How to get a feel for Gezellig?

Trip Start Nov 29, 2011
Trip End Dec 10, 2011

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Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Thursday, December 1, 2011

All this research into sites, walking and restaurants still left me wondering how we might get a feel for the sense of place that is Amsterdam. By that I mean, what characteristics make it special or unique?

Then one day, a travel magazine called AFAR arrived in the mail and had an article on the author's search for the Dutch experience of "gezellig" or "gezelligheid" (pronounced Heh-ZELL-ick-hide) ( . The article piqued my interest.  I love the sound of the word, but what does it mean?  I decided to investigate this further.

What did I do with this travel related conundrum?  I posted a question of the TripAdvisor asking for any advice on how to discover or feel this Dutch “gezellig”.   With 26 replies, I got 26 different responses!  The advice ranged like these examples: “just don't try too hard and relax and you will have a great time. My advice is to just stroll around any district”;  “I think the top of Zeedijk Street is very gezellig.  There are several small bars & cafes which are low lit and warm”; “It’s good to plan and be organized. With that long list of things you want to do, you might be too exhausted to ever get that feeling of gezellig.  Find a nice café and relax.”; “To be honest the way you have written this list your trip looks far too busy but actually you have quite a lot of time to fill.  Gezellig does not mean chilling and taking it easy but also spending and having a nice time with good friends which is what you are doing. Have a great time.”; “An itinerary is important in order to get to see what you have set your heart on seeing.  Your schedule looks fine to me”; “Personally, I would think Gezellig is doing the opposite of a strict itinerary and just going with the flow…many times in Amsterdam, we have gone with the intention of going somewhere only to find a great little bar or whatever on the way and end up having a Gezellig afternoon enjoying a few fine beers instead!!”;  “…you won't achieve it until you get rid of this silly idea that the aim on any particular day is to do anything!  You will know you have achieved your gezellig if, on your second day, you are sitting in a cafe in the sun, your second coffee steaming in front of you, watching the people on their bikes and the canal boats pootling by on the water, and you think to yourself, Why don't we just stay here for the rest of the day? Then you order another coffee. “; “Just wandering around enjoying the sights with your friends will more than fill you with enough gezelling”; “get me in my favorite brown bar with a beer in one hand and plate of bitterballen in the other I am a gezellig feeling sob”. 

In response to these, I wrote:

With each of us sharing our views, I feel like we are sitting at a virtual round table discussing “gezellig” combined with an approach to travel. Everyone, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve been reading all the posts with the comments and suggestions. It’s been a great springboard for reflection.

It got me thinking of how I would interpret the “gezellig” feeling. I think for me it’s a feeling of warmth, casual unpretentiousness, comfort of being with people I care about, feelings of spontaneity & going with the flow, being “open” to possibilities and new perspectives, no schedule to keep and living in the moment (and not thinking about what I’m going to do next when I’m in the middle of doing something).

This also got me thinking about how I really enjoy learning about a place’s history, culture and possibilities of sites to visit before the trip. I make prioritized lists so that those places or activities that I am most curious about or want to learn more about will be sure to happen. And it gives some loose structure to a day as it develops. For example, I have been studying compositing of multiple photographs into one fine art print and learning the compositing techniques in Photoshop. In preparation for this trip, I just completed a 36 session DVD course on Dutch Masters and the Age of Rembrandt. I was surprised at how much applies to the current creative process that I’m involved in. So it will be a kick to visit the Rijksmuseum, Rembrandhuis & Mauritshuis. For me, to stand in front of these paintings in real life (not at a computer screen) and enjoy the visual feast will be phenomenal. To walk through the galleries, no rush, and just let the experience unfold – well that’s a personal “gezellig” experience. And then to share that with my husband and friends at the time as we walk through the galleries and at a café after...well that all makes my heart sing. So there is a backstory for each site/activity that made it onto my high priority list. What they all have in common is that they capture my imagination or interest and are energizing and stimulating.

After reading the variety of responses to this “gezellig” post, I think we can all find “gezellig” in our own way.

And finally, one of the final entries: 

“Well said Journeyer. There is a reason that gezellig is not translatable and that's because it is exactly what you do to make you and your friends have a good time. It's one of those words that if you asked a hundred people what it meant you would get at least 20 different answers.

One man's food is another man's poison.

Another ironic thing about Gezellig is that you can't be gezellig if you sweat too much thinking about what it actually is.”

Well, let’s see if we discover “gezellig” and how it goes for us in Amsterdam!

                                                               “As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are.
                                                                 Otherwise you will miss most of your life.”

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