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.