I’ve finally done it. I’ve bought myself a proper winter coat. It’s dark navy and woolen, with a hood, brown inside quilting and Paddington Bear-esque wooden toggles. It goes all the way down to my knees and, when paired with my brown knee-high boots, I am actually both warm and relatively fashionable, and it’s a world away from my old Michelin Man coat. Who would’ve thought.
I’ve settled back in to life in the Netherlands in the past five weeks. I used my first week and a bit to basically do nothing – I looked at so many pictures of cats on the Internet and did things like paint my nails and fix them when they chipped. You know, normal things.
But then I got a bit bored. I don’t even like cats and my nails were just taking up too much time for too little return. I went on bike rides, got a Pathe Unlimited card (unlimited movies for four months!) and started stalking Skyscanner again. I wanted to stay in the one country for a full month. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do normal things and be normal and all that, without dreaming of ‘that time’ when I had pintxos in San Sebastian, when I zoomed past Florence’s Duomo on a Vespa and when I had perfect views of Lake Bled.
I did it. I went one month and one day before we joined some friends to see a Japan vs Holland friendly. Unfortunately (or fortunately), despite being Japan’s home game, they decided to play it in Genk, Belgium. Most of Japan’s national team plays in European leagues so in order to get as many players to take part as possible, they decided to play it here. You’re not allowed to play in your opposition’s country, so Genk was chosen. It’s so close to the Netherlands that even a local bus connects the town with the nearby Dutch town of Sittard.
The game was fun. It took a couple of hours to drive down to Genk, and apart from the sign which welcomed us in to Belgium it didn’t really feel like we’d left the country. I spoke a mixture of Dutch and English to Paul, Marlon and Daphne, and a mixture of English and Japanese to Marlon and Daphne’s Japanese host friend. I can’t even begin to tell you how hard that was. At one stage, I answered a question in Japanese with si. Trying to search for Japanese words was nearly impossible – the Dutch word, and often the Spanish one too, would beat the much-neglected Japanese one almost every time. It’s funny; I studied Japanese for ten years yet my Dutch is easily better.
The friendly match was actually quite good. The Japanese girl was freezing – it was probably about five degrees – but my coat and Venetian leather gloves (what a splurge, but what a brilliant move) stood up to the temperature challenge. I was surprised as to just how many Japanese were at the game – at least a third of the crowd was decked out in blue and white. Genk’s in a great spot, and three hours on the road can get you as far as Frankfurt, Amsterdam and almost Paris. There’s thousands of expat Japanese in that catchment zone. The match ended in a draw, 2-2, with the Japanese a lot happier than the Dutchies.
I’ve spent most of my new-found free time either studying Dutch, blogging or job searching. The job hunt has been going better than before; I’ve had a few interviews in Rotterdam and have signed up with an expat job agency. I’ve been told that nobody’s really looking for anyone to start until next year, so I’m being patient.
My Dutch is coming ahead in leaps and bounds. I decided earlier this year that I needed to sign up for a proper course when I finished tour guiding, and I’ve done just that. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any intensive courses nearby so I’ve settled on one in The Hague. I had to sit an interview in Dutch – definitely the scariest thing I’ve done all year – and I’ve been slotted into the intermediate level, which was exactly what I wanted. It starts on Monday, and I’m nervous-excited. It’s going to be hard, but hopefully it’ll be just what I need. I’ve been plodding away with the language for almost three years now and I’ve improved slowly, so now’s the time to start having proper conversations and immersing myself in it.
I’ve also re-found my love of blogging. When I got back last month I really was in two minds about continuing it all. I was just sick of putting so much effort into each post with hardly any reward, and by reward I mean readers. I don’t care about getting free things or making money from travelling – my job has already given me that – I just wanted more people to read my stuff. Finally, thanks to this, this and this post, I’ve had the best month on the blog since I started it. It’s made me ridiculously happy, actually.
We also nicked off last week for four days in Lisbon. Paul and I have made sort of a little tradition of taking a holiday each year after I’d gotten back from tour guiding – this would mean that I’d have nobody asking me where the toilet was, I didn’t have to set my alarm each morning and it didn’t matter if I got lost.
2011 was Istanbul, 2012 was Krakow and this year was supposed to be Mallorca, actually. However, we (meaning me) started stressing about potentially cold weather, so we chose Lisbon instead. I’d visited Lisbon in 2007 but embarrassingly enough I couldn’t remember too much about the city. I remembered the custard tarts and lots of hills, but that was about it. We had a brilliant few days seeing the sights, munching on seafood, heading out to fairytale Sintra and even making it to Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of mainland Europe. I’ll be writing plenty about it, but at this stage the blog is about six months behind, and I was going to write about Bulgaria next. Decisions, decisions.
So that’s where I’m at. I always worry about how I’ll be when I return back to the Netherlands after tour guiding, but at the moment I’m in a good mindset. I’m a world away from my miserable month of February. Plus, I’ve got something to look forward to – in less than a month I’m going home to Melbourne for the first time in two years. Paul and I are going to be there for almost a month, and the schedule is already filling up – cricket, tennis, beach and dim sims are already featuring prominently. Oh, dim sims, how I miss you so.
The only thing missing now is a scarf. A proper one, not a silly Aussie one that is just there for decoration. Then, the ensemble will be complete. Riding past on my pretty bike, with my long coat, long boots, scarf and gloves on, I might, just might, be one day mistaken for a warm Dutchie rather than a freezing cold Aussie. Winter, this time I’m ready for you.