11 Places That Captivate Me

Perhaps it comes of being a farm girl. This susceptibility to…this affinity for…this visceral connection to…place.

It can happen for a variety of reasons. Often the people of a place, or the people with whom you encounter it, are what root it deep in memory. But sometimes the place itself has a mystery, a presence, a beauty that tugs at you; captivating, casting a spell.

Here are eleven places that have held me captive since first I saw them. I have had opportunity to revisit some. But all of them call to me. Like a lost lover. Beckoning. Begging me to return.

Malawi  “The Warm Heart of Africa” It is, perhaps, a geographic term, in part. But for me it will always be a people who love extravagantly. Who know a joy that has little to do with circumstance. Who embrace strangers and take them into their hearts. Here I witnessed some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. I ate toast grilled over an open fire and “showered” under the stars. Here I saw my daughter in her element, loving well, full of joy.

Vernazza  A tiny town on the Italian Riviera that time forgot. No automobile traffic. Gorgeous old buildings snugged into the rocks, clambering over the top of one another for the best view of the Mediterranean. Life moves slowly here. Food is fresh and beautiful and delicious. Tender anchovies straight from the sea. The best pesto I have ever eaten. And Sciacchetra, a warm, rich, amber wine pressed locally from grapes that have been dried first. Lazy afternoons spent sunning on great boulders in the lagoon. Lazy evenings breathing sea breezes and watching the sun paint the sky. My children have been scheming ever since to figure out how we could move there. I do hope they sort it out.

Meteora The most extraordinary place I have ever been. Second largest monastic community in the world…built atop great stone buttes thrusting up out of the earth…nine hundred years ago. Crazy. But there is something very other about this place. The treacherous beauty. The set-apartness. The centuries of worship that have embedded themselves into the stone just like incense has embedded itself into the wood of the church. And you can feel it all around you. A weighty Presence. Wondrous.

Ireland I did not encounter a single locale in the whole of the country that did not have about it an air of magic…of the mystic. This people, this soil, have been so washed in story and song, in poetry and faith, in mystery and imagination, that it fairly throbs with enchantment. We trod the ground of ancient monasteries, stepped inside a 1500 year old church, stood before the glorious Book of Kells, breathed the heady book scent of the Trinity College Library (nirvana), sipped Guinness inside the factory, and gave our hearts to the Dingle Peninsula. My husband and children are connected to this island nation by blood. Mine is strictly an affair of the heart.

Paris  The Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, L’Orangerie, Sainte Chapelle, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, the boulangeries and patisseries, the Seine, The Eiffel Tower, the beautiful old buildings, the markets… A short train ride out to Monet’s Garden at Giverny or to Versailles. A lifetime would not be long enough to know Paris as I would like to know her. She romances from the moment you meet her. There is a quality of air..a way of being…that I have simply never known anywhere else. When I am with her, I am thoroughly in love with her. And when I am away, I remember her with a flutter in my heart.

Venice Venice in the morning is scrubbed cobblestones, fresh fish markets, ebullient flower boxes overspilling their bounds, and hot frothy cappucino. Venice at mid-day is clatter of church bells, lines of laundry stretched across the canals, vaporettos skimming over the lagoon to see the glass blowers at Murano, and cool salads of squid and baby octopus. Nighttime in Venice….ah, well…nighttime is St. Mark’s Square all aglow with orchestra playing and elegant dinner al fresco on white tablecloths, sinewy black gondolas soundlessly plying the canals to the not infrequent serenade of the gondolier, perusing an endless assortment of Carnevale masks, and falling asleep to the lap of water underneath my window.

Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone is like a great scavenger hunt of the most delicious sort. Around pretty much any bend in the road you can expect to be astounded and delighted by the vistas offered you. Natural wonders abound. Wildlife cavorts or lazes about everywhere. And the skies are so intensely blue they will break your heart. One moment I saw things that made me laugh out loud, next moment something that completely took my breath away. Can’t wait to go back and take my kids.

Salzburg  Salzburg is all marzipan and fondant. Everything is a little prettier than it has to be; the quintessence of Baroque architecture and ornament. Salzburg is Mozart and music, and one is apt to encounter a string quartet tuning up most anywhere. Salzburg is Mirabell Gardens, alpine vistas, and The Sound of Music. And Salzburg, for me, is lingering long with my lovely daughter over exquisite pastries and frothy cappuccino at the cafe that once served Herr Mozart himself.

Istanbul Exotic. Colorful. Ancient. Surprisingly cosmopolitan. Of course, it once was the crossroads of the world Even now, one can walk from Asia to Europe, simply by crossing a bridge. So much that matters happened here. Religiously. Politically. My heart pounds as I cross the threshold into the glorious Hagia Sophia. How many thousands of my brothers and sisters in the faith crossed this threshold before me?  Here is a startling collision of the old world and the new. I can use city wide wifi while shopping in the ancient spice bazaar. Construction workers sip Turkish tea from elegant glasses while perched atop their bulldozers. It is paradox. It is chaos. It is wonderful.

East Tennessee When I was a little girl, I dreamed of leaving. Not the mountains, really. But the tiny town where I grew up. It is more precious to me now than it ever was then. I will probably never move back, but I take great delight in standing on the soil that gave me roots. So much of me is woven into that place, even though I have been gone for 25 years. And something of those mountains, the creeks, the country roads, the farms and the people who love them, is part of me still. And when I am there, I can feel it relax a little. And be glad.

Franklin Home. It is, I suppose, an idea as much as it is a place. But here is where my babies learned to crawl. Here we brought them before the Lord and thanked Him for them. Our playground is here. Our park. Our favorite restaurants and pubs. An amble down Main Street always means bumping into friends. It is difficult to imagine a better place to be a family. And as much as we love to travel, it is always, ALWAYS good to come home.

Is there a pace that has stolen your heart? When you daydream, where are you?

*Third in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Photo credit for the haunting nighttime photo of Venice goes to my daughter. It was taken from the balcony of our apartment. If you look closely, you can see our clothesline in the upper foreground. Yes, I did hang our wash from this line. When in Venice… 😉