Everything is packed up and our belongings are on a container taking the slow route to Seattle. We are flying out this afternoon. It’s been a great run in Amsterdam.
I’ve been mulling over what we’ll miss, and here is my list:
The Bike Culture
This is a biggie because it encompasses so many things. It’s not just the fact that we (and everybody else) bike everywhere every day, but it’s all the things that make the bike culture “work.” It’s how safe it is to bike here with so many dedicated bike paths and bike lanes. It’s that bikes always have the right-of-way and drivers know that. It’s that the Dutch are so laid-back and non-pretentious that you bike in all sorts of weather because it doesn’t really matter if you arrive a little wet or a little sweaty. It’s the thrill of being part of the throng during bicycle rush hour and marveling at how well it works. It’s the beauty of your daily commute taking you past a windmill at a spot where Rembrandt used to sketch (Bryan) or making it all the way to school biking with no hands because all the traffic lights were in your favor (Sierra). Its biking on a sunny day in the canal zone and marveling at how lucky you are. Really going to miss this one.
The Unique Dutch Celebrations
One of the great things about living in another culture is experiencing and adopting some of their festivities. We have been humbled by the moving Remembrance and Liberation Day Celebrations; entertained by Kings Day; and slightly bewildered by Sint and his Piets; but we have enjoyed it all. We have also added the Dutch birthday song to our repertoire.
The Dutch Welfare State
I have to say that living in a country with amazing and inexpensive universal health care along with a wide social safety net has been a joy. We rarely see a homeless person, our health care costs for the entire family for a fantastic health plan (including dental and orthodontics) are about $350 a month with no deductible, and everything works here. I don’t know that you could make this function as well on a larger scale (there are only 17 million people in the whole country) and taxes are quite high at the upper end of the pay scale, but it’s been a pleasure.
My aunt and uncle were visiting here recently and said it seemed in some ways like a place out of the 50s. Shops are closed on Sundays and don’t stay open late at night, little kids bike by themselves to school, the stores only offer two versions of a product instead of 47, and families still spend a lot of time just hanging out together on the weekends. This slower pace is strange at first, but then easy to get used to. (Unless of course you need to buy something on Sunday evening for a homework project due Monday.)
Living in History
Amsterdam has been an important center of trade and culture for hundreds of years and that past is all around us all the time. You can visit the house that Rembrandt lived in when he produced many of his masterpieces, go to the “Old” Church consecrated in 1306 or the “New” Church that dates from the mid-1400s; take a boat down a canal that has been an exclusive address since the Dutch Golden Age in the 1600s; or have a pint in a brown café that has been around for centuries.
Art and Culture
One of my favorite activities here has been a series of art history classes that have given me so much appreciation for the city’s easily accessible art. I have been awed by what I have seen and learned in Amsterdam’s treasure trove of museums like the Rijks, the Van Gogh, the Stedelijk and the AMS Hermitage. Other gems like the Six Collection, the Mauritius (in The Hague, but that’s close enough), and the Van Loon have been icing on the cake. I have popped into the Rijks at least 30 times while we have lived here and find it special every single occasion.
While we knew the museums here were amazing, we didn’t know that Amsterdam attracted so many great touring acts. The venues are generally much smaller than they would be for the same act in the US, making the shows feel intimate. We had a ball at the shows of some bigger names (Macklemore was a fave) and discovered some fun newer artists in venues about the size of our living room.
It has been such a privilege to be able to bop all over Europe for the past 18 months. It’s so cool to catch a train, jump in the car, or hop on a short flight and be in a completely different culture.
The Challenges of Not Knowing the Ropes
I know this might sound like a negative, and there are certainly times when I have wished for an Easy Button, but the challenge of day-to-day living in a foreign culture really invigorates me. There is newness and discovery at every turn. Add in being able to (somewhat) learn another language and I’m a happy girl.
As I have mentioned in other posts, your friends become your family as well when you are living abroad. We will miss a great group of people, but know that we will see them again somewhere in the world.