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.

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

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German beer, bocce ball, and a lot of bros in flannel

[Fair warning, by the time I finished writing this I could hardly see straight. I really wish there were a word for “drunk blogging” but I have yet to find a combination that sounds good. “Drblogging” sounds like you’re vomiting on yourself.]

ANYWAY.

Friday night I went to this place:

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And it was AWESOME.

So I’m a little bit of a hipster, I think. What I mean by that is this: I am perfectly happy to spend an entire evening in a small, specific bar (i.e. cocktails, or craft beer, or whatever) where everyone is clearly there to do the exact same thing I am there to do (i.e. chill with friends and enjoy the cocktails, craft beer, or whatever).

So in general, Seattle is pretty much right up my alley.

But Von Trapp’s. OH MAN. It’s the least “Seattle” of any bar I’ve been to in Seattle, and I LOVE it. It’s also the most “Chicago” place I’ve seen since I moved from Chicago. Maybe that’s the real reason I love it.

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So before I continue, I must tell this brief story. Once upon a time, my old college roommate used the word “broster” to define a new class of human that was emerging upon the Chicago scene. You know, they’re bros. But they’re also hipsters. They’re kind of smart, but they’re really into sports, but they’re also into flannel, and they are sort of cool and not totally douche-y. Yeah. Brosters.

VON TRAPP’S IS FILLED WITH BROSTERS.

(Also bimbos. That part was weird.)

But they have bocce ball!

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And they also have bratwurst and pretzels. And wonderful Bavarian landscape paintings on the walls. And chandeliers. And 3 bars. And 2 balconies. And OHMIGOD THE PLACE IS HUGE.

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Ok, so I’m a little all over the place. But seriously, this bar was the coolest. I spent a good 4 hours there with my friend India just people-watching. We witnessed some incredible things. I chatted briefly with a GIGANTIC man (he must have been a football player at some point in his life) wearing a GIGANTIC flannel shirt and flat-brimmed hat. I was confused. And enthralled.

We also watched 3 bimbos and 3 rather unattractive guys play bocce against each other. So that was weird.

Oh, and we met this guy who, apparently, is a “big deal” in the New York bocce scene. India impressed him with her complete unabashed self-assuredness by telling him she was, in fact, better than “all of these people” at bocce too.

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OH MAN, I ALMOST FORGOT ABOUT THE BEER.

They have German beer on tap (also Belgian and local brews). You can get beers in 5 different sizes: 2 oz taster, 12 oz, 20 oz, 1/2 L, and LITER. Yeah. For real. They have those giant liter-sized steins. IT’S INSANE.

Basically I’ve already determined that I have to go back many times over, because I have this stupid and ridiculous desire to try and figure out the demographic. Oh, also because I want to drink more of the delicious German beer. And eat the pretzels. And the brats. HOLY COW.

Ok, time to wrap it up cuz I’m drunk and can’t really keep it together. (It took me 4 tries to write that sentence just then.) But yes, Von Trapp’s is cool. You should go there. It’s like that bar that anyone can go to and feel comfortable. It’s so big and has such a varied demographic, you’re bound to enjoy yourself in one way or another.

Also there’s drinking, so you’re bound to enjoy yourself, period.

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[Next time, on Christina’s baking adventures: I successfully made bread! But that’s boring so we probably won’t talk about it much.]

The final posthumous Chicago post (i.e. “Best of” list #3: COCKTAILS)

Note 1: No, Chicago is not dead. And neither is my blog. And neither am I, for that matter. But I like the word POSTHUMOUS. Also it looks funny spelled out.

Note 2: I’M IN SEATTLE AND FINALLY WRITING AGAIN! (Because I finally got internet, woo!)

Anyway, for those of you who read my travel blog, I hope you enjoyed it. Craig and I had a great time writing it, and Leonard is the bestest travel buddy ever.

And now, since I promised this post long, long ago, here are my TOP 5 COCKTAIL SPOTS in Chicago!

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1. The Whistler [5/5 Awesomeness points]

If you have not yet been to The Whistler, you have seriously missed out. The ultimate in small-venue music, this place also has a cocktail list that will blow your mind. Mr. Mixologist (Paul McGee) is a beardy man who wears flannel. In short, he looks like a lumberjack. And he concocts the most delicious cocktails this side of the Dan Ryan.

The menu changes seasonally, and I used to make it a habit of going several times each season to make sure I got to taste all 8 cocktails on the menu. Because seriously, they are that good. For example, I’m not a huge tequila fan, but the tequila cocktails at the Whistler are so subtle that you can hardly tell it’s tequila anyway. So please, go there.

2011 Summer Menu – yummmm…

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2. The California Clipper [5/5 Awesomeness points]

This place is almost too cool to write about. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s so freaking awesome. First of all, they have live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This music consists of hilarious and entertaining genres like rockabilly, honkeytonk blues, New Orleans dance jazz, and classic country. It’s amazing and oh-so-much fun.

And the cocktails: CLASSIC. I kid you not, they only serve the old-fashioned standard classics. And they make them SO WELL. You can get the ever-popular favorites: the Manhattan, the martini, and the Tom Collins. And then they have the real good oldies: the Singapore Sling (a Tom Collins w/ cherry brandy), the Brandy Alexander, and the (perfect) Rob Roy. Confused? Go ask your grandparents, I’m sure they know.

A classy Singapore Sling and a minty Grasshopper. Perfection.

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3. The Bristol [4.5/5 Awesomeness points]

This is one of those places where the food is so amazing and the drinks are so amazing that you aren’t really sure which you should focus on when you’re telling your friends all about it afterwards. Because all of a sudden you start talking and you’re like “oh man and the pasta” and then you remember the Sazerac cocktail you had and your brain goes all fuzzy.

The best part about The Bristol is that they warn you how long the drinks will take to make. Cocktails are listed in 3 categories: A Few Minutes, Several Minutes, and Ten Minutes +. But don’t be alarmed, because the drinks are worth the wait. My personal favorite is the Smoked Sicilian Manhattan — nowhere else that I have found even stocks smoked Maker’s Mark. And believe me, if you are a whiskey-lover like I am, you definitely need to try it.

A Pomelo Fizz and Sazerac, perfectly crafted.

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4. Mercadito [4/5 Awesomeness points]

As I said before, I’m not a huge tequila fan. But Mercadito may have single handedly changed my mind. It’s a tapas-style contemporary Mexican restaurant, so lots of small plates and ceviches and various types of guac and salsa. It’s quite delicious.

To go along with their really funky menu, Mercadito has redefined what it means to hang out and drink margaritas. They have 8 different margaritas, and they are so much more interesting than your basic Strawberry Margarita or whatever. These vary in levels of spice and citrus, some are sweet and some are salty. It’s fantastic. And beyond that, they serve what may be the best (and spiciest) Michelada I have ever encountered. So if you are a margarita fan, I highly recommend this place. And if not, give it a shot, you might change your mind.

A super-spicy Michelada and the Tres Viejos margarita.

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5. Big Star [3.5/5 Awesomeness points]

I know several people (coughKate&Katecough) for whom Big Star is the shit. I myself was not so impressed. It’s loud. It’s crowded. Both of those things I don’t handle well. HOWEVER, they do have some pretty good cocktails. Yes indeedy.

The whole vibe is sort of on-the-border-esque, so the cocktails all have a southern Texas feel to them. You have your basic Big Star Margarita, and then there’s the Sarsaparilla Springs, and the Stockyard Pony, and a whole host of other cocktails made with crazy southern ingredients that you don’t normally see. So if you’re cool with crowds and noise, this is definitely your cocktail spot. And if not, sit outside where it’s slightly quieter and enjoy the Tacos de Pescado. Delicious…

A super-salty Michelada at Big Star with Tecate. Refreshing.

Alright kids, that’s it for the Chicago hotspots. Now I’m in Seattle, and I have a whole new bar-hopping adventure just waiting for me! It’s going to be great.

In the meantime, expect lots of ***RECIPES*** to show up here. I’m kind of broke and can’t go out to bars all that much at the moment. But Craig and I have been cooking a lot, and I have some exciting new dishes to share with all of you. Get excited!

When someone offers you 40 year old bourbon, you do not say no.

This happened to me just two weeks ago. Hanging out on the Jersey shore (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds), we were finishing up our beach frisbee games and wandering back to the hotel. Suddenly, a bunch of old dudes under a sun tent said “Hey, want some 40 year old whiskey?”

Well, duh. We obliged. More than once. Apparently the guy who owned it didn’t appreciate whiskey (GASP!). So we partook. Wild Turkey, aged 40 years. And hot damn, it was amazing.

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In other news, I went to a place called Hot Doug’s last week. Twice, in fact. Because it was that good. Oh yeah.

It’s one of those places that has a ton of hype, supposedly “the best hot dogs in Chicago.” Well, I figured I was leaving Chicago soon, so I might as well try it. OHMIGOD. Waiting two hours for a hot dog is a bit outrageous, I grant you that one. And I probably wouldn’t wait that long again. But go early on a weekday, there is hardly any wait at all. And it’s SO DELICIOUS.

First of all, I am a Chicago-style hot dog person. I like it with all the crazy fixings, the relish, the tomato, the pickle ON THE HOTDOG. No ketchup, only mustard. And Hot Doug’s knows how to make a damn good Chicago-style dog.

But this isn’t just your average hot dog spot. Oh no. They have sausages of every variety, with incredible sauces and cheeses and everything you could imagine. For example: Mushroom and Swiss Cheese Pork Sausage with Blue Cheese Dijonnaise and Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms sauteed in Duck Fat.

WHAT?!

It’s real. And it’s delicious. They have venison, duck, buffalo, Swedish potato sausage (I still don’t know what this is, but it’s really good). Dogs named after famous people. A Mountain Man Sausage. It’s endless. ENDLESS I TELL YOU.

So, if you are a Chicagoan and have not been here, I highly recommend it. Please go on a weekday morning, it’s basically a zero wait. Perfect.

And if you’re visiting Chicago, this is one of those things that no one will tell you about. It’s very far from downtown, not easy to access, but ABSOLUTELY worth the visit. You are not going to find a place like this just anywhere.

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Finally, this is my last post from Chicago! There will be one more Chicago-related post later on (my fave cocktail spots). But for now, I am off to land of Seattle!

For all of you Chicago pals, don’t stop reading! I will still post new recipes and other such fun things. And hey, maybe you’ll come visit Seattle one day and I can take you out 🙂

In the meantime, READ MY TRAVEL BLOG! We’re road tripping from Chicago to Seattle, so expect some hilarity and wild stories. Check it out here: http://thelaststoplightoni90.tumblr.com/

Much love to all my Chicago friends. West Coast, here I come.