May this post be read with interest by nobody other than my own mother and maybe myself in years to come. 2016 was a blur – it absolutely sped by – and although there were definite downs, I feel I have come out the other side a lot stronger and a lot more ‘me’ than before. Marking my first full year with Amsterdam as my home, with trips to 8 countries and a new member of the family being born, 2016 on the whole was really very good to me.
If you make it to the end of this post, you’ll probably notice a pattern that I quite like to mark the turn of the new year with a good ol’ bit of chaos. There’s something about New Year that gets me looking forward to where I want to be this time next year, and last year my main area for improvement was my job. At the turn of 2016 I was working as a marketing intern for a small start-up in Amsterdam – a fine job, but something that just didn’t work for me. I knew there was no future in it for me but yet it took me a good 5 months to summon up the courage to call it a day due to fear of never finding something else. It seems that a lot of companies advertise new jobs at the start of the year, so luckily I was able to find another role pretty quickly, this time in an international digital marketing agency. My first real job, my first real wage, bring it on!
Also this month we had Lucy, one of my dearest friends from university, visit us for the weekend. Although I haven’t seen the girl since, I still feel all warm thinking back to that weekend; we discovered my one true love Pazzi (best pizzas ever – I think we’ve been back every month since!), we bought bobble hats in the cold and we walked the streets to soak up the last of the Christmas lights. Magical. We also met my best friend – who is now living in Tilburg in the South – for dinner, where we got to meet her new university friend over some delicious pizza at De Pizzakamer. Later in the month we returned to the U.K. for my brother’s 30th birthday – my niece was born a few weeks earlier, so this was a well-earned opportunity for lots of gawping and cooing. Oh, and a good pub lunch.
One of the coolest things we did in January was B’s Christmas present – a sleepover in the London Science Museum! Including a midnight screening of Star Wars in IMAX, a 3-course dinner and a snooze under the (planetarium) stars. Plus free breakfast. One of the best nights of 2016 for me; expensive, but so incredibly worth it.
I feel kind of guilty that I can’t really remember much of February. February marked B and I’s first anniversary – a day spent wandering in the cold and making dinner – but other than that I can’t remember a lot. I think it was nice, though. I got my first real pay cheque and treated myself to a pretty mint backpack that I still call my best friend to this day. I threw myself into my new job to learn the ropes and pretty soon I saw rewards as my contract was extended and I was selected to front a new partner launch at the company – pretty cool for only 3 weeks in.
This was also the month that B and I decided to mark our anniversary with a romantic stroll on the beach. 15 minutes and serious windburn later, we seriously regretted our whimsical decision. Still, nothing a hot chocolate couldn’t fix.
March was Easter time. And Easter time is a time for family. In March we returned to Liverpool for a weekend of relaxation and family time. A special weekend because it was the first time I ever had a real cuddle with my niece (she loved my pink fluffy jumper, always a hit with the ladies).
I also think I got my haircut. Don’t wait up.
April was a pretty good month. 3 of my best friends descended on Amsterdam for a few weekends of fun, food and lots and lots of drinking. From my friend Matt who always gives me a new sense of perspective and just ‘gets’ me, to my friend Kieran who encourages me to take risks and quit my worrying, to Jenny who I’ve known since I was 13 and makes me howl with laughter like nobody else can… It was a great month. Food highlights from the weekend include Pazzi (twice I think), La Perla (we eat things other than pizza, promise) and the Foodhallen – April shall go down in 2016 history as the Month of Food.
This was also the month that I finally, finally started to explore the Netherlands with a little day trip to Den Haag. Den Haag is a very different city to Amsterdam as it has a more modern feel, but it’s also steeped in history and culture. This little trip to Den Haag also marked B and I’s second – and more successful – beach trip of 2016.
Also I couldn’t do a post of 2016 without a little mention of my first ever Koningsdag. Indeed, 27th April saw the entire country painted orange as people took to the streets in their droves to dance, celebrate and drink, dusk til dawn. We spent Koningsdag with some dear friends, old and new, including my Tilburg-based pal along with her university friend, now turned boyfriend. It was a great day, even if I’m not sure if I fully ‘get’ the day in itself – but sitting and drinking with friends is never a bad idea, right?
May is when the weather really started to warm up, and it was a super busy month. Tulip season was in full swing, so my parents came to Amsterdam for a bank holiday weekend to see the flowers in all their glory. I’d heard that the best place to go for Dutch tulips is Keukenhof – only a 20 minute bus ride from Schipol – so we went along for a day trip on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far. Keukenhof is breathtakingly beautiful. My parents have already booked their return trip for 2017, and B’s parents are keen to get into the tulip game, too. Bring it on.
A week after our tulip-based field trip we returned to the U.K. once more for a week-long excursion in Liverpool, Herefordshire and Cambridge. Food stops at Neon Jamón and Muriel’s Kitchen – Flat Iron gets an honourable mention – aside, it was a wonderful week spent with family, my niece and friends in London. It was especially lovely to walk through fields with only sheep for company, rounding off the week in the heart of London with my best gal pals and planning a trip to Budapest in September. Yus.
On the final night of the month, we went to see Dara O’Briain here in Amsterdam after a pop-up advert told me there was ‘Still Tickets Remaining!’ A hilarious night, and definitely not the last time I’ll be seeing Mr. Dara (sounded less threatening and creepy in my head).
June was the month when things started to go a bit wobbly. Shock redundancies at work put everyone on edge as we all started to realise that nobody was safe in the big bad world of digital marketing agencies. I was the newest employee to survive the cull, so accusations of favouritism immediately began to abound. To compensate, I stepped up a gear at work; I worked and worked and worked until one Friday night when B found me on the streets sobbing my eyes out. Looking back this is the moment it all started to go wrong, that I realised that I worked in a place that would always be asking me to give more – threatening me with redundancy if I didn’t step up – even when I begged them to stop.
June was also decidedly sucky because of things going on in the wider picture. Yes, that’s right ladies and gentlemen, Brexit! Waking up to the news that the U.K. had voted to leave the EU is a moment I will never forget, as my heart sank and I felt all stability in my new Netherlands home sink away. Obviously, they’re not going to kick us out overnight, but our right to travel and live freely within the EU is going to change, and I feel the world is becoming a much more closed and mono-cultural place. This makes me sadder than my subpar writing can convey.
But it would be unfair to say that June was all doom and gloom. We spent a weekend in the Belgian city of Leuven with my brother, a city that took me quite by surprise with it’s quaint beauty and tranquil charm. In fact, I think Leuven was one of my favourite trips of the year – drinking wine in a square under a bouncing storm is a true highlight of the year. Later in the month we made the most of one of B’s work conferences to make a weekend in Geneva. Speaking French, sunbathing on the lake in 30 degree heat, slowly bankrupting myself… Wonderful.
This is also the month that Pokémon Go was released and so marked the last time I had a prolonged conversation with my boyfriend that didn’t concern a Squirtle, Pikachu or Charmander.
After the chaos that was June, July was a much needed change of pace. In July B jetted away for another Swiss conference, and I was left in Amsterdam with a week to fill. Despite fearing that I’d be spending every night staring at the wall and singing a sad, lonely song, I was actually remarkably busy, cycling around town to meet various friends and eating some lovely food whilst at it. The week was made even better by the fact that before going away – out of an odd sense of guilt and hunger – B took me to Krua Thai near Waterlooplein. It was hands down the best meal I had all year, and I had a lot.
Also in July my college friend Suzie dropped by for a cultural weekend spent in museums, bars and picnicking in the park. We saw the new exhibition at the Van Gogh museum – probably my favourite museum in Amsterdam, FYI – and discovered some of the best tapas Amsterdam has to offer at Barça. Later in the month I finally repaid the favour and visited my friend in Tilburg, marking another tick on my Netherlands list. This particular trip to Tilburg was largely spent in the orchard at the La Trappe brewery, sipping beer and eating bitterballen. Not bad. Finally in July I attended a birthday party for my friend’s baby in Amsterdam Noord. Not too much to report, except that I wish adult parties were more like that.
Things at work were only getting more stressful, and July was the month I began looking for jobs, despite not really having my heart set on moving on. I thought I was having pretty immediate success after I was invited back for a couple of interviews at one company, but I fell at the final hurdle as they decided to go for a more experienced hire. Back to the drawing board.
August was a funny month: summer was in full swing and Amsterdam was alive with activities, sunshine and outdoor festivals. But somehow I was feeling gloomier than ever; I was struggling to get out of bed in the morning, struggling to find the energy to go out again. This was pretty much the slump that marked the rest of 2016 – my experience with depression and anxiety is well documented, so it’s nothing new for me, but that doesn’t mean I am any more equipped to deal with it or spot it before it develops into a debilitating illness.
Much of August, then, was spent inside watching the Olympics. I mean, even if I was in the best possible mental state, I’d still be locked up inside watching the Olympics. I bloody love the Olympics, and the Brazilian games of 2016 were of no exception. Diving, Athletics, Swimming, Gymnastics, Judo, Football… You name it, I watched it. To make my Olympics-obsession that little bit more social, we spent a few evenings in sports bars around town. My spot of choice? De Vondeltuin, for it’s al fresco vibe and delicious flammkeuchen. These summer evenings were absolutely beautiful, but my mental state was such that sometimes we’d have to leave the bar early due to impending tears or panic. Good job me.
That being said, we did manage to leave the house on the odd occasion. Towards the end of the month we spent a weekend in Paris with one of my friends from work and his girlfriend (now fiancée!), thanks to cheap deal on train weekend. Returning back to the scene of the greatest year of my life certainly put a spring in my step – or maybe it was just the pastries. Either way, I hold nothing but fuzzy feelings towards that weekend.
In August we also experimented with homemade falafel for the first time to resounding success. I also joined a local netball team which was a much-needed boost of confidence and an even more needed run around. B and I attended a BBQ festival at the docks for an afternoon of beer and burgers, and spent many a summer evening at Troost listening to jazz in the park and eating ice cream. I also spent a day with Ms. and Mr. Tilburg in the beautiful town of Delft – we found a bar on a boat, which made a nice change from those dry land bars you hear so much about.
September started with a bang! Remember that evening spent in May planning a Hungarian jaunt with the girls? Well it was time to see the fruits of our labour as we all jetted into the beautiful city of Budapest for a long weekend. We certainly made the most of our time there: an afternoon in the spa, rooftop cocktails at sunset, dancing until dawn (showing Eastern European our macarena moves), delicious food, city tours and my first ever escape room. It was a wonderful weekend, which really showed to me that good friendships are not affected by distance – even if you don’t see each other as much as you’d like to, it’s still the same when you’re together. Awh.
September also saw probably my favourite overseas trip of the year: Italy. Yes, I finally managed to wear B down enough to make him take me to his birthplace in the hills of Veneto. During a single week we visited Venice, Verona, Molina and Lake Garda, whilst still finding the time to watch most of The Killing and eat our bodyweight in Mulino Bianco biscuits. At a time when the atmosphere at work was nothing short of poisonous, it was good to get away for a week to clear my head and relax – the lack of internet in the tiny village we stayed in was nothing short of a blessing. Also it was lovely to get to know B’s parents that little bit better, and get to know that more Italian side of B’s identity.
On the domestic side of things, in September we were visited by another of my university friends who was in the Netherlands on a cycling tour with her boyfriend. Together we went to Fuoco Vivo for delicious pizza (we did study Italian together, after all) and spent a day hunting down the best cheese and bakeries in Amsterdam. Topped off with ice cream and a lazy dinner in Westerpark as the sun went down. This was also the month that I plucked up the courage to organise my very first girls’ night in Amsterdam. The scene of my triumph? Bridget Jones’ Baby at the breathtaking Tuschinski cinema, preceded by my first ever De Pizzabakkers (pizza wasn’t my choice I swear (but I totally didn’t discourage it)).
October is usually my favourite month of the year: it’s my birthday, my mother’s birthday and the beginning of the countdown to Christmas (in my head, anyway). But this October was were the wheels truly came off for me, and by the end of the month I had myself on a list for therapy sessions and a medication review. All the wonderful things listed below were truly appreciated for what they were, but throughout all of them I was holding back tears, feeling like a failure and wanting nothing more than to curl up into a ball and cry. After one night where I completely fell apart (in front of B’s visiting friend no less, how embarrassing), I decided I couldn’t do this alone and that I needed professional help. I’m thankful that this time around I was able to notice and give myself the chance to recover.
My birthday was spent in the lovely southern city of Maastricht, thanks to a great deal found online. We spent 2 nights there, travelling in after work and spending the weekend in the city. The days were spent exploring caves, discovering markets and taking beautiful riverside walks, whilst the evenings were spent at Beez for fabulous cocktails and La Bodega for amazing tapas. It was a wonderful trip.
Shortly after getting back from Maastricht, it was time to head back to the U.K. via Bristol for a week at Center Parcs with my family. By this time my niece was almost ready to start walking, and seeing how far she had come since I’d last seen in May was truly mesmerising. Immediately, I resolved to see my family more. Center Parcs was also fabulous; we whooshed down slides like 7-year olds, stuffed chips into our faces whilst bowling and generally got way too excited about spotting squirrels in a tree. After a week spent in the woods, we returned to Cambridge for a formal dinner with B’s friends at Gonville and Caius. Despite it’s terrible foody reputation I was pleasantly surprised, although that could be the bottle of wine talking. It’s always a pleasure to see B’s friends, and I hope in time that I can consider them my friends, too.
Straight after the formal dinner – and nursing a slight hangover – I made my way into London the next day to catch up with friends who now live in the capital. A deliciously girly brunch whiled the hours away at the beautiful Berners Tavern, until it was time for the girls to unveil their birthday present to me: an ear piercing. Still not sure I’m cool enough for it (my squeals of fear at the time are testament to this), but I love having a little memory of my faraway friends every day.
In Amsterdam news in October, we had a visit from one of B’s friends from London. This guy is always up a new experience, so we busted out and went to Guts & Glory, a cool concept restaurant that I’ve had my eye on for a while. 7 courses later, my expectations were well and truly met. We also spent a day at a goat farm with our neighbours and their adorable son, rounding off the afternoon with a well-earned Pazzi. Well, what did you expect?
We are nearly there now guys! November started with a dinner at Fuoco Vivo with all the girls from work, which was a lovely evening spent with people I probably don’t speak to enough. The rest of the month was spent in a christmas light-induced daze, wandering the streets and feeling those Christmassy feelings. Of course, I couldn’t get too excited too soon, what with Blob’s birthday at the end of the month and all. To mark the occasion, we had drinks at our cosy favourite bar near Spui: De Brabantse Aap. We then headed off for a meal at The Taste of Vietnam which was nice, albeit perhaps slightly disappointing.
Also in November we had a visit from my friend who is now living and working in Brussels (note to self, book trip to Brussels soon). It was a lovely weekend catching up with a close friend who is going through a similar experience to me – always good to know I am not completely alone. Trip-wise we only ventured as far as Utrecht in November to see Ms. Tilburg. Utrecht is lovely as it’s like a smaller, quieter Amsterdam with all of the good prettiness and none of the bad sardines-in-a-can feel.
Work-wise, this is the month I quit. My role at the company had now changed beyond recognition, and the atmosphere at work was constantly negative with accusations of workplace bullying and the like. I was asked to stay on until the end of January – in return I would be allowed to spend 2 weeks at Christmas home with my family.
The month just gone and what a month it was! We started the month with a very conscious effort to be festive in Cologne, the capital of Christmas markets. With steaming cups of mulled wine, sausages by the kilo and twinkling lights everywhere you looked, it was impossible not to come away at least a little bit infected with Christmas cheer. Although we only went for a weekend, we sure packed a lot in – and that includes the schnitzel bigger than my face – and I’m so glad we went, even if before my prognosis was less than cheery.
After a few sessions this month I was advised that it was probably best if I went back onto antidepressants and medication for my anxiety, at least in the short-term. With all of the uncertainty at work – am I just going to be unemployed forever? – I think I need some sort of crutch or support through this time. With the clock now ticking down to the funemployment at the end of January, it was around this time that I started my job hunt for real. Yet again it seemed I had struck gold straight away as I had a few interviews for a dream job, but at the last hurdle they went for someone with more experience. I was absolutely crushed, but the experience also strengthened my resolve to take the time to find a job I truly love; the next few months are going to be hard, but I know they’ll be worth in the end.
Another highlight from December was just spending 2 weeks at home with my family and home friends. Spending time with those who have known you longest is a sure-fire way to find ‘yourself’ again, and I really feel now like I am ready to stay true to my principles and carve out a life that works for me.
Social-wise in December we attended a party in Cambridge, and once again I might’ve had a little too much to drink. I don’t even know how it happened – I swear it was 9pm and I was very civil and suddenly it was 2am and I was sitting at a roadside waiting for B to return with my sweater. Another year older, another year wiser. I also got to catch up with my school friends in Liverpool, some of whom I hadn’t seen in 5 years. They hadn’t changed a bit. Also, by this point, my niece is walking AND talking! Can you believe it? From the lump we visited in Cambridge to a walking and talking baby in less than a year – that’s the real miracle of life, right there.