I think that for as long as I will live in the Netherlands, there will be one sight I'll never get used to. There's something that I just don't think will ever, ever look normal to me.
Wednesday afternoon: It's lunchtime, and I go to my favorite sandwich shop and wait my turn. There are 4 very well-dressed Dutch guys ahead of me, fancy haircuts and tailored suits and stylish shoes. Ages about late 20's to early 40's. They order their sandwiches and then place their choice of drink on the counter - all four men choose the same thing: milk. Milk! I know this whole drinking-milk-with-lunch thing (and even dinner) as an adult isn't limited to the Netherlands, but it's my first time seeing it on a regular basis. It doesn't matter what lunch is, it could be pizza, a roast beef sandwich, a salad with salmon - a Dutch person will accompany this meal with a 1/2 liter of milk.
I suppose it doesn't help that I've always disliked drinking milk, even as a little kid.
However much I never ever ever plan on joining the Dutch in this particular aspect of their lives, I am incredibly happy to know that I can continue to observe the adult-drinking-milk-with-lunch phenomenon for at least one more year. My work contract has been renewed! So I can breathe a sigh of relief for a million reasons, but here are the top three:
1. it's a horrible time to be out of work right now, which obviously isn't news to anyone (though this article mentions that there has been no rise in unemployment in the Netherlands - the overall unemployment level of 4.4% is the same this year as it was last year).
2. I really, really like my job. This is very special, and I know how lucky I am to be able to say that, I remember that every day.
3. I really, really love Amsterdam, and staying in this city (legally) is dependent on having a job sponsor me.
When I went climbing last night, everything seemed just a little bit better, a little bit happier, because of this renewed contract. My climbing partner is a very good friend, and last night as we sat outside watching the boats go by, I realized I had known him for an entire year. In the grand scheme of life, that isn't very long. But for my life here in Amsterdam, it's forever. When we left the gym shortly after 10pm, it was still a little light outside. A group of people sat in a grassy area on a canal around a large campfire. I'm sure that campfires aren't legal within the city of Amsterdam, but I see them all the time in parks and little grassy areas tucked away somewhere. it's such a strange thing, that this city can be so densely populated but it's still so easy to find quiet areas and out of the way spots. This particular fire went on for at least 2 hours, uninterrupted, with a gang of about 8 people hanging out, and it didn't seem to be in any danger of being stopped anytime soon. As my friend and I left the gym, we crossed the bridge that takes us back into the city, and he said "This is very special, this scene right here - it's so amazing, and so hard to put into words why it's amazing, and is so completely indescribable to anyone who hasn't lived here." He's also an expat, but has lived in the Netherlands for about five years.
So yes, big sighs of relief all around. I'm still happy here, and I have a good feeling about Year Two in Amsterdam. The next big thing on my horizon is looking for a new apartment! My sights are set at a 2-bedroom place (I have a great new flatmate), my ideal neighborhood would be de baarsjes. I have no complaints about my current apartment (which I have always called "the Castle"), it's in a great location and it's huge. But 2 bedrooms will make all the difference, and I'm excited for the change. Not so excited to actually look for and find a new place, but fortunately I still have time for that. My first 2 apartments just fell into my lap with no effort... maybe I can get lucky a third time.