A Very Slightly Grand Tour – Part One

We have all read of the Grand Tour – the coming-of-age tradition for those of the wealthy classes from Western Europe in the 18th and 19th century. France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and then back again over several months. Sometimes it extended to years if side trips could be made to the Ottoman empire or to eastern Europe. Tourists came back with a wealth of art, impressions, and diseases.

Of course it can all be done very much more rapidly these days, and from anywhere in the world. A quick whisk through all the capitals is no more than a Eurail pass away, and you can cram several cathedrals and palazzi in a day – with time to spare for the bar and the duty-free on the way home. If I wish to meet foreigners and hear the exotic patois of their languages I need not leave the comfort of my own city – they’ve come here these days. A smart-card bus ticket and a day will let me see Europe, Asia, Africa, and parts of South America all spread out over Perth.

But where can I go to tour grandly? If not in culture, and not in pure distance travelled, I think the southwest of my own state is a very good place to start.

It is possible, by dint of grind and caffeine, to use the modern freeway and highway system to circle the southwest from Perth to Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough, Augusta, Walpole, Albany, then back to Perth in a day. You won’t get to see all the sights and you won’t have fun, but you can do it. But if you add a few days to experience all the stops the tension goes and the fun seeps back in. Food, drink, trinkets, art, scenery, yokels, it’s all there. And I am looking very hard at adding another factor to the equation: theatre…the theatre of living history.

It won’t be public theatre – so much of the best living history is played to an audience of the actors alone. It won’t be dramatic theatre – because the WA southwest is not the cockpit of anything. But if it can be done right, it may prove to be as delightful an experience as anything that 18th century Europe could throw up. More plans to come…

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A Holiday Is Not A Vacation

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And a Vacation is not a Tour. And a Tour is not a Journey.

And a Journey is not a Holiday…

Welcome to the circle of someone-else’s-life. The glossy brochure discount special website revue of us telling you where to go for a fee, and you paying that fee. It’s Travel Time.

I expect that every reader of this weblog column has taken a trip at some stage of their life. They have set out from the place where they belong and gone to where they do not…and then reversed the process with a bag full of dirty underwear. Bus station sandwiches and airline trays are familiar fare. They have arrived at accomodation that does not match the brochure with no alternative available. They have discovered that there are extras on the bill. They are seasoned travellers, and the seasoning is either salt or ashes…

Well, take heart. It is possible to find the good and avoid the bad. You can attain peace and happiness and recruit your frazzled nerves  during a well-earned break. Here are some simple tips:

a. Make sure it is a well-earned break. If it is a holiday a week after your last holiday or if it is just another jaunt instead of doing something useful in the world, you are likely to have an underlying feeling of shame. That feeling is real and should tell you to stay at work and get something done.

b. Make sure you can afford the holiday. If you can’t, you are better off staying at the desk, counter, or plough. Debt is not a holiday.

c. Make sure you really want to see the people who live wherever you are going. If they are someone you would avoid in your home town – as being dodgy, dangerous, smelly, uninteresting, or ugly – you can be sure that they will be doubly so in their own country, and they will not have to try to conceal it  – you are going to be the stranger and you’ll have to put up with it.

d. Look at the tourist brochure and see if the sights that they are offering are something that you really care about. If not, you are sacrificing comfort, money, and tranquility for no good. If you couldn’t care less about ancient ruins at the bottom of your street, you don’t need to see them up the side of the Andes.

e. Is the destination likely to put you in danger of death? Or crippling debt? Or shame? Yes? So why are you going? You could get that in the rattier parts of your own town and be home in time to watch Australian Idol. Note: If you are going because the government is sending you to kill people than this caveat does not apply. Remember to pick up your brass.

f. Those people in the travel doco or brochure are actors. The people a metre away from the airport door are not. The former have to be attractive, interesting, polite, and welcoming. The latter – no. Expect ugly, rude, and greedy. Hell, you get that at the local IGA on Thursday Pensioner Day, so why should Middle Europe be any different. It’s the same damn people…

g. If they tell you that you need an International Drivers License it is because they wish to fleece you for petrol, insurance, repairs, and baksheesh. If they tell you that you do not need one, it is because they wish to fleece you for all the above plus a local permit to apply for a permit to apply for…

h. Militia. The common characteristics of militia in any country are that they carry firearms and that they want you to give them money. John Dillinger would have been a militiaman if he had thought of it.

i. If you go to a country where you can officially drink you will be sold expensive bad liquor. If you go to a country where they forbid drink you will be sold expensive bad liquor and then fined for buying it. If they have been drinking it themselves you may be beaten in the bargain, for the sake of God’s pleasure. Don’t expect that to make sense, but reflect that they do not sell bad liquor at Dan Murphy’s and they rarely beat the customers.

j. If you throw a cardboard box of old clothes into the back of a ute you can drive it on vacation for free. If you lift it onto the counter of an airline company you can pay a stiff price for the same old clothes’ vacation. If you take the ute rather than the Boeing, your clothes usually arrive at the same time you do.

k. Try something out this weekend. Find the smallest and hardest seat in your house, put up a partition either side so that you cannot move your arms, sit down in it, turn on your stereo set with the sound of a jet motor whining at about 95 dB, and stay there for 24 hours. Every four hours have someone bring you coffee or baby food in a tray. Allow yourself one toilet break.

At the end of this, stand in the lounge room for 45 minutes slowly shuffling forward. At the end of the 45 minutes ask your next door neighbour to sneer at you.

Welcome to London.