Ekaterina Netchitailova is an academic who recently moved to Leeuwarden. She has lived in four different countries and in a number of different cities, so how did the Frisian capital seem to a complete newcomer? This is the third and final piece in a three-part series exploring feeling ‘home’ in Friesland. You can read Ekaterina’s first two installments here, and here.
By Ekaterina Netchitailova
I was still in the Fire café, enjoying my second coffee verkeerd when the shops slowly opened, revealing more people. But somehow, the magical Leeuwarden managed to remain quiet. It didn’t have crowds of people one often sees in other towns on a holiday. People would go to a shop, but it looked like it was all done in a leisurely manner, without rushing anywhere and with time left over to stop for coffee or lunch, or a peek to check what the Frisian museum has on offer. People walk, clearly enjoying the beauty of the city and its architecture, and that special aura.
Even cats in Leeuwarden seemed quiet and tranquil, with one taking a strategic position upon a bench at the Fire café, under a heater. I noticed the cat at once; not being disturbed by the passers-by and visitors to the café in the slightest. It clearly belonged, melting into the surrounding, adding something extra to the town that started to believe had something special, something that other cities had lost. Was it the quietness, I wondered? Or just the unexpectedness of it all? Maybe the amazing and sometimes weird architecture, Michelin-starred restaurants that emerge from different streets, cats that seem to conduct a really chilled-out existence? Or was it the Leeuwarders, who appeared to have a relaxed attitude to the life around them, offering cake with my coffee, volunteering to take me directly to a place I was looking for when asking for directions, saying ‘hello’ to me in the middle of the street while not knowing me?
I wasn’t sure, but by the end of that Sunday I was in love with the town. I could see myself settling there easily. I could picture myself in the Prinsentuin, where I could hear the birds without any interruption and admire the sky with total freedom, and whose vastness was even more pronounced and dramatic in a low-rise city. I could see myself in the local cafes, drinking my coffee or wine, taking time to just watch the surroundings without the pressure of shopping or rushing anywhere. I could envision my cat finding her place among all the local cats, and adopting the same nonchalant attitude as the rest of them, taking a walk on the main street as if she owned it, marching into the local cafes and taking a place on the bench.
The next day I had my job interview, and for a couple of hours after, while I was waiting for the decision, I was praying that it would be positive. It would no longer be a complicated relocation to a totally new place, it would be home-coming to a magical place, where buildings speak to you because no one interrupts their voices, where cakes are served as a surprise, where people are clearly relaxed, and where cats are obviously happy.
I got my wish, and moved to Leeuwarden, not a town, but an enchanted place: a hidden gem in the Netherlands.
Image via Friesland.nl