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Rethinking top cities

We perused our Amsterdam pictures and practically threw our camera away in disgust. The pictures come out unfathomably noisy. Even – or, rather, especially – the ones taken under more or less perfect lighting conditions. Natasha will work her magic and probably rescue enough to put together an album (in a couple of weeks), but this is completely unacceptable. We will be looking to replace this stupid camera with another one in short order.

It pains me to admit that I made two bad acquisition decisions in recent months. First, the car; then, the camera. If not for my recently acquired mutual funds that have been performing rather splendidly, I would have been contemplating turning over substantial monetary decisions to my considerably more frugal spouse by now…


Our savory trip to Amsterdam led me to rethinking my erstwhile Top Five Beautiful Cities That I Have Seen ranking. After a good friend of mine, I have long proclaimed which of the cities of the world (or, rather, Europe, since I have not been anywhere outside the Old World and the North America, and the latter does not count in my rating) I considered the most beautiful. Only cities that are destinations by themselves were eligible for my rankings, but I actually never got around to formulating how I defined beauty.

PragueFor instance, Prague topped my list ever since we visited it almost three years ago. For those who have been in that wondrous city, imagine yourself standing on top of the Staromestske tower on a sunny day, gazing out on Karlův Most, Mala Strana and Hradčany. The rest of you, just click on the picture.

This image is so ingrained in my brain that saying that I have not seen a city more beautiful than Prague is an obvious statement. Recent renovations of many central buildings do not hurt either.

Or take Barcelona. Gaudí aside, there are so many grand and attractive boulevards and squares spread across considerable area that it is easy to call Catalan capital not only hip and vibrant, but truly beautiful.

Or Venice. There is simply nothing like it in the world that is known to me. Say what you want about decay, summer stench and insufferable tourist hordes, but if you ever truly lost yourself in this city and aimlessly strolled its streets, campielli and bridges, you cannot deny that it is a beautiful place.

But I never rated Rome high, even though I love it. I adore its squares and fountains, but find the streets that connect them largely unappealing. Plus, the incessant obtrusive vendors drive me nuts. Florence gets downgraded due to the lack of grand fountains on its squares (why am I so picky?) and the vendor factor as well. Madrid has magnificent central boulevards and squares – with fountains – plus Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, but it felt to us as if you could walk all of the beautiful routes in a couple of hours, and the rest was simply nice, so it was languishing far from the top of the list.

The most confusing of all was Paris. Ask me which city I would go to if I only could go to one big city for the rest of my life, and I would pick Paris. But I always said that I did not consider it all too beautiful. It must have been the pervasive dog poop that Parisians refused to pick up (a practice that is finally changing). Or, the uniformity of the architecture in the center of the city, not unattractive, but simply too planned to be called a thing of beauty.

But our recent trip to Paris started me on the path of revisiting my assessment. Notable absence of poop does that to a person… And Amsterdam contributed to that process. The Dutch capital is undeniably unique, charming and inviting. But it lacks monumental or even extraordinarily impressive edifices. It is also fairly dirty, with garbage strewn across sidewalks and floating in the canals. Would I call Amsterdam beautiful? Only to a degree. Nowhere close to the top of my list. But I am definitely in love with it on the level approaching Paris, Venice or Barcelona.

So, I will be abandoning my Top 5 list. Instead, I will come up with the best and the worst of every major city that I visited and use that as a guidance in providing my opinion on the various destinations. Heck, I’ll even add some of the North American destinations. Watch Travelog space for that.