Author: Sarah (Page 2 of 5)

A Slippery Winter Wonderland

“Are you okay?” Asks the nearest tourist in English with the heaviest accent I’ve ever heard.

Brushing my butt off and cringing, I say of course and rush off, trying to loose myself in the crowd that’s swirling around. Not 5 steps later, I find myself on the ground again, another stranger’s hand pulling me up and checking for broken bones.

Whoever told me that it doesn’t snow in Western Europe was wrong. While it does not snow often, Brussels, Belgium turns into an ice skating rink the mornings when the world wakes up to a winter “wonderland.” Cobblestones become boulders, ready to catch your skate and make it impossible to escape the embarrassment of smacking your nose on the pavement.

I could have escaped it. I could have listened to the lovely family I was staying with who informed me that it was slippery and that I should be careful. With my too-cool-for-school attitude however, I stuck on my fanciest city-living black booties and headed out to explore my new surroundings at 9am, less than an hour after the most recent snow had fallen.

Ooft, three steps out the door and I was already on the ground. I could have turned back. Changed shoes. Drunk some coffee and waited a few hours. Put on an extra layer.

But, the stubborn child within me said no, I am all powerful, I can do this. And I continued.

Through the Grand Place, slipping into the panoramic elevator by the Palais de Justice, up to the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula, sitting on the steps of the Mont des Arts because there was no way I was walking down those. My boots became skates, shuffling instead of walking, turning me into a penguin. As the snow melted, it made the smooth cobblestones slicker, then freezing again, like my fingers and toes into ice blocks that made smooth movement impossible.

In an attempt to warm up and to experience Belgian culture (I had just arrived after all, might as well jump right in), I ordered a cone of fries, then remembered that finger foods and gloves are incompatible. Without gloves my ice-block fingers couldn’t grip the food, but with gloves, I got a mouth-full of wool every time I tried to taste potato.

Almost in tears, I found a café with free wifi and found the easiest, warm-public-transportation using, way home, where I jumped in a hot bath and ditched my cute, now frozen, shoes.

Now, three months later, as the crocuses are just peeking out of the once-frozen ground, I walk my friend around my adopted city and give the tour that is tainted by memories of the snowy day that I messed up. “Here’s the square where a tourist from Bulgaria helped me up” I say, or “Watch out, the white tiles set into the road are slipperier than the cobblestones.” Honestly, I’m surprised the fall I took on those steps right there didn’t permanently dent either my butt or the pavement itself.

I pluck a bluebell from the ground outside the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula and tuck it behind my ear. “It matches your eyes,” mentions my friend, the one lucky enough to not know the extreme toll these pavements took on me back in January. “But really, next time, you should just wear better shoes.”


Do Witzenia,

Sarah


A version of this post can be found published on the Total Travel Tag Magazine website HERE! A huge thanks to their curators for spreading my writing further into the world, go check them out!.

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An Open Letter to Groups I’ve Loved

Dear mission team. High school orchestra. Youth group. Musical cast. Sports team, project group, graduating class, study abroad group. Dear group.

We certainly had our ups and downs didn’t we? Arguments, broken rules, relationship drama. But those things fade, and the moments that stay seared into my memory are moments that I treasure. I loved you.

Do you remember our last day? Our last night, when I promised you, my group, that I’d always and forever be a part of you? The last time I hugged my fellow members and cried and ate pizza and told myself that my future would be okay even without you, because I’d always have you to come back to. Once a member, always a member, right?

Well it’s been a few years and I think I was wrong.

What I’ve come to realize is that most often, your name is not what I loved. I don’t love going back to revisit you even though I swore I would always be a part of you. I don’t want to go to your meetings, to have reunions. I don’t want to help reform you for the next generation to enjoy. Because just like people, my beloved groups change. And while I loved the group you were then, I’m not in love with the group you are now.

You are different than the group I used to love. And that doesn’t mean you are any better or any worse, it just means that it is impossible to continue to love you like I did before. Impossible to live the once a member, always a member sentiment that was promised.

I miss you, my group. The feeling of existing alongside the friends who made me cry from laughter, the people with whom I watched the stars rise over a volcanic lake. The people who organized concerts and matches, pasta dinners and cast parties. The people who encouraged me to do crazy things, inspirational things, life-changing things.

What I’ve learned though,  is that I never loved you. I loved the people who made you.

If the same people were to commune, we are different now than we once were. Oh dear group,  the same people that created you back then would not be able to re-create right now who you were, because life has changed us beyond recognition. My beloved group, how I miss you.

Thank you for the time you gave me. Endings are the hardest thing humans have to come to terms with. But with new ends come new beginnings and new groups to temporarily fall in love with.

I hope you give your current members the same experience you gave me. I loved you and I hope they love you just as hard. But I can no longer be a part of you. I can honor and remember who you once were, but I can no longer love you.


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

 

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10 Practical Tips for When in Brussels

A collection of practical, pre-trip tips to (hopefully) prevent too many embarrassing moments. As I recently had a friend who said he would love a reality TV show following my Belgian mishaps, I’ve added an extra piece to this post — post a comment here or on Instagram to hear the funny embarrassing stories that created these tips! Each tip has a suggestion of a story that’s worth hearing.

  1. It rains a lot here, so don’t forget an umbrella! The cobblestone streets are slippery and uneven,  watch your step or choose to walk on a smoother sidewalk. If it’s snowing or sleeting, expect to fall on your face a few times. Ask me about my first full day in Brussels.
  2. Once the bus doors close, you can only enter at the front entrance. if you’ve just barely missed the closing of the doors, run to the front and you’ll make it! Blue buttons request a stop and open the door while at a bus stop. On some cars in the metro, you have to PULL the door handles for them to open. Ask me about the multiple times I’ve missed a stop and missed meetings because I couldn’t open a door.
  3. While the shops dedicated to waffles and their endless toppings are tempting, the best waffles are from the yellow food trucks that are parked around town. They are all 2 euros (plus 1 for toppings). Ask me about the time I bought a waffle with toppings from a shop and then struggled to actually eat it.
  4. The south of the city is generally safer than the north. Areas around Schuman (European Quarter) or Cimetière d’Ixelles are filled with students and internationals, great spaces to eat and go out.
  5. Belgian chocolate is expensive. Belgian beer is not. Ask me about my poison of choice.
  6. There are so many parks! If you have the extra space and the weather’s okay, bring a Frisbee, a picnic blanket, or running shoes! Ask me about the time I wished I was a boy scout.
  7. Download the STIB app,  it shows schedules and maps for all of the public transit in the city! Make sure Google maps is downloaded as well, it shows walking routes, driving routes, and also integrates public transportation routes. Ask me about my life pre-google-maps-download.
  8. Don’t worry too much about a language barrier — you can speak English! While French and Dutch are the most widely spoken languages in Belgium, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Brussels to who doesn’t at least speak a few words of English. For most, English is their second language (as opposed to their third or fourth, which, shock of shock to Americans, it is normal to have). Ask me about my attempts to learn Dutch or the quality of my “Franglais.”
  9. A good lunch can be purchased for 5 euros (a simple sandwich usually costs 3 or 3.50). Coffee (espresso, remember! Check out this post for more caffeine help!) is anything from 90 cents from a vending machine to 4 euro cappuccinos. Dinners or restaurant lunches will probably cost between 15-20 euros per person. Ask me about what living with a host family does to one’s coffee consumption.
  10. Belgians aren’t picky about fashion. Wear whatever makes you comfortable. I’ve seen everything from heels and dresses to sweatpants out on the streets. No fashion judgement here. Ask me about the time I showed up  (Belgian-minded) ready to go to a bar in Ireland and was sadly under-dressed.

Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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The Manneken Pis

1,960,000 Google hits.

Almost 1,000 handmade, specially-fit costumes.

A few legends, and countless tourists.

And yet, like the Mona Lisa, it is one of the more underwhelming tourist attractions I’ve ever seen. I believe my first reaction was to say out loud “why is this a thing.” However, according to Google, the “Peeing Boy” (or Manneken Pis) statue is the number one “top attraction” of Brussels, Belgium. Here, I’m going to describe the Manneken Pis as I, and many others, find it, and allow you to decide whether it solely is worth a trip to Brussels for.

The Mannken Pis stands 61 centimeters (that is 2 feet, less than the length of your arm) tall and is perched on a fountain about 5 feet behind a fence. The fountain itself is taller than person-height, making the statue itself seem even smaller.

Can you even see it?

The publicly-indecent fellow is dressed occasionally, a few times per month. His costumes reflect a holiday or a particular cause (although if I were a cause I’m not sure I’d want my logo on a tiny statue of a child tinkling), and many of them are on display at the Manneken Pis “GardeRobe.”

A small room on the top floor of the Brussels City Museum is dedicated to telling the story of the Manneken Pis and showing off the “original” statue. Cool, right? Well. Between the GardeRobe and the small room, there are at least 200 statues of the Manneken Pis that they use to either show off costumes or illustrate a historical point. Which one is “real,” and if they are all exactly the same, what is so special about the one up on display?

And then, without any explanation, the statue they have under a spotlight, labeled as THE “original,” is missing a part. Namely, the most important part. You know, the part used to pee, the point of the statue in the first place. All that’s left is a hole.

I have so many questions about this — who is currently in possession of this utterly important part, did it break or was it stolen (and if it was stolen has that person ever been properly congratulated), is the loss the reason why the city decided to replace it with a new copy? I think this absence deserves a story more than each of the 900+ costumes do.

If the little boy peeing in the street getting more attention than any little boy needs wasn’t enough, in the 1970’s someone decided that even in public urination there must be equal representation of genders, and created a female “Jeanneke Pis.” This is located across from the famous Delirum Pub, Impasse de la Fidélité 4.  A dog version (equality between species?) is located on Rue de Chartreux. While every inch of me argues for equality, I would not argue for it in this specific circumstance.

So why a Manneken Pis? Why is it so popular?

While there are of course legends that you can find on your good friend Google, I think it comes down to the very complicated Belgian culture. In olden times, the stereotypical idea of a Belgian was the image of a strong and hearty, innately “manly” man (and in this case, the image of a child portraying his ability to become that through his lack of respect for public decency). That concept could have been behind the creation of the statue in the first place. When historical culture is combined with the lack-of-identity that characterizes the divided Belgian society today (clarification on this point in a future post, I promise) and that creates a strong sense of self-deprecation and cynical humor, we get the crazy make-fun-of-itself cultural icon that is the Manneken Pis. Because really, what city wants to be known not for its architecture or additions to high culture of the world, but for a small child permanently relieving himself into the street.

Brussels, Belgium does.

To find the two-foot-tall nonsense child whose image has made millions for tourist shops, follow the trail of people holding selfie-sticks marching out of the Grand Place. It’s helpful to know that it’s on Rue de l’Etuve 31, but I promise, following the tourists is all that is necessary. While I have yet to see someone take an inst-worthy photo of them imitating the statue like tourists do all over the world, I look forward to the day that it happens.

 

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Romantic Things in Romantic Places

Happy February 14th! Whether that means your celebrating your birthday, Single’s Awareness Day, Valentine’s Day or nothing at all, here’s a non-exhaustive, in no specific order, to-be-added-to list of romantic things there are to do all over the world.

Eat pasta and share gelato in Italy: Okay so maybe it’s not the perfect Lady and the Tramp moment, but it’s pretty great either way.

Share a bottle of Port wine on Ile Saint-Louis in Paris: And maybe take some gorgeous pictures you won’t remember taking the next morning.

Visit the Grand Place in Brussels Belgium at midnight

Take a ride in a horse drawn carriage in Cuba: Preferably at sunset

Buy flowers in the old city center in Krakow, Poland

Watch the stars come out in Nicaragua: After a week of volunteer work at Project Chacocente of course! Spend your last afternoon swimming in the lagoon and then lean back and take in the heavens as night falls.

Watch the sun set over the old harbor in Marseilles, France

Wander a small town in Flanders, Belgium (Ghent or Brugges)

Brave a snowstorm in Eastern Europe — nothing like freezing toes and then a cup of hot tea!

Visit Kylemore Abbey in Ireland during a road trip through Connemara National Park

Watch the sun rise under the Eiffel Tower

To be continued….. Next year!

Comment your ideas, perhaps I’ll add them to the list!


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Total Travel Tag

Hi Friends!

I’m unbelievably excited to share this new digital travel magazine being curated by the blogging couple Look at Our WorldTotal Travel Tag is a free magazine for travelers, by travelers, and guess what? Yours truly, your very own Tales and Times writer, is featured on page 55 of the first issue, available here.

Please go check it out, share it far and wide, and when you’re done exploring the magazine, bring yourself back to my site and check out everything I’ve been able to share so far. I’m so excited about this and I hope that you find it as informative as I do!

Sarah

 

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A Girl in Milan

Milan, what a charming city! This Northern Italian city is easy and cheap to get to, and makes for a wonderful weekend trip! Here’s my guide to a full day in Milan on a super budget; perfect for students!

Firstly, budget for the ride to and from the airport! Flights fly into Milan through one of two airports, Malpenesa or Bergamo. The express train into the city from Malpensa takes about 40 minutes andd costs 13Euro  each way. The bus from Bergamo takes about an hour and costs 9Euro round trip. Unfortunately, there’s no real good way to get around this.

Once you arrive:

The Malpensa express train can leave you at Cadorna FN, from which you can see the facade of the Castello Sforzeco and the magnificent fountain that graces it’s entrance. While there are multiple different museums inside the castle (with an entrance fee to all of them for just 3 Euro), the grounds are free to wander around. The castle itself is interesting to walk around, but the park behind it is also worth a stroll through. Walk to one of the old gates to the city that is straight out the castle’s walls, or just to the beautiful bridge that crosses a stream which winds itself through the grounds.

From here, visit a museum! For art, visit the Pinacoteca di Brera! While the fee is 10 Euro for non-EU residents and 7 for EU residents, the art housed here is extensive and very representative of the various Italian art movements. For those a bit tired of the art of Europe, try the Leonardo da Vinci science museum! Unlike anything else in the world, this museum has models of many of Leonardo da Vinci’s designs as well as exhibits on current scientific discoveries (I was able to see an exhibit on nuclear physics and one on space)! It also has a fee of 10 Euro for non-EU residents or 7.50 for EU residents, but is worth every penny for the many hours of interesting material presented.

Balcony of the Pinacoteca

After one of those museums (either North or South of the castle), head to the center to visit the Duomo! While the outside of this gorgeous creation could take you an hour to appreciate, I suggest joining the queue early to go inside the building. Tickets to see the inside cost 2 Euro and are completely worth it (Don’t worry about the audioguide, since as always, a quick Wikipedia search will get you the history lesson you seek). The line can take more than half an hour if you are there at peak hours, which you will be if you’re following this guide. Alternatively, try getting there around it’s opening (8am) to avoid queues.

After the Duomo, walk through the galleries and along the road to the right of the cathedral. This is the fashion district of the city that’s know for it’s incredible fashion and you can find obscenely priced items that are prefect for window shopping. You’ll also find some of the best people watching in the city. In the evening this area truly comes alive.

A visit to Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper mural is also an activity that’s on many people’s must-do list. However, if you’re interested in seeing this masterpiece, it is necessary to purchase tickets multiple weeks in advance (not joking, they really do run out). Tickets that are not part of an (obscenely expensive) tour are available from various sites that often sell them in bundles with admission to other museums (just google for the extensive array of options), but generally cost around 35 Euro for the non-reduced price and 28 Euro for the reduced cost (under 26 EU residents).

Obviously, there are many more things to discover and experience in Milan. Between the multitude of churches you will stumble upon (Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio and Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore are good ones to find!) and the availability of 1.30 Euro coffee, Milan will keep you entertained. Enjoy the pizza, pasta, gelato and pastries.

  So there you go! Practice Duolingo Italian for a week or so and then Ciao! Buon Viaggio! Milan is waiting!


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Top 5 Out of the Way Parisian Museums

You’ve hit the Louvre and seen the Mona Lisa, you’ve visited the Musée d’Orsay and seen countless Monet’s, now what? Here are five of my favorite Parisian museums that are a bit more out of the way but are just as interesting as people watching in the “salle de la Jaconde.”

Musée des Arts et Metiers: Museum of Arts and Professions

For the engineer, tech geek, historian or vehicle enthusiast, the Musée des Arts et Metiers includes three floors of every type of machine ever created. From astronomy instruments to wooden looms, then to exhibits on building materials, photography, computers, then to a former chapel turned into a four story exhibit showing old vehicles and airplanes, this museum is huge and amazing. Plan upwards of 3 hours to make your way through the building — however if one stopped to read and examine everything, this place could take a week to get through. Most descriptions are in both French and English.

Details:

Open Tuesday through Sunday 10am to 6pm. Open Thursdays until 9:30pm.

Full fee: 8Euro

Reduced Rate for Students: 5.50Euro

Residents of the EU under 26 years of age: Free

Near the Republique and Strasbourg St. Denis areas.

 

Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme: Museum of Jewish Art and History

An impressive collection of art, artifacts, and current research is presented in this museum that encompasses two upper floors of a building that also holds a library of Jewish documents. While this museum would be extremely interesting for experts of the history of the Jewish people, it also does a very good job of teaching the history and then portraying it through the exhibits. Uncrowded and out of the way, this is a good way to break up the tourist sights with something more unique.

Details:

Open Tuesday through Friday 11am- 6pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 7pm, Wednesday 11am – 9pm.

Full fee: 9 Euro

Discounted rate for 18-26 year olds or large families: 6Euro

Residents of the EU under 26 years of age: Free

Near the Centre Pompidou

 

Musée de Quai Branley

Dedicated to former president Jaques Chirac and located along the Seine just before the Eiffel Tower, this museum shows culture of indigenous peoples from the Americas, Oceana, Africa and Asia through art, clothing, and music. Everything from masks to tapestries, musical instruments and paintings, integrated into a museum space with an interesting architecture. While popular enough that school groups are there often, the museum is different in that it portrays culture from around the world and not just from Europe.

Details

Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday 11am – 7pm, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11am – 9pm

Full fee: 10 Euro

Reduced rate for Eu residents under 26: 7 Euro

Free access to the permanent collections children under 18 years of age

 

Petit Palais

If you’re short on time and want something different, skip the Grand Palais, as the accessible museum section won’t allow you to see the inside of its magnificent glass ceiling. Instead, go across the street to visit the permanent and visiting collections of it’s partner, the Petit Palais. While full of masterpieces, the collection of art housed in this structure is far overshadowed by the architecture of the building itself. Built for the 1900 World’s Fair, the building’s tiled flooring, murals, and golden sculptures surround a central garden that is lovely at any time of year. The museum also holds a café/restaurant, however it is more expensive than my student’s budget allowed for.

Details

Open 10am – 6pm Tuesday through Sunday, temporary exhibits open until 9pm on Friday

Permanent collections are free of charge, temporary exhibition costs vary but are typically between 7 and 10 Euro for visitors over 18.

Near the Champs-Elysée

Gallery of Paleontology and Anatomy

This museum is sure to amaze. A part of the Museum of Natural History (which encompasses several buildings and several different museums), it contains three floors full of skeletons of what seems like every animal under the sun, as well as countless dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. Stunningly complete, these skeletons are great practice for art students as well as incredibly interesting for dinosaur-obsessed children or science-oriented adults. Even for those not interested in the science behind the collection, the sheer quantity and display is worth seeing. Details

Open 10am – 6pm Wednesday through Monday

Full fee: 7 Euro

Reduced fee for visitors under 25 years of age: 5 Euro

Free for EU residents under 26 and children under 4 years of age


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

 

 

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Pack Like A Pro: Study Abroad Edition

You’ve finished the paperwork, made the trek to the embassy for your student visa, followed the instagram accounts of your favorite travel inspos and doodled “adventurer” and “not all who wander are lost” on every notebook you own. However, a few days before takeoff you start to realize that travel sites tend to have #packinggoals and not realistic packing tips. What if you need a formal gown during those 3.5 months away from your closet filled with prom memories? What if your host country just *doesn’t have* your required hair product? How on earth are you going to fit four months of your life into one checked bag and a carry on? The internet is full of everything from already-created packing lists to the do’s and do not’s of study abroad packing, so here I add a few highlights I’ve gleaned over the years and from some of my favorite blogs.

While you can find some general tips in this post, here are my tips specific to study abroad.

Let’s start from the feet up.

Shoes: Maximum of five pairs. Sandals (1) that are comfortable for lots of walking and waterproof for rain or beach. A good walking boot (2) that’s comfortable for lots of walking, nice enough looking so that it’s able to be dressed up or down and waterproof for walking through rain. Dress shoes (3) — either comfortable flats or heels depending on your preference. I prefer flats because let’s face it, heels and cobblestone European streets just don’t mix well. Sneakers (4) for the everyday walk or hiking trips. And for the optional fifth, choose between running shoes, flip flops, or another specialized shoe depending on what sort of program and which country you’ll be in. Don’t forget socks that match with the types of shoes you bring!

Clothes: Mixing and matching is your best friend. Pack as if you were traveling for a one week vacation with a few nicer outfits thrown in. Choose outfits that reflect what you’re used to wearing. While it might be nice to think about changing your entire style when you’re abroad, you’re going to want something familiar during an unfamiliar transition and often bringing clothes you’re not used to can add a physical discomfort to the initial emotional one. That is to say, don’t only pack dresses if you’re not comfortable in dresses even though you’ve heard they’re the style in your host country.

Do the shopping for specific items before you leave. Things that you’re picky about and will have to wear every day (shoes, coats, ect) are harder to find, especially in an unfamiliar location, so you should get those before you leave. Things like dresses and shirts — everyday items that don’t need to be specific or special — are much more fun to be purchased overseas.

Coats: Layers are your friend! Check the weather averages before you leave so you know the average temperature of the months you will be there, but in case you under or over estimate how you will react to the temperature, make sure you pack a few different types of layers. A light sweater, an undershirt, a wool sweater, a windbreaker and a heavy jacket are all ideas of layers to make sure you have. While you might not need that winter parka, having multiple options that you could pile on in place of the parka is important.

Face and Hair: Pack a travel-sized bottle full of each of your products. That quantity should last you for a week or so until you figure out where to purchase the things you need in your host country. The travel bottles will also be useful later on if you choose to travel during your semester.

Specific makeup products are often hard to find while abroad. If you’re a stickler about your brands, bring enough of the product to last the entire 4 months. If you’re not a stickler about brands, all types of makeup can be found abroad, they just might be slightly different than what you’re used to.

Suitcase choice: As mentioned in my general packing post, choose bags that will be easiest to maneuver once you’ve made it off the plane. If you’re using public transportation, think about how easily you can lift your bag up or down stairs. If you can fit it, think about packing an empty duffle bag in your checked luggage, so that if you need a smaller bag for weekend trips or to fill with souvenirs on the way home, you have it.

For more general packing hacks, check out this post here and take a quick google search for study abroad packing! This simple search can be overwhelming but the internets are full of new and worthwhile ideas.

Good luck, congratulations for making the difficult decision to study abroad, and go have the time of your life!


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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So You’re A Tourist: Now What

We’re constantly told “don’t be a tourist,” but sometimes, it’s simply unavoidable. Maybe you don’t speak the language at all, maybe you’re only in a city for one day, maybe you have a blog to write or a website to keep up and need the best photos in the least amount of time. Maybe you’ve been living in Paris and God-forbid you don’t spend a night under the Eiffel Tower, touristy and all. Tourism exists and us travelers are a part of it whether or not we like it. But being touristy doesn’t necessarily mean being an annoying tourist. As someone living in the tourist capital of the world, I’ve found both tourists that I’d like to throw out of my city as well as tourists that I’d like to befriend. Instead of a long list of things to avoid in order to avoid the tourist stereotype, here are 30 things you can do.

You can say please. You can say thank you. Small words even pronounced badly in a language you don’t know can go a very long way. You can smile. You can grimace and motion that you know how bad you’re appearing. You can ask for directions. You can clarify that the train or bus you’re in front of is going the way you want it to.

You can step out of the way for the business man who’s in a hurry. You can open maps on doorsteps as to not fill the entire sidewalk. You can pull your head out of your phone while you walk. You can keep your group on the same side of the sidewalk so that others can pass you. You can walk with a purpose — if you end up going the wrong way, just walk with a purpose in the opposite direction. No one likes the person walking slowly with a confused look on their face. You can say excuse me and move quickly.

You can call once to your child up ahead, then trust that they’ll find their way back when they realize you’ve stopped, instead of screaming down the street. You can make mistakes without swearing or making a fuss. You can stick your head in your phone or the nearest empty shop to find the answers you need instead of wondering them out loud. You can ask people you meet in planes, trains or taxis for recommendations, as they’ve often done each touristy thing twelve times and will know the best way to go about it. They are also the people who aren’t too busy to be bothered, because they’re also waiting out their commute into town.

You can observe the actions of those around you and then follow them. You can wear comfortable travel clothes without wearing colors that stick out. You can put your selfie stick away and ask a neighbor to take your picture. You can take that gotta-have picture quickly and then move on — no need for a ten minute photo shoot.  You can be kind to strangers without being intrusive into their life. You can answer questions about where you’re from without being nationalistic.

You can be street smart — don’t stop for scams. You can walk around street performers without getting so involved that you become the performance. You can oh and ah at monuments without stopping directly in the paths of others.

You can purchase your post cards and stamps all in one go instead of buying one from each kiosk you see. You can buy souvenirs that you might actually use — things like vases and paintings, instead of magnets and key-chains that you’ll loose within the next few weeks. You can seek out boutiques instead of tourist trap stores that all look alike.

And finally, you can be as polite as you have ever been in your entire life. If you’re unsure, be the polite that is correct in your culture. Accept the fact that you are probably in the wrong because you don’t understand the culture or language. Whether or not you actually are in the wrong, deferring to the other person will help you out in the long run.

I don’t mind when someone asks me for metro directions. I do mind when someone doesn’t bother to ask, but complains out loud about how confused they are. If we’re destined to be tourists, we might as well be the best tourist we can be.


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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