I’ve now been living in Amsterdam for two weeks. The first three days here we were stuck in the flat waiting for our boxes to be delivered. So for the first few days we only saw our surroundings by night. Then we had one day of getting out of the house before I managed to get ill.
I’m finally better and today we felt like getting out on our bikes. We looked at the map and decided to head east towards green, open countryside. To get there we had to cross a wide expanse of water along two vast steel bridges. The water was lined with large apartment blocks, off in the distance smoke from a power plant plumed up into the sky and pylons stretched out from shore to shore. I felt as though I was cycling through a place that used to be the future. There was a relentless worn-out industry to the land, a sort of faded modernism.
Once we got over to the other side of the water we were cycling through countryside. Except that we hadn’t really left the water behind. This is Waterland, water and land, land reclaimed from water. Fields of sheep and cows criss-crossed with ditches gave way to yet more water until we were cycling along a narrow strip of road, water to our left, water to our right.
We cycled through the small village of Durgerdam with its painted wooden houses along the waterfront, which was lined with jetties and the tall, reaching masts of boats. It smelt of farmland and sea, a smell that assaulted the senses and made me realise how senseless the city can feel sometimes.
We both sighed a sigh of relief. A sigh of relief for green and birds and ducks and the horizon. Even pylons were a novelty we hadn’t enjoyed in the city. There were hardly any other people about, just the odd fellow cyclist.
The last two weeks have been a strange time. I don’t dislike Amsterdam and it certainly has its charm – the rows of tall, narrow houses and cobbled, tree-lined streets along the canals are lovely on a blustery autumn day. Yesterday we went on a canal cruise through the city and it looked beautiful as the sun set like a blooming rose behind tall buildings and spires. But I haven’t exactly fallen in love with the city either. I want to love it. I have, after all, left my home and family and everything that was familiar to be here. I’ve been happy these last two weeks and busy getting settled in, but I suppose at the back of my mind I’ve been wondering – when will it click, when will I feel connected to this place.
That moment was today as we were cycling through Waterland. This, this, right here, I thought and felt giddy with happiness. I think I can get used to this. We’re not really city people, said my boyfriend. Not we’re not really. And usually I feel apologetic about that, but today I realised we weren’t really escaping, simply leaving so we could bring back something of the countryside. Fresh air in our lungs, aching limbs, happiness, love.
These past two weeks I’ve been pining for Nottingham. I wanted to step out of the door and walk up to the farm or cycle down to Attenborough. I wanted to go to the supermarket and not have an awkward exchange that usually ends in me saying ‘Sorry, do you speak English?’, heck I’ve even missed being able to listen in on other people’s conversations. I kept telling myself to stop being ridiculous, pinning after Nottingham when I am in Amsterdam – I’ve been given the opportunity to live in another country, I should be grateful. But the heart needs a peg to hang love on, it just took a while to find it.
After today I think I can remember Attenborough with affection, instead of aching nostalgia. I knew that place, I spent glorious summer afternoons and biting winter days cycling through it. Lucky me. Now I get to learn a new place. Very lucky me, indeed.