I'll cut right to the chase: Amsterdam is incredible. I could see myself living there because, well, the photos should help to explain.
Amsterdam was the first country I have ever traveled to alone-alone, since Belgiumand Lillewere both for work (so I had colleagues around if there was an emergency, or for non-emergencies like dinner company), and I technically traveled alone to Panama, but I stayed with a friend who lives there. I had absolutely no one to explore with or dine with (or whatever!) in Amsterdam - and I was really, really excited about that.
I'd done some research to see what countries near Belgium were considered safe for solo female travelers, and Amsterdam seemed to be the best choice. I was assured by people who had been to Amsterdam that I would have nothing to worry about - and they were right - because I felt totally comfortable on my own. Actually wait, I had one safety concern: not getting hit by bicyclists. When I tell you there were hundreds and hundreds of bicyclists at all times of day (or night), I am not exaggerating. I almost got ran over the second I left the train station, like as soon as I exited the train station doors, which leads to my very first Amsterdam tip: You must pay attention and keep your head up at all times, should you not want to get hit by a bicyclist. Walking while looking down at your phone, or abruptly stopping to take a photo of the beautiful canal? Nahhht recommended.
I had a few things on my immediate agenda after I checked into my hotel (this one, right across from the train station), mostly all food related. I asked the hotel staff where to walk and where not to walk (I wasn't trying to get lost in the Red Light District on my very first night), and most importantly, where I could eat those french fries in a cone that I had been seeing on Instagram! Priorities, people, priorities. With my suggestions in tow, I set out for a leisurely afternoon/early evening in Amsterdam, so I could save my energy for the busy touristy days to follow. (I guess that's another tip, which I've mentioned before: Don't exhaust yourself on day one!)
Note: if you don't like canals or bikes, or bikes in front of canals, you may not want to scroll down...
My first of many bacon apple pancakes, or pannekoeken, which I learned Danish people don't actually make a big fuss over. Tourists, on the other hand, are pretty obsessed. (I mean, bacon and apple?!) This here pancake can be added to my list of "reasons to move to Amsterdam."
It really can't get much more beautiful, can it? Ugh.
Catch-up is still being played here in blog world. It's 2016 and I have absolutely no idea where the last year went. Like, no idea at all. I kind of feel like catch-up is being played in the real world too, because I've been busier than ever before, struggling to stay "in the know" with my friends and family, and struggling not to go straight to bed after work. That's new to me, work being so busy that I don't know where my days (and weeks and months) have gone - but hopefully it'll pay off.
Rewind to October, okay now stop!
I was able to jot down a bunch of "things to remember" notes in my phone when I traveled to Europe a few months back, from my first flight to Belgium, onward. I began with an older couple who sat across from me and looked as though they were on their honeymoon. They were so in love, and I mean kissing in between bites of pre-packaged airplane food in love, and I could not stop staring at them. I really wanted to ask them what their secret was: were they actual newlyweds, or had they been married for decades and still managed to be in love as ever? And if the latter, how do they do it? How are they still that happy?
I didn't ask. I thought it'd be better to stick with the romanticized idea of what I thought it was: true love. For better or worse, through sickness and health, year after year, everlasting kind of love.
I hadn't initially planned on that little segue introducing my photos of Lille, but that's what came to mind when strolling down memory lane. And France is synonymous with love, right? So in theory, it's fitting.
I didn't spend enough time in Lille (not by choice!), but I knew right away that I would like it. I was absolutely fascinated by the culture. Espresso in the morning, wine in the evening, chain-smoking during and between. Effortlessly chic attire worn by all. It all felt very...foreign, which of course made sense, but it was even beyond that. It was so different from what I was accustomed to (minus the wine in the evening thing).
My adorable little apartment, which wasn't that little, contributed to that far-out feeling. I was used to hotel accommodations when I traveled; having my own apartment made me feel as though I had a brand new life. Rather than a vacation, it was like I had moved to France for work. Lille was my new home and every night after work, I'd use my key to unlock the door to my very own French apartment, with its very own French windows.
Well, I'd try to unlock the door to my very own French apartment. I couldn't manage to get out of the apartment building for dinner the first night, which was hysterical. There were three different (colored) doors to unlock: the door to the apartment itself (white), the door to the apartment building (blue), and a wrought iron security door (black) just beyond that. I was given a set of color-coordinated keys, so you'd think it'd be easy, but the last (and strongest I might add) door had jammed on me. After several unsuccessful attempts to get it open, I decided to go back up to the apartment (after unlocking two doors), opened my French windows, and threw the keys down to my colleague so he could try to open the door from the outside.
They fell underneath a car. (A sophisticated French woman I am not.)
After searching the cobblestone street with an iPhone flashlight, the keys were found, the door finally opened, and en route to dinner we were. We chose the closest restaurant to my apartment (Zango - I highly recommend it), and as soon as we walked in I could have sworn I heard R. Kelly subtly playing through the speakers. Well, that's because it was R. Kelly, which my German-speaking colleague confirmed. (Side note: my German colleague-turned-friend knew R. Kelly!) It was then and there that I thought mayyybe I could fit in here...
The apartment; the French windows.
And probably the cutest reading corner ever.
Kind of hard to say au revoir when your mornings start off like this...
I don't know what's gotten into me recently, but I've stuck with the being social on holidays thing and decided to go out on New Year's Eve. I've had notoriously disappointing NYE "celebrations" in the past, and know in advance to opt out of any major events that could be going on. (I know I know, like all other holidays. Cue tiny violin.) Sweats and Chinese food? Check and check.
Not this year, folks! Both boxes unchecked, I was going to put on my birthday skirt and head over to my favorite restaurant for dinner, with Ellie. It was really fun for some reason, an extra good time doing the same thing that'd been done so many times before. Maybe it was the added NYE ambiance, balloons, champagne, (my skirt!) and all? Whatever the reason, I love when a night becomes an unexpectedly good time.
Christian sent me a text as we were about to leave, inviting me to his apartment for a small get-together. Ellie had plans later on, so this would ensure I wouldn't head straight home to my couch after dinner (and order Chinese food), which was the original game plan.
So I went.
Not one, but two plans I had for the night - a New Year's Eve night, at that! The craziest part about the whole thing? I had fun...
2015 brought me the first "family" Christmas I've had in a long time. My friend Aurelia invited me to her uncle's house in Mar Vista for dinner, and instead of politely declining in favor of staying home with the dogs, I actually went...
I'll be honest, I did get a little overwhelmed when she told me fourteen people were expected - and then she quickly added that five dogs were, too. 'Nuff said. I planned to take my camera so I could snap some family photos for everyone (and send via snail mail later), but also to have some sort of armor in case I felt a bit uncomfortable. I wasn't nervous about not liking her family; rather, it was more like anxious nerves prior to meeting a boyfriend's family for the first time. On a major holiday.
Almost immediately upon arrival, I knew I had nothing to worry about. It was a casual, relaxed setting (I wasn't necessarily overdressed - but I definitely wasn't underdressed), with an abundance of wine to ensure it remained that way. People mixed and mingled, and it was fun getting to know more about where my good friend came from, since I hadn't met any of her family before. A good LA Christmas for the books, it was. And speaking of...
My Christmas dinner contribution: a colorful roasted root vegetable salad.
Easily my favorite part of the night. A notebook (from the Sixties!) was passed around the table for each person - including me - to write in.