Road Trips to Avoid

A few days ago, I commented on a few Internet sites that declared a bunch of famed tourist sites not worth the bother. I agreed with a few, but not others. Here is my list of overrated places for future travel.

The Tidal Bore in Moncton, New Brunswick is aptly named. All of the Bay of Fundy is overrated. Its massive tide shifts don’t come in or go out in massive sheets of water. Like all tides, the highs and lows are 12 or so hours apart. Moncton takes the trophy for dullness. You stand in a pavilion rain or shine and watch a tidal river slowly turn itself into either a stream or a mudflat. It’s like filling a bathtub with an eye dropper. Plus, New Brunswick is easily Canada’s most boring province.

Verona, Italy is a handsome town if you like architecture, but don’t be suckered into going to see Juliet’s balcony. It’s just a second story stone porch jutting out from a once-grand home. NOTHING happened there. Romeo and Juliet was a play, folks; Shakespeare made it up and set it in Verona. Although the Capulets (Cappelleti actually) and the Montagues were once two powerful families, there is no evidence that Romeo and Juliet were more than figments of the Bard’s imagination.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) is among my favorite films, which is why I found myself in Lyme Regis (West Dorset, England) to see where much of the film was made. Dorset is wonderful, but Lyme Regis is the among the most oxy of all oxymorons: an English beach town. The pier (aka/The Cobb) where so many moody film shots were filmed is just a hunk of concrete poking into the ocean for a hundred yards or so. The surrounding coast somehow became a World Heritage area. It’s on the English Channel. No one in their right mind associates anything on the English Channel with going to the beach.

So many people told me that going to Epcot Center was “just like” being in Venice, Paris, Morocco, etc. that I went there. How many ways can I say, “No, it is not?” Epcot is a shopping mall with a faux world’s fair vibe. It also tries to represent the future—and has exhibits from past world’s fairs. Note the the word “past.” It is the future that never was, and recent upgrades are the future that never will be. Epcot costs a whopping $125 to enter. Like all of Orlando, the smartest option is to stay away.

In 1917, the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to three shepherd girls in Fatima, Portugal, and delivered a series of prophecies. It has since become a major pilgrimage site for Catholics. Or maybe I should have said “tourist trap.” Fatima holds the distinction of being the only town in all or Portugal I absolutely hated. Think of the tackiest tourist shop you’ve ever entered. Add plaster statuary and the entire commercial center of Fatima is like that. Mix with churches and cathedrals that cater to the faithful cafeteria-style. Fatima should have a sign that says, “Abandon hope, all ye who get fleeced here.”

Once upon a time Harvard Square and environs were filled with unique shops, bookstores, art cinemas, funky cafes, and ethnic restaurants and food stores. That was then; this is now. Nearly everything that was special has been replaced by chain stores, fast food, and the kind of student hangouts you’d find in any university town. Visit the Harvard museums and then hop on the Red Line to flee Generica.

If there is a more boring city in the USA than Atlanta, please tell me so I can avoid it. The Sweet Auburn section where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and raised is the sole reason to do more than change planes in Atlanta. Even Sweet Auburn is a place where white Atlanta suburbanites can pretend they care about civil rights while quietly segregating the rest of the city. One of the city’s top tourist attractions is Coca-Cola World, which ought to tell you all you need to know. 

Effigy Mounds National Park near the town of Harpers Ferry, Iowa is a nice place to stroll and gaze upon the broad Mississippi River, but you won’t learn much about the Native Americans who built the mounds some 5,000 years ago. There are about 200 mounds here, some with figures carved into the knolls. Alas, mound remains are little more than green bumps on the landscape and you’d have to be an eagle to see the figures. 

On a tour I got trapped for several days in the Malaga region of Spain’s Costa del Sol. It is a charmless area whose beaches are not particularly clean. I don’t understand why people fly across the Atlantic to have a beach experience they could have anywhere else that has salt water. Apparently others agree, as there are lots of bankrupt condo projects all along the Costa del Sol.

Speaking of interchangeable experiences, many visitors to Scotland head to St. Andrews in the mistaken impression they can play golf in its alleged birthplace. Unless you have a lot of money and reserve a tee time years in advance, you can’t. So you’ll spend your time trying to find something interesting to do. It’s a university town and you can probably wile away a few hours, but catch the next bus to Edinburgh as soon as possible.   

It’s picturesque, but the Washington Monument is really just a giant marble middle finger thrust into the District of Columbia sky. I’ve been to its 555-foot summit several times. The view is okay, but if lines are long—and they usually are--there are much better ways to spend your time in the Capitol City.

Tijuana, Mexico has a reputation for being unsafe. It’s no worse than a lot of American cities and is pretty safe unless you venture off looking for trouble. Really, though, there’s little reason to go there. There are bars where you can observe brainless Americans downing Jell-O shots and slugs of tequila, and places where you can put on a sombrero and pay to have your picture taken with a burro. Aside from some colorful buildings, Tijuana is a city of tacky tourist crap and scads of pharmacies where you can buy cheap medications. Each has a young woman (girl?) in a white lab coat, so you know she’s qualified, yeah? Need I say that you should be leery of the quality of their wares, even if you can buy 10 Viagra pills for $7?

I usually think that most crowded places are thronged for a reason. I might make an exception for Versailles. Louis XIV was a flamboyant king, but unless you like baroque—and I mean really like baroque­—you can give Versailles a miss. I hate the gilded angels, garish wall hangings, coffered ceilings, and decorated everything that characterize the baroque style. It is terribly mobbed, so even if you do like this stuff, you’ll be ushered through pretty fast and in many places you can’t take photos.  

Oakley, KN
Lots of people dream of driving across the United States. The problem is that most routes, especially I-70 or Route 66, take you through places like Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and northern Texas, where even the tumbleweed wants to be somewhere else. I-70 is one of those roads with signs that tell you it’s just 150 miles to the world’s largest prairie dog and by the time you arrive at a crumbling concrete rodent you’re so bored you think it’s kind of cool. Route 66 at least has some historical cachet, though its allure has faded like the TV series that made it famous. Mostly it’s either dull, empty, strip-mall congested, or slow—especially slow. My best advice is to fly over the middle of the country.

Rob Weir

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