Being a tourist can be superficial and unsatisfying sometimes – rather like a one-night stand. You see some pretty things, drink more than usual, and sleep in a strange bed.There may be a souvenir or two in it – hopefully, nothing that requires drugs to get rid of – but in the end all you've really gotten out of it is a couple of kicks and a vague feeling a few days later that maybe it didn't really happen at all. In the case of the trip, of course, you know it did – at least when the credit card bill comes due.
I don't do shallow (well, not very often). When I travel I like to hang out in the same spot for a while, meet some local people, and get an idea of how they live and think. That means a DIY approach that doesn't include the usual hotels and bus tours. The best strategy I've come up with has three basic parts: rent an apartment, sign up for language immersion classes, and register with a local on-line dating service.
This winter's foray took me to the Languedoc region on the Mediterranean coast of France near the Spanish border, an area which boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year. I'd seen the pictures: gold light on rocky shores, vines heavy with deep purple grapes, ancient stone villages nestled in rugged mountain valleys, and fabulous fresh food with an emphasis on wine and cheese. Sign me up!