Points of no return: the places I’ll never go back to
‘Never’ is a strong word and, if Sean Connery has taught us anything it’s that you should probably never say never again. But nevertheless (wink) here is my list of places I (almost certainly) won’t return to. I started thinking about this after reading a piece by a writer who felt unable to return to a location because her initial visit, and the experiences and memories created there, was so perfectly perfect. No matter how fondly she reminisced, she was determined not to go back; how could a second visit possibly live up to all those wonderful first impressions?
This really struck a chord with me, and I knew exactly what she meant. Whilst there are many places that I plan to go back to, there are also a few where a repeat viewing would just be too bittersweet. Sometimes the passing of time is just that little bit too painful: buildings have disappeared, others have sprung up, everyone there is too young (or perhaps I’m too old?) and you realise that this trip will never be like the one before. At the other end of the scale, there are places that I won’t go back to for very different reasons. Sometimes you just don’t click with a place, something leaves a bad taste in your mouth, or you just don’t get what all the fuss is about. In the interests of fairness, here is a sprinkling of each – and I’d be interested to hear about your own ‘no-go zones’ in the comments below!
Despite staying in the (supposedly) less touristy north of the island, and desperately scratching at the tacky surface to try to find some kind of ‘culture’ beneath all the tat, Tenerife refused to shine for me. I should really have known what I was in for, but still couldn’t quite believe that a whole island could be so thoroughly charmless. From the grim, barren landscape that occasionally resembled the surface of the moon to the soulless, mass-produced apartment buildings, to the general crap being sold at the stalls along the beach, it really wasn’t my cup of tea. Brits abroad are also one of my pet hates, and Tenerife has them in spadeloads – although I guess I can’t really blame a foreign island for my dislike of my own countrymen. To add to the fun, we also experienced unseasonably cold temperatures, and a tropical storm so fierce the glass doors of the hotel entrance had to be barricaded for fear that they would blow in. Also – black sand? No thanks.
If you do ever find yourself in the north of the island, the lovely El Mana restaurant in Puerto de la Cruz serves up organic vegetarian and vegan meals that are healthy, inventive and excellent value for money. On the way out of town, Abaco restaurant and cocktail bar is another sweet spot. An eighteenth century Canarian mansion (belonging to the ancestors of the Conqueror of the Canary Islands, no less), Abaco has a stunning interior and gorgeous garden. Sipping cocktails by the pool feels exceedingly decadent, and very far removed from the tourist traps down the road.
Ah, Kefalonia. The time I spent here was sheer perfection, and was the beginning of my love for the gorgeous Greek islands. Despite being near to busy Zante and down the coast from popular Corfu, Kefalonia feels largely untouched by tourism in comparison. It’s still easy to get to however, the island is driveable in a day, and there is a wide range of accommodation for all budgets. Perfect for relaxing as well as a bit of adventure, the island itself has a surprisingly large mountain at its centre, and the dramatic landscape of towering cliffs and blindingly white pebble beaches creates some beautiful contrasts. It’s also strikingly green compared to some of the more arid Greek islands: pine trees and forests blanket many of its slopes and agriculture is a common source of income across the island.
Some serious chill-out time on a stunning, summery island was exactly what I needed when I visited, and Kefalonia did not disappoint. The weather was perfect, the food was gorgeous and the laid-back, unhurried way of life immediately helped me to unwind. (A couple of massages in the hotel may have also helped with this. Possibly). Each sunny, relaxing day blended into the next, and I also managed to get through a suitcase full of books – always a good sign. Our time here was so perfect that I’m not sure another trip could live up to my expectations – and when Greece has thousands of other perfect islands to explore, why go back?
“It’s great!”, they said. “Budapest is the best city ever!”, they gushed. “You’ll love it!”, they promised.
Where did it all go wrong?
Mainly, it was the weather – but Budapest left me cold in more ways than one. In addition to day after day of cold, foggy drizzle that blanked out much of the city’s sites and made walking anywhere singularly unpleasant, the people seemed equally frosty. Our cheerful attempts at ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Hungarian were met with (at best) a chilly silence and (at worst) looks of sheer contempt. Now, I’ve mangled the local lingo in a fair few countries, but I’ve always found that any attempt – no matter how weak – would elicit at least some friendly recognition. To top it all off, we fell victim to the mother of all scams on our last morning in the city, which essentially ended with us giving all of our remaining money to a taxi driver. This taxi came fitted with a special “scam the foreign passenger” meter, and our trip to the airport somehow costs us about ten times more than it should have done. Running late for our flight and desperate not to get drawn into a lengthy argument, we handed over notes, change, pocket fluff – anything we could find. The taxi driver left a very rich man, and I left vowing never to return.
Ao Nang, Thailand
Do I love Thailand? Yes! Would I go back to Ao Nang? Probably not!
The departure point for many of the Andaman Sea’s finest sites (think Koh Phi Phi, Phra Nang Beach, Railay Beach et al) Ao Nang is a sensible base from which to explore this beautiful part of the world. And don’t get me wrong, it is very, very beautiful. But as far as Ao Nang itself goes, ‘departure point’ pretty much sums it up. When people complain about Thailand being too touristy, they’re talking about places like Ao Nang. In particular, I found it hard to pinpoint accommodation that wasn’t either grotty and cheap, a bland resort or an overpriced bland resort – not a problem on nearby Koh Lanta, for example, which has a range of delightful, quirky and unique accommodation options, budget or luxury. I kind of got a sense of the vibe when scouring TripAdvisor reviews for the hotel I finally settled on: apparently, the glowing yellow M of the McDonalds across the road lit up the rooms on the front of the hotel by night…
Nikko is one of those places that just feels special. Situated within a national park and home to Toshogu, one of Japan’s most beautiful and ornate shrines, it is well worth the two-hour trip from Tokyo. This is the stuff that your Japanese dreams are made of: stunning shrines, magisterial pagodas and ancient temples, all surrounded by the hush of a dense cedar forest. If you make sure you’re out of sync with the trail of tour groups that dutifully troop around the site, you can still find the odd moment of calm and serenity – and snap photographs that are devoid of all tourists. Take the time to wander the whole site and be sure to make it to the far end of the complex and check out the mausoleum of Iemitsu. The Koka-mon Gate is particularly beautiful, and we found the crowds thinned out here to the point where we were virtually alone. An experience like this is pretty humbling, and would be hard to top. For this reason, I’d like to preserve my memory of Nikko as it is: a beautiful April day, with spring in the air and the wind drifting through those lofty cedar trees.
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