Recently I was reminded about a story I have told previously about map reading.
Driving in Switzerland I allocated navigation duties to Kim and we made steady progress towards our destination – Liechtenstein. After a couple of hours we stopped at a restaurant and this gave us time to examine the map again to find the most suitable route and Kim explained how she had carefully plotted a course to avoid places that the map helpfully pointed out as ‘worth a detour’. Kim had interpreted this information as ‘worth avoiding’ when of course it actually meant ‘worth going out of your way to take a look’.
This little memory nudge made me begin to think about some places that we have gone out of our way to visit and then found them to be desperately disappointing. I offer here my top five places worth avoiding…
No. 5 – Vaduz, Liechtenstein
“It occurred to me that there is no reason to go to Liechtenstein except to say that you have been there. If it were simply part of Switzerland… nobody would dream of visiting it” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here Nor there’
We passed into the World’s sixth smallest country and very soon arrived in Vaduz which although looking overwhelmingly dull we felt compelled to stop there and take a quick look.
I don’t really know what I was expecting, it just sounded as though it should be more interesting than it is, the very fact that it has been able to remain independent through two hundred turbulent years of European history should have given me a clue. If none of its more powerful neighbours had taken a fancy to it or annexed it for themselves in all of that time that probably says a lot about its value or its interest.
It is a city completely lacking in interest or charisma, it appears to have rejected completely the enchanting picture postcard charm of neighbouring Switzerland and chosen instead to build a bleak city of tarmac and concrete worthy of the very best Soviet town planners with nothing to relieve the monotony of box buildings and Spartan austerity.
Perhaps this is deliberate, Liechtenstein is a country of tax dodgers and secret bank accounts and the men of finance don’t want too many tourists dropping by.
For an immensely rich place (the Prince of Liechtenstein is the world’s sixth wealthiest head of state) I was expecting something special but I have to say that I found it bone-crushingly dull, the sort of place you might send prison inmates for special punishment, worse even than solitary confinement.
No. 4 – Klagenfurt, Austria
For a few years we were in the habit of visiting different European Christmas markets. In 2007 we travelled to Ljubljana in Slovenia and an examination of the train timetables suggested that we could cross over into Austria and travel to the city of Klagenfurt to see a different market.
This was not a straightforward journey. It was not a direct route and required some time and effort to get there. The train stopped at the border and the Slovenian engine was replaced with an Austrian model and then a few miles later we had to change trains to make the journey to Klagenfurt, we didn’t mind, we were confident that we were going to see a magnificent traditional Austrian Christmas market.
How disappointed we were when we discovered that the market in Klagenfurt was even tackier than the one in Ljubljana – it was full of cheap trash and repetitive rubbish that none of us had a mind to purchase. And there wasn’t a great deal of seasonal good cheer on offer either.
I am sure that the market would be more lively and vibrant at night but in the middle of a cold and overcast day it was just dull and lifeless and minding every stall was someone who looked as though they wished that they were somewhere else.
We hurried through the market towards the city centre but this was in turmoil of improvement works that closed off the main square and the Lindwurm fountain, which is about the only one thing worth seeing in Klagenfurt. I am sure that it is a fine city because it is the sixth largest in Austria and the state capital of Carthinia but the grey clouds made it seem uninteresting and without charm. I do not recommend a visit to Klangenfurt!
No. 3 – Poble Espanyol, Barcelona
On a Tourist Bus excursion in Barcelona we sat on the top deck to just about as far as it is possible to go to visit Poble Espanyol before it turns around and comes all the way back.
This is a showcase attraction built for the 1929 Barcelona Exposition and is a sort of Frankenstein’s monster with various bits of Spanish architecture and heritage stitched together in one open air museum. Whilst this may work at Beamish in County Durham in the UK which restricts itself to the North East of England or St Fagans in South Wales where the exhibits come from a relatively small geographical area it is quite something else to try and bring together all of the differing cultural heritage of a country as diverse as Spain into one setting and succeed.
I found it to be a rather odd sort of place that aspires to celebrate the various regions of Spain but, for me anyway, failed to effectively capture the spirit of the country and it isn’t really a museum but rather a collection of shops and restaurants claiming to sell and serve regional specialities. For anyone who has been to Disney World EPCOT World Showcase you will probably know what I mean.
An interesting thing about Poble Espanyol is that it claims to introduce the visitor to the heritage and culture of each of the Autonomous Communities of Spain and yet it only showcases fifteen of the seventeen and as we left I couldn’t help wondering why the Canary Islands and La Rioja didn’t rate a mention or at least a shop?
The Disney view of the World doesn’t include Spain in the World Showcase, which is an oversight if you ask me, but if it did then something like Poble Espanyol would be exactly what it would most likely look like. It is a curious place, without heart or soul and if you ever take the Barcelona Bus Touristic I suggest that you stay on board when it pulls up here and continue to the Nou Camp stadium instead.
On a countdown of my places to avoid this is 5 through to 3, next time I will reveal my top 2.
Have you ever been somewhere and been terribly disappointed – do tell!