A Letter from Europe

This is the first part of “A Letter from Europe,” prose that traces my travels from Amsterdam to Florence to Barcelona, May through July 2017.

We are more than halfway through our late-spring to mid-summer experience in Europe.

Amsterdam now has a piece of my heart. After living there for a full month, the city feels like another home. Despite the constant construction happening on the other side of the main wall of our apartment (think sounds of hammers and saws mixed in with Fugees blasting through a stereo and perversions spoken or sung by the construction workers), I loved living and working from our gezellig studio.

Gezellig is the word for “cozy” in Nederlands. It’s probably the most important word I learned while living in Amsterdam, as the term is an important part of Dutch culture. I learned it while sitting in the cafe within an expansive yoga studio, working from my laptop and enjoying a smoothie made with fruit and basil leaf.

The owner of the studio walked to each table and began lighting candles. She came to my table, lit the candle sitting to the left of my laptop, looked at me and smiled before whispering, “Gezellig.”

I blushed in embarrassment not knowing what she just said, and responded with an inquiry in English. Everyone in Amsterdam speaks perfect English, and she explained that “gezellig” is used to describe an atmosphere, something or someplace that is cozy, quaint, and offers a sense of togetherness when spending time with friends and family. There is no exact English equivalent.

We’ve spent the past four nights in Florence, and tomorrow we leave for Barcelona. I couldn’t be more excited for this next adventure. Tapas. Sangria. Beach. Gaudi. Español. I’m ready for all of it.

So, Florence. There’s something about Florence.

Maybe it’s the sweet string sounds of a violinist wafting up the side of this five-story casa this early afternoon, seeping through the closed windows of the top floor apartment, closed to keep the heat out.

Or the group of rowdy men on the street deciding to blast Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” at 2:30 a.m.

Maybe it’s the enclosed rooftop patio with balconies on either side, providing a 360-degree view of the birthplace of the Renaissance, a city speckled with red rooftops and gorgeous churches, nestled in a valley gently cut by the Arno, embraced by lush, tree-lined hills.

Or the swarms of mosquitos that breed in the motionless river, the pests that come out just before sunset, drawing blackbirds to the skies to feed on the bloodsuckers, who somehow sneak into the apartment and feed on me.

Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of modern technology and ancient history, like the weathered face sculpture from a fountain that hangs above the apartment’s flat screen TV, or the framed Lou Reed and Jethro Tull LPs on the wall adjacent to a shelf that holds a small bust of Medusa, an old handheld telescope and a few hourglasses.

It’s beautiful here, and yet it doesn’t make the heart pang in the way it does while touring Rome last year, or living in Amsterdam this year.

Thankfully, the food speaks to the soul. Pesto gnocchi? Fresh bruschetta? A caprese pie from the infamous Gusta Pizza? Yes, please.

Radiohead also speaks to the soul. We expect it’s the last time we’ll see them live in a while. We danced and sang along with the Italian crowd in the dusty field. We teared up during their performance of the song “Fake Plastic Trees.” It was a fun, memorable night to cherish.

The adventure continues.

Bedankt, tot zeins!

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