Elizabeth and I spent the last hot day of this summer in Amsterdam together. We met at her place for lunch and coffee, then walked along the city streets for hours on end, chatting, taking photos, losing our way a few times. “This was supposed to be a day in my life, something I do regularly, and here I am, going the wrong way.” We laughed about it and repositioned ourselves. There was no wrong way, we just kept on forgetting we were on a mission.
Now, as I write this, I realize it was pure luck that I managed to get Elizabeth to do this series. She is never in one place for too long. Just like writing – the thing she is doing for a living – travel seems to be in her DNA. It started when she left the United States, essential belongings in a backpack, to travel around Europe. It is by chance that she arrived in Amsterdam and, since 2013, has been calling this place home.
A: Why Amsterdam?
E: Amsterdam is a safe place for me. Safe in the literal sense, where I feel like I can walk almost anywhere alone at night as a woman and be OK, but also in the sense that it is a very cosy city. As people say, it feels like a village, but with all the amenities and interesting activities of a bigger city. There is always something new to discover. And I also love how international it is, like a little bubble where you can meet people from all over the world – and speak only English, even though we are in the heart of The Netherlands, which is really nice but not good for my Dutch. Besides, it’s a sticky city. Once comfortable here, it becomes difficult to leave.
A: What about the emotional bond? Is there any?
E: While I don’t have a soul connection to this city like I do with Portugal or other places, I feel that Amsterdam and I will always have a connection and that the city will act as a home base of some sorts.
A traveller’s only home is the road, and yet, I am happy Amsterdam is home enough for Elizabeth to keep her coming back.
* * *
The doorbell is not working. She comes downstairs to pick me up, and I follow her all the way to the top floor. The building looks elegant and reminds me of Paris. Amsterdam vibes return once we enter her loft, the two cats following us closely: exposed wooden beams, angular ceiling, windows with amazing views over the city, and everything that can be classified as bohemian when it comes to furnishing and home accessories.
“Wow, you did a very good job hiding this place from the world,” I say while Elizabeth is busy making coffee in the kitchen. No photos of it on Instagram or elsewhere.
I can instantly picture myself living there, and taking photo after photo. The collection of earrings, the necklaces, the books, the musical instruments – so many details to capture. And then, the corners, one more photogenic than the other: the writing corner, the lounging corner, the sleeping corner – all nested into the rooftop, all super cosy and inviting.
I ask if the centre is where she always lived. It turns out she, too, is a westerner, meaning Amsterdam West was her first home in the city. Does she miss the West? “I like where I live now and how central it is, but I do miss the ease of the West. I feel like you have everything you need there, a nice mix of ethnic markets with hip cafes and things like that. And I always enjoyed wandering around Kinkerstraat and the Bilderdijk area.”
No matter how inviting the weather, it still is a hard task to leave Elizabeth’s place. “I’m going to show you what an ideal Saturday looks like for me,” she says, putting on the golden ballerina shoes I have admired earlier in her shoe collection.
The West is not where we are heading to, and this is a good thing. I’ve always liked people who make new homes of new neighbourhoods. We walk along the Entrepotdok, which can be classified as Elizabeth’s area, en route to her leisure time destinations. We gaze at the gorgeous balconies along the Sarphatistraat and wonder how come no people are to be seen in any of them. “There should be a law to take these balconies away from such people, for lack of use, and instead, give them to devoted fans like us.”
Our first stop is Bakhuys, at Weesperplein. “I come here for my favourite sourdough in town,” she says. “I’ve been craving good bread ever since I returned from Paris.” After getting the bread, we order a cold drink and sit at one of the tables outside. It’s Wednesday afternoon, the terrace quite empty, and yet, it feels cramped, tables pushed into one another. “So much like Amsterdam, right?” we say, squeezing ourselves on two chairs, finally allowing our feet to rest. Eating bread and drinking raspberry kombucha, we talk about obsessions and the like, and Elizabeth keeps on telling me how I remind her of a character in a book. “I will lend you the book, you have to read it,” she says. “Great,” I say, “Not even my obsessions are original! ”
We amuse each other like this for a while, until it is time to go again. “Where are you taking me now?” I ask as we resume our walk. “Well, on Saturdays, after buying bread, I also like to get my weekly supply of coffee beans, fruits and vegetables. A real hipster, right?” We laugh and head even more into the East, where both the coffee place and the market are located. The Turkish market is closed, but Rum Baba is still open. After buying some coffee beans, we order two flat whites and sit outside, where the sun rays turn to orange as the evening gets closer. Checking my phone for the time, I realize Elizabeth hasn’t checked hers for what must have been hours. She has been giving me her entire attention, and that feels so old style and reassuring.
“One more place to show to you,” she says as we leave Rum Baba. Soon enough, we stop in front of Equal, the yoga studio on Insulindeweg. Dark windows, natural wood, and plant arrangements draw my attention. “This is where I do yoga,” she says, posing in front of the entrance. “And you walk all the way here every time you have lessons?” I say, at the same time thinking that the walk there is yoga enough. “Oh, but it’s not such a long walk. When the weather is bad, I come by bike or tram.”
I feel content about our photoshoot and the lightness of our afternoon together, and I am ready to say goodbye to Elizabeth and jump in the first tram back home. “How do you get home?” I ask. “Just walking.” I feel guilty for my laziness and decide to walk with her, then take the bus next to her house. Indeed, it is not a long walk. It occurs to me that Elizabeth is lucky enough to not have to rush to the station every day to go to work. Her writing allows her to work from home or cafes, and it certainly allows for such pleasant, unrushed walks around the city. Or is it the traveller in her that keeps her on the move? I cannot tell.