Friday, 11 October 2013

What if Paul Kelly is right?

Now I'm in a restaurant in Stockholm
And the waiter here wants me to know his name
And I can order sandwiches in seven different languages
But every fucking city is just the same - Paul Kelly, "Every Fucking City"

Paul Kelly's iconic song about backpacking through Europe is a favourite with many Australian travellers as it has been for me during my last eight years of wandering the globe. But it re entered my mind when I was actually sitting in a restaurant last week in Sweden's capital and making a complete mess of ordering a sandwich in Swedish.

2012 Live version (with some modern twists)

It got me thinking about whether Paul Kelly was actually right. Are all cities just the same? For 10 days I'd been travelling through several cities in Sweden and for the most part they were much the same. Nice old buildings, some so-so castles beautiful little old towns and some really pretty scenery. The more I thought about it, the more it was quite similar to many other cities I'd visited in other European countries.

The people I met were similar too. In my time in Sweden, aside from one Swede (whom I met in Scotland years ago) I spent my time with another Australian, some Mexicans and a couple who were Finish and Russian and many of their friends who were Hungarian. Did I really need to be in Sweden for this? Couldn't I just plant myself in any European city and act as a tourist and wait for all of the same experiences? Or is it possible that I'm just becoming an old Jaded traveller?

Town square in Malmo

In Malmo, at the south of Sweden, I met another traveller who introduced me to the concept of there being an “order” to travel. As a Westerner, you start in Europe or North America – safe, easy countries – and then eventually move into the more developing countries in Asia and South America, before one day you find yourself asking for a sandwich in Baghdad. It's possible that after my recent travels in India and Burma, that any Western country just doesn't feel different enough any more.

I think in all honesty travel through many countries has become a bit the same. People want the same facilities and services in their hotel/hostel. They'll tend to do the same kinds of things when they get to each city – whether that be hop-on hop-off busses, tour museums or just get drunk. And they'll tend to meet the same kinds of people who are all doing the same kinds of things as them.

Town Square in Stockholm

Does that mean that there's no point travellings to many of these places? Hell no. While the differences may be more subtle these days, they're still there. If you're willing to try different food, attempt to meet some locals and in general get out of your comfort zone, you'll find plenty of new things in each new city you visit. The unique and different experiences are still there to find, you might just need to leave Starbucks to find them.  

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