Today Plinky asked me what my favorite part was about visiting a new place, if it was the food, the architecture or the people watching. Honestly, I don’t think that’s very fair of them.
I’ve always had to struggle with some indecisiveness, even in such a simple situation as picking what to order from a fast food restaurant’s menu, so asking me to pick a favorite anything sends me into a swirl of mental madness. How can you make me pick when I like everything so much!
I know I waxed poetic about how much I like to travel in a previous post, but I suppose I can allow myself another page or two to talk about the fine details that make travel so awesome for me, starting with the three options Plinky gave me.
Because damn, all those three things are things I enjoy doing when I’m out and about in a new place.
If I really get down to analyzing it, I don’t think I enjoy all three things, the food, architecture and people watching equally, because it kind of depends on where I am. The people in another city in my own country aren’t different enough for me to get a kick out of watching them, for example. But in a busy market place in a different country…Well, that’s different.
Though actually, I think my favorite travel spot to people watch is an airport. Think about it, it’s where everyone who is going anywhere ends up. Assuming you actually possess the means to travel by plane in the first place. I tend to play little guessing games with myself, about where people are going and where they come from, trying to pick up bits of their conversations. Americans are often easy to pick out, because they often travel with large suitcases, unless they’re business travelers, but really…All business travelers kind of look the same.
But then when I have to pick between food and architecture it gets harder. I am both someone who enjoys a good meal and a bit of a history nerd, so that means looking at buildings and eating tasty stuff are two of my main motivations for going anywhere in the first place. Well, there is also that thing where I try to visit any zoological park the city might have, if it’s a decent enough size and seems to care about conservation and all that good stuff.
It might seem a little weird to some when I talk about how much I look forward to eating certain kinds of American fast food whenever I get to head back that way again, that fast food even registers as something worth seeking out when I travel there, but I have stopped trying to explain why I enjoy to eat things that are far from fine dining. To be honest, in countries where the local cuisine hasn’t been quite to my liking, fast food has saved my ass more than once.
As an example, when I went to Prague recently I made a point to try traditional Czech food and it was not quite my cup of tea, the flavors and textures of the meal I ordered didn’t really work for me. So I was very glad that they had KFCs there, because you can’t really go wrong with a fried chicken breast.
As I look back to my trips to Berlin I think the most German food I’ve ever had is Currywurst, sliced German sausage slathered in tomato sauce and dusted with curry powder, usually served with fries or a piece of bread. It was pretty damn good, but the Germans do know how to make a great sausage. But then I realize that Currywurst is also a kind of fast food and with my experiences with the German inspired Czech food I wonder how much I’d enjoy truly traditional German food. I suppose I will have to find out, next time I find myself in Berlin.
But yes, normally I do try to sample and often enjoy the specialties of whatever new place I find myself in, from the bread bowl soups at Fisherman’s Wharf to London’s famous Indian curries (best in the world outside of India I hear). It’s much like sampling the local culture and customs on your plate. I have two culinary travel dreams and those are to visit France and go to Italy, for very foodie reasons, because, those are the major food countries of the world right?
And hey, both of those places also have lots of history, so I think I would kill two birds with one stone there.
Historical and fascinating architecture is much harder for me to grasp, because it’s something I enjoy on a more spiritual level. I still remember feeling overwhelmed by all the amazing architecture in Prague that was pretty much everywhere, it was like a sensory overload and I found myself taking pictures almost at random at times. With more research and preparation I can be more sensible when I encounter amazing sights in new places I visit. In Berlin there was one place where I still found myself slack-jawed and speechless, despite my careful planning and that was facing the Berliner Dom or Berlin Cathedral. Though I am not an atheist, certain churches were just made to take your breath away. Strangely enough, I don’t recall feeling as impressed by more modern tall constructs, like the Empire State Building in New York and Sears Tower (or whatever they call it now). It might be the fact that they are situated in such a way that you cannot see the top or fully take in how tall they actually are. It’s only from the air you can really take in their greatness. With that said, I am feeling extremely jealous of my brothers, who booked themselves on a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon as part of their Las Vegas trip in late August. What better way to take in that fantastical sight, completely crafted by Mother Nature? (But maybe I am not allowed to put natural sights in the same category as human made architecture.)
When I think about it, I think the best places to travel to might be the locations where I could do all three things at once, find good places to eat, enjoy history as well as people watch in my spare time. There are many large cities in the world that would tick all of those boxes and I do believe I’ve visited several cities like that.
There has always been one thing that has held me back a little from fully exploring the food in a new place though. It’s the fact that I have traveled alone a lot, which means I have always felt too awkward to try many proper restaurants, because nothing says sad like a person dining alone at a nice restaurant. Right?
I think I may have to try and overcome that bit of anxiety I am plagued by though, because if that holds me back from fully experiencing a new location, a location I have wanted to visit for some time…Then I really will have to do something about it.
And that takes me back to what might be the best thing about travel, taking all the experiences you’ve had, from the food you tried, to the architecture you admired and the strange people you saw and then let them all congeal into a colorful lump of memories in your head. Something that will last for a very long time.
And as I brought up in that previous blog post about travel, those memories are what really matters.