Why is it worth to plan a city trip on a high holiday? Or lace your running shoes for a city? Or talking to a homeless person in the city? There are many ways to experience cities from a different point of view.
Travel for Easter, Christmas or Individual Country Holidays: The Two Opposites
To go on a city trip on high holidays can either mean that you will have to share the city with thousands of other tourists, or that you will have the opportunity to have usually overran tourist attractions almost for yourself. But one thing is always for sure on high holiday city trips: a very special and not everyday flair in the city as well as a small insight into the customary holiday traditions.
During the Jewish Passover week, the city of Jerusalem is really bursting at the seams. Since in this special week, there are always school holidays in Israel, half of the country travels to Jerusalem – the other half of the country, by the way, seems to spend their holiday season at the Sea of Galilee. While the mass of people during daytime in the old part of Jerusalem still keeps within limits, the number of people increase with every hour towards midnight. By 9 pm it is so much crowded within the city walls that the municipality temporarily change all main roads, starting from all gates of the city wall, into one-way streets for pedestrians. And all with one target: the Wailing Wall. Once there, the square on the wall swells of people. And the ways back through the old city are, of course, again one-way streets – specially set up for the Passover week. But also the happening on the wall itself is very impressive at Passover.
Yet, there is also the opposite: Totally overcrowded tourist attractions on almost 365 days a year, which are only empty on very few opening days. For example: the Alhambra in Granada (Andalusia / Spain) – one of the most visited tourist attractions in Europe, with a limited and generally sold out daily ticketing number of 7,000 tickets. Except: Visiting the Alhambra on the 24th of December in the afternoon / evening. On this day, you are lucky enough to have not only the entire castle for yourself, but above all, also the Nasrid Palaces – the highlight of the Alhambra. Usually, visitors are just pushed through these palaces within a very limited time window and without actually having seen anything at all. I was very lucky to not only have much more time than usual, but also to have plenty of space for a nice little photo session within the Nasrid Palaces on December 24.
Participate in City Runs: Sightseeing in Your Running Shoes
If you like classical sightseeing, you might want to consider buying a starting number for the upcoming city run instead of a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket for your next city trip. The organizers of most of city running events put a lot of effort into planning the routes so that all important highlights and points of interest in the city are covered. Thus, you will not only “run” by the best hotspots of sightseeing in the city, but you will also see a lot of the city in general (the longer the distance, the more 😉 ), and you are also right in between all of the local people.
In Gibraltar, for example, you can get nearly the whole bunch of sightseeing in the whole city (and also in the entire “country”) during a 10 kilometer city run: Starting on the main square of the British colony – the Grand Casemates Square, you will then run around the entire famous Rock of Gibraltar, past the beautiful Catalan Bay right to the Europa Point with the lighthouse and mosque at the southern tip of the peninsula, and finally head back to the start / finish area via the Main Street. You just have to do the Upper Rock Nature Reserve with the Apes Den and the caves and museums after this run seperately. In the end of the day, you have, however, seen pretty much everything from Gibraltar within one sportive day.
In larger cities, running events are almost always internationally focused which means that all information on the event is available on the Internet at least in English, and the registration and payment can be easily done online. For smaller city runs, it might be the case that all information and registration are only available in local language. In this case, Google Translator generally works quite well – and as a last resort, simply send a personal e-mail with your concern in English language to the organizers.
Picnic with the Homeless: Different People, Different Insights
Most of the time during a city trip, you have conversations either with other tourists or some locals belonging to the middle-class. But if you want to get a completely different view of the world and the circumstances of a country or a city, you should also talk to people outside of your own social class: with the homeless, for example. In large cities it is somehow part of the cityscape: people, not having a firm roof over their heads. In Budapest, however, I noticed a particular thing. Most of the homeless people in this city were elderly or very old people, partly sitting in wheelchairs etc. In my country, they would be retirees, early retirees or people in care. At night, there is not one single free bench in Budapest at all, where not one of them is sleeping. Or sitting and sleeping in a wheelchair in an unused house entrance.
Admittedly, sometimes I really don’t like to be chatted up by homeless people. Sometimes, however, I have a kind day and first listen to what the person is all about. In Budapest I had a kind day – and today, I am very glad that I did not immediately reject the homeless guy. Because a very nice and also very interesting conversation emerged from it.
What happened? At first, a homeless wanted to sell a newspaper to me. Since the man was very friendly, I bought one of his sheets. Of course, I could not and still cannot read a single word of it – Hungarian will always remain a mystery to me – but that was not the point. The man was very friendly, very polite and also quite humorous. And before I realized what was happening, I was surrounded by a crowd of homeless old gentlemen, who chatted up on me from all sides. Since most of them did not speak English very well but one of them spoke German, the German-speaking man ultimately got through and ousted the others away. And then a great conversation began, which went into a tiny picnic on a brick wall in the pedestrian zone of Budapest. The elderly man told me about his life, why and where he learned to speak German, why he is living on the streets and did not have any home at all, and how his life turned into all this. He explained to me the reasons why so many old people in Budapest are homeless and how he and his fellow sufferers see and experience this world.