The cities of my heart

Left my heart in . . .


It’s been exactly a year since Spencer and I wandered the streets of San Francisco at the tail end of our California vacation. In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long . . . but in others, so much has changed in 12 months. Good things, bad things, great things — and just thing things. I feel like I’ve done a lot of living and changing and growing in a year. And like all travel, I didn’t come home the same person I was when I left.

California has a special place in my heart. My dad went there on a college trip — his first time away from the East Coast — and promptly became enamored with San Francisco. His new love for the city ran so deep that, when my parents married shortly thereafter, he returned with her on their honeymoon. I grew up hearing stories about Lombard Street, that crooked one, and Alcatraz. The Golden Gate Bridge. The cable cars.

When Spence and I were trying to choose where to go on our OMG-I-won vacation, California came immediately to mind. And we had a fabulous time and ate awesome things. I know I babble about Yosemite, but that’s only because I loved it so deeply. I felt the same way after I visited London for the first time in 2007 — and then when I returned in 2009, and in 2011. (And since I’m apparently on an every-other-year schedule, I’m due for another English excursion.)

We all have a place that feels like . . . home. It may not be the town in which you grew up or have family, or really a place with any ties that bind. But you arrive and set your suitcase down, breathing in the cool or salty or humid air, and something about this destination just feels like it. You see another world and you change.

What’s the difference between a place you love to visit and a place that burrows into your heart? A sense of tranquility, maybe. I’ve visited many amazing towns, taken in the views and felt like a better person for having seen such beauty. But only a few places actually imprinted on my soul, for lack of a better explanation: London and San Francisco. Daydreaming about either place is my go-to having-a-bad-day fantasy. If my Flickr photo files were tangible objects, they’d be worn and threadbare from handling. I look at those pictures more than I’d care to admit.

Part of my attachment is, of course, due to where I was in my life at the time. In 2007, I was a freshly-minted college grad on a big trip with her family. In 2009, I was fresh out of a break-up and ready to take big chances. In 2011, I was in love again — and better this time — and going abroad with my parents and sister before Kate and I both became engaged and strengthened our family to a unit of six. And last year, in 2012, Spence and I were on our first trip together: just the two of us.

When I flip through my favorite shots from each of those trips, I’m remembering less of what I did and more of how I felt. That’s why I travel: to feel both closer to and farther away from myself. To allow myself to experience child-like wonder before a waterfall, or to try an exotic food I could never find at home.

I travel to come away with stories. Ones I can tell for the rest of my life.

Which cities or places hold a special place in your heart? Do you remember more of what you did, or more of how you felt? What’s a city you’re dying to see? (And if you have city recommendations, here or abroad, I’m all ears. I love travel suggestions.)


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24 thoughts on “The cities of my heart

  1. I have no city that gives me the feeling you’ve described (courtesy of my never having lived too long in one place), but one place I’d like to visit (and live) is Vancouver, BC. Something about trees and gardens.

  2. One city that feels the same to me is Arnhem, a Dutch city where my boyfriend lived near. Somehow it is more friendly than the Dutch cities I knew towards the west, like Utrecht, Amsterdam and The Hague (although that last one is a nice one too, my grandparents grew up there). Arnhem felt like home pretty soon.

    With foreign cities, London and Brighton do the same to me, I really feel at home there. On the other hand; with our current incomes I know we’d live in a social housing estate, just like we do now; and where that is totally respectable here in the Netherlands, and we live at a great place, I’d never want to live in those dreary grey places in London. But if I could afford good housing? Yes, I’d want to live there!

  3. I have yet to experience real travel for myself (being so young and without funds). But I yearn for the same experiences you have outlined here. The thrill of a new place and the love of another lifestyle just makes me want to flit off and experience.

  4. For me the difference is that I’d quite like to go to a place I love, but I’d turn the opportunity down every time in favour of the place that feels like I should be there. Though in my case that place is too far away so I have never been back, at least not yet. I remember both what I did and what I felt, I suppose to an extent they blended together.

  5. This is a great post. Brooklyn, which is the city I grew up in, will always hold a special place in my heart. No matter where else I may wind up, Brooklyn will always have a hold on me.

    As far as places I’ve only traveled to, it’s definitely Chicago. I went there a few summers ago and have been in love ever since. The people, the places, the food, Wrigley Field! Everything was just amazing.

  6. My heart is always in two places. Kentucky (where we currently live and my husband’s family is) and Florida (where I grew up, we met, got married, and all my family lives).

  7. I loved this post so muuuch!!
    And let me say that I also loved SF. I went there last summer in a South California trip and I remember clearly what I did and speacially the feeling of happiness that I felt…I was superwell treeated by a lovely host wo knows every cornr, local and tourist, and he sowed me everythin, that was awesome!

  8. I’ve only been to London once but it’s also one city that feels like home. It’s hard to describe but I just loved the history, the quiet energy, how friendly people were, and how it all had this feeling of being both familiar and foreign all at once.

  9. I went back to the place I went to on holiday as a small boy last week and refreshed a load of memories, so I think I know what you mean. Priceless experience

  10. I also love London, more every time I go, even when it’s just for work. I completely adored Rome – the sense of living history everywhere spoke to me and I really want to go back again now.

  11. San Francisco is my favorite city! I worked there for a year right after college and it is stuck to my heart in a big way now. I try to go once a year and explore different areas and the same areas all in one trip. I have a pack of walking tour cards that I use to find new nooks and crannies and historical tidbits. I’d like to do the same type of tour of NYC someday.

  12. Love the picture you chose at the top of the post! My favourite ‘traveller’ city is actually Krakow in Poland, it’s such a fairytale in the medieval heart and then you make it out to the former Jewish Quarter and see all the artsy shops and it suddenly feels very avant-garde. Love it!

  13. I felt like I had found my home in Spain when I went to visit family there years ago. It’s a beautiful country, and I remember feeling happier than I’ve ever been. I also recently went to Florida, and I really liked it there too 🙂 It’s funny, there’s a lot of places I’ve gone where I can see myself living there but none of them have struck me as much as Spain or Florida. I’m not sure why.

  14. There are too many places that have wonderful memories

    I would say that Cork, Ireland; Charleston, SC and Asheville, NC have my heart though. I was lucky enough to live in all 3 though only for a short period of time for Asheville.

  15. This is a wonderful post! I love traveling as well (I would die if I traveled to England every other year, you’re so lucky!) For me, I would say my grandparents house on the island of Kaua’i. It’s set right on the water, and it was always calm in the area because of a general lack of other people. I loved it there, and I also felt my best when I went there.

  16. Eureka Spring, Arkansas. I always breathe better there. And Disney World. If I close my eyes I can smell and hear it. 🙂

  17. Goodness, I couldn’t to pick a place or two. But I sure loved your post AND reading everyone’s comments!

  18. I love this post. Travel is so important to me and there are absolutely cities that stole my heart. London, Budapest, Seattle, Florence and Zurich immediately come to mind. There are so many more that I love and even more out there to discover!

  19. Oh my gosh, there are so many places that I love. Travel has always been a huge part of my life and I certainly do not do enough of it. For me there’s NYC, Boston, Colorado Springs, Denver, London, Mexico City, Assisi, and so many other places that have impacted me in some way. Travel is amazing!

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