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Seasonal Appreciation

Even the gardens of Paris get a seasonal update.

I love this phase of spring: the temperatures are just right, the pollen has mostly disappeared, the flowers are blooming, the trees have filled out, and the leaves are still that electric bright green that looks so fetching against a blue sky. It’s such a change from Washington’s winter “look” that it could be a completely different city.

A change in season can dramatically transform a city’s appearance and character. So much so, that arguably you need to visit a destination at several different times of year to truly get to know it.

The change of season brings a change of scenery in many parts of the world. Cities that look a little gray during the winter months will suddenly become much more colorful with the addition of spring blooms. As the trees shed their leaves in the fall, hidden structures and views might suddenly reveal themselves. (I’d lived in my apartment in DC for six months before I realized I had a view of the Capitol dome from my front window – because trees had been hiding it.) A thick blanket of snow will turn any cityscape or landscape into something otherworldly.

The seasons will change your choice of pastimes, too. As temperatures drop, you’ll probably be more inclined to linger in museums and churches; when pleasant weather arrives, it’s hard to resist following the locals outdoors. Some natural phenomena only occur at certain times of year – think the Northern Lights in the winter or whale migrations in the summer. And festivals can alter your travel options completely; you’ll have a very different itinerary if you visit Edinburgh during its Fringe festival in August than if you visit just a few weeks later.

And let’s not forget food (I never forget food). While you certainly could eat gelato in Rome any time of year, it’s probably going to be a bit more appealing in the heat of summer. And I certainly wouldn’t be able to enjoy a French hot chocolate or hot onion soup while sitting in the hot summer sun.

Perhaps most notably, the season can alter a destination’s vibe. Warmer weather opens up a city like a blooming rose: seasonal businesses reopen, restaurants expand into sidewalks, people fill parks, musicians busk street corners. Previously quiet spots start to buzz with action. (Unless, of course, it’s August in Paris, when stores, restaurants and locals disappear on their own annual holidays.) If it’s peace and quiet you’re after, you can head to a beach during the winter or a mountain resort in the summer.

Guidebooks will tell you the “best” time of year to visit a place, which is useful for a first visit or if you’re only going to visit once. But if you want to explore a destination at greater depth (and if you, like me, enjoy returning to some of your favorite destinations over and over), don’t limit yourself to the “ideal” months of the year. Aside from the fact that it will likely be more crowded and expensive then, you’ll also miss out on the chance to experience the place from a different perspective and, perhaps, to make some discoveries that would have been hidden during any other season.

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