Why do you return to Dublin so often?” people ask.
A few years ago, I won a playwriting prize that came with a nice check. I said to my wife, “Let’s take a trip.” I hadn’t been to Ireland since the 20th century, when I carried a Eurail Pass and backpack and stayed in a hostel for £2 a night and wandered the streets of what was then one of Europe’s poorest cities.
A young man wearing a Britney Spears T-shirt tucked into a red longyi (wraparound skirt) poked at a tree with a 20-foot pole. I’d been in the dust of central Burma all day, traveling between ancient temples on a rickety bike, but this sight caught my interest.
“This owl—no good,” he explained in English. “It made my mom sick.”
For some, Mexico City comes with a warning label. When I posted on Facebook that I was going, my sister emailed me an article about beheadings. A tennis pal cautioned me to take only radio-controlled taxis, to avoid the risk of being taken for a metaphorical (and literal) ride.
If you’re shopping for an inferiority complex, Copenhagen is a great place to start. Impossibly good-looking and enviably progressive, this Nordic “It” city can make the best of us feel as though we were troglodytes. Bicycles outnumber cars, locals swim in pristine downtown waterways, and renegade chefs go foraging in the forest.
There’s a dignified building in the center of Reykjavík that’s painted in thick coats of brown varnish. Constructed in the 18th century, it’s the oldest wooden house in the capital, but it keeps its age a secret, just as it hides the ancient bones of the Viking hall buried under its cellar.