I’m sitting in Café Papeneiland in Amsterdam, when the feeling of gezelligheid hits me. It’s what this city’s bruin cafés — the Dutch answer to the pub — are most famous for inducing: a lovely, warm feeling of contentment. To be gezellig is to be cozy, to feel togetherness, to enjoy companionable surroundings with the pleasure of emotional warmth. Housed in a 450-year-old building with a passage that originally led to a secret Catholic church during the Reformation, Café Papeneiland is one of the most authentic and snug bruin cafés, with a dark wood interior decorated with Delft blue tiles and low-lit chandeliers emitting a warm, yellow glow. Time appears to have stood still here. I switch off my phone, put my guidebook away, and enjoy the moment. The tinkle of bells from passing bicycles and the gentle murmur of hushed conversations is the only background music needed.
I watch as proprietor Tiel Netel makes his way around the tables to light candles as the afternoon light dwindles. In the seven years that I lived here, gezellig became my favorite Dutch word, and usefully it can be used to describe a place, an occasion, or even food. Think of a candlelit café such as this, a best friend’s birthday, or Tiel’s famous appelgebak (apple pie) made fresh on the premises daily, and you’ll be on the right track. If there’s a city in the world that embodies gezellig, then surely it is Amsterdam. The 17th-century architecture and unique spider’s web of canals makes it one of Western Europe’s most charming cities, but it’s the size — so compact and manageable — that makes it so cozy. Spend just a day exploring and you’ll feel at home. There’s nothing more pleasing than wandering off the tourist trail.