I’m back in Europe. And that means I’m homeless. To be fair, I’ve been homeless for the last four months, but when you’re travelling that doesn’t mean a lot. Everyone is homeless when they travel. Now I’m staying with my family in the Netherlands for a couple of days. It is good to see them again, and they are happy to have me, but I know that after a week or two I’ll get itchy to have my own space again.
The big question is: where to go next? Of course I had seen that question coming for four months. Nevertheless I hadn’t given it much attention while there was cooler stuff to do pretty much every day. But now I’m doing some serious research into good places to live. Well, serious… it involves chatting with friends, polling my Facebook network, and browsing Wikipedia articles about various cities. After all, it shouldn’t feel like work.
Criteria for a home base
So what is the best place to live? Or rather, what is the best place to live for me? I want to live in a sizeable city that has something interesting to offer. Mostly out of laziness I’m narrowing my scope to Europe. Moving within Europe won’t require me to jump through the bureaucratic hoops of visas and tax forms, and most places are reachable with a two to three hour flight. Also, there are plenty of places in Europe I haven’t been to yet.
Even within Europe there are a lot of cool and interesting cities. So I developed five criteria for judging my new place of residence. That city should be liveable, vibrant, cheap, challenging, and have good weather.
Liveability is a bit of a vague concept, but to me it is effectively summarized as a city that is pleasant to walk around in. A liveable city is spacious, with plenty of pedestrian areas and nice parks. There is good public transportation so you can get around without a car. The air is clean. The trash is picked up regularly, keeping the streets clean. Crime is low, and it’s generally safe to be out and about at night. I’ve been to plenty of cities that are cool or interesting, but not liveable. Examples would be Lisbon, Rome, and Seville.
If I’m moving to a new city, something should be happening there. I get bored pretty easily, and I like to be in an environment that gives me some inspiration. A vibrant city also attracts interesting people. It’s why I could live in Berlin but not Bonn, in San Francisco but not San Diego, and in Madrid but not Malaga.
For a few dollars more
Since I can work from anywhere I choose, I might as well choose a place that’s cheap. The less money I have to spend on rent, the more I can spend on doing awesome stuff. Of course places where there’s a lot of awesome stuff to do tend to be more expensive. But other places are expensive just because they offer access to a financial market, business hub, or tourism area. Stuff I couldn’t care less about. Hence places like Frankfurt, London, and Nice are off the list.
Challenges and opportunity to grow
Learning new things is a core value of mine. If I don’t learn, I feel like I’m slowly whithering away. While I could, or course, learn anything I want from books or the internet, it’d be cool if the place where I live pushes me to make the effort. It doesn’t matter that much what I learn. It could be a language, something business-related, cooking new foods, dealing with strange cultural intricacies; as long as it prevents me from getting too comfortable. This rules out the Netherlands (my home country), Belgium and Denmark (culturally very similar to the Netherlands), Spain (been there, done that), and the UK (just too easy aside from London).
Sunshine, sunshine reggae
I like the sunshine. I don’t like the rain. One of the reasons that I left the Netherlands is its horrible weather year round. With any place on Earth to choose from, I might as well pick one that has somewhat decent weather. It doesn’t have to be 24 degrees and sunny all year (e.g. Los Angeles), but rain should be limited to a few days a month and I want to be walking around without a coat most of the time. Dublin and Porto are unlikely to make the cut.
Some cities worth considering
With these criteria in mind, I’ve come up with a couple of cities that I am now seriously considering as candidates to live in. I’m mostly looking at Central Europe, as that is an area I’m not too familiar with but is easily accessible. These are the cities on my shortlist.
Everybody raves about Berlin. This is where it happens. There’s an awesome art and music scene, there are many young entrepreneurs, and there’d be a large expat community to welcome me. Prices are moderate, though rents have gone up rapidly over the past five years. The main drawback of Berlin is the drab weather, with mean temperatures never rising above 20 degrees.
Consistently dominating the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, Vienna is one of the most liveable cities in the world. Its rich history has given it beautiful monuments, but you can also feel the vibe brought about by the younger half of the population. Unfortunately Vienna is also one of Europe’s most expensive cities to live in.
Another historical giant, Budapest exists quite at the other end of the spectrum from Vienna, with rents and overall prices being significantly lower than in most of Europe. The city is not as clean, and more gritty, but also more exciting. And on the ‘Buda’ side there is easy access to a beautiful forest. Being the Southernmost city on my shortlist, temperatures are highest, and the weather is nice until about October.
One of the most temperate cities in Germany with a great intellectual culture and good public infrastructure. Cologne is relatively cheap by German standards, and the government takes good care of keeping it nice. It’s just not all that exciting.
I love prague. It is full of stately buildings, beautiful women, and cheap beer. There is plenty happening, but the city also has a warm and cozy feel to it. Unfortunately the summers are short here, and during those few months the city is overrun with tourists.
The final decision
So which one will it be? I find it quite hard to pick the best place to live. Each of the cities above has some great things going for it, but none of them are perfect. If I had more time, I would stay a month in each one of them before making a decision. But by the time I’d be done, summer will have gone and temperatures will drop to less than agreeable. So I think that I should just take a pick and stick with it for the next couple of months.
I’ll keep you guys posted on my decision. If you have any suggestions about where to go, by all means do let me know in the comments.