Six years I lived in Amsterdam and I have no photos to show for it. At that time, iPhones were still a “luxury” in Europe, Instagram didn’t exist, and the idea of toting a digital camera around your own city like a tourist just seemed silly – not to mention inconvenient on a bike.
While I still have albums upon albums of Facebook photos from that time – of my holiday jaunts around Europe, Asia and my hometown of NYC (just in case you want to see 70+ photos of my best friend’s wedding!), I have very few visual reminders of my Dutch life. Only the memory of how things were, the way I felt. Or even less reliable, the way I remember that I felt.
So how did I feel? Well, I remember that Amsterdam never felt like my city – whatever that means. Which is surprising considering Holland’s amazing qualities. It pretty much outranks all other countries on livability and happiness metrics. Fantastic parental leave, great work-life balance, top education systems. It would be an utter utopia if only the sun could manage to pop out a few more days a year.
As with most things, though, it was only after I left that I regretted not fully embracing my sureagate home while I lived there. Months after I settled back into New York (which actually did feel like home the minute I caught a whiff of the subway in summertime), I still longed for Amsterdam’s fried bar snacks, cheap but decent table wine, and long, lazy holidays to France and Spain, when you could send decadent out-of-office messages stating: “I may (or may not) get back to you in three weeks when I return from scuba diving in Bali or taking my entire family on safari in Tanzania.”
It was with this overwhelming feeling of nostalgia that I traveled back to Amsterdam this past April, four years after leaving. The trip itself was wonderful – I caught up with awesome friends, checked out the old apartment, jokingly lamented how much cooler and more hipster everything had become (how did my local falafel spot transform into Hutspot, a self described “curator for an urbanized lifestyle,” beards and all?).
Jetlagged and waiting for my friend Mike to awake in the bedroom next to me, I gazed out of the guest room window and watched all of the Dutch mamas shuttle their kids to school by bike, with plastic covers to protect from the perennial rain. I snapped a pic to capture the moment, but I knew I didn’t need anything to remind how I felt – that although this was a very special place and I had built a fantastic life for myself there, it wasn’t the right place for me. I could confidently head back to my life in New York, a city that may not be the most “livable” – with its high rents, frigid winters and smelly subways – but certainly is lovable. To me, at least.
(Another 8 million people may agree!)