Come up with the top 10 best list? – too hard, there are thousands to choose from! Come up with the top 10 most disappointing, that’s more manageable – actually they are the only 10 I can think of after all these years. I’ve always believed that I can find something to enjoy, to appreciate, anywhere I went. And the vast majority of the time that has been true. But let’s be honest, sometimes, not very often, I am really, really, disappointed. Maybe it doesn’t measure up to the hype, maybe something else interferes with my enjoyment. So at the risk of generating a bit of an argument, in no particular order, here’s my 10 most disappointing from 23 years of travel:
- Venezuelan beaches. I should re-phrase that, the beaches along the Venezuelan coastline are beautiful, but are ruined by the locals. In short, the beaches are junk yards, with litter throughout the sand and the water. It’s particularly bad if it’s a weekend and the beach is within a daytrip from Caracas. Playa Colorada looks beautiful, but the sand was full of glass, bottle tops, cigarette butts and other litter, and many of the families visiting the beach disposed of their litter each day by throwing it in the sea.
- Taj Mahal. I have never met anyone else that didn’t love the Taj Mahal so I know I am out on my own on this one. But I can’t help it, when I visited the Taj Mahal I thought “great, looks just like the post card”, then I thought “I should take a photo” , and then I was bored. All those lovely large alcoves are empty, it’s a big hollow tomb and has no atmosphere. However I loved Agra and I spent hours enjoying the Red Fort, and found the distant view of the Taj Mahal from the Red Fort the most interesting way to see the Taj Mahal.
- Alcatraz. Reputedly the most visited attraction in San Francisco, and I cannot understand why? The boat trip to the island and back is very enjoyable and provides a great view of either the bridge or the fog, depending on weather. Maybe if I had grown up with the history, with Alcatraz stories, it would’ve seemed more atmospheric. But it’s some old, not really ruined, buildings on a rock, that was once a jail. And Hollywood made some movies about it. I even did the night tour to try and amp up the atmosphere, but it still felt like a school trip to a not very exciting museum.
- Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco. It’s sounds good doesn’t it? The harbourfront wharf, the famous clam chowder. Maybe a few decades ago it was like that. Now it is a plastic theme park of fast food and tacky souveniers. There is so much good food, great shops, interesting neighbourhoods and great views in San Francisco, so avoid this bit and enjoy the rest.
- the Mona Lisa, the Louvre. Mona Lisa’s smile is the most visited (and best known) art work in the world, housed in a massively impressive building. So by the time you search through the vastness of the Louvre and queue for a while, it’s a bit disappointing to discover the painting is so tiny, and for its own protection hidden away behind perspex. Maybe if I could see if alone, instead of from beneath a rugby scrum, I could appreciate it more.
- Dallas, Texas. To be fair, I didn’t choose to go to Dallas as a tourist destination – I was sent there on a work trip – for seven weeks. On the first afternoon I had covered the two things worth getting excited about – SouthFork Ranch (preserving the iconic Dallas TV show) and the Grassy Knoll. With hindsight I kind of wish I had done the second one with the “JFK death route” tour company who drive you along the same route that he took, in an open top limo, and they even play a gunshot sound in the car as it passes the appropriate spot. Sick and yet at least not boring. After that afternoon I was done, Dallas beat me down into sheer boredom. I saved my sanity by racing to the airport every weekend and jumping on a Southwest flight to anywhere else!
Salar de Uyuni. This is a very different kind of disappointment. I was really keen to see this, one of the world’s largest salt lakes and at a high altitude of over 4000 metres, with it’s quirky salt hotels and traditional villages and cottage salt businesses. It’s immense and links Bolivia and Chile. We arrived there during floods. The arid salt flats were under water, not just a normal downpour but a real flood. The owners of the 4×4 tour vehicles that normally take tours around the salt lakes were not running, as they feared their vehicles will stall and break down in the wet. We finally found one guy who took us a few hundred metres into the vast flats and then chickened out and took us back to the town of Uyuni which was also completely flooded. I am absolutely sure that I will go back one day and see Salar de Uyuni and not be disappointed.
- Riding camels. If you read my blog about camels in Morocco, you will understand why I find camels disappointing (as well as scary and distinctly dangerous). Suffice to say, do not ride a camel that is in heat, or is being mounted by another camel. Actually just don’t ride camels, end of story.
- Riding elephants. Yes, it does seem like a theme is developing here. I love elephants, beautiful, fun animals. In Laos I went to one of the many good elephant sanctuaries that are dotted around South East Asia. I fed the elephants, I stroked them, I talked to them. They were in an idyllic riverside setting next to some stunning shallow pools under the tropical jungle foliage. So I went for a ride on one, thinking it would be slow and majestic. It turned out to be disappointingly like an out-of-control rollercoaster. I stepped off the platform onto the “chair” on the elephant’s back, right up the front by it’s neck. This chair is really a wooden plank for a seat with another thin plank for a backrest and a tiny dowling rod across the front of me, to keep me in the seat, all tied loosely to the creature’s back. Off we go, with a very young mahout sitting on the elephant’s head and steering him. And then suddenly we were climbing up near vertical 3 to 4 metre high mud banks and back down near vertical drops of the same scale – all in deep slippery mud. And the elephant was sliding. I was clinging to a very unstable dowling rod for dear life while gravity tried to claim me, and most of the time I had my eyes squeezed tightly shut – it didn’t seem so bad when I couldn’t see how much of an extreme angle we were on. To add insult to injury the mahout, who seemed about 10 years old, was rolling around laughing hysterically at my discomfort. I knew that logically it was much safer than it felt but it did not help one bit. I still love elephants but I will admire them on the ground from now on. This picture shows the misleadingly pleasant part of the ride.
- Juliet’s balcony in Verona. Firstly, it is a fake. The “balcony” is an ugly recent addition to the outside of a house, to con tourists out of their money. The queue to get in is like standing in a particularly crowded and dirty subway. Most of the courtyard is a shop selling a variety of red synthetic plush love hearts to separate romantics from their cash. Again, Verona is a beautiful town with much atmosphere, much to see and do, and this little bit of fakery is not a good example of that.
Is there somewhere you’ve been that didn’t live up to your expectations? Anywhere you’d recommend against going as you found it disappointing?