Being a Tourist Again
In October, the Dutch weather turns bad. The days are darker, the sky is gray, and rain comes all the time from the North Sea. Amsterdam’s neighborhoods carry the scent of wood fires as everyone tries to get warm. Pedaling back on the bakfiets from picking up Jacob from school, we hadn’t planned on a fire. But the smell of it in the air changed my mind. We headed to the store for a pumpkin, firewood and Belgian beer to fight the cold. Our day that day had been typical for an Amsterdam tourist, though I now felt like an “Amsterdammer,” showing newcomers around. We took the 347 bus from Kruiskerk station with Owen and Jenn’s parents.
Amsterdam appeared as it typically does on that fall day. The canals were dull and non-reflective, lined with bikes and the last of the fall flowers. The cyclists navigated in the aggressive manner they always did, and the flower markets bustled with tourists escaping the rain. It was the type of rain that you couldn’t quite tell if it was actually rain or if the wind had picked up and was blowing wetness off of the clay tile rooftops of the tall narrow houses. But on days like this, Amsterdam shone, revealing its unique charm. The canal houses leaned with the weight of their history, the air held the aromas of Indian and Indonesian cafes, and the scent of coffee, cinnamon and pastry shops hung in the air.
By now, we’ve lived the Dutch life for over two months. The kids have adjusted well. Owen, in Dutch daycare, now says “tot ziens” for “bye,” and Jacob, in elementary school, has made international friends and even begun complaining in Dutch at home to us which was an unexpected treat. Jacob has adapted well to our new life, but the absence of family and friends from back home still plays on his young mind. The grand adventures, the journeys, the stroopwafels—these distractions have done their part, but deep down, we have known Jacob misses the familiarity of home, asking about his friends and family or the mountains which he grew accustomed to seeing everyday. The presence of their grandparents provided this if briefly – a connection to Colorado that made missing it easier.
A Night Away
We lit the fire for the boys and the grandparents and biked down to the wine kitchen at Ouderkerkerlaan 2 and we spoke of life. The work that she had and I didn’t. That writing that was keeping me busy at times although it wasn’t earning us any money. I talked about how, in my romantic picture of our time in Europe, I envisioned a life of going to cafes in the morning after dropping the kids off at school on the bike and having café au laits and writing and eating oysters washed down by nice white wines.
We talked about how this sounded wonderful but couldn’t last long, and there is a reality to life that sets in if you want to live the life that you want, and that having no living and eating oysters and drinking wine and coffee does not serve that end. We talked about going to London, Lisbon, Germany, Cairo… all of the places that we knew were there and we had not been to yet and some that we had, but how it would be exciting to go.
It was finally possible to have a good adult conversation, which we hadn’t in the last two months until her parents had watched the kids. We learned again why we were here. The childlike giddiness when we both talked about where we wanted to go next, what we wanted to experience together, what we wanted to show our kids. We talked about why we were doing what we were doing. And the wine and the oysters were great as we toasted to our new lives and our family.
This evening, as the fire burned down and Jenn and I had ridden our bikes back from the wine bar on for the date night gifted to us by her parents, I walked Abby to the nearby church and carried our trash to the community dump area on the way that smelled if you got there too late and it was full. The air was still rich with the fireplace smell, and the church was lit on the inside casting bright squares through the windows on the big grassy field behind it. This I thought, was the essence of our life here – a blend of new experiences, adventure, the warmth of family, all against the backdrop of a city which continues to reveal its charm in many small ways.