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Hello, followers and stumble-uponers!  As promised, I am about to start a small North American series to keep you informed, interested, and intrigued.  For tonight’s entry, I’m merely going to give a run-down of how to go about striking gold in a city you visit.  You would be surprised – sometimes there’s gold hidden in your own hometown!  So keep in mind that there are always stones to overturn and see if you might learn a few tricks…or share your own!

Before you go to a city, you should really map out more than just the directions.  This is my favorite part of trip planning, in fact.  I’ve invested in (well, downloaded) the awesome app FourSquare.  For those of you with FourSquare (or just the ability to search through it on the Internet), I do recommend it as a starting point.  I love to make a list for every new city I visit and save places that I want to see.  You can search a city or a specific radius and you can search by category or word.  I’ve searched for historic landmarks, restaurants, what’s popular now, what’s usually popular, keywords like “vegetarian” or “fried green tomatoes”, etc.  I’ve come across some real gold that way.  Sometimes doing a Wiki search on the city will give you an idea of its history, its pride, and even its festivals – all sorts of things to keep an eye out for!

Of course, FourSquare isn’t the answer to everything.  I usually double-check for a lot of photos, check-ins, and positive comments.  Then I’ll back-check everything by a quick Google search.  Sometimes I’ll start with a Google search and back-check on FourSquare.  Having friends nearby or who have been to a city is always a great solution to find the local bests, kind of like searching for the little, hidden pubs in Ireland where you’ll get the best local craic.  While searching for local, I’ve found incredible microbreweries, vegan coffee shops with live music, and even tiny barbecue vendors with the best southern sides.  Your third option is to use social media yet again and send out a Facebook status or a Tweet to your friends.  Using hashtags can lure in people you don’t know with a lot of hometown pride and useful information to share.

Having a car (either of your own or a rental) is always nice and convenient, but, in urban settings, I generally recommend you spend at least one or two days without one. That’s how I explored most of my European cities this summer and I quickly adapted to the local public systems, including the street bike rentals.  Not a lot of cities have bike rentals available like Vienna and Lido Island, Italy did for me this summer, but there is still usually some kind of alternative that is faster than walking.

Public transportation is a great way to get a feel for an area.  Sometimes you’ll meet great people there, too.  Sometimes you’ll meet not-so-great people.  It’s all part of the feel and the experience.  Even just looking around at the faces of the people gives you a sense for their lifestyles and the fashion trends of the area, if that’s something that intrigues you.  I always love packing on to a 5PM Monday train and seeing the suited sardines with earbuds in and no one talking.  Or an 8PM Friday train with crazy outfits and loud, shouting kids.  But definitely walk; it lets you see everything from an ordinary perspective and to absorb yourself in the size of a city.  And avoid getting sucked into too many touristy places or spending too much time on things you can do anywhere, like watching movies or TVs or eating at restaurant chains you have at home.

After you’ve experienced a city, consider taking note of where you went, what you liked, and what you wish you could’ve done differently.  That way you’ll have a note for yourself as well as solid advice to give to someone else if you ever run across that random Facebook status asking the same questions you asked a time before.  Hopefully my future posts will be of use to someone in the area and maybe some locals will have some ideas to contribute!

Happy Wednesday, you’re almost there 🙂