The changes in Eastern Europe over the past 25 years have opened up so many excellent travel destinations. I remember vividly how my kindergarten teacher, circa 1985, pointed out how big the Soviet Union was on a map. She told us it was evil and they were against us. I also remember hearing stories about Communism: bread lines, one-child policy, travel restrictions. Much was true, but it was tainted with Western propaganda. In fact, I was astounded when I first met someone who grew up in East Germany and she told me her childhood was happy.
I find it incredibly unsettling to revisit a place after a long time. Faded details are filled in again, something isn’t quite as bright and shiny or taste as good as you remember, and subtle things have changed, all giving a disenchanting feel. One of my first trips on my year abroad was to Brussels. I had some time on my own in the city and remember turning a corner onto the narrow Rue des Bouchers and being overwhelmed by the small cafés and the sight and smell of the seafood displays. It was straight out of the travel guides or a Rick Steves special.
I returned to Brussel 14 years later. With much more experience living in Europe, traveling, and with life in general, the street seemed tacky. I knew that most locals would never eat on this street and the seafood displays aren’t as fresh as they seem. And if they are fresh they are overpriced. Typical tourist trap. I really enjoyed the second visit to Brussels – in fact more than I did my first trip. But I wish my initial naive impression of Rue des Bouchers had remained.