Travel Like a Local
Insider Tips from Ambassadors Around the World
At TravelBird, we inspire curious people to explore the world and discover something new. We use local insight and insider tips so that our travelers experience the very best of a destination. Our latest travel insight comes from some very special local experts. We contacted ambassadors from all over the world and asked them to share their unique cultural knowledge and destination highlights with us. As representatives of their native country around the globe, we were curious to hear what they offered up and eager to share their recommendations with our travelers.
We asked ambassadors two very simple but revealing questions. If a traveler only has 48 hours in their country, what should they see, do and eat? And, are there any misconceptions or incorrect clichés about their country?
Mr. Giorgio Novello – Italy
If a person is visiting Italy for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“I would of course recommend Venice, Florence and Rome, which are by the way connected by an excellent network of high speed trains. Since I want to suggest something original I would recommend three areas located very closely to Venice, Florence and Rome respectively: Near Venice: inland waterways navigation on the Brenta through Padua and to the Euganean hills. All in all, some seventy kilometers navigation by boat in an idyllic countryside landscape first along the banks of the river Brenta and their Venetian countryside villas (including one by Palladio, which is now of the UNESCO world heritage list) then through Padova/Padua, home to the third oldest University in Europe and the first to award a degree to a woman in 1678; and finally to the foot of the Euganean hills and the Medieval city of Monselice.
Not far from Florence: the Literary Landscape Giosué Carducci in Castagneto Carducci. Literary landscapes are cultural itineraries in the places where important Italian writers and poets lived or set their masterpieces. In a Literary Landscape you can for instance visit the house of birth of an author or the school he/she attended, the rooms in which he/she composed their works; attend readings from their works; participate in events such as concerts and theater performances, enjoy traditional food in listed restaurants…The Literary Landscape Giosue’ Carducci is important because it is devoted to the Nobel Prize Winner in 1906 who also established the Dante Alighieri Society which today is in charge of the Literary Landscapes all over Italy.
Near Rome: the small village of Tolfa, on top of a hill, some 45 minutes from Rome, which has hosted for the last 20 years a prestigious Norwegian-Italian cultural Institute and has become a magnet of cultural, literary and scientific exchanges between Southern and Northern Europe. Worth seeing is also its archaeological museum with Etruscan findings.”
Is there a common cliche about people in Italy which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“A common cliché about Italy is that my country is very strong in soft skills (including fashion, design, cuisine, art) and weak in hard skills (engineering, scientific research, aerospace). The fact is that Italy is also a leading country in advanced technology, science, nanotechnologies, pharmaceuticals, energy, aerospace. For instance, machine tools and mechanical engineering are the most important component of our export and we are today the 5th largest manufacturer in the world after the United States, China, Japan and Germany.”
Mr. Tomislav Bošnjak – Croatia
If a person is visiting Croatia for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“Two days in Croatia, notwithstanding the seasons, would probably be best spent by visiting first Dubrovnik, walking around the city walls, drinking malvasija wine and eating a traditional fish grill with silver beet and potatoes, and finishing off with a rožata. Then travel to Plitvice, walk around the waterfalls, drink šljivovica (plum brandy) and eat a meal of cured and smoked meat with sauer kraut and potatoes, before having lička pita for desert. Then travel to Zagreb, visit the Cathedral, the Gornji grad (Upper City) with St Mark’s Church, the Jelačić Square and the City Market, have štrukli and Zagrebački schnitzel, wash it down with local beer or a local dry wine mixed (half – half) with Jamnica sparkling mineral water which is locally known as a ‘gemišt’.”
Is there a common cliche about people in Croatia which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“Croats are sometimes described as being reserved and insular by those who do not know them. 18 million annual visitors to Croatia are finding for themselves a completely different story.”
Mr. Matthijs van Bonzel – Netherlands
If a person is visiting Netherlands for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“If you’re in the Netherlands for only 48 hours, I recommend that you spend some time in our capital, Amsterdam, and soak up the history and culture of this beautiful city. Rent a bike and cycle along the canals or take a boating trip. Pay a visit to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum or Anne Frank House and visit a pleasant terrace café afterwards.
If you manage to do that all in 24 hours, I recommend you spend the last 24h somewhere outside of Amsterdam. Take a short train trip to The Hague and Rotterdam, for example. Visit the Dutch Parliament and the Mauritshuis in The Hague or explore modern Rotterdam and visit the biggest port of Europe. The Netherlands offers something to everyone.
What to eat Go Dutch and try ‘poffertjes’, a ‘kroket’ or ‘frikandel’. If you’d rather eat something more elaborate, you could opt for a ‘rijsttafel’, the dishes served are actually Indonesian, but its origins were colonial. The Dutch introduced the rijsttafel during their presence in Indonesia, hence the Dutch name. Of course you should also take some ‘stroopwafels’ back home.”
Is there a common cliche about people in Netherlands which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“Don’t worry, we don’t all smoke weed!”
Mr. Jorge-Castro Valle – Mexico
If a person is visiting Mexico for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“Definitely visit Mexico City, as it is the capital of the country, it offers many things so it is a nice city for a short stay. Travellers should visit the historic center of the city as it’s a must-see. They should also visit the Zócalo, the cathedral, the murals in the National Palace, as well as walk along Madero Street, Bellas Artes and the Alameda. To know a little bit more about the history of Mexico, it would be nice to visit the Museum of Anthropology and History. The pure architecture of the museum is worth the visit. And if people are interested in contemporary art, the Tamayo Museum offers, besides the work of Mexican artists, a very good selection of temporary exhibitions.
Travelers should also make a visit to Coyoacán, which is a colony that still keeps much of it past and whose center is a place of recreation for families. In addition, there is the house of Frida Kahlo, and the Anahuacalli Museum of Diego Rivera. If there is time, it’s nice to visit the Teotihuacán pyramids.
And for eating, I would recommend everything! From tacos de pastor, suadero or campechanos on the street, to the contemporary cuisine of fine Mexican dining. Travelers should not miss the opportunity to visit the markets, such as Mercado de San Juan or Mercado de Medellín.
In a country like Mexico, food plays a fundamental role. Much of the social interaction happens through food, so the best way to start to know the country is by the stomach.”
Is there a common cliché about people in Mexico which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“There are some clichés about México and the Mexican citizens, but part of it is because of missing of information, or some clichés are about the old Mexico. One of the best examples of it could be the Mexican sleeping under a cactus with a tequila bottle.”
Mr.Nagy Zoltán – Hungary
If a person is visiting Hungary for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“Walk on the Margaret-bridge, and on the banks of the Danube in Budapest, visit the Parliament, take a ride on a boat, and visit the Castle. Other notable cities to visit include Szentendre (25 km North of Budapest), Visegrád, the Danube bend, and Tihany (Lake Balaton). Try one of the Thermal baths in Budapest (Gellért, Rudas or Lukács). Those visiting should eat Hungarian Gulash, Fish soup, Wiener Schnitzel, lecsó, stuffed cabbage, and the cakes: Dobos cake, Somlói galuska.”
Is there a common cliché about people in Hungary which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
Some misconceptions include -“Hungarians do not speak languages: in fact, the young people speak English, and in Budapest, in most of the shops and services English is spoken. Hungarians are xenophobic: Hungarians (mainly in the smaller cities) love foreigners, the hospitability of Hungarians is famous (they ask you if they can help, if you are seemingly lost, they share their food with you, and offer you pálinka (strong short drink) until you can drink. Antisemitism: we have several working synagogues in Budapest, the Central Synagogue is the largest in Europe. The Jewish district is the most vivid part of the capital with restaurants, shops, Jewish community houses, pubs.”
Mr. Román Macaya – Costa Rica
If a person is visiting Costa Rica for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“Experience Costa Rica’s strikingly diverse terrain with lush forests, wildlife reserves, and tropical beaches which offer something for every traveler. Beach-lovers should stay along the Pacific Coast and head to Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula’s. Nature-seekers should stay in the Northern Plains or along the Caribbean coast and visit Puerto Viejo, before going to Monteverde Cloud forest and hike Arenal Volcano. If they are interested in going to San José, the capital, they can visit the National Theater, the Cathedral, Barrio Amón (one of the oldest neighborhoods in the country), the National Park, the Jade and Gold Museums, and the National Zoo. The typical Costa Rican lunch consists of rice, beans, chicken or meat, mature bananas and fruits that are produced throughout the year.”
Is there a common cliché about people in Costa Rica which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“Untrue cliché: Travelers come to enjoy Costa Rica´s natural wonders during their vacations, and may leave believing that all Costa Ricans live a similar ‘vacation lifestyle’ year round. However, the work ethic of Costa Ricans is very strong, with many Costa Ricans working in high value services and high-tech manufacturing. Many people, even those who have visited Costa Rica, have the idea that Costa Rica’s economy is primarily agricultural, when in fact our main exports are high value services and medical devices.”
Ms. Elizabeth Ellison-Kramer – Austria
If a person is visiting Austria for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“As I was born in Vienna, I would recommend the capital of Austria. Go to Schönbrunn castle, the former imperial summer residence, which was built during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa, and is definitely worth visiting and among the most popular sights. I would also recommend visiting Salzburg and the small town of Oberndorf, near Salzburg. In Oberndorf stands the chapel where the song ‘Silent night’ was first performed in 1818 on Christmas Eve and was declared a cultural heritage site by UNESCO. Vienna for example is famous for its coffee house culture offering a wide selection of different coffees as well as sweet treats (Sachertorte, Linzer Torte, and Kaiserschmarrn). For those who like meat dishes, Wiener Schnitzel is a must.”
Is there a common cliché about people in Austria which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“Stereotypes about Austria are full of folklore picturing Austrians wearing Dirndl and Lederhose, skiing a lot and loving Sound of Music. I believe that Sound of Music is actually more popular outside of Austria. However, it is true, that especially in the West, many Austrians are fond of skiing. Austria is not only famous for its historic sites but also known for modern and environment friendly architecture.”
Mr. Aníbal de Castro – Dominican Republic
If a person is visiting Dominican Republic for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“The Dominican Republic has a great diversity of beaches, with golden sands in the north, white sand beaches in the east and black sand or rocks in the south. This variation allows people to enjoy a very diverse experience within the Caribbean.
I would suggest setting off on a Saturday on a catamaran excursion to Saona Island: swimming in its clear waters and walking on its white sand will be an unforgettable experience. Another option is to go to Palmar de Ocoa bay, where visitors can enjoy spectacular views and a gentle breeze, and afterwards visit Ocoa Bay, where you can taste the wine selection of the most important vineyard in the country. Sunday is the best day to tour the streets of the first city of the Americas by bicycle, exploring the cultural offering, local design shops, and cafes. Visitors can take advantage of a wide selection of local gastronomy in the Colonial Zone. To top it off, I would recommend ending the day by dancing Son and Merengue to the notes of the Bonyé group in front of the colonial ruins of the San Francisco Monastery.”
Is there a common cliché about people in Dominican Republic which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“The relaxed mood of Dominican people should not be confused with a lack of appetite for work. Quite the opposite, Dominicans are tenacious and entrepreneurial and work from sunrise to sunset with a good disposition and positive attitude.”
Mr. Jørn Eugene Gjelstad – Norway
If a person is visiting Norway for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
Visit -“Oslo (Opera House, Munch museum, Vigeland park, Fram museum). There are not many better places for a drink along the fjord than the Opera house. The architecture is stunning and it is so much fun for kids to run on the roof. The nearby Sørenga offers swimming in an urban oasis, and you should not miss the Astrup Fearnley museum. Then take the train to Bergen and have a walk from the charming fishing wharf up to Fløyen. It takes you through a historical and very beautiful residential area, gives you a good scenic experience and finally an amazing view over Bergen, the fjord and the mountains. If you prefer, you can take the cable car up, and walk down. It is just as good. Enjoying nature and the outdoors is considered a national pastime in Norway, and this is reflected in our attitude towards the preservation and use of the nature. VisitNorway.com lists eco-friendly hotels and destinations. You can’t visit Norway without eating seafood such as salmon, shrimps, muscles in classic or more modern culinary versions. Try also geitost, the sweet goat cheese that all Norwegians use on their ‘matpakke’ their home made sandwich which they take to school or to work.”
Is there a common cliché about people in Norway which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“Norwegian are ‘cold’ people. This is far from true. They have a different mentality compared to more southern countries, yes, they might not talk on the bus or speak to strangers, but cold no. When you make a Norwegian friend you have a friend forever!”
Mr. Fernando Bucheli – Ecuador
If a person is visiting Ecuador for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
Travellers -“should visit the Old Town of Quito, and after go to the ‘Mitad del Mundo’ monument. The next day you should go to Mindo Valley which is a subtropical forest, two hours away from the capital. In terms of food, for breakfast it would be nice to eat coffee with ‘bolones verdes’. For lunch, I recommend shrimp ceviche, ‘locro’ (potato soup), ‘seco de gallina’, fruit ice-cream, and pancakes with chocolate, as it is made with the best cacao of the world. Finally for dinner, it is really nice to eat chicken soup.”
Is there a common cliché about people in Ecuador which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“The straw hat is confused with the so-called Panama hat, which is originally from Ecuador not from Panama.”
Mrs. Ritva Koukku-Ronde – Finland
If a person is visiting Finland for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“For 48 hours we recommend staying in the Helsinki region, visiting the city center, exploring Jugend architecture in the old town and modern, sustainable building style in Jätkäsaari or Kalasatama. We also recommend the islands around the city (Suomenlinna, a Unesco World Heritage site), the old town of Porvoo with beautiful wooden houses and the Nuuksio national park in Espoo. Depending on the season some of the outdoor activities can also be changed into museum visits.
For sightseeing in Helsinki, go to the Helsinki Cathedral, Temppeliaukio Church, Ateneum Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki Market Hall, Tori Korttelit – Design District, Public sauna complexes Löyly and Allas Sea Pool. A new exciting thing for 2018 is the opening of Amos Rex, a new arts museum in the heart of Helsinki.
When in Finland you should definitely try the pure tastes of local nature, like freshwater fish and reindeer as well as berries and mushrooms. Wild and local food tastes intensive and is pure and clean. The traditional Finnish rye-bread is also a must-try.”
Is there a common cliché about people in Finland which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“A cliché is that Finnish people are very shy and introvert. We might be a little shy but people who travel to Finland normally say that Finnish people are friendly, hospitable and heartfelt. When Finns meet new people for the first time, they tend to take the role of the observer and want to be polite and give the guest first some own space.”
Ms. Susan Bincoletto – Canada
If a person is visiting Canada for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“Everyone knows that Canada is a large country, but often time’s visitors don’t realize just how large it is. For comparison, the land mass of Switzerland would fit into Canada over 240 times! Therefore, my recommendation would be to focus on a region or one of Canada’s big cities. As I was born in Montreal, Quebec, it is my top recommendation for an amazing 48 hours in Canada. Montreal is a truly bilingual city where you are likely to hear individuals switch back and forth from English to French within one conversation. Visitors can enjoy a mosaic of cultures set against the backdrop of one of Canada’s oldest cities. I recommend that visitors take in the charming cobblestone streets of the city’s old district to see how the city first began to develop and check out the Notre-Dame Basilica with its incredible stained glass art. A walk to Mount Royal Park to take in the view and a couple of selfies is also a must. Once you have your history fix, treat yourself to some retail therapy by exploring the shops along Rue Sainte-Catherine, one of the longest shopping streets in Canada, where you will find cool shoes at Little Burgundy, Montreal-designed vegan leather goods at Matt & Nat, and great fashion at Simons. Come the evening, no visit to Montreal would be complete without a night out at a hockey game. Enjoy the passion of the fans of the Montreal Canadiens (or The Habs as they are more commonly known). The Habs have the honor of being the longest continuously operating professional ice hockey team in the world and some of the most loyal fans around.
As for food, there is much fun to be had in Montreal. You cannot miss a smoked-meat sandwich at world-famous Schwartz’s deli and make sure you take the time to find out why Montreal-style bagels are so beloved by grabbing a bag from St-Viateur to take home for enjoyment later. Finally, dive in to a classic French-Canadian treat like poutine, the traditional recipe is simply French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy, but there is a whole assortment of exciting ways to enjoy this comfort food.”
Is there a common cliché about people in Canada which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“Honestly, a lot of the clichés are quite accurate: Canadians are friendly, tolerant, and, sorry, but we do apologize a lot. A less accurate cliché is the idea that Canadians are a rural people. Of course as the world’s second largest country, we have a huge amount of land and space for our population of 36 million. However, 81% of Canadians actually live in urban centers and these urban centers are overwhelmingly multicultural; in fact Toronto is recognized as the world’s most multicultural city. As a result, we have vibrant and innovative creative industries, performers and artists and we are lucky to enjoy a remarkable array of culinary experiences. While we have become an urban people, Canadians enjoy our natural endowments during their free time and are thankful to those who cultivate and protect these areas.”
Ms. Melita Sta. Maria-Thomeczek – Philippines
If a person is visiting Philippines for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
Travelers -“should visit the islands! A good way to do this is to go through Cebu in order to avoid the gridlock of Manila’s roads. Cebu itself offers a range of attractions, including lovely beaches. You shouldn’t miss the local ‘lechon’ (succulent roast pig) or the ‘sutokil’ (fish prepared three ways: grilled, as a soup, and something similar to ceviche). Bohol is also just a two-hour ferry ride away and offers more white strands, the Chocolate Hills, and the beautiful Loboc River, among others. It also has a lot of old churches, which unfortunately suffered damage in an earthquake a few years ago but are now being restored.”
Is there a common cloche about people in Philippines which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“Filipinos are famously lighthearted and good-humored, so some people underestimate how serious and deeply committed they can be when entrusted with responsibility or engaged in serious discussion.”
Ms. Nicole Roberton – New Zealand
If a person is visiting New Zealand for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“New Zealand may be a small country but it is jam-packed with jaw-dropping natural scenery, vibrant modern cities, picturesque cycling and walking trails, dynamic arts and culture, adventure activities, and film locations. I promise you won’t regret extending your stay, especially as doing so will give you more opportunities to sample some of New Zealand’s world-famous beef, lamb and oysters, washed down with award-winning pinot noirs and sauvignon blancs.”
Is there a common cliché about people in New Zealand which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“It’s not a cliché, but it’s amazing how many European people tell me that as children, they assumed everyone in New Zealand had to somehow walk upside down. It’s also interesting that, despite the fact that the world is round, when people produce flat maps, New Zealand always ends up in the bottom left hand corner, looking like we are at the end of the earth. To counter this, we have some excellent alternate maps, like The Upside Down World Map… Location is in the eye of the beholder!”
Mr. Luis F Carranza – Guatemala
If a person is visiting Guatemala for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
“Definitely, tourists have to visit ‘Old Guatemala’ only 40km away from the main city, as it is a colonial city recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. In Antigua Guatemala there are some of the best restaurants. I would recommend eating a ‘Parrillada Chapina’, roast, black beans, rice and guacamole. There are more elaborated dishes such as ‘Ka’ik’, which is a thick soup made with turkey and unique spices from Guatemala. And from Antiguan, the tourist can visit the Atitlán Lake, where you can value the Mayan culture, and also in this area it is possible to climb some active volcanos, which are really next to the capital, such as ‘Pacaya’ or ‘Volcán de Fuego’.”
Is there a common cliché about people in Guatemala which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
“I think there are lot of clichés, but the most common one is that people think Guatemala is a tropical country. It actually has many microclimates, so there are really high and low temperatures in the country. If you are next to the sea there is going to be a really warm weather, but if you are in the Western Highlands, the temperature can get below zero between December and February.”
Ambassadors in 53 countries were contacted between September 2017 and January 2018, of which over 100 answers were received. The decision was made to only showcase answers from ambassadors (i.e. not press officers or representatives of the embassy). This categorization process concluded with a total of 55 answers, from 36 different nationalities, based in 22 different countries.
The ambassadors were asked two questions about their country of origin. For example, the Italian ambassador based in Norway answered the questions about Italy.
The two questions were as follows:
• If a person is visiting your country for 48 hours, where should they go? What should they see? What should they eat?
• Is there a common cliché about people in your country which you believe is misrepresentative or untrue?
Therefore, based on the above example, the Canadian ambassador based in Switzerland would then reply with recommendations on what Canadian food to eat and any incorrect clichés about Canada.