Amsterdam, Netherlands

My wife’s family is Dutch (via Oakland and San Mateo) and so I’ve been coming to Holland for a couple of years now to see family, breathe in the North Sea air, and dream of seventeenth-century economic power of unparalleled scope.

From Paris the easiest way in is probably the TGV Thalys from Gare du Nord which gets you into Centraal station in just under three hours. One can debate the merits train vs. plane on this route, but if there’s a high-speed rail link with no changing trains, I’ll usually take the train instead to avoid the hassle of airport transfers, security, ear pressure, restricted liquids, punitive luggage policies, yadda yadda…


Looking out from Amsterdam Central station.

What’s fun in Amsterdam? Well, it depends on when you’re there. I’ve been there a few times in the winter, and let me tell you that the Dutch winter is no joke. So I’d avoid the winter months if you can; you’re probably not as tough as the Dutch when it comes to weather. Unless you’re from Chicago.

In spring and summer, Amsterdam’s city center is wonderfully walkable, with iconic UNESCO-listed canal houses at every turn. Apartments within a canal house are often available on AirBNB, sometimes even with huge front-facing windows that blend interior and exterior life in the way the Dutch have for centuries. If you’re lucky (and in reasonably good shape) you can get one with a staircase angled at sixty or more degrees with steps about the width of your iPhone. This is normal.


Walk the canals and dream of gettin’ paid on tulips and East Indies stocks.

My favorite neighborhood is the Negen Straatjes, a tiny little grid of streets between Central and the Jordaan that is packed with boutiques, cafés, bicycles, bakeries, and classic Dutch charm. The excellent Hotel Pulitzer is situated here also – the Dutch breakfast spread is this enormous smorgasbord of cured meats, cheeses, sausages, pastries, and the Pulitzer has one of the best in town.


Braised veal at Café de Klepel 

The funny thing about Dutch food is that if you talk to a local they’ll probably say something typically self-deprecating and negative – but I think Amsterdam’s food scene has improved dramatically since my first trip in 2008. Some stuff to eat:

  1. Café de Klepel. It’s like a Dutch cave à manger.
  2. haringfilet with shallots from a street stand.
  3. Daalder serves beautiful prix-fixe modern European (it’s neo-Dutch!)
  4. Giant pancakes. The classic is just butter, powdered sugar and stroop (syrup) but sometimes the more exotic savory combinations are pretty exciting.
  5. Winkel 43 bakes perhaps the best apple pie I’ve ever had.
  6. Gouda, gouda, gouda. At each end of the spectrum, try the young white goudas and also the 4-year aged oud kaas.
  7. Eetsalon Van Dobben reminds me of New York-style cafeterias, but with crazy postwar Dutch flavor combinations (chicken with cream sauce and pineapple? wtf, but it was pretty good)
  8. The farmers’ market at the Noordermarkt and the huge Albert Cuypmarkt in De Pijp have endless hearty breads in fun shapes, smoked sausages, veggies and much more.



It’s never too early, nor too late, for a pancake.

Definitely avoid: argentine steakhouses, most Asian restaurants. People keep telling me that rijsttafel is amazing, but what I’ve had thus far has been a big fancy presentation of a wide variety of mediocre Asian foods in tiny dishes. Like, you can’t just put shrimp chips in a teardrop-shaped bowl and call that something, because it’s not anything.

I still haven’t been to any of the Michelin-level restaurants in Amsterdam – given the city’s high ratio of finance types to fine dining restaurants, I think it’s probably still a few years from having a serious tweezer food scene. But the potential is there, someone just needs to look backward, forward, and inward and forage for a new Dutch cuisine.



A canal sports bird sporting his sporty racing stripe.

Amsterdam is the only city I know of that’s essentially a wetland. Water birds of all kinds roost at the canal edges, especially in the more residential areas. It’s not uncommon to see a family of ducks swimming through downtown, which is pretty unlike anywhere else. With all the rain the Dutch get, central Amsterdam is one of the greenest metropolitan areas in Europe, and less polluted than Paris.



Yay! Amsterdam sunshine!

You’ll notice I didn’t mention any of the big tourist attractions – red light districts, weed shops, the Heineken megaplex, torture or sex museums, etc. I figure these are probably either on your itinerary or not and I can’t advise you too much about them other than that the lines are long and that you should bring an umbrella 🙂

Tenerife, Canary Islands

It’s like Hawaii with Spanish food.


(Maui? Nope, Guia de Isora.)

One of the things I love about volcanic islands is that I can enjoy a warm beach and a mountain hike on the same trip, sometimes even in the same day! Teide, Tenerife’s peak, doesn’t disappoint here – it’s the highest point in Spain and one of the largest stratovolcano in the world. On the day that the picture above was shot, it was a balmy 70F at sea level but the peak at 12,000 feet was still ringed with snow.


(Volcanic moonscape inside the Teide caldera)

We stayed at the Palacio de Isora on the northeast coast of the island – while it was a good 90 minute taxi ride from either airport, this section of the coastline is tucked between the sheer cliffs of Los Gigantes and the more touristy region at Playa de la Americas and offered a relaxed, nature-focused backdrop for our stay. Top marks for this property; it was our wedding anniversary and the staff left us a nice cava and plate of jamon on one of the nights.


(Nothing says love like ham. I love Spain.)

Tenerife is large. To drive the length of the island from east to west would take 3-4 hours, depending on traffic. There’s a lot to do here, and we only had a few days, so we chose to go up to the top of Teide and see the rugged coastline at Masca. We hired a taxi for the day to drive us in a circular route up from our hotel, around the crater rim of Teide, and down through Masca and Los Gigantes.


(the road to Masca. Not pictured: vicious traffic on super tight roads!)

Masca is a tiny village super-glued to the edges of sheer cliffs. There’s a French guy who’s been there for a few decades with his partner running the restaurant La Pimentera, basically a kitchen, an outdoor terrace with a dozen tables, and a bunch of friendly cats. The cooking is high quality French and Italian classics with local ingredients – when you realize the remoteness of the restaurant (and Masca in general) you have to wonder how this guy keeps his supply chain going. And what a view.


(The terrace view at La Pimentera)

I mentioned Playa las Americas earlier? You can skip that unless you’re looking for Las Vegas. We headed down there to pick up a sweater or two to wear at the top of Teide, and wandered around for a bit but generally found nothing but pubs and cheap pizzas, unfortunately.

So – it was magical. Tenerife is one of those destinations that make you think about radically simplifying your life and moving to a traditional village house perched on a cliff, growing avocados and heading down to the coast once a week for the fresh bounty of the sea. If we disappear suddenly someday, you can look for us there.



Paris Best Of 2016

Some folks asked us for recommendations based on our six months over in Paris this year. Since they weren’t specific, we put together this list of all kinds of things we loved from our stay (with an obvious bias towards food)!


(pictured: a Saturday brunch at Dersou)

  • Best restaurant overall: Dersou (weekday dinner or Saturday brunch)
    • … honorable mentions: Tannat, Pirouette, Monjul
  • Best baguette: Boulangerie la Parisienne
  • Best fast food: l’As du Falafel
  • Best pizza: East Mamma/Ober Mamma/Big Mamma
  • Best market: Marché d’Aligre
  • Best French food: (still) le Comptoir du Relais
  • Best men’s clothing: Spontini Marais
  • Best hidden park: Parc de Bercy
  • Best lebanese: Loubnane
    • … honorable mention: Chez le Libanais
  • Best burger: le Matignon
  • Best place to pretend you’re in Brooklyn: Buvette Gastrotheque
  • Best pan-fried dumplings: Guo Xin
  • Best department store: BHV Marais
  • Best ice cream: Une Glace à Paris
  • Best “cave a manger” (wine bar w/ food): le Mary Celeste
  • Best men’s haircut: Les Thermes de Lutece
  • Best substitute for Blue Bottle: Cream Belleville

2,600km around Europe by motorcycle

IMG_0160View from the parking area at the Chateau de Trigance in the Gorges de Verdun national park.

And there’s still more to see!

Last week, I rented a KTM 990 Super Duke from Darcos Paris and rode from Paris to meet up with my friend Matt in Lucerne, Switzerland. Last year, we did about 1400 miles around the Old West, including Yosemite, Nevada Route 50, and southwestern Utah. When we realized that his summer trip to Europe overlapped with my sabbatical we jumped at the chance to get some miles (ahem, kms) through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world.

Generally speaking, you can rent a bike in France or Switzerland for 75-200 EUR/day depending on the make, model, and included mileage. Helmets are available for rent but jackets typically are not. I picked up a new leather jacket from Speed Wear Paris for about EUR 380 after the July liquidation discount and the VAT tax refund, which I think was a pretty good deal. Matt’s BMW S1000XR came with a GPS unit but the raw, no-frills KTM lacked even a charging port so I rigged a pretty good solution using a handlebar phone mount and a Mophie 8x batter pack in my pocket for navigation. Ultimately with GPS the software makes all the difference, so we preferred the routes from Google Maps to those built into the BMW’s GPS, although in many cases the directions were exactly the same.

The route (roughly):

Google Maps

The stopping points:

IMG_0039Reims, France. If you’re not on a champagne trip, there isn’t much to see here unfortunately. I wanted to check out the Porte de Mars but it is undergoing renovation as of August 2016. Grabbed lunch and kept going. The A4 autoroute from Paris to Reims is not particularly beautiful, but it’s the fastest way to get out of the traffic of Ile-de-France.

IMG_0044Nancy, France. Stopped for a coffee at the Grand Hotel Foy at the gilded Place Stanislaus. Interesting little town in that the Poles had a strong influence on this region of Lorraine some centuries ago. The “D” roads leading from Nancy to Strasbourg were a lot more interesting than the A4 autoroute and not too much slower. Lorraine was rolling hills, crumbling stone buildings, bales of hay, and some of the best scenery on the trip.

IMG_0045Strasbourg, France (overnight). A pretty cool town set on a river with obvious Teutonic influence. The best choucroute and spaetzle (at La Corde a Linge) I’ve ever had. The cathedral of Notre Dame de Strasbourg is not to be missed. I stayed at the Chateau de l’Ile Hotel & Spa just outside the city  — although I got in too late to use the pool, the food at the restaurant was quite good and the room had quite a bit of character. Strasbourg rush-hour traffic is about as bad as you’d expect, but I avoided much of it by staying outside the city.

IMG_0078Basel, Switzerland. As it was the Swiss “confederation day” most things were closed, but a lot of people were nonetheless outside enjoying the beautiful weather. Had time for a coffee in the downtown area before pressing on to Lucerne. Interestingly the border crossing just north of Basel was pretty much a non-issue, just a half-dozen of Swiss dudes in uniforms scratching their beards.

IMG_0092Lucerne, Switzerland (overnight). Met up with Matt and his girlfriend here and stayed overnight in the cleanest, nicest Best Western I’ve ever seen. Lake Lucerne is truly beautiful at night, there were fireworks for Confederation Day, and I ate some fondue that won the gold medal at the Alpine Cheese Olympiad. Notably, on the road south from Lucerne you will pass through the Gothard Road Tunnel, a 20-minute/17km exercise in driving in a straight line. While exciting at first, I think I much preferred the curvy mountain roads punctuated by shorter tunnels that we found everywhere else in Switzerland.

IMG_0129Bellinzona, Switzerland. Did you know Switzerland had an Italian-speaking area? I didn’t until we stopped here to see the three castles and get some lunch. I’ve been really interested in castles lately and the two we had time to see were quite nice. You can walk into the lower castle from the centre of town and you can drive up a curvy road to the top castle, but we were a little behind having to make Genoa by the evening so we skipped the middle castle.

IMG_0143Genoa, Liguria, Italy (overnight). I’d never been to Northern Italy (having just done my first trip to Italy, Rome and Pompeii, in late July) so I didn’t really know what to expect. So you can be better prepared, I’ll mention:

  1. The autostrada is amazingly flat and well maintained and you can hit 180kph.
  2. The Audi Q7 behind you wants to do 240kph even when the road gets curvy.
  3. He tailgates at a distance of 10-30cm because he doesn’t care if you live or die.

The roads leading into Genoa were pretty much the only situation on this trip during which I felt unsafe. A combination of fatigue, hot weather, high speeds, and locals who will take blind curves at insane entry speeds made this quite a scary ride. It’s a shame really since the surrounding countryside was quite beautiful. Once you finish navigating the last white-knuckle 50km or so, you enter Genoa on an elevated highway between the sea and a beautiful waterfront area that mixes building facades from the 13th century onward. I’ve never been so happy to park for the night. Our hotel, the Bristol Palace, was an outstanding period piece with old parquet floors, high ceilings, powerful air conditioning, and free breakfast and wifi. Got some delicious pizza and hung out in the Piazza La Ferrari where a really talented musician was playing an open-air concert and it seemed like half the city had stopped to listen. Fantastic.

IMG_0148Noli, Liguria, Italy. A cool little beach town off the autostrada about an hour from Genoa. The highway through here was an endless series of tunnels and bridges through the coastal mountains – very beautiful.

IMG_0152Menton, Cote d’Azur, France. Stopped for lunch on the seaside here since I wanted to avoid the traffic around the area’s main city, Nice. The weather was beautiful and the beaches full. Heading out of here towards our overnight in Trigance we opted to avoid the autoroute and take the smaller roads through the country and villages since the estimated drive time was about the same (thanks Google Maps!).

Puget-sur-Argens, Var, France. Stopped at the only bar in the village for some cold drinks. We were definitely the most interesting thing to happen in the village that day. A nice slice of rural French life while we stretched a bit and got ready for the last leg of the day — an entry road to the Parc Regional Gorges de Verdon, one of the most famous motorcycling spots in France. The flat lands of Var gave way to alpine passes through countryside that reminded me most of Yosemite.


IMG_0168Trigance, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur , France (overnight). In planning this trip, one of my goals was to see things that were as much unlike the United States as possible, and the 13th-century Chateau de Trigance was one of the highlights. Constructed, destroyed, reconstructed, destroyed, and finally restored in 1961, this hotel and restaurant perched high on a mountain in the park offers a perfect place to overnight. The stone walls, creaky floors and beautiful vistas from the top of the castle didn’t disappoint, and neither did the quality of the accomodations or the food at their restaurant for dinner and breakfast the following morning. Truly an outstanding little place, family run, 10 rooms, not to be missed.

IMG_0172Sisteron, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur , France. The roads from Trigance to Sisteron are incredible – mountain passes carved out of the cliff face, over rivers, bridges, gorges, etc. Stopped for lunch before hitting the road up to Lyon. We took some mountain roads before the autoroute that led through some absolutely amazing valleys.

Grenoble, France. Stopped for gas on the outskirts of the city. The sky was darkening and the weather getting colder and more windy, so we didn’t head into town, but the approach into the city surrounded by mountains was breathtaking.

IMG_0174Lyon, France (overnight). France’s second city, unfortunately hit by a downpour of rain that (fortunately) started about 10 minutes after we parked for the night. The parking attendant at Central Parc lent me an umbrella after we talked a little bit in French about KTMs. Pretty cool guy. The Lyonnais places we wanted to hit for dinner were mostly closed for summer vacation (since it’s August), but the Mercure Beaux-Arts provided clean and comfortable accommodation for the night. We woke up early next morning to get on the road to meet our ladies up in Paris, but…

IMG_0183Mâcon, Saône-et-Loire, France. First, it was still raining, and we briefly got pretty soaked. Second, this was an unexpected stop we had to take after the gas tank lock broke on the KTM! With only maybe 60km left of fuel in the tank, we had to drive into the town of Macon looking for an atelier mecanique to drill out the lock. The first place we stopped wouldn’t work on motorcycles but a customer there basically said suivez-moi au garage moto (“follow me to a motorcycle garage”) about 3km from the city center. After some phone calling back to the rental shop in Paris, Christophe (shown above) and his team drilled out the tank lock and even gave me one of their old screwdrivers to manipulate the ruined lock so we could continue. We quickly ate some gas station poulet roti sandwiches and jammed back on the autoroute after maybe a 3 hour delay. This was our last stop (save the aires, or rest stops) before Paris. The A6 from Mâcon north was warm, dry, and well-maintained and we maintained a steady 150kph for most of the way back to Paris. Probably my favorite freeway section of the trip, really beautiful and blissfully free of murderous Italians in Audis.


IMG_0180Paris, France. Home. At least in my neighborhood (4eme), I felt safe parking the KTM overnight outside my apartment. The rental shop is over on the opposite side of the Arc de Triomphe, between the Champs-Elysée and La Defense. So my last ride before turning the bike in was along the quays, past the Louvre, up the Champs-Elysée and around the enormous roundabout surrounding the Arc. I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up this six-day, 2,600km adventure of a lifetime.

Good to Know

  • Mileage overages are easily possible here. Matt’s bike came with 2400km and mine 1400, and I exceeded mine by a fair amount. It worked out to only 30-40 EUR extra per day, but it’s worth eyeballing your rental contract or asking before you go.
  • Toll roads (péages) are quite common in France and Italy and they may not take your bank card. Each country has their own FasTrak-like system but you won’t be able to use them. The icons above each toll gate indicate which forms of payment the gate takes, but these are often hard to read from a distance. In my experience, my bank card worked at French toll gates but not in Italy. Some gates in Italy only took coins. The best roads (like the A6) just give you one ticket at entry that is good until you exit, so you only slow down to pay once. Technical malfunctions at the toll gate were common, so you could do everything right and still get held up for a few minutes while someone comes by to straighten things out.
  • Rest stops are plentiful and usually have gas, food, water, bathrooms, etc., but don’t expect repair facilities or much in the way of tools for sale.
  • Automated gas stations may or may not take your bank card and may or may not take cash! Fortunately, gas was frequent everywhere except within the Gorges de Verdun park itself. At many stations you just fill up first and walk in to pay the attendant. I’m not sure what’s keeping you from driving away with the gas without paying other than your honor as a motorist.
  • We didn’t see much in terms of speed limit enforcement in either France or Italy. That said, there were many cameras, but all front-facing, so if you’re on a bike, you’re probably golden.
  • Earplugs are essential. Rest stops may not have headache pills (“voglio qualcosa per il mal di testa” — “niente, niente“) but they will always have espresso!

10 Sabbatical Hacks for Americans in France

Planning a trip away from home for more than a month or so can seem daunting, especially given how foreign (duh) the laws and conventions of foreign countries may seem! Here are some resources I used to make my stay away easier.

  1. Our apartment/house/camper van: You probably won’t sell or break your lease if you’re planning on being gone for less than a year. But if you’re like me, the idea of paying for two homes is inefficient capitalist treason. It can be difficult to find a short-term tenant for the exact dates of your trip, so this is exactly where home sharing comes in. If you live in California, Pillow Homes is a great service to manage short-term rentals, from booking to cleaning. They aren’t cheap, but in my experience they’re well worth it.
  2. Renting abroad: Here in Paris there is no shortage of tourist rentals, but be aware that apartments go quickly so be sure to book at least six months in advance. Paris Attitude and Paris Address maintain a curated list of apartments that are well-equipped for American travelers. For a longer stay we wanted a less crowded, more residential neighborhood than “in the heart of it”, so we chose the border between the 4th and the 12th. Prices are better a little on the shoulder of the central tourist districts, too. You could probably string together a bunch of AirBNBs for a long while too, but we wanted just one apartment for the entire stay because we brought…
  3. Our pet: Our flights in and out of the sabbatical are booked on Air France, who charge a $200 “pet ticket” fee. If your animal is under 8kg (about 18lbs), he/she/it can come in the cabin with you. There is a whole set of documents you need from the USDA in order to bring your animal into the EU, but this is much better than UK/Australia as there are no quarantine requirements. FWIW, our documents weren’t even checked by customs at Charles de Gaulle — the Douane kiosks were closed. For pet supplies, BHV La Niche and Animalis Bercy are good choices. Our cat is equipped with pretty much all the comforts of home (even a scratching post that looks like the Tour Eiffel, so tourist)
  4. Banking: we looked into getting a European bank account through BNP Paribas, but as you might expect, the conventions in Europe are different: if you’re not working and here for less than a year, it may be difficult to find a bank to accept you for a compte courante (like checking) for simple bank transactions like paying your rent without some minimum account balances and/or monthly fees. We instead opted to use TransferWise to directly wire our rent to our landlord – their fees are likely to be much lower than your US bank (unless you have HSBC or ING). This is convenient but you are exposed to EUR/USD currency fluctuations, which hasn’t worked in our favor since we arrived. 😦
  5. Credit/debit cards: the Chase Sapphire has become our main payment method because it has no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and a generous points program for restaurants and travel – both of which we are doing a lot of on this sabbatical! The AMEX Platnium also waives FTFs, and the $450 annual fee isn’t terrible, but it’s less commonly accepted than Chase’s Visa network. The downside is that if you’re into points, there are far fewer airline programs to receive points on Chase’s network vs. AMEX (notably, Chase doesn’t support Air France/KLM).
  6. Mobile phone and data, EU side: we have prepaid cards through Orange; other carriers all have similar programs. Usually you can get a package for unlimited voice and SMS within your home country – but if you’re like me you care more about data than anything else. Once you have the prepaid SIM, packages of mobile data cost around E10/GB, which isn’t terrible. Note that all the prepaid stuff has an expiration date, so there is no advantage to the 3GB for a lower price per GB if it expires with unused data! I find I use about 100MB/day here and I’m pretty addicted. When you visit another country, you’ll get a text with offers for data roaming at prices that are a bit cheaper than you’d pay on your US carrier.
  7. Mobile phone and data, US side: we wanted to keep our US numbers, but didn’t want to pay AT&T a couple hundred bucks over the course of six months for service we weren’t going to use at all. While they have a program for suspending your service for 90 days, they were (at least for me) unwilling to extend that to cover our case. We shut down all the phones and tablets and ported the numbers we wanted to keep to Plivo — who charge about 5 bucks a line per month. The bonus is that you can even write a script to present former callers/texters with additional options for contacting you, and the spam robots can’t follow.
  8. Normal phone service: Let’s face it, your relatives aren’t going to know how/remember to use FaceTime audio all the time. We got a Skype number in Petaluma and gave that to friends, family, banks, businesses, etc. It works great and it’s just a few bucks a month.
  9. Really good Internet: Nearly all of Paris is covered by fiber. That’s right, the City of Lights and of old pierre de taille apartments has better high-speed Internet than our home city of San Francisco. Orange’s is true FTTH and not fiber to the apartment building and copper thereafter — less sure about some of the other providers. At 45.99/month for a reliable 200mbit up/down, this is a great deal. You will need some basic French language skills (or a friend to help you navigate the installation) to accomplish this, but it is sooooo worth it.
  10. Cordless TV: If you’re reading this you probably have already ditched cable/satellite in the US, so the streaming roundup is like: Netflix works great and has some additional content in your local country; Hulu doesn’t work at all (even behind a US VPN), and Amazon works great and doesn’t ask questions — but no additional content. If you’re thinking of BitTorrents, be aware that France has one of the strictest anti-piracy laws in the world, so protect ya neck.


All these services are incredibly useful, but required a decent amount of research / trial & error to compile. Hopefully this list can save you some time when it’s your time to pack your bags and GTFO!


The 18 Things You Need to Move to Paris

After a decade in Silicon Valley at two startups — one venture backed, one that my partners and I founded, bootstrapped, and sold — we packed up our apartment in SOMA, rented it out and moved to Paris for a six month sabbatical with my wife, cat, and what I guess are my favorite objects:

  1. 1 Kyocera black blade ceramic chef’s knife
  2. 1 Kyocera white blade ceramic paring knife
  3. 1 Thermapen
  4. 1 folding digital scale in metric and “standard”
  5. 1 pair of really nice chopsticks
  6. 1 Amazon Echo
  7. 1 original Dropcam
  8. my constellation of personal devices – phone tablet watch laptop with Sublime Text electric toothbrush PAX 2 etc
  9. 1 pair of suede Vans that I got in Tokyo
  10. 8 shirts: 1 oxford, 3 polos, 4 Ts
  11. 2 jeans
  12. 2 pants
  13. 1 Paul Smith three-button narrow lapel grey suit
  14. Agnes B. soft navy blazer
  15. 1 3/4 length black wool winter coat from The Archive
  16. 1 hip length grey wool winter jacket (also from The Archive)
  17. 1 Timbuk2 backpack. The ones in the Hayes Valley store say “San Francisco” on them, which I like.
  18. 1 Rimowa Salsa Air in white.

We packed everything into a total of three suitcases, two backpacks and a cat carrier.

The amount of stuff we sold, donated, or recycled was absolutely extraordinary. I think it was 70-80% of our total stuff. The whole process was nearly marriage-ruining. Yet looking back at it all, I’m hard pressed to remember the specifics: what was all that stuff?

Fewer, better, things.