Water let-down... and as for that Leaning Tower!
The other day a friend asked me what ‘sights’ or places I had visited over the years that had been a bit of a let-down. She had just come back from her first visit to Rome and had been disappointed by the Trevi
Fountain. I knew what she meant. When I first went to Rome back in the early Eighties I too had been a bit let-down by the world-famous fountain. Not so much by the actual structure which is pretty impressive, but by the setting. I had been expecting the fountain to be centre stage in the middle of an elegant city square rather than squashed into a small area with very little space around it. I much prefer the nearby, majestic Piazza Navona where you’ll find three fountains, my favourite being the Fountain of Neptune at the northern end of what is actually an oblong-shaped city square.
But where else has left me cold? What sights have I seen that I would suggest you don’t really waste your time with?
Well, the Leaning Tower of Pisa for starters. It’s one of those places that you hear referenced all the time in general conversation. So, despite many, many visits to Italy, when I first made it to Pisa in 2006 I was really looking forward to seeing the famous tower.
And as I rounded a corner with my sister that day in the month of June, straight into the square where the tower and the cathedral stand, it was my sister who hit the nail on the head: ‘Is that it? she said incredulously. ‘Sure it’s not the height of two daisies!’
Nor is it. It’s only 50-odd metres in height, and, yes, it leans a bit alright, but not spectacularly so. Big disappointment. (I liked Pisa, though, all washed-out pastel buildings and faded grandeur.)
Then there was my visit to San Francisco, a city I liked (although not as much as Chicago) but where I found its really tacky and a huge disappointment. As a fan of the Seventies hit television crime series, The Streets Of San Francisco, starring Karl Malden and a young Michael Douglas, I was dying to see Fisherman’s Wharf for real. What I found was a place full of souvenir shops selling cheap T-shirts and two-bit cafes peddling chowder and crab claws to beat the band. The waterfront was completely lost as an attraction in its own right, and was just subsumed into the overall tourist tack. As I left the Wharf on the day I visited, to climb back up through the city, my overriding thought was that if I ever encountered another bowl of fish chowder it would be way too soon.
While I wasn’t actually let down by the River Jordan, I’d have to say that it was nothing like what I was expecting. All those Bible stories from my childhood had somehow created the impression of a big and fast-flowing river. But on a trip to Jordan I discovered that that was completely wrong. After a stroll through some undergrowth leading down to the river, I was confronted by an unremarkable, narrow stretch of muddy brown water, and Israeli security structures complete with surveillance equipment just across from me on the opposite bank. Was this really it - the place where Jesus of Nazareth was baptised? In Egypt, meanwhile, a country that I love and a place so full of fascinating sights that you could never tire of visiting it, I have to admit that I was disappointed by one thing. On a day-long visit to the Valley of the Kings with an amazing, elderly guide who knew every stone in the place, the overall experience was fantastic. We had visited a number of amazing tombs, some requiring a bit of a hike and a climb, but well worth the effort. Then, on our way back, we came close to
Tutankhamun’s tomb. Declaring that I wanted to see it, Mohammed, our guide, was somewhat dismissive. ‘No good,’ he said, carrying on walking.
‘I can’t come to the Valley of the Kings and not see Tutankhamun’s burial chamber,’ I told him.
So in I went. And do you know what? Mohammed was right. Small and unimpressive, it was, for me, a real let-down. He’d died very young, of course, so the treasures that were built up over the years of their lives for the burial chambers of the pharaohs just weren’t there. If a pharaoh died an old man then he had the chance to accumulate an array of treasures and have a hugely impressive tomb when his time came. King Tut simply died too soon. One final negative. The Mona
Lisa. You’ll queue to get into the Louvre in Paris to see it. And you’ll be part of a huge posse of people when you finally get to stand in front of it.
I know it’s acknowledged as a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, largely due to that enigmatic smile. It doesn’t do anything for me, I’m afraid. And it’s small – only 2ft 6ins by 1ft 8ins. After I first saw it I finally knew what she was smiling at. All the eejits – like me – paying to get into the Louvre just to see her.
SQUEEZED IN: The Trevi Fountain in Rome
ASKEW: Leaning Tower of Pisa
A BIT POKY: The tomb of Tutankahmun, and, right, the Mona Lisa didn’t impress Roslyn