“What are you two going to do there? Neither of you smoke nor drink, let alone smoke weed!”
“Van Gogh and old Masters!! You are going to get to see a treasure”
“Is it in America?” “Is it safe? I heard they have drugs and red light area everywhere.”
The moment the news of our (my husband and I) moving to Amsterdam spread among friends and family, we started getting all sorts of reactions. It was interesting to see how people chose to see only part of the whole picture (and others remained blissfully ignorant about anything that is not America). It was like reliving the story of four blind men and the elephant.When I landed at the airport it was a shock, literally so, as I traveled from the scorching 38 degrees of Mumbai to 8 degrees of Amsterdam! It was the end of winter. My husband who had reached two months earlier was already madly in love with the city. He could not stop raving about it. He started his tour with the Ice Skating Rink where he spent most of his time before I arrived. And thus began my journey to discover this city, Dutch culture and myself in a new place.
It was not my first time away from my parents’ home or from my hometown. It was however, my first time away from India. I left my parent’s place much earlier than most other friends. I lived on my own, even when we were in the same city. Then I went on to live in a different city. I lived with roommates and later with my husband. Although the first step I took away from that nest gave me wings, this was a little different.
The first impression of Amsterdam lived up to every hype. The city was vibrant with colours, art, and architecture. It was like living in a European film. I had arrived along with spring and Summer brought many happy hours of roaming in the city, boating and cycling. It also brought weird hours of daylights and change of times and sleep cycles. It was interesting to realise that I started to adapt to the weather much faster than I expected. It was not just the weather which needed adapting though. The first day when I went out on my own, I waited at the bus stop on exactly the opposite side of the road! After missing one bus I realised that the traffic flows in a different direction and I said to myself “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
It was just a beginning of a series of interesting revelations. I soon got used to different weather, traffic rules, even the infamous Dutch directness. But I can never forget what made me feel that I belong here, it was the Central Library and the Ij river. It made me connect instantly with this city. I spent countless hours in my first few days beside water. Wherever I went, the love of water followed me! The moment I visited Van Gogh museum, I fell in love with this city once again. My love story with Amsterdam was going strong except for one big villain. The Dutch food. It was a shock on all senses. The most famous dish is called Stampot and consists of boiled potatoes, vegetables and some meat. Any Indian grown on a wide variety of food will learn to really appreciate Indian food only when s/he lives in places like these. The country which produced excellent art, architecture and music did not produce a single tasty dish, it was a shock!
In spite of this, I settled, and settled well. I made a few friends – a crazy Russian girl who talks about comics with me for hours and a mad German who watches more films than I do. The moment I started giving direction to tourists to go to various places, I knew I was among the locals. But the real moment of epiphany was when I went to India to attend my brother’s wedding. It was a short visit and a packed one. It was a whirlwind of meeting people and eating out. The days went in a blur and I was on my way back to Amsterdam.The moment I landed at the Schipol airport, it was a strange feeling. I was happy to see my husband after being away for a while. I never realised how much we were used to each other. I did take his importance of being with me, for granted. I realised that even though I still liked to spend time with my parents or siblings or his parents, the closest family I have now is him. And when I stepped out of Amsterdam central station, it suddenly felt like I was where I belonged. It was a place where I was the happiest. Even now when people ask me how I manage to stay away from home or from family, pat comes my answer, “I am at home and with my family”.