It’s finally happening… the world is finally, slowly opening back up again.
Here in France, museums and monuments have been open for a couple weeks, along with restaurant terraces at 50% capacity, and our curfew was extended a couple hours. We eagerly await June 9, the next round of easing of restrictions…
Meantime, I’m desperately making plans to leave the country, and we just managed to get away for a weekend to visit friends in Amsterdam (our first time out of France since 2019 when this mess all started)…
The Cunninghams Story
The Cunninghams, originally from New York, moved to Paris in 2017 for a two-year contract. They each had jobs at big accounting firms and managed to both get placements in the City of Light. They loved life in Paris, and took full advantage of it.
By the time I met Christine in late 2018, she had already been to every museum and monument… tasted every acclaimed pastry and eaten at every trendy bistro. She and husband Rob had visited every must-see town in the greater Paris area and had gone on monthly road trips and longer driving tours to explore their new country and neighbors in the region. (This is probably my favorite aspect of living in Europe—the rest of the Continent is so easily accessible from just about anywhere…)
Not too long after arriving, Christine found herself pregnant and was soon on maternity leave, which was when I met her. She didn’t let pregnancy slow her down, though—by the time baby Elodie was born in France, she had already been to five other countries!
We both had our babies in 2020, and they were each other’s first friend. Unfortunately for us, the Paris contract was coming to a close. I knew when I met Christine that we’d only have a few months together before they went back to New York, where I consoled myself that we’d at least be able to visit them in the future.
But as their time in Europe grew shorter, their desire to stay on the Continent only intensified. They felt they had just gotten their bearings… had begun to make some good friends… they had settled in. And if they were going to take some more time away from the States, what better time than now, when they have the work flexibility and their daughter is still young enough to not have schooling be a concern?
They knew they wouldn’t be able to stay in Paris, but Rob decided to try his luck at another placement in Europe, and he got it…
Moving To The Netherlands
In September 2020, Rob, Christine, and their new addition, Elodie, all upped stakes and headed across the border to the Netherlands. Great news, we all thought, we’ll visit one another—it’s only a few hours’ drive—and we’ll be able to explore Northern Europe together, going on weekend trips to Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Northern France, and more.
COVID-19 had other ideas in mind, of course… and none of us have been able to do much of anything until the last few weeks.
How are the Cunninghams enjoying life in Amsterdam? “Almost a year into our move and we are really happy with our decision, we love it here,” they gushed over drinks when we arrived. “Everyone speaks English, which has to be the best thing about living here after living in Paris.”
English Is Spoken
Indeed, the Dutch don’t expect anyone else to come to their country to try to speak their language, so they all learn compulsory English from the age of eight or nine in schools. This results in a population that is 100% fluent in English at all levels of society.
The Environment And The People
“Compared to Paris,” Rob continued, “Amsterdam is just so tranquil, calm, and friendly… And the people are all so laid-back. It’s like going from Manhattan to a small town in Maine. Amsterdam is not a city, it’s just a big village.”
“On the other hand,” Christine picked up, “unlike a small town, no one here cares much about anyone else… anyone can do anything and the Dutch take it in stride—no, more than that, they don’t even notice.
“You can even see it in the alternative styles and fashions. Take a look on the street and you’ll see a handful of teens and 20-somethings with rainbow-striped hair, tattoos from head to foot, with crazy piercings… but they are walking alongside men in full suits… ladies in skirts and stilettos… kids zooming by on scooters. There is no one kind of person here and they all get along and could care less about what the person next to them looks like.
“I’d say the best thing about living here is how safe it is (aside from rampant bike theft). You know all your neighbors and it has such a small-town vibe for being a fully metropolitan city. Compared to Paris, there’s no fear of being pickpocketed or having your stroller stolen.”
When I asked what we were going to do for dinner, I was given a crash course in Dutch cuisine… that is, that the Dutch have no cuisine.
“Other than stroopwafels and cheeses, the Dutch have one specialty: bitterballen.” These delicious little savory nuggets are worth the calories—fried balls that go perfectly with beer and coat the belly for an evening of revelry. Imagine the taste of chicken pot pie… that pale gravy that all the good stuff marinates in—that’s what’s in a bitterbal. They are good at any time of day and can be found in practically every Dutch establishment.
Despite having visited Amsterdam several times before, I’d never had bitterballen and was soon told why. “Because the Dutch don’t have much of their own cuisine, they do everyone else’s exceptionally well,” Rob explained. “We’ve had some of the best Indian, Lebanese, Mexican, Italian, Spanish, and Middle Eastern food since moving here—we’ve even had French food that rivals Paris!”
“The diversity of cuisine is really staggering,” Christine agreed, “I admit to missing Parisian boulangeries, but the breadth of choices here is a great trade.”
True to form, every dish we had in Amsterdam (other than the bitterballen) was foreign. You won’t see a sign on a café window advertising authentic Dutch food, because it would only serve fried snacks and cheese. And perhaps nutmeg… Nutmeg was one of the main exotic spices that the Dutch traded in the 16th century, and making dishes with nutmeg became a Dutch trend that continues today with nutmeg chicken, and the like.
“Oh and herring…” Rob remembers, “that’s the other big thing here. You can get raw herring nearly anywhere you go. The Dutch slide them down like we’d slurp up a spaghetti noodle.” We didn’t indulge in herring this trip… we’ll save that for next time!
What Else Is There To Love About Life In Amsterdam?
“The beer scene is pretty amazing,” Rob says, laughing, “my favorite is a local brewery that makes White Mamba, the most refreshing, fruity beer you’ve ever tasted. The craft brew industry here is very well developed—we can’t wait to visit breweries when they open again.”
“I love that biking here isn’t stressful like in Paris,” Christine added. “In Paris, even with all the new bike lanes, drivers are rude and there’s so much general traffic and noise… here, when you’re on a bike you’re untouchable—I don’t need to pay attention to cars because vehicles may as well be second-class citizens here. The first thing we did after moving was get bikes and a baby seat, and it’s our favorite pastime and mode of transportation.
“And because Amsterdam is so flat, biking is so much easier than anywhere else I’ve ever been. A lot of people with mobility issues use ride-on electric scooters to get around the city, and they can use the bike lanes!
“Another thing we’ve had to adjust to here is the medical system. In France, the health care system wasn’t exactly like the States, but, in some ways, things were a little more familiar than they were here. The health care here is great and completely free for us, but I don’t like that the system doesn’t value consistency in care. Every time I sign up Elodie for her next pediatrician appointment, we are simply assigned someone from a roster. We’ve never seen the same doctor twice… and while the care is good, it bothers me that I can’t have an ongoing conversation with someone.”
The other big downside to this part of the world? “The weather isn’t so hot… literally and figuratively,” Rob chuckled. “We haven’t been here for a full year yet, so we’ll let you know how warm it gets in summer… but, so far, the weather has been cold, windy, and rainy pretty consistently.”
Christine laughed, “I swear the weather works in reverse here—everywhere else in the world, it gets warmer as the day goes on… here, it only seems to get colder the longer you’re out!”
If you don’t mind a cooler climate, though, a life in Amsterdam is hugely appealing. My husband and I enjoyed the lifestyle so much, we even tossed around the idea of a rental apartment in the city…
Editor, In Focus: Europe