How well do you know your city?

It’s funny how a moment of boredom can somehow become an eye-opening experience. I was sitting in a plane on my way back from Italy. The meal service had come and gone and I’d finished reading the inflight magazine. Feeling a bit bored, I took a peek at what my neighbour was reading. It was a beautiful guidebook of Amsterdam, full of elaborate descriptions and colourful illustrations. I felt myself smirk when I noticed what he was reading about: Amsterdam’s red light district. <Sigh>… “that’s what they all come to see don’t they? Such a pity as Amsterdam has got so much more going for it”, I thought rather smugly. However, as he flipped through the pages of the book, my smugness turned to wonder. I started to sit upright and my eyes grew wide. I thought I knew my city well but there, in my neighbour’s guidebook, were fascinating descriptions of places I’d never heard of before!

tourists… are often better informed about a certain city than most locals.

A slight sense of shame floated through my mind – I am, after all, a travel blogger and I’ve lived in Amsterdam for twenty years. I don’t expect to know every single nook and corner of my city but these were places that sounded absolutely amazing, such as the ‘Ons Lieve Heer Op Zolder‘ church and the hidden courtyards of the ‘Claes Claesz Hofje’. I consoled myself with the thought that tourists, armed with guidebooks, printouts from their online research and podcasts, are often better informed about a certain city than most locals. Locals live and work there, often have their preferred areas and tend to shun other parts of the city that aren’t related to their social activities or jobs.

How well do I know my city?

My experience on the plane got me thinking seriously about how well I know my city. I could give a decent walking tour of the city to visiting friends, showing them the highlights and my favourite spots. I could take them on a fun boat tour along some of my favourite canals. However, this experience triggered a deeper interest in the city I live in. I consider my knowledge of the city as pretty good but it dawned on me that maybe, I was too focused on exotic places far and away, while there were many more places to explore in and around Amsterdam… right in my own backyard!

I’ve since decided to make a conscious effort to get to know my city better. Last weekend, I went on a beautiful bike ride through the city’s northern fringe for the first time. I’ve promised myself that I will do this more often. I’ll get a guidebook, hop on a bike or go for a stroll in the various neighbourhoods and discover the many hidden gems of this wonderful city. Who knows, my next source of inspiration may be just around the corner!

How well do you know your city?

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11 Responses to “How well do you know your city?”

  1. velvet 17/09/2012 10:12 am
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    I sure did! I’m still exploring Amsterdam but I’ve already discovered some very cool neighbourhoods like the Rivierenbuurt and the Oosterdokeilanden. 🙂

  2. rob hermans 14/09/2012 4:06 pm
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    And did you get that guidebook and did you explore more of Amsterdam? 🙂

  3. velvet 25/10/2010 2:32 pm
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    Thanks Lara for your comment. That’s really the great part about travel isn’t it? Taking it easy, mingling with the locals and discovering their fave places. Glad to know that Amsterdam inspired your GranTourismo project! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Keith

  4. lara dunston 25/10/2010 2:27 pm
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    Nice post! It’s true that not all locals know their cities well. I always remember when we wrote guidebooks that nearly everyone we’d meet, upon asking us what we had done and where we’d been, always responded by saying something like “My god! You know my city better than I do!” But what I love to get from locals are ‘local’ tips – not information on old churches or the best museums to go to – but find out which is their favourite park where they take their kids on the weekend, or which pub they like best for afternoon drinks, where they take their family for a Sunday lunch. Because these are the things that you don’t always find in guidebooks.

    I love Amsterdam and we’ve been many times. In fact it was a particular apartment stay when we spent a couple of months there writing Lonely Planet’s Best of Amsterdam that partly inspired our Grantourismo project. We stayed off-the-beaten-track in a wonderful ‘local’ neighbourhood where couples had glasses of wine on their steps in the evening and kids played noisily in the parks, we made local friends who we met in their favourite pubs and bars, and we inserted lots of those ‘local’ things to do in that book. I’m sure the restos are probably out of date, but I’d love you to find our edition of that book to use to re-discover your city and let us know what you think! 🙂

  5. Linda ~ Journey Jottings 02/10/2010 5:36 am
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    I feel just like you ~
    We get blasé about where we live when people on the other side of the world travel miles to see what we take for granted everyday –
    The trick is to take the blinkers off and travel on our own home turf seeing the place through ‘tourist’ eyes 😉
    Linda

  6. velvet 30/09/2010 10:17 am
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    Thank you for your comments Andi & Kenny. It is indeed a great reminder to start exploring one’s city for a change, instead of setting our sights on distant places all the time.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  7. Life for Beginners 30/09/2010 2:52 am
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    Ah, I feel embarrassed but what you say is true. Tourists probably know more about the hidden gems of Malacca and Kuala Lumpur (my hometown and current home in Malaysia, respectively) than I do.

    I remember more about the special places of Munich and Tokyo and Jakarta than I do those of the cities in my own country. But after we get over the initial feeling of “Aw, shucks”, hey — this can be a blessing in disguise!

    Instead of pining for our next trip out of the country, we can start exploring and “travelling” even now, in our own city! Yay for that. 😀

  8. Andi 30/09/2010 2:47 am
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    This is such a great reminder that you can actually travel within your own city! We often forget that!!!

  9. Abi from Inside the Travel Lab 29/09/2010 10:07 am
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     Getting to know your city better is a great idea. I’ve changed where I live so many times over the last ten years…and the last few weeks have always been filled with a sudden realisation that there’s so much more to see! “Moving day” has often been spent racing from one place to the other, before the opportunity disappears. Of course, as you suggest, it makes much more sense to explore in a more leisurely way before you get to that stage…

  10. Anne 29/09/2010 9:56 am
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    Really interesting points! I always really enjoy going to less familiar areas of my city – it’s like visiting somewhere new.

  11. Lilian 28/09/2010 5:05 pm
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    What you say is really true. Often we feel we have lots of time to explore the place where we live. Hence, we end up visiting less places. On a trip, we have limited time and thus, most will choose to maximise the time by visiting as many places as possible.

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