When in Amsterdam, Rome may seem like a home away from home.
After four long days of cramming everything I was expected to learn in half a semester in my brain for midterms (come on, you know you have the same method of studying), I was more than ready to depart on a 10-day adventure to Amsterdam and Prague. I was not only desperate for a break from my suffocating schoolwork but also from the Italian architecture, Italian expenses and — as you could tell from my last column — the Italian food.
Little did I realize that the day I came back, I would stare out of the window of my Mercedes shuttle van from the airport to my apartment, not in awe like I did the first time I made the journey, but in relief.
Sometimes we forget that when we stay in one place for a while (in my case, it’s been more than two months), we start growing roots there. Routes become familiar, and landmarks like gas stations or strip malls become points of reference. We discover where to buy the cheapest beer for a night out with friends and the most expensive meal when we’re looking to impress. The place that once felt so foreign starts to somewhat resemble a home or at the very least, a place of comfort.
The comfort of the familiar piazzas of Rome were much missed as soon as the girls I was traveling with and I figured out that our hostel magically ended up right on the edge of the Red Light District in Amsterdam — and we were sharing a room with nine men, two of whom had to have been more than 45 years old. This was not the adventure I planned on having.
“They were farting all night long,” a friend told us as soon as the room had emptied out for the day. “I can’t sleep. This is just too weird.”
Amsterdam was, in fact, weird. It was strange enough to see weed and every version of sex advertised for sale on every block (in our neighborhood, it was about every other storefront), but even weirder when I realized the locals stroll down the street casually whistling.
The first time I heard one, my head immediately snapped around. It had been a few days since I’d heard the familiar “Ciao, bella!” coming from a greasy Roman, so I figured it was the Amsterdam equivalent. Seeing the culprit, I realized he had never even seen me — and that he was still whistling a song, probably some version of “I’ve Gotta Feeling.”
Who does that? And why did all of the locals — not just this particular case — do the same? This isn’t The Andy Griffith Show, seriously.
Another Amsterdam oddity? Bike lanes. All of the fixed-wheel hipsters I know would have been enamored with the bike culture here — there are even bike lanes built into the streets, complete with their own bicycle-shaped stoplights. Precious, right? Not when the cyclists refuse to stop for anything but the damn red bicycle light. My friend Olivia, whose head reaches my shoulder on a good day, almost got hit several times by mindless Amsterdam residents peddling their lives away and paying no attention to us poor pedestrians.
Olivia has obviously never had to dodge the bikers on Temple’s campus. I guess I had one up on her.
Either way, even though Amsterdam was absolutely gorgeous (and being surrounded by other ridiculously tall blondes was somewhat of a comfort to me), it made me realize that the weird vibe I was getting was none other than culture shock — something I experienced when I first moved to Rome.
But now that I’ve been here for two months, the things that seemed so strange to me before now seem so normal. The lack of personal space on the metro, the tendency to walk in the middle of the street, fresh water pouring out of fountains on the street and men — who are more well-groomed than me — carrying Fendi and Louis Vuitton side bags were all missed during my central European interlude.
As much as I may miss the states sometimes and the comforts that await me there, Rome really has become comfortable. My roots have started to cling to the ancient dirt, and I have truly started to believe that there’s no other place on earth like home — er, Rome.
Libby Peck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.