Sunday, February 17, 2008

Feeling City

So, Sarah and I are going to Austin next week. Since Sarah went to college there, it will be a bit of a homecoming for her; but it will be my first time there. Thinking about that has got me reflecting on all the cities I've visited in my lifetime, and that -in turn- has led to lists.

So, instead of rambling about Lost and X-men like I had originally intended, I've decided to present my Top 10 Cities List! So, without further ado...

10. Hobart, Tasmania - While I enjoyed both Tasmania and New Zealand immensely, I have to admit that their main appeal lies with their spectacular scenery, wonderous terrain and great wines. That said, Hobart managed to win me over with its quaint old-world charm. Even if the hotel we stayed at was.... well... a complete dump, the rest of the city was filled with cute cafes, shops, inviting bars, weekly markets and great walkable streets. It amazing that, while Hobart was possibly the farthest I'd been away from home geographically speaking, it could feel so much like home.

Sarah at the market in Hobart

9. Portland, Oregon - The secret to Portland's charm lies with the fact that it is basically Seattle, without all the development, but with a better public transportation system. Even though Portland is only several hours south of Seattle, I've actually only been there a handful of times. But, each time I've been there it's impressed me in some new way. In fact, on our last visit, Sarah and I agreed that if we ever needed to move to another city, Portland would be on the top of our list.

8. Bangkok, Thailand - Most people seem to hate Bangkok. It's crowded, dirty, noise and imfamous for its horrific traffic. But, I think that might actually be part of the appeal to me. It also probably holds a special place in my heart since it was the first foreign city I ever visited. But, beyond that there is still some appeal to a sprawling chaotic megaopolis like Bangkok. It might be overwelming, but it's unmatched energy and great food also make it entrancing.

7. Cape Town, South Africa - Possibly the most stunning city view I've ever experienced is when Sarah and I took the gondola to the top of Table Mountain and stood looking down at Cape Town spreading out around the bay below us. I always find myself wanting to compare it to San Fransisco, but honestly the similarities are superficial and tangental. But, while South Africa and Cape Town are still struggling with their fair share of problems (racism, violence), there is no denying that Cape Town is one of the most scenic cities in the world.

A panoramo Sarah's brother stitched together of several photos we took on Table Mountain.

6. McLeod Ganj, India - McLeod Ganj was a place that I had to warm to a bit. When we first arrived there, its cramped streets filled with tourists and hippies was a bit of a turn off. But, in the end the city has a way of sneaking up on you. With its quiet moments and misty vistas of guesthouse perched atop of steep green hills, and its forgiving Buddhist backbone, McLeod Ganj ended up being the perfect place for Sarah and I to rest and reorient ourselves in the otherwise overwelming country of India.

...and there's Sarah in McLeod Ganj!

5. Prague, Czech Republic - Prague was the first city in Europe I ever visited, and it still represents Europe to me more than any other city I've visited. With its countless church spires and narrow cobblestoned steets, Prague hits all the perfect notes for just wandering around and enjoying the afternoon. With both cafes and Communist history, and a network of both streetcars and subways, Prague always seemed to have something interesting to do, and a good way to get there.

4. Buenos Aires, Argentina - It's like Paris... but in South America. Yeah, that's sort of a trite observation, and one that also misses some of Buenos Aires unique charm, but I still can't help but make it. Thick with cafe culture and late night parties, Buenos Aires has a charm that manages to be distinctly its own, while also drawing comparisons to a number of cities in Europe. Good wine, great neighborhoods and tons of meat for dinner... just thinking about it makes me want to go back!

3. Leh, India - Leh barely counts as a "city." It's more of a "village," a Buddhist encampment nestled in the Himalayas. A small swath of green surrounded by miles of magnificant brown mountains, and decorated with prayer flags. I don't think a single place we visited on our 7 month journey brings on such quick and fierce reverse-home-sickness as Leh. Its the type of place that just challenges you to wander around, do nothing all day, and be content just contemplating life.

...and Sarah, AGAIN, in Leh!

2. Istanbul, Turkey - At the point that Sarah and I reached Istanbul, we were both feeling burnt out by travelling. We had sort of reached the point were we were tired with the challenges present by changing locations on a day-to-day basis and relearning the basics of life each time. But, Istanbul still managed to win us over. There's something stirring and symbolic about the cities location straddling the Bosphorus, literally with one foot in the west and one in the east, that compels the visitors mind to take romantic flights of fancy (and type sentences like this). Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and the ancient Cisterns, cute cafes, great restaurants and countless otherthings add up to make Istanbul one of the best cities I've ever been fortunate enough to visit.

Istanbul... but no Sarah!

1. Seattle, Washington - I know, it's probably a little cliched to pick my hometown as my favorite city... but it's true. If travelling has taunt me anything, its that while I enjoy seeing wonderous, far-flung locations, I also enjoy coming home at the end to Seattle. Great bars, great restaurants, great coffee shops, stunning views of the Sound, the Cascades, the Olympics and Mt. Rainier, good shops and music scene. Heck, I'd say Seattle was made for me, except its probably more of a matter that I was made for Seattle.

Well, that's my list. Actually, having just finished it, I'm already regretting making it. I mean, just think of all the great places I've visited, but left off of it: Hoi An, Pushkar, Queenstown, Cairo, Veliko Tarnovo, Budapest, Barcelona, Port Antonio, Miami, San Fransisco.

Heck, thinking about it more, I'm sure that Valparaiso definitely should have been on that list.


No comments: