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Monday, July 28, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 10/22/2006

Return visits are worth making

It was an offhand comment. But one we hear quite often.

We had just mentioned that we were planning a springtime trip to the south of France to an area that we know well - and love - for a whole host of perfectly valid reasons: sun, sea, sand, incredible food, great art, fascinating history, gorgeous backcountry, you name it.

Yes, but why, the questioner asked, would you ever want to go back to a place you'd already been? Wouldn't you rather be searching out new places to explore and write about?

The simple answer is that we like to do both. Sure, we like to visit new, exotic-sounding, and sometimes far-flung destinations with all the inherent rush, thrill, and challenge. But we also like to walk through familiar landscapes.

This is also why we lean toward authors who set their stories in the same locations book after book, such as Donna Leon's delicious detective series in Venice, Ian Rankin's darker crimes in Edinburgh, John Lescroart's police exploits in San Francisco, Alistair McLean Smith's evocative Botswana tales, and so on.

In our view, there's lots to love about "going back."

We will usually already know, for example, the hotel where we'll be staying and the family that runs it. (Family-runs are the best kind, in our book). And we will know how nice and comfortable it'll feel to be back with the Diletti clan at the Hotel Venezia in Rome and be invited to join them for a scrumptious Italian feast around their 14th-century refectory table.

Or to enjoy a cappuccino or a cabernet with our friends Lorenzo and Sal at their quasi-boutique Hotel La Gaffe that sits atop an Italian restaurant in the London village of Hampstead. And to visit again with their father, Bernardo Stella, a 70-something playwright and marathon runner.

Then there's the graciously "gemutlich" Illmer family in Salzburg with whom we've been staying ever since we first clambered up and over the Nonnberg in search of digs and discovered their meticulous wood-trimmed Pension Struber one snowy Christmas, some 20 years ago.

In Switzerland, it's always a pleasure to sit in Samedan at the Hotel Terminus "Stammtisch" (family table) with owner Frau Morell in this cozy hostelry across from the train station, where the Glacier Express halts on its run between St Moritz and Zermatt, colorful flower boxes filled with geraniums and petunias hang from every window, and the "roesti" potatoes are out of this world.

How nice, too, to be able to return to all those splendid eateries that we know will always serve up the kind of meals we can only dream about back home. Be they spicy curried concoctions in Covent Garden's Indian restaurants; thick, sizzling "barbie" steaks in Sydney; succulent veal piccata in Sorrento, or simply mussels in Brussels.

In our case, familiarity with a particular destination doesn't breed contempt at all. On the contrary, it allows us to move right into an otherwise alien environment and feel instantly at home because we no longer need to work out the infrastructure kinks.

We know how to get around - via subway, bus, tram, or train - and where and how to buy the tickets. We know, too, where to find a British paper, change money, buy a box of tissues or a cheap bottle of wine, and then get right back doing the kind of things we enjoy most about our temporarily adopted home.

These activities include exploring new sections of town on a self-guided walk, and visiting second or third-tier museums and art galleries and those ancient edifices generally missed or ignored by one-time-only visitors. We also like to indulge in some of our favorite occupations such as browsing the food shops and bakeries, digging around in hardware stores, or looking for those places about which our favorite authors have written.

Going back and staying for a while also means digging deeper into every aspect of a town's history, culture, and even its language. And then working our way further afield and visiting surrounding towns and villages.

That's what return visits are all about for us. And maybe they're also about turning the typical tourist into the more savvy traveler.



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