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When an aroma brings a travel memory to mind ...

This weekend I cooked up a lot of andouille sausage, and later when I was settling down for the night, I took a deep breath and a memory flashed into my head of a tiny crêperie in the 16th arr. of Paris from a visit probably more than 10 years ago but suddenly as clear as day --
I can picture the sunlight slanting through the windows on a chilly day, where a narrow counter ran along the walls for customers standing or on barstools and a few tables held pink-cheeked patrons, all the surfaces in a green formica, and the air above the flat circular grills shimmered a little bit with the heat inbetween the action of the batter being ladled and prepped fillings, (including andouille that looked like the leftovers from a construction-paper scissors decoration project) being spread.

This was fast food Parisian style, with quick turnover and mostly disposable tableware and plates, yet the conviviality at the tables was warming, as the heads-of-household distributed forks and napkins with jolly smiles. The counterperson was careful to ask if I wanted mine folded or on a plate, and my poor French couldn't grasp what he was saying right off, so he quickly switched to English, "To go or for here?" The scent of that quick snack apparently made a bigger impression than you might imagine.

What aromas bring back a distant memory from your travels?
Do you ever navigate by smell rather than by sight? Sound?

Posted by
21301 posts

For a long time diesel fumes made me think of London (the buses?), but the city doesn't smell like that anymore.

And the smell of some grilled meat brings back vague memories of a Turkish street food whose name I don't recall--a flatbread with ground meat on top.

Posted by
4370 posts

Pretty sure this is not what you're thinking of, but perhaps it will make you smile. When I was growing up my grandparents lived about six hours away in a different state. I always looked forward to visits. We spent a lot of time on the front porch which was surrounded by juniper bushes. To this day, whenever I smell gin (or see a juniper bush) I think of my grandparents house, and since I do enjoy gin, I think of it often!

Posted by
6788 posts

acraven, I'm with you - diesel fumes make me think of being in Europe.

Posted by
519 posts

The smells of cigarettes and wood-fired ovens always take me back to Italy.

Posted by
472 posts
  • White Tea fragrance reminds me of the lobby of a certain Westin hotel in Vancouver, BC.
  • my L'Occitance moisturizer reminds me of the one provided in our Antibes apartment.
  • the smell of fresh basil plants in the grocery store remind me of the best pizzas in my life at a couple hole-in-the-wall places near our hotel in Naples.
Posted by
1954 posts

Thanks for sharing these smelly associations -- the specific ones are are a treat: Gin reminds you of grandparents' porch; Fresh basil reminds you of pizza in Naples.

That kind of particular ringing of memory's bell is what I had in mind, moreso than a general observation like traffic noise reminds one of cities or sunlight reminds one of being in the solar system :P

Posted by
4592 posts

“What aromas bring back a distant memory from your travels?”
I associate the scent of hotel toiletries with my memories of a town. So, when we stayed at lovely St. Wolfgang, Austria, and they provided the wonderfully scented Molton Brown toiletries, I thoroughly enjoyed them and brought the remaining back home. Just using them again brought back wonderful memories! Well, a few years later, we stayed in a B&B in San Francisco that also provided Molton Brown. That bathroom was in really bad shape! So, when I opened the toiletries in that shower, my sense memory didn’t align with my current situation!

The scent of roses reminds me of a morning strolling through the Portland Rose Garden and also enjoying a relaxing afternoon at the Vienna Volksgarten Rose Garden. My husband wasn’t in a hurry, sitting on a bench, and I was wearing a black & white dress. Each section of roses contained so many beautiful blooms, but I was on a quest to find the ones with the strongest, old rose scent.

“Do you ever navigate by smell rather than by sight? Sound?”
Absolutely! We have stopped at boulangeries in Paris justed based on the smell and selected small Italian restaurants based on their heavenly scent. Neither type when chosen by their aroma has ever disappointed.

Posted by
4698 posts

The smell of burning plastic takes me right back to Ghana.

Posted by
16883 posts

A bunch of fresh mint leaves will always take me back to Morocco. I love to inhale deeply when walking into a smelly cheese shop, but have been in too many good ones to lock it into a particular place.

Posted by
2051 posts

Hmm. I have to admit the smell of gin (or juniper) actually holds an unpleasant memory for me. Something about juniper bushes, purple passions (gin and grape juice for the uninitiated) and my freshman year in college. Now fresh lemon-Italy and in particular, Sicily! Love that memory inducing aroma. That's a warm and wonderful reminder of my visits to Sicily and southern Italy.

Posted by
37 posts

Not necessarily of food. Sometimes it's a mixture of food and the surroundings... and you remember how different that smells compared to home. I rarely navigate through smell though as my nose is almost always subject to sinus issues.

Posted by
1872 posts

Yes, diesel fumes! Were it not for deleterious side effects, I could inhale them all takes me back instantly to 1972 and we’re just out of college again. So many memories of that first fantastic trip to Europe.

Posted by
304 posts

Star jasmine takes me right back to "our" terazza in Riomaggiore. When I smell espresso I am right back at our first B&B in Rome trying to navigate passport registration in Italian while sitting in Anna's cucina while the moka pot brewed.