I’d like to begin by saying that I am not a philistine. I enjoy passing a rainy afternoon amongst choice masterpieces or an spending an evening at the ballet. When travelling however, I find myself constantly in museums that I would not usually choose to visit or giving up sunny days to pass through uninformative, dull displays. At each display I pose with an interested expression on my face and wonder how long I have to stand there to not seem rude.
I was lucky on my recent visit to the National Palace Museum in Taipei to encounter more group tours in one place than I’ve ever seen before. I say lucky because it made it almost impossible to get to many of the displays, giving me the perfect excuse to keep moving. It also made me realise that if you are on a tour, the tour guides have no qualms about whisking you through the less interesting sections, stopping only momentarily at the key pieces.
So why do so many of us get caught in this trap? I’ve met numerous travellers who have never been to a church in their own country whose tours of Europe consist of almost nothing else but churches. I equate it to going to a friend’s house and being asked if you want to see the photo albums from their latest event. You feel that if you like the person, you should be sufficiently interested in the thigns they’ve done to be able to look at a few photos. You are after all willing to eat their food, drink their coffee and enjoy the comfort of their couch and fire.
Truthfully though, it is rare that I actually want to see the photo albums. Likewise, there are some pieces of art and some aspects of history that I am interested in and I want to learn about but there are many that just don’t intrigue me at all. But I dread coming home from a trip to have people ask me what I did and what I saw to answer “nothing”!
I love walking and being in the midst of normal every day life in a strange city. I love feeling what it is like to walk down the street in a city I’d only ever read about. I love to stop for coffee or grab a bottle of water from a convenience store. I love to see how the houses are built in one suburb compared to another and to catch public transport just to see how crowded it gets. If I am in the mood and I see an ad for an exhibition, I love to go and spend the afternoon. Yet every trip, I end up with a “must see” list that I work my way through regardless of my own desires – the guest looking at the hosts photo albums with an interested half-smile stretched across my face.