[Editors Note: Our friend and copywriter Alex left Portland in 2010 to start a new life in Europe. This month, he’s returned as a Guest Editor of The Thought Kitchen to share some of his experiences.]
Right now I’m sitting in the shoebox-sized office of my apartment in Amsterdam, listening to the street through window blinds drawn against the sun. The electric whirr and rumble of the number thirteen Tram mixes with the squeaks and rattles of rusted-out second-hand bicycles. As waves of cars stop and go through the traffic light, snippets of Indian pop, Tupac, Turkish dance music and Goyte drifting up by turns to my window. A car horn, a shout in Dutch, a lull. Another Tuesday afternoon.
It’s the third day of the first heat wave of the summer—a season that the locals, with characteristic stoicism, had suggested might not make it to this corner of Europe. It seemed an apt prediction to my wife and me as we piled on sweaters in May, rode through the rain in June, and woke to the thundering of our downspout in July. The Netherlands has a reputation for bad weather, one we’re thinking is pretty well deserved.
But the Netherlands has other reputations as well. Depending on whom you ask, it’s a country of bike lanes, a haven of diversity and tolerance, or a playground for drugs. It’s a land reclaimed from the sea, where global warming and rising sea levels make “sustainability” more than just a liberal buzz-word. It’s a nation of tall women and even taller men drinking small beers and (occasionally) wearing wooden shoes. A place for cheese and windmills and international law. A place that once had an economic collapse because of the price of tulips.
But part of living in a country is sorting out what’s real, what’s imagined, and what’s simply been lost in translation. So six months ago, my wife and I—inspired by family heritage and an overdeveloped sense of wanderlust—moved here, to work and sort it out for ourselves. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing some of those impressions, from what “bike culture” really means in a place with more bikes than people, to how one restaurant is designing vegetarian dishes with help from landscape architecture.
As we’re learning, moving isn’t always easy. But the rewards of movement—across space and through cultures—is that it can change your perspective on everything: even what’s just outside your window.