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.
Much to my mother’s disdain (‘what are you, 8?’), I am a big birthday person. It’s not so much that I like to be the centre of attention – quite the opposite in fact – or that I like party games and endless rounds of pass the parcel. Rather, it’s more that your birthday gives you the excuse to do things you wouldn’t normally, be it an extra drink, a fancy dinner or a brand new sparkly dress that you’ll maybe wear for 3 hours in total. Birthday are a chance to do things by your rule book and your rule book only. Oh, and you get to eat cake for every meal.
This year to celebrate turning the big 2-4, we took advantage of a deal on spoorwinkel.nl (a fantastic site for anyone looking to explore the Netherlands for cheap) for a little weekend trip to the southern city of Maastricht. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the place, and as part of my resolution to explore the Netherlands it was the perfect choice.
There’s nothing I love more than a nice long walk. Some people take showers, some people head to the pub, but when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed I walk. I walk and I walk and I walk until my head starts to detangle and everything comes back into focus. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes I listen to music and pretend I’m in a rom-com, but it always always works. On our recent trip to Veneto, then, a walk in the tree-lined valleys was an absolute must. Not such a must that I remembered to pack my walking boots, mind you, but a hurried raid of B’s mum’s wardrobe and some thick socks in the toe later, and I was all set to take on the elements.
Venice has never really been top of my list of places to visit, simply because I’ve seen and heard so much about it, it kind of feels like I’ve been a thousand times over. From the postcard sights to the ever-so-famous smells, it’s always felt as if visiting Venice would be just a little bit underwhelming. And my reluctance wasn’t exactly eased by the fact that it seems like you either love or absolutely despise Venice. My friends and B had labelled it ‘the worst place in the world’ (no exaggeration), whilst my boss had gleefully squealed, ‘Oh, it’s like Disneyland!’ With the crowds the main complaint – even the residents of Venice have begun to complain about the sheer volume of tourists crammed into the narrow canal-lined streets – I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit.
So believe me when I tell you that nobody is more surprised that I absolutely hand-on-heart dance-in-my-socks loved it.
Italy is a country that has always enchanted me, and yet I haven’t seen nearly as much of it as I’d like. I elected to study Italian at university, hoping that by the end of four years I’d be scooting around the streets of Florence on my Vespa, living a life that only The Lizzie McGuire Movie could emulate. Things may not have panned out that way (to say the very least), but my desire to see Italy – and devour just about everything in sight – has remained strong, even after graduation. So when B suggested recently that we made a trip back to his birthplace of Verona to see his parents and old haunts, I couldn’t have been more excited.
The plan, then, was set. We’d fly out from Amsterdam in September for a week at his parent’s house near Verona, exploring the nearby towns and sights and generally letting loose. Immediately I set to making plans, almost all of them revolving around food (as the French say, quelle surprise). On our itinerary we had hikes, meals, city explorations and many nightly marathons of The Killing (obsessed is not the word). First on the list? A trip into Verona, B’s birthplace and the true home of his Italian side.
3rd September 2015, 3.15pm. I was standing in Liverpool airport with my mum as she wipes away my tears, check-in assistants eyeing us up with faces of professional concern. Whilst tears are pretty standard for me in an aiport due to my crippling fear of flying, this time my hysterics were nothing to do with planes. I was about to move to Amsterdam, moving in with B for a new adventure in a country where I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t have a real job. I was pretty frightened, and standing there in the airport with my bags packed full of my necessities and home comforts, I didn’t feel at all ready to embark on this great, adult adventure. I remember wishing more than anything that I could get back in the car with mum, driving home and pretending none of this had ever happened.
It’s hard to believe that that was more than a year ago now, and things could not be more different.
As much as I like to harp on about exploring Amsterdam and getting to know my new city, nothing quite makes you step out of your routine and try something new than having a visitor. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel a great sense of responsibility whenever someone comes to town, and I love planning a vague itinerary of things they might like to do, see and eat. This time, it was the turn of Z, a university friend who I hadn’t seen for far too long.