Spring has sprung, and I am hooked. Flowers are blooming, birds are singing even more joyously (many stuck it out during the mild Istanbul winter), the sun is shining, the air is softer, people are walking with added pep in their steps, and there is even a perkier sound in the honking of car horns.
Good weather is like your first Mac (Apple, not McDonald’s). Once you have it, there is no going back. Having tasted the sun on my face, the excited chirping of birds, smelled the fresh, soft air…walked without gloves or coat…I am firmly ‘til-summer-does-us-part committed to spring. Winter is (can be) lovely, but, nope, once you get a taste of what’s to follow, a return to colder temps in not welcome. It’s almost a personal affront.
So, the thought of re-entering winter’s embrace when I traveled north last weekend (my reason for no blogging last Friday) was not exactly something I was jumping up and kicking my heels in the air about. Having tasted the elixir of a new season, I felt I should be heading, if anything, south to immerse myself more fully in the season’s warmth.
But, despite even the snow flurries that greeted me on the ground, the cold melted in the high wattage, warm smiles of my beautiful gal-pals who greeted me at the airport. And if that hadn’t done the trick, then the magical-Hogwart’s-like-refilling cup of red wine and plate of yummy, warm appetizers in the pub-around-the-corner would have. Or the smiling, joking bartender (who could joke in Dutch or fluent English). Or the fact that not one person in any of the, ahem, respectable establishments we visited could have been my child! Yeah, bars with my peer group!
We had a wonderful, albeit short, weekend. There were four of us, all ex-Russia expats. The last time we were together, we were downtown Moscow (in a very hip area that was the birthplace of the Red October chocolate factory but is now home to trendy restaurants and clubs; if you go, it’s a great spot to target for the weekend), enjoying a great dinner, imbibing too generously, and saying a goodbye to the one of us who would be moving soon. Now, of the four, only one of us still remains in Moscow.
Welcome to expat life.
(I attended a goodbye party in Istanbul of a newly acquired friend just four months after arriving. Friendships forge quickly because we expats are all in the same boat: foreigners. That commonality bonds us. No matter how wonderful the local population, we are always somewhat pressing our nose against the glass wall, on the outside looking in. We don’t stay long enough to assimilate, are normally somewhat if not totally handicapped linguistically, and are far away from family and friends back home. What may sound a nightmare to some is actually a dream come true to others. To live in a different culture and learn about it and the people; travel and see and experience amazing things; meet wonderful and fascinating people; and also get to go home and enjoy close friends and family…well, it’s a gift…of course, at some point, most expats are ready to trade in their frequent flier cards and call one port a permanent home, but until that day, we have the amazing privilege of having temporary homes in many ports and people we can call friends in even more…)
Speaking of ports, what a port Amsterdam is. I hadn’t been there since I was (!) 21. (And, when I was there, I was so strapped for funds, poor student I, that I didn’t make it to one of my favorite artist’s – Van Gogh – museum because the entrance fee was too pricey…nor did I make it there this weekend, giving me another excuse to go back and see it and spend more time with friends.) While I didn’t make it to any anointed cultural sites, I did see the insides of some great restaurants, stores and pubs. I went running in the park with friends. I absorbed the laid-back, friendly, and lively atmosphere of the great city – not too big, nor too small but just right – that Amsterdam is. Forget the red light district or the fact that cannabis and prostitution are legal. Amsterdam is about walking along the canals that wind through the city, strolling the quaint streets with unique stores, sitting and sipping coffee and nibbling on some goodie at one of the many welcoming cafes and restaurants, and being impressed at the enthusiasm for biking displayed by the very attractive (and tall!) Dutch people even in the face of less-than-ideal weather conditions.
Now, back in Istanbul, I am still recovering from last weekend and the effects of staying up past my 10pm bedtime two nights in a row. I am also nursing a freshly scraped knee, the souvenir from today’s early morning run. Spring must definitely be here since it’s the season that sees me spending as much time sprawled across the pavement in slip-and-slide fashion as it does jogging across it. Let’s just hope that summer gets here before I do myself any permanent damage.
Happy weekend, folks!