There are different types of tourists and a multitude of ways in which people enjoy themselves. So it goes without saying that different people want to see different things when they travel. It is hard to do everything you set out to do when you also want to relax and if you want to get to know the place you are in, rather than just its monuments.
Consider this: when you think back on the best bits of your holiday, it’s almost never a specific museums or monuments, it’s the little things. But you may be sitting thinking, ‘but just going out for meals, bars, shopping, I can do that in my country.’ Yes, you can. But even the small, seemingly mundane and universal things differ in ways you can’t predict, small but significant details. Like that time you had to make weird gestures to communicate your order, which you and friends will giggle about whenever you remember. Or how you are ruined for pizza everywhere after relishing it in Italy. Or maybe you did some people watching, sipping on a local speciality, and you found that ‘oh, people don’t hug as much here’, or ‘oh, people use umbrellas for even the tiniest bit of rain here.’ This is what I love.
I remember when my Spanish aunty, Gemma, and I went to Segovia, Spain. A beautiful town about an hour from Madrid, famous for its castle and aqueduct, which were amazing.
So as you can see, we did take in the amazing sites and appreciate that it was like stepping back in time. But rather than paying to go into the castle, we found ourselves appreciating the history in other ways. Like how we saw a priest walking in front of a Cathedral, going into small, cobblestone alley and disappearing… It just fit. It fit so well, it felt so medieval European. We froze for a moment, in inexplicable awe, excited by a priest walking, likely as his predecessors did in medieval times.
We had more experiences like this on the same ay. We saw some government officials in old-timey outfits casually going about their business; We had never seen this clothing in Barcelona, or in Madrid. We later went into a very typical Spanish restaurant, where we enjoyed some manchego, pan con tomate and a cafe con baileys. The clientele made us feel like we were from the future, with their elbow-patched, tweed jackets and fedoras, their curly mustaches and canes. There were one or two ladies donning pearls and frilly dresses too. It was surreal and we loved it. It was unusual to see how to see they weren’t dressing in a vintage style, and were not modern hipsters. They were just wearing clothes, dressed for a normal day. Like a t-shirt and jeans to us.
But most of the day was frankly spent goofing around. We just had fun laughing about god knows what, taking in the historical architecture as we did so, as well as being vain and taking some awesome pictures.
I have had countless more experiences like these. How I loved the vibe of Shimokitazawa, Tokyo, with its hipster cafes and awesome second-hand shops, far more than Shibuya or Takeshita dori. How I loved people-watching in all parts of Shinjuku over simply walking down Kabukicho and taking a bunch of photos. How I love sitting in a roadside dhaba over going to the Taj Mahal or countless old step wells and mandirs. I love sitting and watching locals chat, belch and laugh over a good thali and then some piping hot chai. I feel that the way people slurp their tea differs world round. These are the curiosities, wonders and small differences that make the little things poignant.
I think part of it is that when I travel, I often think of the place as somewhere to live, not somewhere to simply see. I love trying to get an insight into the culture by trying to learn some of the language. I do this in the hopes of maybe making a new home, multiple new homes. Even if I don’t want to move there at some point, I just want to be more aware of the world. And I hate being someone who has been to a place but knows nothing of the culture or the language, especially being someone who can’t even remember the name of the places I went to. I am constantly trying to be more open to knowledge when I travel because it is far too easy to close yourself off without realising it.
I am not hating on tourist attractions at all. It is somewhat annoying to me when someone says ‘Oh, I don’t want to do this because it is touristy.’ I get it, you don’t want to line up for ages and pay a ridonculous fee for some overrated statue, or for some excessively artificial gardens. But there are often reasons for something being a tourist attraction. So I like to see them. It’s just that after a certain point, you’d rather kick back in a café than go to yet another museum, which you know you won’t actually appreciate, you’re just going to feel like you’ve done the city justice or to feel intellectual, or just to say you’ve done it. Or maybe you’re just tired. It happens.
Maa and I did something similar in Brussels. In the Grand Place, there is a museum with the history of Brussels. It is by no means bad and I probably could have made more of an effort to appreciate it. But instead, I just had a quick walk around after which we both decided to get some vegan chocolate covered strawberries from one of Brussel’s many famous chocolate shops (as shown in the featured image) and people-watch, the tourists and locals in The Grand Place. I don’t regret it at all.
Vibe is such a vague word, but it really helps me get across what I want to say. I love to feel and at least remotely understand a place’s vibe, before I think of focusing on its history and monuments. In fact, the vibe, walking around and experiencing the smaller things, are often a great way to learn about culture and history.
Up until recently, I would feel really bad if I skipped something, but I don’t anymore. I’ve developed a good sense of what to see because it is actually worth it, what to see just once to say I’ve seen it, and what to do and see because I want to. With a bit of research and trust in my own judgement, this sense wasn’t at all hard to develop.
To savouring the vibe and the little things!