I have officially left Bhutan and have been in India for about two days. My apologies for the lack of posts – the last week in Bhutan was mostly in transit, and surprisingly there was less reliable wifi in Thimphu than there had been at UWICE.
I think the only thing that could have distracted me from the pain of leaving Bhutan is… seeing Mount Everest up close on the plane ride from Paro to New Delhi!
Everest is in both pictures below, but more identifiably in the second one.
Enjoy, I promise more posts will come soon!
DR. It’s started. It’s a staple of every SFS program, and one of the selling points of the whole organization. Even more than our classes, during which we often had field exercises and lectures, DR is when we actually do field studies.
DR is not independent research, it’s directed. That means there are six groups of students, all of whom have a faculty advisor for the whole project (each professor has two groups). The groups are studying the concept of One-Health in Bumthang, avian diversity on the UWICE campus, the current social and ecological status of community forests, biodiversity on the UWICE campus compared to nearby community forests, medicinal plants and cordyceps and rural livelihoods, and a new index (created by the group) to measure wellbeing. Within each group, the students can pick their own topic of interest and design a project complete with their own objectives, hypotheses, methods, and analysis.
About a month ago we were all sorted into DR groups based on our preferences. I am really interested in the history of property rights in Bhutan, and especially the fact that all forests and natural resources were managed through common resource management systems until 1969, when the government passed the Forest Act, nationalizing all forests. Luckily I will be able to conduct research related to that topic. I’m in the community forests group and I’ll be investigating what type of property system community forests are, and how that property system is impacting the livelihoods of local people.
And we start today! After lunch my group is driving to Tang Valley, which is 2.5 hours away. We’re staying there for three days, conducting interviews and collecting data from the three community forests that are in that area. Wish us luck!
Sorry it’s been so long! We’ve been back at UWICE since Sunday evening, and we’re all working hard on preparation for Directed Research (DR – which I will talk more about in my next post).
Until then, enjoy some photographs I took during our time in Punakha and Gasa!
On Friday it rained all day, which was unfortunate because I had already been to all the museums I wanted to go to, and was planning to walk through the Jordaan. I waited around in the morning to see if the rain would let up, but when it didn’t, I decided to go out anyway!
I walked past the Anne Frank House and walked through Westerkerk, Jordaan’s Renaissance-era Protestant church where Rembrandt is buried in a pauper’s grave.
I met a cat in a vintage store and I fell in love.
I think we both fell in love.
My destination was Winkel 43, which serves famously delicious apple tart, a Dutch specialty. It’s located on the Noordermarkt square, where an outdoor market is held every Monday. I ate my apple tart outside, under an awning, because it was much cooler there, but it started pouring as soon as I sat down. I huddled under the awning with four other people: a couple from North Carolina and two Amsterdammers. As we all enjoyed our tart, we talked about where we came from and the Amsterdammers gave us advice about places to see. They were so interested to hear about Bhutan!
As the rain let up a little, I walked toward Central Station to catch the free five-minute ferry that takes you to Amsterdam Noord, the northern part of the city, which is across the harbor. The EYE Museum, which specializes in film, is there. Unfortunately they were in between exhibits, so I walked around a bit and then took the ferry back.
I walked through the small streets of the center again and stumbled upon an Asian neighborhood, just to the east of the Red Light District. I say Asian, generally, because it had Chinese, Thai, Surinamese, Indonesian, and many other stores and restaurants. There was even a temple!
I walked past a tour on this street, and the tour guide was saying that this is the highest point in the Netherlands… 1.3 meters above sea level. I’m not sure whether he was kidding, but he seemed pretty serious about it…
I grabbed a pint in the southern part of the center, and then headed back to the hostel because I was soaked and tired. I had a quiet night, grabbing dinner at the hostel’s bar and doing some last minute preparations for today’s flight.
Today I fly to Bangkok.
I’m sitting in a cute, wood-paneled breakfast place that serves mint tea with real mint leaves! My flight is at 9:40pm Amsterdam time and I arrive in Bangkok tomorrow at 1:40pm Bangkok time. Then I’ll be with the other SFS students, and we fly to Paro, Bhutan at 6:50am on September 7th.
I won’t have much Internet from now on, so posts will be less frequent. But I promise to post photos and stories from Bhutan! Please reach out to me about my travels. I love hearing from people back home and even those who find my blog and are interested! Feel free to request topics.
I’ll end this post by trying to sum up these last five days in Amsterdam, even though obviously that’s impossible. I’m just a tourist who has been here for a short while, but I am grateful to this city because it has given me confidence. I now know I can navigate a complex city alone, and I enjoy being independent and trying to discover as much as possible about the actual city, not the touristy parts. To all the American students studying abroad in Amsterdam, have fun, but I am off to wilder places!
A few things I learned in Amsterdam:
- Tea is not served in opaque cups, but in clear glasses. A small but startling difference.
- There are lots of steakhouses and Argentinian restaurants, especially in the center.
- If you look remotely Dutch, people will speak to you in Dutch (nice) and/or glare at you and yell Dutch swear words when you are slightly in the way of their bike (not so nice, it happened to me).
- A lot of people walk their dogs without a leash in Vondelpark.
- It’s almost scarier to cross the street here than in New York because there are bicycles, pedestrians, trams, buses, and cars, and they each go in both directions on each path or section of street that is designated for them. Organized chaos.
- Go to the city center once, to explore the small streets, but no more than that.
- Eat apple tart, pancakes, and mashed potatoes, and drink a lot of beer!
My Internet is horrible at the hostel, so my apologies for the delayed posts. Unfortunately, the blog seems to have eaten the draft of this blog post and I have to write it again, so I’ll keep it short.
Yesterday morning I wanted to go to the Plantage/Waterlooplein neighborhood, and I realized I still had two hours left of my 24 hour hop on/hop off canal tour! So I did another tour of the city by water and got off near the Rembrandt museum. I really enjoyed this museum in particular because most of it is actually located in the three-story 17th century house where Rembrandt lived and painted. As all the guidebooks say, it really does feel as if he’s just stepped out of the room. It’s a gorgeous house and historians were able to recreate the inner furnishings because eventually Rembrandt went bankrupt and had to move, and people catalogued all of his possessions.
After enjoying the museum, I walked outside to the Waterlooplein market. Unfortunately, at that moment, it started raining. It was funny, though, to see people fleeing the rain and trying to cover the items they were selling. The market itself was full of oversized sweaters, Dutch dresses, and buddha statues, what I expected to see, but there was also quite a bit of elephant imagery. As a lot of you know, I love elephants, so I had to take pictures.
I walked around the block and discovered a Belgian chocolate store and a radical bookshop. Of course, I had to go inside (especially because some of the books/pamphlets were in English, not just Dutch!).
I then found a real gem – De Sluyswacht, which is a 17th century lockkeeper’s house that lists like a ship in the wind, and is of course now a pub. I enjoyed a pint of Hoegaarden’s, and also thoroughly enjoyed being dry for a while.
But then I realized that I had to get to the Rijksmuseum, which I had a ticket for, before closing time at 5pm. So I walked down the Amstel River (an actual river! not a canal!). I had a hard time deciding where to get food, and I ended up with food neither unique nor Dutch, but very satisfying and familiar. 😉
I finally made it to the Rijksmuseum, and wow, was it worth it. I’ve grown up going to museums, but something about being in Europe makes the art, especially art like this, feel more contextualized and powerful. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but I’ve had this feeling at every museum I’ve been to here. I don’t know if folks know what I’m talking about, but if you do, I’d love to know that someone else has had this experience!
I was exhausted and hungry, so I rested and had a bag of Doritos. And I only bring it up because the name of the flavor of Doritos was hilarious…
When I had the energy, I ventured out again and discovered my favorite place so far in Amsterdam. It’s called Café Brecht, and it’s a German cafe that serves Italian food and German beer. The decor is meant to look like a Berlin sitting room, and the ambience is fantastic. Wow. Shoutout to Danny, who needs to come with me to Café Brecht sometime. And then we’ll actually go to Berlin!
Finally, I had read about a jazz club on a bunch of the “best of” lists of Amsterdam jazz, and it was right in the neighborhood, so I decided to check it out. It’s called Jazz Cafe Alto, and there’s live jazz there every night starting at 10pm. I heard a quartet – I don’t remember their name – bass, piano, drums, and sax. It was crowded and friendly and simply fantastic music.
While walking back to the hostel, I saw a very sweet stray cat. She looks a lot like a cat I used to have, named Brownie. Adopt, people, and spay/neuter!
Last night and at breakfast I spent time with the other two young women staying in my hostel room. We’ve had interesting conversations! I got breakfast with them this morning and then split off to buy a ticket for a canal tour. I decided to go with one that lasts for 24 hours and allows you to “hop on/hop off,” which is convenient. I took that through the Jordaan, past the Anne Frank House, and to the city center, which I hadn’t seen before. I saw Centraal Station and the harbor, which are amazing.
I got off at the center and started wandering the tiny streets (smaller and more windy than the streets around Vondelpark). Although I had already had breakfast, I stopped into an adorable French-style café call Omelegg, which specializes in all things egg. The decorations were chicken and farm themed and it was very cute. The pictures hardly capture it. I had a mango tea!
Next, I kept walking down small streets until I found myself in the red light district. Luckily it was 11 o’clock in the morning, so there was hardly anyone there, except for groups of teenage boys giggling at the signs. Typical, I’m sure.
Then I walked through Dam square and saw the royal palace and the museums, and headed south into the more commercial section of the center. This was really the only part of Amsterdam that I didn’t like at all. It basically felt like I was in a slightly medieval-themed version of New York because all the stores were exactly the same ones that you can find in NYC. It had none of the charm of other parts of the city.
This part of the city does have one redeeming factor, though. The Befijnof courtyard can be found hidden behind private homes and two churches.
I wandered out of the courtyard toward a hole-in-the-wall shop that sells frites. No one who knows me will be surprised that I got them with mustard. 🙂
I ate them as I walked back to the harbor and caught the canal tour again, this time headed back to Vondelpark and the Rijksmuseum, where I had gotten on in the morning.
In the evening I ventured out with one of the women from my room to a Moroccan restaurant called Paloma Blanca. I got a vegetarian tagine, which as you can probably tell from the photo, was delicious.
What a day! Let’s start at the beginning…
I went to the Van Gogh Museum early this morning. I bought a ticket from the hostel, so luckily I got to skip the line, which is always very long! The museum was incredible – I really didn’t think I would like it as much as I did, even though I love museums. I realized I knew embarrassingly little about Van Gogh’s life, so I learned a lot. And the art, of course, speaks for itself.
Next, I planned to go to the Kattenkabinet, which I wrote a post about earlier. To get there I walked through the southern canal belt:
Kattenkabinet was as amazing and kitschy and catty as I had hoped. It’s located in an old canal house, one of the only ones that is open to the public, and I had the entire museum (only a few rooms) to myself. And I even pet… TWO cats! They were both very sleepy, but seemed to enjoy the attention. Below you’ll find tons of pictures.
I walked along the canals and found a classic Dutch cheese shop that had lots of free samples, so of course I helped myself to them. Yummy. I then decided to go to a sandwich shop called Loekie, where I got a delicious sandwich with goat cheese, arugula, pine nuts, and honey. I ate the sandwich next to a canal and shared some of the bread with some pigeons. It’s like I never left New York!
Throughout the afternoon I walked around the southern canals and enjoyed the sights, taking pictures of the crazier and sillier things I saw. Here are some highlights:
I then walked back to the hostel because I had plans to meet a family friend that afternoon. I walked back through Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein. I took my book to Vondelpark, right outside the hostel, and read in the sunshine and watched dogs and bicyclists until it was time to meet my friend. As you can probably tell from the pictures, I love dogs.
She has an adorable dog, and the three of us walked to the Jordaan, a neighborhood with gorgeous canals and houses. We had tea and talked politics, New York City, and animals (three great subjects), and then walked back to Vondelpark. We parted, and I decided to venture to de Pijp (a neighborhood) for dinner.
The walk to de Pijp along the Rijksmuseum, a canal, and small streets was wonderful, but I didn’t manage to find the hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant I was looking for. So I went to my second choice, Bazaar Amsterdam, which turned out to be incredible.
I walked back toward the museums to a cafe called Welling, and had a La Chouffe, read my book, and looked at this view. What an end to a sweet, busy day.
This is the second of two posts about my day of traveling and first (partial) day in Amsterdam. First, here are some cute pictures of the Netherlands from the air:
I got to the StayOkay Vondelpark by taking the Conexxion 197 from Schipol. I was so tired I almost fell asleep on the bus, but luckily I got off at the right stop! The hostel is on a tiny lane right next to Vondelpark, which is the largest park in Holland.
I spent much of the afternoon sorting out my stuff, taking a shower, and napping. I’ve hardly ever been so tired! I was woken up by a huge clap of thunder and pouring rain. At that point I was starving (the last real meal I had had was at home, the day before), so I decided to go find food. With the help of the Lonely Planet Amsterdam guidebook, I decided to go to Hap Hmm, which serves traditional Dutch food at a super affordable price. It was great – perfect comfort food after several flights. I had the vegetarian option, which was mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, brussel sprouts, and something breaded that looked like chicken, but turned out to be a cheese and tomato combo that was delicious! I was pleasantly surprised by how veg-friendly it was. And of course, I enjoyed a delicious Hoegaarden.
After that I felt like walking off all the food, so I meandered through tiny streets, admiring the bikes, houses, and flowers…
Walking through the drizzle was pretty magical. I explored the roads around Vondelpark, then stumbled upon this beautiful church.
The park was just on the other side of the church, so I decided to go in.
I thought it would be easy to find StayOkay because it’s right next to the park, but I got lost somehow… I think I walked in circles around Vondelpark and the surrounding streets for two+ hours. It was very relaxing at first, but as it began to get dark, I asked some nice Dutch folks for directions, and they helped me figure out how to get back to Zandpad. It turned out that it would have been really easy to get to StayOkay from where I entered Vondelpark near the church, so I’m not even sure how I missed it in the first place…
So I got lost on my first day, and it was pretty great. This is the writing outside my room at StayOkay. I guess I already followed the advice!
I made it to Amsterdam! I will split this day into two blog posts because so much happened. First, I’ll provide pictures of my journey through Iceland.
Icelandair simulates the Aurora Borealis!
Icelanders are always trying to educate you… even on the vomit bag…
The Reykjavik airport
Views of Iceland from the air (beautiful, mysterious, and misty)
Again with the education. But Icelandic words are awesome! The flights were completely bilingual.