Here, a working travel writer (just like this one) passes judgement on “hidden travel gems” that are, in his view, universally awful with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, based on his own specific experiences. Because that’s a valid approach.
The opinions of Mike Sowden are his alone, but speak for everyone.
As a travel writer, my motto is “first impressions are everything.” My reluctance to look deeper has served me well. Most of my experiences have been fleeting and have required little effort or actual thought. But sometimes that instantly-formed thought is “UGH” – and I’ve crossed those destinations off my bucket list without a hint of regret, because the world is a big place and I only have a small mind.
Many travel writers of my acquaintance pride themselves on getting to know a place over time, delving deep into the rhythms of life there, and refusing to come to any cheap, easy conclusions about everything they experience.
Here’s the truth about some places you may think you know really well, but clearly don’t, unless you agree with me.
London: the sights get old really quickly. Someone told me this is a spinning wheel from Shakespeare’s day. Pretty boring.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” said Samuel Johnson. You’d think that someone who wrote a dictionary could at least use the right words. Here’s the written truth about London: the last time I was there, I was short-changed by a taxi driver. He was supposed to give me £4.60 back and he only gave me £4.20. I trusted London and it ripped my heart out. It’s a city of thieves. And it’s expensive. If you want a good, cheap English city, go to Edinburgh.
New York proves that big doesn’t always mean better. That said, it’s really big and most things are better there. That’s not the point I’m making.
I had a bad experience in New York. I got stuck in a lift. You may think that’s not the city’s fault, but you’re not a professional travel writer with almost a decade of work under his belt. New York is out to damage you, like it damaged me. I was in that lift for 27 long, long minutes and I thought I was going to have a panic attack. I didn’t, but I might next time. That’s why I’m never going back. You shouldn’t even go once.
I say this “ancient city” isn’t ancient at all. This is a museum that’s only meant to look old, and the rest is basically a modern city. Lies, lies, lies.
Billed as the cultural centre of ancient Western civilization, Athens is supposed to offer a more enlightened alternative to the historical excesses of other Greek cities like Thessalonika, Rome and Atlantis. In fact it’s a shambles. I was climbing the steps to the Acropolis and I slipped and banged my knee, and it came up like a grapefruit. The next day it was sore. I deserve better. So do you. Athens is inherently unsafe and there’s no “there” there, it’s just rubble. The whole of Athens is out to kill you. If you go, you’re basically suicidal.
The song says, “Joe le taxi.” My taxi driver’s name was Francois. So, that was a lie, right from the “ligne de départ.” Lies, liars – France.
I’ll probably get hate mail for this, but I hate the French. There’s something just too . . . French about them. Literature, socializing, fine cuisine – they’re all lost on me. But the main thing is, last time I was in Paris I was up near the Sacre Bleu, the huge basilica on top of a hill, I forget exactly where, and this guy put a piece of string around my wrist to make a bracelet, and then he tried to get me to pay for it. I’d heard about this scam, so I punched him in the groin and took all his money (83 Euros). I didn’t go anywhere else after that, I just stayed safely in my room and watched Netflix. But I didn’t need to go anywhere else. Paris is a scam. France is a scam. The French are scammers. That’s my professional, objective assessment.
Nice beach. But Barcelona doesn’t hold up in any other way. Actually, the beach is only OK.
Yes, the flamenco is great. But there’s plenty of dancing elsewhere in Europe and those countries put a hell of a lot less energy into it, which is a clear sign that Barcelonan dancers don’t know what they’re doing. And those countries aren’t crowded with Gothic architecture, paella, and the tiresome work of one of Barcelona’s most famous sons, Antoni Audi, an architect and car manufacturer. While Barcelona isn’t the only place in the world with “architectural experiences,” I got talked into having one, and the heel of my EXTREMELY expensive shoe broke on a step going into a church. I had to wait half an hour to get it repaired, but while I cringed through every single minute as I sat there sipping Cava, I got through it by reminding myself that Barcelona was now dead to me – and by logical extension, to you too, dear reader. There’s nothing good about Barcelona. Don’t give it another thought.
Beijing: proof that there’s such a thing as too far away.
Too. Damn. Far. I’ve never been. But let’s face it, in the age of the Internet, that doesn’t really matter. There are so many ways to judge and generalise on inadequately sourced or uselessly subjective information, and as a professional travel writer, that gives me a warm, happy glow, deep inside. Nothing riles people up like opinion presented as fact, an editor once said to me. Anyway, Beijing: did you know Chinese food is filled with MSG? And MSG is bad for you in excess. And if you’re in China, you literally cannot do anything but eat Chinese food, by definition. See what I’m saying here? Do the math; don’t go. I certainly won’t.
Mike Sowden is an English travel writer. He occasionally writes satire when he’s annoyed enough.