Ad Astra Par Avon

We are all hunters and gatherers.  That has never changed, only the tools, techniques and territories have changed. The knapped spear exchanged for the razor-edge of a Visa card, the minute examination of spoor and trail for internet searches and advertising, and the wide savanna for the dark forest of the modern mall.  I have been hunting a strange and magical beast, a fine and rare descendant of the unicorn and the white stag.

I have been looking for air mail paper.

My quarry is as anachronistic as our need to hunt. Why should anyone bother with a special ultra-light, ultra-thin paper when you could just as easily send an email?  If you did go to all the time and bother, would you actually save any money on postage once you found it?

Well, no, of course you wouldn’t. That isn’t the point though.

The point is about connection. Just as shopping satisfies a primal need to go out and gather stuff for a winter that never comes, my quest is about satisfying the need for an analog connection in a digital age. As the shopping mall can only be explained by the childhood of humankind, my unusual need for a thin, lightweight, blue-tinted handwriting medium goes back to childhood.  Specifically, when I was twelve and I hated writing.

It hurt my fingers and was too slow for my thoughts.  It was a mess.  It was boring.

Then, tired of decoding thirty 6th grade reports on raccoons that might have been written by them, my biology teacher started excepting typed assignments. Then English teachers.  Then every class but math required typed pages, and I would happily toil at the family Commodore 64 for hours.  All over the nation, the clacking of keys and the machine gun of dot matrix printer replaced the scratching of the scholar’s pen. Handwritten letters became a curiosity, a mysterious artifact associated with the bizarre pad of unlined paper underneath grandmother’s sewing basket.

Her pad of air mail paper.

Flash forward 10 years. I know what email is, but I can’t afford an account. My printer is still a dot matrix, and my computer goes to the land of dividing by zero with a puff of blue smoke and a stench of burning electrical cable.  A new computer costs more than my (very) used car, but a pack of lined paper is a buck, and there’s usually a cheap ballpoint or the other somewhere in the sofa cushions.

That’s how it started.  Flash forward 10 years. Again.

I’m walking through the deepest of deep forests. Fabulous creatures jostle, laugh and greet each other in the most beautiful of the Germanic languages. They are all hunters here, in the great Kalverstraat shopping district, natives who know their quarry well, upscale fashion, accessories, electronics, the glaring white of the local Apple Store ™.  My feet slap ancient cobbles, steering towards the last address on my list, a store recommended by online antiquarians.

I cross the Singel at Huidenstraat, and by Wolvenstraat I’ve escaped the hyperconcentrated mall, into it’s forbear, the ring of concentric canals that hold Amsterdam’s hidden cafes and specialty shops. The vendors selling pancakes, vlaamse frites and ice-cream I put behind me. Cortina Paper closes at five, and I don’t want to be late.

The shop wears a 17th century mask. The entire neighborhood does. Outside of the shopping center, the row buildings link hands and make believe that they were all built at the same time, with only minor changes of facade, shades of brick and number of windows to reflect the ever changing footing of tax codes and landowners.

Inside are glass shelves and Danish Modern furniture.  Three levels tastefully decorated carry the entire Moleskin ™ product line, from the smallest pocket cahier to large folios of specialty paper marketed towards the professional watercolorist.  The basement filled itself with arabesque fantasies in wrapping paper, the upstairs held bound blanks of varying type, in Italian leather and English cloth, lying flat or bound tightly, for diaries, journals and photographic albums.

And set into the rear wall, were shelves of calligraphic papers in various thicknesses, weights and qualities.  I recognized brands previously known to me only by Ebay posts advertising yellowed half-empty boxes found in disused attics and estate sales. Here they are ready for the calligrapher’s pen or the typewriter hobbyist’s gilded age Underwood.  None of it, as far as I could tell, bearing the distinctive blue tint of my quarry, so I waited as the owner wrapped expensive German-made business calendars and answered extensive telephone calls in Dutch.

It was closing time when I asked him, “do you have anything like air mail paper?”


“It’s very thin and light, about 30 grams per square meter,” I was distracted, remembering the metric equivalent of nine pound bond.

“Yes, I do.”

“For saving on out of country postage”

“Right this way.”

It was right there, on the second floor, at the back, on one of the glass shelves, reflected in the mirror. My eyes had played over it a hundred times while I had made the rounds, waiting: Pelletier. Air Mail Paper. A picture of a Concorde. The top several packs where white, but on the bottom there were four in the traditional sky-blue.

“I am sorry, the envelopes, they are gone from the earth. I found these in—“ he said a word in Dutch. “In the Waterlooplein?”

“The flea market?”

“Yes, the market. Another shop closed and sold this, their remaining old stock.”

I bought them.

The commercial portion of our relationship concluded, we got to talking.  He told me how ten years ago, there was only two shelves of paper meant for correspondence, for the formal occasions of weddings and graduations.  There were eight shelves now, and he carried hand-tooled Italian leather journals, stitched by a master bookbinder. He could only order two a year, they went for €200 each and were sold out.

“There is something different, something special about writing on paper, with your hand,” he said. “Something that people like.”

“Something more real?”

“Something more special.”

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Eating Veggie in the Netherlands: Reflecting on a Month Long Stay

Food has always been my favorite part of traveling: its a fantastic chance to try new things, make new friends and really experience a culture. Unfortunately, not all restaurants and food establishments are as understanding about particular kinds of food restrictions.

Being vegetarian in Europe is not always easy, which makes the Netherlands a pleasant surprise. There are many options, and the discriminating vegetarian can easily sift out the mediocre from the great with a little bit of trial and error or inside knowledge. Here’s my look over a month of food in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the surrounding areas.

Grocery Stores and Bakeries

Grocery stores always carry good vegetarian food including salads, cheese, bread and other staples for cheap. They were my fall back plan for any meal, especially on the days I checked my bank account balance. However: Beware! They’re closed on Sundays, as in many European countries, and they don’t stay open as late as restaurants. Even as a seasoned European traveler, I still somehow forget and take American grocery store hours for granted. In general, grocery stores are smaller in Europe as well, and have a more limited selection. My best advice: diversify! Try all of the grocery stores in the area because they are sure to carry different kinds of things beyond the basics.

Bakeries were my other basic fail-safe, especially because they’re quite a bit cheaper than the usual American counterpart. I am always a fan of fresh bread, and they also have croissants, sweets and other delicious options. My bakery staples included cheese filled croissants, apple turnovers and fresh rolls. For me, Bakeries are the best quick lunch stop while on the go: they’re fast, filling and sure to be somewhere in any neighborhood.

Fast Food: Familiar, Frugal and/or Fantastic

Many of the familiar faces of fast food establishments from the US have made it across the pond. I have it on good authority that they even taste better because European food regulations are stricter than the US equivalent. McDonald’s and Burger King don’t have too much for veggies to eat, but Subway is one place you can count on in the Netherlands. The “make-your-own-sandwich” idea is pretty new to Europe, which has made Subway pretty successful and widespread.

The “make-your-own” theme does pop up elsewhere, and often quite deliciously. The Netherlands, especially Rotterdam, has a bunch of little wok shops that do made-to-order stir fry with a variety of veggies, meats, sauces and bases. I found one particular one called *Daily Wok which was my personal all-around winner for most-visited restaurant! Where most of the “make-your-own-wok” places had primarily meat stuff, the Daily Wok had all of that and a fantastic mix of seasonal fresh vegetables. While we were there this included cucumbers, bean sprouts, Chinese cabbage, carrots, zucchini leeks…and probably a few others I cant remember. They had four bases: udon noodles, thin noodles, rice and fried rice. They also had pineapple, cashews, egg, tofu and several meats and fish as extras. Finally, the peanut sauce was simply to die for! One wok order was about 5-6 Euros and was a lot of food. This place certainly gave the most bang for the buck.

Another favorite staple of fast food in the Netherlands is “Frites” or French Fries. Every place will have the European-standard of mayo sauce or curry-catchup, but usually there are other options. I’d suggest trying them all, and even in various combinations.

Finally, our second-most-visited, cheap-but-yummy food sort was Turkish food. Like Germany, the Netherlands has quite a few Turkish immigrants and with them come what Americans might know as “gyros.” I’ve never been able to get a handle on the English pronunciation, but the Germans and Netherlanders call it Doener. Doenner is basically cobbled together meat thats roasted and cut to add to sandwiches or into tortilla wraps. While that has never interested me, the places that sell the stuff also often have either falafel, feta cheese or both. Both of those make fantastic sandwiches and wraps. My personal favorite is the falafel, which is one of my favorite foods when made truly fresh.

Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for a place called “Maoz”, an affordable all-vegetarian chain that sells fantastic and fresh falafel. They also have a bar to which you get to add your own selection of veggies and sauces. Amsterdam has several, though I never saw one in Rotterdam.


The Netherlands is a land full of immigrants, and with immigrants comes a great variety of food. The Netherlands gives a huge range of possibilities, from Italian, to Turkish, to Mediterranean, to Asian, African, Dutch, French, International and so forth. Most if not all of these kinds of food have some sort of vegetarian options. Indeed, I only found one or two restaurants that actually didn’t have anything vegetarian. However, a good third of the restaurants I found had mostly meat dishes, and I learned the hard way that a restaurant which specializes in meat sometimes only does mediocre without it. Generally, I had much more reliable successes with restaurants that had many vegetarian options on the menu.

Big cities in the Netherlands, and often in the rest of Europe, sometimes have all-vegetarian restaurants. In Amsterdam the group found a restaurant called Bol Hoed which I never managed to get to but sounded fantastic. In Rotterdam, we found the Bla Bla which is some of the best food I have ever eaten. The Bla Bla was a little pricey, but absolutely worth it. All-Vegetarian restaurants are absolutely worth checking for!

Epilogue: Desert!

Desert is not to be ignored! The Netherlands has some specialties of its own but also many imported from around the world.

First and foremost: the Stroopwafel. Stroopwafels are fantastic little thin waffles that are cut in half and then glued back together with honey. Needless to say, they’re delicious, and one should not leave the country without trying them!

Next up: Pannekoeken, or Dutch pancakes. These are thin and eggy, somewhat like crepes, and filled with a myriad of different things from cheese to bacon to sugar. Like crepes, these are only sometimes desert, but my personal bias shows through here: in my opinion they’re best covered in powdered sugar or chocolate…

The ever important Ice Cream section is almost exclusively Gelato as in Italy. Quite delicious, cheap and everywhere, but not the same as American ice cream. Technically, one can also buy Ben and Jerry’s through Subway but only at a high premium.

Also delicious and originally from another land: Bachlava. The flaky, honey filled desert is easy to find in some areas and very affordable.

Finally, restaurants have their own deserts too, from ice cream to fresh baked cakes to chocolate mousse — it all depends on where you are. The Netherlands is not lacking in fantastic deserts!

Looking back on my month, its been full of deliciousness. I’ve met many fantastic people over food, and I’ve really gotten a feel for the range of food available to a traveling student. Netherlands is one of the easiest countries to eat veggie in Europe, and I thoroughly enjoyed every bite!


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…and how to reflect?

by Matthew Hicks (reposted from

How can I reflect on a 5-week experience traveling all around the Netherlands, going to London, and a 9-year reunion with my host family and friends in Germany? No matter what I do – writing blog entries, taking pictures, recording video, it’s ridiculous to think I can even try to reflect on all that went on by doing any of these things. Even if I chose one or a combination of these ways to explain my experiences, I am still missing something.

Do i focus on one of the times my mouth dropped open from one of the amazing presentations we saw from the Erasmus Studio? Do I focus on Dutch architecture, editing the photos in a way that make you see the curves and colors look like what I saw? Do I focus on the museums and the interesting performance art I was lucky to see in the Van Gogh Museum? Do I tell you about the time I was in a nightclub in Utrecht and had an intense conversation with someone regarding race in the U.S. and how the issue differs in the Netherlands? Or the time I woke up after getting 3 hours of sleep and my friend made chicken paste sandwiches for breakfast and we ate on his roof-top terrace in central Amsterdam? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know because almost every experience matters.

No matter what I try to do, I can’t justly reflect on this experience. It’s almost as if a whole world opened up for me while there, and how does one go about explaining another world?

If you study abroad my only recommendations are these: Go there and make friends with locals and talk about complicated matters (and not just the weather), ask them where they grew up and then Google Street View their address, ride saddle on the back of their bike and smile when your foot accidentally nudges a car bumper.

Most of all, go to a cafe, put on your headphones but don’t turn the music on yet, look around casually and ABSORB your surroundings.

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conversations on Suriname.

(by Matthew Hicks, reposted from

The Rotterdam Public Library exterior is probably the ugliest exterior architecture I have ever seen, but it’s not surprising since the design was conceived of in the worst years for modern architecture – the 1970’s. I don’t know what it is about that decade, but most buildings built during that period should be systematically torn down for the benefit of mankind. It’s visual pollution, to say the least. However, I don’t think they should tear down the Rotterdam Public Library – the inside of it is amazing.

The Dutch Designs program took a tour of the library today, and I really enjoyed it.

The interior has a nice “home”, comfortable feel – without the guilty feeling like you need to vacuum. Once you reach a floor, you can see all around you and you don’t have big towering bookcases blocking your view. There’s also really interesting furniture and an awesome chandelier. What I liked most about the interior is that they actually thought about each detail – which is so important in design. Inside, it’s easy to find what you need, easy to do what you need to do.

One the top floor of the Rotterdam Library there is a great view, although the weather here has been really rainy lately:

The library was focused on being there for the community, not to exist as some bureaucratic, dusty, and scary place. Our tour guide was cool, we talked about the comparisons between Rotterdam and Berlin and I realized how much I like spending time in this city. The diversity, the public transportation, the architecture, the small art scene, the location – it’s a great place to be.

The library also had small showcases of local artist’s work – which I found cool. Check out this awesome art, that is unfortunately placed next to this awful looking chair (that really belongs in a $0.10 bin at a garage sale in Yakima):

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Eating around Rotterdam

By Pei Yu Lin

I found myself craving for Chinese food after all the amazing Dutch food we had in Amsterdam.

I was surprised to find xiao long bao here in Rotterdam. To me, it was just as good as the ones from Din Tai Fung. 🙂


There are ice cream shops everywhere – I got blackberry and Tiramisu ice cream.

Second group dinner during the program
Location: SOIF, which is very close to the hotel and right on a canal

Bitter lemon

Prosciutto wrap with arugula

Grilled scallops with butter and lemon

Backed vegetables with Gorgonzola

Orange flan with whipped cream and strawberry covered with chocolate powders

Group dinners give me opportunities to get to know other students better, while enjoying great food.

Fancy looking chocolates, in the shapes of mushroom and pumpkin

and in the shapes of maple leaves and coco beans

After dinner, we went to Oude Sluis (which was rated no.15 best bar in Europe)

Poppy’s new friend got her a Belgium beer – Corsendonk Abbey Pale Ale, which was really tasty

And her new friend got me a really tasty Belgium beer as well – Chimay peres trappistes, which I shared with the group

Most Dutch speak very good English and are friendly. I am impressed.

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Excursion to Escher

By Bryan Dosono

This past weekend, our professor encouraged self-directed excursions throughout the country. On Friday, several of the graduate students and I planned a trip to the Escher Museum, located in Den Haag. I’ve always been a fan of M.C. Escher’s art as a kid growing up, and I was absolutely psyched to get to see them in person. Transportation wise, it was less than a 40-minute train ride to the Hague from Rotterdam. Cheryl, Karl, and I took the scenic route to the museum, walking alongside the water canals. We were even followed in pursuit by the local swans for a short amount of time.

The swans of Den Haag.

Trees of Den Haag.

The museum itself was housed in a former palace, where the esteemed Queen Emma (1858-1898) once lived. The interior of the palace was surprisingly spacious and ornately decorated. Each of the rooms contained curious shapes of chandeliers, ranging from doves, to seahorses, to upside-down umbrellas. When organizing the event, I had no idea that the museum was displayed within such a royal mansion, so it was a surprising treat to get to view two separate collections for the price of one tour.

Exterior of the palace/museum.

Seahorse chandelier.

Though the palace decorations were eye-catching, everyone’s focus was on Escher’s mind-blowing works of art. He was able to portray his themes of eternity and infinity through lithograph and woodcut mediums. I really liked how he played with the concepts of cycles and metamorphosis through his tessellations. There were even rooms that allowed visitors to create their own optical illusions. Astounded by the mathematical constructs that transcended the bounds of reality, we all had a remarkable time getting warped inside the world of Escher.

Waterfall paradox.

Tesselation of angels and demons.

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By Sue Castelin

During Saturday’s excursion to the Hoge Veluwe Park and Kroller-Muller Museum, I was excited to encounter statues and artwork by artists I had studied  Wow! Henry Moore and Rodin pieces I could walk up to. . .

But, even better was being able to discover new interesting pieces that grabbed my attention.

Here are some highlights of the trip to the museum:

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