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Lani Writes: Being there

Oct 27, 2015 Travel

This article was first published in the November 2015 issue of Metro. Illustration: Tane Williams.

You can guess what a city may offer, but nothing beats that first-hand experience of somewhere new.

It’s a strange feeling returning home after experiencing new sights in unfamiliar cities every day for a month.

Auckland feels vast, and quiet, even at rush hour. There is nothing to figure out, apart from adjusting my body clock. I’ve stopped looking up. Nothing makes me want to travel more than travel itself, except perhaps coming home.

Years ago, staring at the New York skyline and the landmarks I’d seen so many times in movies and TV shows, the noise, the yelling, the yellow cabs, and the steam rising from the streets, I’d thought, this must surely be the greatest city in the world. Then I went to Tokyo, a city that feels like the future, like being inside a larger-than-life video game. Last year, I had my first trip to Europe, staying in Paris for 10 days, where I grinned at every single sighting of the Eiffel Tower.

The pâtisseries and boulangeries, the cobbled streets and beautiful buildings, the history and style — I couldn’t imagine a city better than this. But a month ago, with my senses overloaded as I dragged my suitcase through Taksim Square and then down Istiklal Avenue, I gave up on trying to guess the best city in the world. Being in Istanbul made it very clear I hadn’t seen nearly enough to make that kind of call.

It’s hard to beat that first-time experience of a new country, a new city, a new culture. The more you see, the more you recognise similarities in the different places you go, but it never stops being new. The early-morning calls to prayer, black tea and dipping fresh bread in honey and clotted cream, fish kebabs by the water, and the Aya Sofya. And just as I start to doubt the possibility of being impressed by any other building, I go to Rome.

The Colosseum alone would have been enough. But then came the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, the overwhelming grandness of St Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon.

There was tiramisu on the Spanish Steps, pasta and wine and wild strawberries while balancing my tall limbs on a tiny chair in Trastevere as our table shared the streets with cars and pedestrians, vines swallowing buildings, and late-night pizza on the steps of the Fountain of the Madonna dei Monti.

And just as I couldn’t imagine being more in awe of architecture than I was in Rome, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona blows my mind. You get the idea: as much as I may guess at what a new city may hold, it’s only being there that counts.

It’s hearing the Catalan chants for “Independencia” during an FC Barcelona match, watching the human towers and drinking sangria during La Mercè festival, getting lost in the back streets of the Gothic Quarter, stumbling across Gaudi on main streets and accidentally cycling to a nudist beach.

So yes, it’s strange to be back in familiar territory. How do people feel when they see the Sky Tower for the first time?


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