Whenever someone asks me what my favorite place is, that question is somehow inexplicably linked to the questions of how I know what my favorite place is and why I travel. When you fall in love with a place, there is a moment where you can feel the location speaking to you. The character of the place is like no other place on the planet and the world is encapsulated within you, where you are, and the people around you. I have had this experience in several places. I will list them one by one until what I consider my favorite place. (And really. Who can only list one favorite place when the world is full of such beautiful things?)
Number 3: Halfway House at Tiger Leaping Gorge (Yunnan Province, China)
Trekking the Tiger Leaping Gorge is at least a two day journey for the normal person. On the very first day, the group of people I was hiking with took about 6 hours to get to Halfway House in the middle of the trail. It is a guest house that sits across from the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains and the view is incredible. The view of the sheer drop of the cliffs combined with the crisp fresh air made me feel so accomplished after a day’s hike.
Number 2: Schlossplatz (Stuttgart, Germany)
Schlossplatz holds a lot more sentimental value for me than anywhere else. But any place can become your favorite place once you put some personal value to it. This was the site of many night out with friends just eating, drinking, and generally having a good time. It was the social center of my universe for about year. It is a peaceful lawn area of Stuttgart surrounded by museums, shops, cafes, government buildings, and the theater. It was the best place to hang and it is because of places like these that Europeans know how to have fun.
Number 1: Trafalgar Square (London, UK)
Words cannot express the feeling of walking out of the tube station into Trafalgar Square. The square sits on a busy intersection with a large fountain in the square and the dominating presence of the National Gallery. When I stepped into Trafalgar Square, I just knew that I was in London. The red double-decker buses drove around the streets, the Italianate architecture, and the throngs of people all were signs. Everything combined gave me an immediate feeling that I was in London. This is no where else that this could be. It was as if the city said to me, “Here I am, John. Feel right at home.” And I did. London stands out, in my mind, as the cosmopolitan city of the world and Trafalgar Square was the cross-section of where millions before me have come before.
EXTRA: What I can’t do with words, I’ll do with a movie
Of course, as an amateur wordsmith, the point falling in love with a place might not come across to you, the reader. So I present to you a visual representation of how I know. The following clip is from the anthology film “Paris, je t’aime”. If you haven’t seen it, then I highly suggest you watch all of the short films of the anthology. It represents the reasons for my travels that I could not put in words.
Sitting there, alone in a foreign country, far from my job and everyone I know, a feeling came over me. It was like remembering something I’d never known before or had always been waiting for, but I didn’t know what. Maybe it was something I’d forgotten or something I’ve been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness. But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive. That was the moment I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fall in love with me.