Eggs on toast: a semester abroad

by Amanda Landwehr / Arts & Culture Editor

The author and her friend, posing for the classic Amsterdam tourist photo.

When I was a kid, I used to romanticize the notion of running away. I was sick of the familiar suburbs of my hometown and often dreamt of hopping on a train, waiting to see where it would take me. Because of this, I always kept a packed duffle bag in my closet filled with necessities like spare clothing, a toy compass and goldfish crackers. 

I never did end up running away to an exotic country and starting a daring new life, but, as an adult, that same urge to run away still defines much of who I am. I’m constantly reckless, curious, and I’m always thinking about the next adventure. My relationship with the idea of “home” is a bit convoluted.

Home, to me, has always been a place to escape from. I will inevitably get bored of seeing the same trees, the same sidewalks and the same people everyday in a vicious cycle of repetition.

But hey, this is also coming from a person whose iPhone background is a photo of her family cat. Clearly, some things have kept some sense of stability in my life.

This past weekend, I traveled to Amsterdam and Bruges (pronounced brooge, not broo-jez — my apologies to the Flemish language) with another exchange student from school. We crossed the English Channel via ferry and hopped on a coach bus that drove us through France, Belgium and into the Netherlands with a small tour group. After yet another night of sporadic 30-minute naps, we arrived in the capital city of Amsterdam.

With Dutch culture comes a sort of ironic duality. On one hand, Amsterdam is renowned for its accomplishments in engineering, agriculture, trade and art. But on the other hand, I couldn’t walk along one street without seeing advertisements for cannabis lounges (referred to as ‘coffee shops’ — hey does this latte taste funny?) or some crude reference to sex. 

My friend and I spent the free portion of our afternoon roaming the galleries of the beautiful Rijksmuseum, walking through the city’s tulip market, and cruising the canals on a boat tour. At night, we met up with two other exchange students and ate Chinese food while sipping on glasses of Heineken. Multiculturalism will truly never fail to astound me.

After a much-needed shower and a full night of rest, our tour group piled back into the coach bus for the morning activity: a visit to an authentic Dutch cheese and clog farm.

In what was likely the peak of my existence, I sampled fresh cheeses, pet a newborn calf, and watched a Dutch farmer carve clogs from a single block of wood. After the farm tour, I desperately began reconsidering my chosen career path.

We finished off the trip with a quick visit to Bruges, a medieval city located in the Flemish Region of Belgium. Bruges has been nicknamed “the Venice of the North” due to its scenic canals and history of trade. 

After walking into the city center, my friend and I wandered into the Basilica of the Precious Blood, a small but ornate basilica recognized around the globe for holding a vile of bloody cloth allegedly taken from the body of Jesus Christ. We sat through a brief five-minute ceremony and had the chance to approach the vile and say a prayer before leaving. The gothic-style chapel captivated me, covered in heavy shades of green, red and gold.

We stopped for a truly Belgian lunch, consisting of french fries (Belgians claim to have invented the fry in the late 15th century) Belgian chocolate and Kriek, a cherry-flavored beer. Due to the rain and high wind speeds accompanying Storm Dennis, an aggressive bomb cyclone in the North Atlantic, the famous Bruges clock tower was closed. However, despite the weather, we carried on to the Church of Our Lady, a 14th century church in possession of one of the only Michelangelo sculptures to leave Italy — “Madonna and Child.”

Reluctant to leave the timeless and quaint beauty of Bruges, we loaded ourselves into the coach once more to sail back to Dover where our journey would come to a close. 

Honestly, I was bummed out to be going home to my flat in London. But, giddy with new knowledge of Dutch culture and yet another burning desire to shower, I walked back into my room with a sense of relief not typically felt after finishing a memorable trip.

So home? Where even is “home” for me? I’m lucky enough to have many. Home is the old brown couch that I sit on while watching movies, littered with cat fur and popcorn kernels. Home is the twin XL bed pushed against the wall of my sophomore year dorm room, where I rest my head on pillows at night and watch the flicker of city lights and planes landing at Midway. And maybe home is a place like London, Amsterdam or Bruges: a city lined with unfamiliar streets, like a person I have yet to fully meet. 

I’ll continue to run away to feed the fire that tells me to escape every once in a while. That kind of aimless curiosity will always lead me in the right direction, toward new people, new experiences and new stories.

Categories: Columns


2 replies

  1. LOVE reading about your journey!! Thanks for sharing, Mandy!

  2. Wow, you’re a writer. Well done!

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