Photo Credit: yourlocaluk.co.uk
Sometimes, being provincial is essential
by Adam Berkowitz
A New Yorker offers some perspective on world travel, so that you don’t end up seeing the same places over and over.
I don’t want to be a horrible American. That’s why I live in New York. I see the ratings for reality shows, watch Rush Limbaugh not be torn apart by wild animals and pledge to do different than my countrymen.
Only 30% of Americans have passports and I know that number is unlikely to change unless we require it as identification to purchase liquid cheese or meth. As of now, you would only need a passport if you planned to travel abroad, and the average American would only plan to travel abroad if they committed a crime or were a New York effete liberal who hates Sarah Palin’s America, forever toiling in the ennui of not being satisfied by the epicurean delights of fast food restaurants and deriving minimal satisfaction from shopping for every day items at massive warehouses.
Which makes me feel even worse about saying the following, both because it reflects all the worst stereotypes as an American yet somehow makes me seem like even more of an elitist New York prick: I don’t see the point in Europe.
Of course, I see the point in Europe’s existence. Who would act as the intermediary for smuggling in our Ukranian prostitutes if not for the middle-men in England? Fat, lonely, sexually violent American men can not live on Hatian tail alone!
And, yes, more germane to the “Americans with passports” word salad above, Europe is a cradle of history and the root of so much of our culture. And, as a New Yorker, the landmarks of European cities are a waste of time to visit.
I’m not talking about the nuanced attractions of European cities. I bet there’s an locals only sex club in Paris that would totally be awesome or a really fun underground dentistry ring in London that would be amazing if I spent significant time there.
But let’s face facts: you have 2 weeks as an American to travel. So, what are the odds you’re going to get to discover these hidden gems in such a short period of time? Instead, you’ll be rushing around to visit cultural landmarks and required visits like The Eiffel Tower, which is just the French(er) Statue of Liberty. It’s like this with every city in Western Europe. Every cultural landmark you visit in a European city will fill you with the regret that you haven’t done its equivalent in New York and now you’ve spent god knows how much money to fly to Barcelona to see their Picasso museum when you can’t even bother to go to after work on Fridays for the free days at MoMA and see better Picasso collections.
Wonderful, is this Piccadilly Square? That’s awesome. It reminds me of Times Square. I’m glad I spent a few thousand dollars so I can notice the slight difference of calling the “subway” a “tube”. Great, that’s totally worth it. Huh, Berlin has been able to confront its past and has very hip neighborhoods. It’s like Williamsburg but with the frontal lobe removed. wonderful.
I bring this up because, as I get older and finally have a chance to travel and afford nice things like traveling to Western Europe, I’m realizing there’s not enough “bang for the buck”. Yes, it’s absolutely lovely and your museums are wonderful, your culture is precious, and the experience is somewhat different. But if the world has been McDonaldized, then European cities seem to have adopted a similar, if somewhat healthier, standardized menu.
I’ve found that the most rewarding European vacations you can take are not to cities. As a New Yorker, you get it. A city’s a fucking city. Here, people live in apartments. There, the gays have taken over that previously dangerous neighborhood and have really made strides in “Benecdictine Brunching innovations” no matter the country. What’s that, a quirky shop/restaurant/club/museum? Wow, that’s just like New York. Or Paris. Or London.
So, to help, here is a game plan: Fly into the following cities, see the big sites to avoid the guilt, but then actually vacation to a nearby spot instead:
Going to Barcelona? Spend time in Sitges
Sitges is a seaside town an hour or so outside of Barcelona. Physically, it’s an ocean. You’ve seen an ocean but the way the Spanish do leisure time at a seaside resort is something you haven’t experienced. If you thought their every day life was packed with pleasure, imagine them in a resort. Long meals, ridiculous food, shopping to spend the money they haven’t earned…It’s worth visiting and gives an insight into what America is missing.
Notice none of their seaside towns have signs pointing you to Snooki’s house.
Going to Berlin? Spend time in Poland.
Yes, visit the “cultural landmarks” of Berlin, but rush through them. Spend a night at their bars figuring out the exact difference between Prenzlauer Berg and Williamsburg (everything looks the same but there’s something missing. Oh, right, Jews to make everyone funnier). But, then, you’ve got the general idea. Galleries and Turks. Bite the bullet and take the train ride to Krakow. It’s an ancient regal city preserved by an agreement between the collaborators with the Nazis and Russians which will lead you to your next hot spot, Auschwitz! Whatever, you didn’t go to Eastern Europe for a happy go-lucky vacation anyways. It’s a pretty moving experience and you won’t find its equivalent in America. Because we didn’t keep the diseased blankets we gave to the natives.
Turn that frown upside down!
Going to Prague? Spend time in Kutna Hora.
This town in the Czech Republic saw its peak in the early 16th Century, but Prague right now is at its peak of NYU students who have read the Russian Debutante’s Handbook anyways. Kutna Hora is home to the famous Sedlec Ossuary, decorated with skeletons in a scene that perfectly captures the spirit of that part of the world. There’s other stuff to see in the Czech Republic like Cesky Krumlov and Holašovice after you’ve spent the requisite day in Prague walking the Charles Bridge, seeing the old town, and paying $6 for a tasteless bowl of potatoes made exclusively for tourists.
Going to Lisbon?Spend time in Coimbra.
Coimbra is a town in Portugal which has been ruled by Romans, Visigoths, the Moors, the Catholics and even by proxy the United States (we propped up Salazar because somehow we were afraid Kruschev would invade Portugal?). But, throughout that time, Coimbra maintained its cultural heritage through their University, one of the oldest in the world. The town still has its medieval feel and there are days when the University students still walk around town in their cloaks that harken back to an era we can’t really grasp as Americans. Plus, Portuguese food includes freshly grilled sardines, so, you know, that…
Okay, not the most appealing photo. But, point is, it’s a beautiful beach town and exists with authenticity, as reflected in this photo of 2 normal people who don’t live on tourists.
Going to Paris: Spend time in…Paris :
This is kind of the exception. Paris isn’t totally different than New York. It’s not like you’re visiting Calcutta. But it is different enough and beautiful enough that you could spend years here and still not feel like your missing out. Trust you me, it’s worth it.
Adam Berkowitz is between jobs and between girlfriends, but his therapist will never leave him.