In a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Hello all and welcome to the third official post of People & Pints. I was incredibly lucky to have my lovely girlfriend Rosa come to Amsterdam earlier this week and spend a few days exploring the city. We had a busy few days: visiting museums, trying to find the best stroopwafel and apple pie in the city–all while dodging the rain. Rosa captured part of the weIMG_2891ek in her own blog and I would certainly suggest giving it a read. We had a great time and I was sad to see her leave.

However, the weather finally cleared up as Thursday and Friday were warm and sunny. I allowed myself to get a little lost while biking around the city, enjoying the wonderful temperature and the beautiful views of the canals. As the day passed into evening I tried to make plans for this post. I picked a bar that was only a short walk from my apartment and began to invite some friends. There was one person in particular, though, with whom I wanted to chat.

I asked Elise, who is another student from Boston College, to join me for the evening. I admitted the night might not be too glamorous and that, beyond trying this bar, I didn’t have any real plans. Elise sounded happy to join nonetheless and we were both excited to finally meet each other.

I had contacted Elise by way of a mutual friend, Maddie, but beyond the fact that we were both studying in Amsterdam I didn’t know much about her. Elise is an International Studies major and is studying in the Social Sciences while in Amsterdam. I shared that I am an English major but the revelation that I am also an Ancient Civilizations minor caught Elise’s attention. I was happy to hear Elise had studied Latin in high school and was excited to talk about the Classics. The similarities continued from here.

The bar I had picked was Delirium Cafe, which has over 700 bottles of beer and 20 on tap. The options were endless and it was hard to narrow down selections; to be honest it was a little overwhelming. However, what caught me was a comment Elise had made, “beer is beer.” I was taken aback; she had just challenged everything I stood for. Luckily, Elise understood my sarcasm, amid my gasps, and explained that, for her, beer was too similar to make significant distinctions. I said that beer, like anything, is an acquired taste and I’m sure it takes time to be able to tell the difference between great and mediocre beer. I had ordered an 1858 Saison from Brasserie Du Bocq, which was quite underwhelming. It was easily drinkable but lacked a definitive or unique taste. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation that was developing.

IMG_2926Elise and I began to reminisce about life at Boston College. We agreed that autumn in Boston was wonderful and it would be a shame to miss football season. Still, I was happy to hear that Elise was enjoying life in Amsterdam just as much as I was. She is from St. Paul, Minnesota so I’m sure she is well prepared for the cold and she shared that she really enjoyed the atmosphere of Amsterdam. We also talked about different classes back at BC and Elise recommended a professor for when I return.

We didn’t truly get to know each other until a little later. We began to discuss our preferences in film and comedy. I shared my love for shows like the Office, Parks and Recreation and Arrested Development. Elise also likes Amy Poehler and we started to talk about her brand of comedy. The conversation bounced around between Bill Murray, Quentin Tarantino, Steve Martin, Leonardo DiCaprio until we finally landed on the real connecting point. Elise admitted that her childhood was largely ruled by Star Wars and Winnie the Pooh–and I nearly jumped out of my chair. Those who know me well will understand that these two vastly different things were staples of my youth. Between my oversized plush Pooh Bear and my frequent lightsaber battles with siblings and friends, Elise had struck a deep nerve. I was thrilled to continue our evening talking about our silly, exciting childhoods.

MECWe took turns discussing the positives and *cough* negatives of the more recent Star Wars movies and hopes for the future of the franchise. As well as making one or two Mos Eisely Cantina references. I reassured Elise–who said she was quite nervous with the idea of new movies–that Star Wars seems well protected in the hands of J.J. Abrams. We continued for some time revealing our more nerdy stories related to the films. I had one more beer at this point: Dead Guy Ale from Rogue Ales which was infinitely better than my previous one. Rogue is an American brewery and I was surprised to see this beer made it to the Netherlands but I was happy to try it here. It was a complex Helles Bock with incredible flavor that lingered long after a sip. IMG_2931

As the night was drawing to a close Elise shared her love for the Harry Potter universe and I compared that to my soft spot for Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. There are plenty of differences between the two but we had fun comparing them. As we left and walked home Elise and I discussed relationships and of course continued to talk about Boston College. I suppose that no matter where in the world one goes, Boston College will always follow. As I said goodbye, I was happy that Elise and I had the chance to meet and even happier when Elise said she would want to talk more Star Wars or even watch the movies. Although Elise had said that “beer is just beer,” I hope she enjoyed the night that resulted.

Come back next week for another People & Pints post!

A ‘Gezellig’ Evening in the North

Hello everyone and welcome to the second official post for People & Pints. My first full week in Amsterdam was very busy; I spent most of my time exploring the city with my orientation group. Between a canal cruise, a comedy show, a few parties and a trip to the zoo there wasn’t a lot of time to just enjoy the serenity this city has to offer. Of course I enjoyed all of the activities during my orientation but it was still quite a bit hectic. I did manage to meet some wonderful people from around the world and certainly made some great friends.

For this blog post I decided to escape the boisterousness of a bar in the center of the city and journeyed to Amsterdam-Noord (North). The river IJ separates the north of Amsterdam from the rest of the city, which makes the section equally charming yet slightly calmer. With spectacular views of the city, a growing nightlife scene and routes to quaint villages, Amsterdam-Noord is worth exploring. I had hoped to have a quiet trip across the IJ and enjoy a relaxing night but I may have chosen the wrong evening to make this trek.

SAIL Amsterdam

SAIL Amsterdam

Every five years tall ships grace the waters of Amsterdam in an event called SAIL. As nice as the event is, trying to board a ferry crossing waters full of hundreds of ships took much longer than expected. Still I made it to my destination with enough time to properly enjoy my night.

I had shared my idea for this blog with several people I’d met during the week and many appreciated my interest in meeting new people while sharing drinks and meaningful conversation. I quickly became friends with one person in particular who seemed to respect my passion for writing and my desire to document my adventures abroad. Edward (he prefers Ed), another student in my orientation group, is from London and, though he studies Geography, is passionate about film. Ed decided to join me on my journey to the north and agreed that a quiet night away from the bustle of the city was much needed.

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Oedipus Brewing

Amsterdam is home to several craft breweries spread throughout the city. One of the newer and smaller ones is Oedipus Brewing, whose taproom just opened in June. Ed and I managed to find the taproom in a more industrial section of the north. The building itself looked very much like a standard warehouse but the picnic tables on the patio, the soft lights and the art adorning the walls of the taproom made it feel very inviting. We ordered our first beers at the bar and brought them outside, enjoying the cool breeze of the Dutch evening.

Ed used one word to characterize the feeling of Oedipus: gezellig. Gezellig doesn’t have a direct translation in English but in simplest terms it means utter comfort and coziness. It does more than just describe a place though, it blends personal emotions with the beautify of a location. I couldn’t agree more with Ed’s description and I hope everyone at Oedipus would too.

The sun began to set as Ed and I chatted and enjoyed our beer. I had ordered the Thai Thai, a delicious Tripel, and he did the same. The Thai Thai was strong at 8% ABV but was wonderfully refreshing and tasty. The spices that give the beer its name linger with hints of pepper, chili, lemon and coriander.

Thai Thai

Thai Thai

Although we came to try the beer, Ed and I eventually started discussing our creative pursuits. Although we work in different mediums, the similarities abound. Ed shared that though he loved making videos, he might take a break while studying in Amsterdam. I was a little surprised but the more he explained his reservations the more I realized he was voicing some concerns I had had. Ed smartly pointed out the shortcomings of film when on a personal journey. The act of pointing a camera quite literally puts the artist at a remove from the material. He said that he felt he might distract himself from truly enjoying his experience here if he were constantly looking for the perfect shot. I agreed but pointed out that in some ways that process could help him delve even deeper into the culture of the city.

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Too many choices

Still, I understood Ed’s qualms. I had been worried that I might limit myself by creating a blog; if I went out once a week with the deliberate intention of making “meaningful conversation” I might not have a genuine, organic experience. Ed nodded understandingly. Ed told me that he had traveled through South East Asia, filming his journey, and explained some of the challenges he met. Though the people he encountered were welcoming, the sight of a camera was almost always off-putting. I likened this to placing a phone down to record a conversation. People automatically began to either perform or push away, Ed shared. But Ed was quick to explain that in situations like this, where “authenticity” is in question, he is just as likely to perform–in his own way. “Every piece of work has a voice,” he said. I smiled, knowing exactly what he meant; there can’t be anything fully objective. “Exactly,” Ed responded, “you know, things are ‘based on a true story’.” Although Ed was describing key issues in creative endeavors, we eventually agreed they were nonetheless worth pursuing. Ed admitted he was still thinking about working on some film project while in Amsterdam, he just hadn’t settled on anything yet.

We continued to talk in this way as I moved on to my second drink, Nestje, a smooth Pale AleThe bartender saw me struggling to settle on what to try next and suggested comparing this lighter beer to the Thai Thai. The Nestje didn’t have as much flavor but was very nice. It also smelled lovely and the bartender explained that the flowers and herbs were picked a few blocks away. Nestje means nest or even litter (as in a litter of puppies) in English and certainly felt softer than the strong Tripel I had just enjoyed. It may seem strange to compare this beer to family, the act of mothering or simply home but it somehow seemed fitting.

Mannenliefde

Mannenliefde

Perhaps this beer was appropriate as Ed and I discussed “leaving the nest” after University. Ed is in his final year so “real life” is much more immediate for him. We also talked about our favorite films , our respective girlfriends and hopeful travels for the semester. As we rounded out our night I decided to try Oedipus’ Saison (my favorite style of beer): Mannenliefde. “Men love it” is a great name for this delicious Saison, which is sweet and aromatic with hints of lemon.

I finished this final beer and we headed back to the city center, through the maze of tall ships. Fireworks illuminated the sky and provided a nice end to our gezellig evening.

Come back next week for another post and as always leave your comments bellow!

4 Americans, a Swede and the ‘Converted Nun’

Hi everyone! I doubt many people were steeped in anticipation but the first official post of People & Pints is here. The trip to Amsterdam was long and tiresome but I have arrived safely and I am settled in. As promised, I decided to go to a bar and try a new beer soon after landing but I had to wait until last night, August 15,–a full 24 hours after landing–before venturing out. I also have to preface this post by saying I did cheat a little bit because though the bar and the beer were new, the people I spent my evening with were not exactly perfect strangers. Nonetheless, my first outing was absolutely rewarding and, in my opinion, still worth posting.

I spent the day exploring the area around my apartment with some other students. Quick trips to some cafes, the grocery store and along the canals rounded out the better part of my morning and afternoon. When the question of dinner was finally raised, I briefly mentioned my plans to visit a new bar for this blog. I have a shortlist of bars and breweries and I settled on one of the closer options: De Bekeerde Suster, a short 15 minute walk from our apartment complex. They decided to join me on my journey and hopefully have a great meal and some good beer.IMG_2773

In my first post I outlined what my plans were for this blog: to have meaningful conversations with strangers over beer. Although I had dinner and drinks with other students, whom I had the chance to get to know throughout the day, we were still, more or less, strangers to each other. It wasn’t until dinner that we started opening up and sharing our stories more candidly.

IMG_2774De Bekeerde Suster translates to ‘The Converted Nun’ a reference both to an intimate and a more general past. The Converted Nun refers to Mary Magdalene, the patron saint of reformed prostitutes. The name of the establishment itself, though, pertains to a specific history. The site of the brewery was part of a 16th century abbey where de bekeerde suster would adapt to a new way of life and in fact aided in the production of this beer. The interior of the bar has been updated and there are no longer religious women brewing the beer but the history is still palpable. From our table we could see the brass equipment responsible for producing the beer through the years. A print of Mary Magdalene donned the wall next to the machinery and watched on, hopefully pleased, as we enjoyed our evening. IMG_2767

Now seems like a fine time to clarify who accompanied me to De Bekeerde Suster. I met many students in the short amount of time since arriving at Prins Hendrikkade 189–my new home–, including Eli, Jon, Maddie and Julia, who joined me for dinner. Eli, Jon and Maddie are also from the states (Orange, California; Westchester, NY; and Staten Island, NY, respectively). I was under the impression, as I’m sure they were too, that meeting fellow Americans was sort of like cheating when trying to experience a new culture. Undoubtedly we were too similar for any of us to learn something new. However, as we opened up over dinner we realized that there were plenty of things to share with each other. Julia, though, was the one that stuck out.

Living in Sweden and with family from the Netherlands, Julia was the odd one out in our little group. She and I are actually suite mates, which was a big surprise for both of us. Moreover, I doubt she was expecting to spend her first night out with 4 Americans at a bar, but she seemed eager to join us. It wasn’t until halfway through the meal that I realized how difficult it might be for Julia to be caught with four other people from the same country. Maddie was kind enough to pause every now and then to explain references that I took for granted as an American. I waited until we had left to ask Julia what she thought of being out with us. She admitted, after some prodding, that there is a stereotype that Americans are notoriously loud but she quickly added that “the Dutch are loud too.” She said this with a smile so none of us felt like she was chastising us, just stating facts. In fact, while we were having dinner we were often interrupted by the roar of cheers behind us and in front of us as groups of locals celebrated a birthday and a night out. Julia herself was certainly convivial but she shared that Stockholm, her city in Sweden, was significantly calmer, slower and quieter than Amsterdam. Julia also reassured me that she wasn’t overwhelmed by us and seemed happy enough to listen to our tales of relationships, food preferences and major injuries (you know, just normal dinner topics).

'The Blonde Barber'

‘The Blonde Barber’

'The Lame Monk'

‘The Lame Monk’

Julia shared with me that though I had been correct in assuming that beer was a big part of Amsterdam and Dutch culture, Sweden didn’t exactly share that quality–at least as much as she’s experienced. At dinner she, and Maddie, opted for a glass of chardonnay. Eli was pleased to see that De Bekeerde Suster offered a beer flight, or a sampling, of all the house beer. I chose to have a glass of De Blonde Barbier (The Blonde Barber), a Blond Belgian Ale, and Jon decided to try the same. At Eli’s suggestion I also tried De Manke Monik (The Crippled Monk), a Tripel which was on the more bitter, but consequently more flavorful, side. The beer was quite good and the food hit the spot as well; Jon had a burger, Julia and I had brie panini with walnuts and fig spread, Eli had fries and Maddie had a brie salad.

The beer was very nice but the atmosphere and the history stuck with me more than the drinks. The blond ale was light and smooth, not out-of-this-world but easily drinkable. The Tripel was much more complex and, in both mine and Eli’s opinion, the better beer. I was worried that my new friends were just indulging me when they agreed to come along but we ended up having a great night out and learned quite a bit about each other; I certainly hope they join me on more outings for People & Pints. Look out for another post next week as I try more good beer and have even better conversations.

As always leave any tips, suggestions, comments or concerns!

An Introduction to People & Pints

Hello everyone and welcome to People & Pints, my grand scheme for keeping everyone tapped* into my life abroad. I will be spending my fall semester studying at the University of Amsterdam and I wanted to capture my experience in a meaningful way. Blogging can be a great tool for traveling but I couldn’t find a singular, interesting topic. My thoughts strayed to beer reviews, something I believed would be a great exercise in writing, but I didn’t think a blog solely devoted to beer reviews in Amsterdam would truly encapsulate my semester abroad. As I talked with friends and family about my plans, a concrete thought–and consequently a new passion–developed; I wanted to write about the culture of beer in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, and the Netherlands in general, has a rich past and flourishing present in beer production. One of the most widely distributed and well known beers in the world, Heineken, was founded in Amsterdam. The style of beer that originated from this area of Europe–top-fermenting beer–is enjoyed throughout the world; this includes Stouts, Witbiers (White Beers) and Oud Bruins (Old Browns). At one point in Amsterdam, beer essentially replaced water (though it was much less alcoholic). Currently, Amsterdam has several smaller craft breweries like Oedipus Brewing, Brouwerij ‘t IJTwo Chefs Brewing and Brouwerij de Pael. These facts alone, though, were not what led me to my blog.

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Brouwerij t’ IJ: equal parts windmill, brewery and bar

As interesting as beer and craft brewing might be for some, I’m under the impression more people would rather drink it than talk about it. My former editor at BostInno, Alex, concurred and helped me finally streamline my ideas. After discussing for a bit he advised me not to “nerd out about the beer,” but to focus on the people, the stories. Admittedly I rambled for some time trying to find the words to express what I really wanted to write about. What was it that would reflect my desire to learn about beer, life in Amsterdam and, in some respects, myself? Alex sifted through the jumble and repeated something I had said, ” ‘Forcing myself to be social. Through beer.’ That’s the blog.” Thus, People & Pints was born.

People & Pints will be my attempt to engage life abroad and share my experiences with any willing readers. Every week I will visit a new bar–or at least try a new beer–and attempt to talk with a stranger. I’m hoping to come away with some great stories and more importantly just connect, on a personal level, with the city I am calling home for a semester. I find that good beer is an excellent means to a social end and I think I can capture that in this blog. My friend Adriana told me that she thought P&P sounded a lot like “People of New York,” and I have to admit there are some similarities. But I am not just interviewing people of Amsterdam; it isn’t so one-sided. I think through my writing people can see the impact of a conversation on both parties.

I only intend to post once a week but if the blog is successful I may post more frequently. I plan to travel around Europe so although the location will change, the purpose remains. I leave for Amsterdam next Thursday and arrive Friday morning which means hopefully by Friday night I’ll have met my first Person and enjoyed my first Pint**.

This is my first time blogging; I have no editor, no deadlines but I am passionate about this project. I will be as candid and personal as I can be. This could ultimately fail. There’s all the chance in the world people won’t want to talk to an annoying American “blogger” and maybe the blog won’t be a huge hit. But I do hope that everyone who comes to the blog enjoys it. Please, please send any comments, criticisms or suggestions my way. These are my experiences and stories but I imagine they’ll mean something different for each reader and I am more than happy to change the model if it means P&P can be better. I hope this is a success, but, as I’ve told many of my friends, at worst I’ll have some good beer…and hopefully some great conversations.

*obligatory beer pun

**disclaimer: volume may not be exactly a pint

Image via Flickr