I’ve driven across the US, trained across Canada, drank in Mexico, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, hung out with sheep in New Zealand, and become seriously acquainted with “Fiji time.” I’ve also planned many trips to South America, Asia and Africa, but for some reason, I always cancel those trips and wind up back in…

Europe.

I’ve lived in Italy, sang in Switzerland, Christmas-ed in Paris, hiked through Austria, drank beer in Germany (and Ireland and Liechtenstein and Belgium and…), visited the Van Goghs in Amsterdam, minded-the-gap in London, eaten too many Floderbolls in Denmark, encountered Viking ships in Stockholm…

And whenever I leave Europe, I’m already planning my next trip back (to Spain or Croatia or Scotland, Prague or Budapest or Lisbon…)

I could be hopping a plane to Shanghai or Mumbai or Rio. I can visit Vietnam or Bhutan or South Africa. Even Antarctica isn’t that far away.

So why go back to Europe again and again? Why not see a new part of the world since part of the reason I travel is to experience new cultures and see the world from a different perspective? What is it that draws me — and so many people — back?

Perhaps, as an American, it’s a link to our national past. I descend from British, German and French stock; maybe I just want to see “my people.” Or maybe it’s because Europe has long been the global center of style and culture. It could be the pasta and wine…

But I think it’s something deeper.

Last week, I was walking through Frederiksborg Castle just north of Copenhagen.

It’s a grand old castle, complete with stained-glass chapel, creaking old staircases, and drafty rooms filled with antique furniture and art.

While my husband read the informational plaques, I let my mind wander… I was a princess refusing a marriage; a Viking commander receiving new orders from the King; a believer convincing Norse pagans to convert to Christianity. I laughed with elves, danced with wolves, and watched a Phoenix rise…

And that’s when it hit me.

I travel to Europe because it sparks 
something primal in my imagination.

When I touch down in Europe, my brain goes into instant fantasy mode; and there’s no place I’d rather be than in fantasy mode.

I often say,
The worlds in my head are my vacation destinations.

I disappear there whenever I can.

But now I need to add that those imaginary worlds are fed by real-life locations in Europe: Medieval castles, cobblestone streets, Renaissance palaces, ancient bridges, Baroque squares…

The view from Florence’s Piazza Michelangelo, Paris’ Left Bank, Stockholm’s Gamla Stan — ALL profoundly affected me.

While visiting these places, I’ve had to stop, catch my breath, and let my imagination burst like a geyser. There are stories hidden in those streets… Stories I can’t stop.

It’s why my debut novel is set in Florence. The next one in Rome. After that, my stories lead me to Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid… There’s a new one growing in Sweden, too, I just don’t know the story yet.

That must be why I need to return so often; to water those stories so they continue to grow.

Do we all do this? For me, it’s Europe, but I’m sure for others this kind of imagination lighter fluid comes from Asia, Africa, the Arctic…

I don’t think it’s just that I grew up in a Eurocentric culture. It feels more primal than that. It feels like thousands of years of suppressed stories kicking off in my brain.

Perhaps it does have something to do with my lineage. Perhaps it’s the ghosts of my familial past being tickled awake by musty old hallways. Perhaps those old stories are embedded in my DNA…

And maybe there are other stories hiding in your past, your lineage, your DNA. You just have to travel the world to find them.

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Which places make your imagination come to life?

 

 

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