Traveling, honestly.

Posted on
Jan 18, 2011

Years ago, my husband made a crucial mistake when speaking to my mother.

He was honest.

I know, I know – the idiot, right? He has yet to live it down. The date of his grievous error was sometime in 2006. We had had a fantastic time visiting my dad in Germany before driving down to Italy, where we spent a few days hopping around between Milan, Como, and Venice. When we got back, my mother asked Rand how the trip was.

What he said, exactly, when he replied to her, is a subject of debate. I hold to my own, because my memory is a vast and incredible thing, and has rarely let me down. My mother (though she has yet to say it outright) believes that my account of history has been tainted by my feelings of affection towards my husband. And Rand has the memory of a goldfish, so he’s not really part of this discussion, even though he’s the reason for it.

My account is this: Rand told her, truthfully, that he while he enjoyed Italy, he was surprised by how much he loved Germany. Bavaria in particular had started to grow on him.

My mother’s account, however is this: Rand told her, to her face no less, how much he hated Italians, and Italy, and how Germany was far superior. Also, he obviously loves my dad more than her, and apparently, so do I.


I’ve tried clarifying the point with my mother, but trying to change an Italian’s mind when hurt feelings are involved is virtually impossible. Performing a circumcision on a common shrew would be an easier task (I just spent 10 minutes looking up “animal with the smallest penis” and as far as vertebrates go, it’s the shrew. Don’t say my blog never taught you anything. Also, for your own sake, do not attempt to replicate my search, especially if you are at work.) For as long as she lives, she’ll probably believe that Rand hates Italy. Not because he does, but because he admitted to loving another place more.

Why bring this up? Because I suspect that I may have hurt the feelings of a few folks in the last week or so with my posts about Bulgaria. I’ve received a few tweets on the subject …

I always say the wrong thing.

It’s funny, because I never said that I disliked all of Bulgaria, or that there was no part of it I liked. Just like Rand didn’t say he hated Italy. I made the same error: I was honest. It’s something that I’m compelled to do as a travel writer, but it’s something no one wants to hear about their hometown. As such, I bruised some egos. I hurt some feelings.

And I can’t blame them. It’s hard to read the faults of your town laid bare, especially from someone who knows nothing about it – someone who’s simply spent a few days there, days which might have been rotten or terrible and not at all indicative of all a place has to offer. In short, it’s hard to hear what a travel writer has to say about your home. Anything less than unconditional love and devotion to a place just isn’t acceptable.

Plus, Rand had a lovely in Bulgaria. From what he remembers.

It’s something that I can’t help but think about when I write a not-so-stellar review of a place: this is someone’s hometown. And it will pain someone to read this. It’s not that I’ve informed them of anything new: they know about their town’s flaws – they’re probably acutely aware of them, and complain about them just as much as anyone. Even I, a born-and bred-Seattlite, lament the Emerald City’s terrible drivers, its tendency to shut down entirely in half an inch of snow, and the ridiculous price of groceries.

But when someone else trash-talks my town (or when they merely say it’s “okay”)?

I want to slap them.

And not just them. I want to slap their parents, and their grandparents. I want to slap their pets and their neighbors, their co-workers and friends. I want to slap people to whom they owe money. Because, to paraphrase something I said a few weeks ago about the Seahawks, Seattle may suck, but it’s my suck.

I suspect many folks have read my posts and felt the same way. Angered, or upset, or wounded. Maybe I was way off base. Or maybe I hit too close to home (pun not intended). I feel badly about it, but I keep doing it, nevertheless. I’ve decided that writing honestly about a place, and bruising a few egos, is better than sugar-coating it and lying to myself and (both of) my readers. And you know what? Me not loving a place (or, indeed, just declaring that the jury is still out) is okay. I’m not the definitive judge on these things. I’m just an opinionated gal who sits at her computer and looks out her dreary window and reflects on where she’s been. That’s it. What I believe isn’t gospel. It’s just what I believe.

And that’s a hard thing for anyone (myself included) to accept. That our opinions of towns are simply opinions. That we’ll never know if we like a place unless we visit it – and even then, we might not like it one bit. After all, not every place can be paradise. Not every place can be the best town in the world.

Unless, of course, it’s your hometown.

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  • Well, kind of interesting…I took one of Rand’s tweets – *I’m on #seochat this Thursday at 6pm Pacific talking about How to Trigger Universal Elements in the SERPs* – and I scramble the letters and I got this – *IfuckinghateitalyalltopiecesGermanyrulesandsodoesGeraldinesDad*

    • Everywhereist

      What happened to the 6?

  • heather

    please don’t sugarcoat. I like your opinions as-is. I couldn’t bring myself to eat feta cheese for a good five years after my trip to Bulgaria because they served hunks of it the size of a bar of soap with every meal.

    but the sea, oh the sea…

    • Everywhereist

      Heather – you are cracking me up. I can’t erase the image of a hunk of cheese the size of a soap bar from my head now.

  • I love reading this blog because of the funny, and frank writing. So keep the opinions coming. You can’t please everyone right. As long as your not complete rude about it, i think it’s fine. i have the opposite problem, i tend to think or say everything is fine, even it’s not. Granted I’ve never been anywhere I’ve hated, so I don’t know what I’d do then.

  • In your defense it is not all that difficult to have a crappy time in Bulgaria. I am glad I went there just so I can say I’ve been, but given a choice, I will never return. It’s left far too many bad tastes in my mouth, not so much because of the place, but because of the people I’ve dealt with. It might not reflect on every Bulgarian person, but it does reflect MY experiences of Bulgaria. If they want a better review it is up to the people of that country to make the next visitor feel a more welcome and comfortable than they did me.

  • “And not just them. I want to slap their parents, and their grandparents. I want to slap their pets and their neighbors, their co-workers and friends. I want to slap people to whom they owe money. Because, to paraphrase something I said a few weeks ago about the Seahawks, Seattle may suck, but it’s my suck.”


  • Oh my. Poor Rand. He will never live that down. Ever.
    On the other hand, for God’s sake, please DO speak your opinion. It’s not a crime not to like a place. We can’t like every place we visit, everyone has different tastes–AND different experiences. And I’m quite sure that living in a place and visiting it are 2 very different experiences. Beside, you’re even more funny when you’re complaining. Wouldn’t want that to go away entirely. 🙂

    • Everywhereist

      Aw, thanks Gray. As though I could ever stop complaining. 🙂

  • Oh dear. Having spent a couple of months in Australia, slagging the place off to extended family who happen to live there, I can relate to the honesty issue. Particularly as we Poms have a love-hate relationship with Australia, it being a former colony of ours and all…

    Anywise. Never cross an Italian…

  • Doriana

    In case, just in case anyone from your readers decides that Sofia is not worth going to at all, please watch this video first. You will learn some facts that may help you change your mind. Unfortunately, Geraldine, you have mananaged to visit Sofia without learning them, something like goiing to Rome and missing the Vatican there.

    • Everywhereist

      I feel like you just proved my point – we absolutely cannot stand it when people don’t fall head-over-heels in love with our town. “They must be misinformed”, we think, “They must have gone to the wrong places, seen the wrong things, not done enough research.”

      I know – it’s a tough reality (one I have trouble accepting about Seattle). But it IS a reality. Not everyone is going to love our hometown as much as we do.

  • Funny thing about Bulgaria:

    The Peace Corps apparently keeps stats on which countries their volunteers are most likely to marry and settle down in after their tour of duty is technically up. Bulgaria is #1.

  • Hey, I am a Bulgarian and I really dislike Sofia! A lot of people from the country side (as we are known:) don’t like the capital and make fun of it, which is of course true of every country! So don’t feel bad or guilty and definitely don’t sugar coat – I like your writing just the way it is:)

    If you ever happen to come to Bulgaria again please try to come during the summer and go out of the capital. As a tourist people will still try to rip you off – there is no escaping that unfortunately. But the sea is beautiful, the mountains are great. And the biggest selling point for me is the soap sized pieces of feta (we call it Bulgarian cheese or actually just cheese:) But then again, I am Bulgarian and I eat feta every single day despite the fact I live in Western Europe.

  • Anisa

    This is how I feel about Amsterdam. Amsterdam just gave me a bad taste in my mouth. I did not really have a bad experience, just didn’t care for it. It was dirty, smelly and frustrating/ (especially the airport and I’ve been through LAX) There is lots to see and do there, but I walked around on edge the entire time, always looking over my shoulder worried about getting run over by a car whilst walking on the sidewalk! The only redeeming thing about Amsterdam was eating the best Chinese food ever and a little hole in the wall brandy place called wynand fockink-.
    I would give the Netherlands another try just for this.

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