Exploring a new place and a new culture; that’s what travel is usually about for me. Seeing how other people live, gaining new insights into history, tasting strange foods, exploring unfamiliar places.
But visiting a familiar place is special in another way; like seeing an old friend you haven’t spent time with for awhile. Finding out what has changed in their lives, recognizing what is still the same, sharing memories of your times together.
One of my old friends is Ashland, Oregon, with its annual Shakespeare festival. For a small town, it has some of the best theater and restaurants around. But the atmosphere is totally unpretentious as visitors shop or hike or golf by day, then go to the theater by night, all in a casual summer camp atmosphere. (Well, maybe a literary sort of summer camp, anyway.)
I visited this old friend a couple of weeks ago after an absence of many years. It was great exploring the new things—a new bed and breakfast, a new Latin restaurant, the organic chocolate factory. I loved seeing the familiar things—the bookstore that I can never escape without buying at least one book, the cool yarn store that always makes me vow to take up crocheting again (though I never do), the energy of Ashland Creek as it tumbles over rocks alongside a row of restaurants and shops.
Making decisions between old favorites (that Italian restaurant where I had an ice cold Pinot Grigio on the deck one summer day) versus new and untried places (the shaded brew pub with innovative sandwiches like the “Stinky Hippie”) was a challenge. And sometimes I was just surprised by seeing new aspects of an old favorite, as my walk in Lithia Park turned into a hike on a trail along a steep embankment. I was determined to go as far as I could, rather than stopping when the manicured path ended which I’d always done in the past.
Some of the changes are sad, like the quaint bakery with fabulous breakfasts that is now a pizza-by-the-slice place. Some are good, like the wide variety of music that is now played for the pre-theater courtyard Green Show. (Previously this was primarily Renaissance and early music. The night I was there, a folk and bluegrass group was playing.)
Memories of past visits flooded my mind, like the “remember whens” you share with an old friend—our picnic area the time friends from California met me in Ashland; the 50s-style B&B with the batty, housecoat-clad landlady where my friend Sharon and I stayed once; the hospital where I had my broken foot x-rayed the time I tripped over a sidewalk.
And of course, the memory of my first visit to Ashland as a child on a family vacation. We saw “As You Like It.” I’ll never know quite why we stopped and saw a play in Ashland that time. Neither of my parents had any interest in Shakespeare. But it captured my 10-year-old attention…and I’ve been visiting this old friend ever since.