Friendly foreign-ness

What determines which places you return to, which you remember fondly, which you cross off your list with nary a desire to go back, where you heave a sigh of relief at the airport on departing or where you feel a tugging at your heart and a sadness beyond defining?

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I realized a few years ago my criteria for the latter category was different than what I had expected. Some momentous places from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Cathedral in Santiago to the Louvre Palace left me impressed, but depressed. As trite as it may sound, I didn’t feel a connection – I felt little more than smallness in the face of grandiosity. I gazed, I admired, I read the guidebooks hoping to find a historical detail to bring the landmark home to me, I took photos that I knew I’d file away and never look at again.

But some places, too small, with too few significant buildings, with little recorded historical importance on the battlefields and among royal residences of the world, they stayed with me.

I would go back to them, and they would come back to me.

The whiff of salty fried fish mixed with undefinable woodiness on a Croatian coastal breeze.

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A regional park in France small enough to get comfortably lost in and still make it home before sunset

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A view of rooftops and boats in Portugal’s Porto

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A clear-aired, cliff-edged walk by an Irish fishing village

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These places have feeling. These places are friends, neighbors.

They invite you in and are disappointed if you shorten your stay and rush away.

But, why would you?

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