How to make any city an adventure

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My recent journey to Düsseldorf could have turned into a drab and disappointing long weekend away, if I had let it. Over the three days I spent there, I began to learn much about the beautiful city. Yet my first impressions were deceiving; after touching down at Düsseldorf airport, I started to fear that the city was like every other big city in existence. But anywhere in the world can be boring if you let it be.

My trip taught me that adventure and excitement are all about perception. The best holidays can happen anywhere in the world, even in your own city. Today, travel companies and the media want us to believe that a short plane journey and an all inclusive hotel is all you need for an adventure. However, holidays are only an adventure if you actively make them one.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” is often pasted over idealised images of sunsets and mountains and shared on social media by bored office workers on their lunch break, secretly yearning for a trip to the Maldives or the French Alps. Yet this overused aphorism does actually contain an often overlooked truth. Many only think of the journey as the time they spent on the train or the plane, and the place they are going is the destination. But that logic won’t work for a proper adventure; the entire trip is the journey and the destination is arriving back home with a change in perspective.

I decided to use my time alone to allow myself to get lost, and I enjoyed exploring the city without any preconceived ideas. In the past I have relied on the structure and rigidity of the planned holiday, when you go somewhere that you’ve always dreamed of seeing and try to make the most of it by devising the most time efficient schedule. Now I find it important to always leave a bit of time to explore without searching for specific landmarks. The spontaneous nature of the trip meant that I had no choice but to go with the flow and look around with my own eyes. In fact, the only preparation I did was ask a friend who had been before for a list of recommendations, to which she replied with a lovely list of general areas to explore.

The main destination which caught my eye was Altstadt, the old town. I found out how to get there on the tram using google maps, but after that, the app was never opened again. As I stepped out of the train station, I was immediately met with cobblestone streets that were lined with traditional German architecture. As I strolled down the roads, I found many beer gardens and shops, and then I spotted what would be my best friend during this adventure: a tourism information post. Extremely popular in the days before google maps, these signs are relics which still exist in many cities, but are easily overlooked. I decided to throw my friends list away, and just use these signs to discover the city.

Over the three days, the signs took me to the high streets, the Rhine, churches, a lovely park and an art museum. The art museum was a particular highlight as it had many artists I had never heard of and a magnificent glass object collection, which included glass from Ancient Egypt to the present day. Additionally, I came across a great deal of beautiful art and sculptures through my exploration. In the evening, I had the pleasure of showing my dad all the marvellous independent restaurants I had been able to discover during the day. However, true heaven came when I stumbled upon a rustic bakery in a back road, where I treated myself to the most scrumptious strudel.

Ditching my phone and following signs led me on a great adventure where I got to experience the city instead of just checking out the sites. I stumbled on many local cultural aspects which as a modern tourist I would have probably ignored. This system turned what would have probably been a forgettable trip into a fun holiday.

Photographs: Michael Gaida via Pixabay

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