My vote for the "Place I Traveled that was Hardest to Leave" is the Greek island of Santorini. [Click here to play the Greek National Anthem while you're reading this -- you need to get in the spirit of things!]
I will have to say that all of Greece is utterly breathtaking, but Santorini was absolute perfection. We went there after spending about 10 days touring in and around Athensand we really meant to use the ferry system and travel to several other islands, as well. Every day that we were there, we dutifully packed up our bags to leave, checked out of the hotel, ate breakfast, and then re-checked in. It wasn't a fancy hotel back then. It wasn't the cleanest hotel. It didn't even have a great view. But it was perfect for us. Sure, it is the tourist's duty to see as much as possible, right? But why shuffle on to another island when we had already found "the bomb" as they say. There simply was no room for improvement.
The year was 1994. Our everyday lives back in Pasadena, California, were filled with long commutes (mine to the heart of downtown Los Angeles, the King to Disney inBurbank), stressful jobs, and no kids. Our careers, along with the King's pursuit of his Master's degree consumed every molecule of our energy. By the time we reached Santorini, we had unwound significantly already. Something about the sun in Greece, or the unbelievable gem-colored blue of the sea that is so different than what you find in the Caribbean, yet every bit as gorgeous. And the light colored building materials or whitewash that reflect all that fabulous white and blue (Greece's national colors). Okay, and maybe it was a little about them serving oenos at every single meal save breakfast. The coffee they served at breakfast was equally yummy, I must say.
But in October, Santorini is truly hotter than the mythical fires of Hades. Our solution? Obviously, you spend the heat of the day flying around the island on your rented motorcycle to stay cool. If you jump off the motorcycle, make sure you're just about to get in the water. And things are so laid back there; the only thing we *ever* needed to be on time for was the sunset over the caldera. This is beyond a shadow of a doubt the most beautiful sunset anywhere in the world. You see, Santorini is essentially one side of the rim of a huge volcano that is mostly underwater. It is like the tip of an iceberg, only you are sitting on one side of the volcano and looking out over a bay that is the inside of the volcano -- at the much shorter rim on the other side. The town of Fira is actually built down the side of that rim, but the main street runs right along the top of the "ridge". And the sunset just fills the sky.
Something happened to me during my stay in Santorini/Greece. Having experienced an incomparable joie de vivre there, after my return to reality (if you can call Los Angeles "reality) I never again could care about my career to the degree that I once had. Sure, I hung in there another year and a half, but I didn't lie awake at night stressing about that job. My fingers had touched the brass ring of happiness and I never wanted to be that far from it again. I kept my Greek music CDs handy in the event I needed a refresher course! And of course, I never take off this big honking gold ring I bought in the Plaka while there. When I look at it, I'm transported to a world of bright blue doors, spontaneous dance, and endless bartering sessions.
To sum it up, Santorini has a beautiful black sand beach, a regular beach, a rocky beach (all with clothing more or less optional), boat rides to hike around inside a smaller, active volcano, a dream-like "traditional" town called Oia, fresh roasted pistachio venders, and a dry climate that promises good hair days for the duration of your stay. Can it get any better than that?