– Imagine a stranger – suddenly my girlfriend and I got the idea. – Imagine that he decided to come to our city – I added sarcastically that he was, for sure, out of his mind. Maybe he didn’t know what he was getting into?! My friend from childhood laughed. She was always more realistic. – Let’s imagine that we were given the opportunity to be his guides. Where would we take him?
We put ideas on paper and on the way to the University and back home, we discussed everything in detail. After a few days, we bought film for our camera, (back then we didn’t have mobile phones or digital cameras), got dressed, and started the adventure. It was the spring of 1997. and for someone like me, who on one hand didn’t want to give up and accept the fact that wider world was out of my reach, and on the other hand was downbeat by the same fact, it seemed like a dream to have a chance to guide some stranger through my hometown.
We used this imaginary guy to entertain ourselves. It’s not hard to guess the places we showed him. First stop was the biggest city park, Kalemegdan. You need time to explore the trails, monuments, staircases, bridges or fields and be able to find your favorite part. Mine is on the west side, from where you can see the confluence of rivers Sava and Danube.
(Photo: Branislav Strugar)
We stopped at the City library, Knez-Mihailova Street and in the main public square; visited the famous inner city neighbourhood – Skadarlija, and then continued to the Parliament building. We planned these stops very carefully although we wanted to leave an impression that everything was spontaneous. Together with all of our other successful (or less successful) techniques we had used for the seduction of the foreigner, that request was the main reason for our unstoppable and unforgettable laughter.
I am not sure why and when we suddenly finished that adventure. Maybe we used up all our film? Or we had to prepare for June term exams? Anyhow, before we continued with our day-to-day routine, we put our pictures in a photo-album and named the project Postcards from Belgrade. Shortly thereafter I became so preoccupied with daily events and impressions that I completely forgot about our project.
Thirteen years later, I came to Belgrade on a school trip. I hadn’t told my friends that I was coming, because I already planned to pay a visit soon. My family knew I was in town, but they also understood that my arrival was primarily work-related. I needed as a teacher now to focus my attention on traveling with my students.
For those few days, I behaved like a tourist. I stayed in a hotel with my colleagues and students, and without hesitation, I visited all the city locations: parks, squares, museums, churches, Botanical Garden, small river island, Ada Ciganlija. But even with those circumstances, all that time I was actually acting as a host. I had used every moment to share the stories I believed could be interesting to my companions.
That experience, however, was like the ones I had in the classes at school. I would pull my listeners into one realm and atmosphere and they would, without even knowing, redirect me into another. Their comments and reactions guided me in different directions. Some students were impressed by the city hills and slopes, others with the height of buildings in the town centre. The third group liked the width of the street and underground passages, while others noticed the fact that many bookstores remained open late into the night.
These fresh pairs of eyes encouraged me to stop my inner dialogue with my hometown. These talks were often very complicated, like many conversations we have with people close to us. If we don’t see each other every day, we can be thoughtful and tolerant. Unfortunately, when we spend a few days together, the proximity reminds us easily of our differences, and our emotions lead us quickly into a discussion.
I lived in Canada for two years when I accidentally found out about the event: Be a tourist in your own hometown!
– What an idea! – I told my husband.
I collected all the information online, put our daughter in the stroller and walked to the Tourist center to buy our tickets. I liked the idea that they looked like passports. That little blue passport held a special meaning for me. In the past, because of my Serbian passport, border crossings used to bring a lot of anxiety. And now, without any application or special lineups, I suddenly was given the passport that could take me to any place I wanted. In an instant I became free.
In that booklet, I found a great list of things to do, perhaps even too many for just four late February days. Some of the places we had already visited before: Butchart garden, Butterfly Garden, the Parliament building, lighthouses, museums, the tea party at the Fairmont hotel. Others we considered doing in the future: renting kayaks, playing golf, going on zip line adventure or whale watching.
The passport cost was only ten dollars, but for some attractions, we had to pay an additional fee. All the tickets were in the form of coupons we had to show at the destination. Despite greater numbers of visitors, everything remained the same: working hours, brochures, offers in the coffee shop and souvenir shops.
I liked this idea for several reasons. I love to travel. Despite the rush and mess of planning and preparing, taking just one step into another reality made me relaxed and joyful. Traveling was and still is, my favorite way of learning new things.
I never considered my hometown as a top tourist destination. Although a lot of visitors mostly look for pleasure when they come, Belgrade is a city big enough for everything and everybody. Most of the visitors will pass unnoticed. But I had the chance to stay in places that have become in recent decades so-called tourist destinations. All year around, you can see tourists everywhere and sometimes you are wondering are there any people who live there? When you finally meet the locals and talk with them, wherever you go, you hear the same story. – Everything here is for and about the visitors. All the places exist only to fulfill their needs. And what have we become? Circus workers, perhaps?
After a while many locals will say what actually bothers them deeply: This is my home, and it seems that there is no room for me.
When I found out about the manifestation Be a tourist in your own hometown, I knew that this idea could only come from an experienced traveler. The old privilege of minority meanwhile became the need of the majority. He or she also knows that this new habit (or need) affects the prosperity of one country or city. They won’t waste time, neither the chance, to earn money. On the contrary, in order to ensure the survival or earnings, they will do everything to improve the service and thus ensure a constant influx of newcomers. But, this person obviously knows one important thing. In their struggle, many countries(and cities) disregard the needs of its own population. The number of those who are unsatisfied with the new trends is constantly growing. People are resisting tourist and tourism, sometimes with no good reason.
Victoria is halfway between Belgrade and sc. tourist destinations. It’s a smaller city and that’s why you can easily spot the tourists, particularly those who are coming from clippers and cruises. Although the tourism industry is one of the most important here, many residents live and work in different areas. There are no unexpected traffic jams, unexplainable seasonal price increases, as well as other reasons for tension.
However, someone must think ahead when he/she came up with the idea to start this event before the problem occurs. Be a tourist in your own hometown starts at the end of February, before the high season, and it is also the month when, as people like to say, nothing happens. The locals are impatiently waiting for sunny days and time when they can plant flowers and vegetables, go camping or to the beach. Right then, it’s the right time for connection between the city and its habitats.
What they truly have to say about their home, I read on the car plates the first day after landing in the country. I’ve heard many people from different countries praise their country, but, before this one, I didn’t set foot in a single country where people made their opinion official.
From time to time it is good to remind yourself of it.
Most people use these days to slow down, take a break from their busy lives and simply enjoy. Some will suddenly pay attention to the changes that have recently occurred or get to know better the needs of their community. This event is a good way to find a place for volunteering or the purpose of making a donation. For me, this manifestation is always a great opportunity to discover new locations or programs for learning new skills. Last time I found out about workshops for children, especially those that are not of my interest. For example, gardening. I could register my child in a group where she was able to dig, plant seeds, pick weeds and water plants.
In a world which is all about the exclusiveness, even Be a tourist in your hometown came to my attention for one unique reason: inclusiveness. Although a lot of people will highlight its affordability, I believe that the secret of its development is not about the money. In these days, everybody is invited to the table and thus welcome. Every year a larger number of entrepreneurs are participating, both those big, experienced and confirmed ones and those smaller, novice who is just starting the business. A greater number of residents are also coming. Some of them are using these days not only to enjoy but also to invite their friends or extended family members from other cities or countries. Even when it’s not immediately noticeable, even when this manifestation is just one more thing to do, I can see that open communication and access to information. These locations drive a sense of community connection and sense of belonging.
There is, however, something in the idea of this event, which makes me wonder. Anyone, both tourists, and locals can buy a ticket. No one will ask for ID to check the address of residence. But, the event is basically dedicated to the local population and that’s why I am asking: Is it possible to be a tourist in your own hometown?
With other cities, we have a different relationship. Between them and us, there is always a space in which many things can fit. The good and bad, similarities and differences, past and present. But with hometowns everything is different. We are closely attached and we feel like one.
Let’s say that we are living in it from our birth, and let’s not bother with the fact whether we live how we want or how we have to, are we able to see our hometown with the eyes of ” the others”? Can we explore it as if we don’t know anything about it?
Back in the day, my mother said one thing, I thought weird at the time. We were getting ready to go for our summer vacation. We either spent our summers together with our parents or with my grandmother, but most of the holidays in the 1980’s, I spent in school camps. I remember listening to my parents talking about the importance of these experiences. They kept repeating that they are necessary for our health and that every now and then people should change their climate. It is well known that salt water and sea air can help cure illnesses, from moodiness to rheumatism. Vacations are, they continued, the best way to learn about your country and children from other regions. It is also important that we learn from an early age about self-reliance, as well as to become more social. My parents said we all deserved a vacation because we were good students and had good marks on our report cards.
And then my mom added that weird sentence which in context is about my story today: “People need to come outside of their walls.”
Sounds like a possible answer to the question I was asking or perhaps at least a thought we could take into consideration.