Merging: a weekend in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, cyclists weave seamlessly within the flow of traffic. They continually merge for brief moments into crowded intersections to find the next bike lane.

This March an old friend weaved her way back into my life, unexpectedly and to my delight. I had decided to meet a crew of friends for impromptu drinks one evening, and when I arrived at the restaurant, I found the party had begun hours ago. I immediately scolded the most raucous of the boys: “I hope you’re treating the waitress well. The poor girl!”

That’s when I noticed her taking an order at the far end of the table. “Eloise?” I said tentatively. Confusion quickly shifted to excitement. “Eloise!” This lovely lady and I had worked together as waitresses years ago in Saskatoon but lost touch. I didn’t even know she’d moved to Calgary. In the “What’s new?” portion of our happy reunion, we quickly established we had mutual plans to move abroad, and decided some coffee dates were in order.

Several months later, here we are in Europe. I made the trek to Amsterdam last weekend for a visit — and I don’t use “trek” lightly. Rather than booking the relatively cheap round-trip flight, I booked a one-way flight, Amsterdam to London, and opted for a very cheap night bus to Amsterdam. Aren’t I clever with my money, I thought.

Now I’m no stranger to the bus, but a bus inside a train inside a tunnel under the ocean? Maybe not the best option for someone with massive claustrophobia. Oh yeah. That was not a good time. Deep breaths, Rachel, deep breaths. Just don’t think about where you are. Thankfully, the Chunnel adventure lasted only thirty minutes. And thankfully, my seatmate decided to get chatty at just the right time, providing a welcomed distraction.

Twelve hours later, I arrived bleary eyed and in awe. I had heard a little of Amsterdam: people bike a lot and certain substances and practices are legal. But this picturesque gem of a city is so much more than that. I felt as if I’d stumbled upon a fairy tale.

Canal2 Canal1 Ams4

I’ve never been much of a cyclist, but I had to adapt quickly! There really is no better way to see the city.

Bike parking lot

Look what I found! What are the chances?

Ams1 Ams2

Ams3 Ams8

At the airport, after patting myself on the back for booking a flight home, I thought about how odd it was to be flying “home” to London for the first time. And as I weaved my way onto the Tube for the last leg of my journey, I thought about how people don’t just weave their way into our lives randomly. They merge when the time is right. And they remind us that home is never very far away.

Namaste 🙂
Rachel

 

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London’s Music

If you see me on the street, I’ll probably be boppin’ along, earbuds in as I go about my day. Most of the time, music enhances my experience of a moment. There’s nothing like hard rock for an adrenaline-infused run, sultry jazz for early-morning coffee or late-night wine, and heart-wrenching classical for a writing session. I’ve even found a site that features music designed to increase focus and productivity, and it works wonders, let me tell you.

Lately though, I’ve been doing some little experiments, and I’m finding there’s a time and a place, a right way and a wrong way, to get lost in music:

“London Music”

Earbuds in I walk,
in time to the music. Meanwhile,
the pulse of the city beats . . .
in time around me, unnoticed.
So I take them out, my earbuds,
take in rain-soaked streets
saturated in vibrant London energy,
And I listen to the music.

When I listen to this music, my awareness is heightened. Scenes play out around me. Snippets of life emerge: excited conversation, a street performer’s song, a mother laughing as she watches her child playing in the leaves, a stranger’s smile when I catch her eye.

This weekend I’m heading to Amsterdam — my first excursion out of England since arriving! Very much looking forward to it, and I fully intend to wander earbud free. Some new music. Stories and pictures to follow next week.

A quiet walk along the Thames in Putney.

Not-so-quiet walk in Waterloo Station. London’s ever-present contrast of peace with chaos, of old with brand new, continues to amaze me.

Namaste 🙂

Rachel

A Place In the World

Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place . . . Nothing outside you can give you any place . . . In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.” – Flannery O’Connor

Home. It becomes a more confusing word with each chapter in my life. And I find myself intrigued by the concept of “place” in the world, and where I fit. Growing up in a town of five hundred people in rural Saskatchewan, I was blessed with the love and friendship of a tight-knit community, but I couldn’t wait to move to Saskatoon. I’d always been drawn to the idea of “the city,” a place of wonder and mystery, of seemingly endless things to do.

Mad football skills at home in Hafford.

Mad football skills at home in Hafford.

When I arrived in Saskatoon for the next chapter of my life, university, I felt I couldn’t be happier. Big city, fresh start. I knew it all. I was an adult. I had arrived in “my place,” where I wanted to be. But two years in, I realized I felt no particular tie to Saskatoon itself, and started wondering where I’d settle down and build my white picket fence life. After four years of undergraduate studies, I had a gap year — one not spent travelling but taking online courses and figuring out where I wanted to be while pondering the favourite question of the twenties-something: “What do I want to do with my life?”

In my university years, I spent time each summer in Calgary and came to fall in love with the city, and even more so with its proximity to the mountains. Spurred on by big dreams of building a career in a city that seemed to hold endless promise for all aspects of my life at the time, I headed west for the next chapter.

Banff    Calgary skyline

Again, when I arrived, I felt I couldn’t be happier. Bigger city, fresh start. I knew I didn’t know it all, but I was learning. My first year in Calgary marked significant shifts in my personal and professional life. Perhaps for this reason, I felt that Calgary was truly “my place,” the place where I was supposed to put down those roots everyone talks about.

And then two years into this chapter, an impromptu trip, my first solo excursion abroad, changed all that. The travel bug didn’t just bite me: it started gnawing at my core. I returned to Calgary with an ever-growing sense of restlessness that I largely ignored for the better part of the next two years. Was Calgary my place? Where did I want to “be”?

Oh beach life ...

Oh the life in Costa Rica …

Then almost a year ago to the day, a friend and I headed to Europe for a month. Ah Europe. The cobblestone, the intrigue, the stolen moments of laughter, reflection, rendezvous, and oh, the wine, the wine, the wine. And the croissants. The minute I set foot on London soil, I felt I had arrived home. There was a pull, a tie to “place” unlike any other I’d felt before. And on our last day in Europe, as I sat in Rome contemplating the month that had passed, I realized that I wasn’t done with Europe, or rather, that Europe wasn’t done with me. And with that realization, the weight of restlessness lifted. It was time to prepare for the new “place” in my life.

Monterosso

Thanks to the lovely Sarah for these photos.

Eiffel Tower  Wine in Lucca

Now settled in my new chapter in London, I’ve arrived. I couldn’t be happier. Biggest city, fresh start. I’m keenly aware of the fact I don’t know it all, and never will. In fact, I might just be more confused than ever. But right now, London is “my place.” I don’t want to imagine living anywhere else.

Underground  London BridgePutney   Daunt Books  Brighton

For the moment.

And in this contentment I wonder, am I destined to wander, forever feeling the pull of new “place”? But what I do know for sure is the most important truth I own: home is in the people we love, not the place. Home is within.

Namaste.
Rachel

Arrival