I Left My Heart in San Francisco… And London: Finding Home

Hello friends and fellow viajeros! I’m working as hard as I can to get pan-continental again, but in the meantime I have asked a few people who share my passion for travel to write about their own experiences, so there will be some guest posts intermixed with my own. I thought some fresh voices and perspectives would be just the thing. This week’s entry is a topic near and dear to my heart, written by a friend even nearer and dearer. Enjoy!


Having lived in one place until I was an adult meant that, as a teenager, I had yet to experience home as an abstract term. It was a literal thing, nestled in the hills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Though I traveled quite a bit as a child, I never found that indescribable feeling I now know as harmony — that feeling of being connected to a city without knowing how or why. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco when I was eighteen that I experienced the sheer joy of falling in love with a place. Sometimes I tell myself that perhaps it was because I was on my own for the first time, or because I’d found the quintessential group of friends. But I know deep down that the “City by the Bay” captured my heart in more ways than just perfect timing and quality people — it was my home, and I still very much consider it that. But soon after moving to San Francisco, I inexplicably found myself at home again… in London.

Let me add that I’ve had the great fortune of traveling to a wide variety of cities: Lima, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, Prague, Tel Aviv, Paris, Krakow, Copenhagen, and Venice, to name a few. All of these places were wonderful in their own way. However, upon arrival to each of these cities, I did not feel that same heart-stopping, adrenaline-inducing, starry-eyed wonder that I felt my first day in San Francisco or London. It was almost painful, this feeling of connectivity to a certain place, almost — dare I say — déjà vu (side note: I do believe in reincarnation, so I suppose it’s entirely possible that I have been to these places in a past life). When someone describes déjà vu to me, I immediately think of my first days in those two cities. Is it possible, then, to find home in a place you’ve never physically been before? The soul is capable of many things — reincarnation being one of them — so maybe that’s what this feeling, this kinship towards a geographical location, is. What is it about a place that envelops you so wholly — grounds you so completely — in its gritty, unfamiliar arms?

When I studied abroad, I’d chosen London as a destination without ever having traveled there. Whenever people asked why, I always replied that I’d been strangely drawn to London. It had been a sudden love affair. I wasn’t expecting to love everything about it, but I had. And not only that: I felt as though I was home. Which, having never been there before, was hard to explain to myself, let alone other people. London drew me in and never let go. Even now, thinking of the foggy parks, the cobblestoned streets, the smoke billowing from chimneys in the winter, the wild geese, the smell of diesel — it brings forth a very emotional nostalgia for a place that I called home for four months, a place I still consider one of my homes. I belonged, truly belonged, in London. I haven’t felt that same sense of belonging since I left.

Flying into London last summer after having been away for two years brought tears to my eyes. Joyful, exuberant tears. The man next to me on the plane noticed. He asked me if I was returning home. My answer? Something like that. London, a place I’ve been four whole times, was my city. Can you explain that? I can’t. Driving up the 101 Freeway into San Francisco, glimpsing the well-known cityscape, navigating the streets so familiar that I could drive them with my eyes closed: emotional, heart-warming, my home. I am home. That’s what I tell myself upon arrival to both of these cities. I am home, I am home, I am home.

Why doesn’t Los Angeles feel like home any more? It physically is; it’s where I grew up, where my parents still live in the house I grew up in. It’s important to note that I love it here. The Los Angeles I live in now is entirely different than the city I grew up in. Maybe it’s just that. I am evolved now, and I have given my heart to other cities, and there is no room left for my hometown. I have so much love for these other cities that there is nothing left to give Los Angeles other than the half-hearted nod that I give to everyone who asks if I like living here. Yes, I do like living here. Sometimes I think I might love it here. Los Angeles is like a familiar friend: comforting, routine, and complacent. Given my history, I should have room within me to accept it as my home, a label I’ve given to two other cities. And maybe one day I will think of it as such. But for now, I can keep dreaming of returning home — to my heart— in San Francisco and London. I left a piece of myself in each of those cities. I won’t feel whole until I go back.

Amanda Richardson lives in Los Angeles, California, with her fiancé and two cats. She is the author of one published romance novel, The Foretelling, with another in the process of being so. She enjoys binge-watching Friends, reading, and playing Scrabble while drinking wine. She travels every chance she gets and spends her idle hours surfing for cheap international flights that she can max out her credit cards on. She and la Güera met when they were thrown together by chance as roommates in the freshman dorms in San Francisco. The rest is history. 

The Novelty Inherent in the Familiar

Discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes. –Marcel Proust

Downtown San Juan Capistrano.

Downtown San Juan Capistrano.

There is no beauty that is impervious to complacency. Seeing something every day, whether it be a loved one’s face or a rocky, foam-studded coastline, often causes us to lose the ability to “see” it in its truest form. We become accustomed to its presence and we begin to take it for granted. It loses all novelty, sometimes all interest. Once in a while, we might be reminded by chance of what we are lucky enough to have, but more often than not, it takes our removal from our normal surroundings to make us appreciate them again. It takes the sudden absence of a familiar face to remind us of our love for them.

I’ve been home for almost six weeks now, and some of the softness my body had lost to the weight of backpacks and wandering has come back to settle at my hips as a sign of the contentment of coming home and being welcome there. Though the crystalline edges of my joy have dulled somewhat, I have so far held on to the ability to see my home with eyes, if not new, than at least the eyes of a long-absent devotee. While descending into L.A. the day I came home, I excitedly pressed my face to the window and surprised my seatmates by yelling “look at it! It’s so organized and beautiful!” After cities like Bogotá and Guayaquil, cities whose infrastructures seem to lag eternally behind their quickly creeping expansion, where neighborhoods and commercial areas seem to metastasize out from the cities’ centers, continually blurring and altering the topographical shape of its borders, the sudden clean lines and grid-like appearance of Los Angeles were a welcome sight, despite the fact that I had never thought of it as beautiful before.

It’s not L.A. alone that has taken on a new sheen of beauty for me.  I can see the allure of other places now, other backdrops of my past, without their being dulled by privileged complacency. Downtown San Juan Capistrano, the city I grew up in, with its railroads and jacaranda-lined streets, its anachronistic insinuations of a time when cowboys and Indians and robed padres walked the same streets that house Starbucks and the Swallows Inn today, holds a charm for me now that was previously obscured by the mundane normality of seeing it all the time.

Even San Francisco, which I admittedly loved more consciously than my hometown, is enveloped in the shininess of novelty: its chilly splendor, its districts like an extended family, exceedingly unique, each to the other dissimilar except in their shared connection, its windswept coast and patchwork citizenry — everything is somehow sharper, more vivid, now that I’m seeing them again. Coming back to San Francisco made me feel almost instantaneously as if I had never left, but at the same time I was aware of how what I had experienced abroad had made me infinitely richer (although not in the way that would allow me to live here again). Even the virtually featureless expanses of middle California that I saw through my windshield on the six-hour drive from one end of the state to the other were suddenly beautiful to me, as if having gone away had unlocked my ability to see what had always been there.

It is one of the greatest curiosities of humanity that we are so adept at turning what was once new and exciting into the visual and emotional equivalent of elevator music. Traveling is a foolproof way of bringing the familiar back into focus, to remind us of why we live where we live, do what we do, love whom we love. And although I obviously think travel is one of the most valuable and enriching things one could possibly do, perhaps if we were only aware of our tendency to normalize our daily lives (and thus cause them to lose their brilliance) we could consciously choose to see our own tiny pieces of the world with like-new eyes without ever leaving them behind.