Amsterdam: the Fun Side

Here I am in Amsterdam!

April in Amsterdam
“A” is for “April” … and also Amsterdam πŸ™‚

One of my missions while in Amsterdam was to eat at Dunkin Donuts. I was surprised to see how fancy the donuts are.

dunkin donuts amsterdam
Cookie Monster and smiley faces … whaaaat?! So fancy!

We went to a place called the Cheese Museum, where you can freely sample all different kinds of cheeses. It was heaven.

colored cheese

My friend took me on the commuter ferry at night so I could see a different view of the city. πŸ™‚ It was lovely.

night ferry amsterdam
Amsterdam at night

My friend claims I made her walk through the red light district twelve times a day. (She is exaggerating somewhat.) In my defense, the red light district is centrally located and we had to cut through it to get to other places. πŸ˜‰ Riiiiight …

Wild nights. #amsterdam

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

condoms amsterdam
Who says safe sex can’t be fun?
magic mushrooms
I did not go in here …
sex palace amsterdam

Thoughts and observations about Amsterdam …

  • Like Sweden, bikes are EVERYWHERE! Be careful when you are crossing the street.
  • Getting to the city center from the airport is super easy via train and only costs around 5 Euro.
  • The Anne Frank Museum (see: Monday’s post) sells out weeks in advance, so plan way ahead if you want to visit.

Side note: I visited both the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, but found myself wanting to just absorb everything and not be concerned with taking photos. I think I saw most of Van Gogh, but the Rijksmuseum is huge! I could return and see things I didn’t on my first trip.

Amsterdam: the Serious Side

I spent last weekend in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and wanted to share some highlights of my trip with all of you. Rather than break my trip into chronological order, I decided to show the serious side and then the fun side of the city. I did not want to post my photos of my visit to the Anne Frank house alongside my photos of Amsterdam’s red light district.

So, on the serious side … (Some of my observations may seem kind of obvious, but I really did not know much about the city or country before I visited.)

My friend and I took a guided canal boat tour around Amsterdam on my first afternoon there. I may have fallen asleep for part of it (I’d had an early flight, and the boat was so soothing!) but I did manage to learn a good deal about the city.

house boat amsterdam
House boat

If this hadn’t been pointed out on the tour I’m not sure I would have noticed it on my own, but many buildings in Amsterdam are pitched forward or crooked. That’s because the city was built on filled-in swamp land, and the houses rest on sand (and they shift). Once I learned this, I could not stop seeing crooked buildings everywhere!

leaning building amsterdam
Notice how the red-roofed building leans forward from its neighbor.

Houses in Amsterdam tend to be tall and steep, and many buildings have hooks hanging from the roofs to help move furniture up through the windows.

Amsterdam moving hook
Moving hook

I also learned that the Neterlands is the world’s largest exporter of petrol, even though they don’t produce petrol.

Furthermore, I learned that Amsterdam is below sea level. Gates have been constructed out in the water to keep the North Sea from flooding the city.

amsterdam canal
A canal at night


“Most parents don’t know, really, their children.” — Otto Frank

My friend and I visited the Anne Frank House the next day. As you might know from reading her story, the annex where she and her family and four other Jews hid was raided after two years and they were split up and sent to different concentration camps. Only Otto Frank, Anne’s father, survived. The picture that moved me most was of Otto Frank as an older man and was taken when he went back to see the annex many years later (around 1979?). I will never forget the image of him standing in profile, looking at the empty attic where his family had hidden.

anne frank
Anne Frank House Museum
anne frank photos
Anne Frank
bookcase anne frank
Bookcase that hid the annex

The museum’s final exhibit is a video montage of different public figures talking about what Anne Frank’s story has meant to them. As actress Emma Thompson said: “Her would-haves are our real possibilities.”

Friday Gratitude: 15th Country

Hello! I had a BLAST in Amsterdam last weekend. The Netherlands is the 15th country I have visited (if you count Canada and the Bahamas).

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Amsterdam (though it probably helped that my friend lives there and knew all kinds of great things to show me). Amsterdam was never on my list of desired places to visit, because I unfairly assumed it wouldn’t appeal to a straight-laced person like me. However, it is a city of unusual contradictions … it is liberal (sex! drugs!) but also highly cultured. I visited both the Van Gogh and the Riks Museum in one afternoon and there was so much to see, I know I could return and have a different experience next time. I can’t imagine anyone could be bored in Amsterdam. The city offers something for everyone.

After having lived in Eastern Europe for a year and a half, whenever I visit the west I am 1) shocked by how expensive things are and 2) amazed by how delicious the food is. While in Amsterdam I ate: a burrito, Chinese food, a burger and fries, sushi, pancakes, Dunkin Donuts and waffles. I think my friend was alarmed by how much I ate. (Gotta shore up the fat reserves for the months to come!)


So, this week I have been feeling gratitude for Amsterdam and for the opportunity to visit my friend, whom I hadn’t seen in ten months. On my first afternoon in the city, I was so engrossed in our conversation that hours went by before I realize I hadn’t lifted my head to look at the city. πŸ™‚ Oops.

On my way to Amsterdam, I saw this ridiculousness at the airport. WHO BUYS PERFUME FOR A BABY?!?


Also, because I was traveling I missed Kosovo’s 10th Independence Day celebration. As soon as I arrived in Pristina, I went right to the Newborn sign to see its new design. Urime, Kosovo!

Media consumption this week …

  • I finally saw The Phantom Thread! I didn’t like it much … it was mediocre, boring, mildly creepy. Based on the trailer, I didn’t think I would like it, but as it is rumored to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film, I was determined to see it.
  • I saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It was violent, dark, and funny all at the same time. I’d recommend seeing it if you can handle being disturbed.
  • I’ve been doing bad at reading lately (and this after reading 62 books last year!) I’m in the middle of a long book I don’t know if I’ll finish, and I have since started two others. We’ll see how it all pans out …

My parents sent me an awesome care package that arrived on Thursday. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

care package

My friend in Amsterdam gave me the brilliant idea to publish professional articles on LinkedIn regarding my observations of Kosovo as a social worker. I published my first article the other day. If you would like to read it, click here.

Happy Friday! Stay tuned for next week. Monday and Wednesday’s posts will be all about Amsterdam! πŸ™‚

Crochted Christmas Lights

Crocheted Christmas Lights
Crocheted Christmas Lights

My mom recently told me about a cute crochet project she’d seen — Christmas Lights! I decided to make some for her as a surprise (but then I ruined the surprise by telling her about them).

I followed this easy pattern. The project was easy, just a bit slow and tedious. I am pretty happy with the end result, though.

A string of crocheted Christmas lights
I don’t have a mantle …
Crocheted bulb
For scale

Umm … Merry Christmas in February?

Christmas, Christmas time is here …

Market in Tirana, Albania

I took these photos a while ago but never got around to posting them. I visited a farmer’s market the last time I was in Albania. Fruits and vegetables abounded, but I was also surprised to see other goods for sale. I really wanted to buy an antique clock (isn’t the one with the owl cute?), but the 30 Euro price tag was too steep.

vintage clocks Tirana market
Antique clocks

goods for sale tirana market

Though sheep’s head soup is a delicacy, I have never seen it or had it served to me (though my host family eats mutton). I was surprised to see sheep’s heads roasting on a spit (bottom row).

roasting sheep heads Tirana Albania

I’ve had chicken cooked in a clay pot (see below) in Kosovo, and it is really good!

earthenware Tirana Albania
Clay pots for sale
orange tree Tirana market
Orange (?) tree

I am not someone who visits farmer’s markets with any regularity, but Tirana’s is small, clean, not at all crowded, and had a variety of foods and goods for sale. I will definitely be back!

Friday Gratitude: In Amsterdam

Hi! I am in Amsterdam! Yay! I am here for the long weekend (tomorrow is Kosovo’s 10th anniversary of independence, hence, no school on Monday) to visit a friend. Expect an Amsterdam-related blog post or two in the coming weeks.

During this time last year, I was going through a long depression. I told myself that this winter, I would take a trip over independence day weekend in order to break up my service time more effectively. πŸ™‚

Also, I was especially excited to learn that Amsterdam has Dunkin’ Donuts. DD’s Valentine’s Day donuts are my FAVORITE, and I didn’t get one last year because, you know, I live in Kosovo. I don’t do drugs, but I am all for a nice sugar high. πŸ˜‰

Photo from

Media consumption this week …

  • In continuing on a Daniel Day-Lewis kick, I watched The Last of the Mohicans. I hadn’t ever seen it. I was surprised by how much I liked it.
  • I finished reading Albania’s Mountain Queen. I have so much to say I’m going to write a future blog post about it.

I hope you all enjoyed Wednesday’s “Love Letter” for Valentine’s Day. Writing the letter and filming the video put me in such a good mood. You all have done so much for me and it was a joy to reflect on the people I know and love and can count on for support.

I read a lovely speech about love on author Neil Gaiman’s blog. Here are a few of my favorite parts:

“… there are beasts in the night, and delight and pain,
and the only thing that makes it okay, sometimes,
is to reach out a hand in the darkness and find another hand to squeeze,

and not to be alone.”

Somebody knows your worst self and somehow doesn’t want to rescue you or send for the army to rescue them.”

“…Β it’s a road you can only learn by walking it,
a dance you cannot be taught,
a song that did not exist before you began, together, to sing.”

— Neil Gaiman

Love and thanks to all of you! Have a happy weekend! Talk to you on Monday.

An Open Love Letter to My Family and Friends

“The way I feel is the way I write.” — Jose Gonzalez, Stay Alive

Happy Valentine’s Day to my family and friends. I wrote an open love letter to you all to thank you for seeing me through my Peace Corps service so far. (Sorry that the video’s volume is so soft. I suggest plugging in your headphones if you need to!)

If you’d like to skip ahead and only watch your part of the video, here are the time markers:

Mom (0:12)
Dad (0:25)
Kris (0:50)
Grandpa (1:10)
Aunt Nancy and Uncle Dave, Matt, Aunt Pat, and Aunt Tina (1:30)
Lisa (1:45)
Whitney (2:20)
Nicole (2:42)
Katie from Oakland (3:08)
Pauline (3:21)
Dana (3:40)
Katie from Chicago (4:00)
Jocelyn, Erica, Nina and Kristin (4:11)
Patrick, Lily, and Josh (4:29)
Heather (4:40)
Miriam (4:51)
Anna, Peg, Mary, Renee, and Paul (5:01)
Cheryl, Jodie, Shelby, Denise, Jennifer and Vandana (5:10)
Kushtrim (5:25)
Sierra (5:48)
Chelsea (6:06)
Chester (6:30)
Christian (6:56)
Val (7:11)
Charlie (7:29)
Todd (7:42)
Stephanee (7:54)
SJ (8:10)
Ingrid and Emily (8:17)
My entire cohort (8:29)
Blog readers (8:40)

Happy Valentine’s Day! πŸ™‚