As we travel we often stumble upon cities that we could find ourselves in for an extended period. Of course there are visa stipulations in most, but there are usually ways around that… For us, home needs to be inspiring, so here are a few of our favorite places we would make our home away from home for extensive periods of time (in no particular order):
1. Amsterdam or Leiden, The Netherlands
Amsterdam is fairly large, while Leiden, located 40 minutes south, is quite small. They are both, however, very Dutch cities. They say that you can get to anywhere in the Netherlands on a boat or on a bike. Canals and rivers – natural and artificial – connect everything. The land is flat, making it possible to bike anywhere. And in the cities, people bike more than use any other form of assisted transportation. The food is great – though a little odd at times. Amsterdam represents over 185 cultures, more than any other city in the world. Both cities have history, charm, and are extremely liberal in laws pertaining to individual freedom. Amsterdam is central, an ideal port city, and a convenient jump-off point to America or to points further East.
2. Ghent, Belgium
Although the city has tremendous potential for tourism, it may be the Belgium beer that makes everyone feel like a local for a short time. The buildings and streets are from a time long gone, but again, the beer has withstood the test of time. And did I mention the beer? Aside from that, walking through Ghent is magical. The bridges over the canal, cobble stone paths and exposed beams of cottages, taverns, and once water-side warehouses that are now restaurants, offices, and homes. Ghent feels playful and happy. Again, they serve really good beer.
3. Plovdiv, Bulgaria
You can see the architecture stamped by communism facing off against new development. This region of the world is forgotten by many, but historically, it is a geographic gateway between Europe and Asia, which made it extremely important to many conquerors and social experiments on systems of government. The streets of the old city take you to hilltops where you can watch the sun set on a city that is content being forgotten, but they are also contenders to be one of the culture capitals of Europe. Plovdiv is filled with good people and lots of inspiration for those seeking it.
4. Czech Republic
It’s hard to name our favorite city. We have been to many, and we enjoy all of them. Much like Belgium, the Czech Republic found it’s way to our hearts through our stomach. The food is hearty, delicious, and cheap. And then there is everything else. Prague was once the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, its old town dense with magical castles, churches, sculptures, and old world streets. The smaller towns are even more magical – small cities at a slower pace than the ones we’re used to in America. The countryside is sprinkled with villages, which resemble enchanting fairytales. And if all this isn’t enough to persuade you visit, the beer is cheaper than water.
5. Istanbul, Turkey
Though one of the highlights in my life was the hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, the magnitude of Istanbul makes it a true bohemian city. There are over 13 million people in the city, larger than many American states. You can drive from one end to the other and after an hour never escape the dense population, congestion, and smog. Large ships cross the Bosporus; the city straddles both Europe and Asia – Istanbul is the only city that sits on two continents. The people are extremely hospitable and generous always inviting you in for tea. The history is so ancient that ruins are constantly being found underground where the city is trying to dig to build new subway lines. The city is alive, teaming with energy, history, and modern life.
6. Koh Yao Noi, Thailand
A quick boat ride from Phuket or Krabi, this island is a great getaway within paradise. With rock formations rising out of the waters into the horizon, the natural beauty is stunning. The island has only one main road looping it, and has yet to become burdened by rapid development to accommodate the industry of tourism. It offers a quiet alternative to the more developed islands and towns. There isn’t a lot to do here, but that’s the beauty of the place. If you’re looking to dive or snorkel then go to Koh Tao, and if you’re looking to have access to a lot of options for everything, go to Phuket. But if you want to experience a more natural Thailand, go to Koh Yat Noi.
If you’re an artist at heart and are looking for a place with inspiration, any of the above would be a great option to get away for an extended period.