A Tourist At Home

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about the British people, is that they love the sun. I was raised in Saudi Arabia, where the only two seasons of the year are ‘Get Your Skin Burnt Off in Under 15 Minutes Hot,’ and ‘You’ve Died and Woken Up in Hell Hot.’ So it always made me chuckle whenever spring would hit. In between thunderstorms, the sun would shine for half an hour, and I would see people in shorts, t-shirts and sunglasses. But now spring has hit and I see…no one.

Suppose the COVID-19 lockdown were to continue deep into the summer months. The sun’s hibernation period ends and it finally comes out of hiding to beam down on all beneath it.

But there is hardly anyone to soak it in.

June, July, August pass and we all live in fear of a disease – which, if you breathe in – does its best to stop you from breathing at all.

Of course, it could all be contained much sooner, and some semblance of normality is restored. Even then, it will be a long time before the general public feels safe enough to return to its old ways – especially those who have been personally affected by it. Those who have contracted it themselves, witnessed someone they know go through it, or lost someone during a period of time that will undoubtedly be studied about in decades to come. 

Even if we were to recover sooner rather than later, the economic outcome will require us to religiously stick to a diet so that we can tighten our belts. Given the loss of lives, the fear, the economic blackhole…does it really matter what season we’re in?

The days are getting longer, the temperature is rising, but when I look outside my window it’s a ghost town.

I remember last year sitting on a sandy beach staring out at all the different shades of blue of the Adriatic Sea, with a rage-filled sun in the skies. I had a banitsa in hand – a delicious, traditional Balkan dish of baked filo pastry with feta cheese and spinach – and could see a wave of bodies dancing in sync to the music of a beach party to my left. Jagged cliffs stood tall, battered by the sea on my right, as I caught up with an old friend I used to live with in Spain.

I think about that summer… and then I think about this summer.

Before the pandemic hit, I had thought about going to the south of Spain. But even once the borders open and they say it’s ‘safe’ to travel, a deadly virus will still linger in the air. Besides, if you live with parents, children, siblings etc. going on a holiday, even just for a break, could be taking a selfish risk.

Nonetheless, a break is exactly what most of us need. Especially after going through such an unprecedented period of time where, as a country, we have been through so much. As enriching as it is to travel to somewhere new and discover its culture, it’s also a big form of escapism.

So, the real question is: can you be a tourist in your own city? Is it possible?

To be honest, I don’t know. But with little choice in the matter, we may have to find out.

Whether you’ve lived in a city for years or been born and raised in one place, you assume you know everything there is to know. Your favourite restaurants, your coffee shops, your park, your gym, even the route you take when you want to go for a walk. There’s something that attracts you to those particular places, and they end up becoming ‘your’ places. You find comfort in familiarity.

However, comfort is also a dangerous thing. Too much of it and you’re stuck.

It’s been a year and a half since I moved to the city of Leicester. A city with great promise and diversity. Growing in size, economy and infrastructure. But it’s not London, or New York, or Tokyo…it’s Leicester. There are only a handful of things you can do with your spare time, and it doesn’t take long before even those things become boring. It’s one of those places you love deep down…but only because you live there.

I’m an explorer by nature. I’ve always been curious to find out what’s at the bottom of that road. You may tell me it’s a dead-end, but I still need to see it for myself.

In every new country or city I visit, at one point or another I try my best to get as lost as I can. I pick a direction and don’t stop walking until I truly have no idea which way is which. That is when I discover the most. Someone once told me that whenever they would go to a new country, they would jump in a taxi and pay the driver to drive 5 miles ‘that way.’ He would then get out and that would be his starting point. 

That’s going to have to be my mindset this summer. I’m going to wander the streets of Leicester as if it were my first time. With that same inquisitiveness. On a major roundabout in Leicester, there is a church which has preserved the ruins from when the Romans invaded. I’ve gone past that church and those ruins a hundred times. And yet, I’ve never gone in or learnt about its actual history. If I were in a new city and saw something like that, I’d be there straight away, stopping strangers to find out if they could tell me anything about what it was that had caught my eye. It’s human nature to take what is considered to be ours for granted. We do it with our partners, family, friends, jobs, and we do it with the places we live in. 

I’m going to see my city through the eyes of a traveller. I’ll do it by walking, observing everything there is around me, and not being afraid to stop someone and ask them questions about anything on my mind. One of my best friends sees absolutely no point in walking around aimlessly. ‘It’s a waste of time and energy, mate – Google it’. He will Google ‘top places to visit in…’ and base his plans around that. I bet he’s never done that in Leicester. I don’t get him, he doesn’t get me, but it’s what works. So whatever works for you. If all else fails, and you can’t leave for whatever reason, open your eyes, open your mind, and rediscover.

Hasan Aga

About Hasan Aga

Hasan Aga is a traveller and a writer based in the UK. He has worked as a chef, refugee youth mentor and a teacher.

Hasan Aga is a traveller and a writer based in the UK. He has worked as a chef, refugee youth mentor and a teacher.

Leave a Comment