Some of the places I’ve visited have a special spot in my heart, whether its because of their exoticness, their beauty, or the people I met there.  And some places are just magical.  Paris comes to mind, as do Fez and Marrakesh.  Vienna’s up there too, along with Amsterdam (and no, not because of certain legal substances). 

Thanks to some tentative plans to go visit my brother who will be studying in Europe next year, I’ve recently been wondering what it will be like if/when I re-visit some of my favorite cities.  For some reason, I’ve been wondering that if these places will have the same effect on me when I go back (and I’m sure I will eventually).  After all, happy memories cast a rose-colored glow on everything.

I can’t quite imagine the medinas of Morocco or the medieval streets of Seville losing their magic.  Even if my second impression doesn’t have the same luster as the first, all it would take is an hour or two to get back into the rhythm of the city.  These are the kind of places that retain their allure forever, like a classic novel or an intricately woven silk carpet.  Age and experience only makes them more interesting.

Paris is only city that I’ve really re-visited.  My first trip to the city of light was in March, during the spring break of my junior year of college (some girls “go wild”, I go to the D’Orsay), and my next was in June after I’d graduated.  When I first arrived in the city for second time, I honestly wondered why I’d loved the place so much.  Where was the dreamlike, misty city I’d seen a year ago?

It was the humid high season, the height of rush hour, and our tiny, difficult to locate hotel on the Place de la Republique had lost our reservation.  Not a combination that makes for a positive attitude.  I was pissed off at the crowds of tourists and the general air of unpleasantness that seemed to prevail.

But several hours later, the owners had cleared some rooms (well, one actually belonged to some temporary roommates – two adorable Russian Blue cats – but that’s a story for another day), the air had cooled, and we were watching the sun set from a small cafe on the banks of the Seine.  It was then I realized that it was the tiny details and a kind of intangible atmospheric quality that made Paris so special.

Sometimes you have to let a place show itself to you again, remind why you fell in love with it.  And nothing ever stays exactly the same, especially not in the age of globalization and the “flattening world”.  However, the magic of exotic (and not-so-exotic) lands remains if you’re willing to look for it.


De Poezenboot

April 20, 2007

“A houseboat inhabited solely by cats?  Something like that exists?  I have to go there!”  I was first made aware of the existence of De Poezenboot (it translates to Cat Boat) by the Lonely Planet guide to Amsterdam.  It described the boat as a unique kind of shelter that allows its denizens to roam freely and even offers low cost medical care to catowners.  Best of all, De Poezenboot has visiting hours.

I’m enough of a bleeding heart liberal to love all animals, and I’m a confirmed cat person, so I was very excited at the prospect of visiting a shelter in a foreign country.  De Poezenboot more than lived up to my expectations.  The main area was bright, sunny space with plenty of toys, huge window ledges, and plush places to nap.  And yes, there were probably around 30 cats and none of them were in cages (it is a decent-sized boat). 


I was completely amazed by how well all of the cats got along with each other and with humans.  Of course, these felines do receive a good number of visitors, so that definitely helped with their socialization.  Or maybe it’s just the gentle rocking of the boat on the Amstel river that lulls them into a permanent relaxation mode.  I spent two hours petting these cats – and wishing I could take them all home – and talking to some of the staff.  It’s wonderful how just one common interest can turn strangers into friends. 

If you ever find yourself in Amsterdam, go visit the cats in the boat.  They’ll be happy to see you.