Again two poems that I wrote a few years ago, this time on the subject of writing. The first one is the first that I wrote (took me a bit of time!) when I started writing poems again after I’d stopped during my studies. They’re a bit old-fashioned in their style and the second one is a bit too simple for my current taste, but I still like their content and meaning 🙂
Finally, the last article of the series! Thank you for reading!
My personal link to Amsterdam and the Netherlands
Amsterdam has been a great place for us. We have lived some great moments here – as well as difficult ones – and we have gotten to know so many places! There are so many corners of town, bars and restaurants, streets and squares, and places of sights which remind me of moments or times…
Where we lived when we first arrived. Places we went to when family came. New year’s eve at 25 years old. New year’s eve when pregnant. Where I worked. Where my husband worked. That place we found one evening really late. The apartments friends had – the one with that great garden where we did bbq’s on sunny days – the great market I loved but only went to once… So many places of memory and value, and even more now with our son. The bar/restaurant I went to on a rush to change and feed him (and they were really nice), that other bar where they asked me to get out when he cried (at 2 months old in winter, I never went back), the playground, the zoo, where we celebrated his first birthday with friends, etc., etc.!
Then there is our neighbourhood. I love our neighbourhood. Every one of them in Amsterdam has its own identity, and in the last years the identity of ours really increased, with a nickname, tee-shirts, sweat-shirts and more. I like that. This neighbourhood has its own particularities, issued from the history of its growth and evolution – the first people which started to live here and how the population changed.
In 2010, the neighbourhoods were renamed, but for more precision people still use the old names inside the bigger areas – such as Watergraafsmeer in Oost (East) or Bos en Lommer in West.
Our apartment, too small, with too many stairs… With balconies to sit and eat outside in the sun, the decoration we choose carefully, the improvements we did, and the place where our son grew up until now, the corner where he likes us to read him books, where we put his bath, where we had his play box, where his crib was… When he started crawling, when he started walking (he walks by the way!)!
Over the years we’ve made the neighbourhood and our apartment, our home. Going back to France, after the first few months of excitement, I remember feeling homesick. And then years passed, and home was here. Going back to France, I was happy, and then I was happy to come back to Amsterdam. The way things are done here and the people. Our friends, our network, our places, always evolving and growing.
Then our son was born. It will always be written “born in Amsterdam” on his passport. It is something that I love, that he was born here. I am proud of that. I was pregnant in Amsterdam, then I gave birth in Amsterdam. Since his birth, we have discovered new aspects of the town, the playgrounds, the boerderijen, the soft plays, the zoo… We have two playgrounds near our house to which we go very often. We have certain playdates to which we go to. All these memories that we have created in this apartment and in this neighbourhood – the sand play, the park, crawling and walking, looking at people at the bakery, shopping and going to the consultatie bureau for the check ups… Though the vaccinations are NOT good memories… 😉
Conclusion to the series of articles
I have loved living in this city and it will always be a special place for me. We left France when we were quite young and have learnt to love and respect this country and this city. Our son was born here. We made friends. We grew older. It took years for me to stop being homesick over France and our hometown. I am afraid that it will now take me years to stop being homesick over Amsterdam… I hope that we will come back, often. That this city will grow to be a place our son knows and love, and not just “some town, some capital” in which he was born and which he left when he was a baby. He will have lived here for more than 18 months. Not a baby anymore, but a toddler, and I would like to think that that time will mean something – even though he will probably never learn the language or take the nationality.
I saw it all in my mind, his first day at school here, his friends, talking in Dutch with them, excited before going to see Sinterklaas arriving in Amsterdam, riding his first Dutch bike. It will probably not happen. But what will happen might be very good as well, with advantages we wouldn’t have had in Amsterdam – like more space or less people in the centre… It could be good for us. A new place to make new memories. And anyway, all of it happened, we lived here, and I will always have a special link with Amsterdam and the Netherlands.
About to leave the country for the UK, I wrote these five articles – and here is the fourth article of the series, on the Netherlands more generally 🙂 You can find the first on freedom, lifestyle and atmosphere here; the second on the people and the nature here; and the third on what there is for parents and children and the advantages of a small-sized capital here. There is so many things to love in Amsterdam and the Netherlands! 😉
The Netherlands more generally
I particularly love some parts of Dutch history and I am quite proud of their achievements over the centuries – even though I am not Dutch 🙂 I understand why they can be proud of it. It is such amazing and titanic work! The canals. The fight against the sea with the dikes, the windmills, the pumps created to gain more land… And more recently the Zuiderzee Works and the Delta Works.
We have been told that the Golden Age ended when Napoleon (that French b.st.rd, how can the French be still proud of him? He killed thousands upon thousands of French!), after his conquest of the country, forbid the Dutch from trading with the British – not great for a trading country…
In the Netherlands and in Amsterdam, there are so many museums, and the museumcard is great! You pay for the card once a year and ALL museums of the country are free of entry. I think it is a very good system which allows the museums to still get some funding from visitors, while not making them pay too much. It is great for students and families. We just went to visit the Cruquius museum, using our card: a museum holding one of the steam engines used to empty the Harlemmermeer sea/lake in 3 years (!!!) in the 19th century.
Christmas! I love it in Amsterdam, and everywhere we have been at that time of the year. It is different than elsewhere I think – because it is more about St Nicholas or Sinterklaas on the 5th of December (it is celebrated the night before Saint Nicholas’ day) than about Father Christmas. Sinterklaas arrives from Spain mid-November by steamboat and then parades on his horse through the streets of Amsterdam and other towns 🙂 It is really much about family, with people sharing self-made poems and very small presents. Though we do not write poems ourselves, we still enjoy the season very much, with ice rings everywhere and the oliebollen stands 😀
Still about food, or more accurately, drinks, I find some Dutch beers (especially beers like La Trappe, or other beers from small breweries) and jenever to be really good. You can find small breweries in lots of places, with their own beers – even in Amsterdam (Brouwerij ‘t Ij – note: you have to be 18 to visit the website). The jenever is best drunk in Proeflokaal bars. In Amsterdam, the ones we know are often small old bars, such as these ones: Fockink or Olofspoort. But there are many more!
The cheese! We love the cheese, gouda or edam. It comes in such various tastes – with cumin or from young to very old, or farm gouda: boerenkaas! Kaassoufflé (very greasy ;))! Or fried fish in stands by the sea…
Finally, and with nothing to do with drinks or food, I have to say I love the easiness with which the streets are made and repaired! I find it so funny in a way. Because the ground in many towns is only sand, the sides of the streets and sometimes the streets themselves are made of tiles which can be moved and straightened when the sand moves. Super easy! And you can use coloured tiles as signals for the bike lanes 😉
The third article of the series 🙂 Here are the first and second articles, I hope you enjoy reading about Amsterdam and the Netherlands!
For children and mums/dads
There is so much in this city for children! Soft play areas (Ballorig, TunFun), Artis zoo (and its adventures!), playgrounds in every neighbourhood, petting farms (boerderijen, not only in Amsterdam but everywhere in the country)! And also playgroups and playdates organized via facebook or meet-up, and child-friendly cafés and restaurants. Even some museums are adapted for school-aged children.
In general if you live in Amsterdam and look for things to do with children, or for any kind of information regarding education, birth, parenting methods, toys and age-appropriate activities, Dutch and international laws, etc., look at Amsterdam Mamas. It is a very young group which has more than 8800 members to this date on their facebook page. It was made by mums living in Amsterdam and has grown into this gigantic association helping parents all over the city, via their website, but also via events they organize. We went to the Christmas event last year and had a really good time.
Another thing that has become increasingly important to me, and of which I didn’t know anything before, is the school and the education system. I don’t know much about other countries’ systems, apart from the French – which I feel is pretty simple/basic: you live in one area, your children go to that school; so take care where you choose to live, visit the schools, ask around first. In Amsterdam, there is a bit of this too, but there is also a mine of information on internet about the levels of the schools. And there is so many different school types! From the standard “openbar” (non-religious) to catholic, protestant or islamic schools, Montessori, Jenaplan, international schools and others. Get to know. Visit. Choose. It is made complex by the geographical limitations, the fact that some schools are full (they have a lottery system for certain schools), and the fact that it is difficult to find affordable homes in the city. Which means that it is difficult to move and change school, so choose well. As Annebet van Marmeren from New2Nl would tell you: “Choose the school first, then the home”. And there is so much choice.
For children, there is also the “consultatiebureau” or GGD. It is an organism which looks after the children from the first week after their birth until they start school at four years old. It exists in every town of the Netherlands. They meet with the parents, ask questions, check that everything is all right. They also do the vaccinations (bouhou!!) and all the other developmental checks – weight gain, height, playing, sitting, crawling, etc. I have to say, apart from the vaccinations, which I didn’t like but cannot really say that it’s their fault, they have been great with us! Helping and talking, and I actually loved going there to know how much kilos and centimetres our son had put on :p
A small-sized capital
The idea is in the title 😉 It is a town of about one million inhabitants – which is, in all fairness, already quite big for Europe, but it is not that big for a capital, compared to Paris or London… – and it has everything you could ask for!
Concerts of famous bands, as well as not-so-famous ones. Classical music in a wonderful building and room, opened in 1888.
Also, because it is a well known and well-visited city, there are *lots* of tourists in town. Ok, it is not necessarily so nice in the crowded centre such as Kalverstraat, but I have to say that one of my small pleasures when going out is to help (asking) lost and searching tourists at the bus or the tram stop, in the centre, or in Schiphol. People are on holidays, they’re usually happy and relaxed and I feel useful. It often puts a grin on my face for a little while afterwards 🙂