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Everybody’s Darlings – and Why I Don’t Usually Like Them

I will now talk about places I have travelled to and did not actually like that much. This is something that doesn’t often happen on travel blogs, as Andrew recently pointed out to me. His words were something like: „Everybody always writes about places they like. No one ever says: ‚Don’t go there, it was horrible!‘ That can’t possibly be true.“ He’s got a point. Now I won’t tell you not to go anywhere, because everyone has to decide for themselves. But when you hear which places I do not like, you won’t believe me anyway.

There are these places in Europe everyone loves. When you mention them on a twitter chat, or at a hostel, or on your facebook page, or just randomly over dinner with travel-loving friends, the reaction will always be along the lines of: „Aaaah, I LOVED [insert place here]. It is so lovely in [insert season here]. I could totally live there, especially in [insert trendy neighbourhood in said city]. There is a place on [insert famous street here] that serves THE best [insert local food here].“

I have a confession to make: These places are usually the ones I am not so keen on.

Oberbaumbrücke, Berlin, Germany

Berlin sure is everybody’s darling, eh? I’m not debating this one.

Of course there is exceptions. After all, the city I live in, Berlin, tends to be in the list of said places. So do a couple of places that I have never been to, such as Paris, Barcelona, or Venice. While I do want to see these places at some point in my life, I am not all too fussed about them right now. I am sure they will be nice and all, but I’m just not feeling a great passionate urge to see them very soon. Because in the past, Everybody’s Darlings have not necessarily worked for me.

This especially goes for the three I am about to discuss now. I can already hear everyone screaming „Sacrilege!“ and „Impossible!“ and „How could she!“ Ah well. Please disabuse me of my notions in the comments. Here go the places in Europe that everyone seems to love except for me.

1. Prague, Czech Republic

There, I said it. I am not a huge fan of Prague. As is usually the case with things like these, I suppose the circumstances weren’t entirely in my favour. I went there as a weekend trip from my voluntary service in Poland with five other international volunteers. I was heartbroken at the time for several reasons and while I liked the group, I didn’t truly connect with the others as much as they did with each other, and they set much focus on the consumption of loads of beer while I wanted to see the city. Also the weather was quite chilly and grey that March of 2007.

Prague Astronomical Clock, Prague, Czech Republic

People dream of seeing the Prague Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square. I was semi-impressed.

While all that made it difficult to enjoy being in the moment, I found the famous Old Town Square to be ridiculously overcrowded and the famous clock to fall short of my expectations. I also noticed I should have done more research – relying on my travel buddies had not been a good plan because they basically just wanted to go from beer to beer. Generally for some reason I couldn’t hear the music in my heart that I had expected to.

I think Prague was overladen with expectations from my side that it could not live up to. Because of that, this one is probably at least partially my fault. I am willing to give Prague another chance. It’s just not very high up my list right now.

Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Castle is an admired and cherished place for many travellers.

2. Dubrovnik, Croatia

For most travellers who have been to Croatia, Dubrovnik has been one of their highlights. For me it was different. The first couple of times I went to Croatia, I didn’t even make it down there. I had planned on seeing it on my great trip through the Balkans and was always sidetracked by other places that struck me as more interesting – Bosnia, Montenegro, or even just the smaller places along the Dalmatian coast. I finally went to Dubrovnik on my way to the island of Korcula and stayed there for three days in late August 2011.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

You think this is gorgeous? So do most people.

Bad circumstances to add to my dislike in this case: It was unbearbly hot. I had been travelling for 10 days and hadn’t found back into the rhythm of it, I probably should have started out with just some chill-time. And then I got ill and spend a considerable portion of my stay there between my hostel bed and the bathroom.

But all these things aside, there were many things about Dubrovnik that just weren’t down my alley. For one thing, I found it ridiculously overpriced by comparison to what else I knew of Croatia, and have been around that country rather much. I also found the street vendors to be particularly aggressive. There was a moment of peace when I stood in the market and smelled the lavender that people were selling. At once I was pressed from three men in English and Italian to buy some – and the moment was over. No one spoke Croatian, and in general I didn’t see why people were so much more taken with the small alleyways and red roof tops here than in any other Dalmatian town, like Makarska for example – I had visited that in the midst of high season and totally crowded, but I still liked it loads better than Dubrovnik. I think Dubrovnik doesn’t live up to the beauty other Croatian towns have to offer. It is overrated.

Alleyway, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Cute alleyways in Dubrovnik – but hey, not any better or worse than those in Sibenik, Makarska, or Zadar.

3. Vienna, Austria

The last one on my list of only-okay travel destinations everyone else loves is the Austrian capital. I have been there twice each for a couple of days and while I suspect that if I hung out around more locals, I could have seen a different side of it, it all comes down to this: Vienna is too pristine for me.

Karlskirche, Vienna, Austria

Karlskirche is beautiful, sure – but I just feel it could be anywhere.

There are not even really any bad circumstances to this phenomenon – no connected bad memories of an emotional kind, no sickness, no weather issues. Vienna just doesn’t speak to me. It has this specific kind of beautiful that seems to me like the majority of the girls on Germany’s Next Top Model. Pretty on the outside, hollow on the inside. No edge, no character. Just this very neat, preppy, clean appearance. I never quite got behind it.

Now what probably didn’t help was that I had fallen in love with Krakow before I met Vienna. Now that Polish little sister of Vienna has the same Austro-Hungarian architecture and coffee house culture, the same turn-of-the-century morbidity and grand artistic tradition – but it is just ever so slightly more run down and truly old. I find it to be authentic. In Vienna I always feel like I wasn’t pretty enough. In Krakow I can be myself, out of style or out of fashion, and still love the city’s beauty and originality. Vienna is like a living room out of a magazine – pretty to look at, but who wants to live in the constant fear of spilling red wine on the white couch cushions. Against Krakow, it was bound to lose in my book.

Schloss Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria

Schönbrunn in Vienna – a fairytale kind of palace. I find it too clean.

I think all of this just proves how much about travel and discovery is about the chemistry between the traveller and the place, and how very much it is like falling in love. Some places – as some men – are perfect. But they’re just not for you.

What do you think? Do you disagree with me on my picks? Are there any places everyone loves that you don’t see anything in at all?

12 Comments

  1. I do agree with Vienna – I like it, but it’s not breathtakingly beautiful. Nor is – und Achtung, das sage ich als Hamburgerin – Hamburg. I don’t get why all the people in Hamburg insist on telling everyone that it’s the most beautiful city IN THE WORLD. Well … no, I don’t agree. I love this place, I like the people, I like Elbe and Alster etc. But it’s not the nicest place I’ve ever been to.
    Talking about ’never been to‘ – I’ve never been to Prague either. I will go one day and then I’ll tell you what I think. It might still take a few years though.

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 29, 2013 at 9:30 am

      Hehe, I get your point about Hamburg. That is why I always say it is outside of competition. I love it to bits and pieces, but not on any rational grounds. It seems that your take on Prague is like mine on Paris – will go, but don’t know when. Now I know you love Paris, so I’m curious now what my take on that will be. I do think it’s easier to fall in love with it when one speaks French.

  2. Since you asked for it, here is my comment:

    As you pointed out, high expectations are easily disappointed. The other problem is comparison. How can you say one city is more beautiful than another? They are just different. And what is beauty in a city anyhow?

    I know neither Prague nor Dubrovnik, but I have been to Vienna. I consider Vienna as an interesting city with some beautiful corners. I enjoyed being there because I found it rather strange in many ways, like the Karlskirche, with these funny towers that would pass as minarets anywhere else. And since I entered Vienna by bicycle, I saw some seedy areas on the way in. So I don’t agree with you about the prettiness.

    When people say: I love the city X, they usually mean that they enjoyed their stay, no wonder if it was their vacation.
    I think real love for a city is like loving a person. You’ve got to know her – or him.
    Which means that I am completely and utterly in love with Hamburg, and thats why I am sure it is the most beautiful city in the world ;-).

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 29, 2013 at 9:33 am

      I love that you took up the comparison of loving a person and loving a city, Dorothea! Although with some it has been love at first sight for me. Your problematizing the issue of comparison between the beauty of cities is valid of course – that just points to the fact that all of this is highly subjective.

  3. Been to all 3 and I agree with Vienna and Prague. Too sanitized, touristy, pretty on the outside but with nothing really to say. I loved Dubrovnik but will be exploring more of Croatia this September so we’ll see how I feel after that! 🙂

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 29, 2013 at 9:42 am

      Ah, Sarah, you and I have so much the same taste in stuff like that! I am so curious what you will think about the rest of Croatia 🙂 hey, it’s good to hear from you!!! xx

  4. Finally, someone who agrees with me on Prague! I spent 4 days in Vienna in April. I was staying with a friend who arrived a couple of days after me, so the first 2 days I had to myself. The weather was shit, so I was limited to museums and got bored pretty quickly. Unsurprisingly, once my friend arrived, Vienna got a lot more interesting.
    The one city I dislike above all others is Dresden. It annoys me when people tell me how beautiful is is and how it’s such an interesting city, when the truth is that it’s basically just a bunch of plattenbauen with an empty, soulless city center and *some* nice parts that miraculously avoided being firebombed. It is boring and it lacks character and it’s not as great as everyone says it is. /rant

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 29, 2013 at 9:45 am

      LOL, Mariko, you are so funny. I quite like Dresden. But again, it is just such an individual thing. I don’t like Dresden as much as I like other towns and cities, but I thought it was really pretty. Then again I never had much ambition to get to know it much behind its touristy side – when I visited friends there, what I did most was sit in their kitchens talking. Like you say, the company adds largely to the experience, too.

  5. Interesting post, Mariella! I must admit that I love many of the famous European cities like Paris or Rome, but there also were a few that I just didn’t really „feel“, Barcelona and Amsterdam for example. But you’re right — some of the cities are just too crowded and don’t feel authentic.
    However, please do me a favor and go back to Prague someday! It is so beautiful in the fall! Visit Vyšehrad hill, which is the oldest part of Prague: Stunning views, a gorgeous cemetery and very few tourists!

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 31, 2013 at 8:09 am

      I’ve been to Vysehrad 🙂 it was actually in this post, but then it got too long. I had to go because of Smetana’s symphonic poem „Ma Vlast“ which the piece „Vltava“ is also from. One of the other parts is called Vysehrad. I liked it, it was my favourite part about Prague. But all in all I still didn’t feel it. Maybe next time. It’s not like anything is set in stone.

  6. Hi again, Mariella. Interesting and nicely put opinions these! From my own experience, I would agree in full with Vienna (I don’t mean to vilify, but yes…. I couldn’t feel the connect with this metropolis.) I actually liked the upper Danube valley, Innsbruck and Salzburg, in that order, among Austrian places. I personally enjoyed mingling among the crowd at Prague’s Astronomical clock and Karlos Most but ended up feeling that photographs of these places looked better than the real-life sights themselves. For me, Berlin was tops….. Just loved the city. And yes, I could relate to Budapest city… it’s look and feel somehow reminded me of New Delhi in my own country, India… There is some splendour, some neat-but-not-awesome, and some unkempt-underbelly… 🙂

    • bridgekeeper

      August 21, 2013 at 9:39 am

      Hey Avinash, so glad you stopped by again! Isn’t it funny sometimes how there will be associations between places that seem so different, like Budapest and New Delhi… I have never been to India, but who knows, maybe one day 🙂

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