Ever Ruined A Great Travel Memory By Trying To Repeat It?

Filed Under: Travel

I’ve spent the last week in Budapest, Hungary.

It’s my second visit here — the last being in 2016.

It’s a wonderful city, although very cold this time of year — it snowed overnight in the city. They really welcome tourists here and as they have not adopted the Euro, it remains astonishingly cheap.

During my first visit in 2016 I visited a wonderful local restaurant that has remained my favourite memory of Hungary ever since. We stumbled across it one evening without a reservation but were welcomed inside, and enjoyed an amazing meal with some of the best service I have ever experienced in all my travels.

I won’t name the venue but readers very familiar with Budapest may recognise from the description — while it’s an upmarket bistro, the unique fit out is of a cute children’s playroom in a cellar basement.

It sounds odd but it was a really cool and memorable design (and worked really well).

We were welcomed with a free glass of sparkling wine as soon as we walked through the door. The waiters, who all spoke perfect English, then explained the unique menu to us and then encouraged us to try a glass of local Hungarian wine.

We both agreed but had no idea what any of the wines were. Rather than just bringing us a glass of their choice and hoping we liked it, they listened to the styles of wine we would usually drink and then, even though we were only ordering a glass each, brought three different bottles (with three different glasses).

They poured us a small taste of each, so we could try each before committing to one, even though we were ordering only a glass each, not a whole bottle.

The little touches like this really stayed with us and we’ve recommended this venue to loads of friends. The staff took so much time and care to ensure we had an amazing meal.

Unsurprisingly, at the time, it was one of the top rated restaurants in Budapest and was the most memorable part of our 2016 visit to the city.

So, returning for the last week we were excited to return to ‘our favourite Hungarian restaurant.’

We went there last night after looking forward to it all week. The first thing we immediately noticed when we walked in the door was that it was in a new venue. It was significantly bigger — I’m guessing the original concept was so successful they moved it to a much larger capacity space.

Okay, we thought, so it’s not a cozy cellar, but the concept is still the same.

The entire experience was really disappointing. While the food was okay, the service was dreadful. We were completely forgotten about once our meals arrived — we only had one drink the entire meal purely because we were never offered any more.

We ended the meal both agreeing we would never want to come again.

Upon afterwards checking online how the restaurant is rated in the new venue, its rating has slid down considerably. Having watched the service flow it seems like the staff can’t deliver the same amazing, personalised experience in the newer, much larger venue.

It also loses so much of the charm of the original concept — it’s no longer a cute, unique experience — it’s just a big, fairly commercial restaurant.

We left feeling a bit dejected because not only had we had an average dinner, it felt like the original memory from 2016 was ruined.

Bottom line

I’ve had this happen a few times in my travels and I’m interested to know if you guys have too. You have an awesome travel memory, you then return to the same place to try and repeat it, and then it’s not as good and sours the original memory.

Whenever I think of this restaurant I now think more of the disappointing recent experience rather than the amazing experience a few years ago.

There are some memories I’ve had that are so special that I avoid ever trying to repeat/recreate them for fear of ruining the original memory.

For example, I had an incredible week in Israel a few years back which was one of the best weeks of my life. Everything just went absolutely perfectly. I am unlikely to return to Tel Aviv for the sole reason that I doubt it could possibly be as good as my first visit so I feel like I’m setting myself up for disappointment.

Has this happened to you? Has recreating cherished travel memories actually ruined them? Do you ever avoid repeating something to avoid this happening?

  1. Why wouldn’t you mention the name? It’s practically a public review on it – I feel you have no obligations to hide their name.

  2. As long as your review is honest and true, why not mention the name to help others avoid the disappointment you encountered?

  3. I’ve had that happen, but i’ve also had the opposite happen: that venue of my dreams was just as stellar the second time around.

    I have a favorite bar in Hong Kong that I went to on the recommendation of a bartender from home. It looked like a hole-in-the-wall dive and felt like one inside, but with outstanding service, excellent cocktails, and a warm and wonderful owner. It was only afterwards that I found out it was ranked as one of the world’s 50 top bars, which blew me away because they definitely don’t act like it (I mean that in a good way). Since then, every time I have gone, it woes me every time, and every time I tell someone visiting Hong Kong to stop by, they similarly question my recommendation as they approach because of the dive bar look but are thoroughly impressed once they walk in.

    I’m sorry you had such a poor experience at your restaurant. I hope this doesn’t sour you on the idea of returning to restaurants, though.

  4. Of course this has happened to virtually everyone, but it seems like you are conflating two different things: one is being unable to recreate the magic associated with a place when nothing has changed; the other is being unable to recreate that magic when everything has changed.

    For example, I once visited Madrid with some truly amazing company and had a fantastic time. The weather was wonderful, and the food, architecture, nightlife, etc. made it so that when I left I was already yearning to return.

    And return I did, but as a solo traveler. Without the benefit of my amazing travel companions, I revisited many of the same restaurants, mused at the same architecture, etc. The magic was gone, despite nothing having actually changed. I realized in that moment that our travel experiences are largely shaped by external factors (our companions, the weather, etc.) over which we have no control. Simply put, with the right company, and the right “externals,” even a trip to Cleveland could seem amazing.

    What you describe seems different. The restaurant had totally changed. You were expecting the same result even though you likely realized immediately upon seeing the venue that the coziness and local flair of the had transformed into a commercial venue. In this case, I would not let this transformation affect your memory any more than if a new restaurateur had bought up the space, renamed the restaurant, gutted the interior, changed the menu and hired an entirely new staff. It isn’t the same place, so why let it affect your memory?

    The first type of experience I describe is the one that really gets to me. It leaves me wondering if my initial experience was “wrong” all along.

  5. YES! I can so relate. Went back to Phi Phi Islands a little over a decade after my first visit there to share the magic of the place with my partner, and it had completely changed. It was his first time there and I wanted him to enjoy it so I held back on my comments…but I was so disappointed in how it has become so crowded and lost some of its appeal. Decided it’s best not to go back to a place I love for fear I won’t love it as much the second time and will leave a bit heartbroken. Is that silly of me????

  6. Ya, we’ve definitely had several similar experiences. Particularly with restaurants which seem to change personality over time as staff and management gradually turnover.

  7. Yes, good call to protect the privacy of the restaurant here while outing the grieving owner of the bulldog in Australia with a photo of her and the deceased dog.

  8. I think you have to have different expectations.

    I have returned to cities that I have visited and loved in the past and its been really good. I haven’t tried to recreate the experience, and maybe I go to different places to eat, etc. I think Berlin is that type of city. I have been several times and it just seems more fun each time.

    I think if you return to a city, you have to do different things, eat at different places, etc. Create new memories instead of trying to re-create previous great memories.

    As Sade sang, ‘It’s never as good as the first time’.

  9. “Al lugar donde has sido feliz, no debieras tratar de volver”. Joaquin Sabina one of the most celebrated singer/songwriter in the Spanish language, mentions this in one of his songs. It translates literally:” you should not try to go back to the place where you found happiness.”
    I have lived by it. I know that going back will never be the same. But I understand it and I am prepared.

  10. It happend to me with a trip to Lisbon. My first visit was in 2004 and it was still a hidden germ. I really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and I loved visiting the fado bars in the harbor district. At that time you could enjoy the best fado music on a glass of red wine or Porto. I was back in 2012 and all bars had introduced cover charges or fixed meals to order. The atmosphere has suffered, but I understand an increase of tourists will have such effects.

  11. You mention twice in the the opening paragraphs of this report that your first visit to Budapest was in 2016 and that you first experienced this restaurant in 2016. Later you say “Unsurprisingly, …the most memorable part of our 2015 visit to the city.”
    So was your first trip in 2016 or 2015? This writing and your posts are getting sloppy.

    Also, Budapest? Now? Given the turmoil? Sure it’s cheap, but going and supporting an extremely repressive, racist regime is not how I’d spend my money (reasons I dont go to China either, and sadly wont be returning to Brazil for awhile).

  12. My partner and I like to include the familiar with new aspects when we plan trips. Last year we went to Koh Mook in southern Thailand and really want her to go back. However we decided against it as what made the experience so great was that we hadn’t had much in the way of expectations. Often the best travel memories are ones created from happenstance or the “stumble upon” as you expressed.

  13. I’m with you, I think it’s a sign of integrity for blogs to only name places where the author had a positive experience and to obfuscate those where the experience was less positive.

    James, I enjoy your posts, but it’s shameful to shield the name of the restaurant.

  14. @ Hungry – if I had named the restaurant I would have been criticised by readers for damaging their reputation from my one bad experience, given the huge readership of OMAAT.

    It’s a lose/lose situation.

  15. Cannot relate. The second experience may not be as magical as the first, but surely that shouldn’t lessen the first experience and memories.

  16. I had a significantly worse experience upon returning to Granada, Spain. But I didn’t walk away feeling like my initial memories were ruined; I just left with a mix of now good and meh.

    The conditions when I visited a few other places; Huashan and Eisriesenwelt in particular, were so perfect (in my eyes) that I think I’ll just hold onto those memories as is. But I don’t plan on “preserving” my travel memories in general like that

  17. It is almost universally true, not only when traveling but your local restaurants as well. When the small, cozy, up-and-coming restaurant with the talented chef doubles or triples in size, it is the death of what made that establishment extra special if you visited when they were small. I guess you can’t blame people for wanting to be more successful, but I (and you) can never go back as it’s a guaranteed disappointment. Time to find a new undiscovered, delicious and impossibly charming boîte 😉

  18. Actually, not ruined but different from the first. On the contrary, I’ve had a better stay the second time around in some locales. But overall, I’ve visited many places the first time, that I would never, ever return to.

  19. So tired of the ignorant “its so cheap” type of comments from tourists re. Budapest and Eastern Europe. It may be cheap, for you, however if you are on the average Hungarian or equivalent local wage, it is not cheap. Please consider this.

  20. Great post, James. I avoid making repeat visits to several places where I have some of my greatest memories for the exact reasons you mentioned.

  21. My husband and I went on safari in Tanzania with an alumni group in 2008. Everything was absolutely perfect! The tents were comfortably set up; the guides found nonstop wildlife; the food was delicious; and the staff was amazingly gracious. Our guides told us their workday ended right before dinner, but they chose to spend the whole rest of the day with our group because they enjoyed us. We saw all the charismatic megafauna (elephants, lions, hippos, rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, wildebeest, zebras…) and an amazing variety of birds. The experience was perfect, so we’ll never go back! It couldn’t be better and it couldn’t be the same, so it would be worse. H/T to Thomson Safaris of Tanzania and Watertown, MA.

  22. I live by the mantra “Nothing is Forever, so enjoy it while you can”, and that has served me well. If there’s a restaurant, or an event, or a location that I really enjoy, I make a point of visiting it as often as I can, knowing that each visit may be slightly different. Often my relationship with the place/event improves with time.

    But, when THAT the time comes, I simply move on, knowing that I had the best of the past, and new discoveries to come. My current “discovery” is Mexico City – a place that I used to fear. In my last visit (for work) I discovered a beautiful, relatively safe, inexpensive city with world-class museums, lots of wonderful, small restaurants in great neighborhoods (La Condesa, Roma), and friendly people. And was Uber ever so cheap? So, I plan to return as often as I can, knowing that this won’t last forever, and so I should enjoy it while the sun shines.

  23. @Justin, I’m in the industry here and I completely relate to what you’re saying, and I’m curious which bar it is?

    @James, completely agree and I like the “emotional” twist with this post..most of the times I like to go back and re-live it to show someone and most of the times it’s a hit, but occasionally it is just a mood killer and the original “goose bump memory” just fades away. Worth the “risk” though to be able to share the experience to someone else you care about, as most of the time it actually works fine as you come there and have much less hassles than first time you visit a place, only the vibe remains!

  24. “as they have not adopted the Euro, it remains astonishingly cheap”

    It’s nonsense. Countries that have already adopted the Euro like Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania or Slovenia are as cheap as before. The adoption of Euro has nothing to do with real and current prices.

  25. 18 years ago was my 1st Aman experience at Amanpuri. Everything was perfect. Returned this past November…..definitely not the same. Fortunately the amazing F&B manager stepped up and corrected most of the issues.

    I’m learning “you can’t go home again”. If you have an amazing experience, you will not replicate it.

  26. Last month. Went to Volendam as part of a trip that was going to Volendam irrespective of individual preference but I’ve been before and went to a little bakery that did excellent cakes. Still do the cakes but there were about seven coaches of Chinese tourists who were not not mindful of their surroundings (small, narrow streets). Totally changed going there. However, those cakes haunt me enough that when I go back to Amsterdam in April I’ll make a point of hopping on a bus up to Volendam without anyone else around. Arriving at 9am. Buying the cakes too bring back to the UK that afternoon and getting out before any tourist coaches at all hit the place up!

  27. We went with friends to the amazing Speakeasy event in San Francisco. It was unique and one of my favorite experiences in a long time.

    A few months later, we were going again with a different couple. One of them cancelled at the last minute leaving their partner to come along as a third wheel with us. The entire time he was concerned about his partner, and wouldn’t actively engage in the performance, and followed us around. Such a dreadful experience that it’s now to feel as happy about that first encounter as I did.

  28. I was going to use a swear word but will refrain but @JACOB: Come visit Cleveland, better still live here with our amazing cost of living, housing, healthcare, museums, sports, Lake Erie, culture, theater, etc. and then form an opinion. And I don’t want to hear about our winters–hello Chicago & NYC–same thing. So tired of my home town getting slammed. Oh on second thought–don’t come here–we are better off without you.

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