Sheila Gallant-Halloran

Made-to-measure travel; please, go away! :-)

Historical Treasures in Travel – Hype vs Must-see?

During a recent online conversation on twitter, a group of travellers got together on #TNI (“travellers night in”) to discuss historical treasures. The question posed on which all could opine was: which historical treasures don’t live up to the hype, and which ones are must-see historical sites you would recommend to anyone?

I knew what my choices would be immediately. Do you?

For me, the Mona Lisa has got to be the number one in the disappointment category.

It was surprisingly small. When I stood in front of it at the Louvre in France, the only thought running through my head was “is that it?”  And I couldn’t get close enough to it.

Of course, it’s beautiful, signficant, and an important piece of work (especially if it is a self-portrait of Leonardo – kinda gives a wonderful irony to that smile). But after hearing about the painting all through my schooldays, to finally stand in front of the actual piece, surrounded by bullet-proof glass, not able to even get a good photo, kinda leaves you a little non-plussed.

Another historical treasure that I found didn’t live up to the hype was the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

Again, standing in front of that freestanding bell tower behind the catherdral, I was struck by the feeling “is that it?”

Of course, it looks wild, and is somewhat of an architectural wonder that the bloody thing didn’t collapse when it was first built over 800 years ago (let alone in the intervening centuries), but after I’d been led through all the tacky knick knack souvenir shops along the way, all I could think of as I did the obligatory pose was “tourist trap.”

The winners, though, in the “must sees” were somewhat surprising to me. Or perhaps, I should say, the speed with which I named them was surprising.

I’m not a history buff, at least not an acknowledged one, but two places stood out to me.

The first was Pompeii in Italy. 

How wild is it to be amidst the ruins of this city that Mount Vesuvius destroyed in 79 AD?  To actually walk in chariot tracks, and to see the bodies of slaves, pregnant women, animals, frozen, and captured in time is really awe-inspiring (and, terribly sad).

It is bizarre to see how the Romans lived at the height of their empire.  The ruins of Pompeii are, of course, a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Then there is another UNESCO world heritage site. L’anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.

Ok, I’m a Newfoundlander. So, you’d think that’d make me overly biased in the positive. But, I think the opposite is true. You never tend to look in your own backyard for wonderment. 

When I visited Norstead at the tip of the Northern Penisula in Newfoundland with my parents, husband, and young daughter, I was truly amazed to see the Viking Village of port and trade.  Actors re-enact what it was like in the first European settlement in North America (500 years before Columbus ever sailed over). 

The 11th-century Viking settlement has been excavated, and you can see the remains of the wood-framed peat-turf buildings. (There are similar ones found in Norse Greenland and Iceland.)

So, can you answer the question? Which historical treasures don’t live up to the hype, and which ones are must-see historical sites you would recommend to anyone?

[Note: #TNI is an online tweetup with other folks who love to travel. The weekly chat is held every Thursday at 3:30 est.  It is run by the folks at http://www.zipsetgo.com/travelers-night , and each week there is a different topic. You have to answer 10 questions in 10 minutes – you post your responses, and then engage in dialogue with others, get inspired, and learn.  Come join the fun!]

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September 27, 2010 - Posted by | Lush Life Destinations

4 Comments »

  1. Hi, I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit any of the historical sites you mention.
    Ephesus in Turkey surpassed my expectations though and Venice was all I dreamt it would be. I had a most unexpected and moving experience in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris once.
    I am ashamed to say that seeing Van Goghs Sunflowers was a big disappointement to me (the version I saw anyway) looked grubby – not vibrant. I am a big Van Gogh fan too.

    If you are any good at poetry (or even if you’re not) why not give my Mona Lisa poetry challenge a go. Just read the poems and contribute:) The Mona Lisa is the second challenge I have put up, the first is Van Gogh, both are open indefinitely on

    http://bookstains.wordpress.com/

    my art blog is
    http://echostains.wordpress.com/

    Perhaps we can solve the mystery of the Mona Lisa’s smile 😀

    Comment by echostains | September 27, 2010 | Reply

  2. thanks for the comments! I’ve been to Notre Dame Cathedral too, but not the Ephesus yet. I’m a big Van Gogh fan too. It’s awfully easy to be disappointed by art. One piece I remember being blown away by in person was Rembrandt’s Night Watch in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Very ltd time, and spent a small fortune to get in to see just that piece – well worth it. Wow.

    Comment by Sheila Gallant-Halloran | September 27, 2010 | Reply

  3. I actually thought the Tower of Pisa was pretty cool looking. Did you have the chance to go up the tower?

    I’ve heard similar comments of the Louvre in France… Many people I know thought the painting would be much bigger in size.

    Comment by Roch | September 28, 2010 | Reply

  4. We didn’t go up the tower, and it was kinda cool to see, but for me, after about 30 seconds, it was – ok, next. It just seemed so tacky with all the tourist knick knacks. The Louvre, was of course, an awesome sight, and I could’ve gotten lost inside there – just found the Mona Lisa itself a real disappointment.

    Thanks for your comments. What would you say would be your choices for “hype vs. must see” travel?

    Comment by Sheila Gallant-Halloran | October 2, 2010 | Reply


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