A side benefit of having a blog is that I can use it to gather advice from you, our fearless readers, right? Hence today’s topic.
It has become screamingly obvious to me and the people who have to live with me that I need to take a trip or three in 2009. In the past few years I’ve managed to get to Italy, Austria, various parts of the UK, Thailand, Cambodia, France, as well as several U.S. cities, and that’s not a bad track record.
In 2009, we have a trip to Maine in July. Also a possibly to-be-arranged trip to L.A. if I can nag Patty into it, since I hate to drive and we both want to go there. Also (possibly) a trip to one or more of Canada’s larger cities, a topic for another post.
And so… where else? I’ll be honest, these are lean times for us and I am budget-conscious. This is not going to be the year of the 21-day Europe tour, although I hear it’s cheaper now than any other time I went. Unless I score a screaming deal to an individual city (and a friend pointed out to me that last week I could fly to Prague cheaper than Albuquerque) it probably needs to be a U.S. destination.
I remember reading in a travel book once that there is a word in French (or maybe Italian?) that equates to “the pleasurable sensation of finding oneself in unfamiliar surroundings.” That is a concept that resonates deeply with me. I like my home too, but I like it even better when I’ve been somewhere else.
But where else? At this stage in my life I am almost totally uninterested in Our Natural Outdoor Scenic Wonders. The Grand Canyon/Pacific coast/Rocky Mountains? Meh. I am an urban tourist. I like cities and towns I can fly into, take public transportation from the airport, and spend the rest of my time wandering on foot or using (again) public transportation. I am interested in museums, people watching, boat tours, people watching, the local cuisine, walking around in interesting neighborhoods, public markets, cafe sitting, flea markets, window shopping, and looking at people. Perfume is optional. The pleasure for me of these trips is centered around the exploration of new surroundings at my own pace, unencumbered (I’m being honest here) by the needs, desires and agendas of anyone else, specifically young children. Nightlife is nonessential, but (relatively) safe night-time walking is deeply desired. Some of my fondest memories in all of my vacations are solitary evening prowls of Venice, Florence, Vienna, Bangkok and Paris without worrying about getting mugged.
US cities I have enjoyed using the above parameters: New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Saint Louis, New Orleans, Portland ME, Baltimore, Boston.
If you have a suggestion for a city I should visit, maybe with a recommended month/season/local event (e.g. May, the Tulip Festival) I should be there for, please comment. If you want to lobby for Prague or whatever, go ahead. One of my most fun adventures was an impromptu bargain-sale trip to Vienna, about which I knew next to nothing, and which turned out to be an interesting, navigable city with lots to do and plenty to eat and drink – as some of you remember I was there in October during Sturm season and spent much of my trip pleasurably lubricated.
I will end with my own plug — New Mexico is one of the few places you can visit in the continental U.S. and really feel like you have entered another country. Fly into Albuquerque, rent a car, maybe take the scenic route up to Santa Fe, the folks at the airport can direct you. If you are from a big, surly city, take a moment to savor how nice and friendly the people are. Eat as much green chile as you can. Have a breakfast burrito and enchiladas for lunch. Smell the air. Don’t forget your water bottles and sunscreen. My personal favorite times to go: around Memorial Day, when the Russian olives are perfuming the air; the weekend of the Fiestas de Santa Fe (early September), when you can see the burning of Zozobra and the Desfile de los Ninos; and around Christmas, when (if you are lucky) it will snow, and the air is scented with pinon, and you can walk Canyon Road and admire the farolitos.