To the Places I’ve Loved: An Ode on Valentine’s Day
Happy day of love, everyone! Valentine’s Day is loaded with expectations, which tend to be the root of all disappointment, I’ve found. Kinda like when I visited Chiang Mai and wasn’t blown away. Too much expectation. In general, I am not a fan of this day (and no, I’m not single). I had a post halfway drafted that was all about lost love — until I realized that nobody really wants to hear about that. So rather than waste everyone’s time talking about how much heartbreak sucks (because duh), I’m going to talk about places that I love. Because this blog is about places, not my failed relationships. I’ll post a photo and a description, see if you can guess where it is before I give it away.
To the Places I’ve Loved, On Valentine’s Day
My First Home Away from Home
Leaving you broke my heart. But it was something that I needed to do. You taught me so much, my head spins thinking about it. You taught me how to make mistakes. To remember what’s important. How to do it all completely on my own. To cast off the safety net and live without fear. How to reach for my goals, but appreciate what I have in the moment.
I left pieces of my heart scattered all around you. On a ferry boat on Puget Sound. On top of a mountain on Orcas Island. At a Campground at the foot of Mount Rainier. Floating on Lake Washington. In a bungalow in Queen Anne. On the salt-covered floor of Pike’s Place Market. On a volleyball court in Alki Beach. At a park near my home. With the incredible women I was lucky enough to become friends with. With coworkers who became family. I grew up with you all around me, and you’ll always be a very special place to me.
Where Am I?
The Place I Wasn’t Expecting
Your roads weren’t even paved. We bounced over the ruts in our golf-cart taxi, the warm breeze playing about our faces. And I knew I was a long way from the paved glitz of the major tourist city we had just left. There was something a little raw about you, and it made me fall in love with you quickly.
You were a confluence of turquoise and moody green seas. Art adorned the sides of your buildings. Flamingos danced along your ungroomed shoreline. Local children played in the square. In a country where someone was always trying to sell me something, I was miraculously unhassled. And the food you fed me was the stuff of dreams: seafood and citrus and spice.
We connected with your residents — they invited us to the corner bar. We sat along the counter and played cards until the band had us dancing in that sandy street. The beach bar had us taking ill-advised tequila shots and shouting requests at the DJ until the wee hours of the morning. I could have stayed forever.
Where Am I?
Isla Holbox, Mexico [LINK]
The Place Where My Heart Came Alive
I had been hiking for days. My legs were sore, the air was clean, and I slept more soundly than I ever had in my life. Everywhere I looked I was surrounded by mountains the jutted against the sky, and all I wanted to do was become one with them. So I woke up every morning, drove to a new spot, and started climbing. On the third day I realized that what looked like a trail was definitely not a trail. I kept going anyway. The grade was ridiculous, and I had visions of being that stupid solo traveler who gets lost and is never found again. I kept going anyway. I scrambled up the final few yards of the slope, past the flocks of sheep, and there it was.
It felt as though my heart had finally caught up with my soul. In that moment, I felt no desire, no lack, no need. I was utterly and completely whole, both as a singular being and as a small part of the vastness of creation. Connected, feeding, and being nourished in a way the physical body could never provide. For a moment, I stepped outside of the needs of the flesh, and I felt my heart explode with gratitude and love.
Where Am I?
Durmitor National Park, Montenegro [LINK]
The Place I’ll Always Return
Your sunsets steal my breath. Your long, white sand beach makes my heart sing. The restaurants that dot your shoreline stuff me with dozens of delicious curries, and the food carts on your dirt road keep me full of noodles and banana pancakes. And that tiny one-room bungalow with a concrete shower right on the sand is absolute paradise.
I don’t usually come back to places, but I come back to you. And I think I always will. Whenever I need to relax, to take a break from the grind. Whenever I need to remember what the simple life is all about. You’ll always be there with your sunsets and your white sand and your easy living to remind me that it doesn’t have to be that hard. That a plate of pad thai and a big beer in the fluorescent lights of the convenience store is sometimes all you need.
Where Am I?
Koh Lanta, Thailand [LINK]
The Place that Takes Me to the Past
You are cobbled streets, classic cars, pastel shopfronts. Music in the street and rum-soaked memories. When we first met, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had stepped straight into the past. All different eras of it. A slice of the 1950s. A dash of 1800s Europe. And that timeless, ageless era of slow living and enjoying life for what it is.
You really have it all. Culture, nightlife, outdoor adventures, a tropical beach. A town full of wonderful human beings, happy to have you around, ready to share themselves and their homes. Long, winding roads through grasslands and farms, along azure Caribbean Seas, culminating in white sands and warm surf.
Nights that pulse with drumbeats and laughter, people swirling around with abandon on stages and over cobbles. The rum removing their inhibitions, their sunburns warm in the cool evening breeze. You take in everyone with a smile, sink them into your history, and never really let them go.
Where Am I?
The Land of Waterfalls
Every possible kind of cascade danced over your jagged terrain, throwing up mist and magic. No matter where we hiked, there was always a pocket of water delightfully spilling from one elevation to the next. It conjured images of nymphs, fairies, or other mystical beings. I would have happily stayed for days, camping next to one of your many waterfalls, then continuing on the explore the next, then the next. But I was only given a day. A day that we stretched until the last beams of light peeped over one of your many mountaintops.
As we drove away, I kept turning and looking back. The mist was golden in the dying light, and I’d almost swear I saw the glint of fairy wings.
Where Am I?
Krka National Park, Croatia [LINK]
The Place that Has It All
There’s something utterly magnetic about you. I can’t keep myself away. You lure me in with all of my vices: fine wine, delicious food, incredible hikes, beautiful scenery and bustling nightlife. Your village reminds me of every winter ski town I have ever loved. Your mountains are the stuff of film scenes. And so aptly named, they are truly Remarkable.
I can see why so many people want live with you — If I still could I’d probably give it a try too. You are welcoming, tantalizing, beautiful. I’ve had wine out of paper cups on the shoreline of your lake. I’ve gotten tipsy from the vines in your valleys. You are a grown-ups playground, and if there’s anything I love to do, it’s play.
Where Am I?
Queenstown, New Zealand
The Closest I’ve Ever Come to Paradise
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The water was so… blue. But green at the same time. With an iridescent turquoise sheen that made me blink into the beauty. White sand led to coral reefs abundant with fish, starfish, sharks, color. I could stay in the ocean for hours, the water warm and welcoming. Hammocks slung between palm trees provided afternoon naps in a warm tropical breeze.
We hiked up the steep hill behind the resort, and the green pinwheeled out from our apex in a spiral of color straight to those azure seas. We visited your village, shy and beautiful boys and girls running out to greet us, then hiding behind their mother’s skirts. You sang and danced for us, not just your people but your palm trees, waves, sunsets.
It was a place of letting the sea sing us to sleep, the sun wake us in the morning, and the breeze whisper sweet nothings in our ears.
Where Am I?
Nacula Island, Fiji [LINK]
What are the places you’ve loved the most on your travels? Which one of these sounds the most appealing to you? Let me know in the comments, and happy travels!