19 May 2011

Where would you go for one day? One week? One month? Forever?

"So where would you go back to right now, if you could?" 

I hear this nearly every time I'm in a social setting and mention my Not-So-Grand Tour. It's a fair question, always a good conversation-continuer (especially for someone like me who is always eager to compare travel notes). Anthony's comment on my last post reminded me of my problems replying to the query, though--I don't have a single good answer. 

I respond, "How long do I have? A night? A week? A month? Forever?"

Because there are some cities where it's just flat-out dull to be a tourist: not a lot of big, flashy sites or official Things To Do. They're just filled with normal people doing normal, everyday things. In a word: boring. Lookin' at you, Brussels.

And yet Brussels also has a discreet weird/surreal streak (visit the Magritte museum and you'll see what I mean) and a disarming sense of unease with itself--a historic city where much of the history has been demolished; a French-speaking city in a Dutch-speaking region of a famously conflicted country--that I find compelling and even enchanting. I can imagine living there--it seems like an interesting place to grow into, a taste one acquires. A place to settle down. Just not to visit for a couple of days. 

As it happens, though Brussels is also where I'd go for just one night, because it's home to one of the best bars I've ever visited, Delirium Tremens. Total tourist trap, but there seemed to be plenty of locals there, and even though the place is huge, it's compartmentalized in such a way that it always feels intimate. Best of all, it a genial, conversational atmosphere like I've never seen--the place buzzed with energy but wasn't loud and didn't feel like an obnoxious "scene." I've talked a lot about the tourist trail as the crossroads of the world, and this is a classic example. (Lee, care to chime in about this?)

So here's my list (as of this moment, though it changes often) of Where I'd Go Back To Right Now: 

One night: Brussels. With Lee and/or other friends, though I think it's best shared with just a few people. We'd go to Delirium Tremens and then stumble through the Grand Place very late at night, and sit on those cobblestones with the ghosts of that historic space dancing around us. There might also be some waffles and chocolate involved.

Grand Place at night. Pretty sweet, yes?
One week: Berlin. Because it's another confusing, conflicted, historically rich city. Even though we were there for four days, I feel like I didn't see any of it. 

One month: Madrid. Part of it is that I really want to master Spanish. I know just barely enough to get by, more or less, but I'd love to master the language. But I also just feel in love with the people, the food, the architecture, the general vibrant but not frenzied spirit of place. It's a culture I'd like to get to know more. At the same time, though, Madrid feels like someone I might date for ages but know, in my heart of hearts, that I would never want to marry--there's an attraction, to be sure, but that underlying mutual sense of ease and understanding and belonging just won't ever come. Madrid would be a great extended fling. So would Rome. Or Paris. All so charming and beautiful and fun and achingly chic. Six months, definitely. An amazing six months, to be sure. Maybe a year. More than that, though? I'm not certain.

To live: Brussels or Amsterdam. I guess there's just something so intoxicatingly romantic about living on a canal, and Amsterdam feels like more of a Real City than Venice. I loved the Jordaan neighborhood, slightly removed from the tourist center, quieter and funkier than the more popular areas (I don't need to go back to Damrak ever, thanks). It may not have the intrinsically attractive aesthetics and world-capital energy of Rome, Paris, and Madrid, but I'm more than okay with that. And Brussels ... well, as above, there's just an ineffable weirdness to the city that I find completely alluring. It seems like an artistic, intelligent, subtly witty and semi-neurotic kind of place. Again, not first-glance beautiful by any means, but subtle charming all the same. As I said, a place to grow into, bit by bit, but--I'm guessing--more than worth the effort. Ultimately, Amsterdam and Brussels both just feel like cities with the right combination of grit and beauty; they're cultured but not pretentious. I felt grounded and at peace in some intangible way.

Plus, Brussels has some great patisseries, which counts for a lot in my book. Beer, bakeries, historic buildings, low-key-but-convivial vibe. Done. I'm happy.

So. Anyone else want to play along? One day, one week, one month, and/or for the rest of your life. Where would you go? (Anywhere, not just in Europe.)


  1. too hard.
    1 day - Austin, TX
    1 week - Copenhagen
    1 month - Nice
    To live - Rome

  2. one day - maybe Boston or either Portland
    one week - Firienze
    one month - Havana
    one year - too hard

  3. 1 day: Washington, D.C. I'd either walk my legs off seeing everything on The Mall, or I'd spend the whole day at either the Smithsonian or the National Gallery of Art.
    1 week: Paris in Springtime. I'd just relax, maybe drift down the Seine, read at sidewalk cafes, and roam the parks and gardens.
    1 month: Buenos Aires. I'd go to every museum and art gallery, explore all the little neighborhoods, and take in some opera at Teatro Colon.
    3 months: I'd rent a canal boat in either France or England for the summer.
    6 months: New Zealand. I'd rent a car, pack up some camping/picnicking supplies, and see the country, stopping at every waterfall, hiking up every canyon, and walking every beach. Or would I do Brazil? I'd like to take a tramp steamer down the Amazon, go bird watching in the jungle, see Rio, and learn a little bit of Portuguese.
    1 year: Croatia or Turkey, if I could have a boat there. I'd cruise all the islands, eat lots of fish, and soak up the culture.
    Forever: as in, I could live there: Antigua, Guatemala, or Buenos Aires, Argentina.

  4. Ha. Patricia and Susan aren't really anonymous as they'd like.

  5. Sarah from Australia.June 25, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    One day: Darwin, mostly i'd like to see the amazing natural sites around Darwin rather than the city itself.
    One week: New Zealand, It's a stones throw away from Sydney so it's worth the flight for a week. I'd visit relatives and do every single adventure sport I could find! (I hear you can climb a glacier!)
    One month: Rome; I want my own 'Roman Holiday', I'd go in summer, eat gelatos and cut my hair short like Audrey Hepburn.
    Six Months: Budapest; My fathers Hungarian but we know nothing about our families history, i'd become the family detective and track down my relations :)
    One year: Tokyo; It's a busy city and yet you can turn down a street and be completely alone, it's quieter than a city with half it's population. It's safe and something about the city makes you feel like you'll never see it all. I'd like to explore it more than i did.
    to live: hmm I don't know yet, I'll have to travel more, I have to see it all before making that decision, but lets just say London :)


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