new architecture. 2-3 hours
  • Olde Kerk & Tower Oldest surviving building in Amsterdam, dates back to 1300-ish. Climb the tower (extra fee) for really nice city views. 1 hour
  • Canal Bus Tour I have done this three times with different guests. We like to bring beer on it and, rather than constantly hopping off, we sit there for the whole loop and then switch to the next route. Ticket is good for the entire day though. Half a day
  • Bike Rental This is the best way to see the city. While I haven’t rented a bike myself, I know having one allows you to get around quickly. (See my pros and cons on the subject) All day
  • Heineken Experience When we went, I thought it was lame. I was so not into being a tourist; I mean I live here. But maybe it is a good rainy afternoon diversion for a beer-loving tourist. It’s not exactly cheap (I think €17 a person), but a teeny beer during the tour and two beers in the bar at the end are included. 3 hours
  • Boat Rental This is the BEST thing to do on a nice, sunny day. Get your own boat, fill it with friends, food and booze and you’ll have the perfect afternoon.
  • Ajax Game Although the stadium is outside the city center, it’s worth the short metro ride if you are in town for a game day. The Dutch take football very seriously and going to a game is a unique way to experience the culture.

Markets Market culture is huge in Amsterdam and an essential experience as a visitor. From souvenirs to antiques to food to household supplies, the markets have it all.

  • De Pijp: Albert Cuyp Markt This is the market in my neighborhood so I know it best. It’s also the most famous and if you take the tram to it, you’ll hear “Albert Cuyp Market, Amsterdam Famous Street Market” over the intercom. It’s also the most diverse and some of the home furnishing stores along the way are worth peeking in. When we first moved here, we “ate our way” through the market (more than once), stopping for cheese, waffles, stroopwaffel, loempia, frites and more.
  • Jordaan: Noordermarkt (Saturdays only) We love this one. There are a ton of food stalls; you can pick up fresh pasta and organic olive oil for dinner. There’s also produce, meat, cheese, oysters (which I showed you here) and bread galore. Tons of non-edibles too. Like pretty, pretty flower bouquets.
  • Jordaan: Lindengrachtmarkt (Saturdays only) This is a long, narrow market around the corner from Noorderkerk. One of our favorite lunches is the “hot meat” stand (which I gushed about here). We have eaten there probably 15 times. Love it.
  • Old Center: Bloemenmarkt The flower market. Le sigh. Not much else to say about this one, it speaks for itself. It is always jam-packed with tourists. Bonus: The Henri Willig basement cheese shop is very, very generous with the samples. Try the herb gouda with balsamic mustard. Or young gouda with dill mustard. Do it.
  • Old Center: Waterlooplein Markt The junk antique market. You know what they say, one man’s trash is another’s treasure. There is a ton of random old stuff here that is fun to rifle through. You never know…
  • Old Center: Westergasfabriek Markt (first Sunday of the month) We only found out about this one recently, but I wish we had known it sooner! It rarely makes an appearance (once a month), so you have to go; it’s a special one. There are a lot of interesting crafts and pretty jewelry from local artists. Also, there are a ton of food cats in the back with everything from falafel to gyros to cupcakes. It’s great for lunch.

Eats While you’re here, be sure to try the following Dutch snacks: Cheese (!!), raw herring (with pickles and onions), bitterballen (deep-fried meat paste), frites (with mayo, don’t be a wuss), poffertjes (mini-pancakes) and stroopwaffel (waffle sandwich glued together with caramel). Regarding dining: Dutch food itself is rather boring and plain, IMO. It’s a lot of meat and potatoes. It took us awhile to discover the full scope of the dining scene in Amsterdam. Once we did, we realized there is no shortage of excellent restaurants. I can’t narrow this down, sorry. Grouped by neighborhood.

  • De Pijp: Bazar [North African/Turkish] This is our favorite place for both its crazy fun ambiance and good food. We have been here with almost every guest. Favorite dishes include Irfan & Abdul starters, Tavuk Sis (chicken skewers), Adana Yogurtlu (lamb) and the couscous with fish. You can’t go wrong. Portions are enormous so come hungry.
  • De Pijp: De Duvel [International] Our other favorite. I love this cozy spot for the tuna melt at lunch, but dinner is great too. It’s the perfect neighborhood cafe.
  • De Pijp: Spang Makandra [Surinamese] Cheap, delicious and cash only. Try the sampler platters to taste much of the menu on one plate. Have a ginger beer as well. Also, I heard Anthony Bourdain approved.
  • De Pijp: Simpel [International] Modern and like the name implies, simple, food. Really good for a quiet date.
  • De Pijp: White Elephant [Thai] Our favorite Thai place in the city. The combination appetizer is so, so good and I love their Tom Ka Kai.
  • De Pijp: Suvi [Sushi/Vietnamese] My go-to sushi place. I ordered from here about once a week. It’s really fresh.
  • De Pijp: Mamouche [North African/French] Pricier, but worth it. Love the mirrored walls and candlelight. Great date night.
  • De Pijp: Taj Mahal [Indian] It looks like a cheap take out place from the street, but give it a chance. This place lacks in charisma, but the food is really good. I love the presentation; everything comes in little silver pots with candles to keep it warm.
  • De Pijp: The Butcher [Burgers] Closest thing to American burgers we have tried. And they are good. Really good. My fave is the truffle burger cause I’m fancy like that.
  • Canal Belt South: Pata Negra [Spanish] Our favorite tapas place in the city. Want to feel like you are really in Spain? Cram yourself into this dark, loud, graffiti-ed hole in the wall and you will. Sangria goes down a little too easy.
  • Canal Belt South: Tempo Doeloe [Indonesian] Very pricey, so watch yourself. This bill adds up quick if you let the server order for you. Food was incredibly delicious. Interior is a bit dated, but still worth a visit.
  • Canal Belt South: Pont Acari [Italian] Scenic spot on a quiet, pretty canal. I believe the owner and staff are really Italian, so they get it.
  • Canal Belt South: Lion Noir [International] Fancy food just south of old center, one street over from the Bloemenmarkt. Trendy, posh decor and delicious food. Not sure if the menu rotates, but try the Earl Grey ice cream dessert. Heavenly.
  • Jordaan: Balthazar’s Keuken [International] Another all-around favorite. Limiting your choices to either meat or fish, a €30 prix fixe gets you a 3-course, amazing meal. The best food in the city, IMO. House wine is surprisingly good too.
  • Jordaan: Mazzo [Italian] Great sandwiches and pizzas, but pass on the soggy pastas. We like it for lunch. Good place for a morning coffee or afternoon beer too.
  • Jordaan: Cafe Winkel [Dessert] Go here for the apple tart. Wait in the enormous queue that wraps around the block. I’m telling you right now: It’s worth it.
  • Canal Belt West: Envy [International] Best oysters I’ve had in Amsterdam. Small plate menu is inventive and the decor is swanky.
  • Canal Belt West: De Belhamel [French] If you want to impress someone, you go here. It’s the epitome of Amsterdam romance, as it sits on the intersection of two very pretty canals. Food is lick-your-plate delicious, but don’t do that. This place is classy.
  • Old Center: Cafe de Jaren [International] An easy, classic choice. The bright, airy cafe is great to have beers with friends as we’ve often done, or full meals like spaghetti and meatballs and game pie. I like the waterfront patio in back.
  • Old Center: Nevy [Seafood] Another great spot for a date, right on the Ij. Lots of creative fish dishes on the menu and everything is delicious.

Drinks There are pubs on every corner where you can get Dutch & Belgian beers like Heineken or La Chouffe. Flinck, Groene Vlinder and Chocolate Bar, since they were a 2 minute walk from our place. Here are others we found worth the extra time:

  • De Pijp: Cafe de Pijp (Cafe/Bar) Hip, large bar and cafe in our ‘hood. We liked the classic music and mid-century modern interior.
  • De Pijp: Barça (Cafe/Bar) Right on Heinekenplein, this is a great place for a drink in the summer when they have the huge patio seating area. Good sangria and mixed drinks.
  • Canal Belt South: Njoy (Cocktail bar) A narrow two-level cocktail lounge with incredible drinks and loud music. Try the spicy thai chili Blazing Mule or the refreshing Grape Dreamer Collins.
  • Canal Belt South: Suzy Wong (Cocktail bar) Great for a girls night. Or date. Or anything. It’s cool. Mojitos are a dangerous €5 on Wednesdays.
  • Canal Belt South: Bar Moustache (Cafe/Bar) Quirky bar on lively Utrechtsestraat with photographs of people in, you guessed it, all variations of facial hair. Great for drinks or dinner. I love the window seats.
  • Canal Belt West: Vyne (Wine bar) This is a classy wine bar on the beautiful Prinsengracht. I love their wine flights and the sexy decor. Yeah I said it. The sommeliers are friendly and knowledgeable too.
  • Museum Quarter: Momo (Cocktail bar) This is about as pretentious as Amsterdam gets, where many people go to see and be seen. Don’t turn to the dark side and become a stiff, but do go there for the surprisingly good cocktail menu and seriously delish snacks (like crispy duck). It’s also a posh restaurant.
  • Museum Quarter: Tunes (Cocktail bar) I like this lounge for the dark, moody interior and the lengthy cocktail menu, but it does get packed on weekends. It’s inside the newly renovated Conservatorium Hotel.

Shops The shopping here in Amsterdam pales in comparison to cities like London, Paris and Stockholm. But it does have some great shops that are worth seeking out, other than heavy hitters Zara, H&M and Mango. The 9 Straatjes, in whole, are just fun to cruise through to poke into all the little unique boutiques. Here is my short list:

  • De Pijp: Streetclothes (women’s streetwear)
  • De Pijp: Cottoncake (women’s streetwear)
  • De Pijp: Raak (women’s streetwear)
  • Utrechtsestraat: Labels (women’s streetwear) *also in the 9 Straatjes
  • Utrechtsestraat: Bendorff (men’s streetwear) *also in the 9 Straatjes
  • Utrechtsestraat: Rams (home decor)
  • Old Center: Maison de Bonneterie (department store)
  • Old Center: Bijenkorf (department store)
  • 9 Straatjes: Denham (men’s & women’s streetwear)
  • 9 Straatjes: Leifde (loungewear & home decor)
  • Throughout city: Hema (Target-like for you Americans)

And finally some random advice:

  • You do not have to tip in the Netherlands, but servers now expect it from tourists. A few euro is enough, even for a dinner. 10% max for truly great service.
  • Avoid taxis. They are very expensive and the city is too small to warrant them.
  • Watch out for bicyclists.
  • Always carry an umbrella.
  • Don’t freak out when you smell marijuana or see a red light (yes, they exist outside of the district).

There you have it. My top picks for Amsterdam. Please, I urge you, pass this along to travelers headed this way. I hope they find it helpful and enjoy this incredible city as much as we have! One last tip: Make sure to go for an evening stroll along the canals…

If you have other faves, please share with a comment!

xxx

P.S.  Check out my guide for living in Amsterdam.

An Expatriate Guide: Living in Amsterdam

So, you want to live in Amsterdam, huh? Or know someone who does? Maybe I, an American expat living in Amsterdam, can help. Now that my husband and I have lived in here for over a year (and sadly leaving it soon), I think we are ready to give advice to those that are considering it. Long story short: It is an absolutely fantastic city and I highly recommend it. There. Drop whatever you are doing and move! If you need more convincing, some specifics below.

Overall Feel: Amsterdam has a very unique vibe, which is something that clicked with us right away. It really isn’t like anywhere else. There is a charm to it that I can’t explain. It is laid-back and unpretentious. It is not judgmental; there is a very evident “to each his own” attitude. It’s also beautiful and romantic without trying too hard. Actually, it doesn’t try at all. It just is.

Neighborhoods: Each ‘hood in Amsterdam is different. Really you can’t go wrong, the city is so small that you can easily get from one end to the other in 30 minutes by tram or bike. I do have my preferences, however. I like living in what I think are “cool” neighborhoods. And I’d like to remind everyone that this is strictly my opinion; others may see it differently. Here is a very tiny summary:

  • Old Center: I’d say this area is the busiest as it’s home to the Dam Square, Royal Palace, Centraal Station and Red Light District. I tend to avoid it since it is usually very crowded and full of tourists. There are quiet areas & pretty canals though once you move away from the Damrak/Rokin streets. There are a lot of shopping (fast fashion staples like Zara, H&M, Mango, and department stores like Maison de Bonneterie, Bijenkorf) and restaurant choices (we like Cafe de Jaren) in this area.
  • Canal Belt: This area is the most romantic. Amsterdam’s famous canals must be seen to be believed. They are magical, especially at night. Living here is very pricey, I believe. When we were house hunting, we were shown a shoe box that didn’t even have canal views for the same price as our loft. The 9 Straatjes on the west side (Denham, Bendorff and Scotch & Soda, do it) and Utrechtsestraat (Labels, Jan, Bellarose) on the south side are my favorite boutique shopping areas.
  • Jordaan: This area is very residential and beautiful. The narrow streets with leaning townhouses have so much charm. If we hadn’t lived in the Pijp, we would have wanted to live here. It is a very trendy area with great boutique shopping as well and lots of cool little restaurants. My favorite restaurant in Amsterdam, Balthazar’s Keuken, is located here.
  • De Pijp: …Is where it’s at! Okay, so I’m partial to the Pijp because that’s where we live, but I absolutely love it. The Albert Cuyp Market gets it’s fair share of tourists, but the neighborhood is very eclectic and “bohemian.” One could even call it the hipsterville of Amsterdam. There are great boutiques (Cottoncake and Streetclothes are my picks), lots of cool restaurants (De Duvel and Bazar are our faves) and a nice park. While at the south end of the city, it’s well connected to Centraal Station by tram.
  • Museum Quarter: This area is very posh and packed with culture. It’s home to the designer shopping street P.C. Hooftstraat and the beautiful Vondelpark (our very own Central Park). Watch out for tourist groups on bikes pedaling through the park or Museumplein, which is behind the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk and Van Gogh Museum, all located here as well.
  • Oost/Jewish Quarter: I don’t know much about this area at all. This is where the Waterlooplein flea market and zoo are located. It is otherwise very residential. None of my restaurant or shopping excursions took me this way. There is a lot of new architecture because, sadly, much of it was torn down after WWII. It doesn’t have the same charm as the rest of the city.

People: Almost uncomfortably friendly. As a guarded and even suspicious American, it can be surprising that people are genuinely this nice (of course, not for me since I’m from the Midwest; we invented nice). People say “hallo” to each other in the street and as soon as you give yourself away as an American speak, they want to know everything about your experience living here. What you like about their city and also what you don’t. They want to know what you do and sometimes even how much rent you pay. Don’t be shy! I have found the Dutch to be very forward, yet well-intentioned, so you might as well be too.

Language:  Dutch itself is not exactly a poetic language or particularly easy to learn. I did a 10-week course (Thanks Allard!), starting like 6 months after we moved here. I wish I had done it right away and mastered more. There’s something about addressing people in their own language that is, I don’t know, respectful? It just shows some effort. I mean, you are living in their country. And if that was your choice, you should try to assimilate. Then again, everyone speaks English. Even many of the old folks and young kids. So sometimes it’s hard to keep practicing your Dutch because it’s easier for you (and them, honestly) to just talk in English.

Style: Casual, casual, casual. Even nice restaurants, the theater and the concert hall have relaxed dress codes. Of course some work environments may require suits, but the overall aesthetic is decidedly more laid back. For eclectic street styles, check out Dam Style.

Culture: There is more to Amsterdam than pot and prostitutes (you can see my brief rant about that here). That does exist. Get over it. The rest of the city is simply charming. There are tons of museums, swanky restaurants, hip clubs, cozy pubs, and boutique shopping galore. Think you’re going to find a Gap or Sephora here? Forget it. A lot of big chains don’t have outlets here. (Don’t worry, H&M and Zara do.)

Safety: I rarely feel unsafe in the city. Really, the only time when I do is when I can tell a junkie is staggering in my direction. In all likelihood, it is a tourist that overindulged and really not a threat.

Getting Around: A breeze. Pick yourself up a GVB chipkaart right away and you’ll see how conveniently the city is connected by tram, bus and underground subway. Of those, I prefer the tram. But most of the time, I walk or ride my bike. This is the biking capital of the world, so to truly feel like an Amsterdammer, you gotta hop on two wheels (there are pros and cons to the bike culture).

Weather: This is probably a turn off for most people, but hear me out. Yes, it rains. A lot. And most days are an overcast shade of grey. But you gain a whole new appreciation for nice weather. So really, you win.

Household Basics: Things like establishing residency, personal banking, health insurance, etc. all took way longer than we expected (see my brief rant about customer service) and there were many hiccups that were out of our control. Things that would be unheard of in the U.S. like switching signatures on your bank cards or losing your passport photo and forgetting to tell you). You have to have some patience, there is no need for speed here, despite your sense of urgency. Chill. It will get done. (Just remember to follow up, sometimes they forget to process your immigration…)

Housing: After seeing friends’ apartments, we realize we definitely lucked out. Apartments are typically small and have weird lay outs. I’m realizing that is just common in Europe, because we are seeing much of the same in Stockholm (moving there next week). Since we are short-term, we’re still renting and one huge difference from the States is that we pay every single bill separately. Rent, energy, water, trash removal, property taxes (yep, we paid that for the year!) and cable are all separate. Be sure to clarify what is included in your rent, if anything.

What did I leave out? I’ve previously shared things I’ll miss (times two) and things I won’t miss about living here. And I am compiling a separate post about what to do as a visitor in Amsterdam.

Any questions, please write in the comments!

xxx

Amsterdam: 10 (more) Things I’ll Miss

You can see installment one here

This list will probably make more sense if you visited us this year, or have been faithfully been reading this blog for awhile (love you). I could go on and on…

  1. The hot meat man: 
  2. The hot meat: 
  3. My bike basket looking like this every weekend: 
  4. Lazy mornings with our favorite house guests: 
  5. This apple tart (definitively the best in the world): 
  6. Dutch frites (arguably the best in the world): 
  7. These oysters (sometimes accompanied by champagne, because we’re fancy like that):
  8. This window: 
  9. This hilariously tiny oven that still got the job done: 
  10. Our street: 

xxx

Stockholm House Hunt, part ett

Hey friends. We got back from our Stockholm house hunting trip last night. I’ll spare you the suspense: It was a big BUST. We did not find a home that was suitable for us. After examining seven apartments in total, we just could not commit.

Prior to this house hunting trip, we had visited in July to understand the city a bit, done lots of research on the neighborhoods, scoured Swedish online resources about apartments both for sale and for rent. All to get a feel for the market and what to expect. Let’s just say that in an expensive city like Stockholm, we set our expectations at an all-time low. For comparable rent to our Amsterdam pad, we needed to sacrifice both size and amenities. Now that makes me laugh. Those of you that have visited or seen our Dam apartment know that we’re spoiled. It’s huge. Probably close to 150 square meters. We have a dishwasher, in-unit laundry, gas stove, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and pretty much a dance floor/bowling alley. It has been the perfect place to entertain; hosting visitors, throwing parties and nice dinners was our favorite. We also have fantastic neighbors, our street is lovely and we are near everything. It’s actually the best.

We were very open-minded as we started this new house hunt, knowing we couldn’t have the same luck as we did in Amsterdam (which I wrote about here and here). So let’s find the humor in our failure! Here are my takeaways:

  1. First of all, I cannot believe how some people live. I’ll try not to make this a generalization about all Stockholmers, but we saw several apartments that were absolutely disgusting. Don’t they know strangers are going to be inside their place hoping to rent it? It was almost impossible to see past all the trash and clutter. Case in point, kitchen #1:It’s a good thing you can’t see my face. 
  2. Not all Scandinavian design is beautiful. Case in point, bathroom #3:There is no way I would shower in there. It looks like a shower you get murdered in.
  3. Some bedrooms are actually not. Case in point, spare bedroom at #4:Where the naughty kids are sent to bed.
  4. You don’t have to set it up the same way as the current tenants. Case in point, living room of #5:What on earth is going on here.

We only saw one nice apartment we could see ourselves living in. Meatloaf may have said two out of three ain’t bad, but one out of seven is really bad. Terrible. The deal breaker was that it sat on the northern edge of town, in a quiet area full of families with small kids. We aren’t there yet (and won’t be for several years, thankyouverymuch). While we know we have to sacrifice size and location, we won’t budge on location. We want to be in a lively ‘hood.

So what now? Time to face reality. We have to increase our budget by about 5,000Kr. We have to be flexible about “nice” amenities like dishwashers, in-unit laundry, balconies and, most sadly, spare bedrooms. We have to keep looking.

Come November when we head over for good (oh God, two weeks from now!), we’ll be in temporary housing until we find it. It will be worth it. It’s all just taking a little longer than we hoped.

At least we know autumn in Stockholm is beautiful:

xxx