Water let-down... and as for that Lean­ing Tower!

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - MORE TRAVEL - Roslyn Dee ros.dee@dmg­me­dia.ie

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

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