My favourite part of the Netherlands is everywhere that is not Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is iconic. It's insane. It's a flurry of bicycles and wobbly tourists and drunk tourists and stoned tourists and shouting tourists and posing tourists. Amsterdam is most beautiful early in the morning when things are still quiet.
Get out of Amsterdam. Get a coffee in the morning and then leave. Spend a few hours in Rotterdam to look at the upside-down houses and a rainbow sign that reads, "Breathe Walk Die" and then leave promptly. Go to Delft or Haarlem or den Haag.
Although by the end, Amsterdam wooed me. I was there so often that it started to feel familiar and homely. Those early mornings and skinny streets and cobblestones got me. But first, I had to come and go a few times and go to a few places in between the coming and going. Of all the cities and towns, Delft won my heart most completely. I imagine it's what Amsterdam would have looked like in its infancy—all romantic with clear canals, stone churches, a wide town square, still quiet and wistful.
In Den Haag, I stayed in a big building with tall ceilings that belonged to an older Dutch man named Albert, who had never missed a Burning Man since his divorce, and that housed two exchange students from Canada and a stream of travellers also coming and going. Albert and I didn't speak much and I wondered if he disliked me or simply viewed me as being too independent to need much. That is one thing he said about me—that he never felt for a single moment that I needed help. I wonder if that's a good thing—to be perceived as being so autonomous that it sets you apart from everyone else. The other wanderers talked to me though, and I to them, and I lost gallantly at a few games of Uno. A boy with shiny eyes told me that the best way to experience a country is by bicycle.
While there, I met a French woman who wore heels that clicked and sat across from me with hands clasped and pronounced, "So!" as if that moment was a fresh book that she was opening for the first time.
Some people just exude light. And L glowed. She shared her stories and listened to mine and looked me in the eyes when she spoke. I could tell that she was genuinely interested in people—that she really cared about truly seeing people. She didn't throw pebbles at the surface. We didn't small talk. It was into the deep end from that first syllable. She was real and sincere and kind.
L spent a lot of time reassuring me that I wouldn't always be as lost as I was then—that she has been just as lost as I was at 25. But I didn't feel lost, not at all.
Listen: I don't travel because I am lost. This life is not about losing myself; this is about a continual process of creation. Many people get this part wrong. They look at wandering and they think it's escapism. They think drifting is running. And it can be—Oh it can be! But it isn't always. I am curious and I am in love with this world. I am in love with the mountains and the streets and the toothless men with shiny eyes and brunettes with cigarettes and the questions people ask me and the answers people give me. I am here. I am discovering. I am an explorer in my own life. I take everywhere with me—nothing is left behind.
But L was nice, even if she didn't get it.
Holland was when I began to get a sense that this trip was going to be about connections and relationships, while my first time in Europe was more about self-discovery and building my confidence. In Amsterdam, I reunited with an old friend and several cups of coffee, and then another old friend joined us in Heemskerk. It was the first time that the three of us were together in the same physical space. Still, there was this sense of familiarity and belonging. Tess and I slipped into a variation of Sam's Scottish accent, and I was told that I still had an Australian twang. We talked and talked and talked and I humoured them when they wanted to go to Amsterdam for a day.
In my head, I can still hear—with perfect clarity—the feminine roll of the automatic voice on the train, announced "Amsterda-am Centra-al"—
followed by a flurry.
Photographs from October 2017.