So I guess this is where it ends.
In order to write this post I just looked back at the posts I wrote about Leiden when the others left in December. Since then I have travelled to Italy, France, Germany and within The Netherlands. Since then I spent New Years Eve in Amsterdam. Since then whilst I planned to spend January in Leiden to rest, relax, read, study, sleep, get back into a fitness routine post christmas, explore and really live in Leiden, it didn’t happen exactly as I expected it to…but then again things rarely ever occur just as you imagined them to. I mucked up my sleeping pattern to a point where I was nearly nocturnal. I found myself in a routine and everything was just as I imagined for a couple of days. This was interrupted by goodbyes at random intervals meaning inventory increases, package deliveries, coffee dates and lunches. Then on January 15th the masses left at precisely 10am and my room never looked the same again. Except the year-longers, and those I didn’t realise had also extended their contracts due to exams, everyone had now left. All but one who moved onto my floor to finish a thesis that to say ‘has taken longer than anticipated’ would be the understatement of the year!
Luckily my apartment was big enough that sharing it for the past 2 weeks hasn’t been an issue. It did however put a spanner in my routine. No more loud wake up songs [although I did still insist on sleeping with the curtains open so at least the sun was an unavoidable certainty], no more yoga, no more walking around the apartment fresh from a shower and the constant suggestion “Let’s order delivery”
My life in Leiden constantly felt progressive, like it was in stages or that I never stopped exploring and searching, I never became complacent with it but it did become normal. I did so many different things and watched Leiden change as the seasons did, as I did too. On this note I am glad that my final month was filled with a new type of exploring. I took this time to properly live in the Netherlands for a substantial unbroken period of time. I explored parts of the country and just parts of Leiden and South Holland that I hadn’t yet taken the time to see. This brings me to say that I am glad I got to add sharing my apartment and having a room mate to the experiences I had in Leiden. Again it was progressive and in hindsight I can see that the various stages and gradual phrasing helped me transition through leaving Leiden; saying a proper goodbye to it, preparing me for limbo, and then leaving it as a final stop on the road back home to Melbourne.
Once Danny left I had only one night before Isabelle arrived. But even this night didn’t feel like previous nights alone in my apartment had. For a start there was still the presence of the double inflatable lilo made up on my floor. Secondly, after a week in someones company it actually felt kind of odd to be there alone, it felt strangely quiet and lonely. The next day I left for Germany before Isabelle even arrived, dropping my keys off at a friends place for her to collect. So when I returned home on the Sunday night, Isabelle was already there, severely jet-lagged and exhausted, but having, as invited, made herself at home over the weekend. I resettled into a room that was different from the one I left. Then over the next couple of days I slowly packed up the entire place, my place. I took down my scratch map, and art work. Removed family photos and cards. I packed up boxes of my clothes and things, weighed, taped and sent them home to Melbourne. Slowly my room was taken apart, piece by piece. Until the final night I took down my wall of photos while Isabelle was sleeping.
My time with Isabelle was different from my time with Danny. Danny and I had both been finishing up semester, coming down from our exchange and saying goodbye to our friends and our experiences, both packing up to move into limbo – a period of travel between our exchange lives and our return to our lives in Australia.
I got to watch my friends leave in December. Those who cut their contracts very short to see their families for christmas, choosing not to stay in Leiden for the holidays. I got to see those who saw family, went travelling with them and then came home to Leiden. I watched them pack up both slowly and in a rush. I watched some of them cry as they said goodbye, taking a final walk around the city and doing all those things we had loved to do one final time. Whilst others did it in a hurried flurry between flights, barely allowing themselves a second to breathe and open their eyes at what they were leaving behind. I watched the packed bags move out awkwardly manoeuvring down typical Dutch stair cases. I got to watch them all leave, all of them. Then I got to stay, we got to stay and see what Leiden looked and felt like afterwards. I got to rediscover Leiden and spend quality time in it, appreciating it and realising that despite living here for 5.5 months there were still so many nooks and crannies I had never discovered. So many things I was fortunate enough to have the time to see for myself. Then I saw two of them off to Leiden Central Station, backpack clad, and knew my time was around the corner but that I wasn’t there yet. Next I watched the newbies come in. I packed up whilst Isabelle and Jayson settled and resettled back in. Whilst they immersed themselves in orientation activities and events, meeting people and looking forward to the time ahead of them with expectant, excited expressions. I watched Leiden change as I prepared to walk away, into limbo. I didn’t realise at the time that this was my goodbye. I knew I was returning to Leiden for one night in-between limbo and flying out of Europe on the way back to Australia. I didn’t cry, or feel a compelling need to soak it all up one last time because I knew I would be seeing it again very soon.
On my last day in my apartment on January 30th the walls were bare. Once again white waiting to invite personalisation of character and be turned into a home, someones home. I striped my bed and emptied the rubbish bins, boxed up the cupboards and fridge and moved it all across the hall to Jaysons, sent another two boxes of possessions home, then scrubbed the bathroom whilst Isabelle helped me finish cleaning the room. When everything was done I sat on the grey armchair by the window – as I had done 5.5 months earlier on my first day here, a rainy Friday morning in August – and I looked out the window at my Hogwarts style building Hooigracht / Kloosterpoort / Middelstegracht. Before turning my eyes to the bare, white, blank room in front of me.
Leiden, you…I can’t begin to thank you and every single person who contributed to my experience here. I remember people asking me why the Netherlands? It was a rather random choice. My reasons were: Europe, able to study in English, a foreign language I could learn, North and cold because I love white winters and as a final factor somewhere different and completely new. Well, what I got was so much more than I ever dreamed of. I have had one of the most life changing experiences I predict I will ever have in my life. I met people who have inspired me to seek new possibilities and opportunities and think beyond my imagination and into other peoples knowledge. I changed what I want. I now want to strive harder, and work towards my second exchange and internship and industry possibilities. I developed a new found appreciation for my home city and decided that when I go home I will make a conscious effort to allow time to love, appreciate and enjoy it. Being here has also promoted me to seriously consider overseas post graduate and masters study programmes, specifically in Europe. I can see myself returning here one day for an extended period of time again. I call Leiden home, my third home. The Netherlands a place I love and will forever hold a special place in my being now. I could happily return and live here. Whilst similar, I feel lucky enough to know that I have explored the Netherlands fairly extensively and I have seen provincial and city specific differences with my own eyes. I am not done, and this is not why I will be coming back. Leaving now I’m slightly frustrated that I won’t be here for the full year to see the coming of Spring and the flourish of tulips or the orange of Kings day. But I know it’s okay, because one day I hope I might. So for now, I’ll say goodbye Leiden.