I spent last weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia, best known for its proclivity to all things colonial and tri-cornered. It was an odd trip though because Williamsburg is a very special place for me. I went to college there, living there almost non-stop during those four years; and then later my partner went to law school in Williamsburg. I have spent a lot of time poking around the town, but I hadn’t been back in nearly six years. Sure I like the town, but it just didn’t seem important to visit again; I was of course horribly wrong.
First Time Tourist
Whether it’s a place where you used to live or just spent a lot of time, there’s something special about returning as a tourist. You know where everything is, there is no need to guess about restaurants or fumbling with maps, but visiting these places not as a local but as a tourist is a unique experience. If you’re like me, you tend not to seek out the touristy things in your hometown. I’ve always been guilty of that and while it’s impossible to miss the historical side of Williamsburg as a resident, I didn’t always seek it out.
I stayed at Kingsmill, something I had never done before and that alone changed the experience for me. Instead of staying with friends, I was forced into the role of a tourist and I think I enjoyed it. Instead of just visiting my old haunts, I forced myself to treat Williamsburg, a town I know very well, like a new destination. I visited DoG Street (the main artery of Colonial Williamsburg), a street I used to run sprints on, but this time I walked down it with my eyes wide open. I stopped and took the time to learn about the sites and to find interesting nuggets of information I never knew.
Rather than walking around spots in Williamsburg where I used to live and eat only at restaurants I know and love, I toured town not as a jaded local but as a fresh eyed tourist. It had been six years since my last visit, and there were indeed new places to see and things to do. I still of course found the time to do the things I love, the things that make the town special for me, but I mindfully tried to limit these activities.
When deciding on where to go for vacations or even long weekends away, I think it’s in our nature to want to see new things. At least it is for me. I hadn’t been back to Williamsburg, a scant 2 ½ hour drive from my house, because it wasn’t interesting enough for me. I wanted to get out and see new things, explore completely different areas. I was wrong though, there is something much more important to these places where we once called home. They remain a part of us, for better or for worse, and whether we like it or not we leave small parts of our hearts with these destinations.
That’s what I discovered as I walked through Colonial Williamsburg, onto the campus of William and Mary. I was in the older part of the university and absolutely nothing has changed. Nervous undergrads were scurrying about studying for finals; the tree-lined walkways provided a great place to stroll and even the smells hadn’t changed. For the first time in a long time, I imagined myself that 20-year old undergrad again. I thought back to the good and bad times, I thought about my life since then and all that I have lived through. I teared up as I walked down the Sunken Gardens, a large green space in the middle of campus. Not for anything I had lost, not for my youth that seems to be ever more fleeting, but for the totality of my life. The tears weren’t sad or happy, they were just an emotional release, a release spurred on by this very special place. Needless to say the nearby students looked at me with a little unease, but it didn’t matter. That afternoon rediscovering a place that I still do love was one of the best I’d spent in a long time.
That’s why it’s important to not forget about the quiet or homely places that are important to us. It’s a lesson I needed to learn and could only have been taught through an experience like this one. It’s also convinced me to widen that net and to return to some other places around Virginia and the country that I have honestly tried to forget. My hometown was never a happy place for me, but I think it’s finally time to go back and see it in a new light. To see it as new people to town might see it and to determine whether or not it is a place I can forgive.
So as you plan your getaways for 2014, don’t forget about those places that you once loved, that you once called home. These misfit destinations (in our minds at least) can be a lot more interesting than you’d ever imagine.
Have you ever ‘gone home again?’