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Home is where the heart is. That’s what people say before they pack their bags and uproot their lives.
For me, this was never the case. Since I can remember, home has always been the pale peach house at the top of a hill in Puerto Rico. That two-story house, with the ylang-ylang tree, is where I nurtured my roots and created all of my childhood memories. It is the place where my mom still makes her coffee in the early hours of the morning. Home has always been right there and nowhere else.
Still, I had plans to change that. In my teens, my thoughts often strayed to daydreams of climbing to the top of Machu Picchu or moving to Paris on a whim to write.
But while my roots dug deep into the ground, I hadn’t yet developed my wings. In my 20s, I had the opportunity to leap into the unknown — exactly what I had dreamed of for so long. But instead of making the jump, I planted my feet and said, “Maybe later.” My daydreams of Paris were replaced by a 9-to-5 customer representative job: afternoon tea in a Styrofoam cup and the hollow satisfaction of being a responsible adult.
I still kept the faint hope of my dreams alive. During this time, I fell in love with a man who made me laugh and encouraged my backlogged dreams. He also lived 4,000 miles away in England. Against the odds, we managed to make it work long-distance for years. The United States was the ultimate goal, but with tough immigration laws, that goal felt farther and farther away.
Everything changed when he moved to Amsterdam for a job and asked me to go with him. Even though I was thrilled, I said, “Maybe later,” partly out of habit but mostly out of fear. Every time I complained about the same things, he’d pitch the same offer. Soon, I couldn’t understand why I was so afraid to take the leap.
“Just jump,” he’d say. “I promise I will catch you.” And without knowing fully what the future might bring, I did.
On a Tuesday afternoon in April, I handed in my resignation letter. The next day, I bought a one-way ticket to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam and I had briefly met before. During a college trip to Europe, I made a two-day stop at the city, enough time to recognize its stereotypes and bring home some anecdotes.
But when I became a resident, I saw it through different eyes. I moved to Ijburg, a family neighborhood just 20 minutes away from Amsterdam Centraal, the city’s largest railway station. We had an apartment overlooking a canal, where children rowed their wooden boats and ladies swam with their heads out of the water and chatted the whole time.
The pace was slower than what I was used to but that was a welcome change; I loved getting on a bike and seeing where the day would take me. I loved that, as soon as the weather was warm, the parks were full of people looking to have a drink or a smoke on a picnic blanket. I loved that no matter which narrow street you took in the city center, every angle of architecture looked like a postcard.
People come to Amsterdam for the promise of weed and liberation, the backdrop to a wild party. For me, coming to Amsterdam was finding my wings, searching deep and dusting off the dreams of the person I knew I could become but had been too afraid to explore.
But nothing lasts forever, and I knew this even before I bought that one-way ticket. Amsterdam was always meant to be a temporary station in our new life together. After two years of visiting every museum, sometimes twice, and mastering the art of cycling in the city, it was time to pack our bags. My boyfriend finally got his visa to work in the United States. We are headed to Denver, where I will continue to pursue my freelance writing.
Now that I am saying goodbye — and have packed up an apartment and a life for the real first time in my life — I understand that home is not a single place on this Earth. Home is where the heart is; wherever he is; and wherever you find pieces of yourself you had lost.
When we didn’t know how to start our day, we would always head to the Museumplein and figure it out from there. The park is surrounded by all the major art museums in Amsterdam, with the regal Rijksmuseum on one end and the golden concertgebouw on the other. I will miss Saturday afternoons sipping a coffee from Back to Black, watching the dogs bathe in the pond and tourists take pictures with the I Amsterdam sign.
As a person who has an eternal romance with films, the Eye was an unexpected gift the city gave me. Visiting the asymmetrical white building was always its own small adventure, because it is only accessible by ferry. I will miss its film exhibitions and late-night screenings of classics such as “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Every now and then, I get a craving for a coma-inducing breakfast. In Amsterdam, the only solution is Bakers and Roasters. The walk from Central Station to the New Zealander-Brazilian café was full of anticipation and beautiful views of the canals and Amsterdam’s maritime museum. I will especially miss the Bakers and Roasters blueberry pancakes, topped with fresh banana and drenched in maple syrup.
Sunny days were spent at Vondelpark. Spread out on our red alpaca blanket, we’d share an impromptu spread of cheese and hummus and beers bought at the nearest shop. We’d lie down in the shade, listening to the music from the guitarist playing under the bridge or the cacophony of conversations all around us.
Ijburg, even though it’s part of Amsterdam, feels like its separate little village. One of the best things about living on the man-made island was a little pizzeria a few blocks away, Il Sogno. It was one of the first places that made Amsterdam feel like home. I will miss the prosciutto and arugula pizza, the decadent cheesecake and the best companion I could’ve asked for while I waited for my order: Boris the cat, who would beg for cuddles and scratch the pizza boxes.
This town square, surrounded by the Royal Palace and the National Monument, is the perfect place to start any adventure. Take a right and end up in the hip neighborhood of Jordaan. Take a left and you stumble into the city’s red light district. I will miss sitting by the monument, eating the perfect fries from Manneken Pis and listening to the clock tower chime at the top of the Royal Palace.
During my first weeks living in Amsterdam, I was overwhelmed by change. The language, the culture, the street signs. I began to feel homesick. That quickly faded the day I made my first solo outing to Albert Cuyp Market. From the sweet aroma of freshly cooked stroopwafels to the colorful selection of seasonal tulips, Albert Cuyp Market was the best first encounter with the city I could have hoped for. I will miss shopping from the various stands and ending the day with the famous mini pancakes from Poffertjes.
Visiting Amsterdam? See Maria’s recommendations mapped out here.