By comparison


suspect you and your clients spend considerable travel and reminiscence time describing sites or experiences in terms of how they compare or contrast with earlier travel memories.

I do, too.

For example, when I was in Romania a couple of years ago, I couldn't help being struck by how much the central squares in the Old Towns resembled those I had seen two years earlier in the Czech Republic. The squares are typically wide open, even sprawling, surrounded by late-medieval merchants' houses.

I think, in particular, of the Czech Republic's Ceske Budejovice, Telc and Trebon and Romania's Brasov, Sibiu and, to a lesser extent, Cluj.

Happily, they are not cookie-cutter copies of one another, but I judged them as a group, deeming Telc the best little castle town, but my favorite square is in the heart of Brasov -- seen after driving through some of the ugliest remnants of socialist architecture I have ever seen. Nice irony, right?

And what about those wonderful painted monastery churches? In Romania and Bulgaria, the Eastern Orthodox Church's emphasis on the icon spilled over into some of the world's most beautiful religious art.

I considered the "painted churches" of Bucovina in northeastern Romania in relation to Bulgaria's monasteries, Rila in particular, because so many of their frescoes are on the outsides of the churches.

But these sites do not look alike, either. From Romania, I remember huge and very detailed painted scenes and lots of deep blues; even with its outdoor frescoes, Rila's best point is a drop-dead gorgeous mountain setting.

Venice probably is a reference point for more destinations than any other site because so many places want us to know they are like the Italian canal city. Venice, Calif., simply adopted the name.

And did you know about Mopti, the "Venice of Mali"?

I've seen the more accessible Amsterdam, "Venice of the North"; Colmar's "Petite Venice," and London's "Little Venice."

They all have nicely done-up canals filled with water and lined with pretty buildings. The boats are usually nice, too.

Using canals as a yardstick, nothing matches Venice. Just look at a map to see the extent of the canals. Virtually all public transport is by boat, besides.

But we don't want more than one real Venice. Otherwise, why take more than one trip?

On the other hand, if someone refers to the "Venice of someplace" or says a collection of frescoes resembles those in Bucovina, we get a point of comparison.

Making these connections helps us make sense of our world; it makes travel a little more fun, too.

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