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Hometown secrets shared by hometown travelers
12 totally random but highly useful tips, from what to eat in Spain to where to drink in Seoul
Having spent a few years teaching in China and sleeping with a tight grip on a broken-spined and Sriracha-splotched “Lonely Planet,” I eventually realized that the entire logic of asking the locals for travel tips while they are in their own city was flawed.
If you're a local in a tourist town, you see tourists as a type of animal or child that doesn’t know what he or she wants, so you give them something boring.
The only local you should ask is the one who you meet elsewhere.
When I tore up my passport and retired, aged 25, to the turquoise strands of Miami Beach, and found myself teaching English, I started asking my students, who traveled here from all over the world, to let me in on the best secrets of their home countries and hometowns.
As professionals and travelers in their own right, I stand by their advice.
Got good travel tips for your hometown? Share them in the comment section below.
1. Spain: Check the morcilla for arm hair
Morcilla is the best blood sausage on earth, and you don’t get to be the best by doing it like the other guys do.
During the Spanish small-town ritual of the pig slaughter, or matanza, the animal is suspended and bled above a bucket.
To get that consistency just right, the butcher sticks his entire forearm into the inky muck and stirs until it coagulates.
The arm has to be used, as the blood reacts just so to the texture and consistency of the skin.
To sample the Morcilla in Spain, head to Burgos, where it’s mixed with rice; to Leon, where the blood runs free; or to Levente, where they put a pinch of cinnamon in the mix.
-- From Mercedes Plaza Sanchez, 32, HR consultant from Madrid
Also on CNNGo: What to do in Barcelona
2. São Paulo, Brazil: Don’t drink straight cachaça
Although internationally marketed as Brazil’s favorite drink, the smell of pure cachaça is often met with stomach-turning memories.
Imagine going to Sacramento and requesting the finest vintage of Night Train, the king of bum wines.
Drinking it mixed with fruit is the way to do it.
In São Paulo, Cachacaria Paulista bar stocks a selection of more than 300 types of the spirit.
-- From Helio Pimentel, 34, doctor from São Paulo
Cachacaria Paulista, 593, Rua Mourato Coelho, Pinheiros, São Paulo, Brazil, +55 11 3815 4756, www.cachacariapaulista.com.br
3. Lviv, Ukraine: Celebrate masochism
It’s a hell of a tuk-tuk ride from Soi Cowboy, but the Ukrainian city of Lviv should be on the bucket list of every intrepid tourist.
It's the birthplace of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the perv behind “Venus in Furs,” and the namesake of masochism.
The town celebrates its native son with a statue in the historic city center. There's also the Masoch Café, where you come for the decor and service (see how waitresses treat diners), not the food.
-- From Juliya Waksnan, 29, real estate agent from Lviv
Masoch Café, 7 Serbska St., near Rynok Square, Lviv, Ukraine, +38 50 371 0440, masoch-cafe.com.ua
4. Madrid, Spain: Shop in a "real" market
Madrid is known for its large covered markets packed with specialized stands selling food and drink to Madrileños on their way home from work.
The places are wonderful because they exist to provide the foodstuffs of daily life -- Iberian ham, various cheeses and plastic bags filled with the best olives you’ve ever had.
This “authenticity” places these markets square in the path of travelers’ worst nightmare -- other travelers.
This blight was particularly hard for Mercado de San Miguel, which was undone by its proximity to tourist love-nest Plaza Mayor.
For now, we have Mercado de San Anton. It's a revamped and less touristy marketplace that not only sells fresh raw ingredients and prepared foods, but also houses some restaurants.
-- From Sonia Palermo, 48, from Madrid
Mercado de San Anton, C/Augusto Figueroa 24, 28004 Madrid, Spain, Metro Chueca, www.mercadosananton.com
5. Moscow, Russia: Drink in the spirit of revolutionary chocolate
Founded in 1851 by German immigrants, the Einem chocolate factory sold chocolate to the Tsar’s family until the Bolshevik Revolution swept through Moscow.
It was rechristened the Red October Chocolate Factory, and won legions of fans for its Alyonka brand of milk chocolate.
Until the factory closed in 2007, pedestrians could smell chocolate from blocks away.
Now, you can hear techno from the same distance, as the Red October is a hip location for bars, clubs and art galleries.
A great stop is Strelka Bar and Institute for Media, Architecture, and Design, where visitors can get a drink and learn about the history of interior design.
-- From Anastasia Serebrennikova, 26, advertising account planner from Moscow
Red October Complex, Bolotny Island, Moscow, Russia
Strelka Bar, 14, Bersenevskaya Embankment, email@example.com, +7 495 771 7416
6. Seoul, South Korea: Have a perfect traveler's day
For the quintessential expat day in Seoul, meet your friends in Han River Park with a box of fried chicken (Kyochon is the tastiest), soju and a Frisbee.
Once you polish off the chicken, head to the river food stands to score cheap odeng and sundae (stuffed intestines). From there, take a cab to Hongdae, the university area. It's filled with cheap restaurants.
After a dinner of samgyeopsal (barbecue) and Cass beer, take a cab to Itaewon -- the city’s latest hot spot-- walk past all the people-packed modern bars and trudge up Hooker Hill, a three-block stretch of inclined street lined with girlie bars.
At the top you’ll find Polly’s Kettle House, which serves mind-numbing concoctions of soju and the Korean version of Kool-Aid in liter bottles.
-- From Chan Ho, tour guide from Seoul
Polly’s Kettle House, Top of Hooker Hill, Itaewon Station (exit 3). Take the left after Coffee Bean and walk for three blocks.
Also on CNNGo: Best of Seoul
7. Madrid, Spain: Take advantage of free fried food
Be prepared when you walk into a tapas bar like El Tigre, which has become highly popular for the sadistically large portions of fried food that they doll out, for free, like angels of heart failure.
Going early or late can be useful because the place is known for being completely packed.
When you slip to the bar, don't blow your opportunity when the guy makes eye contact. Order your drinks caña (a small glass of beer) or vino, and wait for the heaping plates of patatas bravas and croquettes to come after the drinks arrive.
You'll likely have to pass said plates over the heads of other patrons as you squeeze away from the bar.
For added enjoyment, leave a tip. They'll ring the bell to let the whole restaurant know how generous you are.
-- From Sam Rizzo, 25, teacher from Madrid
El Tigre, 28 Calle de las Infantas, 28004 Madrid, Spain Metro Chueca or Gran Vía (Line 5, Green), +34 915 320 072
8. Sitges, Spain: Watch a fantasy film at Sitges Film Festival
So you did Cannes and it wasn’t all that, but you don’t want to give up on Mediterranean just yet?
How about the Sitges Film Festival, located in a little town 35 kilometers south of Barcelona?
The town’s attractions are its 17 beaches and the cuisine, which boasts Xató salad, a salad made with olives, cod, anchovies and endive.
But the main draw in the film festival, which brings the world’s best and most baffling fantasy films to town every October.
This year, the festival will be held on October 4-14, and will feature, among other things, the Cantonese sextravaganza, "3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy."
-- From Carolina Burgos, 43, retail development consultant from Barcelona
Sitges Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya, Edifici Sitges Reference. c/ Pruelles, 2, 08870, Sitges, Spain, +34 93 894 99 90, sitgesfilmfestival.com
9. Rome, Italy: The best cinemas are ...
If you make it to Sitges for the film fest, consider heading down south for a double feature: the Rome Film Festival, which is held the week after Sitges.
The best cinemas in Rome are the Nuovo Olimpia and Kino, which also has a café. There's also La Casa del Cinema, a cinema and restaurant in the Villa Borghese park.
-- From Riccardo Donna, 56, television director from Rome
Cinema Nuovo Olimpia, Via in Lucina, 16, 00186 Roma, Italy, +39 6 686 1068
Kino, via Perugia, 34, 00176, Roma, Italy, +39 366 457 1726, www.ilkino.it
La Casa Del Cinema, Villa Borghese Park, Largo Marcello Mastroianni, 1, 00197 Rome, Italy, +39 6 423 601, www.casadelcinema.it
Also on CNNGo: Best of Rome
10. Rostov-on-Don, Russia: Eat a piece of literary history
In order to see the real Russia, it's essential to get away from the big city glitz. A nice bet is Rostov-on-Don, a small city in the south of the country.
Rostov is known for its literary heritage and shellfish.
An entire bookshelf of Russian writers called the place home -- Chekhov, Puskin, Gorky, Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn, to name just a few -- and they all snacked on a delicious crustacean called Raky.
Get yours at the Petrovsky Prichal restaurant, which is shaped like a boat in honor of Russia’s seafaring royal, Peter the Great.
-- From Elen Podolskaya, 26, marketing assistant from Rostov-on-Don
Petrovsky Prichal, Left Bank, 45, Rostov-on-Dom, 344000, Rostov-on-Don, Russia, +7 863 240 13 58, www.petrovsky-prichal.ru
11. Nairobi, Kenya: Think twice before you feed the giraffe
The Giraffe Centre is just outside of the center of Nairobi, and is a refuge for the endangered Rothschild Giraffe. The most popular draw to the center is the feeding area, where guests can feed the giraffes.
Guides think it a great joke to persuade a cute girl on the tour to place food in her mouth to feed to the giraffes. Don’t do it, unless you want a giant, purple tongue sloshing over your face.
After a day of protecting endangered species, you might want to try something different. Go to the nearby Carnivore Restaurant, which is known for its different types of meat.
You can’t get giraffe, but they do have camel. Delicious camel.
--From Laura Lee Huttenbach, 29, teacher from Nairobi
Giraffe Centre, Langata Road, 00509, Nairobi, Kenya, +254 20 8070 804, www.giraffecenter.org
Carnivore Restaurant, Langata Road, City Square, 00200, near Wilson Airport, Nairobi, Kenya, +254 20 6005 933-7, www.tamarind.co.ke/carnivore
12. Tbilisi, Georgia: Skip the Turtle Lake
The name of the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, means “warm location,” which is a nod to the numerous hot springs in the area.
Making the best of a good situation, the city is home to many bathhouses.
In summer, however, the spas are empty, as locals plunge into the numerous lakes throughout the city.
Skip the crowded Kus Tba (Turtle Lake), located in the central Vake Park, for the Tbilisi Sea, a reservoir just north of the city.
Pick up some Nataxtari, the local brew, and take the metro to Sarajishvili Station, where you take a bus down 9th April Street to the lake. Camp, barbecue, swim, repeat.
-- From Tamar Tabuashvili, 20, student from Tbilisi
Also on CNNGo: World's most beautiful towns
All interview subjects in this story are students at Language on Lincoln school in Miami Beach.