Great Expectations – Europe
We’ve all heard the scenario. A friend returns from Paris and asked if they saw the Mona Lisa, they reply ‘Yeah, it’s tiny, I thought it would be better.’ It’s sad when you finally experience something after years of build-up and anticipation, and it’s just not how you always imagined. Perhaps it doesn’t meet expectations or the claims are a little too bold, or maybe Europe’s just taking tourists for a ride.
I once heard that the most disappointing attraction in Europe is the astronomical clock in Prague. Apparently the elaborately-decorated medieval clock that chimes every hour often fails to impress.
But nothing compares to the Glockenspiel in Munich. A few times each day, little puppets tell the story of a royal wedding, followed by a jousting tournament, where the Bavarian knight wins every time. They finish with the Cooper’s dance, which represents when the barrel makers first emerged from hiding after the plaque hit town.
The ‘spectacle’ lasts for about ten minutes at which point, the crowd goes silent. You just know that everyone is thinking ‘is THAT it?’ Slowly, you begin to hear the groans from those who gave up precious beer-drinking time for this cultural experience. I am not one to discourage any fun tourist cliches so I still recommend you experience it for yourself. If for no other reason, look around at people’s reactions. It’s priceless.
Juliet’s tomb, Verona
This is my personal favourite, and something I encountered on my first trip to Europe. Fair Verona is only an hour and a half from Venice, so a day trip to see the setting of the most famous Shakespeare play was hard to resist. The story of Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s finest – fueding families, love, death, fate and tragedy. The names are still synonomous with star-crossed lovers everywhere.
The city itself is fascinating, boasting Ancient Roman architecture, Renaissance gardens and a mini-Colosseum. Walking through historic courtyards and gardens, I stumbled into Tomba di Giuletta (Juliet’s tomb). How magical, I thought. What a cool thing to tell the girls back home. I paid the entrance fee without hesitation, only to find a concrete slab. And then came the hit of reality. I had just paid five euros to see an empty tomb as Juliet, of course, was fictional.
Mozart claims, Austria
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his first symphony aged five, composed over 600 works in his short life and went down in history as one of the greatest. And Austria’s milking it for all it’s worth!
Head to the charming town of Salzburg and there’s his birth house, residence, Mozart platz and Mozart Academy. They sell Mozart merchandise everywhere – from chocolates, liquer to statues and CDs and his birthplace even displays a lock of his hair. He then moved to Vienna, where today, more chocolates and liquer are sold on every corner.
But my favourite spot is his house in Vienna with an audio guide full of dubious Mozart claims. Among the sonatas and concertos played to enhance the experience, there’s in-depth commentary about his life. But when the voice states a fact, it’s often followed by ‘or so we think.’ Portraits on the wall depict what they ‘think’ Mozart looked like. It’s hard not to remain a little skeptical as some portray him as an old man, but history will tell you he died at 35.<
It makes you wonder if this was actually his residence, or if we’re just ignorant tourists paying to see stuff that could have belonged to him. Moral of the story – they don’t really know much, but if Mozart was there at one time or another, there’s money to be made.
Spanish steps, Rome
I hate to sound culturally ignorant, but they are just steps. When I first arrived, I had to triple-check my map, just to make sure this was actually one of the ‘must see’ sights of Rome.
They were built with a legacy from the French and named after the Spanish Embassy (which is still located in the piazza) so there’s nothing overly Spanish about them. In the 18th century, it’s where the beautiful women would hang out, hoping to be chosen as artist’s models. These days, it’s still a hip and happening spot, a gathering place for foreigners (and therefore pickpocketers) and a nice spot to people-watch while eating gelato (although theoretically, you’re not allowed to eat on the steps for preservation purposes).
But I still feel they are slightly overrated. When the city of Rome has so much to offer, it seems odd that one of the iconic sights is a flight of stairs with nothing Italian about them. It’s not all bad – there are some great restaurants and its a great shopping district for all budgets. So if you do make the trip to Spagna, there’s a silver lining.
Holy Grail, Valencia
The Spanish city of Valencia is famous for its beaches, festivals and paella. But one its greatest claims is being the proud owner of the one and only Holy Grail. Dan Brown could have saved himself some time and energy if he’d sent his hero straight to the Cathedral of Valencia, that dominates the main square.<
Mere mention of it usually evokes a cynical grin but this one has been approved by the Vatican. It is believed St Peter took the cup to Rome, where it was protected by successive popes. The cup then made its way to Spain during the Christian persecutions in Rome in the third century.
Men and women through time have embarked on their own quest for the holy grail – I managed to do it in about five minutes, armed with a good map and just by paying 2.50. I entered the side chapel, humming the Indiana Jones theme song, and there is was – the mythical, unattainable cup of Christ – sitting above the main altar, proudly on display for the world to see.
After the enlightening experience, over a refreshing cup of Horchata. I chuckled at the thought of how many tourists pay the fee and how the city is making an absolute killing from housing the cup which Jesus may have drunk from. I’m looking into a trip to the Israel this year – I can’t wait to see what divine claims Bethlehem and Jerusalem has in store for me!
The fairytale castle lives up to any expectations and fantasies. Each year, there are around 1.3 million visitors – not one leaving feeling unimpressed or uninspired.
Perched high up overlooking the Bavarian Alps, Neuschwanstein was commissioned by King Ludwig II, the tragic, romantic figure who built it to escape reality. Ironically, his own life was as dramatic as the operas that inspired him.
Having been before, I stressed to my fellow travellers the most spectacular view of the castle was from Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge). The anticipation was rising as we followed the path to the bridge and I was more excited than anyone, knowing what loomed beyond. But instead of the the expected ooohs and ahhhs, I only heard laughter. The entire side of the castle was covered in scaffolding! I can appreciate that renovations are necessary for historical buildings, but seeing the castle like this turned our adventure into our very own tragic comedy.
We resorted to the next best thing – spending 30 minutes at the souvenir shop getting great shots of posters of the ‘most spectacular view of the castle’. And photos in all seasons – what a bonus!
Gazebo from the Sound of Music
We’ve all seen the movie, loved the songs and put a black towel over our heads when we were kids to sing Climb Every Mountain. (Or was that just me?) So when the opportunity arises to see the sights for yourself in Salzburg, if you’re a die-hard fan, it’s a dream come true.
The Sound of Music tour reveals secrets and interesting trivia. (Warning: Spoiler Alert!) But it can be a little disappointing discover the front of the house is about five kilometres away from the back, and the large gate in the church was added by Hollywood. But its the Gazebo, the scene of the famous I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen number that is somewhat underwhelming. On approach, excitement rises and sends Leisel wannabes’ eyes searching for the nearest Rolf-substitute for their own musical re-enactment. But it all fades when the guide delivers the tragic news that you can’t go inside. Apparently a few years back, when an 80-year-old enthusiast lept from bench to bench, (singing I am 80 going on 81 perhaps?) she slipped, dislocated her hip and ruined it for the rest of us.
I’ve never been the slightest bit disappointed with that tour, but some do walk away feeling something was missing. The only way to fill the void is a quick hop, skip and jump around the exterior instead.
Blue Grotto, Capri
The famous Grotto Azzurra is the main reason why thousands of tourists visit the Isle of Capri daily (other than to play spot the celebrity). The sun reflects through the one-metre high entrance to produce the brilliant, electric blue colour inside.
It’s beauty is undeniable but many people emerge from the cave entrance feeling a little ripped off. Let me explain. You’ve paid 13 euros for the boat trip plus an entrance fee of 10.50. If you want to swim, you’re looking at tipping a few euros on top of that. Tip: Make sure you have exact change. Expecting change from Italians? Wishful thinking.
You then wait around for 45 minutes watching hoards of tourists pile into smaller boats, queue outside the cave and then finally go in. If you’re lucky, you’ll also be fighting a hint of seasickness from all the waiting and rocking. Inside, you’re rowed around for about two minutes by a boatman singing O Sole Mio before you’re back out. Blink and you miss it.
For some, the arduous process has been worthwhile, but for many, there’s an unmistakable look of ‘so overrated!’ While so much of travel can be unpredictable, you can always rely on the Italians to take their time and rip you off.