Go Dutch

Okay I am officially in love with Holland, ready-to-move-there kind of love. I’ve spent the last year hearing incredible things about the country and I now have two friends who live there – a visit was absolutely in order! Last weekend Miguel and I flew into Amsterdam for my first trip to the Netherlands (his third) and headed to our airBnb in the Pijp neighborhood. We rented bikes at the place down the block and hit the streets right away, still running on adrenaline from a 7am flight; first grabbing lunch at a cute cafe and then passing by the Anne Frank Museum and the Old Cathedral. It was bitterly cold and I forgot my gloves so we took lots of breaks to people watch and drink hot tea. We ran into a street market where I got a freshly-made stroopwaffel cookie that made my heart melt and wandered around, making comparisons with the Rastro street market that’s right under my apartment in Madrid. More or less the same thing, old clothes and furniture, crafts and food minus the pushy vendors and yelling.

This trip sort of crept up on both of us and in the end we had planned exactly nothing – that afternoon we managed to get a Valentine’s reservation at a really beautiful restaurant right on the canal that had a very Dutch (and Miguel’s new favorite thing) salad buffet included in the prix fixe.  As dusk fell we kept riding and passed through the infamous Red Light District. Am I crazy to say that it wasn’t as shocking as I thought it would be? I was mostly grossed out by the tourists and groups of drunk dudes, late to realize that Amsterdam is the partying grounds for Europeans and indeed there is no shortage on vices!

The next morning we packed up, said goodbye to our hosts, who were originally from San Francisco, and went to the train station to visit my friend Lucia from Granada who now lives in Rotterdam. Bikes on board and many ipad chess games later we arrived hungry and tired. First stop: the Market. My brother-in-law is an architect and I have many more architect friends because of him so they were all excited to hear I was visiting Rotterdam. Its a city that was bombed heavily during WWII and instead of simply rebuilding, the Dutch government decided to make the city a kind of art project, allowing the most innovative and creative building designs to take shape. It shows. The Market we went to was not only a foodie’s paradise but was also very cool because its shaped like a horseshoe and covered in apartments – as in, people live in and can watch the food market down below from their homes. We tasted raw herring with onions, fries with mayo and of course grabbed cheeses to bring back home. When we got back to Lucia’s place we broke open a bottle of wine and snacked on our goodies {I guess Spanish habits die hard!} After tapas we biked over to a delish hamburger place (because why not?!) and encountered what might be the only place in Holland that does not have a menu in English. Between my guessing and Lucia’s intro level Dutch we managed to order our food.  Lost in a conversation with my friend, Miguel suddenly started tearing up and gasping for water, he lunged for the menu and realized that between of all the indecipherable ingredients in his burger there were also jalapeños, written in Dutch: jalapeños. I thought the poor kid was actually going to breath fire – Spain has notoriously un-spicy gastronomy and Spaniards really have no palate for heat. He survived and fortunately there was plenty of craft-beer to wash it down with! That night we crashed early and slept in late.

The next morning it was back to Amsterdam with the bikes and on to meet my friend Zach for lunch near his office in the Centrum – we got a tour of his workplace, he designs interiors for an American firm that now has an office in Holland so the place was stunningly beautiful and right on the water. It was cold so we opted out of biking, instead walking all together to a cozy tavern that served traditional plates. Think meat, potatoes and beer-cheese soup – exactly the kind of food you need when you’ve been biking around in the cold. My grandma would call that stick-to-your-bones food. After lunch we had to say goodbye to our rental bikes and hustle to catch our flight back to Spain.

It was overall such a great trip, more than anything else fascinating to travel with Spaniards to a place, although still Europe, that is way more culturally similar to where I’m from than they are. I liked seeing people wearing whatever they wanted, I liked how quiet the city was and riding my bike everywhere. I liked that art and design were palpable parts of the city everywhere from urban planning to zines and wall-art. I liked how direct and honest people seemed with us. There were bagel shops and men carrying babies, need I say more? On the flight home between cans of Heineken I decided that I’m going back, Miguel said he wanted to too.

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On weekends I wake up around 11am, which makes me a morning person here in Spain. Brunch is very trendy in Madrid, starts around 1pm and people are willing to pay big-bucks for what they consider an authentic continental breakfast (15-20€). This is great for when you need a taste of home with fellow expats but certainly out of my price-range for the everyday. Miguel is convinced that I have breakfast recipes in my blood like gitanos have flamenco and he may be right. I can’t survive on a piece of toast and coffee until lunch at 2pm, I need protein. Brunch in my house on a typical Saturday has become a totally hybrid production: one part Spanish tosta one part US egg sandwich. This is the assembly line we have mastered: fried eggs, avocado, ali-oli, tomato, onion, fresh herbs, chistorra (a paprika laden fresh chorizo from Navarra that fries up like a charm) and hot toast. We both love orange juice and its common here for people to make it fresh, in fact many houses have an orange-juicer. Its lucky that oranges here are sweet practically year-round and extremely affordable so Miguel is the master-juicer. He’s explained many times (and his mom, my roommate and my coworkers) that if you don’t drink the juice quickly the vitamins will fly away, one of many Spanish superstitions I can’t wrap my head around. I introduced them all to mimosas and not surprisingly, they loved the idea. Mimosas have vitamins too right? Viva Brunch! Now if I could only afford an industrial espresso machine… mmm toast

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Last week on my run with Kaitlyn I saw this old window propped up against the dumpster near Vistillas and took it home with me. I´ve had my eyes peeled for a while to see if I could snag an old piece of glass to use as a whiteboard since my room is a little bare. I walked the window all the way home and brought it up the 5 flights of stairs to my piso. After a little dusting and shimming on the bottom – voila! A new (old) calendar/message board for my wall.

space invaders

I have what many in the US might consider to be a work contract for impoverishment, for the hours I put in and the take-home pay that compensates me, I’m seriously underpaid by American standards. I have a college degree, I speak three languages, yaddah yaddah. The story here is a little different, by Spanish standards I’m living the dream, I have a job: check. I get paid for it: check. I work 4 days a week: cake. And I live on my own: expensive. This is unfortunately not the job I want to do for the rest of my life and putting my name in the ring for something different here, next to qualified young Spaniards, means fighting against years of over 50% unemployment since the crisis hit Europe. It’s heavy when you really think about it and yeah, my Spanish friends are totally fed up. Many with similar qualifications have left to work in other European countries or are hitting the books for a masters or another language. I’m not an economist but word on the street is that growth be slow to come and meanwhile, presents a ripe opportunity to define policies and a community with new and improved priorities.
The occupy movement without a doubt swept youth political culture off its knees a few years back and I was, at the time just starting to study traditional politics in college back stateside. Many wondered how such a grassroots movement took flight, maybe it was AdBusters or maybe it was really just a bunch of fed-up citizens doin’ they’re thing. Here in Spain the “occupy” movement known as 15M rocked the nation and froze daily operations. It was really revolutionary and provoked a generation to make demands of the people who represent them. In the the process spaces like this one were “occupied” and quickly turned into community centers. I recently met up with my good friend Rendon for a round table at Patio de Maravillas in Malasaña about gentrification and the housing policies of the government in Madrid. The are empty apartments a-plenty here in the city that few can afford and buildings with historical value are being auctioned off to foreign investors. And they keep building, it’s got people here a little peeved to say the least. Out with the old and in with the new? Trying to remain neutral on this one until I hear more but If there’s one thing of which I’m certain it’s that the Oreo chocolate chip cake we picked up from La Cocina de mi Vecina was heavenly. Highly recommended, even if politics aren’t your cup of tea.
I may not be any closer to finding the career path to success here in Spain but I’m getting a good idea about what I want my priorities to be. A word for the wise, when you move to a new country you need to find a sense of place; try learning the language, a little about local goings-on, news and gossip. Join a club or gym and go local to beat the homesick blues