Often when we go to a city with many well known sights, several of which are considered to be must-sees, we end up missing quite few of them.
Many do; there’s the invisible pressure of expectation and the foreknowledge of rebuke to come. When you get home and are talking about the experience, there is often an aghast exclamation from someone who’s been – “didn’t you visit the Imperial Palace?!” (Kyoto) to which I’ll happily respond, “No, but we spent the most wonderful few hours taking a private cooking class in the home of an elderly Kyoto lady”. What about Kiyomizu-dera, surely the most famous of Kyoto temples? No, but we stumbled across a charming shrine with an enormous boulder through which you crawl one way to break the bonds of a poor relationship and the other way to ask for help forging a wonderful one.
We have learned that we’d rather enjoy the things we see, chosen according to the vagaries of what we feel like doing. Instead of racing around to tick everything off a list, or working top down from the sight that is most highly rated by the guide books, we choose what appeals the most to us. Often we will linger long in places that others might spend minutes in, but leave very quickly a sight that others dwell in, because it hasn’t caught our imaginations or interest.
There’s no deliberate attempt to eschew the most popular attractions – after all they are usually popular for very good reason. Certainly, we do visit many of them, if not on our first visit to a place, then perhaps on the second or third…
But we’ve still not been to the Imperial Palace!
In December 2014 I was invited to visit Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. I much admired the city’s beautiful historical architecture and enjoyed browsing the Christmas market in Cathedral Square. Another highlight was the day trip out to nearby Trakai, a popular local holiday destination in a region of several beautiful lakes. We visited Trakai Castle, a 14th century castle that was heavily restored in the late 20th century. Trakai was one of the main centres of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and as such, the castle held significant strategic importance in that era.
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