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.



A Year Ago Today

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A year ago today, my husband drove me to Logan Airport with two suitcases and a one-way ticket from Boston to Amsterdam. It was the culmination of nine months of dreaming, planning and packing. It was a step into an unknown future. I was leaving behind a house, a community, my family, and even (though briefly) my husband. I will admit to having a momentary freak-out before heading through the security line, when the enormity of what I was about to do hit me. My dear husband calmed me down (mostly by pointing out how absurd I was being), and then I was on my way.

I actually don’t remember too much of those first few days in Amsterdam. The overnight flight through Iceland got me to Schiphol on a cold Sunday morning. My taxi driver started teaching me Dutch almost immediately, explaining the difference between de words and het words. I met the owner of my temporary accommodations and was shown around the small one-bedroom apartment that would be my home for at least a month. I spent much of the afternoon getting settled, although I had little to unpack. I’m sure I went to the grocery store.


Fond memories of my first (loaner) bike.

I woke early the next morning and went to the ExpatCenter and within a few hours I had registered myself in the Netherlands. There was one day that week that I went to the photography museum and another day – windy, cold and rainy – that I stayed inside, reading and making cup after cup of hot chocolate.

What I remember most about those first few weeks is getting lost. For a person with a terrible sense of direction, living in a semi-circular city is a challenge. Every time I stepped out of my apartment I thought carefully about where I was going and the best way to get there. I was confident. I was sure. And yet every time, I was wrong. Every. Time. I went left when I should have gone right. I lost my bearings, got turned around. Eventually I would find a landmark and figure out the right way to go, but every trip was complicated by my disorientation.

Looking back with the perspective that a year’s distance can provide, it seems that my being lost (which inspired the title of this blog, after all) remains a good metaphor. I have made many missteps, and many wrong turns. I already knew that getting lost can be a shortcut to finding something great, and that has often been the case over this past year.  But getting lost can also lead to trouble, and confusion, and pain. Not lessons I expected us to learn, but there they are, mixed in and muddled with all the wonderful new experiences and memories this year gave us.


Doing the tourist thing at Zaanse Schans.

So here I stand, on the brink of my second year abroad. This year, though, from the beginning, I will have my landmark, my point of reference to help me find my way. I don’t talk about my husband much here, primarily to respect his privacy. (He may be the last man on earth who is not on Facebook.) But he is the reason we are able to be here – his planning and working and saving have allowed us to pursue this dream which is, honestly, mostly my dream. He is more generous and more loving than I deserve, and I know it too well.

A year ago today I stepped into the unknown. Leaving a home and a community behind was not a mistake. Leaving my husband behind (even briefly) was. This year, I’m going to do things right. We’re in it together, from the start. The plans and memories and adventures will be ours. As will the detours and the doubling back and the where-in-the-hell-are-we-now moments.

Off we go…