It’s felt like a busy few weeks. We had two weekends in a row of visitors – first, my stepmother and brothers and then, some old friends from university. Aside from the fact that it was lovely to spend time with family and friends, I also enjoyed showing off my new city. Acting as a tour guide for our visitors helped to divorce me from the day-to-day realities of being an expat in a foreign country and instead see Amsterdam as a tourist would. It’s hard not to fall in love with the place as you wander along sunlit canals and down narrow alleyways, lined with shops and cafés. Amsterdam certainly has some unique and oddly specific shops – so far we’ve come across a shop that just sells coffee and one kind of cookie (probably the most expensive cookie I’ve ever eaten at €1.95 a pop), a canvas shop that sells nothing but canvas fabric, and – I kid you not – a toothbrush shop. You have to love a city that can support that kind of economy.
There have been moments of respite. Last weekend was the first time in months that I’ve been outside the house without a coat. It hasn’t been a particularly cold winter – we’ve barely had any frost – but it’s still been cold enough to warrant a coat and having the fire on. On Sunday we cycled over to Diemerpark, which has a beach, and spent a few hours relaxing in the sun. Afterwards, at home, we had the windows open for the rest of the day.
Not only are the days getting warmer, they’re also getting – mercifully – longer. Suddenly, there is more light than we know what to do with. When I leave the house at 7am to go to Tilburg, it is no longer dark and my fellow early morning commuters don’t seem quite so threatening. Going home in the evening, I’m no longer buried in a book. Instead, I look out of the train window at the passing landscape. Mostly, it’s flat fields stretching out into uninterrupted horizon. The fields are interspersed with sheep, farm buildings and tree lined canals, down which barges chug into the night. Sunset seems to last for hours and casts a deep red glow across the land. In-between, there are small towns where bucolic windmills cut into the skyline.
I blogged recently about how I keep saying ‘here’ instead of ‘there’, when talking about the UK. One of the hardest things about adjusting to a new place – and I find this even when I’m on holiday – is tricking your brain in to accepting that you are, in fact, in a new place. You have expectations about what it will feel like that are never quite borne out by the reality. Up until now I’ve not really felt, definitively, that I’m in the Netherlands – despite all the windmills and actually seeing someone walking down the street in wooden clogs. Lately, however, I’ve had three words going round in my head – I am here.