Before I left for my first trip overseas, a friend who had done some travelling herself gave me some advice, “Make sure you see the things you want to while you're there. If there's something you really want to do, or a place you really enjoy, make the most of it now. You tell yourself that you'll be back and that you'll do it next time, but you probably won't go back, and this could be your only opportunity.”
Of course, being young, naive, and fully infected with the travel bug, I listened to her wisdom but secretly thought to myself, “Not me. I'll make it back to all the places I love. I'll be the exception to the rule.”
And I believed it.
To some extent I still believe it, although perhaps not with the same conviction I once did. I do believe that I will go back to the places that were most special to me, the places I didn't get to experience as fully as I would have liked to at the time, but nevertheless made an impression on me. I also realize however that many of the places I fell in love with on my initial travels will live on in my memory, but I will never return again.
One of the issues faced while travelling, is that as much as the world becomes smaller when you travel, it also becomes much, much bigger. You begin by thinking of a destination at the country scale, maybe with a couple of cities as specific destinations. Once you get there however, you realize that within even a small country, there are regional variations with unique aspects that draw you to each of them. Where at first you thought a month was a lot of time to explore the country, you now realize that to see everything you want to would actually take you three, or six, or a year! One could argue that it could take a lifetime to truly experience and know a country.
With every new country, and every distinct region within the countries you visit, you come to understand that this was not a unique phenomenon you experienced. It's always possible to zoom in a little further, dig a little deeper, find some new local treasure in a remote corner of a region.
I came to this realization while on my first trip to Europe a couple years ago. Travelling overland by bicycle meant I was able to take in a good amount of the countries I travelled through. It also meant however that I was somewhat limited in range. It took a week to travel by bike the distance that could be covered in one day by car. Every local I stayed with had recommendations of sights to see and places to visit that piled ever higher in my notebooks. I had thought beforehand that I would be getting a deep experience of the countries I rode through. By now I had realized that I was barely scratching the surface of the countries both geographically, as well as culturally.
Soon, my determination to return to all of my favourite places within a given country was overshadowed by my desire to visit the places I hadn't.
There are however, places that made such an impression on me that I know that I have no choice but to return at some point, perhaps many times. Chiefly among the places that hold such significance in my heart is Cesky Krumlov, in the Czech Republic.
Cesky Krumlov is about three hours by bus South of Prague. I had heard it mentioned as a quaint medieval town when researching the area beforehand, and something about the descriptions I read, however brief and vague, spoke to me. I wan't sure that our route, schedule and plans would allow for my riding partner and friend Hamilton and I to visit the village, but I felt that I had to go.
In the end it was too far out of the way for us to cycle to, but we decided to take the bus and spend one night at one of the hostels in the center of the old town.
Almost immediately after arriving I realized that one night was not enough to soak in the unique ambiance of the magical town. We had arrived in the early afternoon, and due to the bus schedules would need to leave at the same time the next day, leaving us precious little time for exploration.
The town itself was tiny, you could complete a lap of the preserved old village in an hour. But to me there was a feeling like I could complete the circuit a thousand times and each would be fresh and full of new inspiration, and this was all in the light of day, before the setting sun and the moon cast their spells over the village.
As the sun set we meandered along the castle walls and out to a parapet which overlooked the sleepy village and its surrounding moat. We were there in late autumn, and whereas in summer I'm sure the village would be teeming with tourists, there were only a handful of others we encountered that night, adding to the unique sense of mystery the town exuded.
From our perch above the town we watched as the sun dipped below the horizon, throwing the sky into a deep violet hue, painting the clouds with vibrant brushstrokes, the sun's parting gift before relinquishing it's post to the moon, which now took up it's watch over the quiet village below. It was a moment and a place that I'll never forget, and which filled me with a rush of inspiration and peace as I soaked it in.
The street lights flickered to life with the sunset, and I roamed the empty streets on my own, mulling over the place, and the scene I had just witnessed. There was something about the town, something more than the sunset, that stirred me to my core, some indescribable magic inherent in the village and landscape itself, stored up over the centuries of its existance. Some of the few tourists we found talked of how they had come for a weekend and now, three weeks later, had never left. They told stories of friends they had met in the village who had ended up taking up odd jobs sweeping floors and such, just so they could stay in the village indefinitely. The pull of the place it seemed, was felt by all.
We boarded the bus back to Prague the next day. I was disappointed that we had to leave, and at the same time almost dazed by what I had just experienced, it seemed too good to be real.
I think about Cesky Krumlov weekly if not daily, I have this image printed and hanging on my wall, a constant reminder of a magical evening, not that I need the reminder. I sometimes worry that in my reminiscence I've distorted the experience into something that can never be replicated, something the village cannot provide twice. In the end I convince myself that it was in fact real, and trust in the magic of the quaint, quiet, empty town to be waiting with some new inspiration the next time I walk through its gates.
What are some of the places that you've visited and now feel a pull to go back to? Do you have a list that you realize you may never get back to? Maybe you're someone who, once you've seen a place once is more interested in going somewhere new! I'd love to hear about the most magical and special places that have affected you profoundly, whether you think you'll one day return or not!
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