Cold Outside, Warm inside – Cologne and The Hague, 2023.


The greatest thing about our annual gatherings is how different they all are. But, in some sort of divine intervention, end up being exactly what we need. The Hague gathering started in a very special way for me, with a flight to Cologne, instead of Amsterdam, as it logically should. Where I would meet the German representative who suggested a road trip to the Netherlands together, being so close from her place, by car.

I was able to catch up with her news and connect with her moment in life. Friendships, as marriages, are for the good and for the bad. And most of the times the only thing we want is to be heard without judgement and seen, truly seen.

Even if and when we try really hard to avoid it.

Before our road trip, I had time to see a bit of Cologne, had some tips from different friends and both had suggested the Cathedral, UNESCO world heritage, and the most famous brewery in Cologne, Früh Kölsch, over a hundred years old.

Needless to say, I followed their lead.

Visited the oldest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe, stunning and peaceful, as all churches are, strolled by Rhein river banks and had lunch in Früh Kölsch, one of the most well-known and typical dishes in the city, with a very suggestive name: Himmel un Äd (Heaven and Earth), delicious. As was the beer…

The brewery is great in itself. All in wood, one of the things I fancy the most in Northern European countries, all pubs are in wood, making them homey and cosy. It was crowded with all kinds of people, young and old.

Very democratic.

Even managed to see a bit more of Cologne by car, before we left the main roads to drive to The Hague.

Our Dutch host, whom we haven’t seen in 26 years, was already waiting for us in her flat, where the five of us stayed.

In one of those typical old and amazing Dutch buildings.

In each bed, we had a chocolate shaped with our initial waiting for us. Such a touching and thoughtful gesture made my heart smile.

There’s a kind of intimacy that only happens when we visit other people’s houses and have meals at the table together. For the Southern Europeans, that is a must do. We spend more time at the table than anywhere else. Not necessarily eating, but definitely drinking and chatting.

Our Dutch representative and host was waiting for us with snacks, healthy and sweet, and wine, which was the perfect way to do it, since we were all arriving at different times, it was cold outside and we were probably too tired to go out.

That was what mostly defined our time in The Hague: connection, catching up, togetherness and a bit of culture, which we saved for Saturday.

We are all very much aware of our priorities…

It started quite early, with a trip to Museum Voorlinden, a very, very cool Museum, in the middle of a huge park, with an amazing exhibition of a German artist called Anselm Kiefer, weaving together myth, history, poetry, and philosophy. Amongst other sort of permanet exhibitions. All very different and nonetheless stunning.

The building, the majority of which in glass, had different rooms, including a gigantic library. And a piano, treating us with music.

Followed by lunch in a very pretty little square.

Passing by some of the most famous buildings in The Hague, like the Peace Palace, where the International Court of Justice stands.

Later on, after some snacks and a couple of beers in a Dutch pub, we passed by The Hague City Hall, an impressive modern building, all in white and glass, and rushed to a show at the Netherlands Dance Theater.

A magnificent and modern building.

As I thought it was the shortest show I’ve ever been to, whilst having a drink in the lobby, such a good idea, by the way, we went back to the room for the next dance shows.

Five in total and all very upbeat and thrilling.

Mila’s living room was the stage for deep conversations, laughter and care. At all times of the day and night.

Sunday started the best way it could, with breakfast at home.

Followed by a trip to the harbour, one of my favourite places to visit, with all the different boats and pubs, where, of course, we had a drink. Tried a walk on the beach, but it was so windy we almost lifted or feet from the ground and started to fly.

We still had time to go to the biggest Christmas little shop I have ever been to. Full of little rooms and at least three floors, with every and anything slightly related to Christmas. I wonder what they do for the rest of the year…

But a bit of Christmas spirit never goes out of fashion. Or season…

Whilst driving back to Cologne, it was my turn to open up, which I did, to an attentive and caring listener, whose home I got to know. The perfect spot for a writer, absolutely lovely, as were her husband and younger son, whom I finally met after hearing so much about, for the last 20 years.

It is very rewarding to associate a face with a name.

We have been talking about how boys can be all the same, regardless their nationality, German or Portuguese. They all seem to be quite short in words, replying only to what is strictly necessary, without any kind of storytelling, as girls usually do. Being able to laugh about it without falling into desperation from lack of details is soothing and reassuring.

We are not alone…

Before heading back home, I got to know a different and oldest part of Cologne and also the Court where Jutta is an honourable judge. The building is old and impressive, on the inside and out, and its scent is exactly the same I remember from my youth and the court my dad worked for years, the scent of paper.

The one thing we do before we all part is to set the date and place for the next gathering.

So, Madrid 2024, here we come.

We started our gatherings with four people, the next one with five and in 2024 there will be finally the six of us. 27 years after we met for the first time.

It is special beyond words how, despite being from such different places, we are all the same, your faces are so familiar, and our conversations so deep. How we laugh, are moved to tears, and express all kinds of emotions and nothing, absolutely nothing changed, even though our lives did.

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