This post has been sitting on my dashboard for a really long time, but I just never seemed to get around to finishing it. Why is writing about travel so hard? I think it’s just hard to put so much experience into words. But now, we have another trip on the books, so I should probably finish this one up first!
So, after all the flying, driving, riding, and walking, my husband and I were finally settled into our perfect little apartment in De Krommerdt. The first day we were there it was so cold and wet, but every day afterwards was clear, bright, and warm. The little balcony overlooked the backyard where cats were always wandering on both the ground and the rooftops of the neighboring apartments. I tried to keep track of how many cats we saw while we were visiting but I lost count around cat number 20.
I’ve always heard that you should never nap when you’re traveling over time lines. You need to get your body to adjust to your new bedtime, and a nap will potentially keep you up and cause your adjustment to take longer. It sounds right in theory, but I can pretty much always sleep at night no matter how much I slept in or napped that day. When we went to Italy a few years ago, every morning was absolutely torture because of how exhausted I was, but I never napped. I also never adjusted. I think I should have just napped anyway. I was prepared to sleep whenever I wanted for this trip, but surprisingly, I didn’t need to. I adapted to my new sun and moon nearly instantly. This allowed me to get the most enjoyment out of our trip, and I was so grateful for that.
Our first order of business when we arrived was renting bikes. We rode them everywhere to get around, just as I did seven years ago. I had been practicing for months at the gym to increase my biking endurance. I’ve never been a star cyclist, so it was scary at first. You expect me to balance and steer and pedal all at the same time? But, I did it before, and I knew I could do it again. It took some time, but I eventually got the hang of it. I only had one significant crash right at the start, so I guess it shook the fear out of me. I was kind of proud of the big welt that developed on my knee, even though it was from falling off my bike after being at a complete stop. There’s just something about having a bruise that makes me feel tough. Like, look, I survived.
It felt nice to have a bike again. We went everywhere together, and I learned what it’s quirks were, and I eventually was able to recognize it amongst the masses of other bikes piled together on the sidewalk. We were a good team. Unfortunately, my husband’s bike quirks involved the breaks going, and having to be replaced (after a long, sort of scary ride back to the rental place). That’s nothing compared to the countless repairs and replacements I had with my bikes during my first trip, so maybe it was essential for him to get a little taste of what that’s like.
Before we arrived, I made a looooong list of places I wanted to visit and things I wanted to do, and when we had settled in, I did my final bit of planning by breaking down this activities into each day. Most of our activities revolved around food. I’d pick where I wanted to go out for breakfast and we’d plan our day around that particular area. The other activities were mostly other food places I wanted to go, like cafes or bakeries. If you haven’t guessed, I like food. Mostly looking at it, unless it’s sweet, then gimme gimme straight to my belly yesssss.
Nearly every cafe or restaurant were entered had a little space where the business sold their own brand of bits and bobs, or second-hand items. This is all of my favorite activities rolled into one. Bits and bobs, breakfast, and cats everywhere.
There were a lot more gluten free eating out options than I remember when I was there before. It made eating out very exciting for me. I had PANCAKES at PANCAKES Amsterdam and this fantastic vegan pizza that I could eat everyday for the rest of my life. We spent many of our evenings at Foodhallen which was basically a warehouse of every cuisine you can imagine, and a lot of nights had a DJ playing sweet tunes. We weren’t able to try everything there, but boy did we give it our best shot. We just didn’t have time! They even had a stand with beautiful desserts, and a bar dedicated to specialty gin and tonics.
Everything felt so familiar. Amsterdam is an old city, and they do everything to preserve their history. Unlike in America where we tear things down and build and rebuild, The Netherlands respects their past, and embraces where they were and manages to carry that respect with them into their future. Buildings are restored and repaired rather than torn down, and spaces that aren’t used for their original purpose anymore, like churches, are often converted into things like museums or libraries.
Because of this, a lot of things were the same as they had been when I had last seen them. One afternoon, we biked over to my old dorm, and even after all this time, it was exactly the same. I remember having to be especially careful not to get my tires caught in the tram tracks in that area because there were so many tracks intertwined with each other. I never got caught, but I was the passenger of another biker once who did get caught up for a second. He recovered almost immediately, but for that second I was so scared we were going to crash! I was especially careful this time too.
I saw the old coffee shop I used to frequent, and the pizza place on the corner. When we arrived we walked our bikes up a steeply curved bridge, the bridge I used to take to get to the grocery store. From there, I was able to see my old room. I was the third to last on the first floor. I felt so special being on the first floor. For one, I didn’t have to lug my belongings up all those steps like many of my other companions. But mostly, first floor students got the benefit of having a patio right on the water. I sat out there in the evenings a lot and wrote in my journal. It was peaceful. Sometimes a tour boat would chug by and the tourists would wave, and I would wave back.
Later on in the week, we met with someone very special to me. Her name is Renee, and she worked with the program I was doing my study abroad time with. She was always there for me, and for everyone. We all had tons of questions about the country, and we all needed personal help when we would get home sick. She was such a comfort to have around.
We met up at a small bar in the city and I got to introduce her to the young man I had been pining for all those years ago, who had become my husband. She was just as pretty and cool as I remembered. Sitting and having a drink with her was a bit surreal. She seemed so much the same, but I had gone through so much change since we had last been together. I graduated from college and moved to Pittsburgh. I got married and started working professionally as a photographer. But most of all, I had found confidence in myself. Renee said that she remembered how shy I was back then. She wasn’t wrong. I struggled to find my identity with the others in the program, just as I struggled to find where I fit anywhere else in the world. But somewhere between then and now, I grew into someone stronger. My counselor and my husband were both the biggest cause of that. But also, the time I spent in The Netherlands changed me too. When I left that last day, I was someone else. I found a new “normal” in my life, and I found an understanding of people I didn’t know I needed. In a way, Renee saw me grow up.
Meeting with Renee was absolutely the highlight of the trip for me. I feel like she was proud of me for how far I have come. I feel like a much healthier individual than I was back then. I’m proud of me too.
So, let me explain then why this part, part III, of the Netherlands travel series is titled “Acceptance”.
As much as The Netherlands felt the same as I remembered (even the sun feels different there, and the air smells different), it was a different experience than I’d had back when I studied abroad. I don’t know if I was totally prepared for that.
I believe that I lived there. I wasn’t visiting. I wasn’t a tourist. I was there for several weeks, soaking in everything. I lived there in all of the ups and downs. But in this trip, I just felt like a visitor, because I was. I didn’t know that would be so different and so hard. I think we all try to fit in when we travel somewhere new. Whenever I read a travel book, it always gives you tips on how to act like a local, and how to not bring so much attention to your tourist-y ignorance. Even though I remembered how to conduct myself in a restaurant and I was well versed in bike etiquette, I felt so American.
This was hard.
I wanted to wave at the tourists in the boats and pretend that my dorm room was my home. I wanted to ride through the streets on my second-hand bike and not have to stop at each corner to look at a map. I wanted to take photographs because it was my job, not because I was sightseeing.
But, that wasn’t who I was. I am an American, and I was a tourist. That’s fine. It was a hard thing to accept, but once I did, I think I was able to experience the city so much better. I wasn’t trying to relive the past I’d already had. I was having a new experience with my husband who I’ve wanted to do this with ever since I landed there in 2011. There was so much that I wanted to do with him that I had done before, but we also did new things where I couldn’t say “This was better when I was here before” or “I remember this”. We did things where we could both be excited and grab the other person’s arm to get them to look at this weird thing you just saw. I appreciate everything we did and saw that helped me relive those precious days in my past, but I also love the new story we wrote together.
The best story we wrote together was from our time in Driehuizen.
This home was magical.
Driehuizen means three houses. We only saw our house, so I can’t tell you if there’s even more than one. I think there was a small town further…somewhere. But we only spent a couple days here and didn’t travel anywhere in this time. This is for sure the best travel concept we’ve ever had. Spend the majority of your time in the big, exciting city, and the last day or two in the quiet, peaceful country. We spent our time lounging with the cats that wandered into our house. We did some birdwatching, which sounds totally boring until you’re out in the country and there’s absolutely nothing around but water and fields. Then, somehow it’s exhilarating. There were also some chickens that I coaxed into coming inside until one pooped on the floor (which my husband warned me about but I didn’t listen). One day it just rained, and it was beautiful.
To be honest, I don’t know if this trip taught me anything. I think it did, but does that mean I’ll be a better, more experienced traveler next time? Who can say? I think each day and each experience is different. This trip was very familiar, and quite relaxed, but we still had our ups and downs. We got stressed at times, and anxious, and even cranky. I think I can largely understand why we felt that way each time, but I don’t necessarily think that means we can avoid stress in the future. But, maybe we can more easily recognize it and confront it if we need to.
In just a couple days, we’ll be leaving for another adventure. This one is more adventure-y than what we’ve done in the past. My hope is that as we’ve grown together, my husband and I, that we will take on this adventure that will no doubt have stress and complications and deal with them calmly and with patience. Travel is always a bit scary, don’t you think? But, we’re ready for it. I’m glad I was finally able to wrap things up here in time to start a new story.