Saturday, January 12, 2008

the first thing to do in a strange city

I noticed that I've gotten some traffic from search engines for readers asking what to do in a strange city. I suspect that a lot of those people are being sent to a city (one they might rather not visit) for work trips. It got me to thinking about my routine when I travel to a place I've never been to before.

For me, as soon as the bags have been deposited in the hotel, the first thing I want to do is roam the streets. I prefer for it to be an aimless wander, but because of the realities of travel schedules and all, it is more often a wandering with a specific aim — finding food. That can always be an adventure in itself, especially if you are traveling to a foreign country, and it is something that helps to make the trip interesting. I am not one of those overly cautious travelers who will suggest that you only find the cleanest spots to eat. In my experience, it's the roadside stalls that seem a bit suspect on the hygiene front that often have the best food. I'd say it depends on just how suspect said stall is. Use your discretion, and be adventurous.

But back to the true aimless wanderer. I think there is nothing better for seeing your host city than a good walk. I recently read a short story (in the anthology Dante's Disciples) that commented on the act of walking through a city. The vagrant who is the character of main interest in the story says that you can never really know a city unless you walk through it. There is so much that is missed when in a cab, car, bus, or train, but that is experienced more first hand when walking. The sounds and smells, the expressions on individual faces, the up-close look at what people in this strange city you are visiting do on a daily basis... that can all be overlooked when viewed through a window on some sort of vehicle, but you'll find yourself right in the middle of it when roaming the streets.

On my other blog, I'll be hosting a book club discussion in mid-February on Colin Fletcher's The Man Who Walked Through Time. Fletcher was a compulsive walker, and a great deal of good nature writing has grown out of his obsession. No doubt, walking in the wilds can bring one to be more observant and more "in sync" with nature. It works just the same way in urban environments. Nothing beats walking the streets, and getting up close to the real life of the city.

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