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Travel and the Call of the Familiar

August 17, 2019

I’m a part-time adventurer when I travel in the sense that I like to go back to familiar, favourite places again and again rather than new all the time. My current ‘again and again’ place is probably Turin, where I went in March for the third time in as many years and can’t wait to go back to. But you can also throw Amsterdam and Venice into the pot of well-worn cities I’ve travelled to many times. I like to discover new places sometimes too, of course, which means that Turin only became a favourite after my first visit in October 2016 while Venice has been a fairly regular haunt since 2006 (and I’d been there a few times before that, going back as far as 1977!). And last year I ‘discovered’ Genoa, Siena and Malaga as well as returning to Amsterdam.

If it seems boring and unadventurous to keep going back to a particular city, then it’s only because I find myself feeling a little ‘at home’ there and want to know it better. I always make a point of doing or seeing something new each visit. And my love of a place is invariably informed by its food. I’m not interested in going anywhere with bad food! I’m a great cafe person and nowhere I’ve been to (even Vienna) can compete with the wonderful historic cafes of Turin and I don’t think I could ever tire of them, from the best croissants I’ve found anywhere (even Paris!) with great coffee in the morning, to the fantastic institution that is aperitivo early evening and nowhere I’ve been does it better. And well, they also invented chocolate (as we know it) so really that says it all!

Venice I love for its beauty and being on the water all the time, taking a vaporetto across the Lagoon to beautiful and peaceful Torcello or to the Lido for a walk on the beach. And food again – sitting early evening by the edge of the Grand Canal with a glass of prosecco and some delicious cichetti.

Amsterdam I love because it’s Amsterdam. Contrary to rumours about the Dutch and bad food, you can indeed find wonderful food there; one of my favourite restaurants anywhere is in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam – De Reiger. And where else but Amsterdam can you find apple pie to die for (figuratively speaking, of course), especially that found at Winkel.

And a day always has to end at the Jordaan’s oldest bar, Cafe Chris, for an oude genever digestif.

Of course my returning time and time again to the same city can seem a little boring to some people so I was intrigued and pleased when I went to a talk by my favourite contemporary artist, Barbara Rae, at the Royal Academy of Art a few months ago, when she talked about how she worked, and how she returned again and again to a place that caught her imagination, until she reached a point where she felt she’d got to the heart of what she was looking for and moved on to somewhere new. She’s famous for her paintings of Arizona, but more recently has been travelling the Northwest Passage – somewhere very different – and painting what she sees in the Arctic.

It’s great to go somewhere new and love it and there have been so many times I’ve come back from a new city and thought, I must go back soon … but then haven’t. Some cities have turned out to be one-stop wonders. But when a city captures your imagination then it’s wonderfully comforting to arrive somewhere you know: you know what you want to see; you know where you want to stay (both actual hotel and geographically). You know where you want to go for morning coffee; where to have a good evening meal. You know what sights you want to see again and those you missed last time but must see this time round. You don’t need to follow a map or keep asking Google how to get somewhere or even where you are; you know your way around. And if you go to the same hotel, you’re often warmly welcomed back, which is a great bonus when you travel alone, as I often do.

I’ve been ‘called back’ to Nice, and will spend a long weekend there next month. I look forward to quickly settling into a familiar city and returning to places I know while also researching new places to visit and eat at. It’s important to embrace the new but also to celebrate the old.

11 Comments
  1. You’ve inspired me to put Turin on my list of places to visit. I have you to thank for alerting me to aperitivo in Genoa earlier this year, and if I tell you it was a highlight of our holiday you’ll know that food is high on our list of priorities.

    Amsterdam is one of my ‘again and again’ places, too. Next time you’re there I’d recommend a trip to the Tassenmuseum where they serve the best afternoon tea I’ve ever had and to Balthazar’s Keuken which looks nothing much from the outside but where we had a lovely dinner to celebrate my partner’s birthday.

    • So pleased you enjoyed Genoa and Turin is beautiful and a bit off the tourist route so more locals around. Thank you for the Amsterdam tips. I’ve been to Balthazar’s Keuken and like it a lot but don’t know the museum, so definitely one for next time.

  2. So inspired me for travel 🙂

  3. A wise traveller … especially because you always find ‘different’ ways to enjoy yourself. We love reading your tales of the cities …

  4. I’m pleased to realise we have the same taste for cities to travel to and reasons for travelling. I love your definition of part-time adventurous traveller and I recognise myself with that. I always leave some aspects undiscovered for a future visit in a place I like so I keep alive the desire to discover them at a later time. Paris surely fits the bill from this point of view, despite I have been there regularly since I was 18.

    • That’s great to hear. I think you can always find some new lovely surprise in a city no matter how many times you’ve visited it.

  5. I don’t think it’s boring to return again and again, some places demand more than one visit. There’s always something new to discover, and it’s really about how a place makes you feel.

    • Absolutely! There are some places I’ve been to for the first time in recent years and really liked but not gone back, but others I can’t resist.

  6. A great post. I guess I’m the opposite, and my husband is also. We keep going to new countries, and already have a major Africa trip planned for 2020. However, it’s also different for you because living where you do, you’re so close to these favorite countries and cities you love. That would change my perspective on travel.

    • Thank you! I do always try to go to a couple of new places each year but the favourites are often only an hour or so’s flight away and there’s always more to discover and I love to feel I know somewhere well. I’m sure your Africa trip will be fantastic!

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