The Compulsory City
It is a well known and established fact that you cannot go to Vienna without going to see a Viennese concert. You will be stopped at the Austrian border, questioned vigorously and sent back to the capital if you attempt to avoid it; you will also be forced to wear lederhosen.
The first time visitor to London will feel compelled to go to a musical or a play; the same is true of New York. Each world city has its compulsory activity or attraction and if, as a visitor, you fail to do it you fail as a visitor.
I was thinking about this recently as I realised that having just spent a week in London I managed to avoid Oxford Street, Oxford Circus, Regent Street, Leicester Square and Piccadilly altogether. This isn’t as gross a failure as, say, not visiting the Opera House in Sydney. And as a former resident of London I can be forgiven for avoiding the hordes. But it did make me think about the other failures I’ve had as a tourist.
The Trevi Fountain, Rome
My travel companion B insisted that we visit The Trevi Fountain when we were in Rome. Her reasons were a little abstract; the fancy restaurant in her home town is named after it and she’d had some hilariously slapstick dates there. So of course we went to see it (the fountain, not the restaurant). We took some photos and then went in search of a beer. Months later, when I returned home, I discovered that you are supposed to throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain. Apparently everyone else knows this. It’s in a movie or something.
PRO-TIP: When in Rome, toss a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain. Otherwise you will have to spend the rest of your life explaining to people, “oh, but we were on a budget, and it was a sunny day, and there was a really nice bar nearby…”
The Gaudi Church, Barcelona
I don’t know what to tell you here. We were in Barcelona for just under a week (again my travel buddy was B) and we managed to lose $50 on street gambling, become hurdles for a leaping acrobat, watch a guy get mugged, meet a guy called Johnny Walker (seriously) and latch onto a float during The Giants Parade. But could we find Sagrada Familia? SPOILERS: No, we couldn’t. Every day around lunchtime we stopped in at a little stall in the market to watch a half hour of the Sydney Olympics and get a plate of slops (I’m sure it sounds nicer in Spanish). The locals thought it was great that there were real live Australians sitting in the bar day after day while the Olympics were on. And that is all the excuse I have.
PRO-TIP: No matter what happens, say that you visited the Gaudi Church. People will literally not believe you if you tell them you couldn’t find it.
So, ah, Paris. In my defence, we had been travelling for a few months by now. We’d seen London, Vienna, Barcelona, Madrid, Milan… Paris was just another pretty European city. We dutifully went to the Louvre, wandered around some streets until we got lost, walked down an alley populated by prostitutes wearing fur coats… And then we chucked the whole city in and went to Disneyland instead where we had a cracking great time.
PRO-TIP: Go to Disneyland! It’s great!
The Georgian city of Bath is famous for its… well… baths. And while I was there in February I of course went to see its many… pubs. I’m almost ashamed to admit it but I did not go to the baths at all. They’re expensive! My budget was £20 a day and I wasn’t blowing 3/4 of it on some water, some warm salty water. Not when there’s beer to be had!
PRO-TIP: If you go to Bath, factor in a visit to the Roman baths in your budget. Or don’t. There are loads of great pubs!
What cities have you been to and failed at as a tourist? Should passports come with checklists so you don’t miss the essentials?