DC Free Date Ideas

Following up on the list I created for London Free Date Ideas, I crafted a list of some unique things to fo in the District. Let’s face it, DC is expensive, we enjoy paying 10% sales tax and $4 for a single taco. Lots of people get stumped on free things to do beyond going to Smithsonian Museums and cherry blossoms at the monuments so hopefully, this list can help you out.

*A side note on this is that it is not unreasonable to expect both parties on a date to foot the bill. However, I really do see the value in the desire to treat someone to a good time. I don’t think it is at all unequal or sexist to feel this way. Also, it goes without saying that these suggestions are not limited to dates–they can include platonic dates, family visits, solo adventures, whatever your heart tells you!*

1. Museums, there are more museums out there than the Smithsonian’s it’s true I promise! However, starting with the gems so generously run by the government my favorites that are a little lesser known and might woo a potential interest are the Hirshhorn, Sackler Gallery, Renwick, and the National Building Museum.  Currently, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition is about to open at the Hirshhorn and it is going to be an incredible interactive exhibit. Beyond the Smithsonians are the donation based private collections and gardens that can be tricky to find but worth the research. I recently just learned about the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens which can dazzle with their manicured, beautiful landscaping and quirky art collection. The Phillips Collection also likes to sprinkle surprise free days throughout the year so keep alert for those.

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2. Art Galleries, on top of all the museums and art collections, commercial art galleries can be a great place to score some free food, wine, and see not priceless but very pricey works of art. You and your date can pretend to peruse for your humble DC shack which can add to all the fun. Some great galleries that consistently hold receptions are Longview Gallery, Morton Fine Art, Foundry Gallery and Transformer.

3. Franciscan Monastery, way out in Brookland, not Brooklyn (see entire post here), is the Franciscan Monastery. You can meander through the beautiful buildings and wooded gardens for hours. The roses are absolutely beautiful when in bloom and the monastery is so serene and peaceful. It is the perfect location for a calm stroll.

4.  Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, while out in Brookland make it a catholic themed date and head to the basilica which boasts a less humble gorgeous church with a very interesting crypt free for exploring underneath.

5. Washington National Cathedral, I know these three locales are feeling very religious for dates I think most people are comfortable absorbing beautiful architecture and buildings rich in history. Even though I am not Christian, I find churches very spiritual and impressive in their holy stature. Nearer to downtown resides the National Cathedral, a gothic inspired cathedral that really rounds out the entire church tour of the District. It is best to catch the cathedral at sunrise or sunset because the arches cast the most beautiful shadows on the small passageways.You can splurlge on a cup of coffee at the Open City at the National Cathedral and wonder around the petite Bishop’s Garden.

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6. National Arboretum, this not-so-obscure spot is classic first date material. There is just enough nature, history, and bonsai serenity. The arboretum can get crowded on the weekends so try to pick a weekday to visit or arrive nice and early. The fields and paths are perfect for ambling and the columns from the original capitol building are especially photogenic when the wildflowers are in bloom in front of them. For an arboretum, there is not an overly impressive amount of tree species but the bonsai collection is quite divine.

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7. Capitol Tour, as I mentioned in my previous date guide there is nothing wrong with geeking out a little bit when going out, in fact, it’s highly encouraged. You can make arrangments with your state’s representative to go on a guided tour of the capitol with a political savvy intern and see the impressive Capitol in all it’s splendor A capitol tour is a nice alternative to the tired old stroll around the mall–looking at monuments you and your friend have probably visited on numerous occasions.

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8. Meridian Hill Park, one of my favorite parks in DC is a great place to have a picnic or rendezvous. The fountains (when on) are spectacular. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore and intimate places to find around the park. Meridian Hill is also a hotspot for dog watching and who doesn’t love a cute pup to cuddle with?

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9. Roosevelt IsIland, a naturally romantic spot and a romatic nature spot. Roosevelt Island is a hidden gem that is great for trail runs and walks. You can access it via a jaunt along the waterfront and over the Key Bridge or by weaving past the Kennedy Center. The Georgetown Waterfront way is more picturesque but there is something a little thrilling about the narrow walkway on the Memorial Bridge. There are so many cool views of DC and Rosslyn that you can’t get from anywhere else and the dense thicket of trees makes you feel for a moment that you have escaped the slabs of marble and concrete that envelope DC. Bring a snack and sit on the wooden boardwalk in warm weather for an added bonus.

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10. Thrifting at Georgia Avenue Thrift Shop, not entirely, but always free to look is some antiquing and thrifting. Georgia Avenue has racks and racks of clothes that are perfect for a little game of dress up and laughs about bad fashion over the decades. You might also venture to the back to see what odds and ends are for sale including random bits of furniture, parts of china sets, lamp shades and other wonderful artifacts. Try hunting for the strangest items you can find or relics of childhood–these are great conversation starters.

11. Union Market Sampling, it’s like going to a farmer’s market that you can enjoy year round. Union market has dozens of vendors (68 to be exact)  hawking their food and wares each day and offering up tasty samples of everything from olive oil to chocolate and soap to cheese. There are so many interesting things to try and it’s a great spot for intriguing people watching. It is quite possible if you hit the sampling right to not spend any money and get a decent meal in, or at least get some creative ideas for your own cooking. Union Market makes for a colorful culinary adventure and they market also has pop-up events such as live music or painting classes.

12. Dolcezza Factory Tour, like gelato? Enjoy seeing the mechanics behind how food is made? Crave fresh made soft serve? Well all your dreams can come true with a tour of the Dolcezza Gelato Factory. Located right behind Union Market, the factory holds tours on the weekend so you can make the most of your NoMa adventure and do Union Market sampling in the morning and gelato in the afternoon. It’s always a treat to have those cool how it’s made moments and witness them with someone else who has a sweet tooth or is an avid fan of production processes.

13. Brewery Tours, since I am from Boulder, the land of microbreweries I can’t say that DC is a beer town but the District is no slouch when it comes to having enough breweries for a create your own brewery tour. My favorites are 3 Stars, Right Proper and DC Brau. 3 Stars has beautiful large format beers in a cute small space with bright exposed lightbulbs and a no-frills atmosphere. Tours are Saturday at 2pm, 3pm, & 4pmTours and are free and open to the public c with valid 21+ ID. Right Proper has a very great date spot in their Brew Pub and Kitchen in Shaw but you can go see where the magic happens for free at their Brookland Production House and Tasting Room. Tours of the brewery are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm, 4pm, and 6pm and are completely free with tastes. They describe their tasting space so aptly that I am going to leave the quote to them, “our tasting room offers a view of the brewery in a cozy space filled with reclaimed cherry wood and a slightly disturbing chalk art mural.” Who can say no to disturbing chalk art? It is sure to make anyone at least more interested in you. Tour of DC Brau (not my favorite beer but local and fun) are free and on Saturday at 1, 2. 3 and 4pm. Their brewery space is awesome and filled with great merch, decals and has rotating guest food trucks in the back.

14. Congressional Cemetery, it may sound morbid to go to a cemetery on a date but I actually find graveyards so peaceful and relaxing. You can have your own Harold and Maude moment while learning about some interesting history. The grounds are very well-maintained and sometimes they host movie nights with spooky classics. For a first date or excursion best to visit in the day time but if you want to go at dawn or dusk that adds to the mystery and quiet solemness.

15. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, see full post here. The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are a rare nature retreat within the city limits. When the lilypads are in bloom, the swampy wetlands are incredible. The gardens show an adventurous, sensitive side all wrapped into one.

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Making Waves: Japanese Fashion’s Petite Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum

In Shock Wave, the Denver Art Museum carefully curates Japanese fashion design from the 1980’s-90’s in a magnificent yet humble display.  This was a pivotal time for Japanese fashion designer that features the likes of Issey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, Kansai Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and Junya Watanabe. The designers reinvented classics from European designers such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior whilst also inspiring contemporary fashion designers including Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang, John Galliano, and Dries Van Noten. The exhibit did a fantastic job displaying the Japanese designers next to their counterparts–intermixing in a sensible way by style and form rather than randomly throwing in European designers against the Japanese greats or trying to press a forced chronology.

Shock Wave is also a mixed media exhibition that smartly adds video to fill the small, almost awkward museum. space it absorbs.  The four video installations highlighted different runway shows, bringing the clothes on display to life with simplicity and displaying the theatrical quality and movement of the clothes as was intended be the designers. The most captivating is Miyake’s show that featured models walking a square “runway” reminiscent of a sumo wrestling ring. Another video shows the backstage dressing of models so the viewer can examine the subtle complexities of the flowy, boxy Japanese garments and you would probably want to purchase a copy of the informational video with your couture.

The final highlight of the exhibit are the “invisible” dress forms created by Allison McCloskey, associate textile conservator, especially for Shock Wave. Almost every garment is hung on a hand-shaped dress form that is made from soft materials (either foam core or a  soft polyester felt that is molded than hardened with heat). These completely customized mannequins serve many purposes, including, providing the actual softness of a live model. In many fashion exhibits, clothes are stretched over mannequins and appear lifeless but with this new technique it actually looks like someone is wearing the clothes because the pleats, boning, and other structural elements can fall in the correct place. It was critical that these dress forms were created because there is an entire section of the exhibit devoted to oversized garments that are near impossible to display on a standard mannequin. The museum created a fascinating behind-the-scenes video where you can watch the shaping and dressing of the forms. It is always true that small shifts, have an incredible impact.

Shock Wave is Florence Muller’s first exhibition at the Denver Art Museum after she curated the traveling Yves Saing Laurent Retrospective with mediocre success. Shock Waves closes May 28th so if you are in Denver in the upcoming months and have a passion for fashion and an appreciation for its history make sure to visit this exhibition.

Coffee Shop Review #21 Bellwether

Down in Denver, exploring new coffee shops per usual. Categories out of 5.

Location-3.5(Way down on East Colfax Bellwether stands alone as a destination rather than a spot to stop in on a walkabout. However, Bellwether serves as a four stops in one shop featuring a cafe, small racks of clothing, a barbershop and a whiskey bar at night. The neighborhood is definitely up and coming and there are some emerging restaurants. as well as, the three great Denver music venues: The Bluebird, The Gothic Theater, and The Ogden. However, you will need to drive anywhere you are trying to go so it is best to square away some quality time and stay in rather than order coffee to take).

Barista Cuteness-4(The baristas at Bellwether are 1 for 1 so they are batting a 100 so far. The man serving us was so pleasant and in lieu of other customers hung about our table to discuss the changing Denver scene and tell us about the cafe. He was very well-dressed, which reflected the aesthetic of the store and clothing for sale very well. A peak in the back barbershop revealed well-coiffed attractive hipsters as to be expected).

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Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5(We ordered two cappuccinos and a Kenya pour over to sample the coffee selection for taste, variety, and consistency. Bellwether serves coffee from Boxcar Coffee Roasters, a well-known Boulder/Denver roaster that is on the rise.  The cappuccinos were a bit dry (more foam) and the espresso did not have an unctuous taste, it was drier as if the beans were older and roasted to be more bitter. The Kenya pour over was served in a massive tin camping mug which was a great start. The coffee was flavorful, full bodied and was carefully prepared to bring out the fruity flavors).

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Ambiance-5(The design is where Bellwether truly shines. The all black and white color palette oozes a coolness that is very effortless. Simple chairs and tables complement focal design touches like the sewing table desk, overstuffed Winchester sofas, and fantastic Ducati motorcycle. Floor to ceiling windows on the street-facing wall let in ample light to brighten the dark features. The whiskey and coffee bar is very simple, neat and uncluttered which confirms the crisp, unfussed vibe).

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Food/Pastry Selection-3.5(A very meager single glass pastry stand held a few savory and sweet muffins, scones, and cookies. The selections did look appetizing and sound original but clearly was an afterthought for the cafe. Without having sampled any particular baked good I would ventrue to say they looked like they would tast very good but will need to confirm).

Overall Rating:4,1

What do you mean you don’t have filter coffee? A Guide to London Coffee Shops

I wish I had been diligent enough to do a proper coffee shop review of every cafe I visited in London but at this stage in the game that would be simply impossible. I am going to attempt to backtrack through all the coffee shops I have visited giving them quick scores and pointing out the ideal features of each. Coffee is truly blossoming in London so don’t be intimidated by the perceived ‘only tea’ culture.

As the title of this posts hints at, the one thing yet to develop is strong cups of black, filter coffee. Artisanal shops that will be explored in this post do have pour-over, chemex and V60 options but they are simply lacking good ready made coffee–paper filters, large batches, hot mugs you can wrap your hands around simply do not happen in most London shops which is a huge shame. Looking past this, visiting cafe is an awesome way to see London, each neighborhood can be characterized by they handful of coffee shops that reside in it. So I’ll break it down by region, trying to record every coffee shopI can recall. It’s going to look like a daunting list but life is better when drinking good coffee. The Southbank and East London have unfortunately been painfully neglected in my coffee pursuits but I will try to outsource some recommendations for these areas. The greatest London coffee blog for filling in the blank map spaces is Cups of London Coffee. They have an interactive map that has displays the massive density of London’s coffee shops allowing you to zoom and click cafes to display recorded times and information. It’s brilliant!

As a reminder coffee shop reviews go a little something like this: cafes are marked out of 5 on location, barista cuteness, coffee knowledge/expertise, ambiance, and food/pastry selection.

Convent Garden/Aldwych

  1. Lundenwic-4(Lundenwic is a newer shop on Aldwych that is teeny tiny. the place has two tables and a three-seat counter so not ideal for working or hanging out but if you do snag a table you are right in the middle of the action, merging with the queue of people and baristas bustling about from the mysterious kitchen downstairs. From this basement emerges a selection of toasties and salads for lunch. I have had hits and misses with lunch but highly recommend the cranberry sauce, chicken, and squash toastie if they have it. The sandwich tastes like Thanksgiving dinner between two slices of sourdough bread. Be wary of the amount of kale and fennel in the salads, it’s a lot of kale and fennel. The location is ideal if you are a uni student at LSE, which this writer might be. Unfortunately if you our not headed to lecture there is really no reason to be walking along Aldwych as it has no tourist appeal and is crowded with students and professionals. However, Lundenwic is near some theatres so if you are headed to a play and worried you will not stay awake either because it looks to be extremely dull or you are very tired, grab a strong flat white, and chat with the extremely handsome baristas before the show).
  2. Fernandez and Wells-Somerset House-4.5(There are two things keeping F&W from receiving a 5 much to my dismay. First, the coffee is just simply not that good. The espresso is often burnt and flavorless so it is best to get tea because they will top up your pot with hot water, give you honey and even steamed milk if you like. The service is certainly not lacking at Somerset House that is for certain. Second, while the Spanish-style savory options at F&W are divine, their pastry selection is weak and very expensive. Now that we have those critiques out of the way let’s move to the highlights. Somerset House, is one of my favorite places in all of London and you can see my full post here. The setting of the cafe is minimal and airy, the light wood furniture and large tables makes it a fantastic place to spread out and do work. Their music selection is consistently on point, playing an eclectic mix of soul and indie songs. Most of the the baristas are incredibly friendly and the table service for food is quite enjoyable, I highly recommend their soup specials, particularly the chicken tangine. The soups come in a huge steaming bowl with some crucial pieces of sourdough bread for soaking up the last bits).      13102718_10208147040907100_3434636631585142432_n
  3. The Black Penny-4.5(The Black Penny will always hold a special place in my heart for the lunch deal they used to have which included three salads and a protein for under 10 quid, although the lunch deal is no longer the food selection is still expansive and delicious. The coffee is top notch quality as well. The place is nicely situated off the dense crowded Convent Garden area closer to Holborn station. It’s ideal for a longer uni lunch or a break from the tourist scene. The inside is very rustic and warm Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling and the back has a large communal table and several squished two-tops.There are shelves adorned with books and magazines  situated over built in cubbies for single seating. The exposed brick wall adds to the Brooklyn chic vibe. The baristas and servers match the warm interior and are very friendly, and always more than happy to point out their favorites of the day).
  4. New Row Coffee-4(This tiny kiwi-owned coffee shop sits on New Row Street in Convent Garden. New Row rivals Lundenwic in it’s size as it only has two tables and two counter seats. The pastries are all homemade daily by Tom, the owner of the shop. The coffee quality is stellar and the small space is not over designed or sparse. There is a coffee grinder serving as an expensive flower pot. The teal dishes add a little quirk and brightness. I’d recommend getting a cappuccino and specifying without cocoa powder because it tends to overpower things. The tall lanky baristas are the essence of the London aesthetic so no need to worry about that. I recommend the Anzac cookies and almond croissants).img_4253
  5. Fleet River Bakery-3(Fleet River is not in a very idealic location sandwiched between Kingsway and Lincoln Fields Inn, in a non-descript part of Holborn. Again, for an LSE student it is pretty convenient. Known for their pastries, correction expensive pastries It’s best to run through either to get a goof cup of coffee or quick lunch. I have never been too impressed with their offerings but people swear by their toasties and salads so I’ll leave a little hope. The space is very drafty and unadorned, Fleet River is packed at lunch so try to grab a spot quick or check out their downstairs area. If you are in a hurry, Fleet River is also not the most expedient so be aware).
  6. Fleet Street Press
  7. Notes-Convent Garden

Soho

  1. TAP No. 193-5                                                                    12809736_10207890381890785_2470534023979204042_n
  2. Flat White-4
  3. Nordic Bakery-3.5
  4. Foxcroft and Ginger-3

Fitzroviia

  1. Kin-5
  2. Attendant-5                                                                                                                                                   13184660_10208941295280255_1076025989_oimg_4319 img_4321
  3. Kaffeine-4

7 Dials

  1. Monmouth Coffee
  2. Timberyard
  3. Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Shoreditch

  1. Fix 126(Fraser’s Pic)
  2. Attendant
  3. Shoreditch Grind

Clerkenwell

  1. Workshop

Islington 

  1.   Vagabond No. 7 4.5(This coffee shop tucked away in Islington is a hidden gem in the London coffee scene. The narrow space is bigger than it appears with repurposed wooden spools as tables in the front area and  a cozy back room. Studying in the back room, you can work amongst the roaster, espresso machines and sacks filled with coffee–ideal for any person who literally runs on coffee. You are also working on a suspended wood table that has ample room to spread out your books, coffee, and food. On to the food, the almond croissant I had was the best almond croissant I have ever had in London, let me repeat—the best. That is saying something. The prepared sandwiches are also simple and hearty. There is also a kitchen tucked away that manages to pump out full English breakfast among other brunch fare served all day long. On my last trip to Vagabond, I discovered the secret side courtyard that is quaint and peaceful. Filled with mismatched iron furniture, the outdoor space is somehow sandwiched in a small, awkward corner between two buildings, Vagabond is an architecture marvel that seems to expand after you enter. The coffee shop also has a derelict appearance with crumbling walls and vacant fireplace stuffed with a combination of junk and books, it almost resembles the ruin bars of Budapest. A friendly staff serves high-quality coffee to match their impressive food fare and interesting space. I am only docking it for its location, north Liverpool Road is not quite a cultural hub but the hipsters are sure to come).

 

Guest Post from Jesse Hartman: The food we missed in Amsterdam

The travel posts return after a long hiatus. Back with my brother, Jesse Hartman taking a quick trip to  Amsterdam from Tel Aviv, his current home base. He really did the food game right so visit my post here and combine for a complete travel plan for the proper Dutch culinary and cultural experience.

A cut-rate round-trip flight on Turkey’s finest offering, Air Pegasus, served as the perfect backdrop for a quick trip to Amsterdam, and the craziness departing from Ben Gurion Airport complimented the journey nicely. Shortly after learning that my roommate Aaron and myself would not be on the same first leg from Tel Aviv (though we were reunited in Istanbul several hours later), a wildly irresponsible fry cook at Burger Ranch decided it would be a good idea to start a grease fire in Terminal 3, delaying Aaron’s flight to dangerously close to missing the final leg from Turkey. With that behind us, along with a decent döner we landed and sped off to our hotel in the heart of Amsterdam.

Arriving around 11:30pm would usually pose challenges, but a quick check in and we were off to our first coffeeshop and food encounters. A quick disclaimer: I’m not going to sit here and bore you good reader with perpetual pot talk, nor would foul up a very nice blog, so it happened, joints were smoked, let’s move on. Just a 10-minute walk from our rooms was Burger Bar, part of a small chain that stays open until 3am! I went for the Angus burger topped with cheddar, mushrooms and jalepano, and of course their house sauce, complimented very nicely with a side of fries, that would be the first of many consumed throughout the trip.

Our first full day began with a quest to find a golden-brown holy grail of street food: the stroopwafel. A stroopwafel is basically a honey and syrup sandwich with two freshly griddled waffle cones as the bread. We strode over to Lanskroon Bakery where Aaron housed a normal offering and I sampled the coffee caramel version. On the back of the near diabetic shock and a pleasant cappuccino, we head off to Vondelpark for lounging and enjoying the mid-spring sun. Around the corner is Peperwortel, a small deli-like storefront with prepared foods that the cashier kindly heated for us. We enjoyed quiche, lasagna and some chicken wings on the side of the café, deliciously refueling for our next trek and a trek it most certainly was. At the end of the half-hour wind through the canals and beautiful architecture, we arrive at Brouwerij ‘TJ, a local beer maker housed in an old windmill. We each imbibed a flight and I thought the Columbus Amber Ale was the pick of the 5 from an interesting brewery that offers only beers that are unfiltered and unpasteurized and several organic options as well. After the beer, it was on to Skek, a cozy student-run bar, for amazing bitterballen (fried mince-meat croquettes) and delightful live music. The final nightcap was a stumble to the hilariously named Manneken Pis from Flemish-style fries, where Aaron went with a more classic sauce choice and I opted to combining saté and curry sauce.

Our middle day got off to another fantastic culinary start as we walked to Winkel Café for the best apple pie in Amsterdam. I had been on my first trip, but it was no less tasty the second time. Heading to Winkel put us in the hip and slightly less mainstream Jordaan neighborhood, where we each spent a wise 5 euros to spend some time at the Tulip Museum. After a quick and humorous discussion with a museum employee, Aaron and I were convinced to take a decently lengthy 90 minute trip out to Keukenhof, one of Europe’s largest flower gardens. Of course, we had to get properly supplied and quickly found ‘t Kuyltji, for one of the better sandwiches I’ve had the good fortune of tasting. Along the way, FEBO catches my eye- a Dutch fast-food takeaway shop where for a two-euro coin you open the display case and chow down on a small kroket or hamburger. Once at the gardens, we dove into our sandwiches. Aaron sprung for the pastrami and cheese, and I decided on the prime rib: Salty, simple and delicious, as well as filling for coming in a smaller portion. Upon our return, it’s another trip to Manneken for an afternoon snack of fries before some down time back at the room.

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On a recommendation from other American friends from Netanya, we attempted to go to Café de Klos for ribs, but were rudely greeted at the door. Look, I understand 90-minute waits happen, but at least tell us where to stand or get a drink or take our name down… This setback turns into an excellent turnaround as we decided on Sampurna for rijstaffel, an Indonesian cuisine consisting of several small plates fired out at us in almost overwhelming fashion. Roasted meats, fresh vegetables and different styles of peanut sauces all merged perfectly together as we plucked them off the hot plate. The evening only went up as we went to Bourbon Street for live jazz, highlighted by a superb rendition of “Get Down on It”. Some late-night pool and foosball back at the hotel was in order before recharging for our final day.

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With a pretty glaring hole in my food plans for a final breakfast, Aaron came through in the clutch by finding Omlegg, a small restaurant about 10 minutes walk away. After a quick wait, we ducked inside just before the drizzle outside turned into something more ominous. An omelet for Aaron and a croissant-egg sandwich for me and we were off to the Albert Cuypmarket, a large open-air farmers’ market brimming with food options and tchotchkes. I go in for a 3-euro open-faced smoked herring sandwich, which truly was one of my favorite foods of the whole trip and both of us couldn’t resist another crack at a stroopwafel. After a final burger at The Butcher, which honestly wasn’t spectacular- I thought Burger Bar was better, we head to the museums with a cold, gray day serving as the perfect motivation to do just that. We explored the Dutch arm of St. Petersburg’s famed Hermitage Museum and caught an exhibit on Spanish masters, including El Greco, Velasquez and De Goya. From there, it was on to the beautiful Jewish History Museum at the former site of the Great Synagogue and then to Amersterdam’s Museum of Modern Art which had bizarre monochromatic canvases side-by-side with more famous names such as Van Gogh and Mondrian.

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One final stop at Winkel and another perfectly convenient train ride and we arrived back at the airport to return home. It was a splendid trip; Amsterdam truly has a little bit for everyone. A few stones remain unturned; I’ve still yet to see the Van Gogh Museum or the Anne Frank House, and perhaps I can return again some time. Meanwhile I’ll have to settle for dreams of stroopwafel and street herring as I await my next traveling adventure.

London Free Date Ideas

Recently, my friend was complaining on how expensive it was to take someone out on a date in London. I challenged him that this city was full of wonderful free date ideas that ranged from art to food, parks to museums, and so much more.

*A side note on this is that it is not unreasonable to expect both parties in a date to foot the bill. However, I really do see the value in the desire to treat someone to a good time. I don’t think it is at all unequal or sexist to feel this way. Also it goes without saying that these suggestions are not limited to dates–they can include platonic dates, family visits, solo adventures, whatever your heart tells you!*

  1. Go to a posh open house. Think strolling through Ikea in 500 Days of Summer is cute? Try touring a beautiful flat pretending to be a perspective buyer or my personal favorite-daughter looking on behalf of a rich aunt. You will typically find free food, drink, and entry to a neighborhood you would otherwise be seen as riff raff in. It’s a good laugh.
  2. Museums, duh, this is an easy one as almost all the museums in London are free. Spice if up by going to a free late night event. The Tate often offers free snacks and even artsy activities and/or live shows.
  3. Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery, see some deceased legends and some beautiful scenery. Pack a picnic for bonus points and also listen to this brilliant episode of my favorite podcast, the Moth, about a spooky vampire who scares an unsuspecting Aussie to get you in the mood.
  4. Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park, what is better than jogging up to the top of Primrose Hill and taking in a good view of London? Once you are done stroll down the slope to Regent’s Park for a walkabout or maybe even the Zoo. Catch the park in Autumn when the leaves are golden and it will be extra breathtaking. IMG_3487IMG_3555 IMG_3488
  5. Saatchi Gallery, feeling classy and arty? Head to Chelsey and take your date to the Saatchi Gallery for some cool modern art and additional window shopping. A friend once told me it is great to gauge a date’s reaction to modern art to see if you are compatible. Maybe you both think it’s kooky and out there or maybe it is totally inspiring.
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  7. Bike Ride, this is a good one if you both own bikes, otherwise it becomes less free. Take your wheels out on a ride in Hyde Park where there are good paths and you are free from the treacherous London streets.
  8. Go to a toy store and/or a department store, this one has been recommended to me by a friend who had the most amazing time jumping on a giant piano at Hameleys with her date. The gags are truly limitless and why not exude some of your inner child? Harrods and Selfridges are another fun one. Harrods for samples and the endless knick knacks to explore and Selfridges for the window dressings alone.
  9. Farmer’s Market, another pretty obvious one. London is filled with markets from Borough to Spitalfields, Exmouth to Dover Street. Nosh, sample products and produce, feel hipster, shop for a potential dinner party, the options are limitless. Pro tip, if you go to a market at the end of the day they will literally throw free stuff at you.
  10. Play tourist and see the sites. Don’t discount that people travel from all over the world to see London. You might forget about all the monuments and historic sites in your own backyard. If you have never seen the changing of the guard, why wait? You might be surprised to learn what touristy things you and your date have not done and it always fun to spot the obnoxious tourists in a crowd of attractions. IMG_3499 IMG_3496
  11. Arrange a House of Parliament tour via a MP, this is an above and beyond addition to the idea above. After recently going on a tour of Parliament I was blown away with just how cool it was. There is a plethora of neat facts, architecture, and countless stories that make up the British Government’s rich history. It’s relatively easy to reach out to your local MP and arrange a tour with an aid, you will look very smart and distinguished while also expressing your inner political geek (plus and plus). If you don’t feel like going to the effort of arranging a tour you can always sit in the public galleries during a debate. This will also make you come off as intelligent and politically aware while maintaining the fact that you can heckle from the balcony if you so choose.
  12. Free shows and recitals are abound in London. You can catch shows at the London School of Economics and various cathedrals throughout the city. The Southbank Centre also hosts free lunchtime concerts on Fridays and Saturdays. Additionally, at any odd weekend in the year you are sure to catch some free event hosted by the Mayor of London in Trafalgar square. Such as Diwali, St. Patrick’s Day and Vasisakhi.

I have no doubt missed a ton of some of your favorite free date ideas so feel free to leave a comment so I can update the list.

Crazy

Crazy for you, crazy in love, crazy, stupid, love, does that make me crazy? Chime, chime, chime, crazy, crazy, crazy. Why is love always associated with this word? Are feelings meant to be crazy, out of control and off the wall? Or are they meant to be calm, cool, and collected? The latter is associated with calculating and hardness—two words that don’t often mesh well with relationships but maybe those words are not such a bad thing. Maybe we need a little more balance, a little more thought and a little less wild and out of control. But perhaps loosing control is falling in love, tripping over your own feet just to meet someone else. Are we not soundly involved if we are not driving ourselves mad? Lots of questions, and I know, very few answers. The answer could lie in this swirl of chaos, maybe the chaos leads to clarity and we can’t delve into our deepest selves without going a little mad. Relationships shouldn’t push us to the edge but they somehow do. We stew in our thoughts, act irrationally, say and do insane things that we would never ordinarily do. This could prove that love is extra-ordinary, when we can’t contain ourselves to think and act straight.

Is it wrong to want to stay comfortable? Comfortable in our constructed limits, this seems healthy. However, we don’t want to come off as cold, emotionless—an empty vessel. I wonder when did thoughtfulness become a bad thing? When was it decided that outrageous and over-the-top where acceptable and even desirable? I don’t want to lose my breath around someone, sounds like a recipe for hyperventilation. I don’t want to be emotional and relinquish control. This is not saying I don’t want to try new things. I push myself all the time and even embrace change but not when change is so mentally straining that we forget ourselves. Forget all the reasoning and purpose we created for our life. Crazy, fickle feelings are not my friends—they are not my enemies either, but not the first feelings I want attached to romance.

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I am going to start aiming for a little less crazy and a little saner. I want less confusion and hurling fistfuls of emotions at someone else. This doesn’t seem like a task too great but when relationships have pushed you so far from normalcy it is had to know what to go back to. It might be good to return to a more controlled side, more knowledgeable and less outrageous, less over-analyzing, and fewer unrealistic expectations. Let’s all be calm for a moment, still and restorative. This may take us to better relationships with longevity and phase out those disjointed moments of passion.

 

A tale of two cities: Three Days in Berlin

Ra ra Berlin. This historically rich, techno infused town has a wide range of activities and outings to cater to every traveler, especially those operating within a budget. A couple of things that make Berlin such a bargain. First, transportation if free. Well…errrr…not free per say but payment is optional. There is no turnstile or tap in/out system so you can get away with using the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Street Cars, and buses for free. If you get caught there will be a fine so ride at your own risk. Food and housing is also more affordable in Berlin than in other parts of Germany because it is still developing and emerging from its soviet or half GDR shell.

To Eat: Berlin has a very diverse population which is very favorable for food finds. A must in Berlin is doner, essentially shawarma and a famed great place to check out is Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap. We stayed in Kreuzberg so a majority of our eats were in the Middle Eastern hood with a growing food scene. The first place we dined was Baraka. A fantastic Moroccan restaurant with great spiced dishes and tea. You can reserve seats in advance to get a table on the floor with cushions for the full experience. Another great place off of Goriltzer Park is  Bar Raval, This tapas joint brings surprisingly great Spanish cuisine to Berlin in unique dishes. Bar Raval is known for their extensive wine list and weekly paella nights. The vibe is very lively with a sleek ‘canteen-like’ feel. I’d recommend the shishito peppers and homemade flan. For authentic German food that is served on plates as big as your torso check out Tiergartenquelle. It is literally underneath a S-Bahn stop which makes the restaurant convenient although off the beaten bath. Try any dish they have with spaetzle, that’s their thing and make sure to get a giant liter of beer to accompany your meal.

For brunch and coffee I have three recommendations. First, Bateau Ivre is a kooky breakfast spot that sports vibrant art and a large array of mismatched lanterns. The cafe serves up classic European breakfast which consists of an array of meats, cheese, and fresh basket of bread. The meal is simple, hearty and a good start to the day. Next, Factory Girl! (exclamation included in the name) is located in a great part of the city called Friedrichshain. Here you’ll find lots of cafes and small boutiques. Factory Girl! is great for breakfast and lunch but most famous for their sweet treats. I got a deconstructed cream pie, which was basically fresh clotted cream with bits of dark chocolate bark all served over macerated berries. I’d also recommend the Sicilian sandwich. Finally, Neumond for a breakfast buffet that will make you believe in the concept of a buffet again. At first, you are going to think I am crazy for recommending Neumond because it is in a hotel but you have to trust me. For about ten euros you have an all you can eat breakfast where everything is homemade and they will make perfect farm fresh eggs to order. Plus the cappuccino is pretty good too. The brunch serves up fresh bread, spreads and great jam (so good that I even bought too small mason jars of it). Fresh salads and fruit are also on the laden banquet along with a great meat and cheese selection.

To Visit: Berlin is known for it’s checkered history and there are powerful reminders throughout the city. Two world wars have left the city with a host of interesting cultural sites and several should not be missed. To begin with The Wall business we found that the Black Box (History of the Cold War) mini museum next to Checkpoint Charlie had a great interactive history of the time during the divided city. One must also check out the East Side Gallery, while touristy it is a impressive strip of beautifully decorated murals on The Wall from artists all around the world. The backside of the “gallery” also has some amazing graffiti and a solid view of the River Spree.

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Mitte is aptly named and contains the heart of the government and Berlin’s cultural sites. The area is marked with the beautifully ornate Brandenburg Gate. We did a cheap hop-on hop -off bus tour that took us around Mitte and our favorite spots were the Vicotry Coulmn, which was actually moved by Hitler’s urban planners and boasts a mini musum that pays tribute to monuments around the world. You can also climb up to the top for a good view of the Tiergarten. The Holocaust Memorial and museum underneath is very moving and the memorial pulls you into a maze of grey that is chaotic and very moving.

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For two incredible views of Berlin that have awesome audio guides that provide an incredible amount of information check out the Reichstag and Berliner Dome. Both contrast each other very well and provide quality sites. The Reichstag Dome is a modern glass globe that is an incredibly enormous indoor-outdoor space designed by the famed architect Norman Foster. the audio guide is timed as you work your way up the curved walkway of the dome and gives commentary on each point of interest in the 360 degree view. The Berliner Dome is a classic cathedral dome with a steep winding staircase and a narrow indoor and outdoor passageway. You get a great view of the church itself looking out to the spires and gargoyles as well as inside to the alter below. We went at night and managed to capture a great sunset over Berlin.

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Some final tour stops include a free show at the modern Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester. The Symphonie puts on free lunch time shows several days of the week which are a fun informal gathering of tourists, businessmen, and art patrons. Also, depending on when you visit Berlin it is absolutely necessary to hit up a traditional German Christmas market. Drink gluvine (mulled wine), eat tasty baked goods and be merry. We fit in three markets in our three days in Berlin.

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To Drink: There are a lot of places to get beer in Berlin, make sure to consult a local for their favorite beirgarten. For some alternative choices I’d recommend Roses Bar, Prinzipal Kreuzberg, and SO36. Roses Bar is tiny gay bar that was perfectly described by my flatmate as “the inside of tacky 70s furniture.” Why this odd description? Because the bar is literally vinyl, studs, and pink furry walls all put together. The place is also electric, not just with the friendly crowd but the literal electric hum of fluorescent lights and other colored bulbs that cover entire walls. Prinzipal is a burlesque bar that has high quality drinks (be warned they have high price tags attached as well). Stop in for one drink to feel fancy and see the speak-easy style decor, very 20’s and Baroque inspired. Finally we stumbled upon S036 accidentally when coming out of Roses. Turned out it was a dance hall that hosts a variety of different events each night. Once a month they have a Roler Disco, which was, you guessed it, the day we went. Grab Roller Skates and stumble to the bar, have a drink for courage then skate around the disco ball lit rink to German techno and old R&B because what could be better?

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To Party: While we were on too much of whirlwind trip to put in the time to enjoy Berlin’s famous club scene. I will pass down some words of wisdom from a fellow ex-pat who took up residence in Berlin for a year. According to Mathew Jones “if you wanna dance to some great techno music; Check out Sisyphos (if its open) it is the best club in the world in my opinion. If closed I would also recommend Greissmhule or Kater Blau. As with most clubs in Berlin, doors don’t open till after midnight Friday and are open till Sunday or Monday, but be ready to wait in a line.”

A River Runs Through It: 48 Hours in Amsterdam

The title should be several canals run through it but this was more catchy. Living close to mainland Europe has it perks, mainly quick, cheap flights to little European treasures. Amsterdam provides a great setting for a quick getaway as it is small and very easy to get around. Here’s an insider guide to my perfect trip to this Netherlands staple.

To Stay: There are some great hostels in Amsterdam that have been personally recommended to me although I stayed with friends. For excellent location check out the Hotel Van Gogh , right in the heart of the museum quarter. This budget hotel has a youth section that serves the function as a hostel and is simple and clean. For a more communal, party vibe check out the The Flying Pig. This funky hostel has a few locations and serves up some unique decor and a youth-centered vibe.

To Eat: In Amsterdam there are “coffee shops” and there are cafes. Don’t confuse the two or you’l end up eating an edible for breakfast and your day will take an odd turn. A great cafe to start the day is Coffee and Coconuts. CT is in the very trendy neighborhood of Die Pijp, right by the Heineken Factory. The cafe is in a converted cinema and has three spacious floors with low beige seating. The feeling is sophisticated beach resort and they hit the nail on the head with the nautical decor and wood touches. The food is spot on and very health conscious. Coconut are incorporated in many of the sweet dishes, I had an amazing coconut sponge cake with lime mascarpone icing. My friend had a packed acai bowl with palm berry puree,  raw buckini, blueberry, banana, & dried coconut. On the savory side, we enjoyed two Le Croissants, a grilled croissant with bacon, cheese and tomato, CT’s mustard and garden cress. The mustard was grainy and went well with the tangy tomatoes. The bacon was real American “stripey” bacon which is hard to find in Europe. The croissant was a touch over-grilled and turned out to be a bit smushed so maybe ask for light on the panini press. Our cappuccinos were perfection, make sure you indicate you want a double shot so they are not too weak. Another thing you must try in Amsterdam is Rijstaffel, which translates to “rice table”. Rijstaffel is a collection of small Indonesian dishes served tapas style. I’ve been told that this you’ll get more of a variety of Indonesian food in Amsterdam because when visiting Indonesia the cuisine is highly region-specific but Rijstaffel lets you try it all. We were recommended a great place by CT that we didn’t get a chance to try called Albina, a tiny restaurant that’s hard not to confuse with the kitchen supply store next door. Our host had a great quote about Dutch cuisine that went like this “The Dutch don’t do food very well but they do get desserts right.” What she means is that you MUST visit street vendors for authentic Dutch desserts usually consisting of fried dough, waffles and caramel. Another dish that the Dutch do get right are Dutch pancakes duh. Our favorite place was a tiny upstairs joint called Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs. Make sure you check google maps for their very strange hours.

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Museums, Museums, and more Museums: Amsterdam is oversaturated with museums and the thing about their museums is that they are NOT cheap. So you have to get strategic. All art tastes are different but I’m going to go ahead a lay out the path that worked best for me and I think ticked a lot of art and cultural boxes. First, the Anne Frank House cannot be missed. It is beautifully preserved a very moving tribute to the Jews persecuted during WWII. Without giving too much away I will say that flowing through the eerily preserved house is powerful and after the capture of Anne Frank and her family the museum architecture shifts to emulate a concentration camp in a very unique way. Ajacent to the Anne Frank House are two (shockingly) free museums that will make you smile after your sombre experience. The Cheese and Tulip Museum are definitely cheesy (har) but worth a trip to a. nosh on some cheese samples and b. learn about the Tulip trade in The Netherlands which is actually quite interesting. Next, the Rijksmuseum provided the biggest bang for your buck. The museum houses everything from Dutch masters such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch to various works by Van Gogh, as well as, contemporary works and baroque artifacts. The design of the museum also gives is an edge as it is very grand and ornate. The public garden in front tops it off and you can take a quick jaunt over to the “I Amsterdam” sign. I always need a reprieve from serious classic paintings and a perfect place to get your modern fix is Foam, a photography museum that is smartly curated and designed.

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To Drink: Once you are wiped out from walking in parks, touring museums, and canal biking (paddle boating on canals is a must) then you will need a drink (or two, or three). So beer is the name of the game in Amsterdam and theire are two great places to get it. One, Brouwerji ‘t IJ a craft brewery in a windmill, need I say more? Make sure to get there before 5 PM for flight tastings of their amazing selection of hoppy brews. Second, TAPROOM, they have over 25 beers on tap that are all craft brews from all over the world. They have some killer stouts and porters. The atmosphere gets funky in the late evening when the Justin Bieber comes on.

Sigh, one trip done. In Britain “Lateness is Rudeness” so I’ll try to be more one it for future postings. Look forward to Berlin, Norway and Turkey coming up.