Amsterdam: the Fun Side

Here I am in Amsterdam!

April in Amsterdam
“A” is for “April” … and also Amsterdam 🙂

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. 🙂 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. 😉 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.

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Anne Frank House Museum
anne frank photos
Anne Frank
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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.”

Belgrade, Serbia

I was able to spend part of my time off school traveling to Belgrade, Serbia. Three major highlights were the Nikola Tesla museum, the Church of St. Sava, and the Belgrade fortress.

Belgrade 1
Tromp L’oeil
Belgrade 4
Pretty morning light
Belgrade 2
Republic Square, Belgrade
Belgrade 3
Republic Square, evening

“The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone; that is the secret of invention. Be alone; that is when ideas are born.” — Nikola Tesla

Tesla 4
Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade
Tesla 1
Nikola Tesla
Tesla 5
Tesla’s belongings
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More of Tesla’s belongings
Tesla 2
Energy demonstration
Tesla 3
Coil, Tesla Museum
Sava 3
St. Sava Cathedral description
Sava 1
St. Sava Cathedral
Sava 2
St. Sava Cathedral
fortress 1
Belgrade fortress
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Belgrade Fortress

I greatly enjoyed my time in Belgrade, despite suffering from a massive cold. I hope I am able to go back and visit again before I leave the Balkans.

Pictures from London

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend Christmas in London with my parents. I had quickly visited London last year, so I was eager to return to the city and explore more. We spent four nights in Kensington (arriving late Saturday evening and leaving early Wednesday morning). Here’s a list of what we did:

A visit to Abbey Road
Church service at Westminster Abbey
Dinner in Highgate/ a visit to George Michael’s memorial park

Monday (Christmas Day)
Bus tour of the city

A visit to Harrod’s
A walk through Hyde Park
A ghost tour

We had a great time! For privacy’s sake, I didn’t want to post pictures of my family here. Instead, I chose a few of my best pictures from the trip to share.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
george michael memorial
George Michael memorial
christmas lights london
Christmas lights
harrods window 2017
Harrods window
magpie 2
Magpie in Hyde Park
tufted duck
Tufted duck in Hyde Park
Swans in Hyde Park

Thanks for reading! 🙂 I’ve got a few other London pictures posted on my Instagram feed.

Friday Gratitude: More Travel

This weekend, I am going to Tirana, Albania to attend a wedding. I am traveling with a bunch of Peace Corps friends, as it is a mutual friend who is getting married. While I’ve only been to three Balkan capital cities (including Pristina, Kosovo and Skopje, Macedonia), Tirana is my favorite. I flew out of the Tirana airport back in April, but I haven’t been to the city center since this time last year.

Again, I am so glad I was able to travel to Sweden this past weekend. It was a lot of travel packed into a short amount of time, but it was worth it to see Jose Gonzalez in concert. If you’d like to learn more about him, here’s a performance/interview I really like:

I am fascinated to read about the creative processes of my favorite artists, so I also really enjoyed this interview The Telegraph did with Jose Gonzalez.

When I was leaving Sweden last Saturday morning, I saw this bus go by. I was amused by the name. (This bus is “angered.”) 🙂

angered bus in Sweden

Also, I am glad to have some point of reference for Sweden beyond just Ikea and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Visiting did little to dispel my idea that it is utopia, though. Gothenburg is a beautiful, clean, bike-friendly city full of beautiful, friendly people.

Sweden was the ninth country I have been to this year. I hadn’t done much international travel before joining the Peace Corps, and I am so grateful I’m able to do so now.

On another note, my parents are on their care package game! I got this in the mail this week. 🙂 Thank you, Mom and Dad!

peace corps care package

Media consumption (a combo from the last few weeks):

  • My friend, Lisa, suggested I read Eleanor and Park. It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. It is a teenage love story, which is not something I’d normally read. However, the characters were believable and likable. The story was great.
  • When news of a Billy Idol autobiography came out a few years ago, I got really excited. Then I forgot to read the book. I finally did! It was an interesting, honest account of his life and musical journey. He really does not pull any punches.

Okay, I am off to Tirana! If you’d like to read more about my previous trip there, you can read these posts:

My friend, Val, and me in Tirana last November


Two Days in Gothenburg, Sweden: Day Two

Things I did in Gothenburg, Sweden, day two:

  • Ate my free breakfast at Hotel Royal (best spread I’ve ever seen at a hotel free breakfast)
  • Walked to the Opera House to make sure I knew how to get there
  • Stopped at Cafe Husaran for one of their famous giant cinnamon rolls
  • Visited the Gothenburg Museum of Art
  • Ate lunch at Feskekorka (literally, the “fish church”)
  • Visited Nordstan Mall
  • Had a bowl of tomato soup at a cafe a block away from my hotel
  • Saw Jose Gonzalez in concert! (My reason for the whole trip!)

(Keep reading for some tips and observations about Gothenburg, Sweden.)

sunrise in gothenburg sweden
Sunrise, Gothenburg, Sweden
The North Sea
bikes in sweden
So many bikes in Gothenburg, Sweden!
broken lion dog
Aww … what happened here?
Cafe Husaran Goteborg Sweden
Inside Cafe Husaran, where I ate a giant cinnamon roll
stripper pole art sweden
Gothenburg Museum of Art
Edvard Munch Vampyre
Edvard Munch Vampyre
Patrik Adiene Altarpiece
Patrik Adiene Altarpiece
art sweden
Olof Sager-Nelson Nocturne
Olof Sager-Nelson Nocturne … or as I call it, “Mew Mew Kitty”
feskekorka sweden goteborg
Inside Feskekorka fish market … it is actually pretty small
feskekorka gothenburg sweden
Mmm, fish
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Ship in Gothenburg, Sweden, across from the Opera House
Gothenburg Opera House … about to see Jose Gonzalez perform for the first time!
Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 2
Third row from the stage … Jose Gonzalez!
Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 1
Jose Gonzalez performing with String Theory

I first started listening to Jose Gonzalez’s music a few years ago. Bored with all my music, I asked my work husband, Paul, who I should be listening to and he said, “Jose Gonzalez.” I’ve been a fan ever since. His music has come to mean so much to me.

Being able to see an artist I admire perform live is something I appreciate. You can’t watch your favorite writers write, and unless your favorite actor happens to be in a play, you can’t watch them perform live, either. Music is amazing because you can actually watch an artist at work.

Also, Jose Gonzalez sings in English, so I was curious to see if he would address the audience in English or in Swedish. (Answer: in Swedish)

Tips and Observations about Gothenburg, Sweden, Day Two:

  • Hotel Royal provided the best free breakfast I’ve ever had at a hotel. I ate: homemade bread with nuts and berries, a piece of herring, two pieces of salmon with dill sauce, and yogurt topped with walnuts, cranberries, and seeds. Yum!
  • There is tons of public transportation available in Gothenburg. The city is also very bike friendly. There are bike lanes and public transit tracks everywhere. I was afraid to wear headphones while I was walking because I had a real fear of getting run over.
  • This is the first vacation I have ever taken alone. I wasn’t sure how I would like it. I felt lonely at times, but there are bonuses to traveling alone, too. I was able to do whatever I wanted, and change plans on a whim.
  • But … I forgot to take any pictures of myself in Sweden! In my only selfie, my face is blocked by a giant cinnamon roll (which you can see on my Instagram feed).
  • I didn’t know Sweden is famous for giant cinnamon rolls until I started planning this trip. The woman at Cafe Husaran suggested a quarter-size portion, but I declined. (Lady, don’t you know I need to Instagram this?)
  • Admission to the Gothenburg Museum of Art was only 400 Kronor (4 Euro). Once again, I appreciate Europe’s commitment to making art accessible to the general public. (In contrast, general admission to the Art Institute of Chicago is $25.)
  • I wanted oysters for lunch at Feskekorka, but they were too expensive. I settled on a much more reasonably-priced lunch of cold salmon + pasta salad + can of sparkling water, for the equivalent of 10 Euro.
  • Another sweeping generalization of Swedish people: They are really tall. I’m 5’9″ and am usually taller than most women. Not so in Sweden … I’d say I was on the shorter side of average there. I was so excited to be in the third row of the Jose Gonzalez concert, but then a monstrously tall woman sat in front of me. :-/ I let it irritate me more than I probably should have …
  • I am glad I brought my heaviest coat for the trip. The first day was mild, beautiful autumn weather. But, the second day was blustery cold and drizzling at times.
  • I don’t know if Nordstan Mall is always busy, but when I went on Friday afternoon, it was jam-packed, wall-to-wall people. I only stayed for half an hour and then I just couldn’t even.
  • While “hey” is a greeting English speakers use, it is pretty informal. “Hej” in Sweden seems to be used in more formal situations. It startled me every time someone greeted me with “hej” or “hej hej.” I would respond with hello, which was also my way of warning everyone: I AM AN ENGLISH SPEAKER. I AM ABOUT TO HIT YOU WITH SOME ENGLISH. I’ve commented on this before … it is amazing how many people in Europe speak English. Every person with whom I interacted in Sweden spoke English well.
  • I think I hit most of the major tourist attractions in Gothenburg in just two days. If I’d had more time, maybe I would have liked to take a boat trip out to sea. But I really do think two days was enough time there.

Two Days in Gothenburg, Sweden: Day One

Things I did in Gothenburg, Sweden, day one:

  • Took the bus from the airport to my hotel.
  • Ate Swedish meatballs!
  • Took pictures at a cemetery.
  • Visited Liseberg amusement park.
  • Walked through a park.
  • Went to Myrorna thrift store.
  • Went on a long walk through the city.
  • Stopped at a cafe.
  • Stopped at Flying Tiger Copenhagen store.
  • Ate elk for dinner at Smaka.

(Keep reading for tips and observations about my first day in Gothenburg, Sweden.)

gothenburg sweden from plane
View from the plane
Processed with MOLDIV
Near my hotel … on the hunt for Swedish meatballs!
gothenburg sweden 1
Another view …
gothenburg sweden 2
Cute sidewalk display
svenska kyrkan
Svenska Kyrkan
svenska kyrkan 2
View of Liseberg amusement park from Svenska Kyrkan
liseberg goteborg sweden halloween
Halloween display at Liseberg amusement park
tobleron roulet
Toblerone Roulet game
liseberg sweden
Liseberg amusement park
gothia towers goteborg sweden
View of Gothia Towers
Halloween liseberg sweden
More Halloween decorations at Liseberg Amusement Park
park gothenburg sweden
Enjoying the last bits of fall color
park gothenburg sweden 1
Walking through a park in Gothenburg, Sweden
fish church sweden
View of Feskekorka “fish church” (I ate here the next day)
cool building gothenburg sweden
Cool building, Gothenburg, Sweden
violin maker gothenburg sweden
An actual violin maker … WHAT?!?
flying tiger copenhagen
Flying Tiger Copenhagen (similar to Five Below)

Some tips and observations about Gothenburg, Sweden:

  • For my trip, I created a custom Google map following this tutorial. It really helped me visually lay out the city and plan what I wanted to do based on proximity. This is probably the only time I’ve been on vacation where I didn’t get lost once.
  • Getting into Gothenburg from Landvetter airport was super easy. I bought a round-trip ticket at a kiosk at the airport ($23 USD), walked outside, got on the bus, and it took off. The bus driver was the nicest bus driver I’ve ever met. (I’m used to Chicago bus drivers, who are a bit … salty.) My hotel, which was centrally located, was near the third stop (Kungsportsplaten).
  • Since I was only spending two nights in Gothenburg, I splurged on a nice hotel, Hotel Royal (which I highly recommend).
  • Other than gettting to/from the airport, I did not use public transportation. I traveled everywhere on foot.
  • I had read about a food truck that served Swedish meatballs near my hotel. I went to one that didn’t have meatballs, and was kindly directed to another one nearby.
  • During the bus ride from the airport, I saw a beautiful old church and cemetery, so I walked back to take pictures. (I realize I post a lot of church and cemetery pictures to this blog … I don’t consider myself particularly interested in either, but maybe I am? They’re easy to take good photos of, I guess.)
  • Liseberg amusement park is a main attraction in Gothenburg. It is only open during the summer, Halloween, and Christmas. So, I got lucky and was able to visit. I was hoping to see kids in costume (struck out … no one was dressed up). I wanted to visit the haunted house but I was too wimpy to go alone. 😦 Instead, I rode the ferris wheel. 🙂
  • I try to avoid making sweeping generalizations about groups of people. But, MY GOD, Swedish people are beautiful! (Imagine being surrounded by friendly super models, and you’ll know what my life was like for two days.) The man who waited on me at amusement park ticket office was the most beautiful man I have ever seen. I wanted to be like, “Sir, why do you work here? You are better looking than any movie star I can think of.”
  • I visited Myrorna, a thrift shop I had read about in an online travel guide. I had visions of finding beautiful Scandinavian items at a fraction of the cost, but Myrorna was like the Salvation Army back at home. I guess no matter where you are in the world, other people’s junk is just … other people’s junk. A woman made a comment to me in Swedish about the merchandise. I pretended I understood her and laughed along with her. 🙂
  • I later walked by a store called Flying Tiger Copenhagen and ended up buying an impromptu gift for someone. If I were to compare the store to one in the U.S., I’d say it was similar to Five Below.
  • I was feeling extremely full after my lunch of Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and ligonberries. I’d made a reservation at a nice restaurant called Smaka in the hope of getting to eat reindeer (I had elk instead). I wasn’t feeling up to another heavy meal of meat and potatoes, but I am glad I made myself go. I had a really nice time. I re-read parts of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Myrorna was mentioned! Haha!) and enjoyed a nice meal alone. Elk is very mild. It almost has no flavor. My favorite part of the meal was the whipped butter with caviar that was brought out with my bread basket. Holy cow … I ate all of it (the butter, not the bread basket). I had heard that dining out in Sweden is super expensive, but the total cost for my meal (elk entree + a glass of wine + a tip) was about 320 Kronor (32 Euro), which I thought was reasonable. It was the fanciest meal I had during my trip.

Stay tuned for more about my trip!