New city, new country – what to do first?

  • travelWalk the streets and get a bit lost, that is my recipe for discovering a new city. Just walk around, looking at buildings, at people, noticing little things, advertisements, how people dress, what they carry, how they either smile or frown… taking the temperature of the new place in a way.
  • Explore a supermarket. I love doing this. You just go in a normal supermarket or shop and you explore the shelves. Just this can tell you a lot about the country and how people live. Next to products you will know, you find the most amazing things… I love the way that in Korea, there is a huge part of the supermarket devoted to pickles (kimchi), tofu and a long shelf with rice cookers. The section for chrysanthemum and buckwheat tea is also impressive. The rice cookers are also a staple product in Vietnam. In France or Belgium, you can’t avoid a large section for cheeses and a poissonerie. In Canada, it’s the sweets and maple syrup products.
  • Eat in the street – hotdogs in North America, fish and chips in the UK, a gyros in Greece a pho in Saïgon. Taste the country… at its best.
  • Check out a bookshop and see what people read. I love how Saint Petersburg’s bookshops are full of all kinds of books, russian and foreign and how cheap the books are – here is a nation that reads. In Vietnam, street vendors sell not only souvenirs, but also books – illegal copies, yes, but books! that’s amazing! In Dublin, when one visits the Trinity college library, and sees the Book of Kells, one cannot feel anything else but sympathy for this nation whose biggest treasure is a book…
  • Smile, talk to locals… try to read the local newspaper. If you speak or at least understand the local language a bit. Difficult in some countries I admit, but there are sometimes newspapers in English –  like China daily. Or try to learn at least a few words from the language. Swahili, Vietnamese, Croatian… It’s not that hard.
  • Get a room or an apartment outside of the city center, where there are not so many tourists, so that you see parts of the city where normal people actually live.
  • Get to know the history of the country. This can give a lot of clues to what the country is like today.
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