Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

18 May 2008

Quote of the Month

Here’s a new quote from your favorite traveling duo . . . at least we hope we’re your favorite traveling duo. By the way, we love dogs. It’s dog owners we sometimes want to punish by rubbing their noses in it:

“People traveling with their dogs have become the cigarette smokers of their generation—they need their own hotel rooms, their own restaurants, and their own rest areas. Cities have already passed laws against ‘second-hand poop.’”

–Mark Bloom & Jason Scholder (2007)

11 May 2008

For Those About to Rock

This place qualifies as the worst waste of time in tourist trap history. It’s ironic, then, that it wants so much to be considered historic. As W.C. Fields allegedly said: “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” —MB & JS

Elvis devotees have crossed the continent to view a jacket The King once wore on a TV show. Football fans have pawned their wedding rings for a ticket to the Super Bowl. Otherwise normal men have donned leather and fishnets to participate in a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. People will do almost anything for entertainment. But guess how many go out of their way just to see a rock. Would you believe nearly a million a year? It’s true.

The rock in question is no precious gem. It isn’t cursed like the Hope Diamond. It’s a boulder, a slab, a stone immovable except by heavy machinery. It’s an impediment, an eyesore, a big chunk of granite left behind by a retreating glacier millions of years ago.

What sort of rock can wield such inexplicable power over the average tourist? What kind of boulder can boast such superstardom? Think back to your fifth-grade American history class. This stone of contention is none other than Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims are said to have landed on the continent on November 21, 1620.

“I knew that,” you say, like a couch-bound Jeopardy junkie with the right answer after the buzzer. Well, what most visitors say upon viewing Plymouth Rock for the first time is more along the lines of: “You dragged me away from Faneuil Hall for this?”

The historic rock is perched on a beach in Plymouth, a coastal town in Massachusetts about forty miles southeast of Boston (home to Faneuil Hall and other historic shopping centers). In Plymouth in the summer, at the height of tourist season, you can expect to endure long lines, wailing children, hot sticky weather, and building anticipation for a glimpse of the large, rounded rock with the number “1620” etched into its torso. Some tourists actually take home videos of the event. Pity their poor relatives who had to remain back in Ohio.

What the fuss is all about. Take a look, then move on. Quickly.

Protected by a concrete canopy donated in 1921 by the National Society of Colonial Dames, the rock sits in a shaded cage looking somewhat like a sleeping walrus. It doesn’t move. It doesn’t talk. It doesn’t, in fact, teach history at all.

As if this weren’t enough to qualify it for the official Don’t Even Go There Hall of Lame, the rock’s very legitimacy has been called into question. The official story cites Plymouth Rock as the very spot where the Mayflower’s passengers, America’s first pilgrims, set foot in the New World after dry-heaving their way across the Atlantic in their quest for religious freedom.

Hogwash, according to some.

The first published references to Plymouth Rock weren’t discovered until over 100 years after the alleged event. Two sources written by the Pilgrims themselves never mention the rock at all. Think about it. Wouldn’t you have aimed for the sandy part of the shore if you were steering that boat? Why would anyone land on a rock?

Time—and a well-organized public relations campaign by city fathers—have put Plymouth on the map. They’ve made the boulder the world’s first and most authentic rock star, a world-renowned symbol for the courage and faith of those who founded New England’s first colony. Funny how history rewrites itself.

Judge for yourself, but by all means, save yourself the trouble of a trip to Plymouth. That’s our job. If you want to rediscover history, look to a different era or for a different location. It’s not like there’ll ever be a shortage of history. Just like there’ll never be a shortage of travel stories gone bad. Lucky us . . .

Little Known Quote: “Here is a stone which the feet of a few outcasts pressed for an instant; and the stone becomes famous.” -Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835.

Lessons Learned: Beware of places claiming historical interest. At best, they’ll leave you feeling satisfied but vaguely annoyed, not unlike the cheesy residue of a pizza stuck to the roof of your mouth. At worst, you’ll spend precious vacation time waiting to see something as mundane as an empty field or a well-worn rock.

How We Saw It:
Blight-Seeing: 1
Communication Breakdown: 1
Customer Dis-service: 2
Discomfort Level: 4
Grunge Factor: 1
Inactivity Guide: 5
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 3
Fun Fraction: 1/5
Vibe-Rating: 1

If You Won’t Listen to Us:
Nearest Airport: Logan International Airport (Boston) & T.F. Green Airport (Providence, RI)
Native Population: 52,000
Normal Attractions: Plimouth Plantation, Pilgrim Hall Museum, the Mayflower II, and whale watching.
Final Point of Interest: The town promotes itself as “America’s Hometown.”

04 May 2008

Eating as a Second Language

Every once in a while, we like to write about the food we encounter on our trips. Here’s one such adventure. It brings new meaning to the phrase “the truth is in the pudding,” or whatever you call that slop. —MB & JS

German beer halls are internationally renown for their fermented beverages, and rightfully so. German beer ranks as mankind’s second greatest achievement, and it was first until the invention of sliced bread. Even the most loyal drinker, however, needs the other three main food groups, but if you’ve been drinking German “Bier,” chances are you won’t be able to stand, let alone change venues.

Therein lies the dilemma. At least it did for us.

Our German didn’t travel much farther than “zwei Bier bitte” (two beers, please), so we had a little trouble navigating the menu. It didn’t help that seeing double suddenly required half the effort. We’d been in Germany long enough to tire of Würste (sausages) and we were just drunk enough to want to try something new. After all, we thought, the right beer can wash down anything.

When the waitress arrived to take our order, we hesitated, scanning the menu like we were studying a map of Paraguay. She just stood there, staring at her order pad, as if she didn’t know Concepción from Asunción. She didn’t look at us, didn’t tap her pencil, didn’t do anything waitresses normally do.

A long way from home, we felt like goodwill ambassadors for our country. We wanted to do the right thing. The waitress’s unwavering presence forced us to act. An item on the menu caught our eyes. It sounded like cold cuts.

“Kaldaunen,” we blurted out, holding up two fingers.

The waitress returned to life. She jerked her head in our direction. We closed the menu and looked up at her hopefully. Her eyes locked onto ours, but we couldn’t read her, as if her expression were also in German. She left without writing down our orders. We didn’t know what just happened, but we felt sure we’d left an impression.

The meal arrived quickly, and we decided it was probably cold cuts after all . . . until the waitress placed the plates in front of us. It was cold, all right, cold and sort of squishy. Like uncooked flotsam from the wrong side of the flush. We looked up at the waitress, our eyes begging the wordless international question: “What the hell did we do to deserve this?”

“Kaldaunen,” she replied coldly and left us to it.

We poked at the fleshy goo with a fork. It gurgled back at us. Even another liter of beer didn’t imbibe us with enough courage to try it. We were hungry, but we couldn’t force ourselves to taste the shapeless mess that had somehow made it onto the menu.

That’s when inspiration hit us. Beer’s a food, right? It has yeast and carbs and sugar. That’s most of the major food groups all in one. “Excuse me, waitress. Zwei Bier bitte.”

At that moment, an old German man, obviously drunk, staggered over to our table. “Amerikaner?” he slurred at us. After we nodded, he pointed to our plates. “Schmeckt nicht?” When he saw our uncomprehending faces, he translated, licking his lips and taking a deep breath to steady himself: “You gonna eat zat?”

Every country (even the US) boasts “delicacies” that your palate might not, um, accept. When in doubt, ask someone. You might find a sympathetic local. You might find a practical joker. Either way, you’ll have someone to blame besides yourself.

Lessons Learned: Weeks later, we discovered what we had ordered. It was something we never would have ordered in an English-speaking restaurant—something so vile, we were glad we didn’t actually eat it. We had ordered tripe. If you don’t know what it is, look it up, but do it well after you’ve already eaten.
How We Saw It:
Blight-Seeing: 1
Communication Breakdown: 5
Customer Dis-service: 3
Discomfort Level: 3
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 3
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 3/5
Vibe-Rating: 2

If You Won’t Listen to Us:
Nearest Airport: Frankfurt Airport
Native Population: 670,000
Normal Attractions: Cathedrals, Alte Oper (the opera house), Europe’s tallest building (Commerzbank Tower), shopping, museums, music, and fine dining . . . in German, of course.
Final Point of Interest: Founded in the 1st century, Frankfurt is now a modern German city, with skyscrapers, public transportation, and a booming sex trade (second only to Hamburg).