Can it really have been a year since my husband and I landed in Toronto to start our new life here? In a way it feels like no time at all has passed. Despite the big move our lives have a rhythm that feels old and comfortable. We still wake up too early on weekdays and go to bed later than we should, we still cook the same meals, and we still snuggle up on the couch in the evening to watch Netflix.
And yet, our lives have changed quite a bit. Shortly after we moved to Toronto we flew back to Amsterdam for my husband’s graduation. At a party a friend commented on my husband’s new haircut and glasses, to which my husband responded, yep I’m just tearing it up, burn everything. In a way it does feel like we tore up and burnt the rule book of our old lives.
My favourite weekend activity is to go for a long walk through the city, admiring Amsterdam’s beautiful architecture, looking in shop windows and, best of all, walking down new streets I’ve never walked down before.
In fact, this kind of wandering is my favourite activity to do anywhere. I’ve travelled a fair bit now, though I’d hesitate to call myself a seasoned traveller, but I’ve travelled enough that I’ve come to feel wary of the things you’re supposed to do when you visit a place.
My partner and I spent the last two weeks cycling through Europe – specifically, we cycled from Prague to Budapest, via Vienna. Outside my familiar milieu of Amsterdam, work and chores, time seemed to stretch. The two week gap between finishing work and today somehow feels looser, as though time were a straight line that suddenly became a puddle.
I get asked that question a lot, especially by Dutch people – even by the Dutch person who is supposed to be teaching me Dutch. At this point I have a set of pre-prepared answers I can rattle out: because I think it’s rude to live in a country and not make an effort to learn the language; because despite repeated assertions from Dutch people that everyone here speaks English, everyone in fact speaks Dutch; because I’d like to be able to understand the announcements on the train; because I thought it would help me find a job. All of these reasons are true, but at this point I don’t think they are the reasons that motivate me to keep trying.
I’m fascinated by sense of home. I’m not sure why but I often find myself feeling overwhelming nostalgic for moments and places where I have felt that sense of being at home: the living room of my childhood home, the dryer is on and the windows are fogged up; it’s autumn in St Andrews and there are leaves in the sea; the smell of coal fires filling the air on cold Cornish nights; summer evenings at Wollaton Park. I even sometimes feel anticipatory nostalgia for Amsterdam. Seemingly small things, like fogged up windows, can take us back to a particular time and place, tying us to that moment. Continue readingA home out of this world
I’ve just finished reading Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant and expansive cultural history of walking, Wanderlust. In her book Solnit charts the history of walking from its contested evolutionary history, to the English country garden, and from John Muir to American suburbia. Continue readingOn Wanderlust and walking
Last weekend I went back to Manchester for a few days. Spending time back home is always a slightly disorientating experience. Both going to Manchester and coming back to Amsterdam, I’m confronted by just how different the two cities are. There are the obvious things like the language, the way people dress, and the architecture. And then there are the differences like never seeing homeless people in Amsterdam, but always seeing several on the streets of Manchester. It was also disorientating to wake up on Friday morning to see a map of the UK swathed in blue, when I had been hoping for a very different outcome. All weekend and for days afterwards I felt a sense of sadness and disbelief whenever I remembered that the Conservatives are still in power. Continue readingElections and directions (or lack thereof)
The other day I went to my local library to sign up for a Dutch speaking programme. I filled out the forms and handed them over to the lady at the desk. She checked over my answers and when she saw my surname she asked, is that a Czech name? No, I replied, it’s Hungarian. I didn’t think anything of it because I’m so used to people asking me about my name. Usually I’m asked if it’s Polish. No one, except Hungarians, guesses that it’s Hungarian, so the answer has become rote for me. No, it’s Hungarian. My grandfather was Hungarian. Continue readingWhere’d you get a name like that?
Over Christmas I spent two weeks in Manchester. It’s the longest I’ve been back since I left over two years ago. I mean really left, and not the temporary severing of university. As usual when I go back to Manchester, I kept asking myself the same question: why don’t I love this place? The answer should be straightforward, there are plenty of places I don’t love, that’s just the way it is. I’m not sure why I keep returning to this question, but a part of me feels that I should love it, should feel some sense of attachment. Continue readingHome, in three parts
A year ago today I landed in Amsterdam to begin a new life here. It seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the year and my experiences in this strange new land. Continue readingA year in Amsterdam