I have just over a month left in the states. That gives me too much time left to start packing or making final goodbye plans, but it's getting to the point where there's not much left to do to prepare. I'm either going to find a way to live in Amsterdam or not, and the next step is to just get there and figure it all out. So I thought I would allow myself the luxury of not focusing on too many details right now.
A huge part of why I want to move back to Europe is for the ease of travel. While I was living in France, I did a significant amount of traveling - mostly with the help of Hospitality Club. In fact, I used HC during my third visit to Amsterdam (in September 2007), when I stayed with this really friendly Dutch guy (Marcel) for a few days. I remember how happy I was during that trip, even though I didn't do anything particularly special. I rented a bike, read books in Vondelpark, took pictures, and probably ate a lot of stroopwaffles. I had to buy allergy medicine, and I still remember how friendly the man was who worked at the pharmacy. I was in the middle of the red light district on a busy day, and the pharmacist took the time to find me exactly the right medicine for my particular allergies at the cheapest price. I met a new friend who took me on a long boat ride around the canals, giving me the chance to see Amsterdam from the water (the picture I included is from that day). I remember thinking how strange and wonderful it was to get a coffee to-go whenever I wanted - something that doesn't really exist in Paris. I felt unbelievably lucky and in love with the world during that short trip, and I didn't want to leave. It was one of the only times in my life that I didn't look forward to returning to Paris.
It is quite possible I'm starting to get too old for hostels and the "so, where are you from, where have you been?" conversations that go along with that whole backpacker scene, but I'll never feel too old to travel. The people I met through Hospitality Club ... some of those people have become my very best friends. I never paid for lodging in Budapest, Sarajevo, Prague, or a million other places - I stayed with real people leading real lives, all because we share the same basic philosophy: that traveling is important. That's it. It doesn't matter how little money you have or if you can't afford to go out to dinner and pay for overpriced museums. You can still go, learn about a new culture, try out a few words in a new language, and explore. I remember in Sarajevo, there was a day when about 20 of us HC members came together to explore the city for a weekend - something we had planned out on the internet. Along the way, we would run into other random travelers and invite them along to lunch, dinner, for a drink, whatever we were doing. It became so natural and easy to meet people, invite them to stay at my apartment in Paris, give them keys, and never even find out their last name. Hospitality Club isn't unique - there's also Couch Surfing and probably a bunch of other similar organizations. If anyone out there reading is interested in travel but thinks that lack of funds is a reason not to go... please check out HC or CouchSurfing.
I recently noticed that my favorite band of the moment - Kaizers Orchestra - is playing in Amsterdam ... 23 days before I arrive. If you live there, please go see them play at the Paradiso on 1 April and tell me everything about the show.