Tick the box

Posted on Sep 24, 2017 in Time out to reflect

In 2005 I bought a travel magazine (ABTA Travelspirit) while I was waiting for my flight. I found this article by Pat Riddell so enlightening  I decided to keep it and recently I found it again … I tried to find it online to share it, but I couldn’t find it, so I decided to type it for you: happy reading!

Is sightseeing something we want to do? Or do we do it because we feel we ought to, asks Pat Riddel? 
It was while queueing among the masses to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel at the Vatican that it occured to me . People weren’t really here to appreciate the Renaissance artist’s greatest work, they were here to tick off one of Rome’s sights from their list. Next up: St Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum and the Pantheon. 
Had it just become a meaningless exercise? Wouldn’t they rather spend their time lazing in bed, drinking cappuccinos, buying designer clothes and living la dolce vita ? Does anyone actually appreciate the sights they travel miles to see? Or is it a case of ticking it off the list, telling your friends and planning the next one – Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower…
Do we go and see things simply because we think we should? Open the guidebook, identify the top 10 things to see, join the queues and, often, remain marginally unimpressed. Spending four days shopping in New York is as equally valid as devouring everything the Museum of Modern Art has to offer. The problem is you feel compelled to see everything you think you should see and leave no time to really discover the place. The people who say, “you really must see such-and-such” are often repeating the mantra that’s been drummed into them – it’s one of the tallest building in the world, it’s the greatest architecture ever seen, it’s a masterpiece, it’s culturally and historically significant, it’s a “must see”…

Well, maybe I’m being a little cynical. Why not consider finding the sights that mean something to you, rather than going along with the “received wisdom”. For everyone who just sees a pile of rubble there’s someone who sees an amazing ruin, a great ancient civilisation. For those who see “just another painting my two-year-old could’ve done”, someone will see one of the most important works of the 20th century.
 Having left Rome, we met a guy in Florence who tought the Pantheon was the most amazing thing the ancient city had to offer. Personally, I thought it was pretty impressive, but he, as an engineer, was astounded by the geometry of a perfect sphere in a building nearly 2000 years old.
I’ve gazed in awe at the sun setting – and then rising again the next day – at Uluru (Ayers Rock) while my companion looked on impassively. This, just weeks after I declared the Sydney Opera House as being “more impressive on the telly” while the same companion was dumbstruck by its sails set against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour (admittedly, I have changed my mind about this since).
Sightseeing can be arduos , it can be mind-numbingly boring – we should accept that and move on. But it can also be inspiring and moving. The only problem is: you don’t always know what will inspire and move you. Which means you end up joining the queue with everyone else, regardless.
 The eternal dilemma is whether you skip the crowds, miss whatever “sight it is and do what you really want to do, living in the knowledge that you missed something that might have blown your mind. Peraphs it depends whether you will return – a weekend in Barcelona or Amsterdam will never be enough and the chances are, given the distance, you will return. Whereas the likelihood of returning to Auckland or Buenos Aires are remote – in which case you should make the effort. Alternatively is it a careful balancing act? Learning how to plan a day of sightseeing without wearing yourself out by the evening, otherwise you miss out discovering the restaurants, the nightlife and the people. Or maybe we should just blame the guidebooks and their top 10s and relentless detail of sights that are often not worth the time or effort. That’s it, then – let’s go burn some books!