Exploring my “privileged places” and how Vienna’s stations confused me

I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin who writes and researches about happiness (what a lovely job!) and in her newest book Happier at Home a passage she quoted from historian Mircea Eliade really struck me. It’s about what he names “privileged places”:

a man’s birthplace, or the scenes of his first love, or certain places in the first foreign city he visited in youth. Even for the most frankly nonreligious man, all these places still retain an exceptional, a unique quality; they are the ‘holy places’ of his private universe.

A lovely idea, right (assuming you can get past the sexist language of his time!). It got me thinking about my “privileged places”. My birthplace, Perth, will always be an important place for me – especially as I now live here again – but I think some of the other kinds of “privileged places” that Eliade describes are even more significant.

Perth by night, from Kings Park, with full credit to my clever husband

My romance with Berlin

One of my earliest special spots has to be Berlin. Being in Berlin as an impressionable 14-year-old at the exact moment of reunification of East and West Germany, standing at the Brandenburg Gate with a local family – that set the scene for many travel yearnings and a lot of thinking over the years. I have been back to Berlin probably half a dozen times since, and it is still a place I want to return to again and again. It’s one of those cities where you could always find something new to do, and it’s continued to be the scene of special moments – for example, my last visit to Berlin was with my husband just after we were married, and we had to visit the Australian Embassy to apply for his visa to move with me to Australia. It was nerve-wracking (we’d banked everything on him getting it in as short a time as possible) but Berlin came through for us.

My ties to Osaka

I guess because Osaka was the overseas city I lived in, and because I truly adored the two years I spent there, it is very high up on my list of “privileged places”. I have only returned once so far, and that was just a short time after I’d moved away, so I’m starting to get a little nervous about the return I have to have. Will it live up to my expectations? And the description I’ve given of it to my husband and son? I fear that it’s the kind of city that grows on you, that you love because you live there and know where the funny little man is with the delicious takoyaki snacks or you know exactly how to use the ticket machines at the station; that if you visit just for a week or two that it might seem just like a grey, smoggy city, punctuated with occasional patches of temple or park beauty. I’ll have to wait and see.

Umeda Sky Building in Osaka

Sentimental for Bratislava and Vienna

I only lived in Bratislava for a year, but because I then stayed on in Europe for a few years more, I managed to return quite a few times, and I’m scheduled to go back again in a couple of months. I have to lump it together with Vienna because any return visit to Bratislava inevitably involves a stay in Vienna too, since they’re so close, and I love them both.

But last week I was trying to figure out some travel arrangements and I started to fear that the “privileged place” feeling I reserve for Vienna is coming undone. I’ve long felt it’s a city I knew well, despite never living there, but when I hopped online to check train times for a transit from Vienna to Bratislava, I got myself in quite a tangle. I was sure I’d always left Vienna from Südbahnhof (South Train Station) to head to Bratislava’s Hlavne Stanice (Main Station). But search as I might, I couldn’t find a connection and something called Wien Hauptbahnhof (Vienna Main Station) kept popping up. What is Wien Hauptbahnhof, I wondered. It took a question to a friend over there before I understood – Vienna is changing, and the Südbahnhof was actually demolished recently to make way for a new Hauptbahnhof, and that’s where I’ll need to catch my train to Bratislava from.

Stephansdom in Vienna

That kind of change (and the confusion that comes with it) is what scares me about returning to “privileged places”. I hope I’ll always love those cities; I hope I can deal with the changes they have undergone over the years.

Where are your “privileged places”?


  1. Jacob Aldridge says

    Great article and good question!

    Like you, I’ve got the place I’ll always call home, the global powerhouse city of Brisbane. I’ve left her twice, and always felt like I was just waiting to return.

    Having lived in London for a few years, it will also hold memories, though of a more specific nature. My local pub in Brixton / Clapham (which was sold and ruined the week we moved out!) is definitely a privileged place in my life, and now only exists in memory.

    And if I could be anywhere in the world, it would be eating breakfast at La Darsena Hotel, in Tremezzo on Lake Como, Italy. I know most travel writers want to be location independent so they can live on the road; I want to be location independent (again) so I can live in Tremezzo … and maybe travel sometimes.

    Completely unrelated, but I had a surprisingly great breakfast at Anker Bakery in Vienna’s Westbahnhof station. Plus – that’s some freaky modern architecture!

  2. My privileged place is Barcelona, for sure. Had the best experience there and want to live there one day. If you get a chance, check out my own adventure travel blog 🙂

  3. Adeline Bock says

    Nice article.

    My very own privileged place would firstly be Malaysia. Where I grew up and spent most of my teenage years in, great food and a vibrant country.

    Followed by New Zealand where I have spent the past couple of years in for studies, in a town called Dunedin. Beautiful surroundings and my carefree university years.

    Turkey, where I had my first backpacking experience while teaching kindergarten kids English in Adana. Crazy times spent on overnight busses to save on accommodation cost and time. Istanbul, Adana, Pamukkale, Cappadocia – just to name a few. Breathtaking places. I strongly suggest a visit to Turkey, that place really has something to offer. 🙂

    Now, I am in Perth, with occasional trips to USA to visit family. Like yourself Amanda, traveling will always be my passion!

    I really enjoy reading your blog too. Thank you. 🙂

  4. Anonymous says

    Really interesting topic and question. I had to think about this for a minute. I guess my first priviledged place would be the small town I was born in and raised in until I was 15. It is in SW Ontario, near Lake Erie and it is in what was then the tobacco-belt of Ontario. It just holds a lot of special memories because I was a child there – and because we left when I was 15, it retains a mystical aura to me ever time I return. It’s not a great city (it’s only 15 000 people) and it’s not in a touristy part of the country (even though it is actually quite pretty), but it’s special to me.

    My parents moved us to a little bedroom community on the shores of Lake Huron when I was 15. It is truly “home” in many ways. Lake Huron is very special to me. I love spending late summer evenings floating in the quiet lake with my family, watching the sunset. Where I live now is only an hour away but I miss the sound of the waves in the lake.

    Scotland is also “priviledged” to me – I went there when I was 24. It was my first plane ride and my first time out of North America (we did a lot of camping around Ontario when I was young). It’s the home of some of my ancestors as well and in particular the Bullers of Buchan and Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire are special to me. We saw my great grandfather’s childhood home at the Bullers of Buchan and spent a magical afternoon wandering around and climbing the ruins of Slains Castle. You cannot go near Slains Castle anymore though because a company bought it not long after and is (or was) turning it into a hotel of some sort. In one way I am happy that it will not be left to turn to dust but in another way I am sad that I won’t be able to have a private wander around it ever again. Sabina

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