Monday, March 12, 2012

Bad Traveler's Good Week, Day 2

...in which our intrepid adventurer....
except that i'm not intrepid. i am, in fact, extremely trepid. and i hate adventure. life, they say, is one great adventure, and they're right. hence the phenomenal success of prozac.

for this reason, i prefer to travel, whenever possible, on prearranged tours.  [yes, my dears, i can see you wince. how gauche. how middle america...how tourist!] i have no yearnings for the grand spontaneity of setting off without direction to see what real life in a different environment is like, to live as the natives live.  you do not live like a native by walking through strange streets wondering where the hell you are and if there's a toilet in that scuzzy bar across the street.  natives know where they are. you are not a native in a country you've never seen before, in which the people speak a language you don't know, and in which you will spend at best a few days. you are a tourist.  and never fear, however you arrange the travels, adventure will find you, in some form or another.  life does that to us.

so i'm on the first real day of my travels, and a tour bus comes to my hotel and sweeps me away on a three-hour exploration of reyjavik.  i am excited about seeing the city.  but i don't see a city at all. okay, so i'm still exhausted and i doze now and then, but still, how do you miss a drive through downtown? later i learn that i didn't doze through downtown, i just didn't know it was downtown.  as gertrude stein  wrote of another city, there is no there there.  once i realized this, a day or so later, i was fine with it. who needs a downtown when you're surrounded by mountains more amazing than any skyscraper?  there were a few obligatory post-world-war-2-ugly buildings and a couple of obligatory contemporary ugly buildings, the biggest of which looked like it was designed by an i.m. pei with thick eyeglasses.  once away from downtown, there was some lovely, muted architecture--small homes shaped like monopoly houses, which were of various colors, none gaudy.  later i'd see similar houses in copenhagen [whose there is definitely there].

meanwhile, i did see some great stuff. much of the tour was along the beach, and that plus the mountains was all i needed.  but there was more. i didn't much like the sculpture we passed several times, on the beach itself, meant to be a modern evocation of a viking boat.  to me it looked more like a giant upside down cockroach.

i had seen in the travel brochures a picture of a big modern cathedral, hallgrimskirkja, also meant to evoke the viking ships. in the picture it looked ghastly.  when the bus pulled up in front of it, it looked magnificent. we had a ten-minute  stop there, and i went inside, where it was equally majestic. the catherdral houses a huge organ, which was being played in a way even i could recognize as exquisite; when we had to leave i asked the guide about the organist, who, it turns out, was one of the two most admired organists in iceland, and who was practicing for the upcoming sunday's mass. that four-minute piece of concert, in that airy, white splendor, was worth the whole tour.

to be continued......

5 comments:

Jim said...

I think this is one of the reasons I like to return, over and over, to a specific place on vacation and spend a lot of time there. To slowly lose that tourist feeling. To already "know where the bathroom is." To become a semi-regular, even for a short time, at a restaurant or pub. I try not to see everything there is to see, but to see a lot in a small area, then each time expand a bit more. Repeat.

karen lindsey said...

it's wonderful to be able to do that--to even have the luxury of now and then feeling a bit bored, as one does in one's regular life. i have been so lucky--so blessed--to live here in this dutch castle 3 months a year, to greet the storekeepers who are happy to see me back; to lunch with my colleagues who have been here awhile, to note that this building is new, or that one has been painted.

so i like your way of traveling. you lose such thrill of novelty as there is, but in return take the increasingly familiar so much deeper into your heart.

Bob Lamm said...

I love reading your travel pieces, but it's sad the way you put down wandering around on your own in a strange city. Of course if you don't enjoy this you shouldn't do it. Of course if you enjoy bus tours you should go on enjoying bus tours. But some of us enjoy wandering around on our own in unfamiliar cities--even though of course we are tourists. And some of us periodically have terrific experiences and make terrific lifelong friends from wandering around on our own in unfamiliar cities.

karen lindsey said...

bob, i seem to have been saying unintentionally offensive things this week....anyway, i didn't mean to be putting down people who can and do wander around; it's great if you can do it. but all my life i've been told that's the way to do it, and of course when i've tried it i've been miserable. but i realize most people i know would probably dislike the guided tour bus mode that works so well for me. so this is purely me, and as i said, i'm a bad traveler......

Bob Lamm said...

Just as with many other aspects of life, people shouldn't be telling people that X or Y is THE way to travel. For some of us, wandering around on our own in a strange place is wonderful. But obviously for you and many others that approach is NOT wonderful. Your feelings and preferences should be respected.