So, in response to my previous post in March, “Nowhere man, don’t worry…” (which you can refer to here: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/nowhere-man-dont-worry/) it’s another travel list, which incidentally shares its name with a Beatles song.
In effect, this is the reverse list of what I had written: places I thought would be terrible, or at the very least not what I would expect, but had pleasant experiences. Here are my five surprisingly pleasant travel experiences.
5. San Antonio, Texas
I didn’t necessarily think I would hate San Antonio, it’s just more about the circumstances about how we got there that made it worth the while. This was in June 2001, a few weeks before my fourteenth birthday. My brother Nick and I were flying unaccompanied for the first time (It is a little eerie that this was merely three months before 9/11). We met my aunt Paula in Houston, and were planning to spend the whole trip in the suburbs, but Tropical Storm Allison hit us and we were forced to relocate to San Antonio to stay with my uncle’s family. San Antonio promotes much of its history through the Alamo, and rightly so. But so much attention seems to be lavished on it that people forget that there’s more to the city than just that. There was a Busch Gardens, and I was able to overcome my fear of heights and ride a few coasters. As for the Alamo itself, there’s actually a deeper, fascinating history that permeates the building. (Raise your hand if you knew that Texas was once its own independent republic. Everybody? You liars!) In the decade and a half since, I’ve been told it’s upgraded a lot of its infrastructure as well, so it might be worth a second visit.
4. Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida
I had just turned 21 years old, so this was my first real “college” trip to Florida, and I had an aunt, uncle, and cousin from Belgium come with us. Although I was and still am a Red Sox fan, this was the year the Rays made their World Series run (and it was also their first ever winning season). We watched in awe as Michael Phelps broke the record with eight golds in a single Olympic Games in Beijing. The city itself had a lot of nice places, including a nice little waterfront, and we had rented a house that was literally steps away from the beach. It was a little hot growing a beard (I did it for an audition, which I didn’t get, but was told to keep it for another one, which I did get), but if that’s the one downside, I’ll take it.
3. Austin, Texas
Say what you want about Texas – a lot of it is deserved – but Austin (at least what I was allowed to see in my sixteen-year-old scope at the time) is almost one of those well-kept secrets that we hear about. Home of the flagship campus of the University of Texas, Austin is actually the second most populous state capital in the country (after Phoenix). It’s even adopted the motto “Keep Austin Weird,” and “weird” in Texas is often frowned upon. In a college town in an atmosphere that doesn’t necessarily cater to it. Lady Bird Lake has some astonishing views, and taking a duck boat tour is rather stellar. Very few things exist in a vacuum, and Austin is another example of this.
2. Musée d’Orsay – Paris, France
I mentioned how the Louvre was on my overrated list. Well, this is pretty close to the top on this list. The art only dates up to 1914, but in limiting the scope, something kind of works about it. Plus, the location is gorgeous – right off the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) of the Seine River. In fact, it houses many of the great works that many of us look at in art history books – Van Gogh’s Self Portrait, Millet’s The Gleaners, Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (a.k.a. Whistler’s Mother), and the one that seems to be the cover of a lot of journals, Bal du moulin de la Galette by Renoir. Ergo, I think it has a broader variety that the Louvre doesn’t have, or at the very least, doesn’t promote as well, in my opinion. The highlight of it all was that when we went in, it was raining out. We went down a corridor, looked out a window, and there was a gorgeous rainbow reflecting off the Seine. It was magnificent. You can do both, but for comparison purposes, I’d recommend the Musée d’Orsay first.
1. Blenheim Palace – Oxfordshire, England
This is not actually in Oxford itself (which is the county town of Oxfordshire), but there’s a charm about Blenheim Palace that seems to get lost in a lot of the advertising for England. Best known as the childhood home of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Blenheim remains the home of the dukes of Marlborough. There’s a lovely bridge nearby over water, and although it looks big, it’s managed very effectively. You can take a walking tour, and the organizational efficiency of it (at least when we did it) was very nice. We didn’t do it with a guide, but we still made it through all the rooms at a reasonable places. Other buildings may not have that is all I’m saying. Plus, I was able to buy a Horrible Histories book in the gift shop, which became one of my favorite books for several years after. Sometimes, if you don’t get too gushy, it might work. Can’t think of much else to say, but I think I said enough on this one.
Anybody else who reads this – what would be on your list?