I’m a Tourist

See the people in the yellow caps? That's a tour group! Piazza Rotunda (outside the Pantheon). Rome, 2012

See the people in the yellow caps? That’s a tour group! Piazza Rotunda (outside the Pantheon). Rome, 2012

“Tourist trap”
“Too many tourists”
“I’m a traveler, not a tourist”
The word “tourist” seems to have a lot of negative connotations. The definition of a tourist is one that travels for pleasure. Where did the negative come from? There’s a long tradition of people traveling from their homes to far off places. Maybe the religious pilgrimages could be considered early tourists. In the glory days of empires such as the Romans, Egyptians and Greeks, it’s likely people went to the major cities and centres to see the sights, perhaps get a glimpse of the ruler. These ancient sites continued to draw visitors all through the centuries. Explorers could be considered tourists, too, even if they didn’t know what they were going to find before they got where they were going.

The word “tourist” was first used in 1772. That’s just about the time that wealthy gentlemen began taking Grand Tours around Europe and some of the sites of the more ancient civilizations. They became tourists. Baedeker published guide books and maps to assist building an itinerary. At first, tourism was mainly something that you did if you had money or if you were poor and wanted to go on a pilgrimage. But soon, there were more means of transportation available which got cheaper and cheaper, chiefly train travel which linked widespread destinations. Organized tours companies sprung up. Local people made money guiding visitors. The industry flourished.

The crowds became thicker. And it seemed people in them started to be less inquisitive, more interested in the status of being able to say “I’ve been to…”. They were rude to the locals, didn’t try to speak even a few words of the local language or observe some of the customs. They complained because things weren’t the same as they were at home, as if they should be. That one always baffles me. Even today you hear people whine. If you want things to be the same as they are at home, stay home. The tourist gained a bad reputation even if it’s the case of a minority ruining the reputation for the whole because let’s face it, there are millions of tourists. They aren’t all rude and they don’t all complain. The crowds can be off putting. The attractions and the souvenirs become tacky, with too much corporate influence. But sometimes, corporate sponsorship is the only thing that helps keep them open. That’s not always a good thing but mostly, it is, especially in the case of historic sites. And “tacky” is often a personal opinion. Others might call it kitchy or fun. Everyone has different tastes.

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

People are becoming proud of bragging that they are a traveler, not a tourist, and they go to places that are less popular, more remote, and “live like the locals” as much as they can. That’s great if it’s what you want to do. If you want to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall of China, or the Pyramids of Giza and elbow your way through the crowds, that’s great, too. There’s always a way to avoid the more crowded times if crowds give you the heebie jeebies. You can still living like the locals and see the famous sites, visit the galleries and museums, shop and enjoy a wonderful meal with local wine. Locals do that, too.

As for me, I’m a tourist. I really enjoy historic sites, museums (especially quirky small ones, but any will do), galleries, cathedrals and other religious buildings (because the art is usually superb). I shop a little, take a huge amount of photos and like to try local beers and wines along with my food. As far as the major class “attractions”, I find a large majority of them are over-hyped, over-expensive and end up a disappointment. “Is that all there is?” I pick and choose, depending on the value that I perceive it to have for me.

The White Tower, Tower of London

The White Tower, Tower of London

The Tower of London is expensive, but it’s very historic. The Crown Jewels? I’ve seen them but I found the armoury and museum far more interesting. I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower but I haven’t gone up to see the view, which is a bit odd for me because I usually like going up high places like that. I do, however, think it looks amazing now that there’s a sparkly light show at night every hour. The Roman Colosseum was all the better because we booked a tour and heard about the history behind it. That really added to our experience.

It really does come down to personal taste as far as what you would enjoy, what you feel is worth the money and effort. Be polite, be curious, be open minded and be flexible. Go with the flow and be on your toes, too, because another down side to being a tourist is that you might be a target for petty crime, especially in crowds.

Whether you consider yourself a tourist or a traveler, you’ve journeyed away from home to experience new things, different cultures, or just a change of scenery. Whether it’s around the world or a day trip to a nearby location, being a tourist means new memories. That’s never a bad thing.

More views on being a tourist on WordPress’s daily challenge, here.



Travel Theme: Exits

This week on Where’s My Backpack, the travel theme of the week is Exits. To me, that means doors, windows, staircases and all are favourite things to photograph while traveling.

Alnwick Castle Doorway

Alnwick Castle, UK

Below stairs

Fowey, Cornwall

Citadel wooden door

The Citadel, Quebec City

Exit stage left

Not from my travels, but taken at work after a renovation of our offices.

A Photo a Week Challenge: Clocks

Clocks are everywhere and in many forms. When I travel, I often visit churches, cathedrals and castles, many of which have clock towers. Clocks are imperative when trying to make sure you’re on time for a plane or train and town halls and squares often have a clock in them, too. Here in Halifax, we have a well known clock on the side of Citadel Hill, built in the early 1800s. It still has living quarters in it today though there isn’t an in-residence clock keeper anymore. (photo from the N.S. tourism site)

Halifax Town Clock on Citadel Hill

Here are some more clocks from my travels:

York, U.K.

Lanhydrock House, Cornwall, U.K.

St. Nikolas church, Brussels

Brussels Central Station

Floppy Clock by Dali, in the Dali museum, Montmartre, Paris

Niewkirk (New Church) clock, Dam Square, Amsterdam

From the A Word A Week Challenge.

Travel Theme: Stillness

Where’s My Backpack has a weekly travel theme and this week’s is Stillness. Many of the posts I’ve seen so far show still waters and reflections. I tried to find a few different ideas on the theme.

Cemetery at a Salford church

Cemeteries always invoke an atmosphere of peace and stillness. Salford, UK

Sunrise over the highlands from Skye

Sunrise is a very quiet time of day as a rule. Mainland Scotland from Broadford, Isle of Skye.

Inside Trinity church, York

There is always stillness inside a church, especially the older ones. Even with people inside looking around or sitting and thinking, I find that quietness pervades. Trinity Church, York, UK


Ruins of castles and churches and abbeys always seem still and quiet, dignified even when the tourists are busy walking around but even better without. Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire


DP Challenge – Curve

This week’s Daily Post challenge is Curve

From the travel archive:

The curves of the seashore. Bay of Fundy near Blomidon, Nova Scotia

Lake District, England

Cabot Trail, MacKenzie Mountain, Nova Scotia.

1954 MG

The curves of a classic car, 1954 MG, Lakeland Motor Museum. UK

Morrin centre library

Morrin Centre, Quebec City, Canada. The only English library inside the old city walls


Daily Prompt: City

Covent Neils Yard 2014

Neil’s Yard, London

WordPress Daily Prompt hands out a word every day for inspiration for bloggers to write a post. I don’t often participate, preferring the weekly photo challenge but City, for a travel blogger, is right up my alley.

Most of the places I visit are in cities. Arriving by air or train, finding a hotel and spending my visit seeing what the city has to offer is the way I roll when spending time in a city. Cities have so much to offer just about everyone. My particular favourites are art galleries and museums and I love to check out the architecture, especially in older quarters. In addition, I have on occasion traveled alone and I generally feel comfortable in a city on my own.

I’m certainly not as widely traveled as a lot of people, but I have had the opportunity to get about a little bit within my own beautiful country of Canada, a few stops in the U.S.A. and a few places in Europe including the United Kingdom most of all. My favourite Canadian cities so far (aside from my own beloved hometown, Halifax)  include Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec City and St. John’s.  New York City and Boston are very appealing though I haven’t really spent a lot of time in either, something I hope to amend in the future. London of course, my favourite, and I’ve been to Manchester a lot of times, too, and like it quite a lot. Other U.K. favourites include Glasgow and York. Other favourite cities include Dublin, Paris, Florence, Brugges and Copenhagen.

Canal in Copenhagen

Canal in Copenhagen

As far as places I’d put on the “To Go” list, places I haven’t been yet…that list includes Stockholm, Prague, Budapest, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Singapore and Osaka among others. I suppose I will never have all the financial resources to go everywhere I’d like to! Our next trip isn’t going to be to any of those mentioned. We are hoping to go to Honolulu and another trip we fancy is to Washington, D.C. and who knows? Either or both of those could be a new favourite, too.

While I do enjoy getting out of a city and seeing the countryside, it generally means you need some form of transportation. Mind you, road trips, by definition, are usually not city destinations, not for us. Road trips are for countryside, towns and villages, scenic views and we like them, too.

Fountain series June

Here’s a new challenge I discovered, with a different theme each month, and I believe all are to do with fountains. June’s theme is unusual details or unusual fountains. You can find fountains in most places, small and large. fountains can commemorate, they can be decorative, they can be very artistic, whether classical or modern. I’ve taken pictures of lots of fountains in places I’ve visited though most wouldn’t be classified as unusual.

In Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, UK, The gardens has an area called the Serpentine where trimmed hedges lead you through a series of fountains whose mechanics are based on physics. Here are a few of those fountains.

Alnwick Gardens Fountain

Alnwick Castle Gardens fountain

Alnwick Castle Gardens fountain

Alnwich Castle Garden fountain - works on centrifugal force. It drains slowly and then fills up again.

Alnwick Castle Garden fountain – works on centrifugal force. It drains slowly and then fills up again.

And a couple more:

Place des Arts Fountain

Place des Arts, Montreal

Victorian Jubilee fountain

The Victorian era Jubillee Fountain, Halifax Public Gardens, Nova Scotia

Pub traditions in Britain

I was reading the latest issue of Discover Britain and in it was a very interesting article on painted wooden pub signs as a tradition in the UK, a tradition that nearly died out but which seems to be gaining interest again. The article isn’t online but I can summarize it here for you.

The use of signs can be dated back to the Romans who used branches of evergreens to alert people that the establishment was a refreshment stop. Evergreens were the symbol of Bacchus, who, as we all know, is the god of wine! The branches, stuck to a stake evolved to twigs over time and by the 13th and 14th century, wooden painted signs started to appear. That became law, in order to easily identify a business that should be licensed (and taxed, of course!)

Often the picture on the sign would reflect the badge or symbol of whoever was the monarch at the time. The white hart was popular as it was the emblem of Richard II. The signs for inns also started to have religious overtones because of the numbers of pilgrims increasingly on the roads. You might see a bishop’s mitre or and angel. One of the most common pub names with a corresponding sign is the Red Lion. It was the emblem of James I but it was also popular on coats of arms and heraldic banners.

Signs also commemorated events and people or something relevant to the local area. A smugglers’ pub was called the Bucket of Blood, buildings that have been repurposed were called by their original use, such as Blacksmith’s Arms, and if a pub is near a guild or factory, you might see it reflecting that.

Obviously, there are various styles and types of signs and these days, wood is being replaced by vinyl signs with computer generated graphics but it doesn’t really have the same quality as a painted sign on wood. There has been a recent revival of interest in hand painted signs and that’s a good thing.  It was all very interesting and I’m going to be taking a closer look out for painted pub signs from here on in. There’s a society for sign painters called the Inn Sign Society and the man that was interviewed for the magazine was Andrew Grundon.

I searched through my photos to see if i had any pictures of pub signs and I found a few though mostly they aren’t that good or close up. I’ve included a gallery of the ones I did have. Now I wish I had taken more notice! Of the places I’ve been, the city of York probably had the most old pubs with signs but they’re all over the country. So many cities are making a point to preserve the historic older quarters, including restoring things like signs and windows and doors. I love browsing the narrow, often cobbled streets lined with old, crooked buildings, half beamed and slated roofs. In the countryside and in smaller villages these pubs and inns are often very, very old.

The White Hart was the heraldic emblem of Richard II. Credit: Inn Sign Society/Martin Norman

Also on the magazine website, there’s an article on the 10 most popular pub names and there are some great pictures of painted signs there as well. The Red Lion and the White Hart are two of the most popular, followed by the Royal Oak and the King’s Head (which, by the way, replaced an older tradition of calling a pub the Pope’s Head. After Henry VIII kicked off at the Catholic Church and became head of the Church of England, people decided they didn’t want to be associated with Catholocism and pandered to the King instead!)

Edited to add: A friend of mine, Rosalind Mitchell, sent me this note regarding pub names

I have long held that pub names should be able to have preservation orders slapped on them, because many have an interesting and quirky history. In my teens I was outraged by a pub in a village near me called The Tilbury (because it had a tilbury [carriage] on the grass outside) became the rather bland and twee Inn on the Green (I believe it is now the Tilbury once again). So outraged that I wrote a letter to the local paper, pointing out some other interesting local pub names – the Candlestick, so called because the guv’nor used to go down to the cellar to fetch the beer taking the pub’s only source of light with her and plunging the bar into darkness. The Baron of Beef was once a butcher’s shop with a sideline as an alehouse, run by a man called George Baron. The Steamer, at the top of a steep hill on the Great North Road, once had an innovative steam engine to haul carriages up the hill in order to spare the horses.


WP Challenge – Numbers

This week’s WordPress Challenge is Numbers.

I’ve decided to find photos of a couple of old dates.

The Royal Apartments, Edinburgh Castle

In the Royal Apartments, Edinburgh Castle. 1566 commemorates the birth of James Stuart, Future King James VI of Scotland and I of England. His mother was Mary Queen of Scots who was forced to abdicate the throne the next year and was kept prisoner by Elizabeth I in England until her death in 1587


Lombard Street

Lombard Street, London. The greater population could not read, so businesses used symbols and pictures on their signs. Sir Thomas Gresham was a merchant and provided financial services to the crown (Elizabeth I) Lombard Street was the banking centre for London and the grasshopper, with TG in the middle, was the Gresham symbol and was used as a symbol for a bank.