Today marks four weeks since we’ve been home. The recent lack of posts might suggest we’ve fallen off the face of the Earth, but actually we’ve been continuing to travel. Two days after flying from Reykjavik to Washington, D.C., we were back in the air again. We spent Columbus Day weekend in St. Louis, attending my cousin’s wedding. It was our first time in Missouri, so we did a bit of sightseeing, too: we visited the St. Louis Art Museum and the St. Louis Zoo. Both were great.
Then we came back to DC, spent one more day, and headed down to Richmond for two days before going to Charlottesville, VA, for another wedding. Within ten days of returning home, we had already seen most of our family and friends.
It’s been fun to see all the people we missed so much, but it can be hard to answer “The Questions.” You know the ones: “Where did you go?” “What was your favorite thing?” “What are you going to do now?”
As for the first one, I just refer people to this blog. The third one is deceptively simple: Find a job. A few people continue to ask, “Doing what?” But most people seem content to leave it at that, which is good, because I haven’t the foggiest. I don’t believe this is the kind of economic climate where I can afford to be too picky. I want to do something international, and DC has got heaps of options in that department, so I know I’ll find something I like.
The second question is the one that really gets me. I want to give a short, snappy answer, but the truth is I just don’t have a favorite thing. I can’t even name a couple of favorite things. We used to get this question on the road as well. On meeting us and hearing we’d been traveling the world, our new friends (usually couchsurfing hosts) would invariably ask us where our favorite place was. Our policy was to always name the country we were in at that very moment. This often worked, but now that we’re home, it doesn’t. So what to say?
I can name a couple of countries that were particularly special to me—but the reasons varied. I loved Myanmar because the people we met were so friendly and kind, but that depends on who you meet. I find China endlessly fascinating and have read a lot about it, so I was predisposed to like it. But five years ago, on my first trip there, I hated it. China didn’t change that much—I did. I thought New Zealand and Iceland had the most spectacular scenery, but that’s probably because I’m from the East Coast of the US and am not used to seeing volcanic landscapes. We had an all-around great time in Spain, aided by Bob’s excellent Spanish skills. Someone who did not speak Spanish would have a completely different experience. What I’m trying to say is, your mileage may vary.
Much depends on your previous experiences: where you’ve been before, what you’ve read, seen pictures of, or heard about. I think of each experience as building on the previous; not as a collection of separate activities. Studying ancient China made visiting Xi’an much more interesting. Seeing the Hindu temple of Prambanan primed me for visiting Angkor Wat. Conversely, after visiting several well-curated European palaces, the Palais du Papes was a bit of a letdown. But we met a Canadian guy (who had not traveled much before) who loved it.
A word about expectations: some of the most fabulous places we visited were the ones we had done no planning for. And I think that had a lot to do with it. We didn’t have a chance to raise our expectations too high. On the other hand, I hate arriving in a place and knowing nothing about it; so it’s a fine line.
It works the other way too. While there certainly were some places I disliked more than others, it depended on several different factors. Most places are, to some extent, interesting; but not always to every person at every stage in their lives. Lijiang, China, would’ve been a charming little city if it hadn’t been so crowded. I don’t have very fond memories of Airlie Beach, Australia, because it rained the whole time we were there. And to me, Salzburg just wasn’t that great. This is completely unfair, of course. Any of those places might be someone else’s favorite spot. But neither one of us is right or wrong. And after looking back on my pictures, I noticed something funny. The brain has a convenient way of forgetting unpleasant experiences, and my impressions of some places have changed for the better. If I can’t trust my perception on what’s good and what’s not, no one else should either. It’s more important to travel to the places you’re interested in. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t like something. I’ve read the book “1000 Places To See Before You Die,” and I respectfully disagree with some of their choices, because the authors, like every other human on earth, are biased.
So no; I can’t say where my favorite place was. It’s all too subjective. If you’re dying to know what I liked and disliked, please ask, but it’s easier for me to choose my favorite spots by country and category (which I have kind of tried to do, through the “Three Favorite Things” posts.) But forget about my favorite things: what are yours?