I love reading travel guidebooks, particularly the Eyewitness series, lots of pictures and simple to read. But I don’t really care about visiting landmark locations; give me a plaza café instead of the Sagrada Familiia any day.
As I write this I am in Barcelona, Spain. Top-10-lists would list anything by Gaudi as a must see, especially his La Sagrada Familia and his Disney-like park. La Ramblas is packed with pickpocket bait — ill-dressed people with confused looks, waving maps to advertise that they are tourists waiting for pickpocket stories to take back home.
The guidebooks have pictures of Sagrada Familia, yet I could care less if I go there, it will be crowded, it is expensive to enter. I already have a picture of it in my mind, so what advantage is there to be able to say, “I saw it?” What is the appropriate procedure? You get there, along with the throng, and then look; how long of a gaze is required to say, “I saw it?” But then you do get to cross it off the list of “things to see.”
Travel is so much more than checkmarks on a list of “things to see”, what about experiencing the culture, the people, and the food; that you will not find in a crowd of tourists, for that you have to avoid the top-10-lists and head to where the locals hang out.
Some years ago a well meaning friend suggested that when you travel all you have to do is sit in a café with your Rick Steves’ Guidebook on the table and before long other Americans would come up and talk to you. Now I loved that friend, and I support all that Rick Steves has done to promote travel, however when I visit a foreign country it is not for the purpose of meeting people from back home, I already know what it is like there. I want to see what the people here do, how they live, what if feels like to be part of their culture.
Barcelona is perfect for my kind of travel; the plazas and the cafes are all it takes to keep me happy. They seem to be located every few blocks, and they all have a café or two. So you grab an outdoor table, order a beverage, and sketch, listen, watch – this is Barcelona.
When I get home I feel left out of the conversations that include all of the “tourist” things, but my memories and sketches are more precious than any list. So off I go to find the next plaza, another sketch and another memory.