You’ve saved up hard for your trip. You’ve longed to visit this place which you’ve seen only on postcards, in books and on the tv. You are ready and waiting for all your expectations to be met and so much more. You excitedly pack, you read your battered guide book from cover to cover and shout from the social media rooftops that you are FINALLY off to the destination of your dreams.
Except it’s not.
You arrive, and suddenly everything feels flat. That first breath in your dream destination is a little sour and the vibrant pictures in your imagination are suddenly replaced with faded, scratchy memories which make your heart hurt with disappointment.
But what do you actually do about it?
This has, sadly happened to me twice in two very different locations. Here’s my story, and how I overcame the crushing disappointment when my dreams weren’t realised.
Paris was never a dream destination for me, but it was the dream destination of my of my friends. Whilst I had remained firmly skeptical about the City of Light, my closest friends waxed lyrical about the romance, the beauty and chic culture. This, along with the fact that on paper everything about Paris fitted my vision of a great place to visit started to soften my view.
By the time I had booked the romantic long weekend in Paris, I was a bonafide Paris fan. I wanted to bask in the beauty of the Notre Dame and Sacre Couer. I was ready to be fully blown away by power of the Eiffel Tower. I had plans to walk hand in hand with my loved one along the banks of The Seine and weave in and out of the cobbled streets in Monmartre.
It’s fair to say I was heady with excitement. I was so ready for Paris.
Until that is, I arrived.
As soon as we stepped out of the Gare du Nord, the sinking feeling arrived. As we walked to our hotel I felt consumed with confusion. Paris felt hard and oppressive. We dropped our bags and headed out to explore, climbing the streets of Monmartre, and stepping over (and some times in) the small rivers of urine that came cascading down the streets.
The disappointment dissipated a little as we explored the Sacre Couer. It was one of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen, and as we walked inside, serenaded by the choir I was overcome with emotion.
“STOP IT”, I said to myself. “Stop ruining Paris for yourself. Your friends love this, you’re being picky and get on with it”.
But as the weekend wore on I couldn’t halt the disappointment that crept across my body.
The streets felt oppressive and cold and pushy wherever we went. Most of the top attractions left me cold and I couldn’t help but compare to some of the wonderful architecture we’d seen in smaller European cities.
The pressure to enjoy myself was immense. As I reached out people kept telling me that they loved it, that I was doing it wrong. So full anger at myself, that night we ended up staying in our hotel and sleeping off the bad mood. I just couldn’t make Paris work for me.
The next morning, our last in Paris, we took the advice of my wonderful friend Wanderluce (who was on hand for mutual support via Whatsapp the whole weekend) and headed to places off the beaten track. Wandering different places, not surrounded by hordes of tourists and iconic landmarks we were forcing ourselves to enjoy, we started to get to grips with Paris. Our Paris.
And I started to relax, just a little.
Much like London, Paris is a huge city and what this weekend taught me is that in a big city, it takes time to find your groove, your happy place. Paris is still not my city of love, but because of this I may return.
Havana was a different story entirely. I’d longed to visit Cuba, and as soon as we’d booked I was making plans and day dreaming about everything I’d see. I could hardly contain my excitement at seeing Cuba and exploring Havana was high up on my agenda.
Because Havana to me is just one of those places so full of history and intrigue. I wanted to learn and I wanted to feel immersed in the quirks – the American cars, the buildings, the revolutionary story. I wanted to stand there and feel part of it.
We arrived to torrential rain. I don’t mean just a bit of it. I mean thunder and lightning and huge great swathes of water that soaked us in the hot hot heat. Determined not to let it ruin my moment, my big dream I stepped out in to Revolution Square and my heart sank. That place were it all happened was now a car park. A large, dull, grey car park with barely a hint of the magnitude that f what had happened here.
As our rain filled tour wore on, the disappointments continued. We drank at the birthplace of the daiquiri and learnt about Hemingway’s association with Havana. We visited Havana Cathedral and the Malecon and the Museum of the Revolution. We were left exhausted, not enthralled. And very very damp.
The next day, we awoke to beautiful sunshine. Determined to find the Havana of my dreams we set off and spent time wandering Old Havana. We viewed Havana from rooftops and we weaved in and out of side streets consumed with the noise and the chaos and the heat. Oh my was it hot, the sun unmercifully beating down on us as we tried to explore and learn and grow.
As we pulled away from Havana, cameras full but hearts heavy I tried to piece together what was wrong. Had it been the weather? Had it quite literally rained too much on my parade? Was it the tour? We’re our guides lacking? Was it me? Did I do it wrong?
Or was it the weight of expectation? Was it the fact that I’d built a picture in my head of what Havana was, of what it would feel like, instead of letting Havana be who it was.
I’ve got two years distance on that trip now, and only now can I look upon those photos, those memories without wincing. Havana was exactly as it should have been, but my picture was all wrong. The weather didn’t help matters, but instead of letting my mind go with what was in front of me, instead I let it get stuck on what I’d hoped to feel.
Sometimes, a trip doesn’t work out. This was one of those trips. Havana is an intense and complicated city, and on that day, in that time I wasn’t ready for it.
Have you ever visited a destination that didn’t live up to your dream?
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