Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Light Touch

A street musician in the Dorsoduro district of Venice, Italy.

Dorsoduro is a great area for those wanting to get lost without straying too far from San Marco.  On an early weekend morning, it’s easy to avoid the tourist rush and instead mingle with the locals as they purchase fish from street stands and sip their morning caffè.  Visit the Guggenheim Museum or snap panoramas of Piazza San Marco and Giudecca from Punta della Dogana.

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Monthly Musing: Gone with the Wind

One thing never fails with any trip you take: it goes by in a flash.  Finally your departure day arrives, the anticipation that has slowly been building at last released when you touch down at your destination.  But then WHOOSH!  In a whirlwind of sightseeing, trekking, or relaxing, you find yourself back at the airport, dazed with post-vacation content, one week in the future.

Unless you take an extended trip that really allows you to immerse yourself in the place you visit, vacations undeniably pass too quickly.  Four years ago, my family and I traveled to Greece–a dream trip finally realized.  Although we returned to the States ten days later with a little more color, bearing souvenirs and a memory card full of pictures, the most frequent question we ask when reminiscing about our trip is, “Were we really there?”

My mom attributes the fleeting nature of a long-awaited trip to an inescapable dilemma:

“You’re worried you’ll never be able to visit the place again, so you cram in as much as possible, and before you know it, the trip is over.”

Of course, hers is the logical, practical explanation, but I like to think there’s something more behind it.  We travelers know that in five days, two weeks, even a month, you can never truly grasp the essence of a place–no matter how inclusive the tour package.  Perhaps trips pass so quickly not because they wish to be forgotten, but because they want to ensure that we’ll return.

We visit a place, but we hardly ever come to know it, like a great first date without any follow-up.  You meet in a flurry of senses and emotions, only to disappear from each other’s lives shortly after.  My mom, ever the realist, assumes the likelihood of visiting the same place twice is slim when there are so many others you long to see. And yes, this will often be true.

After most worthwhile trips, there are always some regrets–a hike you wish you’d taken, a painting viewed, a wine tasted–for which time, ever unforgiving, did not allow.  But perhaps you are never meant to see or remember it all. Because with each aspect you fail to discover, there is promise.  Promise that your yearning to fill the gaps will grow over time, will always be at the back of your mind, will maybe–one day–grow just strong enough to ignore the other destinations on your list and urge you back.




This post is the first in a monthly series, Monthly Musing, in which I share some of my travel reflections.

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I Can See My House From Here!

I’ll admit it: when it comes to travel, I’m a snob. No, I don’t expect 4-star hotels, exquisite cuisine, or everyone to speak English in the foreign country I’m visiting. I do, however, scoff at the glorified reality that is the “tourist attraction.” One mention of the term, and I immediately picture myself squished between people with visors and fanny packs, waiting in a five hour line to hand over piles of money just so I can glimpse the world’s largest beer can. Although sights like the Great Wall and Machu Picchu are admittedly breathtaking, they only represent one aspect of cultures that are immensely complex. Are they important? Yes. But where’s the travel? When you’re visiting a place that most of the world could recognize and hundreds of thousands of people have seen before, where’s the excitement?

So of course it makes little sense how on a recent trip to New York City, my friends and I wound up at the Empire State Building. It gets worse. I was the one who suggested it. Yes, at 11:00 at night, we found ourselves still awake in the City that Never Sleeps, wondering what to do. Suddenly, I was struck by an idea too strong too ignore. And as much as I resist becoming a “tourist,” I am a sucker for a great view. You know New York too well for this, the Travel Girl part of me whispered. Real New Yorkers don’t go to the Empire State Building. But myself didn’t listen to me, and before I knew it, there I was at 11:30 pm striding into that famous lobby.

As we walked to get our tickets, part of me was groaning at the prospect of standing in line for hours on end so late at night. But to my surprise, there were no such lines to be found. We breezed through the ticket booths, practically galloped down the hallway past the maze of velvet ropes, and sauntered right up to the elevators. In less than five minutes, we arrived at the 86th floor.

The view was more than incredible (and well worth my $18). It was as if someone had shifted the night sky and placed it below us, thousands of lights stretching out across the distance. The dark had made all seem quiet; everyone spoke in whispers and huddled close to fight the nighttime chill. As I marveled at my surroundings, it suddenly made sense. Although we were all aware that millions of people had stood in our places before, on that night, it felt as though we were sharing something secret only to us. Was I suddenly alert to all the mysteries of New York City? No. Not even close. But looking out over the expanse of the city, I felt as though I had glimpsed its essence.

Plenty of people travel to a place, snap some photos to show their friends, and return home without ever appreciating what they have actually seen. I now realize that my aversion to the notion of tourist attractions arose from this fact alone. I didn’t want to seem ignorant. But for a lot of travelers, this just isn’t true. There’s a reason why people walk the Great Wall, why they climb the steps of Machu Picchu, why these destinations are even famous at all. They’re magical. They speak to the history of a place and its people, aging signs of the power of human accomplishment, inspiration, and influence. Nothing but experience will allow you to understand a culture, but for those who appreciate them, tourist attractions can offer a sneak-peak. I didn’t see the magic before. Now I do. To Americans, the Empire State Building may not seem as wondrous as the Parthenon. But it’s New York’s Parthenon, and I can proudly say I’ve been to the top.

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