Amsterdam: A City Guide

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Have you seen the movie The Fault in Our Stars? In the film, the main characters take a trip to Amsterdam to meet with one of their favorite authors. They wander the canals hand in hand and fall madly in love, all to the tune of an awesome soundtrack. And honestly, I can’t blame them! Amsterdam is charming, chic and romantic. I didn’t have another person to fall in love with (insert tears here), so I fell in love with the city. Keep reading as I share more about why I enjoyed Amsterdam so much, and a few tips and tricks to make your visit equally as enjoyable!
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Why Amsterdam? How much time do you have?!  I could write about the reasons to visit Amsterdam for hours, but in a nutshell, Amsterdam is unlike any other city I’ve ever traveled to. It’s a mix of old and new, chic and industrial, energetic and peaceful. It is centrally located, well connected, and teeming with culture. Plus, who doesn’t want a pair of wooden clogs to wear around the house?IMG_7229IMG_7231IMG_6994

Transportation I took a five hour train from Hannover, Germany to Amsterdam Centraal station. From there, you can easily walk to most of the popular sights in the city center. Everything is very well marked with signs on nearly every corner. If you’d rather not walk, here are a few options:

  • Bike– Riding a bike in Amsterdam, although it is a bike friendly city, is still very intense (and this is coming from a girl who grew up driving the Los Angeles freeways). I almost got taken out several times while crossing the street! Plus, I am not the strongest bike rider, so I opted to pass on bike rentals. But if you decide to go for it, there are rental shops on nearly every corner that can’t be missed.
  • Tram- I mainly walked or took the tram. It coset 2.50 Euros per ride, so you may want to look into a day pass, which you can buy on board. The signage is clear and well market, and you can hop on right in front of the central station when you first arrive.
  • Boat- Travel by boat is not a major way to get from point A to point B, but I do recommend taking a canal tour. I took an hour and a half cruise through the main canals, and the captain pointed out sights and shared about their history. It’s a nice way to get your bearings and see things you might otherwise have missed.

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Accommodations It might feel impossible to visit Amsterdam with out declaring bankruptcy, but I promise it can be done! It is not a cheap city by any means, but there are always cheaper options. I rented a room in an apartment through the popular hosting website Airbnb. The place was twenty minutes outside the city center, and since everything is so well connected, I would highly recommend looking for something a bit further out to save some money. Also, many museums have discounts for kids, families, and people under 19 years old. You can buy tickets to several attractions online in advance, which saves time and money.
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Must See Spots
1. Anne Frank House– This is arguably the most popular sight in Amsterdam, and for good reason! The tour through the Frank’s hiding place and attached museum at the end are very well done. The line to get in can wrap around the block and stretch on for ages (like Disneyland!), so I would recommend checking for tickets in advance online if possible. I didn’t have tickets, so I showed up at 8am, an hour before it opens, and was admitted around 9:15.
2. Van Gogh Museum– If you are an art nerd like me, this museum is heaven! It is extremely comprehensive and interactive, and features not only a vast collection of Van Gogh’s work, but also the work of other artists who influenced him throughout his life.
3. Rijks Museum– The Rijks museum is right next door to the Van Gogh museum, and the building alone is a masterpiece! This museum features art, crafts, and historical objects from the years 1200 t0 2000. The famous IAMSTERDAM sign is directly in front of the museum, so be sure to snap an iconic picture perched atop one of the letters before heading in!
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What to pack I visited the first weekend in July (along with the rest of the world), and it was crazy hot. I seriously considered jumping into a canal for a quick cool down swim. So if you visit in the summer, be sure to pack a sunhat and sunscreen! Also, wearing comfortable walking shoes is always a good idea (duh, Micah).

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Anything Else? The majority of these photos were taken along the Prinsengracht Canal, the third and outermost of the three main canals. It marks the start of the De Jordaan neighborhood, filled with beautiful 17th century houses and shops. When you think of Amsterdam, this is the scenery you probubly picture. Be sure to take you time to wander through and experience the charming atmosphere. Lastly, don’t leave without trying a delicious Dutch pancake!
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^The leaning tower houses of Amsterdam!
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^Be sure to check out the Albert Cuyp flea market on Saturday morning from 9am-5pm.
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^The Rijks Museum.

So, after reading about this amazing city, can you blame me for falling head over heels in love? I may not be in The Fault in Our Stars Cast, but I definitely share their affinity for this beautiful place. So what are you waiting for, friends? Hop online and book a ticket to Amsterdam…or better yet, book two so I can come along!

Amsterdam: A Short Film

Dear Amsterdam,
I think I’m in love with you. Your narrow cobblestone streets, innumerable canals, and charming architecture have made me fall head over heels. I’m positive I’m not the first person to fall in love with you, and I certainly won’t be the last. In fact, I think it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with you. There is a contagious energy about you, dear city, one that every visitor is bound to catch if they’re not careful. I made this short film in an attempt to capture your beauty! Thanks for the great weekend Amsterdam, let’s do it again soon, ok?
xoxo,
Micah
P.S. Stay tuned for an Amsterdam City Guide coming soon to a theater blog near you. Oh, and the music is “Let Me In” by Grouplove.

10 Words of Wisdom To My Pre-Expat Self

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Howdy friends, how’s it going? I recently submitted this post as a guest post for the blog Route Bliss. I thought you might enjoy reading it here as well, so I hope you enjoy.

Hello friends, Micah here from Passports and Paintbrushes. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my life with you today on Route Bliss. I am a Southern California native currently living and studying abroad in northern Germany. My major is creative writing and my minor is German, and my blog is the place where both these passions converge.

Deciding to move abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and also one of the most challenging. Every day is a new adventure, filled with some pretty incredible highs as well as some pretty crummy low. The cultural differences, language barrier, and distance from loved ones can all heighten the chaos of normal life. I’ve had my fair share of hilarious and awkward situations when things get lost in translation, aided of course, by the fact that I’m an awkward person in general. I wouldn’t change them for anything though, because they are what have shape me into the strong, determined person I am today. I don’t think there is any way to fully prepare for the expat roller coaster, but if I could go back and give my pre-expat self a few words of wisdom to ease the transition, it might have gone something like this:IMG_5493.JPG

1. Set realistic goals- Before moving abroad, I majorly romanticized and over-simplified the whole experience in my mind. I thought living in Europe meant living in a fairytale. Reality check: It doesn’t. I set unrealistic, unattainable goals for myself, and these goals were doomed to end in failure and frustration. For instance, I whole-heartedly believed I would be fluent in German by the time I moved home in August. But I quickly realized it takes years to be fully fluent in a language, and I simply don’t have enough time. So I was forced to adjust my goal and instead strive to be significantly better at German by August than I was when I arrived. Now that is a goal I know I can achieve and won’t beat myself up over in the process!IMG_5501.JPG

2. Friendship takes time- Silly me, I thought I’d step off the plane and immediately make a million life-long friends! I’ve never had too much trouble making friends at home, so I figured abroad wouldn’t be any different. I soon discovered that friendship takes a lot of concentrated effort and time! Friends weren’t handed to me on a silver platter- I had to work for them! It took putting myself in some unfamiliar, even intimidating situations to start building connections. You might not click with everyone right away, but don’t give up. Join a book club, a gym, a Bible study, etc. Take an interest in their lives, meet them half way, and above all, be yourself. If you stay true to whom you are, genuine friendship is sure to follow.

IMG_5530.JPG3. Homesickness is normal- I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time feeling guilty about my homesickness. So much so in fact, guilt became one of my primary emotions, right up there next to hunger and tiredness. I told myself, “a million people would kill to be in your shoes, why do you want to go home so badly?”! But then one day I realized (light bulb!) it’s perfectly normal to feel homesick. It means you come from a good home, a home worth missing. I wish I knew a cure-all for homesickness, but it honestly varies for each person. Find the right balance for you, whether that be Skyping every day or only once a month. Everyone abroad struggles with homesickness no matter how grateful and happy you truly are for the opportunity!IMG_5474.JPG

4. Simple tasks may be harder- i.e. Grocery shopping may cause a break down! Unbeknownst to foreigners, there are certain unspoken rules and assumptions about grocery shopping in Germany such as, bringing your own bags to check-out, or knowing that shopping carts require a one euro deposit before use. It’s funny how the most mundane things can become incredibly overwhelming! You may have to buy sour creme instead of whipped cream a few times before you learn the right words, or carry your groceries in your backpack until you remember to bring bags from home. These are lessons that can only be learned through trial and error. There are no books about the subtitles of every day life in another culture. Baptism by fire baby!IMG_5473.JPG

5. Fake it till you make it- You will need to perfect your, “I understand what you’re saying” face when people speak to you in another language, even though you have no clue what they are talking about. Sometimes abroad you just have to act like you know exactly what you are doing and that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. If you feel out of place in a situation or lost in translation, just nod your pretty little head and smile. Slowly over time, the fog will clear and you will know what is going on. It’s incredibly frustrating not to be able to chime in on a conversation because you don’t know the right words or to feel isolated in the midst of a large crowd. Don’t worry- just smile and try your best because it will get easier.IMG_5460.JPG

6. The little things are what count the most- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or even bored, add a little unnecessary sparkle to your life to cheer yourself up. For instance, I was down and out about my pathetic German skills the other day so I bought a bouquet of fresh peonies (my favorite flower) for my nightstand. You wouldn’t believe the wonders fresh flowers can do for your mood! Every time I glanced at them I was reminded of how beautiful life is and how luck I am to be living it. And POOF…German failure completely forgotten! Little details here and there can add up to something significant.IMG_5442.JPG

7. Different, not deficit- When I first arrived, I was shocked by just how many things were different from home. My immediate reaction was to say, “That’s weird.” For instance, I learned Germans often eat a heavier meal for lunch and only a light snack for dinner. There is nothing strange about this custom what so ever, but because it was unfamiliar, I labeled it as weird. I’ve since learned to retrain myself to view things as different, not right or wrong. Just because something is different, doesn’t mean it’s worse. This practice has led to a greater appreciation of different cultures, a more open mind, and wider point of view.IMG_5419.JPG

8. Relationships back home will change- You know the saying, Out of sight, out of mind? I’ve found this to be true with some relationships, and false with others. There are times when you will miss someone so bad it hurts and feel left out or forgotten. But, there are other people from home you won’t think twice about. Neither is wrong, it’s all part of the process. Work hard to maintain the relationships you care most about, but don’t try to keep up with every single one. The ones that are the strongest are the ones that will last. Cherish them and you’ll be reunited before you know it. Chances are, you’ll pick up right where you left off!IMG_5393.JPG

9. Go ahead, ask for help- This advice is coming from little miss independent! I’m serious… I think the Kelly Clarkson song was written about me. Pre-expat Micah would never have asked for directions or help of any sort.  She would struggle with it on her own until she either succeeded or gave up. Now, though, I ask for help all the time. I don’t hesitate to ask for directions, recommendations, advice, etc.! Asking for a hand doesn’t make you look needy or incapable, but rather it makes you look humble and open-minded. It says, you obviously know your country better than I do and I would be honored if you shared it with me! IMG_5374.JPG

10. It’s ok to go it alone- I used to never do anything alone. Go ahead; ask anyone. I was the girl who needed someone to accompany her to the bathroom! Since moving abroad, however, I’ve started to love doing things by myself. I learned the hard way that if you always wait for someone else, you end up missing out on amazing opportunities. Make plans to have a solo adventure and odds are, someone will ask, Hey, can I come along? But even if they don’t, traveling/spending time alone can be wonderful. You notice details you might have missed in a larger group and it’s much easier to make new friends with other travelers or locals.IMG_1190

The expat roller coaster is certainly not easy, but it is most definitely rewarding. Choosing to live abroad is to choose a life of perseverance, humility and adventure! And it is 100% worth it. If you live abroad or are considering taking the plunge, I hope my words of wisdom and reflections have been informative and encouraging. I wish I could go back and tell my pre-expat self this advice, but in the words of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (I’m trying to be insightful and poignant here at the end), “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”IMG_5352.JPG

Strawberry Picking

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The best part of summer is that it’s filled with fun family activities and traditions. Example one: strawberry picking.

When Anne mentioned the near by strawberry fields were open for picking, I was totally on board. So we packed up the kids and what felt like the entire house, and headed out in search of some delicious Erdbeeren! Bending over, searching through leaves in the hot sun is hard work, but biting into a fresh, juicy strawberry makes it all worth it. I must admit, I became slightly obsessed with finding the perfect strawberry. As soon as I’d find one I thought was the perfect size, shape and color, I’d find one that looked just the slightest bit bigger and sweeter. This of course resulted in me eating most of them before they reached the basket!

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^He didn’t quite understand the concept of picking them to eat later. He’s more of a right now kind of guy!

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^That face though.

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^6 kilograms of strawberries. That should last us a day or two 🙂

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^High ho, high ho, it’s off to work we go! He wouldn’t let go of his bucket.

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Although my search for the perfect strawberry was destined to go unfulfilled, I still had a blast! And now I’m off to eat a slice of strawberry cake, washed down with a strawberry milkshake of course. Have a fabulous week friends.IMG_6902.JPG
^Shameless strawberry selfie.

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Hello Hamburg

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Greetings friends, thanks for dropping by! Today I’m excited to share about my recent experience in the german port city of Hamburg. Although it is the second largest city in Germany, it seems less well known than other cities like Munich and Berlin. I myself didn’t know much about it, which makes me all the happier I visited, because it is truly a gem. My friend from home joined me as part of her two month Pan-Europe adventure, which made the weekend extra special. Keep reading as I attempt to convince you to add Hamburg to your next travel itinerary!
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Speicherstadt First thing Friday morning, we took the underground to the Speicherstadt, an area of canals lined with warehouses from the late 19th/early 20th century. They continue to serve the bustling port of Hamburg today, and are as beautiful as they are functional. Confession: I may or may not have pretended to be in a historical romance movie while wandering through the area. Fun fact: Hamburg has more bridges then Amsterdam and Venice combined!

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St. Michael’s Kirche Whenever I visit a large city, I like to climb up to a view point to get a better idea of the layout of the city as a whole. The tower of St. Michael’s Kirche (church) provided the perfect outpost! We opted to take the elevator to the top instead of the stairs (#noregret) and were not disappointed by the panoramic views.
IMG_6549.JPGIMG_6589.JPGIMG_6600.JPGIMG_6619.JPGLandungsbrücken & Blankenese Next, we made our way to the main pier for passenger ships, called Landungsbrücken. It is situated on the Elbe river and is a major point of transportation for many of the city’s residents. We hoped on a commuter fairy because it was the cheapest option, and sailed up river to the neighborhood of Blankenese. Blankenese is the equivalent of Fifth Avenue in New York City or The Strand in Manhattan Beach- ornate, grandiose mansion line the beach front streets, each with a unique style and story. We loved strolling around and looking at the architecture!

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Rathaus & Alster The Rathaus, or city hall, is that incredibly designed building in the picture above. I adore the green patina roof and central clock tower, don’t you? The Rathaus is smack dab in the part of the city called the Alster, named after the Alster river that runs through it, forming two large lakes. The atmosphere in this area was electric- people shopping, eating, and exploring. We did a bit of window shopping, ate at the weekend market in front of the Rathaus, and then took a stroll around the lake to work off said food.IMG_6844.JPGIMG_6750.JPG
Breathing in the salty sea air and having deep conversations with an old friend was just what this California girl needed! Thanks Hamburg, you spoiled us!

So, have I done it? Are you ready to book a flight to Hamburg? I will join you there, because one weekend just wasn’t enough time. Speaking of time, I’d better be off. I can’t wait till we meet here again, have a great week friends!

Hamburg: A Short Film

Well hello there friends, old and new! I recently spent a weekend in the city of Hamburg, Germany. Although Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany, it doesn’t seem to receive as much attention or recognition as other german cities like Munich or Berlin. I honestly didn’t know what to expect going into the trip, a position I actually prefer, as it leaves room to be blown away. And Hamburg definitely blew my socks off! Now I’m determined to put Hamburg on the map and convince you of its greatness. I’m in the process of writing a post all about my trip, complete with three billion photos, but here is a little video I put together to tide you over until then. Enjoy!

Edinburgh: A City Guide

Hi there! If you haven’t noticed, I love to write…which is good because I’m a creative writing major. I try and practice my craft as often as possible to sharpen my skills. I also love to read blogs, so when an opportunity to guest post for another blog arose, I jumped at the chance. I recently shared a city guide for Edinburgh on the blog Land of Marvels as a part of their Destinations series, in which they interview travelers to glean their tips and tricks for visiting a particular location. I thought you might enjoy reading it as well, especially if a trip to Edinburgh is in your future. So here ya’ go:

Hello friends, my name is Micah Lambert, the voice behind the travel blog Passports and Paintbrushes. I am a California native currently living abroad in Germany. I am a  university student studying Creative Writing and German, and my blog is a place where both these passions converge. When I have a moment to spare, chances are I’m traveling as far and as long as my college budget will allow! Today, I’m excited to share a bit about my experience in the stunning city of Edinburgh, Scotland, and offer some helpful tips for your future visit. Here we go!

Why Edinburgh?
Ever since watching the movie Braveheart, Scotland has possessed a magical quality in my mind (and Mel Gibson too, for that matter!). I spent years imagining it- vast landscapes filled with dramatic mountains, deep valleys, and mysterious lakes. I’d spent so much time dreaming about Scotland, that when the chance arose to actually visit, I was hesitant. Would it live up to my larger than life expectations? Well friends, I’m happy to report Scotland not only met my expectations, but exceeded them ten fold! Scotland reminded me of England in many ways, but definitely has its own unique, spunky atmosphere and culture. If you are looking for adventure, inspiration, and beauty, Edinburgh is the place for you, Lassie!

Transportation
As a college student, I try to stretch my money as far as possible while still having an enjoyable experience. Once I set my sights on Edinburgh, I began researching every possible option for transportation. There are a number of low-cost European airlines that fly into Edinburgh, such as Ryan Air or Easy Jet, in addition to larger airlines. I ended up booking a flight from Cologne, German to Edinburgh via the budget airline German Wings, and was very satisfied with the experience.Upon arrival, I took the AirLink Bus 100 from the airport into the city center. It is about a 35 minute ride and costs 4.50 pounds each way. If you’re having trouble finding flights into Edinburgh within your price range or time line, flying into Glasgow and taking a bus to Edinburgh is another valid option.


Accommodations
Finding a place to rest your head in a foreign city can be a daunting task! Luckily, it’s nearly impossible to stay in a ‘bad part’ of Edinburgh, because there really are no bad parts. That being said, it is one of the more expensive cities I’ve traveled to, so you might have to make a few compromises on location or other amenities. I opted to stay at the Castle Rock Hostel, appropriately named for its location directly next to the Edinburgh castle in Old Town! I stayed two nights, and payed 30 pounds total for a four person room. If hostels are not your style, there is no shortage of hotels and Airbnb’s in the city. If staying in Old Town is not within your budget, New Town is also a wonderful option, as the city is fairly condensed and has a great bus network.


Must See Spots
Unfortunately, I was only able to visit for two days over a weekend. Try as I did, I just couldn’t fit in everything on my to-do list! So I’m going to recommend a few things I did enjoy, and a few things I’m sure I would have enjoyed had I found the time.

  • The Elephant House Cafe– As a self proclaimed Harry Potter fan, the first thing I did upon arrival was eat lunch at the Elephant House Cafe, where J.K. Rowling wrote large portions of the early Harry Potter novels. After a warm cup of coffee, hop on over to GrayFriar’s Cemetery directly behind the cafe, and see if you can spot some tomb stones that inspired a few Harry Potter character names (Hint: one of them is He who shall not be named).
  • Arthur’s Seat– Arthur’s Seat is a large dormant volcano in the heart of Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park. It is just a short walk from old town, but takes about an hour to hike from the base to the summit. The entire journey offers spectacular panoramic views of the city and harbor. Standing on the summit of Arthur’s Seat was one of the my favorite abroad memories. No joke.
  • Edinburgh Castle– The castle sits perched atop a mountain in the heart of Old Town- you can’t miss it! Unfortunately, we were not able to take a tour or even walk the grounds because of our limited time. So please, tour the castle and post lots of pictures to Instagram so I can live vicariously through you!
  • The National Museum of ScotlandThis museum is one of the most popular in Scotland, and is located in the heart of Old Town. The exhibits focus on the story of Scotland from prehistory to modern day, as well as the story of our natural planet. Again, we unfortunately were not able to visit this museum, but it’s first on the list when I return.


What to Pack
I visited in late March, during the height of the rainy season, although pretty much every season in Edinburgh is rainy! Be sure to pack an umbrella and/or rain jacket and have it on you at all times, as the weather can change on a dime. It hovered around 10 degrees Celsius during the day and dipped as low as 2 degrees Celsius at night. I wore my winter jacket the whole time, and I would recommend packing a scarf and hat as well. If you forget, you can always buy a famous Plaid wool scarf for a fashionable and functional souvenir. The warmest season to visit it June through August, with little rain and long daylight hours. Oh, and throw in a pair of tennis shoes/hiking boots if you plan on conquering Arthur’s Seat!

Anything Else?
I decided to sacrifice one of my precious days in Edinburgh for a tour of the Highlands (#noregret). I used this company, and was very happy with the experience. Be warned: it is an all day affair with lots of sitting time, but the views out the window will keep you entertained! My particular tour visited, among others: Glen Coe, Ben Nevis View, Fort Augustus, Woodland park, and Loch Ness, where I’m 99.9% sure I spotted Nessie. The average going-price for a highlands tour is around 50 Pounds.

Well friends, can you tell how passionate I am about this city? Thanks so much for reading, and I hope these tips will help you optimize your time in Edinburgh. But most of all, I hope my words have inspired you to start dreaming up your next travel adventure, where ever that may be. This world is full of beautiful secrets, and it’s our job to discover them!

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The end (cue curtain). What did you think? Are you itching to hop on a plane to Edinburgh? Did I represent this little blog well? You can read the post on Land of Marvels here.

Have a great day friends, meet you back here soon.