These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

After spending years living in Eastern and Western Africa – where me and the local cuisine rarely see eye-to-eye – one of my favorite things about travel is the food. Amsterdam was no exception. And while I loved it for the international variety (only London surpasses it in quantity), I can happily say we enjoyed the Dutch pancakes so much we ate them twice : )

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Also, every cup of hot chocolate was divine – but you could have guessed that given our chocolate-scented bike ride.

I also couldn’t get enough of the architecture – Europe has something I can’t seem to find anywhere else: buildings I could stare at for hours. And in Amsterdam, I loved it all…from the traditional to the quirky.

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Something that all cities I love have in common is their green space. Between the canals and the parks, Amsterdam gave me the fresh air and outdoor space that I’ve been craving, being trapped inside our apartment in Accra.

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I know I already wrote about my love of Amsterdam museums, but no list of my favorite things would be complete without these beauties. Maybe next time we’ll make our way inside the Rijksmuseum.

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Banksy, Dalí, and van Gogh in Amsterdam

So…biking in Amsterdam’s not my thing. But museum hopping certainly is. We only made it to two on this vacation, but we have a long list of museums to go back for.

Amsterdam is full of museums covering topics as varied as the holocaust in the Anne Frank House to traditional dutch art in Rijksmuseum to fluorescent art in Electric Ladyland to a museum dedicated to works depicting cats. I kid you not: KattenKabinet.

And if you think we don’t have plans to go to all four of those someday, you’re dead wrong.

This trip, however, we made our way through the Van Gogh Museum and the Moco Museum.

Unfortunately, the Van Gogh Museum doesn’t allow photos, so I had to screenshot the following from their website. I went for Sunflowers, of course, but fell in love with some surprisingly varied paintings:

Cypresses and Two Women

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Irises (ok, not surprising, still flowers!)

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And oddest but most fascinating of all: Red Cabbages and Onions

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We also learned some fascinating facts about van Gogh: After chopping off the piece of his ear, he gave it to a prostitute; he was named after his stillborn brother; his early paintings (pre-Paris) are super traditional; his brother Theo died six months after him; a lot of the blues in his paintings have faded, originally, they were purples.

But the real surprise on our trip was the Moco Museum. We hadn’t even heard of it until we arrived in Amsterdam and were walking around Museumplein aka Museum Square:

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And with signs advertising Banksy and Salvador Dalí how could we not step inside?

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Me + Bicycles Don’t Mix

You’d probably think I’d be decent on a bicycle. I grew up in Minnesota. I spent the summer I was 15 biking to and from my glamorous job at Taco John’s…and I lived outside of the city limits.

However, I gave up biking when I moved to Minneapolis. Strange, you may say. Isn’t Minneapolis one of the most bike-able cities in the United States? Yes, yes it is. Which means: THERE ARE TOO MANY DAMN BIKES THERE.

So, terrified of crashing into one of the million other students on bikes, I traded in my bike for cute, yet walkable, shoes.

I’ve been walking ever since.

Flash forward to Amsterdam…one of the most bike-able cities in the world. You’d have thought that I learned my lesson in Minneapolis, but no. What did I want to do in Amsterdam? Go on a bike ride. Apparently I’m a slow learner.

And I didn’t want to just bike around the city. I wanted to bike out to the windmills. And I didn’t want to do it alone: I dragged Chandler and his brother with me.

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Did we end up regretting this decision? Yes, yes we did. I won’t list all of the reasons why biking in the Netherlands isn’t for me (we’d be here all day), but I will give you some of the highlights:

Reason #1: It took me all of about 10 minutes to hit a curb and come crashing down…I never was good at curb jumping.

Reason #2: Do you want to know why people built those windmills in that location? IT IS WINDY. Unreasonably so. There were moments I was pretty sure it’d be faster to walk than to bike.

Reason #3: Scott is the slowest bike rider in the history of bike riding. I’m serious.

Reason #4: The only scenic parts are the parts they bus you out to…the scenery on the actual bike ride is fairly mundane.

But, if forced to find a silver lining, I can actually find two:

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78 Hours in Minnesota: The Cons

340 days ago, the American people did something I would have never thought possible: They elected Donald Trump as president. And I can “not my president” all I want, but honestly, it has been easier to ignore what’s happening back home while living abroad.

Every time a new embarrassing/depressing headline was announced…

Trump to Authorize Wall and Curtail Immigration
Trump Targets Muslim Areas in Refugee Ban
Trump Fires Justice Chief Who Defied Him
Facing Scrutiny Over Russia Call, Flynn Steps Down
Trump Rescinds Obama Directive on Bathroom Use
Health Groups Unite to Oppose Republican Bill
Trump Signs Rule to Block Efforts on Aiding Climate Change

And these were just some of the New York Times’ articles during the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. They don’t even include Trump’s war against my health rights as a woman, NRA (Nonsensical Rifle Addiction), our pull-out from UNESCO, etc. Honestly…it’s hard not to keep adding to this list.

But before, I could hide behind my overseas-ness. I could declare – I don’t know those kinds of Americans. But going home, I knew I’d have to face it.

And I can honestly say I wasn’t prepared for some of the conversations.

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78 Hours in Minnesota: The Pros

My whirlwind of a weekend home is over and I already miss it. I mean, I don’t miss the utter exhaustion, my inability to tell which day of the week it was, or the distance from my husband (not the largest ocean, but a pretty big one none-the-less)…but on a whole, it was a pretty magical trip.

I’ve never traveled so far (24 hours there, 21 hours back) to be somewhere for such a short amount of time. So I guess I should explain why…

The real why goes back to July 3, 2016. My wedding day. And there, standing next to me (on the opposite side of my soon-to-be husband) was Nora. A woman who wrote out my invitations, shared a room with my sister and other bridesmaid, Erica (both strangers to her), and has been a source of comfort and conversation since we met in the early days of university.

She was my witness on our marriage license.

And on October 1, 2017, it was her turn to get married. Now, living halfway around the world, I couldn’t write out her invitations (and let’s be honest – she has better handwriting anyway), I couldn’t dye or tie her lovely keychains to mark the seating chart, and I couldn’t be with her to try on various wedding dresses (which she had done with me).

All I could do was be there. So I did.

And despite the travel hours logged, I am so happy that I did. Fun fact: I did not cry at my own wedding – I was not going to waste that professionally applied make-up! But I sobbed like a baby at Nora’s, my heart bursting with joy.

I finally got to meet Sumit, her now husband – the ocean between us preventing that from previously happening. And I got to steal small moments with her when she wasn’t taking a million photographs, greeting everyone that came to her wedding, and spending time with the man she will now be spending the rest of her life with.

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If that was all I got from my weekend home, it would have been enough.

But I got more.

After a three-hour delay in Amsterdam, turning my nine-hour flight into twelve hours, I finally got to see my parents and sister. Excepting my sister, they don’t get out much and so I hadn’t seen them in over a year. We immediately got into the swing of things: My father shouting at traffic, my sister getting exasperated by my mother, and me trying to Skype a medical appointment from the backseat. So little time.

I got to have dinner with the three of them, plus my grandparents and my first meal back in the states was a burrito (Chandler has trained me well). It was delicious, even if it was from the freezer section of Trader Joes.

The next day I got to visit with even more family as my grandparents opened up their home to anyone who could claim relation to me : ) A feast was laid before us and we spent the next six hours eating and catching up. Our time together was way too short, but I got all the most important updates: deaths, divorces, and new dogs. My family is a country song.

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The real reason to go to Rome: The pasta!

After all my lukewarm posts about Rome, I’m sure you’re starting to wonder how I can possibly claim to love it so much. The answer is simple. Italian food is the best in the world.

I know this is a strong statement. I really do. And I’m not saying this because I don’t love other cuisines. Lebanese, Pakistani, and Thai food all come to mind, not to mention Indian, Greek, Korean, French cheeses…I could go on. But I’d get too hungry.

But at the end of the day, I can always eat pasta. Because, honestly, you can do anything you want with it. And Rome has some of the best of it.

Armando al Pantheon had incredible bruschetta with buffalo mozzarella and spaghetti with pecorino romano cheese and black pepper.

Colline Emiliane had absurdly good homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach in tomato sauce. They are also famous for their homemade ravioli stuffed with pumpkin in a butter sauce.

I’m not a big fan of regular spaghetti – I find it quite boring – but Eataly added buffalo mozzarella to theirs and it had us swooning.

All of our other photos are of food we ate in Pigneto. We had white pizza sandwiches at Opulentia (they don’t joke about their dough – which is left to rise for up to 72 hours to sheer perfection). Kalapa Roma had vegan & veggie pita’s literally oozing goodness (ok, not Italian, but still worth mentioning!). Vitaminas 24 had delicious fruit shakes – it took me 10 minutes just to read through their selection! Infernotto gave us unique combinations like gnocchi with guava and some delicious homemade tagliatelle noodles. And Necci dal 1924 had some of the best deconstructed tiramisu I’ve ever tasted.

There was more, of course. Random restaurants along Via del Pigneto and our pizzeria in Sperlonga. I can honestly say we didn’t have a bad meal our week in Italy.

And all that would be enough, it would make me fall in love with Rome again and again. But Rome also has the best dessert in the world: Gelato.

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Getting out of Rome and getting to the beach

When you realize that your favorite moment in Rome took place in a cemetery (ok, and all the time you spent eating gelato), it’s time to get out of the city.

As someone who understands that Rome gets hot and it’s handy to have a favorite beach, I spent my college days at Ostia (and more often, the beachfront one train stop earlier). Neither beach had much in the way of food, refreshments (unless they came from a cooler), or bathrooms, but they were close. And while Ostia is pretty crowded on a Saturday, the beach one stop prior is nearly empty…or at least is was in 2010/2013.

Another factor in their favor: the ease with which we could get to them. Take the metro to Piramide and hop on a train to Roma-Lido. Plus, I love stopping in Ostia Antica. I couldn’t tell you why, but I find those ruins much more captivating than the ones in Pompeii.

That said, the beach is…so-so. Ok, it’s not winning any awards, but there is sand and there is water.

This time around, our Airbnb host recommended Sperlonga. The catch: It’s a whole-day affair.

We woke up early and made our way from Pigneto to Roma Termini and caught the hourly train to Fondi-Sperlonga. From there, we had to wait for the local bus (also hourly – but luckily coordinated) to take us into the town itself. Two-and-a-half hours from the time we left Pigneto, we were greeted by the white-washed town of Sperlonga.

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A beautiful town in its own right, we enjoyed the stroll through the “town square” as we made our way to the beach.

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