Baedeker And Beyond

English: View of NYC from Empire state building

View of NYC from Empire state building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt asks “What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved, or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?” It’s noticeable that they title the post ‘Tourist Trap’.

Who exactly is a tourist and what is a “tourist destination”?

The idea of a tourist really derives from the “Grand Tour” — a tour around Europe undertaken by the wealthy of Europe (principally England) to expose a young gentleman to the cultural legacy of antiquity and the Renaissance. At first, in the 1600s, they were accompanied by an educated and informed guide but later as travel got cheaper and the middle class arose books to inform and assist arose – the forerunner of the guide books we use today. Forster’s book ‘A Room With A View’ is a novel that deals with English men and women at the end of the era of the Grand Tour at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

For many years my only travel to Europe was vicariously, through the books I read. As an asthmatic and an avid reader a great deal of my life was lived vicariously through constant reading, both fiction and non-fiction. When I eventually visited Europe one of my key desires was to connect to that literature, literature that had been a major part of my life.

When I knew my itinerary I added to that body of literature by reading more about the places, the sights and the history. The small stories were, to me, just as important as the big ones. I found it entrancing that Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel and Raphael painting the Pope’s library were riffing off each other and sneaking in to see the work in progress of their fellow artist. I loved reading ‘Brunelleschi’s Dome’ by Ross King before I visited Florence.

When I was in London it was just as important to me to visit a Tube station as Waterloo station, when I visited the Tower I enjoyed being the only person in the tour group who knew the name of the two women who were executed on Tower Green, Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey.

I also enjoy the random ramblings and the chance encounters it brings me. On my first visit to Rome I was walking from Santa Maria Maggiore back to my hotel when I came upon a military parade — it was the daily changing of the guard for the bank guards. On the same visit I came upon a small church that was home to a superb altarpiece by Bernini totally unmentioned in almost all guide books.

So when I think about places I want to visit I start to think of the books I’ve read and the places they have described, I think of the places that have inspired the artists I appreciate.

London, Rome and Florence will always have an important place in my heart. They are the big three in the internal culture that I have built up and I was so glad to visit them. There are still parts of them to be revealed to me and I would love to go back and finish my explorations.

At the same time as I have spent a large part of my life with my head stuck in a book I am also a child of the late Twentieth Century. That means I have also been immersed in a visual culture of film and television, a culture that has principally originated in the US.

If London, Paris, Rome and Florence were the cultural focus for art and literature before the twentieth century then the US and one city in particular have replaced them.

New York.

How many films have used that city as backdrop? How much television? How deeply ingrained in all that I have seen are those images of Central Park, the Empire State Building, Grand Central and a dozen other spots.

Just last year I went to my nieces wedding in Maryland. Afterwards my brother drove us back to Boston and we passed through New York. As we got close I recognised the skyline and then we passed through a part of it on some highway or other — I’m not sure which.

I was so close, yet so far from visiting that town. It brought tears to my eyes and I realised that as much as I have many places on the my travel bucket list New York is the top of it.

7 thoughts on “Baedeker And Beyond

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  4. Thank you for sharing this experience. Books can describe how cities are like, but they can’t paint how will you experience places. I lived in two countries in western Asia. Reading books about south west Asia can’t paint the real image that I have experienced.

  5. Pingback: Daily Prompt – Tourist Trap – Poem / Poetry – “Destination Destiny” | toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

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