On Sunday, July 19th, I left New Hampshire to finally start the next chapter of my life. Setting foot on the streets of Amsterdam on Monday gave me this surreal feeling; I couldn't believe that after all this time, I was finally where I belong, where I've been trying to get to for over a year now. As I write this, it's a few days later and I'm sitting some 4,000 miles away from New Hampshire in Ania's apartment, nestled in a quiet corner of Poznań, Poland. Now that all of this planning, worrying, and travel is finally over I finally have some time to reflect on more than just which flight I should take to get to Europe. I've been lucky enough to have lived in several very different places over the years, and as I prepare to move into my new apartment in Amsterdam I'd like to share a few observations about each.
I grew up in the small city of Derry, New Hampshire, just north of Boston and south of Manchester. The region is notable for a few things: the "idyllic New England" look of collonial-style houses surrounded by colorful Autumn trees, hills, and rock walls; the natural beauty of the White Mountains to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the east; the pervasive Bahstan Accent and love for all things New England (NE Patriots, Red Sox, maple syrup, lobster, clam chowder...); and the industrial revolution-era brick-factories-turned-apartment-buildings. I could've done without all the shoveling in winter, but overall it was a great place to grow up, and I will always feel at home in the tree-lined hills of New Hampshire.
In 2015 I moved from Derry to Miami, Florida for my undergrad at the University of Miami. Before then, I had only been to Florida for weeklong vacations to escape the bitter cold of the north, so the first year or so felt somewhat like an extended vacation. *You mean to tell me that during a week in January people in Miami actually wear scarves and winter jackets because it drops below 70 degrees???* Aside from the difference in climate, the lifestyle in Miami also brought several key differences. Firstly, the traffic in Miami is insane. Not LA insane, but if you're trying to get anywhere in a hurry on any given afternoon, best of luck to you. My only advice is avoid US-1 at all costs, and if you get on the highway at night, stay in the right lane unless want to get rear-ended by an uber driver going 120 mph.
Partly because of the traffic and in part due to the constant feeling of being on vacation, everything in Miami is 15 minutes behind schedule. Extravagant wealth abounds mere blocks away from impoverished neighborhoods. Street art, Cuban coffee, and Spanish-influenced architecture can be found everywhere. Most importantly to me, the music scene in Miami is as vibrant and young as the city. In Miami, you can find a vast variety of foods, culture, and outrageously expensive boutiques, relax under a palm tree on Key Biscayne, and bask in the calm serenity of a tropical botanical garden all in the same day. I'm sure everyone makes this claim about their city, but after 4 years in Miami I truly believe there is no other city quite like it in the world, for better or worse.
Midway through my time in Miami (let's just skip over the cruise ship month, shall we?), I spent a semester studying abroad in Mainz, Germany (close to Frankfurt). I lived in a student dorm on the outskirts of the city and attended the Johannes Gutenberg Universität, taking classes from jazz composition to German language to (in the truest German expressionist style) free-form jazz ensemble. The city was nothing like Derry or Miami, and the way I lived was dramatically different from in the US. Though Mainz is small (comparable in size to Providence, RI or Worcester, MA) the main part of the city is built close together such that everything is within walking distance, making it feel like both a small city and big city at the same time. In an afternoon, you could visit a museum, walk the Rhein, grab a bite to eat, and pick up groceries all by foot or using the city's comprehensive system of buses and trams-- something which Europeans seem to take for granted. The way of life in Mainz as well as most European cities encourages people to get outside, intermingle, and experience the whole city rather than just the destinations where you park your car as in US cities like Miami. Of course, like in the US, much of my time in Mainz was spent going from one place to another, but when I walk or take a tram, I have time to observe my surroundings and exist in the moment rather than focusing on driving and worrying about traffic. Don't get me wrong-- I love driving down NH back roads with the windows down and music blaring-- but I also love walking outside, and in the US that's something you do with your spare time, not something that's intrinsic to the lifestyle. Mainz is in a region known (at least by myself) as the "southern France of Germany", meaning it's pretty much the only place in Germany with lots of vineyards and good wine. One of the best ways to cope with the summer heat in Mainz is to head to the riverside, get a cold glass of riesling, and relax on one of the makeshift "beaches", watching river cruises and shipping boats sail by.
After my last year living in Miami, I spent about three months staying with Ania in Poznań, Poland, a city about 3 hours east of Berlin. I can't emphasize enough that this is not a direct comparison by any means, but I would characterize Poznań as the Boston of Poland: its many universities make its population one of the youngest and most liberal in the country, there are tons interesting bars, restaurants and cafes to try out, and its architecture is an interesting blend of European townhouses, compact IKEA apartments, and modern experimental architecture with a sprinkling of a few communist-era buildings of varying degrees of ugliness. (come on, you've seen some of those cheap run-down brick apartment buildings outside of Boston, the US has had its share of architectural blunders too) I find there always seems to be something new to do in Poznań, whether it's attending an outdoor movie screening, spending a day at the art museum (Muzeum Narodowe w Poznaniu), having a beer with friends on the Warta river, or walking the botanical garden.
During my stay there, I found there were other peculiar elements of the communist era which persisted aside from the architecture. The most obvious to me was the language barrier, although this may be true about most European countries since the early 90s. In general, everyone around my age speaks fairly good English as well as a third language like German or French. But with those at a certain age, say about 50 and up, I usually wasn't able to communicate at all. I know a few basic phrases in Polish and I can usually order food without a problem, but at one point I was even scolded by an older Pole for not being able to speak the language; whereas younger Poles will have full conversations with me in English and then apologize that their English is so bad (I always tell them not to apologize, and that their English is far better than my Polish). I think about that every time I see someone in the US getting impatient with a foreignor's English-- empathy is always key. Other remnants of the communist-era in Poznań include Polish "milk bars" (cheap, utilitarian restaurants which were popular during communism), different political beliefs shaped by Poland's-- ahem-- *less than optimal* geopolitical history, and a few cheaply made yet charming apartment furnishings (a small lamp here, a glass coffee mug there). With 3+ months of living in this city, I've grown quite fond of its cobblestone streets and inummerable Żabka stores (akin to finding a Dunkin' Donuts at every turn in New England).
That leads me to the next chapter of my life: Amsterdam. While I've only been there a few days and haven't yet fully moved into my apartment on Tuinstraat, there are a few things about the city that have already struck me. Of course, everyone associates Amsterdam with canals, bikes, and the Red Light District. Reading about all that on the internet is all well and good, but what I didn't expect when I came to visit last year was just how quiet the city is. Because there are hardly any cars on the streets, this enormous metropolitan area feels like both a quaint village and a big city at times. Rather than the pure electric energy of an American city like New York, you can find side streets away from tourists that feel more like Portsmouth, NH, with most of the buildings only rising a few stories high. Needless to say, the city is also very green-- much of its power comes from renewable sources, but more noticably you can see trees, gardens, windowboxes, and vines on every street. In stark contrast to my visit in 2019 when the streets were full of tourists speaking English among many other foreign languages, this week I heard mostly Dutch with a smattering of French, German, and Polish. Obviously this puts a damper on the city's economy, but as a new resident it makes the city that much more pleasant to live in. My neighborhood sits on a small street in the city center, with bakeries, restaurants, stores, and bars of all kinds within a minute walking, and everything else you could need a short bike ride away. The last thing I noticed about Amsterdam that didn't occur to me until I was already well on my way through Germany on a Flixbus is the architecture-- or, more specifically, the building materials. Amsterdam, like most cities in New England, primarily used bricks to construct its iconic townhouses. In Mainz and Poznań as well as most other European cities that I know of, residences are usually constructed with an exterior of painted plaster, giving the outsides of buildings a smooth minimalist look. I suppose because I grew up around old New Hampshire factories and coastal brick buildings in places like Boston and Portsmouth, it makes me feel even more at home in my new city.
Wherever I happen to live next doesn't matter too much to me-- I'm just enjoying the ride and I've loved each of the places I've lived for different reasons. In fact, I even wrote a song about it. Check it out here! If you want to keep up with these blog posts, follow my artist page on Facebook, where I update statuses regularly.