Kristen Gehrman, Writer

 
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Kristen Gehrman 

Translator | Writer | Editor

French / Dutch / German to English

 
July 20, 2016

Camping Croatia: 6 Camps for Tents

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This summer we flew from Amsterdam to Dubrovnik with one overweight suitcase crammed with a tent, two mattresses, a gas stove, bedding, a change of clothes and a trusty ANWB road map. No plans. No guidebook. Just a two-week Fiat Panda rental and enough time to re-train ourselves in the art of relaxation. And what a country it was!

Our road map had little tent symbols all over it, signalling campgrounds. We took this as a good sign. But we quickly discovered that not all camps are created equal and not all offer the kind of quiet, natural tent camping experience that we were looking for. But we managed to find a few gems! As a way to remember them for our next trip to Croatia (hopefully soon!) and also to help anyone who might be planning a similar trip themselves, here are six wonderful campsites in Croatia that we would happily go back to:

1. Autocamp Marinaro

(Located in Molunat, the southern-most village in Croatia, 15-20€/night)

Driving down the dusty road at the end of the long coastal highway, we felt like we were driving to the edge of the world. The road emptied into a small, rocky cove full of fishing boats. The last harbor in Croatia before Montenegro. We had seen on our road map that there were two campgrounds down there, but it seemed too remote to believe. Against all logic, we emailed to see if they were open. No reply. So we drove all the way there to find out and ended up at Autocamp Marinaro, a one-star camping on the sea with no Wifi and only the amenities that you really need. The showers were clean and each site had been lovingly shaded with grape vines and screens against the sun. That night, we feasted on scampi, sardines and anchovies and fed the fish heads to the cats.

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2. Camp Bacinska Jezera 

(near Plocé, in the agricultural valley on Highway 8, €18-25/night)

Of all of the places that we camped, this was the only one on a freshwater lake. And it was definitely one of our favorites. Diving into the cool spring water in the hottest hour of the afternoon was heavenly. This small campground in the backyard of the owner’s house has perfectly maintained facilities (shower, laundry, sinks) and plenty of shade. The owner, who never stops trimming, watering, and chiseling away at his building projects, is bursting with joie-de-vivre. We rented his kayak and paddled across the lake to a small waterfall where you can drink the ice-cold water out of the stream. A little boy and his grandpa eagerly filled our water bottles as if it were the medicine that would cure whatever we got. We bought wine from plastic vats in a neighbor’s cellar and watched the European Championship at the local bar.

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3. Camping Slapic

(located in Duga Resa, village near Karlovac, on the Mreznica River, €25-27/night)

We left the coast and headed inland toward Zagreb. The high cliffs from the seaside give way to rolling hills and farmhouses, abandoned barns that still bear the scars of war, farm stands selling sheep cheese and honey, tractors blocking traffic and fields of corn and bright yellow colza. Though the camping options are much more limited off the coast, we managed to find “The Best Camping in Croatia” in Duga Resa on the Mreznica River. Whether it really was “the best” is disputable, but it was definitely a nice one. We were greeted by a retired mechanic who did not actually work at the campground, but who eagerly chatted with us in German (or something like German) as we set up our tent. He would have stayed and talked all afternoon if we hadn’t insisted on renting a canoe to paddle down the river. The current was strong and we were clumsy canoeing partners. We returned the boat after 15 minutes and they didn’t charge us.

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4. Autocamp Krvavica

(located in Krvavica, Makarska Riviera on the Adriatic Sea, €20-25/night)

In a region overrun with noisy sun seekers and party boats, this small family campground stands for all of the nostalgic reasons that we still go camping. Since it is not directly on the sea (but a mere 100 m. away!) and the steep windy road down from the highway is treacherous for heavy loads, it doesn’t attract big caravans. Yet, of all the of the campgrounds that we stayed at, this one offered the most amenities: a bar with hot coffee and cold beers for 1€, bathrooms and showers with hair dryers and even a curling iron (?!), a giant refrigerator with baskets for each campsite, and bread service in the morning. We stayed here early on in our trip and again at the end for one night when we couldn’t find a good camping. The owners welcomed us back like old friends and we told them that after all of the dirty, crowded campsites we had seen that day, theirs was a wonderful oasis.

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5. Camping Prapatno

(near Ston, at the ferry harbor to the Island of Mljet, €25-27/night)

After spending our first night in Dubrovnik, this was our first campground. Actually, it was the first campground that we found, and it was perfect. It’s actually an olive orchard that generates a little extra income off of campers in the summer time. At night it was dead quiet, only the plops of green olives dropping from the trees. The campsite opened directly to the beach (one of the only sand beaches we found in Croatia), which had a small cafe and a stand selling ice cream and corn-on-the-cob. We stayed for two nights only because we were eager to get a move on, but we would have gladly lingered a bit longer.

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6. Camping Adriasol

(Located in Novigrad, about an hour inland from Sibenik, €22-25/night)

If it sounds like it was easy to just stumble on these beautiful campsites, it wasn’t. At least not all of the time. One day in particular, we were driving up the coast between Split and Sibenik in despair. There were hundreds of campsites, and all of them terrible. By terrible, I mean crowded, shadeless parking lots full of caravans with grumbling generators, shouting sun-burnt people, fussy children and barking dogs. It was getting late and we still hadn’t found anywhere to sleep, so we turned off the coast and took our chances on a campground a bit inland: Adriasol. What a gem it was! Located on a secluded inlet at the edge of Novigrad, a village that was once a resort town for aristocrats during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Aside from a few campers, there were no tourists, no souvenir shops, no beach rentals. During the day, we swam and waited out the heat from our shady corner plot. And in the golden evening hours, we went into the village and watched the same scenes from the evening before unfold like clockwork. The men gathered to play jeu de boules, the children set off for the forest on their bikes, the same old woman shuffled by with her dog, a mother pulled in the laundry hanging from the balcony, a man popped popcorn in his stand on the boulevard, a waiter pulled up a bag of mussels chilling at the bottom of the lake for dinner, and on and on. Night after night. We were endlessly charmed by this place, even more so because of the struggle it took to find it.

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Places that tent campers should avoid:

Trogir – Okrug Donji

On the coastal road from Split to Sibenik, there are lots of campgrounds, but most of them are not suited to nature-loving tent campers (at least not in high season!). This is an area to avoid – particularly around Trogir. It’s a pity because Trogir is supposed to be a beautiful World Heritage site, but we were not able to appreciate it with all of the crowds. There is an innocent-looking little island across from the city gates called Okrung Donji, covered in little tent symbols on the map. Seemed worth a look. Tired, hungry, and overheated we battled through the bottleneck traffic over the bridge determined to give the campsites a fair chance. We nearly wrecked our car trying to get to them and when we finally got there we found nothing but caravans packed in like sardines and shrimp-like Europeans roasting on a tiny, treeless rock beach. Surely it was once a lovely natural place, but it’s been ruined by “holiday makers”.

Senj to Zadar coast

On our way South from Zagreb, we decided head back down on the coastal highway from Senj to Zadar. A beautiful route for sure with magnificent views of sea and sky, but also an exhausting one to drive. Endless hair pin turns, ups and downs and few places to stop. Compared to the South (Dubrovnik area), it’s also extremely dry and rocky. There are a few campgrounds, but they seemed to offer very little shelter from the Croatian sun.

June 20, 2016

The Intimacy of Teaching English

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While translating and editing tend to be rather impersonal (just you, the text, and your best guess at what the writer is trying to say), teaching English is precisely the opposite. I like the balance between the two. Over the past few months, I’ve been swamped with teaching jobs: group courses at corporate headquarters, an academic writing course at a university, private lessons to teens, professionals, retirees, moms, the newly employed, the recently unemployed and new arrivals to the Netherlands. And what I’ve learned over almost eight years of teaching English off and on in various contexts is that beyond all the grammar, all the role plays and exercises and vocabulary lists, teaching language can be a very personal, intimate business.

What’s the starting point for learning a new language? Talking about yourself. The first phrases you learn in a language course always seem to be “My name is…”, “I am from…”, “I like to…”. Language is one of the fundamental things that makes us who we are. In any given situation, we use words to construct our identity, and the words that we have available to us in that situation, in whatever language, determine how others see us and even more so, how we see ourselves.

My students, especially those in one-on-one sessions, often come to me when they are already undergoing some kind of shift in identity; learning a new language is only one part of it. I’ve had people who are going through a mid-life career change, people who have recently graduated, and people who have just moved abroad. I also get people who are starting over – one woman who was preparing for a trip around the world after losing her husband just a few weeks prior, a pre-teenager who had just switched schools due to discipline problems, a woman who had spontaneously just moved out on her boyfriend of 15 years. And what I find is that learning a new language gives a new way of talking about yourself, a new way of looking at your life, and a new bridge for dealing with change. And while it’s true that I can go on and on about the present perfect tense all day, I’ve come to realize that more often than not, being a language teacher forces me into the role of empathetic, albeit under-qualified, “life coach.” And in some of my most successful courses, it was the students, not I, who did most of the talking.

Once while discussing professional clothing vocabulary (suit, tie, belt, jacket...), a student started telling an entire group of colleagues exactly what his father wore in his casket. Another time, while discussing careers and professions (accountant, lawyer, plumber, dentist, priest…), I ended up hearing about how mediocre and disappointing my student’s children were. And while discussing food, a topic that everyone seems to love, I often hear stories of home – places that people long to go back to, but for some complicated reason can not. Simple questions with purely didactic intentions, such as, “What did you do this weekend?” “What’s your family like?” “Where did you grow up?” can lead to incredibly intimate answers. Sometimes I meet students in a shared office space that is used by a lot of independent therapists and psychologists. For this reason, each room is equipped with a big box of tissues, but somewhere between adverbs and prepositions, my clients and I are the ones who end up using them.

Of course it’s not all about tears and heart-to-hearts, there are also people who need to learn English to “get ahead.” In sociolinguistics, we also know that language, identity and power are intrinsically linked. From a social perspective, there are “weak” languages (those that are not considered valuable, often spoken by minorities) and there are “strong” languages (those that have have, for example, economic or social value). And consciously or not, people tend to internalize this notion of weak vs. strong depending on the languages they speak and how well they speak them. Since I’ve lived in Europe, I’ve become hyper aware of the fact that my mother tongue happens to be one of the “strongest” languages in the world. Which means that I have found myself spending hours a week with managers and CEOs at major companies, internationally recognized professors and other people who are much further along in life than I am, but who need me to teach them to communicate. And by communicate, I’m not only talking about subject-verb agreement, but also how to negotiate, how to solve problems, how to be tactful, how to weasel out of difficult situations. I am a linguist, not a lawyer, finance expert or HR specialist, but because of my language and its perceived power, I get pushed into these roles all the time.

The Dutch, as we all know, like to get to the point, they’re direct, straightforward - a sociologist might call them a “truth-sensitive” culture (meaning that they tend to always tell the truth, ruthlessly if necessary). In my Business English courses in the Netherlands, we often have to spend a significant amount of time discussing phrases like “I would be happy to…”, “Please don’t hesitate to…”, “I would appreciate it if you could…”, all of which illicit vomiting, finger-to-throat gestures from my Dutch students. So there I am, teaching what the English simply call “manners” to successful, professional, perfectly grown adults. When I was living in Switzerland and teaching French-speakers, it was the opposite: I had to convince them to stop calling everyone “dear Sir” and to let go of all of their “with great pleasures” and “most cordial salutations.”

In short, language cannot be taught without teaching the culture that comes with it. And addressing culture means addressing the identities of those who consider themselves inside and outside of it. Murakami, an author I love, says that “Learning another language is like becoming another person.” It’s something that I often bring up to my students in the throws of these personal conversations. Sometimes they ask, “So does that mean that I have a different personality in a different language?” Not exactly. It means that by using new words, phrases, metaphors and manners of speech, you see and portray yourself differently, you become a different version of you. It can be like a blank slate. Even more than teaching grammar and vocabulary, I like bearing witness to this process and living it myself as a language learner.

 

 

March 15, 2016

Tolk- en Vertaalcongres 2016: Hilversum

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It was nice to meet a few Dutch and Belgian agencies that I didn’t know were out there, but the real highlight of the Tolk- en Vertaalcongres 2016 (Interpretation and Translation Conference 2016) was talking with people who also do what I do, many of whom have been doing it much longer. For those of us who work mostly at our keyboards, meeting up with colleagues in the flesh comes as a great relief. “Oh your Trados crashes all the time too?” “Have you actually tried that voice recognition software?” “Do you know anything about this agency or that agency?” You realize that you are not alone in your translating solitude and that among colleagues, the conference theme really is true, “Samen kom je verder!”  

At one point, a translator took the mic and encouraged the audience not to think of each other as competition, but rather as colleagues – that we are all in this together. I really took this to heart. Not only do I find friends in the people who love languages as much as I do, but I find that I can lean on them for support. We can pass each other projects, share insight, discuss “untranslateables” and roll our eyes at all the nonsense that is bouncing around out there in the translation world.

One of the most interesting moments in the conference (shown in the photo above) was an open discussion on “Is er een toegevoegde waarde van bemiddelaars?”  (or Do middlemen offer added value?). Starting out with a mixed panel of agency reps and professionals and later bringing in translators and interpreters from the audience, the conversation quickly turned into a sort of ping-pong match. When the question was raised as to whether translators and interpreters are really ondernemers (entrepreneurs), things got a little feisty. As independent professionals who spend hours upon hours every week going after new clients, managing projects, negotiating contracts, and marketing services, it seemed ludicrous to many that this question would even be asked! Of course we are…do you have any idea what we actually do?! Yet there were some on stage who preferred to think that their bureau was playing the true “entrepreneur” role by bringing in the clients and that their freelancers merely – they all but said it out loud! - worked for them. Well, this did not sit well.

As multi-lingual professionals, we are constantly fighting the commonly held notion that we are language machines. That somehow, we can easily input a text in one language and output it in another and should therefore be happy to accept a nominal fee for this so-called service. This belief is even stronger toward people who work in minority and non-European languages, the idea that growing up speaking a faraway language makes translating / interpreting it a breeze. It’s not surprising when people outside of the language industry think this, but when an agency that depends on our services seems to think it too, it’s very disappointing. As one panel member proclaimed, “Translation needs to be valued as an intellectual service!”

If we had it our way, I think that most of us would love to work for direct clients only. From a financial point of view, who wouldn’t want to cut out the middlemen? The thing is that big brands tend to hire big brands, and when it’s just you and your computer, it can be hard to access the clients who need your services the most. So yes, we sometimes need the middlemen. But they need us too. And I think, at the heart of it all, what the audience resented most was the underlying implication that language professionals are a dime a dozen. That our skills, diplomas, experience, reliability, availability, flexibility, not to mention knowledge of random topics like watch-making, hydraulic valve systems, international tax legislation (yes, I have translated texts on all of the above) – can all be replaced by the next bilingual person for a few cents less.

Now this is not the case with all agencies. In fact, I work for several on a regular basis that are truly wonderful. My project managers know me, their rate is fair and consistent – I feel valued. I don’t resent the fact that they take a cut for my work, because they are offering me a genuine service too – bringing me clients. And for them, I truly enjoy delivering my best. As the old management saying goes, “People who feel valued will always exceed expectations.” With a good agency and a good project manager, I at least get the sense that we are in this together and I am willing to go above and beyond.

So the question, Do middlemen offer added value? If they are doing their part by bringing us steady clients and offering fair rates and fewer headaches, then I say yes. Just like I don’t mind my accountant taking a cut from my tax return, I don’t mind a few cents per word going to a project manager to handle clients for me. But when it starts coming down to quantity over quality, endless discount requests, fuzzies and half-cents, and the question of who’s working for who, you start to realize that “samen,” only some people are going farther, and those people are not you.

For more information about the wonderful Tolk- en Vertaalcongres, check out their website. If you have any comments or takeaway points from this year’s conference, I’d love to read them in the comments!

 

 

February 6, 2016

10 Common English Mistakes made by speakers of Dutch

You could say that the Dutch are unabashedly thrifty in all things, including language.  When it comes to English, they are quite handy at “Englishifying” Dutch words. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it just doesn’t. I’ve been teaching and editing English in the Netherlands for a little while now, and here are 10 common mistakes that I’ve noticed that Dutch speakers make when speaking and writing in English.

 

1. Can you explain me please

In English, you generally need a preposition before the indirect object. You explain something to someone or you explain to someone something. 

 

2. Hereby I send you…

I know,  I know, I know… in Dutch, when you send an email with an attachment, you say hierbij. And yes, if you look up the translation of hierbij, you will indeed find hereby in English. Nevertheless, you just don’t send an email attachment stating “hereby the document…”. Trust me, don’t do it. In English, you rarely see “hereby” outside of legal contracts and formal documents. For an email attachment, you say “Please find the document attached…” etc.

 

3. What is your job function?

In Dutch, you may have a functie at work, but in English,  functions are for objects. People have positions.

 

4. I am calling to inform about…

The English verb to inform doesn’t necessarily work the same way as informeren in Dutch. You can inform someone about something, but when you are looking for information about something, you don’t use the verb to inform. Rather, you say I would like to inquire about… or I am looking for more information about…

 

5. The little boy was so brutal today!

Brutal, really?! I don’t think that’s really what you mean. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, brutal (adj.) means “extremely cruel or harsh”. Murderers and animal abusers are brutal. Everyday people are generally just rude or disrespectful. 

 

6. warehouse, fabric, hand shoes, map, receipt, nephew, cooker, rasp

I’m just going to clarify these all at once. Here it goes:

warehouse in English is what you would call a pakhuis in Dutch, and a department store is a warenhuis. 

The place where things are made is called a factory and the stuff your clothes are made of is fabric. 

The things you wear on your hands are gloves (though if everyone just wants to keep calling them hand shoes that is okay with me!).

A map is a something you look at to find your way, but the thing you keep your papers in is called a binder. 

receipt is the little paper you get when you buy something, but the paper you take to the pharmacy is a prescription.

Your nephew is your brother or sister’s son, and your cousin is the child of your aunt or uncle (not the same thing). 

A person who prepares food in a restaurant is a chef or cook, not a cooker. 

And finally, yes, there is an English word for the thing you use to shred cheeseand no, it is not rasp. It is a cheese grater.

 

7. I’ll be there in 10 minutes. Sorry I’m too late.

Don’t worry, you’re not too late, you’re just a little bit late. In English, too late would mean that you missed the event entirely. If you are just behind schedule you are late. 

 

8. unhandy, undeep, unkind, unfriendly

There are actually words that mean the opposite of handy, deep, kind and friendly. You should use them:

handy  clumsy

deep  shallow

kind mean

friendly  rude

 

9. Visitors will have the possibility to see the exhibition.

It’s true, it will indeed be possible to look at the exhibition with their eyes. But what you really mean here is that they will have the opportunity to see it. The exhibition will be open and they can make the choice to visit it or not, therefore it is an opportunity. 

 

10.  We looked at many car’s. 

And last but not least, you never ever ever ever use an apostrophe (‘) to make a noun plural. Never. For possessive nouns (nouns showing ownership), you would use an apostrophe, for example That is my brother’s carbut NOT to say “My brother has two car’s.”

 

Do you have any Dutch mistakes in English that come to mind?

November 23, 2015

Bookish Places Amsterdam

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Back in 2010, before I knew anybody who lived in Amsterdam, I came here with my friend Michelle (pictured above). She was on exchange at the University of Groningen and I was studying in Switzerland. It was an icy January, much icier than any winter the city has seen since. We skated across ice patches in the Vondel Park and wandered from shop to shop to get out the cold. Michelle was on a mission to visit Boekie Woekie, a Nine Streets book store specializing in one-of-a-kind books and zines made by artists. At the time, I was still printing editions of my first zine, Premature in Theory, and the store agreed to sell it. Thus began my first connection with this city that I now call home.

Boekie Woekie is celebrating 30 years this winter! After five years of carrying my zines, they are letting me do a little reading on Nov. 28 at 5 pm.

My new collection of very short stories, Amsterdam Shorts, features six stories set in bookish places around the city. Send me an email if you’d like to buy one (PayPal, 8€) or join us at the reading! You can also watch via Live Stream at this LINK.

In the meantime, here is my list of my favorite bookish nooks in the book-loving city of Amsterdam.

The Obenbare Bibliotheek (OBA)

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The OBA is way more than a library. It’s more of an extraordinary public building that just happens to be full of reading, listening and watching material that you can borrow. Instead of griping about how nobody reads books anymore, the OBA has expanded its services to keep in step with the times. Now patrons pay a nominal fee to check out books and use wifi if they must and the money supports the collections as well as workshops and lectures. Oh and there’s a bar upstairs. Just saying.

The Rijksmuseum Library

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Most visitors take a quick peek at the beautiful Rijksmuseum Library from the upper balcony, but you can actually use it as a reading room. In addition to old leather-bound tomes from the collection, there’s a nice assortment of art magazines, wide black working tables and cozy light. If you have a Museum Year Card, you can go anytime you like.

De Boekenmarkt op het Spui

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I once had a conversation with a bookseller here about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and how when he finished reading it for the first time, he threw a box of his ex-wife’s things into the fireplace and never called her again, which was why it was his favorite book of all time. Open on Fridays, it’s a great nice place to browse before a borrel.

Athenaeum Book Store and Nieuws Centrum
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Athenaeum’s magazine collection is toppie top top, full of magazines from small presses around the world. You can follow them on Instagram and find out what’s good. They also sell books of course, offering well-curated collections in French and German in addition to Dutch and English.

American Book Center
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It goes without saying that the ABC is as good as any indie bookstore you’ll find Stateside, maybe even better. Unabashedly American in its collection, it still offers a wide range of world literature in English and a nice magazine collection, where you can buy one of my all-time favorites from back home, The Sun. They also host events with big name writers, most recently Patti Smith.

The John Adams Institute

A center for “American culture in the Netherlands”, the JAI brings people like Jonathan Franzen, Marilynne Robinson, Fareed Zakaria and T.C. Boyle to Amsterdam. I recently volunteered at an event with Robert Putnam, where he reminded us all that America has significantly more serious social problems than the Netherlands. Nice for the Dutch to hear, but for the other half of the audience, kind of embarrassing.

Versal: Literary Arts Journal from Amsterdam

I first heard about Versal from a friend who edits Structo Magazine and happens to live in the Netherlands. When I mentioned it to Sara, my old Charleston roommate, we realized that they had in fact published some of her poetry a few years ago. Small world! Versal is Amsterdam’s only literary magazine published in English (as far as I know) and they host monthly gatherings. At last month’s event, I had a nice chat with Isabel Fargo Cole, translator of Annemarie Schwarzenbach.

Het Fort van Sjakoo

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My heart has a soft spot for anarchist book shops and this is one of the best that I know. The first zine I ever read was an anarchist manifesto calling people to put their work out into the world by whatever means they could. It was written in the 90s before blogging was a told stories of these underground bandwagons that peddled handwritten magazines and self-drawn maps of squats and train-jumping networks. My own zines are nothing of the sort, but the medium still fascinates me.

Evenaar Travel Books

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A whole shop devoted to travel books, and I’m not just talking about Lonely Planets– but travelogues and travel writing by journalists and journeyers traversing every region on the globe. In addition to the classics, they also offer a number of self-published and small batch travel diaries from people who’ve taken long trips by bike, foot, container ship, you name it. The back room is full of antique magazines like Life and Paris Match and 20th Century newspapers with famous headlines.

So those are a few of my favorite places to browse for books in Amsterdam. If you’re in town, come to Boekie Woekie this Saturday, Nov. 28 at 5 for a little reading!