Mar 11, 2011

A Way of Seeing: How to be a Tourist At Home

Life as an expat can be a fascinating mix between real life and tourism. As you settle in to your new home, select a school for your children and enter the daily grind of heading to work with other commuters, you might lose that sense of excitement and wonder that accompanied your initial arrival. If you're planning on staying home this season, try these tips for how to feel like a traveler while going about your daily routine in Bratislava, Budapest, Moscow, Prague, Vienna and Warsaw.

The following is written by Sarah Menkedick for Matador Life
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You know the feeling. You’re walking to the market, to the store, to meet a friend, all caught up in the plodding forward of your day…and then suddenly, you take notice of where you are. The light on a wall, the expressions on people’s faces, the feeling of the weather. A distinct sense of place creeps over you, and for a moment you feel like a traveler.

I love this feeling. It is a relief to me; ah, I haven’t forgotten what I learned on the road. How to be fully present in a place.

But it’s rare at home. We tend to get used to our surroundings pretty quickly, especially if they’re surroundings we’ve grown up in or lived in for years. And this familiarity isn’t all bad—our brains, freed up from paying acute attention to the unknown, can focus on other things—writing, school, relationships, work, projects.

And yet sometimes, the desire (Overwhelming! Insatiable! Get me on a freaking bus to Belize!) for that novelty and spark of travel is overwhelming. Sometimes a sense of sadness creeps into the everyday—why can’t I see and feel this place like I’ve seen and felt so many other places traveling?
So this is a guide to traveling at home–taking “home” to be a place you’ve stuck around for a while and grown accustomed to. A guide to seeing it through a traveler’s eyes and bringing it back to life again.
Farmer's Market in Prague 6
©Tomas Kohl

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As simple as strolling out the front door into the great beyond. Pay attention to detail as you go. The way the light hits buildings, the noises and conversations drifting out of restaurants, the sky, the view.

Roam without concern for routes and take advantage of the fact that you know this place’s geography well. Wander into neighborhoods you don’t usually explore and examine them as if you were stumbling across them for the first time.

See a city from different angles—how does it look from the top of a hill? From the bottom? Walking from the west, or east? Sometimes, when I feel my senses have been numbed by walking the same old routes around Oaxaca, I cross the city and go way out east, where the city starts dipping into the valley.

Then I turn around and start walking back, this time with a view of the narrow parallel streets stretching before me, and the arched back of a purple mountain in the distance. It feels like a different city.

Sometimes all you need is a fresh point of view.
Healing saline Graduation Towers in outside of Warsaw, Poland
Be a tourist
Even if you are living in a village buried deep in the Nepali highlands or in, say, Columbus, Ohio, there are places a tourist (even if he or she just happened to get stranded overnight there) would go in your area. Investigate as if you were planning a trip—where would you go, where would the tourist lit take you?

Go as if you know nothing about your city at all. Imagine the tourist destinations were your first impression of it. What would they reveal to you? How would you interpret them? What would you write home about them?

Duck into a restaurant nearby, order a local delicacy (buffalo wings? Wisconsin cheese curd? Spaghetti and meatballs? Chilaquiles?), and eat it as if the flavors were a revelation, an odd local phenomenon. Imagine all of it is giving you new information about where you are and what this place is like.
Apartment in the Old Town, Warsaw
Keep an eye out for the artistic beauty of local properties, like this artistically designed Prague apartment or Adolf Loos House. Read more about Art Deco and Bauhaus in Central and Eastern Europe.

Look for new perspectives
Unless you’re living in a tent buried deep somewhere in the Andes, there are bound to be at least a few people from a few different places in your area. Hit up Chinatown if you’re in a major city, practice your Spanish at a Mexican restaurant, volunteer at a shelter for refugees, or work with immigrants.

Hearing about the experiences of a foreigner or an immigrant in your city paints it in a whole different light. You may be surprised, as I was roaming through a Mexican grocery store in Columbus, at just how different the place you think you know so well looks from this perspective.
View from a Budapest house

Love your public transport
One thing I do when I need a sense of escape is hop on a bus. And then another. And another. No, I’m not fleeing to Guatemala, I’m just riding around. One public bus after another, bumping and jostling ‘round Oaxaca.

Maybe this is intense nostalgia for all the buses I took crossing South America, or maybe I’m just a big baby who loves the gentle rocking motions of moving vehicles, but I’m willing to guess that many travelers find something soothing about being in motion.

The familiar feeling of looking out the window, trying to put the pieces together, absorbing the scenery. The bus transports me out of my neurotic consciousness, my obsession with whatever I need to do that day and the next, and makes me feel like I’m traveling.

Thinking of travel as a particular type of vision frees you from the obligation to go fleeing from one destination to another, and liberates you to rediscover the places you think you know so well.
Trams in Prague, seen from a Prague apartment
About the Author:
Sarah Menkedick has traveled, lived, and taught on five continents, and is constantly in pursuit of spicy food, dark beer, and new places to run. She is an MFA student at the University of Pittsburgh. See the original article here.

Title photo ©Bratislava Paparazzi statue, Emma and Steve,

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