Travel isn’t always rainbows and baby camels. Sometimes bad things happen and sometimes we visit places that we don’t like. I know, I know, there’s something good to be found everywhere; except when you don’t want to find it. Usually when I don’t like a new city or destination it’s because I was in a bad mood or something rubbed me the wrong way. I’m a fairly temperamental person and when I decide I don’t like something, I tend to never deviate from that idea. So in a spirit of reconciliation, I began to think of some destinations that I didn’t love but that I think deserve a second chance.
1. Athens – I can’t believe that I actually listed Athens since not only did I not like it, I kind of hated it as I expounded upon in this post. A look at the facts though will explain my dislike. We were on a cruise (stop laughing) and had already visited a few of the idyllic Greek islands. Santorini is small, serene and shockingly beautiful, as are most of the other islands. That’s why pulling into Athens can be a bit of a culture shock. My impression of Athens was a huge city covered in soot and grime, encircled by a halo of smog and populated by thousands of pickpockets who wanted nothing more than my credit cards and cash. Standing high above the city on the Acropolis I wasn’t filled with awe and wonder, I was filled with disgust. It was swelteringly hot that day as we tried in all earnestness to explore the city and discover its hidden, very hidden, good side. We never found it and instead walked away very disappointed. Friends from that ship experienced similar emotions and a few even had their valuables stolen. As the ship pulled away from port I bade the ancient metropolis farewell, vowing never to return. Since then I’ve talked with a lot of people most of who share my opinion, but not all. There are some fervent Athens supporters out there and that makes me believe there must be something, no matter how miniscule, that can redeem this seemingly lost city. So while I may not be excited to do so, I am willing to return, briefly, to try to find this well disguised beauty in the city of smog.
2. Sydney – Now before you start writing hate letters to me, hear me out. I do not hate Sydney, far from it. I even enjoyed my time there quite a bit. This post isn’t about cities I hate; it’s about cities that I need to try again. When we visited Australia the schedule was tight and only allowed for two-days in the glorious city on the bay, Sydney. We did a lot, explored the Rocks, walked the bridge and of course took a thousand photos of the famed Opera House. When our plane left its terrestrial embrace though I wasn’t filled with a desire to return anytime soon. I felt mildly frustrated that I couldn’t get past the tourist veneer and while I enjoyed what I saw, the city and I never clicked. Later during that trip I spent five days in Melbourne and fell in love almost instantly, which again made me think back to Sydney. Why hadn’t I enjoyed that city more, why hadn’t we clicked? I don’t want to be disappointed in Sydney forever, so that’s primarily why I want to try it again. This time though I want to get out into the neighborhoods, I want to find hole in the wall restaurants and I do not want to climb the bridge. Sometimes a city is so famous and so well known that it can actually suffer from preconceived expectations. I think that’s what happened to Sydney and I and rather than write off this great antipodean city, I want to give it another go and reintroduce myself to her.
3. London – I have to say from the beginning that this may be a lost cause and it’s probably all my fault. When I first visited London it was at the beginning of a summer of travel around the UK. I spent a few days there, suffering the entire time from jet lag and exhaustion. That first day I pushed myself to see and do as much as possible, from Bloomsbury to watching Parliament in action. When I left for experiences further north though I was happy to leave. Since then I’ve returned to London a few times and although I’ve never had a bad time per se, I never once was sad to leave and not once have I had a strong desire to return. I’m chastised all the time by other travelers for my general ambivalence towards London, and I admit it’s strange. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve ever done in the city, I’m a diehard Anglophile and a student of English history and yet, London does not do it for me. One problem may be that I’ve never seen the city except in a state of befuddled jet-laggyness. As a result, I’ve always been short-tempered and impossibly cranky while sightseeing. In order to determine once and for all whether or not London and I are meant to like each other, I need to spend a week or more only in the English capital and hand myself over to it lock, stock and barrel and see what comes of it. Only then will I be able to pass final judgment on the city that Wren so lovingly rebuilt.
4. Toronto – I’ve explored a lot of Canada lately and I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of it. When people ask about Montreal or Vancouver, my eyes light up and I can’t wait to share my experiences with them. When asked about Toronto though, I usually give a weak smile and say, “Oh, it’s fine.” The root of my wishy-washiness regarding Toronto is the fact that the one and only time I visited was on a work trip. Now, this wasn’t my current job, but my old, soul sucking occupation so of course I didn’t really get to see the city. My initial impressions were of a very business-minded town, with lots of skyscrapers and not a ton of personality. Since then I’ve met a lot of people from Toronto and they have assured me that this is indeed not the case. They have tried to convince me that while Toronto may be large, there are plenty of neighborhoods with personality and lots to do for any style of traveler. I readily admit that I didn’t see the city in the way it should be seen and it’s not that I don’t like it, but I don’t know it. Toronto is the perfect candidate for a second chance city and given how much I love other areas of Canada, I can’t imagine I won’t soon fall in love with Toronto as well.
5. Ghent – Ghent is often called Bruges’ ugly sister, whether that’s fair or not is not for me to say. Located in Flemish Belgium just a short train ride from Brussels, Ghent often gets a bad rap. One morning while staying in Brussels we took the train out to Bruges early in the morning for some sightseeing. Bruges is one of those classically European cities oozing with old buildings, delicious food and more charm that one place should be allowed to have. If Disney could recreate Europe, it would all look like Bruges. That’s probably why I was disappointed when I stepped out of the train station in Ghent and was met with grey skies and grey buildings. We walked into what we thought was the middle of town, saw a nice market and some pretty churches but nothing that really took my breath away. The problem here was my lack of planning of any kind. I did no research and instead relied upon locally provided tourist information to guide the way. Sometimes that works and other times, such as in Ghent, it fails. I left disappointed and a little sad that I didn’t enjoy the city. Since then I’ve seen amazing photos of the city, a city I never saw. It proved that I missed something and overlooked key areas of the city that deserve exploration, especially for a casual tourist. I failed in my duties as a good tourist and I want to redeem myself by visiting again and this time seeing everything that makes Ghent great and not just grey.
These are a few places I want to try again, what are some of yours?