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Sunday, October 9, 2011

AM I A TRAVELLER OR A TOURIST?

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As I sit here in Vichy it is clear to me that the only thing that counts is what you feel, not what you have. I am resting after a long swim ; I have joined those pensioners who go to thermal resorts to regain their health and to relax. It is comfortable and soothing for body and mind, everything is at hand, and it is not expensive. A comfortable bed, three meals a day, a quiet park, a swimming pool and yoga classes are all I need.


Not everyone who travels is a tourist. And not everyone who carries a backpack is a traveller. I fall in between these two categories. I do not haul a rucksack, sleep in a tent or stay on the road for a longer period of time. Neither do I belong to a bus tour, camera-totting crowd.


Three years ago I decided to go to Paris to brush up my French. I stayed in a half-hostel, half-hotel. In the morning I attended classes and the afternoon was free to do whatever you wanted. I met a lot of people from all over the world and we used to go out every day to soon realize how much the locals hated tourists. Signs on the monuments and beautiful bridges Mort aux touristes! Tourists go away! were hardly left unnoticed. Hadnt I mastered the language, the French would have looked at me with disgust, they told me. I thought they hated those foreigners who owned cameras and who pried their noses into everything. I also believed they hated strangers who did not speak French, which is a very delicate subject for the French since their language is spoken and used worldwide, the French president Jacques Chirac not speaking English for the same reason. Nevertheless, the young French talked to me in English and I did not encounter any language barriers.


Being in Paris I went to Louvre, decided to learn something about fine arts since I was not a good connoisseur of the subject. I spent twelve hours finding out nothing, except that Mona Lisa watches you all the time as you pass her. The tour-guided tourists probably learned more about history and arts. Well, I saw the paintings and the sculptures and in the end bought a book about Louvre and its exhibits.


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I visited a lot of museums and galleries but I soon discovered that it was not my cup of tea. I saw the Japanese tour groups taking photos of everything inside, being led around like sheep by those silly red umbrellas and bells and I giggled. They were in every museum.


What bewitched me about Louvre was its garden called Tulieries. I felt tranquillity in it and despite many people visiting it there was something about it that had magical powers over me. I fell in love with the scenery ponds with ducks, lovely gardens... I soon discovered a similar spot in the heart of the city, called Jardin du Luxembourg. I used to stay there for hours every day - without exception - since it gave me all I needed. I would just sit there, listen to my discman, observe the ducks and the lovely nature surrounding me. I felt calm and satisfied, all my problems vanished the same instant. I met a lot of nice people there, all searching solitude and peace.


A proper tourist cannot stay in Paris without seeing the Eiffel tower which looks so beautfiul on postcards and photos. The reality is completely different - it is just a piece of scrap, rusty iron. The situation changes once you get at the top of it the view of Paris enthrals one.


One of the favourite sightseeing tours are the cemetery ones where the guides take one to see all the 00 graves of famous people. If one is a proper tourist, one will take pictures of the most reputable ones. I paid my respects to Charles Baudelaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg. I did not take any photos or cry which is a common practice at Jim Morrisons grave.


I went on walking tours, visited the major sights, tried local food and took photos (mainly in wish to preserve the spirit of the moment, not to show them to my friends). I do not deny being a tourist, just with a different style of travel.


But who cares about Notre Dame or Sacre Coeur when you have Jardin du Luxembourg or Paris at night? Paris is the most beautiful in the evening. Many people do not know or appreciate it. I read that tourist are looked down on as people unlikely to ever know what the local scene is all about. I am glad I got to know French culture, French way of thinking and their way of living. Tourists who visit nine cities in seven days usually do not remember anything.


I am a tourist with travel tendencies. I like the conveniance of a bed and a shower. I prefer backpacks to suitcases and tend to visit sights without guides. I like to read all about the place I plan to visit to know my way around, and study the maps so that I do not get lost.


Travelling is like a cure for my soul and that is what I do when I am sad - I travel to find inner peace and some repose from everyday life. I am a kind of a traveller in quest of feelings.





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