It's somewhere between May 3rd and May 4th for me, and I'm on a plane - I'll post this once I'm on the ground somewhere. There's this lovely tradition I seem to have of not being able to leave a country without being either very, very tired and/or feeling a twinge of regret for how much I had to drink the night before. I can't just can't seem to travel after a good night of sleep, a clear head, and a full stomach.
So that's how I'm saying goodbye to the US. Tired, hungry, and still putting together all the pieces of the previous evening (which happened to be the wedding of one of my best friends!), which ended around 4.30am. I was in the US for about 17 days, and it felt like a very long time in a very good way. I stopped thinking about work after the first few days. I slept late, I had long lunches and dinners with friends, I had some nice weather, I saw the mountains, I played with dogs and babies. I got really used to being home (well, one of my homes) and hanging out with friends I've known for most of my life. As I ran around New York and Philadelphia I kept passing by places I used to live. How many places can feel so familiar, so that you don't have to look at maps, you know the postal code, you run into people you know without trying? They add up after a while. After I drove by Former Apartment Number 7, I almost felt exhausted.
Whenever I was asked the question "So, are you happy in Amsterdam, do you feel like you could stay?" My answer was always "Yes." And then, if the person was a pretty good friend, I would go on to explain myself by saying that, for the first time in my life, I'm not planning the Next Big Thing. I can't promise I'll stay in Amsterdam forever (I would never make such a claim), but there has never been a time in my life when I wasn't daydreaming about the next place I would live or the next big adventure in my life. Of course I still want to travel and make documentaries and hitchhike through Australia and walk around the Nepalese mountains. None of that has changed. But there's no big change actually being planned, there's nothing I'm saving up for, I'm just... happy and content. There's no better evidence of that then the fact that I do not have a new master plan. Anyone who is reasonably close to me would hear this explanation and then respond "Wow," because I've never said something like that before.
I had the "is the economic crisis hitting Amsterdam the way it's hitting here?" conversation constantly. TV ads, billboards, subway posters, magazine covers - everything there was about the economy (or swine flu). Sometimes the ads were funny, like the subway poster that was advertising a car service where you can use a car for a few hours at a time (like Greenwheels in Amsterdam). "Owning your own car is so pre-recession" was the tagline. But there were also way more serious things going on, the same horrible first-hand stories about not having access to health care or having to pay too much to see a doctor. It seemed like every other commercial I heard on the radio or TV was about the crisis in some way. It was intense. It was something everyone had an opinion about.
Of course I missed my bicycle a lot and I kept feeling slightly hindered by the fact that I didn't have a bike to use. I noticed huge improvements in the way New York City is promoting cycling. It's one of those things that, yeah, sure, there was always "share the road" signs (with a picture of a car and bicycle) hanging around the city, but this time there was an actual difference that I could see - more bike lanes. It's still not enough, it's still been a long time coming, but I was delighted to see the freshly painted bike lanes on the roads and way more street signs up specifically for cyclists. A friend of mine told me that the number of cyclists going over the Williamsburg bridge (which connects part of Brooklyn to Manhattan, and is the bridge I used to ride over) has increased by something like 200% in the past year!
Even though my vacation did feel long and allowed me some very leisurely days, I also ran around a lot. Lots of buses, trains, cars, and subways. I slept in a bunch of different places so I was usually lugging around a lot of stuff with me at all times. This is the nicest part about going home to Amsterdam... just being in my own apartment with access to a washing machine whenever I want one, being able to have coffee exactly the way I like it, sleeping in my own bed, and of course, watching the sun set from my balcony. I'm curious to see what the rest of the spring and summer brings. I have some interesting plans on the horizon, a few trips being planned, and some big changes ahead, but first things first: let's just get my job contract renewed. Once that's taken care of, or the paperwork is in place to start getting that taken care of (basically, once I'm assured that I will have a job after 9 June), I'll breath a sigh of relief and start thinking about everything else.