Crafting A Satisfying City Walk


Amsterdam is a very pleasurable wilderness to trek through...

With the loss of just a bit of perceptual resistance, city walks can be approached and enjoyed as vigorously as any decent wilderness trek. The terrain is interesting and challenging, the wildlife superb, the places to “pitch” numerous and varied … Here’s how I  like to orchestrate my  city walking to avoid wandering aimlessly through tourist traps and endless dead museums :

* First I like to choose a base camp somewhere near the center of the city. I almost always choose a cafe that has thick espresso and cannoli. And I come there first thing every morning with my notebook, maps, etc. I socialize and become familiar. It keeps me from feeling strange and lost.

* 3 Days is the minimum for any satisfying city walk and I try to plan it like I would a hill walk;  pacing myself the first day, slamming myself with challenges the next, chilling out towards the end.. I map out the routes and stick to them, unless of course something extraordinarily interesting beckons me off the “trail” (always) ..

* My kit list includes: Waterproof jacket, trail runner shoes, slick city clothing with an attractive hat, an umbrella, Coach leather shoulder bag (big enough for gear but swanky enough for the city), maps, notebook, camera, compass (yes I get lost in cities too), an extra pair of socks and I’m not explaining this one again, and money/ID… You can bring trail mix and M&M’s if they make you feel more like you’re “out there”

* Because I am in the city and have too many choices, I like to theme each day of my walks. The possibilities are numerous and I dare you to avoid the usual monument to museum to park to museum to monument to gallery to shop to monument theme… Some of my favorite themes are: Used bookstore scouring, graffiti hunting, best coffeehouse quest, abandoned buildings exploration, walking a route created as a cool geometric pattern , Guerilla Literature walking (a project devised by Nate Hanson to leave important works of literature in public places with the printed urgings to read and pass it on), old church hunting, ethnic restaurant hopping (how many different countries can you eat in one day), have-to-turn-right-every-13th-street-and-see-where-you-are walking, cemetery hopping (gravestones are very interesting reading), nameless streets walking (usually these end up being alleys, but it’s a fun challenge to avoid named roads).. etc… Try to theme your walk to what you WANT to see, not what you should see.. If you skip all of the major attractions and only went to all of the independent gear shops .. oops, oh well..

* To me, the biggest attraction of a city is its wildlife, its people, and I do my best to be exposed to and interact with them as much as possible. “City Benching” is a popular strategy for noncommittal interaction with people and entails only that you sit every once in awhile on a public bench and read, people watch, whatever. 80% of the time someone will sit next to you and be open to chat. I’ve learned more things about the places I’ve visited this way.  You can also contact Couchsurfers, of course, for some city fun, or join up with a meeting (Sierra Club, Kiwanas, AA, Toastmasters, etc), or volunteer (festival events, public soup kitchens, library).. As long as you walk there and continue onwards on a specified route, these activities can be considered as part of a city thru-walk..

* I try to create a route and pace that at least occasionally gets my heart rate up and my body feeling alive. Part of the absolute joy of wilderness walking is the bloody hard work it takes to get there, the gift of endorphins as you summit, the testing of endurance and skill… Pad some miles onto your city walk to create the same exhilaration… Get up some hills.. run the periphery first… Do something to earn that pint  you know you are going to drink at the end.

* Finally, I try to find the nature in the city. Most cities have parks, but the well trimmed hedges and brass plate labeled shrubs aren’t exactly swelling my being with the wonder of God… However, I love to find and photograph the out of control vines trying to eat the buildings, the weeds sprouting up through the cracks in the pavement, lizards on the sides of buildings, barnacles attached to harbor docks, overhead cloud formations, even feral cats remind me that even in these clusters of controlled culture, we are not totally in charge… Turn our heads for a geological second and this land would be instantly reclaimed… That the cities are really more like a piece of abstract jewelry worn by an adventurous woman than any kind of permanent deviation…

 Posted by at 10:54 am

  6 Responses to “Crafting A Satisfying City Walk”

  1. I used to work in London, just off Trafalgar Square. My refuge was to go at lunchtimes to the Cafe in the Crypt under St Martins in the Field, or into the nearby parks. A lot of people felt the same, and even escaping into a small green space, especially in summer months, looking towards Embankment, made a massive difference.
    I remember a fantastic first date with a guy, also in London, where we roamed the streets, covering miles and miles, it was tipping down and we were both drenched, but it added to the fun as we were two of very few. It felt like we had a vast city to ourselves. It was a big adventure in a city we both knew, and set the tone for a good relationship for a number of years!
    Maybe when I’m stuck I’ll try out my local city, Sheffield. Thanks for a thought provoking post 🙂

  2. Thanks Helen! I remember too when I left Sedona to go to art school in the city, how far I would walk to find something natural.. Also I discovered how much a city hides.. especially when you’re broke and looking in the non-traditional (ie free) places…

  3. An inspiring post giving some excellent ideas for themed days/walks. Thank you for sharing the idea.

  4. During a three week spell as a volunteer at the Loch of Strathbeg RSPB reserve, I witnessed the excitement caused by the arrival of a green winged teal, a vagrant from North America. Rare straggler, my ancient Hamlyn guide calls it. Before getting a plane back to the Philippines, I had a day in London which I used for a parks walk, and in St James Park was a green winged teal.

    The Loch of Strathbeg teems with birdlife in winter and has a centrally heated hide.

  5. @Fenlander .. You’re welcome! Share if you come up with some too !

    @John Davis … That is an eerie coincidence about the green wing… They have no problem enjoying the city as wilderness either eh? 🙂 I think it might be following you…

  6. The city as wilderness – can’t argue with that.

    Wild ducks and geese seem to like dropping in on their domesticated chums. They’re social birds and, near humans, the food is pretty much guaranteed. Would a visiting duck go to London? Possibly, as the Thames is our second biggest river.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>