John’s prompt (as part of a booked.net blogging challenge) to name and explain the five places that I would revisit any day could not come at a better time. As it stands, I am a bit on a travel high from two such destinations on my list. Without further ado, here are the five spots that I’ve traveled to and to which I would go back in a heartbeat:
5. Paris, France.
For the wrong reasons, I guess, because for now Paris is my top do-over, rather than do-over-and-over-and-over. You see, I actually lived in Paris for four months, way back when. It was the kind of perfect Parisian apartment in a posh neighborhood, with seven rooms, antique furniture, and geraniums-adorned window that opened up on the postcard-perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. The problem was that at that time I was a very, very poor college student, who could not afford anything in my neighborhood and not much outside it either. There were no cheap street food stands. Everything fun would require a fair bit of travel, and overall the city struck me as not just expensive, but – unlike Moscow and New York, which are nominally expensive but are plenty of fun on the cheap too – as a place that could only be properly enjoyed with a wad of cash. I couldn’t even afford a digital camera, and could barely pay for the film for my cheap old-school one; by the time I scraped by enough cash to develop 20 rolls from my four-month stay (that’s roughly 500 photos, or how many I take on a full day of sightseeing now) a lot of the film got ruined and the pictures looked pretty bad. So, I was kind of a miserable **** in one of the supposedly most wonderful cities on the planet, and possibly would have pulled the plug on the whole study abroad business, had it not been for my wonderful, cheery roommate – who has since become one of my best friends – who would force me out of the house for long walks around the city at every opportunity, so that I could take in the city’s beauty and whatever else it offered for free.
So, what would I do if I went back to Paris? Stay at one of the magnificent Hotels Particuliers; go to my favorite patisserie across from Saint-Sulpice and bakery in Le Marais; hang out on the Seine on the FAR corner of Ile Saint-Louis; visit my favorite Gothic church of all time, the breathtaking Sainte Chapelle; walk all the little streets of the 5th and 6th arrondissements; venture out to more “ethnic” neighborhoods for Moroccan and Vietnamese cuisine; shop at vintage and one of a kind fashion boutiques; and visit many private art collections. I feel like I truly know Paris very well; now I want to simply enjoy it.
4. London, England.
London is immense and I like consuming it by bits and pieces. Having checked off all the marquee landmarks on my first trip a few years back, I now enjoy getting to know this city slowly, savoring its distinct neighborhoods one by one. Charming Hampstead, punky Camden, eclectic Southwark – each area might as well be its own town, with its own cultural identity. And I want to get to know them all. I have also felt museumed-out for the last few years – a result of growing up in Moscow, studying in Washington DC minutes away from a dozen Smithsonian outposts, living next to the NYC Met Museum for seven years, and then hitting up the Louvre, d’Orsay, Uffizi, Prado, the Hermitage and a bunch of other premiere art collections within just a few years once my European travels kicked off. I had gotten to the “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” point, but I think I am finally ready to do a bit of gallery-hopping again, especially focusing on every country’s local fare. In London that means the British Museum and Tate Britain, for a thorough expedition through the UK’s historic and artistic legacy.
PS – London, if you’re listening: please do away with the madness that is the 10 pm last call for food orders and the 11 pm last call for booze. Oh, and cheaper public transport wouldn’t hurt your case either.
Eighteen days and I barely scratched the surface of this incredible place. A relatively small peninsula surrounded by Black Sea waters is a veritable treasure trove of cultural and outdoorsy adventures. Travel back in time through the Ottoman, Imperial Russian or World War II influences on the region. Ride horses across the rolling hills, climb volcanoes, bathe in waterfalls and go para-sailing to your heart’s content. Or just sit on the beach and drink glorious local champagne and eat fruit straight from the branches of the nearby tree. Crimea is a perfect place if you want to do everything – or nothing. I cannot wait to return to do both.
2. Budapest, Hungary.
As I slowly made my way through Europe, Budapest has always remained my “some day” destination – never a priority one. I knew little of it and I had rather limited expectations for whenever I finally made it there. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, I decided to hop on over while on a Balkans vacation this month — and I was blown away “on contact”.
The city is pure magic, from sorbet-colored, mosaic-roofed buildings to innumerable glimmering cafes, from jolly street performers to breathtaking views over Dunau. The sights and landmarks are endless – it seems like there is a statue on literally every corner, and every house has a unique detail just begging to be photographed. I saw so much but didn’t get around to even more – the museums, the “most beautiful market in Europe,” the interiors of all the churches and castles, the boat tours, the parks… I am determined to go back for at least a week in the next two years.
As grand as Paris, as palatial as St. Petersburg, as busy as London, as whimsical as Venice… Budapest, I am in love!
1. Florence, Italy.
Florence has been my most favorite place ever since I visited it in 2008. Squeezed between Venice and Rome on an overstuffed Italian vacation, Florence was the city I enjoyed by far the most on that trip. From the first moments in the city I knew that it was “the one,” my “travel soul mate” — and this feeling hasn’t waned through my subsequent journeys to new places, European or otherwise.
Florence perfectly combines the two qualities that define all my beloved urban travel destinations: postcard-perfect whimsy and fast-paced life of its own. Walking down the streets of this town I felt like I had been dipped into medieval Europe, but unlike, for example, Venice, Florence did not seem like a Hollywood stage set that exists solely to entrap tourists. I loved its street markets and designer shops, its varied restaurant scene and gelato stands, its gardens and palaces. I loved the warmth and the relaxed yet buoyant energy of its people. I want to go back with a one-way ticket and just BE in Florence for a while.What are your favorite travel destinations?
PS – For this pretty cool contest I would especially love to hear about the top 5 from Simone / Lady of the Cakes, Annie / MontgomeryFest, Polly / A Girl and Her Travels and Vlad / Eff It I’m On Holiday.