Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Top Ten Smaller Cities to Visit

OK. This list is a huge cheat in a way. The real reason that there is a distinction between small cities with populations ranging from more than 10,000 to less than 100,000, and towns or villages of less than 10,000 people, is simply to allow me to promote more of the places I love. To make matters worse I am declaring two separate ties on this list AND sneaking in an extra city. Oh well,

1. Meißen 

Most who know of this city think of the porcelain that is made there, but that is not the reason to love Meißen. It is a beautiful, middle-ages style town with a stunning castle/cathedral complex built on a wonderful little hill along the Elbe River. Add to that the fact that it was until recently way off the tourist’s beaten path and you have a truly overlooked treasure that few have gotten to experience.

2. (Tie) Pucón or Villarrica 

Take your pick. (If pressed I would lean towards the smaller Pucón.) Either way you can’t go wrong. These little cities are nestled on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world in the shadow of one of the coolest (and for the past 40 years, friendliest) volcanoes. They are remote enough to not be a “been there done that” for most of the world, but not so remote that there is nothing to do or see. It’s the true beach + mountain experience with water sports, hot springs and, well, mountains. And, you can see the glow of one of only five lava lakes in the world at night.

4. Santa Fe 

Mountains? Check. Great food? Check. Historic sites and culture? Check. Bonus features include the fact that Santa Fe is a great center for art and selling galleries including Chuck Jones’ and street venders hawking handiwork that is beautiful and affordable.

5. Rothenburg ob der Tauber 

If you can handle a true tourist trap on your list, this has got to be it. There is more a feel of Disney than Germany here, but there had to be a source for the stereotypical vision Hollywood had of that part of the world, no? If you are a fan of “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” then you already love and know this city.

6. Lutherstadt Wittenberg 

This city is pretty, so that would possibly recommend it. However, it is also the site of what could be argued to be the most important moment and action in the history of western culture. The original door is no longer there, but the church building sort of is, and the paper nailed there has been replaced with an engraved iron door.

7. Puerto Natales 

This is another cheat of sorts, because the city has little to recommend it. It is the gateway to the most amazing place on the planet (no exaggeration, really!) but that will have to be kept for another sort of list…

8. Roskilde 

I need to experience more of Scandinavia. Until I do, Roskilde will be my favorite place in that part of the world. It looks like it would be a great place to live. The obligatory large cathedral is larger than it should be for the size of the town, and truly impressive. The main attraction, though, is the history. This is a Viking town. They still have the ships on the amazing fjord that the city is built on. Roskilde feels like an invitation to adventure.

9. (Tie or Take Your Pick) Panguipulli, Llanquihue or Coyhaique

While not quite as impressive as the part of the world that touches Puerto Natales, the Los Rios, Los Lagos and Aisén regions are magical in their proximity to the “primal.” This is the sort of place that made Magic Realism such a natural product of Latin Culture. These three cities in particular are special for their surroundings. Your best bet is to jump on the Pan-American Highway and experience all three.

(All Pictures are from Wikipedia)

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