A Very Naked Birthday Bath

I started this story 2 weeks ago and have yet to finish it. SORRY. I was too busy doing other things (#drinking). But also other, other things. Probably.

ANYWAY.

I celebrated my birthday for five days and have only told you about the first two. The third day happens to be my actual birthday, so I guess I should probably get into it, huh?

So if you recall from last time, my first 10 hours in Berlin were a blur of cross-city transit, coffee, food, beer, failed attempts at clubbing, photo booths, and cocktails. And then sleep sometime around 2:30am. Wifey told me happy birthday at least three times before we went to sleep, and then again first thing in the morning, because she is the BEST wifey.

So on Sunday morning (actual BIRTHDAY day), we woke late and walked to a nearby cafe for breakfast. Which turned out to be hopping, because apparently it’s the best place to have breakfast in Berlin. I’m exaggerating, but only a little. It’s epic. See:

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The best part is I think we paid like €25 for that entire spread. IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. I could have eaten there every day for the rest of my life (and turned into a giant balloon of a human, but whatever).

Then we got super naked with a bunch of other ladies.

Just like any other Sunday.

Cool?

Ok, moving on.

KIDDING! I will explain.

First, quick backstory: 9 months ago, Wifey and I adventured across Andalusia. During this trip, we visited a hammam. It was A-MA-ZING. And so, when we discovered that there was a hammam in Berlin (one of several, in fact), we decided it had to be part of this trip as well.

So my birthday began with giant breakfast, followed by several hours of bathing and sauna-ing with a bunch of naked ladies. It was awesome. I would absolutely go again. Hell, I’d go every Sunday. It was relaxing as fuck.

And then we were sooooooo mellow, and also very warm (yay!), so we walked for a while in the cold until we found the East Gallery of the Berlin Wall. Where Wifey took this super cool photo of me, because she is great at that:

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We then continued walking in search of a flea market, which we discovered was actually IN club central (i.e. Friedrichshain, where we were the night before). But we also found that it was closed because a tree had fallen into it. (I failed to mention before that there was a code red windstorm happening. Like, state of emergency level wind. Apparently. Didn’t stop us though.)

There had been a small series of fails, and we were also very cold at this point. So we decided on a pre-dinner break. (Translation: We bought beers to drink at the house, and then played loud music while we got ourselves dolled up for a night out.)

And then we went to the brewery.

Oh yes. Because it’s me, and I HAD to find at least one craft brewery in town. And of course we didn’t have a reservation, and they didn’t have a table. So we sat at the bar for a while and the super fun bartender entertained us for about an hour before we actually got seated. (All the while drinking beer. Duh.)

And then we drank MORE beer and ate delicious food (yum). And then, because Mr. Bartender knew it was my birthday (hooray for Wifey!), he surprised us with free shots of who-knows-what! Even better, he took the shots with us. I do wish I remembered what they were… But whatever, it was amazing.

[Note: I almost skipped ahead to our attempt at clubbing, forgetting that we actually went to another beer bar first. But it was super empty on a Sunday and we were afraid we would get sleepy, so we didn’t stay very long. Exciting stuff.]

Because here’s the thing: we wanted to party. We were fairly tipsy (drunk?) after like 7 beers each (ok, drunk). But it was also Sunday, so a) fewer parties and b) we had no idea what we were looking for. We attempted to go to Suicide Circus, which is totally fun but also we were HELLA early (midnight) and didn’t want to pay €15 to get tired within an hour and leave. So we gave up on the big clubs, and aimed for something smaller.

That’s how we ended up at this SUPER WEIRD tiny club that felt like a labyrinth and had porn all over the walls. And my wifey took this photo of me at the end of an epic photo series where I looked really uncomfortable because she kept telling me to look straight at the porn. But I guess she was right, because I look quite calm here (but fun fact: I’m staring at porn).

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So there you have it. My 30th birthday started with naked women and ended with porn. With a whole lot of beer in between. Seems like an appropriate way to ring in a new decade, right?

***

[On the next installment of Christina’s epic 30th birthday bash: Hangovers & Halloween.]

Living the ‘Dam Life

Hello, world. My name is Christina, and as of yesterday I live in Amsterdam. WTF.

48 hours ago, I left this beautiful place:

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Yep, that’s Seattle. It’s fucking stunning, amirite?? I am missing it a whole lot right now, and I imagine that feeling is going to ebb and flow for quite some time.

I don’t even know how to continue this post. There are so many feelings happening at the moment. Within a matter of 12 hours, I went from being a US resident to being an expat; from being in a country that speaks my language to a country that doesn’t*; from being just “Christina” to “Christina, the American.”

Indeed, there are a lot of feelings. But despite all of the confusion, the trip went unbelievably well. I was expecting all sorts of crazy drama (“Your bags are too heavy!” or “Your bike will cost $10,000 to check!” or “We refuse to let you into the Netherlands because you don’t have the appropriate paperwork!”). But instead, it was so easy that I could hardly believe it. Because seriously, is moving to another country supposed to be this easy?

Let me provide some context: When I arrived at the airport in Seattle, I had a small backpack, a carry-on duffel bag, 2 checked bags, and a GIGANTIC box filled with my deconstructed bicycle. I arrived at the airport nearly 2.5 hours early, because I was worried about this ridiculous baggage situation.

But then, a nice man at the curbside check-in desk offered to help me take all my stuff inside. Then they let me check in at the Priority desk, even though I’m not technically priority. Then the guy charged me $200 less to check my bike than what I had been told on the phone. Then I got a window seat next to a very nice professor. Then during the flight, I went to ask for more wine and the stewardess was SO NICE and we chatted for 10 minutes. Then when I got to Amsterdam, they didn’t ask me any crazy questions at passport control. I got all my luggage, and even with my overflowing cart they didn’t stop me at customs. Then the guy at the cab line was super friendly and loaded all my bags for me. Then the cab driver brought all my bags inside the lobby of the building where I was staying, without me even asking her to. And then I had a room in an apartment and literally EVERYTHING WENT SEAMLESSLY.

IMG_3086The view from my apartment!

It was so overwhelmingly easy that I nearly panicked. Because that’s some crazy shit. It’s not supposed to be that easy, is it?

Now don’t get me wrong. This didn’t mean I was happy and full of giggles and joy. I was exhausted and stressed and terrified and, to be honest, partially worried that I had made a terrible mistake. I just left a place that I adore, with friends that I love and already miss dearly. This is hard.

Yesterday was tough. Lots of jetlag and a nap that I allowed to last way too long; several bouts of crying; a brief jaunt to the grocery store; frantic unpacking; easy pasta dinner; and more sleep (which went poorly…stupid jetlag). But today, I woke up deciding to make myself excited about this town. And so I did all the things I enjoy.

I walked to a cafe and bought myself a coffee. Then I walked into De Pijp and wandered around the shops. I bought myself a French press. I went to Kaas en Zo (roughly translated as “Cheese and Such”) and bought some delicious aged cheese. I went to a beer store and bought some Dutch craft beers (and one Italian beer!). I stocked up on groceries and finished unpacking my bags and made homemade stew and ate dinner while watching Netflix. And now I’m sitting in bed with tea and writing this.

IMG_3098Part of my awesome haul from today.

And somewhere in the middle of all of that, I was walking down a side street with a backpack full of groceries, and I felt comfortable. In that one moment, it seemed like this was right. Months ago, I asked for this, and I suddenly remembered why. Because I feel comfortable here. Comfortable in a way I never managed to feel anywhere else. I still don’t entirely know why that is, but that’s ok. I’ll just relish it for now.

This doesn’t mean I’m not still sad. I am. I think I will be sad about leaving Seattle for a very long time. I think it’s going to come in waves, and there are days I will regret everything I’ve done. But I know myself well enough to know it’s not over. I have never wanted to stay in one place for long. So who knows. Maybe 5 years from now, I’ll find myself back in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest. Those mountains are always calling…

But for now, I am ready to greet Amsterdam with open arms. Because I do WANT to be here, and I want to be excited about it.

So, Amsterdam. What do you say? Want to go on an adventure with me?

 

*Note: Basically everyone in Amsterdam speaks English. But Dutch is still the native language, and that’s how you’ll be addressed unless you immediately dictate otherwise. So no, it’s not difficult to manage, but it sure as hell isn’t an English-speaking country.

*****

[Next time, on Christina’s adventures in Amsterdam: BEER! I am going to drink all of it.]

Too Drunk for January

Guys, January is over. In fact, February is almost over too. WHAT HAPPENED???

Instead of looking back and realizing that I was simply too busy with work to remember January, I am fabricating a new story: I was simply too drunk to remember January!

Now, in order for this crazy story to make any sense, I’ll have to go back in time a little bit. Basically, it all started over Christmas when I went to DC to visit my parents and my dad fed me a lot of beer. (This is generally what happens when I go home. My father is an enabler who says things like, “You know, you really shouldn’t drink so much,” while pouring me a glass of 11% abv beer. Hypocrite.)

When I arrived home just before midnight on December 23rd, I assumed my dad would be asleep (his bedtime is like 10pm). But apparently he had been waiting for me to arrive, just to have an excuse to open a bottle of Trappistes Rochefort 10. Belgian Quad. 11.3% abv. Holy. Hell. I have the best father on the planet.

So then, the next day was Christmas Eve, followed by Christmas (duh). During those days, much craft beer was consumed.

Also wine.

Oh, and scotch. ALL OF THE SCOTCH.

And then–because we hadn’t had enough–on December 26th we went and visited some breweries!

The first stop was Heavy Seas Brewing, which was honestly only OK in my book. Their IPA and Lager and Pale were really just average beers. Not bad, mind you, but nothing to write home about either.

But then there was the Porter. Oh man. They make a damn good porter. My dad ended up buying a 6-pack of Peg Leg, and 2 of the bottles ended up coming home with me. Because my dad is the best.

After that, we went and did the brewery tour at Flying Dog Brewery. YES. First of all, this is one of my favorite microbreweries. They make incredible beer. Damn. Second, the tour was actually FUN! I’ve been on so many brewery tours and they’re basically all the same. But this one was unique! I got to drink wort, which was super weird (and sweet and yummy!). I got to watch them bottle (in action!) and we saw their crazy science lab. And on top of all of that, Hunter S. Thompson was best buds with the founder so the walls are covered with weird shit like this:

Also, the guy who led the tour was this amazing, bearded, goofy, nerdy beer man with a super weird streak and awesome sense of humor. Because of him, I have decided that my future husband must be a brewer. So yeah, I’m now taking applications. Holler.

We tried like 15 beers between the 3 of us after the tour, and I was super drunk and incredibly happy. And then, just 2 days later, we went to another beer bar and had a sumptuous dinner with beer pairings. Fantabulous.

Basically, I spent a week in DC getting drunk on amazing beer with my parents.

So when I got home, the only way I could even begin to imagine celebrating New Years was with fantastic beer. So I went and bought some fantastic beer at my favorite bottle shop and headed over to a friend’s place, where we proceeded to drink said fantastic beer and play lots of Jenga.

And then I just couldn’t stop! I was just drinking beer for weeks straight! (That’s an exaggeration, but I was drinking quite a lot of beer. Completely against my father’s instructions.)

One of the more amazing beers was called Stochasticity Project: Master of Disguise by Stone Brewing. It’s a golden stout. By that I mean, it looks like a golden ale. But it tastes like a stout. IT WAS MIND-BLOWING. Confusing and delicious.

And then I drank a fantastic beer that I brought back from the Netherlands last summer: Bitch Black Saison by Brouwerij De Molen. It tasted like a fucking campfire. In the best way imaginable. Somehow, despite how smoky it was, it went down so smooth that I probably could’ve consumed it all night long.

And then I went to LA, and things got super crazy:

Indeed, that is a trunk full of boxed wine.

(Full disclosure: I drank none of that. It was, oddly enough, for a work thing. And we gave it all away. So I didn’t drink any boxed wine, but I got several hundred people super drunk on boxed wine that weekend. Huzzah!)

And then I went to Europe! Amsterdam, Bruges, Gent, and London. London was a bit of a bust beer-wise (I did drink quite a lot of gin though). But you can bet your ass I drank a shitload of beer in Holland and Belgium. Oh yah. You betcha.

There was some of this:

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 And some of this:

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And my particular favorite, this:

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I mean, can we just take a moment and talk about how awesome that label is? Brouwerij ‘t IJ is an incredible brewery and they make fantastic beer. The one above, for example, is an IPA brewed in the American west coast style. So, of course, I’m pretty obsessed with it. (It’s fucking delicious.)

That photo was taken in an awesome bar in Amsterdam, which had fun stuff on the walls like this:

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So yeah. That was my January! I spent much of it either on the road or drunk. Or both. Wheeee!

February has been less travel, and a bit less beer. But I got crazy and bought a bunch of beers last week, including Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin IPA, which is SO DELICIOUS IT’S LIKE CANDY. I can’t stop.

And tomorrow….17 mile bike ride to a brewery??? I must be a crazy person.

Hope your 2015 is starting out as successfully (drunk) as mine!

“Best of” list #2: BEER

It is now time for me to share with you my next “best of” list. And this time, it’s about BEER.

If you haven’t already, check out my Top 5 FOOD spots. And coming soon, my Top 5 COCKTAIL spots (which I will post after Thursday night, when I get to visit my favorite cocktail spot in the city wheeee!!).

I must explain one thing before I begin. These are my favorite beer spots (among those I visited while on my drinking travels). By this I mean, these are the places whose beer lists truly impressed me. Some of these do overlap with my food list (duh, beer and food go well together), but the intention of this list is different. Just wanted to clarify.

And so, without further ado…BEER!

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1. The Map Room [5/5 Awesomeness points]

For those of you who know it, this is an obvious choice. It is a place that many people know and talk about, and after my extensive bar-hopping travels, I can assure you that it truly is not overrated. The Map Room really is the place to be to drink beer. They have 26 beers on draft at all times, almost all of which rotate daily or weekly. You will find things you have never heard of before, and the bottle list is almost too long to handle.

And if that’s not enough, the atmosphere is really mellow and laid-back, making it a comfortable spot to chill with a cold brew. For beer connoisseurs, it’s definitely your spot. And for those of you who don’t know as much about beer, the bartenders are very willing, no, eager, to help you out. It’s quite lovely.

(Flight of beer–a beer rainbow!)

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2. Bangers and Lace [4.5/5 Awesomeness points]

This place looks snooty and kind of upscale from the outside. And in a way it sort of is. It is intended as an upscale beer bar, with an impressive beer list boasting numerous rare and unusual brews. They serve high-quality sausage alongside the beer. And the bartenders truly know their shit.

Even so, it’s a really nice place to hang out. The decor is kind of rustic, and they have a little patio out front. And the beer really is worth it. Best part: The Six Pack, a selection of six rare brews, generally grouped by style and rotating seasonally, and which come in a tasting flight for $9. Definitely worth the visit.

(The Six Pack flight, 2 oz tasters)

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3. Public House [4/5 Awesomeness points]

It’s really hard to think about this place without drooling everywhere. The food is just that good. But we’re here to talk about the beer, and Public House knows beer. With over 100 beers in house and 25 on draft, there is a lot to choose from.

To be fair, the draft beers they have are not as unique and rare as those at The Map Room or Bangers. But here’s the kicker: you can get any three draft beers in a flight for $9, and they serve it to you on a cute little chalkboard tray so you know which one is which. It’s a great way to try new things, and chances are you will like one so much that you’ll just order a pint of it afterwards.

And if that’s still not enough for you, Public House is currently the only bar in the city to have their own in-house brew in collaboration with Goose Island. And it changes seasonally. Now that’s something to brag about.

(Flight of beer: Public House brew, Pranqster, and La Chouffe)

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4. Sheffield’s [4/5 Awesomeness points]

Again, you may notice this is a repeat from my Food list (BBQ, yummmm). But damn, their beer list is incredible. If craft beer is your thing, you definitely need to check this place out. They have more beers on tap than I was able to count. And the best part: there are three rooms each with its own bar, and each bar has different beers on tap! So you get to walk around and find your favorites, which is pretty cool.

Another thing: only American microbrews. So for you patriotic beer-drinkers out there, check out Sheffield’s. And if you like PBR, well, don’t. Because they don’t serve cheap mainstream beer. It’s awesome.

(I don’t remember what kind of beer this is, but the picture is cool…)

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5. Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar [3.5/5 Awesomeness points]

Again, a repeat. But it deserves mention. And the reason it gets only 3.5 points is because the food dramatically outweighs the beer, but the beer is still really really good.

The point is, this place is a lot like Bangers & Lace when it comes to beer: rare, unusual, international. Things you don’t see every day. And, in keeping with its organic food trend, most of their beer is craft brewed with organic hops and all that other environmental jazz that I don’t really understand.

Go for dinner. Please, you must eat the food. But check out the beer too. The list is really creative, and you’ll likely see stuff on there that you won’t find anywhere else in the city. It’s totally worth the trek. (And its neighbor, The California Clipper, will be appearing on my cocktail list, so it’s a 2-for-1 deal!)

(Some random heffeweitzen I’d never heard of but was sooo delicious.)

That’s all for now. Go forth and drink beer! And if you find somewhere that you think is even better than these, please do let me know. I love beer. Hooray beer!

Stay tuned this weekend for my Top 5 Cocktail spots!