As a whole, I’m not a good sightseer.
Frankly, the famous Colosseum in Rome was a major disappointment. I’m aware this sounds quite spoiled, but you have to understand I went to it the year after the movie "Gladiator" came out, and I had a very concrete vision of myself standing in the dusty center stadium which was much more stunning than the reality of it. No dusty floor! No seats! No ghostly lions charging from the gates! Just the relentless shuffle of families clad in khaki holding dripping ice cream treats amidst the rubble.
Likewise, the Washington Monument is downright annoying, and you could not pay me to go back to the Taj Mahal. It may have been built for love, but I am not built for the pain of being harassed by monkeys and children and tour guides while wearing orange marble-protecting slippers.
Ditto the Pyramids. They certainly are big. But didn’t the Discovery Channel add a little je ne sais quois they are somehow lacking standing here in the smog? And no, dude, for the 17th time, I don’t want to ride your camel.
I love travel and the feeling of being in a place. To me that is not what most sightseeing is.
My disinterest in touring likely started on one of many family trips to Britain when I was a kid and I was made to walk at an elderly snail's pace with my family through more British castles and manor homes than I could count, politely nodding in the direction of glass entombed cherubs and smug royal portraits. I cannot tell you what a relief it was to finally emerge back into the gray semi-light of the British daytime.
Once free, I would make a beeline toward whatever happy little cottage tearoom waited just outside the castle grounds. The tearoom was somehow always down a narrow path lined with some thorny bushes spotted with few anemic-looking rosebuds, which would inevitably slow down my family's progress yet again.
“English roses!” someone would always say, sighing reverently, as though they had just found a tiny Prince Henry hanging from one of the branches. My jaw would clench angrily. There’s no time for this, people, I would think as my body pulled me toward the tearoom. Because while I dislike tourist attractions, I love-love-love post-sightseeing travel refreshments.
I’m not exactly what you’d call a “scone person” in real life. But after breathing in the lavender-and-mothball scented air of The Humpstead Drearymire House or some similarly named gray stone monstrosity, I would be noticeably excited by the possibility of a crumbling baked good and a cup of tepid tea. Thrilled by it, in fact. It was my reward for feigning interest in terrariums filled with crystal swans.
As a kid I felt like a survivor. The tea was my reward.
Several months ago, I was in a self-service candy shop. A little boy came up next to me and watched me load a bag full of sour sugar dusted gummies shaped like cars. He pointed this missed opportunity out to his mother, who ignored him and went to the cash register. They already had enough candy, she’d decided.
And that’s when I realized that being a grown-up is amazing. I can eat candy whenever I want to. I can even go back for more.
I spent the past two days in London, where I poked around in small second-hand shops, visited the Tate, went alone to cocktail bars, walked forever and stopped quite near, but not at, some major attractions for tea and a treat. Freedom never tasted so sweet.