Last month, on a return visit to Athens, I found a tiny Byzantine church surrounded by olive trees in a square just off Ermou Street in the heart of the city’s main retail district.
As I sat beside it, in a cafe that could easily have passed for a Greek island beach taverna, I reflected on why I love revisiting favorite cities – going back for seconds, so to speak – again and again.
The Bucket List Race
If you are reading this travel blog, you are either a traveler or a travel dreamer. Visiting destinations we’ve read about and imagined for years is something we travel dreamers all try to do as often as possible. Whether we’re into cities, island, mountains, seashores, rivers; the perfect bed, the tastiest meal, the most breathtaking adventure or the most exquisite designer shoes, we all have our hit list – the targets we’ve saved and planned for for years.
Then we arrive and most of us do the same thing.
We rush around from one “top-of-the-pops” sight to another, making sure we see all the things we’re supposed to see, taste all the foods we’re supposed to taste, and, depending upon our generational tribe, take loads of photos or do the selfie thing in all the instagrammable places on our list. We take the pictures of the same places that everyone else photographs – The Tower of London, The Eiffel Tower, the Parthenon.
And then, just before we head home, we say to each other “I wish we could have seen more of….stayed longer at….learned more about….”
Oh well, there’s always next time. “Next time we’re here let’s do….we should be sure to see….”
But, for most of us, there never is a next time, is there? Because we are off to the next destination on our bucket list.
Time for a Second Helping
Unless your only aim is ticking off items on your bucket list, there is much to be gained on second visits when the pressure to see the usual sights is off.
On my repeat visits to Paris, with no specific agenda and the freedom to wander at will:
- I discovered a really great falafel shop in the Marais
- bought watercolour papers in a side street near the Musée D’Orsay
- walked along the Canal St Martin
- spent a few days wandering the rue Saint-Dominique and the area around the Metro station known as La Tour Maubourg – right beside Les Invalides yet a world away.
- Had capuccino and warm, fresh brioche in le Petit Cler on the equally petit rue Cler Market.
On a return visit to Madrid:
- I found El Rastro, the huge Sunday flea market
- had time to have espadrilles custom made in Casa Hernanz, on Calle de Toledo, just outside the Plaza Mayor
- stumbled into a city center food market where I bought a heavy iron plancha, perfect for grilling meat and veg.
- and allowed myself to be talked into seeing a bullfight at Las Ventas (awful and moving at the same time).
And just last month in Athens, after I’d photographed the tourists gathering in Syntagma Square to video the Evzones (I call them the men from the Ministry of Funny Walks – see why), I discovered a half a dozen tiny, thousand year old Byzantine churches tucked into quiet squares and side streets around some of the city center’s busiest neighborhoods.
None of us has time enough or money enough to visit every wonderful world destination we’ve heard about. We can either rush around trying to tick off as many items as possible on our bucket list or we can try a different approach. Next time you are planning a holiday or vacation go back for a second helping of a place that you liked and wanted to know more about. Then, instead of skimming the surface of a lot of places, you might get to know one place really well, get to scratch below the surface and have some real experiences with memories that will last you a lifetime.