The Most Touristy Things That I Have Done.
“I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.” ~George Bernard Shaw
It is an amazing thing to see local customs, festivals, traditions and entertainment in a foreign country. But many times, we are not in the correct location, season or time period to experience them. Here are some of the really touristy things I’ve done. I’m not proud of them .
1.Vienna – Mozart Concert. Don’t buy tickets to any musical performance sold by people in period costumes unless you are at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It is probably a good rule of thumb to not buy anything from someone in a period or ethnic costume ever – unless you are hungry at a theme park.
2. London – Madame Tussard’s Wax Museum . It’s touristy, it’s crowded and there is always a queue but if you are into pop culture or have kids, you are probably seeing it.
3. Budapest – Gellert Thermal Baths are listed as one of the Top Ten Things To Do in Budapest in most guidebooks – guidebooks probably not written by Hungarians. They are expensive, dirty (both the water and the facilities ) and rundown. The lobby looked like the photographs but the women’s area has all the charm of Soviet housing. Stuff gets stolen out of the lockers all the time. Sometimes the towels are stolen when you are in the baths and then you are asked to pay for them. The towels are very small –more like towelettes. Most of the staff is rude or not helpful. Save your money for Istanbul and try a hammam.
4. Hawaii-Luau. Chances are if you grew up in a big city on the Northeast coast, you have never seen a whole pig being brought out with an apple in its mouth. You probably have not eaten poi. So on your first trip to Hawaii, you will experience a tourist luau – sitting at large tables with other tourists pretending to be Hawaiian in a James Michener novel. Food served to hundreds of people is never good. But there are always some fire eaters, flame throwers and hula girls. If you are stoned or have little kids you will probably have a good time.
5. New York City – Horse and Carriage Tour of Central Park. It cost fifty dollars for twenty minutes and though tourists should not be denied their right to be ripped off on their vacations, many of the horses are overworked, abused and mistreated. Also no one really has a cockney accent who drives those horses in NY.
6. Cancun – Swimming With The Dolphins experiences have increased. Anywhere in the world that has dolphins now has this attraction. The cruise lines have forced an increase in this activity. . Most dolphins do not live as long in captivity and the trash left near the pools causes intestinal problems for them. There is no regulation on how much swimming they have to do with us. A dolphin suffered for those cute very expensive photographs. (Sadly you could probably substitute many animals from different countries – elephants, camels, llamas and donkeys etc)
7. Sydney – Harbor Cruise. Nothing says tourist more than a harbor cruise serving bland food and watered down drinks to many people . The Harbor narration is either a person or a tape but can only be heard from certain parts of the boat. Don’t worry if you miss anything – it’s repetitive. Sydney Harbor is amazing but I would rather take the ferries instead of an overpriced tourist ride.
8. Though there are must see destinations in every major city, most of these places are usually over advertised, overpriced and ridiculously overcrowded to really enjoy them. Climbing to the top of any monument requires a long line, and too many people. I have stood on those lines to climb the Eiffel Tour, the Washington Monument, Huayna Picchu, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Duomo and the Leaning Tower Of Pisa. (Washington Monument)
Most famous religious buildings are not the spiritual quiet places of your imagination. I usually stare at the ceilings to avoid the crowds as in the Blue Mosque, Notre Dame, the Vatican and Sagrada Familia. It is the same with the Palaces – Peterhof, Prague Castle, Versaille, Windsor , Schonbrunn. They are all filled to capacity. I check these off on my imaginary list of must see places. The amazing experiences I have in these countries take place in a small religious building in a village or around the corner, a local park, or an old building outside the main tourist area. (Peterhof)
9. As soon as a restaurant gets written up in the guidebooks, it seems to become a tourist restaurant – overpriced with mediocre, bland food. They may have been good once but when they become known, the glory is gone. If they are near tourist attractions, they definitely don’t try as hard – this includes any restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and any restaurant with someone outside who’s job it is to bring people in. If you want an eating experience, see where the locals are eating and avoid the guidebook recs because if you have read about it, everyone else has also.
10. Taxis. Even the most undeveloped countries in the world probably have a metered taxi system. There are regular fares to get to certain places. The problem is we don’t know them and we don’t know where we are or how far everything is. Most taxis in the world do not have broken meters. The best thing to do before getting a taxi, tuk tuk or rickshaw is to ask a reliable person who has no vested interest in the transportation business ( a cousin driving a tuk tuk etc). Do the taxis use meters? Do they have flat rates? How much should it cost to reach my destination? Always carry small bills . In major tourist areas, you may be ripped off anyway. It is best to take taxis in front of hotels if you can, the taxis there are more reliable . Doing a little research will help you avoid the life long grudge that I carry against the taxi driver in Budapest who drove me around for twenty minutes to go across the street. In countries where the taxi drivers are shady, I try not to take them and walk or use public transportation.
Tourists do stand in out in many countries. We don’t speak the language, have jet lag, different money and are confused by the street signs. We deal with maps, luggage, train tickets and we are much less cool in our temporary state of “tourist” then we are at home. But do the research, be street smart, and if you get ripped off, use it as a learning experience for your next vacation.