A little less than a week ago, a small plane carried experienced and frazzled travelers alike into Schipol Airport, just southwest of Amsterdam. They undid seat belts and reached up from cramped seats, standing crooked first and then tall. I walked off that plane then, too, trying to grasp how here became there, there here.
It is an odd sensation – to be alone in a country that doesn’t know anything about you. Save for the exchanges at a coffee bar or currency exchange desk, your loudest voice becomes that narrator in your head. You move from the buzzing chaos of a renowned airport to the calming hum of a train. You watch Holland’s countryside stand still as you zoom by; the train crosses canals and passes lanes of bike traffic. You’re narrating the whole way. From the train station, and then right out onto the street of a new city. It’s like opening a book and getting to be the character who lifts up from the 2-D illustrations into life, and walks off the page into the real breathing world as it is.
I walked into Leiden, a historic city in South Holland. It is a spiderweb of cobblestone streets, wide canals, and tall, narrow, romantic buildings. It is a beautiful city, and while the weather is usually a bit chilly, I swear the sun has made an admirable and lengthy appearance everyday so far. The beauty of the city seems to give you energy to run on for the whole day.
The University of Leiden is the Netherlands’ oldest, founded in 1575, and it’s where I’ll be taking classes this semester. My here’s and there’s are still jumbled, I still wake up in the morning a little disoriented, and I’ve never felt a sharper separation from home. But there are new friends and facts and funny oddities everyday. I’ve read about the reason a man might go to the woods – this is sort of like that.
More to come, and I’ll be here for a few months if you’re in the neighborhood. Plus, I have a bike!