I spent last weekend in Paris – along with many other tourists from many Nationalities. Whilst wandering around or getting my nose stuck in my guidebook I got to thinking about the places we like to visit in other countries, the places that make it into the guidebooks. Walking down Avenue Voltaire and spotting a plaque on ‘Voltaire’s’ restaurant stating that this house was where he died I started wondering about our obsession with tourist attractions and what makes them so special.
Dead people’s houses often feature in guide books and attract a lot of visitors. Why? What, exactly, is so special about seeing the room of a great writer preserved how it (let’s face it) might have been whilst they were alive and writing great works? Now I will admit I am a nosy person, so I can see the plus sides of snooping around seeing how somebody else lived, but I’d be just as happy doing that in my current neighbour’s house than anywhere else and that way I’d probably escape any queues.
With all tourist attractions, be it the Sacre Couer or the Coliseum or Shakespeare’s house, it seems they become less and less special the more people visit them. Any wonder they had has been rubbed off by thousands of footprints, plus we’ve probably seen them all in photos anyway, and when we get there we find we’re just one in a hundred-people strong queue and the view is marred by other tourists. Much better, then, to find your own sacred places – the places that would make it into your guidebook of a place and that hold only your memories (at least that you’re aware of anyway).