Second time around

In a few days, we’ll mark the first anniversary of my husband’s arrival in Amsterdam. After that, it will be official: it’s our second time around.

This time last year, everything was new. We were hosting our first visitors, experiencing the first spring, the first tulip season, and our first King’s Day. We were buying bicycles, learning our way around, taking a Dutch class, and generally getting settled into our life in Amsterdam. Everything was new, and that newness made even the frustrating and challenging moments seem like little adventures.

Now, the rhythm of the city is more familiar. The holidays and festivals and seasons come around again and while I am still far from expert (what, exactly, is pinksterdag?), I recognize them, and their patterns. This is not to say that I am bored or even inattentive to the charms of Amsterdam. I have kept my word to my friend Peter who, while cycling along the canals on a gorgeous July day, turned to me and said, “Promise me you will never take this for granted.”

So no, I’m not the least bit jaded. Instead, I often have the feeling you get when you run into a friend, or come across a book or a trinket you thought you had misplaced. “Yes, I remember you.  And didn’t we have a lovely time once before? How very nice to see you again…what new memories might we make together now?”

There are, of course, so many things to discover that it almost seems a shame to do anything twice. I always feel a little guilty just returning to a restaurant, since there are so many we haven’t yet tried. Although we have visited most major cities in the Netherlands, there are still some must-do experiences that we don’t want to miss. And now that we’re in a different neighborhood, we have a host of new restaurants to try, and new streets to explore.

The big difference, perhaps, is one of expectations. Not my expectations of the Netherlands or the Dutch, which continue to surprise and delight and challenge me. I assume less, and assume I know less, and I am open to learn and listen. But my expectations of myself have changed. I am at once more adventurous and more judgmental of myself when I fail to be adventurous – when I take the easy way out, instead of engaging or taking a risk. I am frustrated that I haven’t given more time and energy to learning Dutch, and that I still find it hard to build connections and friendships.

But maybe that’s what the second time around is for. More chances. More opportunities to dig deeper, try harder, learn from past mistakes. Or to not try so hard, and lighten up, play more, make our own fun, and create what it was we hoped to find.

 

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New views

So, here we are! Two weeks into our new living arrangement and we’re getting more settled. I generally know how to use most of the appliances in the apartment.

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The Westlandgracht, our new canal.

I know where the trash goes, where the nearest grocery store is, and I’ve tried out at least 2 routes for biking to work. Still to discover are a bakery for weekend treats and a good wine shop. We’ve bought some furniture and rearranged some other furniture, and we are slowly making the apartment feel more like home.

 

As we suspected, it has been fun to discover a different part of Amsterdam, and to come at the parts we already know, but now from a different angle. Our new neighborhood, which straddles the border of Oude Zuid and Nieuw West, is more residential than our previous area. Instead of tourists, my commute has me dodging school drop-off crowds. (For the record, kids on bikes are as unpredictable and stress-inducing as those Spanish tourists on their rented MacBikes.)

Our neighborhood exploration has been a bit delayed by recent travel – I was in Geneva last week – and the arrival of our first guests of 2016. Thankfully, they are not staying with us, as we’re not yet equipped to host. Plus, there are five of them, which is a little more than we’ll ever be able to handle. This is the first time we’ve entertained guests with kids, and – no surprise – I’m not at all in tune with the rhythms of children or teenagers. I think of kids as having so much energy, but I underestimate the effect of jet lag and general disorientation. Also, they seem to need to eat every few hours. I thought that was only babies, but I guess it applies to older kids, too. Which is fine with me…I’m more than happy to interrupt sight-seeing or shopping with a coffee and a little something sweet.

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The canal is in the shade but the balcony off the kitchen gets full afternoon sun.

Even without the change of moving, I’m still gaining new perspective and new views thanks to our visitors. Hosting guests always brings questions: about Dutch traditions or history, about how we live, about what is different or challenging. I usually end up learning or re-learning something, especially since I can never remember what the three Xs in the Amsterdam city crest represent. (And no, they’re not a reflection of the city’s more, ahem, permissive elements.)

Seeing Amsterdam through the eyes of visitors – especially when those visitors are young and curious – gives me a greater appreciation for the richness of the culture and the balance of our lifestyle. It reminds me of what we’ve gained through this experience of living abroad, and I hope it shows our visitors that there’s no one way – and no right way – to live a life.

Welcome home

It is a gorgeous early spring day in Amsterdam. I just ran a quick errand that took me back and forth through the Vondelpark. Just beautiful. There is still a thin layer of ice on some of the ponds but the sun is strong and the sky is clear and the warmer days ahead seem not so far away. Happily, my new commute (by bike, at least) will take me through the park daily and I’m looking forward to watching it bloom.

It’s much too nice to stay inside, so we’re getting out! But first I wanted to share that we are settling in well at the new apartment. We each had a short list something we needed to really feel at home (me: shower caddy. husband: television), and both have been secured. We have checked out a few local restaurants and will be hunting for a dry cleaner and a few other essentials. Photos will come. but we have water views from the front and back of the apartment, which on a day like today are spectacular. The neighborhood is much less touristy and more residential than our previous location, and I think that will be a benefit, in the long run.

Each day, we discover something new and something lovely about our new home. And we’re off to do more of that, right now. Wishing you a sunny and relaxing Saturday, wherever this finds you…