There’s nothing more exciting than visiting a new city or a new country. The anticipation, the research, the exhilaration of discovery and exploration. Occasionally, the disappointment. Collecting more countries to add to the “done” list, ticking them off the “to-do” list; there’s a sense of satisfaction in comparing “numbers” with others.
But sometimes, some places deserve a return visit. A visit where you are no longer bound to see all the tourist attractions, where it’s not a whistle-stop tour dictated by the must-sees in a Lonely Planet guidebook. A visit where you can immerse yourself a little bit more in local flavour, not just the shiny façade that the tourist board wants you to see. So here are 5 places that I would love to return to, to give them the opportunity that they deserve to make me fall in love with them all over again. Oh, and a bonus one that I’d like to have fallen in love with in the first place…
Milan was almost an afterthought to our 2015 Italian trip, only selected because of its cheapish flights from Birmingham and it was a natural start and end point for all the other Northern Italy destinations we had carefully selected. But it soon became clear that one afternoon and evening isn’t enough for this stylish city. It’s a city full of dramatic architecture, amazing art, culture and music, amazing food and drink, a sprawling city park and fascinating people-watching opportunities in what must be one of the most fashionable cities in the world.
In one afternoon we managed to see Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore, climb the rooftop of the beautiful Cathedral, window-shop at Gallerie Vittorio Emmanuele II, take a whistle-stop tour through the Brera district, stroll through Parco Sempione, have an alfresco dinner at Via Dante and drink expensive cocktails in the rooftop bar of La Rinascente department store. But we didn’t get to visit any of the fabulous galleries or museums, stand in line to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper, climb Torre Branca for panoramic city views or get a glimpse inside the famous La Scala opera house. With budget flights to Milan Malpensa from Birmingham, and a great public transport system, there is no excuse not to pop back and spend more time in this wonderful city. And its proximity to the lakes of Northern Italy is also pushing Milan way back up on the re-visit list.
See Ciao Milano! Cathedrals, Castles and Cocktails for more about our June 2015 visit to Milan.
New York City
Let’s get this straight. Two and a bit days are not enough to see the Big Apple. Even if you plan your time meticulously in order to see all the main tourist attractions it is impossible to estimate the amount of time you will spend travelling between sights. Central Park and Empire State Building look close together on the map, right? They’re about a mile and a half apart. Want to follow that up with a visit to Battery Park to glimpse Lady Liberty? That’s another 3.5 mile. How about a stroll over to Brooklyn? It’s another mile to the Manhattan pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, which in itself is just over a mile long. Plan to use the subway? Subway stations are huge; some underground platforms span two or three blocks. And unscheduled cancellations and changes mean you’ll pop back up in the city with no idea where your next closest station may be. (I wasn’t overly enamoured with the New York Subway. Give me the easy-to-navigate London Underground or Paris Metro any day).
We barely scratched the surface of New York. Next time I’d avoid Times Square like the plague. I’d walk the High Line, popping down to Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. I’d go to the Tenement Museum to learn more about the immigrant history of the city. I’d spend more time in Brooklyn. I’d visit Coney Island and eat hot dogs and ride the Wonder Wheel. I’d eat dim sum in Chinatown and pizza in Little Italy. I’d say hello to the blue whale at the Museum of Natural History. I’d finally find Strawberry Fields in Central Park. I’d catch a baseball game at the Yankees Stadium (but secretly cheer for my beloved Red Sox). Yep, all tourist stuff but there’s so much that we couldn’t do in an initial 2 day visit. In my opinion, New York is best experienced in bite-sized chunks, so it could be another one or two visits before the all the best sights are seen.
Want to know more about our September 2013 Big Apple trip? Click here for USA Sept 2013: New York New York, It’s a Wonderful Town… (Part 1) and (Part 2)
Prague in February 2010 was our first city break together, a first wedding anniversary gift for us both. It snowed, it was freezing cold but incredibly romantic; we drank hot chocolate in the Old Town Square; we climbed towers, and strolled across the Charles Bridge after dark. The reason Prague would be on my return list is because the trip happened before I started blogging and before Mr Fletche picked up his camera. We have wonderful memories and blurry photos but I can only imagine the pictures Mr Fletche would capture now in this pretty and atmospheric city.
At the same time, one of the reasons this trip was memorable was because we were both there, in the moment, all the time. Not behind a camera lens, or thinking of new and unique ways to describe frequently-blogged-about sights. Maybe there is something to be said for a more mindful way of travelling? But whether to capture in images or in words, or just in more memories, Prague is definitely worth another visit. Maybe in summer next time?
San Francisco was the first city that I could imagine packing up my life in the UK and moving abroad for. It was a beautiful September; the parks were full of joggers and dog walkers and people throwing balls and Frisbees. Ocean air, a laid-back vibe, great seafood (too much seafood…), Ghirardelli’s ice cream sundaes. And sea lions. And in close proximity to one of the greatest coastal drives, both South and North of the city. This was one of the cities where we did suffer a little from having a car and therefore booking a motel with free parking in the funky Marina District. For return visitors this would be a perfect location, but for San Francisco newbies the three-mile round-trip walk up and down gruelling hills to the “touristy bits” started to take its toll after the first day.
Ghiradelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street. Pier 39, Coit Tower, the Ferry Building. Union Square, a night trip to Alcatraz, a bumpy but fun cable car ride. Golden Gate Park, Alamo Square, Haight-Ashbury. That’s a lot to pack into 2 days. But there was little time built into that itinerary to just slow down and take in the city. On a return visit, there would be little need to revisit those key tourist attractions. We could enjoy the restaurants and coffee shops and microbreweries. We could linger at Fort Mason or at the Presidio or at Golden Gate Park, with a picnic and a Frisbee. We could cycle (or walk) across the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoy an afternoon in Sausalito and get the ferry back to the city. Next time will be more about relaxing, and experiencing some of the lesser-explored neighbourhoods off the tourist trail.
It’s also a good launch point for a Pacific Northwest roadtrip…
In three days, we walked pretty much the length and breadth of Venice. And when we wasn’t walking, we were hopping on the vaporetto (our 3-day tickets being the best purchase of our Italy trip by far), disembarking on one of Venice’s many islands or just enjoying the breeze on our faces as we sailed down the Grand Canal. We quite literally got lost down tiny cobbled streets, crossing bridges, finding tiny little hole in the wall bars to feed our ever-growing Aperol Spritz addiction. We slowly sipped a ridiculously expensive prosecco at Caffe Florian in St Mark’s Square whilst listening to the duelling orchestras. We shared litres of ridiculously cheap white wine at outdoor restaurant tables nestled close to the canal, or in a tree-lined campo. Rialto, Gondoliers, Doges Palace; tick, tick, tick.
And yet, one could spend hours and days and weeks just roaming around Venice, something new around every corner, and down every alleyway, and in every courtyard. Early mornings in Venice are a photographer’s dream, with a magical golden light bathing practically empty piazzi. There is nothing left to tick off the tourist’s ticklist, yet we could return tomorrow and still fill our days with endless meandering.
Whilst the world and their dog were raving about Copenhagen last year, Mr Fletche and I had something of a “meh” experience. I’ve documented our main reasons for not loving Copenhagen here but I can’t help thinking that we must have missed something which would have turned our Danish frowns upside down. If we were to give Copenhagen another try, we would visit when the famous Tivoli Gardens were open, so we could scream ourselves silly on the wooden Rutschebanen roller coaster and fly through the air on the Star Flyer. We’d spend more time near the lakes, and in Norrebro, where the best bars seemed to be. We’d spend more time near the station, where the cheapest bars seemed to be. We’d eat at the street food hall at Paper Island – more easily accessible now that the pedestrian bridge actually goes all the way across. We’d hire bicycles and ride down Langelinie, barely stopping to wave at the tiny and overrated Little Mermaid. We’d take a train, not out of the country this time, but to Helsingor to see Hamlet’s castle, or to the modern art museum and sculpture park Louisiana. Yes, Copenhagen, I might just give you one more chance someday to woo me…
Which cities would you like to return to, and why? And like us, have you ever felt a bit “meh” about somewhere that everyone else seems to love? Let me know in the comments!
Thank you to @cpf_photography for letting me use some of his amazing photos – all the pics are mine unless otherwise stated.