It’s been four days since we arrived in the Netherlands, and it still doesn’t quite feel real. We’re staying near the city center of Leiden in one place for the first month. Our bedroom window has a view of the canals and street below, the Dutch architecture. There are moments of disassociation where I get caught up in reading a book or watching a movie, and my brain is back in Tennessee. Then I look up and out the window and am reminded of where I am. It leaves me thinking, “When will this all feel normal?”
Here’s the Spotify playlist of the week
On our first day here, I was incredibly overwhelmed and exhausted. I didn’t sleep much on the plane ride over, which I knew was a wrong move. The adrenaline was pumping, and I just couldn’t settle my mind. I was worried about the entry process because, with COVID, everything is in flux. At the airport, we immediately noticed the quiet. Unlike the Nashville airport, there is not a constant murmur of conversation or ceaseless announcements, or music playing over loudspeakers. The noisiest spot was the passport line. Ultimately I was shocked that they didn’t ask to see all the forms we made sure we filled out based on the Dutch government’s website. It was a bit daunting meeting up with the taxi we’d reserved, but we found him and were off to our home for the next month.
Our second day here saw us taking a walk to our friend’s home nearby, and she went out on a short visit to the Albert Heijn, where we got a look at how grocery shopping works. We’d seen many videos from ex-pats on YouTube but in person is always another experience. Our confidence grew the following day when we walked to the Albert Heijn close to our own place. Without any difficulties, we picked up some groceries and paid. It’s these little tasks being accomplished that serve to boost the spirit. I felt very confident after that journey, and it has me interested to set out today and see what we can do. Today’s schedule has us meeting up with our friend to practice some biking and swing by a thrift store to purchase a decent used one.
The Dutch government changed course the very day we arrived, ending the mandatory quarantine for tourists, and instead, they are using the electronic COVID vaccine passports as the means to enter restaurants, music venues, etc. The problem I’ve found is that there isn’t a clear path for anyone who has received their vaccines outside of the E.U., particularly non-EU residents. I’ve spent some time looking over the official websites, but it’s not entirely clear if we could even have our CDC cards recognized here. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dutch government pivots again as tourism is down 73% from the previous year.
It has left me incredibly frustrated with the U.S. government for going about proof of vaccination in such a lazy manner. We get index cards that can’t easily fit in a wallet and can be destroyed with just a bit of water, plus no digital component to make travel outside the country easy. This is the nature of the decentralized neoliberal economic order, the desire to take things out of the hands of governments and instead let the private sector come up with “solutions,” all of which line their full pockets with more money while creating nothing but confusion for the ordinary person. If COVID was being handled with some sense, there would have been at least a U.S.-based reliable digital passport that could be transferred or used in the E.U. system.
I can’t say I miss the United States much, beyond missing particular people. But the whole way of doing things, the constant sense of chaotic energy, is absent here. It is remarkable how quiet a big city can be at night when you have a low number of cars on the street. Ariana mentioned that she noticed me slowing down as we walked through those quiet halls of the airport. I’ve certainly felt those pangs of propaganda-infused fear since we’ve been here, moments of doubt & the desire to cling to the known. I remind myself the United States intentionally shapes things, so we have that panic and want to cling to a system that is so corrosive because it’s what we know.
I have noticed the lightness and better quality of food here. We ordered from a takeaway chicken place on Saturday night, and it was the “American” fare you might expect, fried chicken and french fries, but almost no grease and a complete absence of that heavy gross feeling you get from American fast food. Even the cola tastes cleaner, with no corn syrupy aftertaste. You can drink the tap water as it’s dune filtered, and it tastes like good bottled water right out of the faucet, none of that bleachy chlorinated flavor in the U.S. If you don’t like tightly packed cities, then you probably wouldn’t like the area of the Netherlands we are staying in, but I love it. There are so many parks spread out all over, and the place feels very clean. I’m sure in time, as I learn more about where I am, there will be negatives, but so far, I enjoy it. I am crossing my fingers that we’ll figure out a path to stay before our 90 days are up. If we don’t, we will have had an incredible experience, and then it will be onto the next place.