Have you ever wanted to go to a place you have never been before, but wouldn’t know where to go when you got there? The one thing I DO know about travel is that you will never actually know anything about where you are if you just do the “touristy” stuff, because your daily itinerary will not show you what it’s really all about. People enjoy talking about themselves and their lives, what they do, how they live if you are interested enough.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is one of my favorite sayings. Also one of the truest sayings. St. Ambrose said it in 387 A.D. and if that saying is around after all this time, it must be true!. How else are you really going to know what to eat, where to go and really live like the locals do. It’s all about the real people and their customs that will make you appreciate a different culture so much more. Sure, go out and do the touristy things first, so you’ll have something to tell the locals and they can have a good laugh and tell you that you shouldn’t have spent so much money. At that point, you find out about the “diamonds in the rough” or other places to stay for a more reasonable price. Let’s face it, not everyone’s last name is Hilton.
It’s all gravy from that point. You then get all the amateur tour guides wanting to make your stay as comfortable and authentic and a hell of a lot cheaper, not to mention a newfound knowlegde of a place you never would have seen like this before had you not been interested. Because NOT knowing how to act in a different culture sometimes may not be welcome by everyone you meet. You certainly don’t want to insult someone by saying something they find offensive just because you didn’t know what to ask or how to ask for what you want without being insulting. Especially when you are so far away from your home turf. So where do we go to find people that will show me how they live, without getting robbed, assaulted or worse? Let me tell you what I did when I went to Germany. Although it wasn’t my first time being in Mannheim in 2001, it was the first time back since I lived there in 1975, so to me, it was like the first time.
You go where the locals go and in Europe, it’s usually a neighborhood bar or pub. I met some of the most amazing people in the world at a local neighborhood dive and made lifelong friends. So if you have a location in mind that you are interested in seeing, you obviously have researched it enough to know what you REALLY want to do after seeing all the normal tourist spots. Because what you will learn, is not in any travel pamphlet I’ve ever read. This is how I did it:
I got to my destination, took a day or so to get used to the time zone by hitting a main tourist attraction, then getting on a streetcar toward “Downtown”, and after a few stops, get out and just start walking, and I didn’t have a GPS either. Think about it, you won’t get lost because you’ve never been there before. Just make sure you always see train tracks. Breathe, do some window shopping, try out your four or five memorized German phrases you learned on the plane on some bakeries or coffee shops first or souveniers. By that time, you will definitely have made it known that you are new there. You won’t need to know the language fluently either. Germans love to show off how much English they know and most of them speak English very well, at least more that your broken German phrases. I spoke it fluently, but they still heard a strange accent and the glazed look of confusion that made me look like a newcomer. I couldn’t win for losing, they didn’t make fun of my broken German, they laughed because I spoke slang German just like the Mannheimers that lived there all their lives. They knew exactly where I learned it, almost to the street address.
I wound up seeing things I didn’t see when I lived there 26 years before. Instead of the American named hotel that cost me a fortune, they found me a studio rental for a quarter of the price so I stayed longer. I was told which restaurants to go to and what to eat at each one, I was invited for home-cooked meals to Sunday dinners with families. I went to old towns, I found out where the festivals were, the farmers markets, which parts to avoid and which parts to visit and what to look for, how to get there, what to wear, and where to get it, CHEAP!
After that amazing time I had, which was only supposed to be a 2-week visit, turned into 6 weeks for the price of two and the best memories I’ll ever have. I’ve been there 7 times after that and now I’m just family visiting from America. So that’s how you do it. Take public transportation to a downtown area and go to a local pub. Try your German, or French when in France, or Spanish when in Spain, on them. But be aware that there aren’t all saints like St. Ambrose everywhere you go. So use your gut feelings and your brain and you’ll have the most fun, learn about things you really DIDN’T need to know, live like they do, eat like crazy, especially before you drink anything, because you will never get used to the alcohol content even their beer has. Be smart and educate yourself before you go anywhere, but when you get there, do it like they do, and you will have the time of your life, for a lot less. PROST!!!