The Return: Part I, Amsterdam

Monday, June 20, 2022

Three years. It had been three years since the last time I'd been out of the US--a delightful summer spent in Moscow, Mongolia, and Istanbul in 2019. Up until 2020, the last time I'd gone an entire calendar year without crossing a border had been sometime back in the mid-1980s. 

Which way to the Borderlands

But yeah, I didn't do much traveling in 2020-2021, other than a couple of quick trips to Michigan. So, let's just say that the old backpack was a bit dusty when I retrieved it from the back room to prepare for this summer's travels. 

Where to begin? Originally, I was planning to spend most of this trip in Russia. I'm currently in the final phases of the book that I've been working on since 2015, and I had hoped to spend a month in Kazan to explore the possibilities of a new project I'd been thinking about. Well, that idea hasn't exactly worked out, so I audibled, deciding instead to work on the project's Istanbul-related elements. 

The IISH: a great place to research

After bidding farewell to the Grade of Bel and visiting the family in Michigan, I flew to Amsterdam. Once again, I was researching in the wonderful International Institute of Social History. I gotta tell you, finding that place was really a revelation. Having researched my first book exclusively in Turkey and the former USSR, it was really a change in gears to have a significant amount of work to do in a place like the IISH. Especially compared to working in Russia, working in Amsterdam was so easy and fast, and their vast holdings related to international communism were super important for the Nâzım book that I've been working on. The IISH also looks like it will be helpful for the new project that I'm trying to kick-start now, so Amsterdam ended up being the place where I re-immersed myself back into my previous border-crossing ways. 

It felt strange at first. Even with a recent booster shot coursing through my veins, I felt somewhat uneasy. Part of this had to do with Covid, but the bigger factor, I think, stemmed from having become somewhat set in my ways in terms of routine and daily life during the pandemic. I'd turned into something of a bumpkin over the previous few years--not the sophisticated charmer that you've all gotten used to. 

I was a bit surprised by how few people were wearing masks in Amsterdam. Back in Montana, I'd still been masking up whenever I went to the supermarket, and had still been avoiding bars and restaurants. In Amsterdam, though, I ditched the mask, for the most part. I wore it when I was in the airport and on public transportation, but not when sitting outside in restaurants. Not that I wanted to get sick, but I guess I did something of a risk/reward assessment. It didn't seem worth running a risk when shopping for canned beans in Belgrade, but did when I was hanging out in a nice place that I like in a city that I love. 

One of my faves...


I had one day off in Amsterdam, so I decided to rent a bike. There are no AirBnBs in Amsterdam anymore, so I was staying in a hotel that, thanks to the fact that I'd made my reservations pretty late, was in the far west of the city. 

So, I decided that day to just ride west. Traveling between cities by bike is quite easy--there are bike paths that run alongside the major roads. A number of years ago, when I was kicking off my sabbatical year in Amsterdam, I had ridden to Zaanse Schans, and that had been an enjoyable, easy ride. 

This time I headed off toward Haarlem. 

It's not easy to play basketball when
you're wearing wooden shoes

After having lunch in Haarlem I kept biking west. My goal had been to get as far as Zandvoort. Instead, I ended up in a place called Bloemendaal aan Zee, which had a really nice beach on the North Sea. 


It was a great ride--the weather was incredibly good, especially by Holland standards. I even ended up getting a little bit sunburnt. 

While it had been pretty easy to make my way out to the North Sea from Amsterdam, finding my way back to my hotel was more of a challenge. Getting to Amsterdam was easy enough, but figuring what to do next took some time. The wind picked up a fair bit as well in the late afternoon, so by the time I finally made it back to home base I was pretty wiped out. 

I slept well that night--and I needed it. The next day, I'd be heading out to Istanbul. 


Are you a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your library.  

More commentary, photos, and links can be found in the Borderlands Lounge.   

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