How Three Foreign Cities Began to Feel Like Home

Old Cairo
In the middle of the giant, sprawling city of Cairo is Old Cairo, an old, walled city from the Middle Ages. It is now filled with shops, restaurants, mosques, coffee shops, and markets. According to our guide, it is the place where Egyptians feel most at home. There, in its coffee shops, the famous Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz wrote his books.

The architecture of Old Cairo is different than that of the West. There are minarets, intricate geometric patterns, domes, and other patterns that make it feel foreign, especially for those who have traveled little. This was definitely true for me and for my daughter. I had not traveled outside of the United States in 25 years. My daughter had never done so. It was night time, and the city was teeming with people. This is generally true in Old Cairo, but this was Ramadan. They had fasted all day, and now it was time to enjoy some conviviality with family and friends. Old Cairo was full to the brim. You may recall a scene in a movie where there is a car trying to escape or move in the midst of a crowd of people. That’s what it felt like.

After having traveled two days to get to Egypt, we were tired, and the experience of Old Cairo was a bit overwhelming. We got checked into our hotel, and we sat outside. Our guide said, “Do you want to go for a walk?” We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know how safe Egypt was. All we knew was what we had read in reviews of Egypt’s safety, including the ominous warnings from the State Department. So, we were cautious. We walked around and were greeted by many people. Our guide said to us, “No one is going to harm you in Egypt.” We arrived safely back at our hotel without incident.

That night, I went up on the roof where the restaurant was. They had no alcoholic beverages in Old Cairo. I did not yet know to order their delicious juices. So, I ordered a Sprite and went out on the small veranda that overlooked the city. I saw the people. I saw the whirling dervishes. I saw the festivity. From up on top of the hotel, it felt much more peaceful. I was there in Egypt!

Our trip led us from Lower Egypt in the north to Upper Egypt in the South. Egypt is dominated by the Nile. It is called the gift of the Nile because without it, Egypt would be a vast, empty desert. The Nile flows from the South to the North. So, the South is higher or “upper” part, and the north is the “lower” part. Hence, Upper and Lower Egypt are the reverse of what you would expect based on the compass. We traveled to Upper Egypt in the South and made our way back to Lower Egypt in the North.

When we returned, we were much more rested and much more comfortable being in Egypt. We returned to Old Cairo, and it felt like home. We went to one of the oldest churches in the world. We ate again at Le Riad Hotel de Charme, the hotel where we had stayed the previous time. We felt very comfortable there. We greeted people. It was a totally different experience from that overwhelming first night.

One thing that we missed in our first time was the world’s oldest bazaar, Khan El Khalili. Our guide did not really like it, but we all thought it was amazing. It was not just a bunch of trinkets. After doing some shopping, we sat down in the oldest cafe in the world, El Fishway Cafe, the same place where Naguib Mahfouz had written his books.

Usaquen, Bogota, Colombia

There were a couple of places that felt like home to me. My daughter had decided to study in Usaquen, a locality in Bogota. I have loved the numerous places I have visited over the past years, but this is one place where I really felt I could live. This is where my daughter lived for most of the school year of 2022–2023.

Usaquen is a beautifully kept locality. It would not make the list of top tourist destinations. It is just a beautiful place to live and stay. It has wonderful restaurants and places to walk. It has a plaza in the middle of the shops with the church looking over it. It has a large variety of shops and a market for crafts on Sunday. The mall has a little bit more local flavor than some of the more modern ones throughout the city.

Usaquen is surrounded by the mountains, and there are beautiful views from everywhere. The climate is cool and pleasant, like a nice fall day in the U.S., throughout the entire year. the only exception is that when it rains, it can get a bit cooler.

I spent a week there when my daughter first moved there. I was so nervous when I went the first time because of all I had heard about Colombia, but it was wonderful. I got to know the city and the locality. When I went back a year later, it was like meeting an old friend. I felt completely comfortable and at home.

My daughter will not be returning there this coming year (her life circumstances changed; nothing to do with Colombia). So, I don’t know when I will return, but I continue to enjoy the memories of this area as a good place to live and be.


I had a similar experience in Madrid, Spain. In April 2022, my daughter Anna and I made our way to Spain. We were exploring Spain and the idea of doing a mission trip there with our church. We would meet up with missionaries our church had supported for years who live in Girona, north of Barcelona.

We had a long trip to Madrid, flying through the night. We got an Uber and made our way to our hotel. It was the middle of the afternoon, and we were both tired. So, we tried to sleep a bit. I woke up thirty minutes later and thought, “Hey, I’m in Madrid! What am I doing sleeping?” So, I got up and went to walk around the area, examining each shop, watching the people, and getting coffee at the traditional Spanish cafe, Tim Horton’s. This was the first time I had been in Europe in more than 26 years, and I was not going to miss a moment of it.

We did a tour of Madrid and got to know the city that afternoon. We went to a flamenco show and walked the Gran Via. It was a spectacular day. The next morning, we took the train to Girona to meet our missionary friends.

We found a date for the mission trip. It was set for the following March. I was sure I was going, but I was not sure who would go with me. If no one went, I was not sure that it would even happen. However, I found an unbelievably cheap ticket from Knoxville. I said, “You know what, I am going to get it. What’s the worst case scenario? I spend two and a half weeks in Spain. That doesn’t sound like a real bad deal.Ñ So, I bought it.

I did find people to go with me. However, I went a week early. I thought long and hard about where to go. Eventually, I decided I would just stay in Madrid. I would just spend a week there and get to know the city. Plus, I had made some friends from there the previous summer whom I could visit.

It was like returning home. It felt more and more that way each day. Each morning, I walked from my Airbnb to a little spot for breakfast. I got to know the folks there, and I enjoyed sitting outside each morning and seeing the people go by and looking down on the basilica.

I was about a quarter of a mile from the royal cathedral and palace. I walked by there every day. I saw the people coming in and out. In fact, I went all over the city by foot, by metro, by bus, and, when, I couldn’t figure it out, by Uber or taxi. It was an extraordinary experience.

I returned a third time after our mission trip. I gave my fellow travelers a tour and helped them experience the city. I knew exactly where to go and moved around it like I would in my own.

I am collecting a group of places that feel like home. I am sure that this won’t be the last one.

And what is the key to building these homes away from home? It is to find a place you really enjoy and return. It is good to see new places. It may not be as exciting to return to an old place. But you develop a special connection with it that stays in your heart. That is a treasure worth having.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope it encourages you to travel now! I hope you will come back here again. You can subscribe below to get my latest posts. If you liked this post, please share it on social media.


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