Exploring Your Hometown
A few days ago, I was looking for something to do with a friend back home. We only see each other a few times a year, so I try to plan special trips to make the most of our limited time together. Typical events range from attending the opera to showing my niece the local children's museum.
Although I usually have no problem thinking of fun activities, this time I struggled to think of what we would do, until I remembered an article I read a few years back that talked about being a tourist in your hometown. That might sound strange at first, but the idea is quite simple, and actually has a lot in common with the Zen notion of shosin, or beginner's mind.
Basically, you shift your perspective to view your hometown as if you were visiting it for the first time. Instead of going to the areas you already know and love, you research online, using whatever travel guides you might use when on the road, such as Lonely Planet or Atlas Obscura. Perhaps you also stop driving the same roads you usually take, and instead look for new paths to your destination, or try out public transportation or bike sharing programs.
While I have yet to take a bus in Pittsburgh, despite living there for 18 years, I did go online and look at the locales recommended by Atlas Obscura. A few were familiar, but there were also a handful that I had never heard of. These included a millionaire's Bavarian-themed mansion turned music machine museum, a wood paved street, and possibly the steepest street in the world.
While the streets were more or less what we expected, the museum blew our expectations out of the water. We had toured another more famous mansion about 10 minutes away, but found this one to be much more intricate and fantastical than anything we had ever seen. This served as a great reminder to us that even after living in the area for most of our lives, there were still wonders just waiting to be discovered.
However, exploring your city with a fresh perspective doesn't have to be as complicated as planning a full day of new destinations. You could also go to one of your favorite places and try letting go of all your prior experiences to view a classic destination as if for the first time. Another good trick is to go to one of your favorite areas and just wander around to see what you may come across.
Oftentimes, we as locals can be in a hurry to go from point A to point B. But, if we can shift our perspective to just relax and walk or drive without a set goal in mind, it is amazing what new environments pop up within the ones we are used to. Of course it goes without saying that you should always be aware of your surroundings, but that doesn't mean you can't venture off the beaten path or drive/walk/ride down a side street you haven't explored before.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that there aren't great sights to be seen in your hometown, but by letting go of this assumption it is astonishing what you can find. I certainly don't always do a great job of this, but it is the process that counts. So venture beyond your comfort zone and go explore your hometown, and perhaps you'll find something beyond your wildest imaginations.
Photo is of the grotto we emerged into after leaving the wine cellar and walking through the man-made cave. It felt warm and tropical and had a great view over the river. The secret passageways were often too cramped to get a good picture, but they were definitely my favorite part of the tour. The most notable one was opened by pulling one of two crossed swords behind a royal crest. More information can be found on the Bayernhof Museum website.