The lunch break – a time for new discoveries in familiar places

One of the best ways in my opinion to travel without travelling is to be a tourist in your home town or region.  By this I mean trying to look upon familiar things with fresh eyes, do things you haven’t done before and be willing to be spontaneous.

There are few things as boringly familiar as a lunch break from work.  Routines are very quickly established whereby you end up eating in the same places, visiting the same shops and walking the same routes.  It can be difficult to imagine that there is time for anything in that hour, other than actually eating lunch and running errands.

Until very recently, I worked in Hexham in Northumberland.  This is quite a small town and so it was even easier to fall into the routine of eating lunch at my desk before popping out for a quick walk around the shops, or if the weather was fine, sitting in the park with a book.

Shortly before I left that job, I broke with my usual routine.  It was one of the last days where it was warm enough to sit outside, but instead of going to my usual spot in the park, I plumped for a spot on a bench outside Hexham Abbey.

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Hexham Abbey is ancient.  There has been a church on the site for over 1300 years.  It has obviously been changed and modified over time, but parts of the crypt are still part of the original structure.  It is an impressive structure and a real focal point in the town.

As I sat outside the Abbey, I noticed a lot of people going in.  I didn’t think much of it at first – Hexham Abbey is a popular attraction and is frequented by school trips and bus tours.  However, more and more people kept making their way into the Abbey in small groups of 2 and 3.  This was no school trip or bus tour.  I put my book away, followed them in and found this…

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This is made up of coloured sand.  I’m going to say that again – it is made of nothing but sand.  That totally blew me away.

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It was really breathtaking to see as the colours were so vibrant and the pattern so intricate.  It was created by Tibetan monks from the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery as a form of meditation.  I would love to have the patience to create something like this, and I imagine it must be a very cathartic process.

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Visiting a Tibetan Monastery has now firmly been added to my bucket list.

The reason for the streams of people was not just to see the sand art, but also to watch a performance of traditional Tibetan song and dance.

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I had to cut this short, as I was only had very limited time, but I loved their colourful costumes and the deep resonation of the enormous Tibetan horns (or Dungchen).

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So even during a short break in a very familiar town it is still possible to discover something beautiful and new which can then be a source of travel inspiration.   It really made my day when I went into the Abbey and found this – I left with a smile on my face (tinged with a bit of regret that I couldn’t stay for the whole performance) and it livened up an otherwise ordinary day.

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My advice is to make the most of your lunch break.  Yes, it can be a useful time to get chores done, like going to the bank or the post office, or shopping for groceries.  But it is another opportunity in the day to break out of routine, look for new experiences and switch off from work for a short time.

I am working in a new town now, and my lunch break is shorter so I have less time to wander around.  But so far, I have discovered lamp posts are wrapped up with knitted scarves, a barber shop offering past life regression and a shop that still sells wine for under £2.99.

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