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Travel: How to Experience a Place

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

 

Traveling via water taxi, Venice, Italy

Traveling via water taxi, Venice, Italy

Travel is my thing.

I love seeing new places, eating new foods, meeting new people, and experiencing new things.

Maybe the travel bug got me early, from moving many times across and around the United States growing up. From there, traveling the world had me hooked. Japan for three months at age 16. Paris at 15. New York City many times as a teen. New Orleans for a few years as newlyweds. And now, I live in Prague with my family, and we have the immense privilege of traveling Europe from our doorstep.

We learn things when we travel, I think. And the more we travel, the more we learn. Even traveling within one country, we learn to navigate accents (deep South, y’all?), clothing, food, hobbies and sports. Everything is different when we travel.

Now that I’m grown and I live with my family in Europe, we travel through languages and currencies, often. It isn’t easy, but it oozes with adventure. And, the more I travel and see, the more I realize that I have a habit of wanting to do more than tour a city on a bus. I enjoy really seeing things, and really experiencing a place. Sure, most mass tours walk or drive by tourist spots and show the highlights of a city or country. But perhaps there is more to a place than seeing the hot spots.

Maybe there is a way to experience the heart of a city or country … it might involve not getting all of the notable spots on the map, but it involves slowing down and letting the place seep in at its own time.

I enjoy traveling the offbeat paths set for the heart of a place, by first watching what the locals do, and then trying something similar.  To me, this is the key to really experiencing their place.

Some examples:

In Prague (where we have lived for 2 years), I enjoy strolling on the Charles Bridge (Karlovy Most, built in 1357) in the morning, as the fog dissipates, and having coffee there before the tourist crowds hit.

Prague's Charles Bridge

Prague's Charles Bridge

In Amsterdam (where I traveled with my Dutch friend), I learned to ride a big red bike like the locals do, en masse, as their primary means of transportation around the city.

Riding like the locals (kind of) in Amsterdam

Riding like the locals (kind of) in Amsterdam

In Rome, I love to walk the Spanish Steps and look out over the city, and stand in the Pantheon (built in 126 AD), below the massive dome and its ancient oculus open to the sky.

the oculus inside Rome's Pantheon, a window to the sky

the oculus inside Rome's Pantheon, a window to the sky

In the Austrian Alps, I love sitting in a mountain hutte, surrounded by boisterous mountaineers drinking beer by the stein-full.

the heavenly view from a hutte in the Austrian Alps

the heavenly view from a hutte in the Austrian Alps

In Dubrovnik, I loved sitting beside the old fortress walls, watching the boats pass the lighthouses and come into the shelter of the harbor.

Harbor beside the Dubrovnik fortress walls

Harbor beside the Dubrovnik fortress walls

This coming week, we’ll be driving down and through Italy for our fall holiday. I’ll marvel as Autostrada drivers dart into the petrol stations and refuel themselves with a standing espresso. I can’t wait to watch with wide eyes as women with kerchiefed heads beat olive trees with long poles, harvesting the olives onto white cotton sheets. I love the fresh amazement at Vespas and their drivers darting between narrow alleys strung with fresh laundry.

the quiet landscape in rural Tuscany

the quiet landscape in rural Tuscany

To travel is to experience another place, people, and culture. And by watching and learning the natives and their daily lives, travelers can begin to understand just how similar we really are, and find meaning in the cultural differences.

How do you enjoy experiencing a new place? What is your favorite habit when you travel somewhere new?