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Travel Continues to Surprise Me

Sometimes, all it takes is the name of a destination to get me excited about a trip. But most of the time, it’s some aspect of that destination that I fixate on. There’s usually no telling what specific thing I’m going to get excited about, and often if I try to guess which it’ll be I end up guessing quite wrong.

The first time I knew I was going to be seeing Venice, I immediately get excited about the gondolas. I mean, who wouldn’t, right? Then when I started reading the guidebooks I’d bought, I learned how expensive they could be. Not only that, I found out about all these other cool things in Venice that I’d never heard of before. Sure, the city is still primarily (as my husband calls it) “Disneyland for adults,” a place that you can be quite content just strolling aimlessly through without worrying about actual sights – but as soon as I saw a photo of St. Mark’s Basilica, I completely forgot about the gondolas.

Luckily, among the many posh hotels near St. Mark’s Square, we were able to find one during that first trip that wasn’t too terribly expensive, so we were not only right in the heart of tourist-central Venice but we were also only a few steps from the entrance of the church – a church which to this day remains my most favorite church on the planet. I don’t even remember being interested in a gondola ride on that trip, even when I saw them in person for the first time. And I have still never taken a gondola ride in Venice.

The first time I visited Paris, I was an even younger (and less well-informed) traveler, and pretty much all I knew about the city before arriving was that the Eiffel Tower was there. Yeah, I hadn’t bothered to buy a Paris travel guide or even check one out of the library. (I told you I wasn’t very well-informed!) And this was in those dark days we now refer to as B.I. (Before Internet), so I couldn’t have easily looked anything up about the city, either, without a trip to a bookstore. I went with a school group, and so I hit all the museums you’re supposed to (and with guides, too), and I visited the Eiffel Tower and other big sights, but it’s the things I wasn’t prepared for that stick with me most from that trip. In the case of Paris, I’m talking about the food.

I wasn’t a foodie back then, and I also didn’t think about what might be different about French cuisine from the foods I was used to. So I have very distinct memories of my very first crepe in Montmartre, not to mention the first time I bit into a croque monsieur. Nowadays, I’m much more likely to make a list of where to eat in Paris than I am a list of what museums I want to make sure to see. But if someone had told me before my first trip that I’d be fixated on something as simple as the French version of a grilled ham & cheese sandwich, I’d have laughed.

Still, knowing that I’m usually wrong when I try to predict what I’m going to be most interested in during a trip doesn’t stop me from doing it. I mean, I’m not sure I can help it, really. I tend to get more excited about a trip when I’m concentrating on specific aspects of it, rather than just the “I’m going to this whole entire place” kind of thing. And these days, now that I’m a more seasoned traveler and more in touch with the kinds of things that I like from previous trips, I think I’m getting better at predicting what will resonate with me and what won’t.

For instance, I’ve never been to Bali – but I’m quite sure that immediately after picking up a Bali travel guide I would turn immediately to the information about the temples. They look gorgeous, and I’m all about old churches in other places I’ve visited, so it seems like a natural fit. I don’t know anything about the food, but I now know that food is one of my favorite elements of traveling, so I’d want to read about that too. Despite knowing how popular it is, however, I think I’d be comfortable skipping the sections about surfing in Bali. I’m not the sporty type, and frankly the fact that I’m a Pisces doesn’t make me any more interested in swimming in the ocean than if I were (let’s say) a housecat, so I’d guess I wouldn’t be tempted to give surfing a try.

But if my previous trips have taught me nothing else, it’s that travel continues to surprise me – and I continue to surprise myself when I travel. So when I finally make it to Bali, I’m going to skim the surfing sections of the guidebook on the plane ride over.

Just in case.