About loving a city, finding a home

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For a long time, London has been my favourite city. I can’t really explain why. And that made me wonder whether I just like it because I’ve been there many times and thus had a chance to fall in love with it, or whether I love it for something in it.

It’s true, I have never been to supposedly beautiful cities like Valencia, Barcelona, Roma, Madrid and various other Southern-European towns. I’ve never been to Istanbul, to Vienna or to Marseille and I last visited Paris when I was just a little too old to still be collecting all the signatures from the Disney characters in the amusement park next door. And I’ve never even left Europe, though I visited the relative outskirts of Reykjavik and Rhodos (which both aren’t really big cities, but yeah, you catch my drift).

I’ve also been to cities like Amsterdam (living in The Netherlands, that makes sense), Prague, Berlin, Porto, Verona and Glasgow. And many more… And all those cities have their ‘beautiful parts of town’. But that’s not the point. Because all these cities also have ugly parts. And London definitely has those. I’ve been in truly disgusting back alleys in cities in Belgium, dodgy streets in Berlin. While a city can be aesthetically pleasing, I wouldn’t say that’s any more important than the people living in it. If a town is beautiful but dead, you can still live a sorry life there…

Some people love Paris. I might love Paris. I definitely love the idea of Paris. The idea that this city full of little streets and old buildings, where romance itself is the most prominent habitant… But Paris is no more Midnight in Paris than any other city really. I recently walked down the riverside of Nijmegen with the sun going down and it was absolutely perfect. Absolutely perfect.

What matters is not just whether a city has a rich cultural life, or must-visit museums or nice restaurants. It’s not even the people, though knowing you have great friends nearby can be the greatest feeling in the world. It’s that thing about the sum being greater than its parts. For example I love Nijmegen too and it’s way smaller than London. Despite living in Nijmegen for many years, I feel I haven’t even tried half of the things that city has to offer me.

I guess I can fall in love with a place if it feels like home. It doesn’t have to be home, but it has to be a place that I could consider home. Because it’s making me feel safe yet challenged. Surroundings to thrive, so to speak. Not every city gives me this feeling anymore. But London does. And some other cities do too. Berlin did. Amsterdam didn’t. Gent did. Reykjavik didn’t. Verona did. Venice didn’t. I loved those cities, but I didn’t fall in love with them. And perhaps I can grow to love them, like I did with Nijmegen, but for now it’s simply not the same.

Still, Nijmegen is my home, and wherever my future will take me – Nijmegen, Amsterdam or elsewhere. I hope the feeling of coming home will always be there where I live.

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