Life would be better for everyone if we could celebrate our differences, embrace our similarities and cherish what makes us unique among equals. The rich diversity within a cultural does not need to dilute our heritage or identity. Rather it should help to make life more thrilling and allow us to share those small surprises that make us smile.
Cultural variation is something to appreciate. Whether they are to be found among people of a continent, a country or even a town, the differences that we encounter can enhance life and ensure that our modern cities are more exciting places in which to live. The vibrant mix of people sharing their lives, enjoying mutual spaces but maintaining their own identity can enrich a city and make it a place of great creativity, colour and spirit. It should not be any surprise that these cosmopolitan cities are also some of the most interesting places to visit.
One of the enjoyable parts of travelling for me is to see local people going about their everyday lives in their home environment. Whether heading off to work, grabbing a morning coffee, or chatting over lunch in a cafe with friends, it is always good to see these people who keep the city’s heart beating.
With the advent of cheap flights, city breaks have become an ideal opportunities to meet people in great cities around Europe. The hussle of a city in full flow is an experience in itself, with each community having a life and personality of its own. Mixing with people who maintain their identity via how they live, work and play is what can make a long weekend away such an enjoyable break.
When I am away I like to visit a local supermarket to see the colourful range of different products on sale, maybe leading me to sample something exotic and unknown. Or I sit in a small local café, take a coffee and a sandwich, and watch people rushing about their business. A café can be as much of a cultural experience as a visit to a museum in many of these towns. The whole of life can parade before your very eyes.
It might not be among the usual top activities for a holiday but another enjoyable experience in foreign towns is to get out and about using public transport. Travelling by bus or train in a foreign country can be quite an eye-opener, providing an insight on how people live and interact in their own environment. Taking a bus can give a whole new perspective on a town and how people live there.
I have taken many bus trips around cities in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, as well as lengthy cross-border coach journeys. Not all of them would I care to repeat, I might add, with tedious border delays and more, but most provided an experience I would not have received another way. I am not just talking the varied urban landscape through the window, as we wound through residential areas that tourists rarely visit. I am talking about life inside the bus: the passengers.
It is always fascinating to see how people react to their surroundings and to others around them, especially on public transport. Some people will talk or react with strangers, while others will do anything they can to avoid contact with those sitting around them. I find it interesting to note how different cultures behave quite differently, too.
In Serbia, people on buses and trams cut themselves off, preferring to retreat into their own thoughts rather than sharing with fellow passengers. Many stare blankly out of the dirt-caked windows, using the time to recharge their batteries. Conversely, travel in The Netherlands, for example, can be a very social experience. On trains or at bus stops, people not only talk quite loudly to each other, they also think nothing of trying to engage strangers in conversation. While those who are accustomed with this way of behaving find it friendly but for those who are not used to such familiarity, it can be quite odd.
When I am on a train, I like to cocoon myself in my own world. Often I listen to my iPod, quite literally cutting myself off from sounds around me. But, whether working on the laptop, engrossed in a book or just enjoying the passing view, this is a time when I enjoy being alone. It is not a time when I care to be disturbed by small talk, much less be forced to hear the over-loud conversation of travellers around me.
Like in many countries, most British trains now have quiet cars, where mobiles phones are taboo and loud conversation is best avoided. In Holland, they go one step further and call them silent carriages. While I do not deliberately decide to sit in these zones, if I coincidentally join the train at that spot or if other carriages are full, I do enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with such noise restrictions. Sometimes it best to give peace a chance.