I’ve never really been a big fan of guidebooks, although I’ll admit I do have a few on the bookshelf back home.
The problem is, when I actually open them and start reading the suggested itineraries, I start having an anxiety attack.
Like about ten minutes ago, when I finally opened our France guidebook…all those churches and museums, art galleries and architectural icons, places to eat, things you must do. Aaaagh.
Don’t get me wrong – they are fantastic to have on hand and really do cover-off on the best things to see, and what to avoid.
It’s just that ticking off the tourist sites has never been a big thing for me. Luckily, EB and I are on the same – um – page.
We like to arrive somewhere, dump our bags and head out the door. We often get lost, but that’s usually when we have the most fun – like when we were hopelessly lost in Venice and desperately in need of a coffee.
A tiny trattoria caught our eye and we pushed open the door. It was brim full of locals, who all stared at us with astonishment.
We soon discovered it was run by two elderly sisters and they hadn’t seen a tourist there in years. They welcomed us like celebrities and proceeded to feed us up to the gills.
Trying to get across the whole ‘vegetarian’ thing required much gesticulating, with the occasional Italian word thrown in. I ended up with half a roast chicken and a glass of vino. It was definitely a ‘Mr Bean’ moment, with EB gobbling bits of it when no-one was looking. Clearly my ‘interpretive dance’ communication method was a monumental failure…
Then there was the impromptu game of cricket with the sherpas on the Annapurna trail in Nepal – thanks to pair of socks balled-up in duct tape, a plank for a bat, and lots of enthusiasm.
Later, our tour group celebrated and danced into the night with the sherpas, fuelled with very watery whisky and nepalese beer, and to the rhythm of a single drum. Even the local villagers turned up to join in.
These are the moments we remember, long after the monuments are just travel snaps in an album.
Roman Krznaric reminds us of the history of travel in his article Capturing life, not landmarks (Psychologies, July 2012) and its influence on how we travel today, guidebook in hand:
“Few of us realise that our holiday itineraries were set by aristocratic travellers more than 300 years ago. We are the unsuspecting inheritors of the Grand Tour tradition of the eighteenth century, when upper-class gents – and the occasional lady – embarked on a high-culture European tour of renowned artworks, monuments and churches, to complete their classical educations.”
So yes, we’ll tick off some of those iconic places, but mostly we’ll hang out on the streets, or let our curiosity take us where it will.
Let’s face it, any monuments we miss aren’t going anywhere. And it’s a good excuse to come back again…