Yes, I live in a city and I love travelling to new cities around the globe.
I have to agree that visiting a countryside or soaking up the sun in an exotic Island provides that sense of calm and much needed escape from the daily challenges of work and life that comes with living in a city. Let’s say it has some major perks given it’s nothing like a city and qualifies as a “getaway” in its true sense. Been there, done that and I definitely appreciate it, however, the thrill of exploring a new city away from the one I live in, in my books is like no other. To discover crevices and get lost for a moment in their way of life is the kind of new adventure I long for.
I recall from our short time in Hong Kong; a twenty four hour layover turned into a swarm of some of the best memories that even planning a week long itinerary cannot procreate. We had twelve hours of the day to conquer after catching up on some much needed sleep in a hotel box(Rooms in Hong Kong are ridiculously tiny) for the other twelve, we caught up on some good sleep. Given this time constraint all I wanted to do was stuff my face with as much food as physically possible within those 12 hours. Sight seeing could wait for the next time, but earning for egg waffles and pooping dumplings were real and a lot urgent. If your mind works anything close to mine while travelling you will understand the prominent role the city food scene plays here, especially in case of street food and stalking locals to their favourite places to eat at.
To get breakfast at a popular hipster restaurant well known to my husband Gaurav through a local friend, we walked a good distance in and out their serene gardens right next to the contrast of a jam packed street and watched locals get in their morning exercise of tai chi and football. Queued up to get our hands on some warm egg tarts that were literally selling like hot cakes in a market place, got on the metro to get where they made the original raindrop cake in the heart of the city and viewed the Hong Kong skyline from the Hollywood road on our way back for some Hong Kong style cheesecake, made our way through the crowd in a restaurant to get our serve of pooping dumplings and the original katsu curry, got lost in an alleyway and ended up discovering a hole in the wall restaurant serving beautiful egg waffles only to realise they are one of the original egg waffle store and watched it being made the original way, one by one. After we have had eaten enough in the name of this foodie escapade and was already time for us to get to the airport, it made me realise that we were taking back some far more memories of the city that was even beyond food and now leaving a part of me behind only after twelve hours of being there. Can you image what’d be to spend days and immerse oneself completely? Yes, also more days to haggle with the shopkeepers, visit some local favourites and many more such hole in the wall restaurants and street food as that would be very dreamlike in my books.
Hong Kong is only one recent example of the impact a city can have in a short span of time. I have grown up in some major metros in India, lived in a few abroad and currently in Dubai. And, that’s not what induced my love for cities, it was travelling to new ones. Living in one now has only been a fortunate coincidence.
Towards countryside or exotic islands the character of the place is defined by the available natural resources and by the number of farms and five starred resorts, whereas its people who give cities their personality. The diversity of locals and immigrants along with their individualities build the city and it’s favourites. Yes, a skyline of buildings and bridges has replaced starry nights, fresh farm food has been replaced with processed, yet, delicious deep-fried junk by the street. Even late at night the city is up and awake going about their business or prepping for an early day. People of the city live their 9 to 5 lives and yet know how to let loose when weekend comes around. English has become their second language and a restaurant in a city thousands of miles away from Italy is serving the best coffee in the world. It’s crowded, cramped, fast and dirty. Houses are tiny and to have a good life there you need the money. People look like little ants serving its queen; from home to work and dutifully back everyday. However, it’s the time in between where these same people help the city grow and make it a better place for them and us, everyday. It’s the people who make the food, the skyline, develop the culture and give their home a personality.
One thing that I have very evidently experienced is, in cities people are a lot more tolerant. Maybe there are extreme exceptions, however, friendliness and acceptance is lot more prevalent towards every race, colour and religion. They may not know it, but cities have bought people to live in unison and shape it together even though one may not know thy neighbour.
Diverse or not it is important to keep in mind a few things while travelling to a new city.
Language: If people there speak fluent English or a language you know, you are good! However, if that’s not the case, it’s always a good idea to learn a few phrases that’ll help you through out your visit. Including the translations for “Hello”, “Thank you”, “toilet” and their way of greeting.
For example, in Nice very few people speak English, as in the south of France French is a lot more dominant than in Paris.
Culture: It is extremely important to do a little cultural background research before heading to any city.
For example, Dubai has a lot of beaches and in some around hotels you are allowed to be in bathing suits and consume alcohol. However, once you are outside your hotel getting drunk on the roads or exploring the city casually in clothes considered “indecent” in these parts might land you some jail time or a hefty fine.
Etiquettes: People of some cities follow very particular etiquette and most have been bought up that way, so it is best to learn some before hand and implement it the right way as a form of respect.
For example, in Japan people don’t speak too loudly or tip at all as the locals consider these things rude.
Do not litter: Just do not do it. If it is common to do it in your country (stop it right away!) or even if you see the locals throwing trash around in the country you are visiting, don’t follow the suit. It’s wrong to litter in someone else’s country as a tourist and is even a worse practice in your own. Travel more responsibly and realise the consequences of your actions.
For example: Countries like U.A.E. and Singapore impose heavy fines on people who are caught littering or are even jailed in some cases.
It’s sweet the thrill of absorbing new experiences at every turn, taking it slow and steady amidst the fast paced locals, let your taste buds explore new cuisine, learn something new that is exclusive to that city, face challenges of language hurdles with a smile where the locals will definitely appreciate you trying and in all, the trick is to keep an open mind and let the city lights grow on you bright.