Ambiance is more than the
French word for atmosphere. It has also come to mean
that warm, fuzzy feeling we get from a special
moment or place, that certain likeable and seemingly
palpable something we recognize and appreciate
almost immediately. We know when it’s there just as
we instinctively know and are disappointed when it
“It is like new love, nes pas?” explained a
French waitress when I asked for a more colloquial
definition. “We see with eagerness, yes?”
“Yes,” I agreed, “and we don’t have to hold our
stomachs in as much.”
Traveling on that special vacation abroad there’s a
certain hope and expectation that we’ll find
ambiance or something akin to it. If we don’t travel
with great expectations then we at least travel with
good expectations of a satisfying time or rewarding
It’s why we go for the Aprils in Paris, trek the
Himalayas, run with the bulls in Spain, climb or ski
the Alps, toss coins in foreign fountains, sing
loudly out of tune at October Fest, or go in search
of those scenic places and our favorite moments from
travel brochures, books or movies.
Factor in inflation, climbing fuel prices, limited
vacation time, and carefully calculated budget and
you want that trip abroad to be special.
For many of us the wonderful thing about traveling
in Europe is that sometimes what we’re looking for
is waiting just around the next corner in a small
village or town or at in any of the larger cities in
comfortable cafes, wonderfully rowdy pubs, frenzied
festivals, or anywhere where the feeling envelopes
you and you’re instantly content. It doesn’t have to
be one of those Archimedes ‘Eureka!’ moments, nor do
you necessarily have to leap from your tub and run
naked through the streets like he did either, unless
of course that’s part of your package deal. Instead
it can just be one of those comfortable moments.
Frequent traveler Steve Bailey of Seattle is also an
occasional tour guide who takes small groups of
friends and traveling companions to specific parts
of Europe for six weeks at a leisurely stretch.
Bailey’s pre-trip preparation includes get-togethers
with the travelers to discuss the country, region,
and areas that they’ll visit over wine and European
snacks, as tips and hints are discussed for a better
vacation. This relaxed and informative approach for
his regionally designed trips is well received.
what does Bailey have to say about finding
ambiance for his himself and clients? “To me it
is a combination of sights, sounds, smells, and
tastes that come together in harmony to create the
feeling of what the French call ‘joie de vivre’
which means a hearty and carefree enjoyment of
life,” he explained.
Bailey it also means getting away from the
over-indulged tourist spots and traveling to the out
of the way villages and towns in Europe where you
may be the only tourists to visit that day.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting on a terrace
enjoying a glass of local wine with a plate of the
Regional cuisine, while looking out over a valley
planted with grape vines,” he said.
Bailey added, “It’s listening to the locals greet
one another and talk about the weather or whatever
as you share these moments with friends and
traveling companions who have the same passion for
experiencing life in small town Europe as you do.”
Judy Staudt, a seasoned traveler finding ambiance
involved finding the time to slow down her whirlwind
Italian vacation to not only smell the proverbial
roses but get a good whiff of what was going on in a
countryside kitchen. Ambiance in Italian
translates to ‘la dolce vita’- the sweet
For Staudt and her sister Jean, ‘la dolce vita’
meant taking part in a morning-long regional cooking
program and an afternoon of appreciating its
meaning. The two sisters from Seattle, along with
six other visitors, not only learned to prepare some
regional Tuscan cuisine but later enjoyed the fruits
of their kitchen labors.
“As I sat outside the Rossi villa, which overlooked
the rolling hills of vineyards and olive trees and
contemplating whether or not I should have that
piece of bruchetta, I thought to myself this is the
moment which I will probably remember first and most
often when I think of Italy,” said Staudt.
“It’s not the Forum, not St. Mark’s and not the
priceless art which lines the walls of the Uffizi.
It will be the day I spent at a cooking class in
Tuscany enjoying an Italian feast, including a pasta
dish which I helped make, sitting in the garden
withy the sun in my face, surrounded by the most
beautiful scenery, getting to know the locals as
well as other travelers. It’s in those moments when
you really get the feel of the place you are
visiting and those are the ones you remember the
Like Bailey, Staudt and the rest of us when we find
that ambiance, where ever we are on vacation,
that particular time and place becomes ours forever.
It’s why we travel or should be and it’s how we
bring back our own little piece of the world.
And too, if we’re lucky enough we can bring back a
better understanding of history or in the very least
a tactile feel of a time or place that postcards and
brochures cannot adequately convey.
For Josephine Volzer of Wood Bridge, Virginia, “it’s
falling into the rhythm and pace of a place and
taking in the subtle differences other cultures have
Italy while visiting relatives it was something as
simple as going with a cousin to order pasta for
dinner from a small shop only to discover that not
only is it freshly made but that it would be
delivered to their door in time for dinner.
Volzer, a high school teacher, had lived and worked
in Germany with her husband, Harvey and family for
several years in the Rhine river cities of Mainz and
Heidelberg. There she found that ambiance translated
into Gemuetlichheit, the German version of
the feeling. Occasionally they discovered it in flea
markets, festivals and other moments where the
atmosphere, sweet life, and genuine sense of joy
gave them those shared special moments.
The waitress was right. Finding ambiance is a
lot like finding new love because even in our
eagerness, when we’re willing to overlook a few
flaws to see what we want and wish to see, for a
brief time it also helps us find something of our