March 19, 2009

Springtime is coming soon, so why don't you come to stay

I can feel it, see it, smell it... the arrival of Spring. The flowers are blooming all over the city, my laundry is hanging to dry on the balcony instead of inside the apartment, and best of all, I'm leaving work when it's still light out (I leave work around 7pm). A few nights ago I rode directly home when I left work (which doesn't happen very often) and kept my jacket on. I dashed through the apartment, grabbed a beer and Gian, and insisted that any plans for the evening had to wait until the sun had set. The very first sunset I've been able to watch from my balcony after work! It's going to get even better in a couple weeks, after Daylight Savings time takes effect... 8.30pm sunsets, starting on the 29th of March.

It's not overly warm (averaging about 10-11ºC/ 50ºF), but it has been quite sunny for the past few days. People are sitting outside at cafes, having picnics along the canals, and the tourists walk around delighted with everything. They (mostly) make me smile, because I was that tourist several times while visiting Amsterdam in the Spring. Ok, the almost-spring. I don't care, there's flowers blooming everywhere and sunshine has been pouring through the windows all day so, it's spring now!

In less than a month I'll be back in the US - my first trip back since I arrived last April. I'll see friends and family that I haven't seen in a year, which seems almost impossible. I hope it doesn't feel like I've been gone a long time. I hope when I see my friends again it will be like no time has passed at all - that's what I'm assuming is going to happen.

When I arrived in Amsterdam last year, it was just as Spring was beginning. Only a few days after I arrived, I wrote:

I just love it here so much that it scares me, because I just feel like maybe I really did find home. But there’s still a very, very, very good chance that I won’t just get to stay here indefinitely. If I can’t stay, I can’t stay. I’ll just have to accept it and make the most out of the time I do have here. But ... I really want to stay. It's just all too good.

And I still feel exactly the same way now, 11 months later. I'm watching someone go through a similar process that I was going through last year, the part where you're not sure if you can stay and you really want to but everything is so up in the air with jobs and money and apartments, and you can't make plans for the future because the future is so uncertain, and you just think "but if it all works out..."

When it all works out, it's so worth it in the end.

March 3, 2009

Reasons to feel at home

My unintentional break from blogging is (hopefully) over! The worst flu on earth has passed (almost three weeks being sick really, really makes me appreciate the simple things - like breathing) and I've been back to work and regular routines for a little while now. There are certain things that really make me feel at home in Amsterdam that aren't all about pretty skies and bicycles....

1. Having a doctor to call my own (or at least, a medical practice)
2. Doing my Dutch tax returns
3. Buying a 6-month membership to the climbing gym (woah, commitment!)

Going to the doctor and doing taxes isn't the fun part of life here, but even through my pounding-head-flu-haze, I still really, really appreciated the fact that when I went to the doctor I didn't have to fill out any forms or pay any money. All the doctors and staff spoke English, offered my test results (which were getting mailed to me) in English, and that picking a doctor didn't mean having to stay in any kind of special network - I just picked a doctor, called to make an appointment, and that was that.

I have several guests staying with me at the moment, which always makes me happy (the photo included with today's post was taken by one of them during sunset a few days ago). Having someone new in town always inspires me to go out and do something interesting/new/cultural, so this past Saturday we visited the Jewish Historical Museum (after having a coffee at the Waterlooplein market) to see the Bert Nienhuis exhibit. The Museum cards that were given to me by another friend got us in for free, so it didn't feel like a waste to only spend one hour in the museum. Lunch that day was prepared with fish purchased at the Albert Cuyp market, and eaten at home with good friends. Then, even though the temptation to stay home and nap away the big lunch and red wine that we consumed, I suggested a trip to an Amsterdam Nord cafe. I absolutely love taking the NDSM ferry across the IJ, and since the weather was cooperating (ie: not raining or too cold), it was really nice to stand outside on the ferry as we sailed across the river. We sat in a cafe for a couple hours, drinking beer by a fireplace in big, comfortable chairs. After the sun had set, we took the ferry back to the center (enjoying the view of Amsterdam by night), got some pizza from Cinema Paradiso, and spent the night ... well, we spent the night playing Risk with another friend, but that's not the point.

The point is, that entire day was pretty well packed from beginning to end, and cost almost nothing. The photo exhibit was free. The lunch was made at home with fish purchased at one of the most affordable markets in the city. Taking the ferry - which again, I think of as such a treat - is free. Sitting in a beautiful cafe for several hours, right on the water, with a view of the entire city, cost the price of two beers (€4.40). The pizza was actually the most expensive part of the day, but it was entirely worth it. We got around everywhere by bike, without any need to take public transportation.

Plus, I won the Risk game.

All in all, a pretty spectacular day.