Why Are These Places My Favorites?
When I was a relatively new hubber I wrote about the places I most wanted to visit on the planet. I encouraged my budding group of readers to share the places they wished to see one day. It was an interesting exercise for me and, I hope, for them.
I mentioned in the hub that missing from my list were many of the usual suspects that you find on travel wish lists because I'd been fortunate enough to have already been to many of the most popular destinations in the world. But now, more than two years later, I'm engulfed in nostalgia and regret not writing about some of those favorite places. So, here goes.
What can I add to what has already been written about this masterpiece of a city? I've been there twice. The first time was on a Euro rail trip with my thirteen year old daughter. In and of itself that trip was a once in a lifetime journey of discovery. There's nothing like being trapped on a moving train with your teenage daughter who is passing the time by chronicling all my shortcomings as a mother. She is 32 now and, thank God, has a better opinion of me now that she has two children, one of whom is a daughter, of her own. It's amazing how much our stock as parents rises when our kids become parents
The second time I visited Venice I sailed in, at sunset, on a cruise ship with Vivaldi streaming out of the speakers. It was one of those moments that will flash through my last milliseconds of consciousness at the end of my life. That evening we strolled through St. Mark's Square as the darkness gathered, finally picking a sidewalk cafe where we could sit, drink selections from the local vineyards, and listen to a Venice-style battle of the bands. These "bands" were small orchestras playing the classics of Italian opera and symphonies. When one finished another would begin. It was a classical music lover's heaven.
The next day we did the best thing you can do in Venice. We walked the streets - each one more charming than the last. A tour of the churches will guide you the depth and width of the city, and even if you never enter one or even find those listed on your map, your path will reveal a new breathtaking scene at every turn.
The Venice I remember doesn't have wide avenues or vast open spaces as the word, city, implies. Other than St. Mark's it is not a collection of landmarks. It is twists and turns with another postcard-perfect scene around the next corner.
Sell the furniture if you have to, but go to Paris. The city of lights - and then some. The main tourist attractions are not over sold. The Louvre. The Eiffel Tower. Montmartre, The Champs Elysees. Versailles. The first time I visited, we didn't get to our little hotel near the Place de la Concorde until near midnight. We couldn't have cared less. We dumped our bags, took our chances in the dark on the steep staircase that is typical of a small, European hotel, and ventured out into the night.
Only a few blocks away we came upon the Place de la Concorde with its iconic view of the Champs Elysees, lit up in all its glory for what appeared to be miles and miles. Thinking the flow of cars, trucks, and buses would stop for the red light, we stepped into the traffic circle to traverse the multiple lanes to the safety of the landmark in its center. No such luck. Half-way across the lanes, the light changed, and it was as if some omniscient force gave the command, "Gentlemen, start your engines." Countless vehicles descended on us with lights flashing and horns heralding their approach.
My husband and I grabbed each other's hand and bolted to the curb with me hollering to the oncoming snarl of traffic, "Don't hit us! We're tourists! We haven't even maxed out our credit cards yet!"
The best thing to do in Paris is to pick a spot anywhere in the city, sit, drink coffee (or even better, sample the bounty of the local fruit and vegetable markets - don't leave out the bakeries either) and watch the world go by. If you sit in one place long enough, you will observe species of every variety known to man.
My husband would take exception to that statement. He'd say the best way to see Paris is the way he did every morning we were there. Go out at first light and jog down the main avenues. You have them all to yourself. It's as if Paris is only there for your pleasure at the sight of her.
Versailles is worth the effort just for the Hall of Mirrors. But out on the grounds there is one (of many) statue in the midst of a fountain that absolutely haunts my dreams. It is a team of horses rising out of the waters. The forceful beauty of their ascent is overwhelming.
Sell the furniture. Go.
The food in any location gives the place its own character and personality. But Rome absolutely has to be consumed to be appreciated. I can't even name most of the dishes I tried, but the tastes and flavors make my mouth water just trying to write about them.
Don't just sit and watch in Rome. And don't try to walk it. A city built on seven hills is not a line of poetry. It is true. Rome is spread out and you'll never find everything on your own. Every major city in the world has architecture to boast about. But Rome leaves every other city in the dust.
My favorite, which is hard to select, has to be the Pantheon, the oldest continually occupied structure in the world. It has a hole in the roof to let light in and keep the air circulating in any season. And the floor is slopped so rain drains away. How anyone thought up the structure for this building back in 126 AD defies understanding.
The Pantheon (meaning All Gods) is cicular with Corinthian columns adorning the entrance. It is the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome with an "oculus" or central opening to the sky.The square in front of the building is Piazza della Rotonda and has been featured in numerous movies, the most recent being "Duplicity" with Julia Roberts.
When I told a friend of mine this Greek island was one of our ports of call on the cruise we were planning, she shared an interesting personal detail with me. Santorini is where she wants her ashes scattered when she dies. OK. Not something you often hear as a recommendation for a vacation spot.
But my friend could not pick a better place for her final resting. Santorini. The name gives you the feel for the place. This friend also gave me the best advice for my visit. Don't book a tour. Don't wander around. Pick a spot, something al fresco, and just sit and drink in the panoramic view. She didn't over sell it. It is one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. From one spot you have to turn completely around in a hundred and eighty degree rotation to take it all in. The day went by far too fast, and we did nothing at all but follow her sage advice.
Blue and white. That's Santorini. The blue water, clear sky, and tops of chapels. And white: everything else. The villages sit on top of the cliffs like scattered Monopoly game pieces that have been bleached out. The history of the island tells of the stragegy to protect inhabitants from invading marauders. They may not have been the first or only ones to come up with the idea, but the result for this jewel of the Mediterranean is unique in the world. Like my friend, I could spend eternity gazing out from Santorini.
My fellow military friends assure me the only reason I love our nation's capital is because I've never had to live there. They may have a point. I can't imagine dealing with that traffic every day - and I live in Atlanta where traffic is a nightmare. But when a foreigner tells me he is coming to America for the first time, the one city I tell him not to miss is D.C.
No, it is not a typical, Main Street American town. But its very uniqueness is what makes it a must see for any visitor. No where in the country is there so much architectural beauty within just a few miles.
Good writers write with telling facts. They don't have to come right out and say it was a cold, foggy night. They paint the picture for you with their descriptive nouns and adjectives. Really great writers can do it with their verbs and adverbs. Well, the buildings in Washington cry out their names in telling facts by how they are placed on the land, how the light hits them at different times of day and through the changing seasons, how high their columns rise, and how many steps you have to climb to gain entry or reach their tops. They are nailed together with the telling facts of our history. The Washington Monument. Arlington. The Smithsonian Castle. The White House. Fords Theater. The Vietnam Memorial. Some shout out who they are. Some barely whisper.
Ladies and gentlemen: your nation's capital - don't miss it.