Summary of my travel through Western Europe: Scotland, Netherlands – Amsterdam, Belgium & Spain

Scotland

Jesus christ I love the accent. I could listen to a Scot for hours… I also really enjoy the Scottish “spirit”. Feisty and ballsy and gruff in their own way depending on which part of the country you’re in. The Scottish sense of humour really appeals to me. They’re so interesting and unpretentious. They’re like the stereotype but even better. I loved the western part of the country, gorgeous glens and lakes… I had no idea that it was so uninhabited either. I obviously knew nothing about Scotland beforehand to have not known that. It’s fantastic though. I mean, not helpful to human prosperity but great for the land and the sprites 😉

Have to admit that the Isle of Skye kind of scared me. It doesn’t have an indigenous population of trees, so although there are settlements that have obviously made the effort to greenify their plots the isle as a whole is a study in brown/straw colours. It had a silence and a heightened sense of space that felt like a sentence rather than a freedom. The best way I can describe it is that… it doesn’t feel like a place that welcomes life. It can be picture-perfect beautiful on a sunny day yet it doesn’t feel real and engaging, either I was the alien or it was the alien land. To my mind it would be an excellent site for a thriller film.

Places visited: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, Mallaig, Isle of Skye – Portree, Dunvegan, Uig

Netherlands – Amsterdam

Awesomeness. At the end of my trip I decided that if I were ever going to choose a real city’s city to live in, it would be either Edinburgh, Granada or Amsterdam. My top livable cities for sure. I think I like that they have their own very clear, distinct identity and that they can be quite easily walked. They’re all highly unique and have an optimistic, forward-facing feel about them. They’re cultural hotspots while still retaining oases and open-air places that people can go to to help them slough off stresses and concerns. Also, Amsterdam has quite a good proportion of highly attractive people. And if there was anywhere I would go clothes shopping in Europe in would be Amsterdam. Having no money can be a blessing :), because I didn’t have time enough to spend on shopping anyway so could limit myself to window display devouring.

Got me some great jazz and atmosphere at Alto Café, as well as conversation with a black couple from Washington – the man had just retired from a high-powered career on Capitol Hill and the woman was a law professor. Just seems to me that it would be so easy to meet people who have had lives vastly different to my own on a regular basis in Amsterdam. Another big +.

Belgium

This is an interesting one. Weather played a very large role in my impression of Belgium, for almost all of the few days I was there was met by a persistent and dominant somber grey air. It wasn’t just that the sky up over there appeared to be displaying the colour grey, the air around you, sitting on your shoulders and piling up between buildings was the embodiment of grey. I’d never experienced anything like it, not even during my years of grey winter days in Christchurch. You could never tell what time it was, the day appeared to have no destination nor any source.

In spite of the weather I had a good time because I had good company, but to be honest I don’t have too much more to say about my experience of Belgium. I think I have to go back, travel a bit more widely and get to know some locals. Brussels does appear to have some fantastic cafes. There’s the one place I went into because they displayed an array of incredibly gorgeous pies/tarts. I can confirm that they are as good as they looked (well, for one type of pie anyway), unfortunately I cannot tell you its name because I have forgotten it. However should you have the resources to send for me to join you on your trip to Brussels I’m sure I would be able to find it again on foot 🙂

Another thing that I will say about the city is that it turned out to be more eclectic than I had imagined. My memory tells me it’s almost as if the city shrinks and expands at different points as you walk through it, accompanied by a corresponding shift through different historical values and lifestyles. There are the tall, reflective glass buildings, neutral towers loyal to no-one but modernity; then there are the squares which although could have been large in reality, felt cosy to me for how they were fenced in by ornate buildings of governance; and then there are the mid-sized French shophouses that would fit in in any provincial town in France.

Places visited: Brussel/Bruxelles, Brugge/Bruges

Spain

I have already written a number of times about being in Donostia/San Sebastian, where I stayed for a month learning Spanish at a language school and living with a homestay. [Brief from San Sebastian (Donostia), Por la noche, Only words for now, and La Gula] I sincerely consider it another home and feel lucky to have been able to spend time living in it. If there’s a reason why it’s not included in my list of top cities to live in it’s because it’s a little too civilised for my tastes.

Granada….. oh I love Granada 🙂 Especially since I was able to stay in a hostel in Albayzín…… sigh. A note for anyone thinking about going to the Alhambra: It is worth the wait for a ticket. The highlight in my case was the amazing gardens, El Generalife. The moors were damned geniuses when it came to water features, you will see effects that are so simple (you will wonder why you had never thought of it, though the answer is probably the obvious one of “Well I suppose I don’t spend that much time thinking about pools of water and fountains”) yet perfect in their elegance. And the smells!

If I’ve only talked about those two places it’s because they’re where I spent the most time while in Spain; and because they are my most loved memories of the country.

Places visited: Donostia/San Sebastian, Zarautz, Hondarribia, Bilbao, Granada, Barcelona, Mundaka

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