I went to Paris – and didn’t go inside the Louvre. There you have it, my shameful secret. I’m fairly sure everyone who visits Paris for the first time goes to see Mona Lisa. I really have no excuse. I was even in Paris on the first Sunday of the month when entry to the Louvre is free. What was I thinking?
Travel seems to me to have become all about “must-sees” and checklists. “Oh, you simply have to go and see this in that city!” I’ve been travelling through Europe and I am beginning to think that the popularity of some attractions is not about the attractions themselves, but about the expectation that you have to go to it if you are in a particular city.
Here’s an example from just last week. The number one thing to do in Bucharest is to visit the Palace of the Parliament. For those like me who know nothing about this place, this is the second largest administrative building in the world, only surpassed by the Pentagon. Building was planned and begun during the communist years, but not finished until after liberation in 1997. It is a huge building, and impressive to look at from the outside. We paid to do the tour inside. In 90 minutes we were shown only 4% of the building, mainly huge reception rooms of all different types. Mostly it’s use now is as a conference venue. The rooms are big, and they seem to be never ending, but there was nothing of interest about them apart from that. Maybe a different guide would have regaled us with more interesting stories.
Why is this the number one thing to do in Bucharest? Is it just because it’s popular to say so? Maybe other people truly enjoy this building and it was just us who thought it less than interesting. With our limited time I would have gone elsewhere had I known what was to come. We had done a free walking tour the day before and had many interesting places pointed out to us.
This is by no means the only time we have walked out of a visit to an attraction and thought our money and time was perhaps not well spent.
We have skipped a few of the “big name” attractions on our trip, starting with not going into the Louvre in Paris. Another confession – I am not an art lover! I have tried over the years to appreciate it, but often it’s just paint splashed onto canvas to me. I don’t mind going to the occasional art museum, usually when my arty daughter is with me who does appreciate these things. The Louvre though seemed too big, and too many people, just to see a small painting that I’ve seen a thousand times in pictures. Surely it can’t be too different? Beside, what other plans do I give up to instead spend that time at the Louvre?
Do I feel like I missed out? Not at all. Would I go to the Louvre next time I am in Paris? I don’t know. If all the stars aligned, and I felt like going, then sure, but not just to tick it off a list.
Four months in Europe has taught me there is an unlimited number of museums, castles and churches, most of which get listed as must-see places in their town or city. After a while they all start to look the same. Roman ruins are similar, in Pompeii, Ephesus or Rome. Castles don’t change a lot either. It’s not just Europe, because in Asia it’s the same with temples. When only travelling to a few cities it is fun to go to another church, but when it’s weeks in a row, they all start to blend. I am finally becoming more discerning with what we do and visit. If I don’t feel like going to another museum or church, even it is THE place to visit, then I don’t!
In my opinion it is better to skip something now and perhaps visit again at another time when I’m not so museum’ed (or church’ed or temple’d) out! Just because “everyone” says this is the place to go, doesn’t mean it’s the place for me at this time.
So what else have we skipped? All of these were conscious choices made to not participate in these things.
1. Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam
2. The Florence museum with Michelangelo’s famous David statue
4. Going to the opera in Vienna
5. Going inside Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna
6. Drinking beer in Germany
And what have we done that was less than exciting?
1. Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest
2. Scrovengi Chapel museum (chapel itself was great) in Padua
3. St Marks in Venice. So many better cathedrals in Italy with no lineup.
4. Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Innsbruck
5. Bratislava castle’s “fabulous” gardens were newly redone. Might be better in a couple of years
6. Prague astronomical clock. Pretty to look at, but the show on the hour is not worth waiting for. We were left saying “is that it?”
So what place have you not gone to in your travels that is on every “must-see” list? Or is there somewhere that everyone else loved but you didn’t and I perhaps should avoid? Let me know in the comments below.