In 2014, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in the Netherlands for a semester. And even though Amsterdam wasn’t my first choice (I considered myself a London girl), it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. I completely fell in love with Amsterdam, made amazing friends and had so many incredible adventures all around Europe. If you’re in university and have an opportunity to study abroad anywhere, do it!
Since 2014, I haven’t been back to Amsterdam. Many of my other friends who I met on exchange have already been back. And finally, this past October, it was my turn. I couldn’t wait to be reunited with my special city, to see what had changed and to come back to my European home.
I arrived in Amsterdam a day before my dad did. This wasn’t intentional (the flight was just cheaper) but it did give me a chance to walk down memory lane…literally. The first thing I did (after taking a nap since I had been on a red-eye flight) was head over to my old neighbourhood.
I walked through Westerpark, a place where we spent many weekends going to food festivals, watching soccer matches, renting boats and frequenting our favourite bakery. At first, I was having a hard time placing things. I had entered the park from a different direction and I didn’t recognize where I was going. But as the bakery came into view, I suddenly was flooded with images of my friends and I running up to the take-out door and ordering fresh scones with jam and clotted cream.
I couldn’t leave without ordering one of our much-loved scones. I sat down with a chocolate chip scone, still warm from the oven, and little jars of jam and clotted cream. It was just as yummy as I remembered. It was also the last chocolate chip scone, so good thing I got there in time!
After my scone, I walked towards my old apartment. Or, where my old apartment used to stand. We lived in what we lovingly referred to as shipping containers. They were large boxes on the pier that, while spacious, lacked any and all charm. These were a far cry from the adorable skinny houses you see lining the canals. But they were home to us. These containers were where I met my two wonderful friends, Gabby and Carlie. It’s where I burnt a plastic container onto our stove top (whoops!), mastered use of our shower without flooding the entire bathroom, grew a tulip from bulb to bloom, and walked around in a blanket skirt drinking tea when it was cold out.
And now, those apartments are no more. We knew that the shipping containers were temporary and that actual houses were going to be developed in the area. It was wild to walk up to the site and see the progress. What used to just be a few boxes was now a full on construction site with cranes, trucks and actual buildings.
But some things don’t change. I walked past the pizza shop where Carlie, Gabby and I made a tradition of ordering from to celebrate birthdays. I recognized the bike shop where many of my friends bought their bikes and had things fixed. And I popped into Albert Hejn, our old grocery store, to reminisce over Gabby teaching me the Kiwi terms for vegetables (aubergines, anyone?) and to stock up on absurdly cheap chocolate, cheese and wine.
For me, the best part about Amsterdam isn’t the museums or tulips, as lovely as both of those are. But it’s simply walking around a neighbourhood. It’s the towering narrow houses that seem to just fit lined up one next to the other. It’s the picturesque canals and bridges that cross them. And it’s the independent cafes and shops that are filled with fashionable locals chatting away in Dutch.
Walking down Haarlemmerdijk the next day, I had the hugest smile on my face. This was the Amsterdam I knew and loved. The streets were cobblestone, the storefronts were all unique, and the canals peaked out at every intersection. And this was home. Haarlemmerdijk was the street I walked down to get to and from school. I remember thinking that even though my walk was long (about 40 minutes each way), it was one of the most beautiful walks that showcased everything I loved about the city. I would walk to school grinning every day (unless it was raining, of course!).
When you revisit a place, you can’t help but get nostalgic. Those six months living in Amsterdam were incredible and I have so many awesome memories from that time in my life. Walking those streets again also made me think about where I’m at now. If you had told me in 2014 that in four years I would return to Amsterdam, I’d first wonder why it took me a whole four years to get back there. But I’m sure I would have been shocked to know that I would return to this city as a full-time freelance writer who works from a home in Surrey that I own with my partner and our dog. That would’ve totally blown my mind in 2014! In fact, it still blows my mind in 2018.
Going back to Amsterdam gave me a chance to do some much-needed reflecting. It’s so easy for me, and for all of us, to get caught up in the day-to-day annoyances of life. We so rarely step back and look at where we are and where we’ve come from. Sometimes it’s hard for me to feel accomplished or satisfied on a day when I don’t change out of pajamas, spend more time on Facebook than client work, and skip the gym in favour of Netflix on the couch.
But big picture, I have accomplished a lot. And I’m really happy with that. I have an incredible life that I am so grateful for. It helps to remind myself of that and to carry that gratitude into my day-to-day actions.
Amsterdam is always going to have a piece of my heart. It was my home for six months, which, if you know me and how often I move, is a huge amount of time. It was my gateway for European adventures, the place where I met some incredible people, and the city where I grew so much as a student, a traveller and a person. So I guess it only makes sense that I would go back and be reminded of how much more I’ve grown since 2014 and how much growth is left ahead of me.
What city makes you feel like you’re walking down memory lane?