Over the years, I’ve visited many cities–large, medium-sized and small. I’m not even sure how many. Although I don’t love large ones (with a few exceptions), I do like them. Generally, however, I prefer the smaller ones.
Looking ahead, I’m thinking about where else I’d like to travel. Most of my trips require a stop in a large city. Sometimes I want to go for sightseeing; other times, I can’t avoid it due to airfare issues and/or the location of major transportation hubs.
I’m realizing that although I’l revisit certain countries and regions, there are some cities (3 in Europe) that I’ll probably skip altogether (except one, which is a maybe). As you will see, in each case, it’s for different reasons.
Note: the listing is in alphabetical order–not ranked in any sort of way–and no offense is intended to the people of any of the cities or cultures. I’m not suggesting that other people bypass the cities on my list. And if you happen to love one or more of them, that’s great.
I think it’s important to remember that travel is an individual thing and not every destination is experienced the same way by everyone.
Why: ‘It’s complicated’
This is a little complicated for me–hence, the Facebook relationship status reference. When I visited as a tourist—and spent time with some friends (locals from a nearby suburb)—I thought Barcelona was fantastic. I loved it.
A year later, I found a job there. As a Business English coordinator at a prestigious language school. I was psyched and went for it. Packed up my life, sold just about everything I owned and moved.
Unfortunately, living there was very different than I imagined. The honeymoon period ended fast. I spent time with the friends I knew previously, met their friends, too, but I didn’t connect that much with other locals or sadly, with my students (there were a few exceptions). I also got pick-pocketed. And the cigarette smoke, which seemed to be everywhere, really wore on me.
In general (pick-pocketing aside), I just didn’t click with the culture. (By the way, I lived in Gracia, a cool neighborhood, and down the street from one of the Goudí buildings…even so, I didn’t love it). Again, I thought it was great when I was a tourist, but it never felt right for me as an ex-pat. I saw enough and now feel no need whatsoever to return.
Also, other Spanish cities and provinces appeal to me more
I’ve been to quite a few cities and provinces in Spain, including Madrid, Galicia, Basque Country, Valencia and Andalucía. Granada was one of my favorite cities before and after living in Spain. Would I go back there? Yes, absolutely. Also, there are other cities in Spain I’d like to see for the first time.
Why: an unpleasant experience
I almost didn’t list Beirut because I’m not 100% sure I won’t return. The truth is–I might want to return. So what was it about this city that landed it on this list?
I had a negative experience while there. I got ripped off by the taxi driver who took me from the bus station to hostel where I had a reservation. I remember it being hard to find because it was in an odd building.
Once inside, I hated it. It was hot and humid and people were sitting in the dark. Others were outside smoking and drinking. The beds in the room were too close together and the one I was going to sleep in had Mickey Mouse sheets. I ended up leaving after paying and not looking back. (After this, I started to only take private rooms at hostels).
The second room I found, in a hotel, looked better superficially, but it wasn’t very good once I looked more closely. It was dirty and unacceptably noisy (any/all rooms). And the manager was a creepy kind of flirt. It was hot as hell that time of year (July) and I was tired after traveling for close to 6 weeks. Needless to say, I had a miserable day and night. I think I ate at McDonald’s, too.
I was much happier when I left and went to Bcharre, a town in the mountains where Khalil Gibran was born. Although I didn’t have a car, which made things tricky, I got to know the real Lebanese people. I met some really nice one there, too, including some from Beirut.
Even though I didn’t love Beirut, I think I might give it a second chance. I know that having dealt with bad accommodations is what it is–an unpleasant experience. And I believe I made some mistakes along the way, too.
Next time, I would opt to use CouchSurfing because what I really wanted, I think, was to connect with the locals, which is not always that easy in a big city. I believe this would make a huge difference.
3. Belize City
Why: Didn’t care for it
First, I want to say that I really loved Belize and highly recommend it. I visited Dangriga and Hopkins Village, areas a little bit off the beaten path, and really enjoyed myself there. I’d like to return and see more of the country.
Why did I go to Belize City? I needed to spend a night there since my flight was the next morning.
After arriving and getting settled in, the friend I was with and I were a bit taken aback by the city–the appearance and the vibe. We saw mostly two extremes: depressing and slightly dodgy areas and streets with fancy high-end hotels where there was little or no local culture. (Maybe that’s changed since 2006/2007?) I recall feeling uncomfortable (and little bit unsafe) as we walked around.
Why: Been there twice
When I visited Copenhagen, more than a decade ago, I though it was quite wonderful. And I’m sure it still is. But I’ve been there twice and can’t think of a good reason to return. If I visited Scandinavia again at some point, I think I’d skip Copenhagen (and Denmark as a whole) because I’d prefer to check out the neighboring countries and their cities/towns.
5. Medan (Sumatra), Indonesia
Why: Unpleasant and chaotic
I didn’t really want to spend the night in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, but I had no choice. The trip there from Lake Toba took most of the day and my flight to Bandung (from Medan) was scheduled for the next morning. I had to do it.
When I arrived, it was hot, humid and noisy. There seemed to be a lot of chaos, too. I had to go to the pharmacy for something and the journey there was rough. Although many cities have rats and roaches, this one seemed to have more. And the street was pretty challenging to walk on (due to potholes and general disrepair).
The only positive experience was chatting with the pharmacist and his employees. They tried their best to help me and despite the language barrier, we somehow understood each other. I’m glad I had the chance to interact with them even though it was brief.
Why: Liked but didn’t love it; too many tourists
(Photo copyright Moyan Brenn)
Sure the beer was great and I recall drinking one of the best mojitos of my life there (for $9)–and yeah, the history and culture were interesting, but…
I was there about 6 years ago, and it was no longer super affordable. It was, however, super crowded (it was July) and hot. I remember large tour groups being led around by guides holding up colorful umbrellas and getting bumped into a lot. I do recall taking a bike tour, which was excellent.
Although I enjoyed myself and am glad I went, I wasn’t torn up when it was time to leave. I never felt I connected to the culture or its people, which was a shame. For me, that’s what travel is really about.
Really Liked Czesky Krumlov
Having said this, I recall visiting a small city a couple hours away from Prague, a town called Czesky Krumlov—and really liking it. Some call it “mini Prague.” It has a bridge, a river and a castle, too. It was simply charming! I rented a room from an Austrian family there and although we couldn’t communicate very well, they were nice and made sure I was comfortable. The room was spotless and the breakfast was great.
I recall eating at a certain medieval restaurant, Šatlava, several times. The food and atmosphere were incredible. This smallish city was wonderful (except for the relentless rain). I remember getting a lot of reading done there.
Any Cities I Would Like to Return to?
Yes, there are several.
Definitely Istanbul! There’s nothing quite like it. Something magical and exciting there. I also love Toronto. It’s got so much to offer and it’s really pleasant. I’m sure I’ll revisit Amman at some point. It’s not that I loved the city–I just liked it–but I connected some great people there I’d like to see again if possible.
One of my favorite cities was Damascus. Someday, after the war ends the country rebuilds, I’d like to return…as a volunteer.
How About You?
Any cities on this list that you like, dislike and/or have visited more than once?
Are there any other cities you’ve visited that you are sure you won’t return to? Which ones and why?
Any there any that you’re madly in love with and want to revisit or have visited multiple times? Which one/ones and why?
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