5 iconic places that made me cry. And 5 that didn’t.
When I first heard the phrase “bucket list” in relation to travel, I immediately had a meltdown. It reminded me of my father who often talked about “kicking the bucket,” in his gallows humor way of speaking.
Sadly, he did just that at age 57 (from pancreatic cancer), but he was a person who lived his life to the fullest, so I doubt he missed doing or seeing all that he’d hoped for in his lifetime.
So, I do not have a bucket list, or any list, but when I travel and see famous places for the first time, I am overwhelmed with emotion and tears of joy. There is nothing that compares to seeing these places in person, no matter how many times you’ve seen them in pictures. Yes, travel is about experiences and people, but there is just something magical about seeing a famous place for the first time.
Here are my 5 favorites places:
1. The Eiffel Tower
As cliché as it sounds, the Eiffel Tower holds a special place in my heart. Maybe because I started studying French in the 4th grade and had been indoctrinated in the wonders of France as I learned how to speak the language.
The first time I saw it live was on my first trip to Europe during my college graduation trip. Traveling with a friend, we just happened to arrive in Paris on July 14—Bastille Day—the French equivalent to our 4th of July. Arriving at the Gare de Lyon after time in Geneva, my friend and I took a taxi to our hotel. Suddenly peaking out from the treetops was the top of the Tower. It took my breath away. I was really in Paris! And in all the many times I’ve been to Paris since, I still get teary-eyed when I first cast eyes on the Eiffel Tower.
2. Lincoln Memorial
Ironically, I’d done a lot of international traveling before I ever made it to our capital of Washington, DC. Talk about iconic, every building there was one I’d seen in photos countless times, and it never evoked any particular feelings.
In my early 30’s I made my first trip to our nation’s capital, and not even for vacation. It was a business trip, and when I took those I always made time for a little sightseeing. Often that meant finding cute neighborhoods and shopping, but in D.C., I had to see the monuments.
The Capitol was impressive and the White House was surprisingly small, but the one I will always remember is the Lincoln Memorial. Walking up the 87 stairs from the reflecting pool to the base of the statue (did you know the 87 stairs represents “four score and 7” from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address?), my level of patriotism grew with each step. Standing at Lincoln’s feet and gazing up 30 feet to his face, I felt extremely proud and grateful to be an American and to have such a remarkable man as one of our nation’s greatest.
3. Leaning Tower of Pisa
Yes, it looks like an optical illusion and seems impossible that a 186-foot-tall round tower could still stand and lean by nearly 6 degrees. Maybe I’d seen too many photoshopped photos where anything could be made to seem real.
On a family trip to Tuscany, we did a day trip to Pisa to check it out for ourselves. This was prior to GPS, and the Italian road signs weren’t great (and remember, I spoke French, not Italian), so the drive there was a little challenging. Finding a parking space wasn’t fun either, so by the time we arrived at the plaza with the tower, my husband, son and I were all frazzled.
Then, there it was, all white marble and gleaming against a perfectly blue sky. And it was truly leaning, a lot. The height of the Tower, plus the degree to which i leaned, was astonishing and brought more tears to my eyes. I was doing it! I was traveling! And no more was I an armchair traveler, I was someone who actually went places and explored the world.
4. Hollywood Bowl
For those of you who don’t live in Southern California, you may not know about the Hollywood Bowl, which is a fantastic outdoor amphitheater set in the Hollywood Hills and is home to all kinds of summer concerts. I’ve been going every summer for years, to hear everything from the LA Philharmonic perform classical favorites to attend birthday celebrations for two of my personal favorites, now sadly departed, Stephen Sondheim and musical star John Raitt.
If you’re lucky enough to “own” a box in the front tiers of the Bowl, you’re always guaranteed a birds’ eye seat, but if you’re just a regular person like me, the way to get the best tickets for a performance is to go to the box office, preferable during the daytime, when things are quiet.
One year, when purchasing my tickets, the box office person said I was welcome to go inside the Bowl since nothing was going on. I went inside to see 17,500 empty seats. Something possessed me and I decided to walk onto the stage, so see the perspective the performers saw, from the boxes to the “nosebleed” $1 seat section. Suddenly, I felt the urge to sing, and the song that popped into my head was “The Sound of Music!” So I stood on the stage and sang a cappella and undoubtedly offkey. But it was magic, and something I’ll never forget.
5. Pont du Gard
If you’ve been reading my posts or are a member of my Facebook Group “Wine Lovers who Love to Travel”, you know I recently returned from a trip to the Rhône region of France. You probably also know that I’ve been to France many times, and as much as I love every square meter, I don’t get as emotional when I visit new areas, like I did on that first trip when I first saw the Eiffel Tower.
Although I’d been to Provence a number of times and had numerous opportunities, I’d never visited the Pont du Gard, not far from Nîmes. I knew about it, the 2,000-year-old aqueduct built by the Romans to capture rainwater and supply it to the ancient colony of Nemausus, now Nîmes. My logic had been, what’s so fascinating about an aqueduct, especially when there are so many magical towns nearby.
This trip, I had an opportunity to take a day-trip to Pont du Gard, and decided now was the time. And I’m so glad that I did. There is something incredible about seeing this imposing three tiered bridge, 160 feet high, that was built, by hand by people who had none of the modern engineering skills or tools we have today. When I thought about that plus how well it is preserved and that it still stands today, I dissolved into that same teary-eyed state of wonder that has captivated me for all 5 of these first-time visits.
While there are many more first-visits that have captivated my heart, there are others that did the opposite. This is not to say you shouldn’t visit them, and I’m not sorry I did because you don’t know how you are going to react to a travel experience until you’ve had it. But these are 5 places that didn’t inspire me at all, and they are not places I would recommend to you.
5 places I wouldn't recommend you visit while travelin:
Yes, I know I just told you that seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa was in my top 5 of iconic places which made me cry. But the town of Pisa was the complete opposite. Now, I was there in the early 2000’s, so perhaps things have changed for the better, but I’m not inspired to go back and check it out.
My impression of Pisa is that it is a dirty, touristy city that exists today primarily to attract visitors and their euros. The crowds when I was there were expected—it was summer—but the trash and ugly (not artistic) graffiti were not. The grassy areas were filled with hawkers trying to see cheap knock-off purses and other merchandise. And the food choices were terrible.
I’ve always said it’s impossible to get a bad meal in Italy, except in Pisa. After spending time marveling at the Tower and taking the requisite photos of us “holding” it in our hands, it was past lunchtime, and we were hungry and thirsty. Looking around for someplace decent, we found some pizza place and thought, how bad could it be. The answer is BAD! The pizza tasted like frozen microwave pizza. At least the bottled water was refreshing.
When you go to see the Leaning Tower, and you should, pack a picnic and do not rely on the local restaurants.
I know this is many people’s favorite city, but not mine. There are beautiful sites to see, for sure. The Duomo with its green and white stripes of marble is unlike any other cathedral I’ve seen. The gelato is some of the best in the world. Da Vinci’s Statue of David brought almost as many tears to my eyes as the statue of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.
But the crowds, I just cannot deal with the crowds. I have been to Florence several times and really want to love it, but the crowds do me in every time. Plus, I always remember my first time there, and how I endured a very unwelcome greeting.
This was a business trip. Long before I started Wine Lovers Travel, I had the idea to start a business importing hand-painted Italian pottery, because I loved it and obviously so would everyone else. I went on my first buying trip, sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission, and was very excited—this was my first visit anywhere in Italy!
After an exhausting overnight flight from California, including canceled flights and last-minute changes (no, this was not 2022—these things happened in the past also!), I arrived at my hotel in the morning. Tried to get some sleep before the planned welcome dinner that night, but there were jackhammers blasting outside my window, so I decided to shower, dress and go explore.
Wearing a black cardigan, I was looking in the window of a Tod’s leather shop when I felt something fall on me. People came running towards me, and my first thought was that they were the gypsies I’d heard about, who would distract you and then steal from you. Turns out that birds on the store’s awning had showered me with white poop, and the people were trying to give me tissue and hankies to clean myself! They were very kind, but getting pooped on as my introduction to Florence did not endear the city to me.
3. Hong Kong
Let’s move on from Italy, a country I really do love and can’t wait to get back to, hopefully later in 2022. The people really are so gracious, the food and wine are second to none and the sites are breathtaking.
I was in Hong Kong in 1993, shortly before the return to China. My visit followed a trade show I’d attended in Tokyo, and I was very excited to go to Hong Kong because I’d heard it was an amazing city in every way. During this time in life, I was traveling with my mother, who had taken over the family business after my father had passed away, and I’d joined as head of Sales and Marketing.
My first impressions of Hong Kong surprised me. It was not very clean and the people were not friendly like they had been in Tokyo. In fact, they acted as though they wished us Westerners would leave. But I love Asian cultures and am fascinated by all the bright colors and beautiful architecture, so I decided to not let attitudes get in my way.
About a day before retuning to the US, my mother and I were at a shop in one of the ubiquitous malls and I was bending over to see something on a lower shelf. I had my shoulder bag securely on my arm, or so I thought. Suddenly, one of the store clerks appeared and handed me back my sunglasses, which had fallen from my bag. I thanked them and went to pay for my purchase, only to find my wallet gone! I felt very violated and couldn’t figure out how it had happened. Didn’t suffer any financial loss because I immediately reported my stolen credit cards. I am certain the culprit was the store clerk who “found” my sunglasses because all of the bogus charges on my cards were made within minutes of that, and all from shops in near proximity in the mall.
Not anxious to return to Hong Kong…and with all the current strife there, not sure that I’d recommend it to anyone.
Unlike “Elder Price” in the musical “The Book of Mormon,” Orlando is not my favorite place on earth, or even close to it. I have been there three or four times, with kids and without, on business and as part of a vacation. I do enjoy going to amusement parks, and the old “Rock n Roller Coaster” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park at Disney World remains my favorite rollercoaster ever. I like Disney, and Bambi is still my favorite Disney character.
What I don’t like about Orlando is just about everything. The crowds. The traffic. The cost. The commercialism. It goes against everything I love about travel because there is nothing authentic about Orlando. Everything is an illusion and, even though it delivers a temporary escape from everyday life, it does not inspire or create the kinds of memories that stay in my heart.
5. The Grand Canyon
This probably comes as a shock, because almost everyone is blown away by the majesty of the Grand Canyon. Perhaps if my first visit had been as a teen or older, I would have appreciated the grandeur of one of the most famous of America’s natural wonders.
Believe it or not, my one and only visit to the Grand Canyon was when I was 7 years old, and my family was taking a cross-country road trip. My parents really built up the Grand Canyon, and so I was very excited to visit. I was a little disappointed because I’d heard they had donkey rides from the rim to the canyon floor, but we weren’t going to be able to do this because my sister and I were too young.
Somehow in my child’s mind, I had conjured up an image of the Grand Canyon that there was an amusement park at the bottom, something like Disneyland! Because we were not going to be able to travel to the bottom, I was going to miss out on this, and I was incredibly disappointed. Imagine my surprise when we got there, and “all” I saw was a bunch of mountains and gorges. Never mind that the colors were magnificent and the depths of the gorges were jaw-dropping. All I knew was that there was no Disneyland at the bottom. Plus, my grandmother, who was traveling with us and was terrified of heights, kept yelling to stay away from the edge, further amplifying my unhappiness.
Last year, during a trip to Sedona, AZ, which is wonderful, we had an opportunity to join our friends on a day trip to the Grand Canyon. But I passed because I didn’t want to be disappointed again that it wasn’t Disneyland!
So there you have it—5 places which made me cry and 5 that did not. Whether you agree with my choices or not, find your own places of wonder. Travel opens your mind and heart like nothing else will. Just don’t call these places your “bucket list!” Call them the experiences you are still waiting to have!
And if you need inspiration on where to travel next, make sure to check out our latest trips you can join.