One of my favorite things about visiting a new city is that moment in which you know that you have crossed the divide between commerce and life–in some cities, there is none: the infrastructure is too big, and the flash that the city maintains is actually where the typical resident makes his home. In some, however (and I can think of two specific cases on opposite parts of the globe) the edges of life are more well-defined.
In both Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Bruges, Belgium, there is a long entrance from the highway to the inner city, well-decorated with indicators that you are, in fact, on your way to the heart of the city. Grocery stores, smaller antiques shops, restaurants line the proverbial yellow brick road. Then, excitement hits as you set your sights on the heart of the city and see what was once described to you via the internet or Fodor’s. Famous bathhouses, clock towers, lavish shopping pacify visitors who don’t realize that what you’re exposed to is in some ways a shell of a city: the majority of people who call the city their home live in less crowded, more elemental surroundings.
The moment when you understand the break is always refreshing after days of crowded markets and unregulated rush.