Before I leave in the morning, I wear more layers than Tammy Faye.

Like a knife through overcooked zucchini, I slice through traffic on my trusty bike, dodging tourists, cars, scooters, trams, and tough, street-wise pigeons.

No matter which direction I'm heading, somehow the wind is in my face.

I wash my hands in cold water only, not by choice - because there is no choice - but via long-standing Calvinist frugality.

I walk up to the server to pay my bill, thanking him/her for the privilege of being their customer.

I'm hurdling dog turd so often that I've invented a new sport - turdling.

I have my choice of a thousand cool cafes, restaurants, festivals, pastry shops, outdoor markets and bars.

I take a whiz outside at one of those green stalls, just because I can.

I go for a run and pass fellow joggers who are wearing jean jackets and cardigans.

I go to the gym and see that the spandex industry continues to thrive.

It's 20 degrees in the sun, but it drops to 2 when I step into the shade.

I meet the friendliest person I've ever met and then the rudest person I've ever met, both in the same cafe.

I speak four languages in the same day and hear four more that I want to learn.

I graciously donate my sunglasses to the canal when I bend over to lock my fiets.

I cycle past endless canals, dappled with sun during the day and framed by impossibly romantic lighting at night.

At 4am, I awaken to a huge cat fight (not the sexy kind) just outside my wafer-thin window.

I (mostly) look forward to repeating it all the next day.

Today, I am an Amsterdammer.

Vino di Pino


With apologies to the writer whose name I forget but whose quote has stayed with me, one of the best things about traveling and then staying put for at least a little while in a new place is getting to know the neighbourhood.

Let me periodically invite you to small slices of my neighbourhood here in the Oud-Zuid area of Amsterdam. In this case, for slices of sublime pizza and bowls of perfecto pasta at Vino di Pino.

About 50 steps from my door, in a bustling square called Hoofddorpplein (no, I haven't already been into the wine when typing that name), this Italian wine store serves up food to go, along with specialty wines and oils. And for 5 Euros for pasta and less than 10 Euros for pizza (the real Italian kind), I happily make those 50 steps a few times a week.

The main charm of the place is Pino himself, a forty-something Italian who makes you feel as though you've entered his house. He speaks (at last count) five languages, perfect for this cosmopolitan city. He knows details of each person's life, whether he's inquiring about a sick pet or helping someone network in his old stomping grounds of southern Spain. Everybody who walks in there starts smiling right away and leaves the same way.

Pino on the barrel

More often than not while you wait, you find yourself with a slice or a glass in your hand, totalmente gratuito. I even hosted a few friends for a birthday party recently, and when we went to pick up the food, the cork hit the ceiling and the prosecco was in our hands in seconds.

In a very real sense and without knowing it fully when I made the decision to embark on a life-changing trip, this is a big reason why I came to Europe - for people and places that are authentic, charming, and warm, for that neighbourhood feeling so absent in many other parts of the world.