Archive for April, 2012

Revisiting for the First Time

I know a lot of people who vow they won?t ever go back to the same destination twice (or more) because they?d rather explore a new one. On the flip side, I know people that go back to the same place every year because they love it that much. I?m somewhere in the middle. I always love a new place, but I have a fondness for certain countries that make it tough to pass up a visit there (ahem? Italy, I?m talking about you).

I?m a person who loves to explore and learn. New experiences are paramount in making my trip fulfilling. So it?s difficult when I travel to a destination and my travel companions, who have never been there, want to visit the same cities and sites that I?ve seen numerous times. Before I go any further, I?ll admit that I realize saying ?oh, not the Coliseum again! I?ve seen it so many times? makes me sound like horrendous travel snob. There?s a reason for this ? in some ways, I probably am. I?m lucky in that I make my living planning travel, that I?ve been traveling the world since I was 16, and that I?ve had the opportunity to visit six continents. So yes, there are repeats and yes, I may begrudge them at times. Still, it?s not fair to my traveling companions to say ?sure we can take a trip to Italy, but we can?t visit Rome, Florence or Venice, or if we have to we can?t see the Coleseum, the Vatican, the David statue or St. Mark?s Square.? If I do this, I?ve pretty much shot down every reason they had for taking the trip in the first place.

Therefore, I?ve learned a few tricks throughout my travels on how to experience an old destination ?for the first time?. Obviously, it?s not the same as exploring somewhere completely new, but it helps bridge that gap between never revisiting a place and feeling short-changed when you head to a repeat location.

Walking on wooden platforms across flooded St. Mark's Sqare

Walking across flooded platforms in a flooded St. Mark's Square in Venice.

? Travel during a different time of year, if possible. I?ve been to Italy in every season (Italy is my most visited country, for the record), and each the various times of year have added a distinctive element to my trip. I have celebrated Easter in Pisa in the spring, cooled off with entirely too many gelatos in the August heat in Rome, and enjoyed all of the fall seasons? gastronomic offerings in Bologna in the fall.

? Take part in a class or local activity. This might be a market tour or wine tasting, a surfing lesson, a tour of a nearby (non-touristy) village given by a local, or anything else that doesn?t involve traditional tourist sites. You may have to do this by yourself or with others that have already seen the ?top 10 attractions?, but it?s ok to not do everything together all the time.

Sculpture work on the side of a bridge right in front of my apartment

Sculpture work on a bridge right near my apartment in Philadelphia.

? Take advantage of your camera. If you?ve ever walked around your hometown and taken pictures, you probably see the advantage here. Looking at places through a lens, especially a creative or artistic one, can give a whole new perspective ? literally. I can?t count the number of times I used my zoom lens on a building and details that I never knew were there. Playing with lighting, shutter speed and various lenses (if you have an SLR) can all add to the experience. Now you?re looking for ?what would make an interesting shot? as opposed to ?here?s a cheesy picture of me in front of the Roman Forum?.

? If you?re in a city, and it?s deemed safe, take a night tour (a privately guided option is my personal favorite). This might sound silly, but it?s amazing the different vibe a city can give off at night. The lighting alone can completely change the feel of a city. In addition, night tours may focus on different features of the city.

From the Orsay Museum in Paris.

Orsay Museum in Paris - All impressionistic art

? Find an ?out of the ordinary? museum. Sure, it?s possible you?ve been to every museum in a city, but it?s pretty unlikely. Find something that isn?t on the tourist radar, or one that you?d not traditionally head to, but that offers something different. I?ve lived in/near Philadelphia for the better part of my life, and I probably haven?t been to half of the museums the area has to offer, at best. There are almost certainly one or two that you?ve not been to at your destination, and probably a whole lot more. You might even discover an interest you didn?t realize you had.

Me and my friend Hannah, who I actually met in Australia but who lives in the UK and who I meet up with whenever I'm in that part of the world.

Me and my friend Hannah from London, visiting Belgium.

? Connect with a local. Social media makes this increasingly easy these days. I could probably tweet that I?m going virtually anywhere (or at least anywhere where there?s regular internet access, hence social media availability), and I will have at least one or two people respond that they?re from that area. Reach out for a couple of months or more before the trip and get to know people virtually. If nothing else, they?ll have great local suggestions. If you get to know them and feel you can trust them, meet up with them (taking the normal precautions of meeting somewhere public, in daylight, etc) when you?re there. There?s nothing like making new friends while traveling. As an added bonus, next time you ?have to? go back there, you can further escape from the traditional touristy activities by visiting the local friends you made on your previous trip.

Traveling Vegetarian

Being a vegetarian traveler can, at times, be difficult. There are many countries in which it?s not advised to eat raw fruits and vegetables, which leaves out salads, most fresh fruits, cold sandwiches and other staples of the vegetarian diet. In addition, many countries cook primarily only what?s in season, and during late fall and winter months, this could include a very small variety of vegetables. I spent one 10-day trip through Italy eating nothing but various types of eggplant dishes ? and I don?t even like eggplant!

The point is, though for most of us it?s a ?choice?, being vegetarian is an important part of our lifestyle and we want to honor that while we travel. At the same time, we want to try to assimilate into the local culture without our digestive tracks being torn apart from some bacteria that we?re not used to.

Here are a few tricks I?ve accumulated over the years to help myself enjoy the gastronomic culture when traveling while still being safe.

1. Scope out the food scene before you go. Talk to others who have been there and ask them about the vegetarian options. Specify what you do/don?t eat, as vegetarian has different meanings to different people. Social media makes this increasingly easy to do.

2. Learn the rules about what you can/can?t eat before you go. It?s important to know if it?s recommended to drink the water or eat raw fruits and vegetables. If not you have two choices ? work around it, or do it and deal with the results. I always choose the former, as my already sensitive stomach doesn?t need any additional aggravation.

3. Bring a few non-perishable snacks such as cereal/protein bars, trail mix, or crackers. These might not be part of the local culture, but in a pinch it will at least hold you over while you search around for a vegetarian friendly restaurant. This is especially important if you have any blood sugar issues or take any medications that must be taken with food.

4. Eat frequently. If you are relying on a couple of big meals per day and you can?t find anything suitable to your diet, you?re going to be really hungry (and possibly cranky due to low blood sugar, which is no fun for anyone). If you eat something small each time you have the opportunity, you?re less reliant on certain meals so that if you absolutely can?t find something to eat at your standard meal, at least you have some food in your stomach. It doesn?t need to be full meals each time, but smaller meals or snacks work well.

5. Be cautious of certain foods. Soups (broths) and sauces are big culprits of sneaking in meat and fish products, so if you?d rather be safe than sorry it might be best to avoid these all together, unless you?re 100 percent certain it contains no meat products.

6. Foreign menus aren?t always as descriptive as those we?re used to at home. It might just have the name of the dish or a list of the main components, but not include every detail. Ask right out if it contains any products you?d rather not have (as best you can if you don?t speak the language).

7. Talk to your hotel concierge. They may have a better idea of where you can find vegetarian options, and also be more able to communicate in English so that you can give a more detailed request. Still, make sure they know what you mean by vegetarian.

8. Learn how to say ?no meat? and/or ?vegetarian? in your destination?s language if you can. At least this way, if nothing else, you can attempt to determine what is/isn?t in a dish.

9. Do the best you can. I?m quite a strict vegetarian and I always specify very clearly at home what I do/don?t eat. I know which foods have meat products in them that people don?t realize (ie Caesar dressing, Worchester sauce), and I make sure my food is absolutely vegetarian. When traveling, I do my best. If it looks vegetarian, and they ensure me it is, that there is no meat or fish in any form in it, I say to myself ?well, I guess it?s vegetarian? and feel I can eat it in good conscience. I realize this doesn?t hold for everyone ? especially if your diet is based on religious beliefs. For me, though, I don?t beat myself up or starve myself because I haven’t confirmed every single detail of every single ingredient (ie whether or not the cheese has rennet in it – I don’t even attempt to ask this one). I do the best I can, eat vegetarian to the best of my knowledge, and feel satisfied with myself.