My Destinations: THE 5 FOR REPEATING

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.

ParisFor 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 1

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.

3. Crimea.

Crimea

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.

Budapest 1

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.Florence 2What 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

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34 thoughts on “My Destinations: THE 5 FOR REPEATING

  1. YES to all of them except Budapest. I’ve been twice, for work, and just I can’t warm to the place. Usually, when I’m in a European capital, I’m assaulted by a giddy “I-could-so-live-here” tourist fantasy. But not in Budapest. It struck me as being utterly permeated by a particular brand of melancholic Eastern European sallowness. Its beauty, instead of being uplifting and awe-inspiring, drags me down.

    I so want to go to Crimea 🙂

  2. I’ve heard so many great things about Budapest that I feel like I’ll only be disappointed when I finally get there!

    I will think on this… Very interesting exercise, I can’t really think off the top of my head what I’d choose!

    • I was definitely oversold on Paris – it was a dream that fell flat.

      Man, I cannot WAIT to see your list of third-world grungy little holes you love so much 😉

      I KID I KID
      (kind of)

  3. These are great choices Anna. I’ve been to all of them except for Crimea! I’ve been to Paris 4 or 5 times although I wouldn’t say that I knew it, as I never stayed more than 3 days then I was off! I mean, the last time I was there was 2005! I used to live in London so always a great choice. I’ve been to Budapest only once and it was years ago. I went with a German girlfriend who insisted on staying in this horrid Cold War style 5-star hotel. It wasn’t even classy, it was just “Cold War” like! I also discovered that the woman I went with, didn’t like walking, guys, or night life! Even though I wasn’t single, I was looking forward to checking out the very cheap bars so the trip was enormously boring! I really liked Budapest though especially the cruise and the food. I’ve been to Florence about 4 times. Loooove it. I was last there in 2012. I still love it!

    My favorite travel destinations are Berlin (of course), London, Prague (I used to live there), the Polish Baltic Sea, Scotland, USA, Tuscany, Bali and Hong Kong!

    • Wow, that is quite a list of yours! You are so well-traveled!
      I do NOT get the appeal of staying anywhere bunker-like deliberately. Cold War was NOT glamorous, and the whole concept kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
      I would LOVE to hear your London recommendations. I am hopping over there semi-regularly for work nowadays, and am trying to explore it neighborhood by neighborhood when the time allows. I’ve done Camden, Hampstead, Westminster and Southwark (plus all the main sights) – where should I go next? (I stay/work in Westminster).

      • Awwww thanks Anna. I try!
        That hotel in Budapest was horrid and so were the ridiculous prices! OK, so back to London. If you work in Westminister then Hammersmith is not far: Fulham, Parsons Green and Chiswich are quite nice. Lots of Edwardian and Victorian houses, fringe theatres and affluent bars and pubs
        Kensington and Chelsea is classy. You’ll like it. Greenwich has the naval clock, the markets and the pearly king and queen. Very historical East-End London. You’ll also like Richmond-upon-Thames ‘cos of the river, punting and lovely pubs and Ealing. Nice green fields, tennis. That sort of thing.
        You lucky thing! 🙂

    • Oh man… what we need is more reasons for posts that start with ANNA AND ANNIE DO…. !!! You really put Morocco on the map for me, and I also had a really hard time keeping Portugal off of my list, though in the end I had doubts if it had enough variety to sustain me for many repeat visits. I miss you so, honey!

    • Shit, this comment got posted before I finished typing. I was saying that Budapest is in fact one of the 5 cities I’d return to, I wrote about them here. Also, I can’t wait to read your posts about Riga! 😉 Lovely photos by the way, that shot of London makes me want to go back right now.

      • SHOOT! How did I not realize it was part of the same challenge? Esp bc I have gone back to that post about 20 times to look at the beautifully played-with pictures! Actually when I was in Budapest I was SPECIFICALLY looking to recreate that Fisherman’s Bastion shot, thinking of your post!

        • Awww thank you! 😯 Looking at your list in the comment, it’s slightly different from the one you wrote here 😉 Now what about some posts about Riga? 😀 I’m only asking because I want to go (probably not next year) and I’d love to hear your opinions about it.

          • The list is different because I just came back from London (2nd visit but a totally different experience than the first), and Budapest for the first time (LOVE x 100000000). My #1 and #5 are the same though 🙂

            I need to cover Amsterdam next, then I am doing Riga and Tallinn, as I am going in Chronological order of my travels. Last night was another 8am-2am work day (third this week), and before that it was 2 weeks of travel, so I am tragically behind!

  4. Pingback: 2016: MY YEAR OF ACCIDENTAL TRAVEL | Home & Away

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