Farewell to Amsterdam


Daily school run in wind and rain.

It’s been three years since we moved to Amsterdam. Three years and a lot of trial and error. In these last weeks before we move to Scotland, my heart swells and breaks over our decision to leave. Nevermind all that for now. In this moment, I am Here. I effortlessly navigate my bike through busy streets filled with hundreds of other cyclists, trams, cars, and, worst of all, tourists. Newcomers to Amsterdam nervously and recklessly wander into oncoming traffic of all sorts. Not me, I’m a pro.  I’m cruising, listening to my Amsterdam playlist in my earbuds and feeling superior as I watch people huddled around phones or city maps trying to figure out where the hell they are and how to get to the Anne Frank house. “Did you get lost in Aaaaamsterdam?”  Yes, I did, Guster, but now I am found.


Boat birthday party – what could possibly go wrong?


I love this city. I love this city madly. You, dearest Amsterdam, are so misunderstood. You are not who they think you are.

You are for families riding bikes through Vondelpark, not drunken spring breakers stumbling to the next coffee shop. You are AH picnics on a bench overlooking a busy gracht and lazy evenings watching the weekend bustle from our perch atop the NEMO museum.  Even when you are difficult, the challenge is interesting and worthwhile.  You are the relentlessly tiresome bicycle commutes through wind and rain, arriving to work with the hair of Boober from Fraggle Rock and the odor of gym sock. You are awkwardly holding up the line at the Turkish grocer,  trying to order a half kilo of chicken op Nederlands. Kip kip! You are weary-legged trips home from the grocery store, skillfully balancing a heap of weekday meals AND a case of Heineken in our bakfiets (cargo bike).  You are my city.  The only city I’ve ever really loved.


Captain of Her Own Ship – docking up the boat one last time at our favorite spot, de Roest.


I love this city for what it is, but I also love this city for who I am in it.  

In Amsterdam, I know shit. I know how to get to shit and I know how to get shit done. I know which shit to avoid and which shit to pursue. It took a good long while and a lot of embarrassing mishaps to get to get here, but I did it. Expert Amsterdamer Level Unlocked.  I am a capable city girl in this town. Not bad for a country bumpkin from Kansas. Knowing Amsterdam makes me feel like I can do (nearly) anything. This is what empowerment feels like. This is agency. The ability to understand shit and handle shit.  

My senses are heightened these last weeks in my city. I want to feel these feelings, harness this high and store it away for safekeeping.  I know I’ll need it in the future.  I’ll need this confidence, this sense of self and place and efficacy.  What lies ahead? What lies ahead is more. More trying and failing and trying again. Learning and adjusting.  Go back to Start, do not pass Go, do not collect $100 or €100 or £100.  Ah shit, more conversions.  More of the same humbling expat efforts, but completely different. I’m excited for Scotland, thrilled, really.  It’s a stunning place and I’m ready to hike green hills rather than push through street crowds. But the process is daunting. 

I also want to enjoy the moment, for once. This is exactly where I want to be and exactly what I want to be doing. Breath it in, hold it, relish it. Such fleeting moments of presence and contentment are so elusive to me (and everyone?), but they’ve been plentiful lately. Driving our boat is bliss. Cruising the canals on a (rare) warm and sunny summer evening, unintimidated by the pushy tourist boat bullies, cold Amstel in hand. Or, listening to my daughters and their friends squeal and giggle in Sarphatipark on one of our leisurely Friday after school outings – SarPhridays. And that (awesome, truly AWEsome) moment when my supervisor draped the doctoral hood over me after five demanding, nearly debilitating years pursuing that damn degree. You get the picture.  Summer 2017 is bringing all the emotions and bringing them hard.

Those last weeks in Amsterdam brought a fleeting clarity – who I am has gotten closer and closer to who I want to be. I want to be the person who just keeps trying and figures it out.  Maybe not knowing where I want to be is who I want to be.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that I have strong figuring-it-out skills. “I’m good at being uncomfortable, so I can’t stop changing all the time,” Fiona Apple in Extraordinary Machine.

And so we keep on moving on.  We are Journey People.

Fijne avond, Amsterdam. Dank u wel. 





One thought on “Farewell to Amsterdam

  1. Goed gedaan Sarah! I was a girl from small town Belton, TX who married a Dutch sailor (engineer for Shell Tankers) and became initiated into a completely different world, first in Vlissingen, then Rotterdam and the final three years in Amsterdam. I understand exactly what you were feeling. My son Leen was born in Amsterdam thirty years ago and that same year we moved to West Virginia. I still have Amsterdam in my soul and miss the special beauty of that city. After living there I knew that I was a capable woman who had the ability to navigate my way through the world wherever I landed (even at Manor HS where I met your wonderful mom!). My favorite return vacation to Nederland with my (ex)husband and two children was spent in a Dutch home in Dordrecht with our bikes just shopping at Albert Hein, riding along canals and the lovely countryside and living a typical Dutch life again. Our children enjoyed that so much. Scotland is such a beautiful country, I know you will love your time there too. The bonus is you can still get to Amsterdam for a long weekend visit including appeltaart met slagroom! Best wishes for a wonderful new adventure!

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