This is Melbourne…Wow! (confusing video edition)

Ever wanted to visit Melbourne? Well dear traveler, today’s your (un)lucky day! We’re going to take you on a video tour of Australia’s second largest city like you’ve never seen it before – down streets lined with “fanciful emporiums!” Inside a place where restaurants serve meals chock full of “extrinsic flavors!” and past public spaces adorned with the work of “young genius.” Wait…huh?

If you’re feeling confused (or even a little deceived) not to worry. We are too. Apparently the above production, crafted by the geniuses at Powervision (Asia Pacific), is a tourist DVD intended to wow visitors with Melbourne’s show-stopping beauty, mouth-watering cuisine and buzzing nightlife. We’re not so sure it’s working. Then again, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to visit the “Big Spine”? Give it a watch and decide for yourself.

Photo of the day – Traveler vs tourist

photo of the day

Ah, the good old tourist vs. traveler debate. Every travel blog has inevitably touched on this non-issue of which is more “authentic” or “real.” Can’t we all just get along? Whether you hit the road to check the big tourist attractions off your list or do as the locals do, you’re traveling and you’re not really local, so who cares which way is better? This photo from Mumbai by Flickr user Chris Hoare captures a small market heavy on the advertising from Indian TV channel Fox History & Traveller and the world’s favorite drink, Coca Cola. While a trip to India should definitely include a sampling of local foods and beverages, you could hardly be called a tourist for drinking the same soda the native population enjoys.

Have any travel photos to capture the traveler or tourist experience? Add them to the Gadling Flickr pool and we may use it for a future Photo of the Day.

Are locals rude because tourists expect too much?

do tourists expect too much?We’re all familiar with the “rude American.” And, I’m sure we all are aware of the stereotypes involving people in other countries. There’s really no such thing as a popular tourist, it seems, and it isn’t unusual to hear locals described as cold, unfriendly or detached. Sure, there are exceptions to this, but enough complaints have circulated to give the claims at least a bit of credibility. Have you ever wondered why this is?

I have.

I’ve lived almost my entire adult life in cities considered to be among the rudest (Boston and New York), and I probably exemplify the complaints that tourists have about these destinations. I’ve also been a tourist and found that some of the “coldest” cities in the world (e.g., Paris) weren’t bad at all. It’s obvious that there’s a disconnect, and this has been on my mind for quite some time.

I’m starting to believe it’s that tourists expect too much. There’s a difference between being a guest in someone’s city and being a guest in his home. In one case, you make the choice, and in the other, you have to be invited. All too often, we behave as though the former implies the latter. It doesn’t, and when we make this imprudent assumption, it annoys the locals. I get it. I don’t blame them.
I came to this conclusion while riding the 3 train from the Wall Street stop last week (it was involved in the thinking I did at that point after having an experience with demanding tourists). I was running from one meeting to another, and a tourist tried to stop me to take a picture of him in front of the New York Stock Exchange. I didn’t have time, and his face showed a bit of attitude. Also, he didn’t take a second to think that “guy in a hurry” means “guy who doesn’t have time to stop and take my picture for me.”

The problem, it seems, is one of mindset. When we’re on vacation, we do our best to let go, to put the concerns of the workday (and obligations of the evenings) behind us. We want to relax, to unwind. In doing so, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the people at our destination aren’t on vacation. They are taking the kids to soccer games, hurrying to get back to the office after lunch and trying to enjoy a drink at the end of a busy day.

Sometimes, they are too busy to deal with us, and sometimes, they just don’t want to.

It’s hard to blame them, of course. All you need to do is think about how wiped out you are at the end of the day, and then wonder how you’d respond to a tourist trying to stop you on your way home … because he wants to be in a picture that has a local landmark in the background. Sure, there are times when it’s no problem. I’ve taken more tourist photos than I can count for visitors to New York. I’ve also lost track of the times I’ve had to (or chosen to) decline.

When you take your next vacation and find yourself looking for help from a local, be understanding. Realize that you may not be the most important thing on that person’s mind. And if you come to New York, I’d be happy to take your picture in front of the bull, but if I’m running past, let’s do it at another time. Deal?

[photo courtesy of Corporate Secretary]

How to be a good house guest when visiting a friend abroad

good house guestIf you ever have a friend living abroad or meet someone traveling who extends you an invitation to come to their city, take advantage of the opportunity and go visit. Seeing the city with the help and knowledge of a local or native is invaluable, especially if they know you and your point of view, plus it can save you money in travel expenses (see more reasons to visit a friend from Mike Barish, who was an excellent guest last year).After a year in Istanbul, I’ve hosted a dozen or so guests and seen all the big tourist sites more times than I needed, but also had a great time showing friends and new acquaintances around my new city.

No matter how well you know your host, you still should aim to be a good house guest (you want to get invited back, right?). After you book your tickets, here are some more pre-travel plans to make before visiting a friend abroad.

  1. Do your research before you go – When your host asks, “What do you want to do while you’re in town?” you might think that saying “Oh, whatever, I’m here to see YOU!” shows how flexible and low-key you are. What it really does is put pressure on your friend to come up with a plan to entertain you and show you the best side of the city. You may not want to present them with a checklist either, but knowing what sights are important for you to see and what interests you can help your host figure out where to take you. You might learn what’s overrated or stumble upon something no tourists know about.
  2. Bring gifts from home – I’ve asked for a lot of oddly specific items in the last year from visitors from the US – Ziploc bags, Easter candy, and the ever-popular expat-in-a-Muslim-country request: pork. But some of my favorite gifts have been unsolicited: two friends brought me things from their home cities, including wild rice from Minnesota and Ghirardelli chocolate from San Francisco. Imagine what you’d like if you were away from home for an extended period of time: gossip magazines? Beef jerky? Some New York bagels? Just because it seems common to you doesn’t mean your friend (expat or foreign) won’t be delighted.
  3. Give your hosts some space – Whether your friend has a night or a week to spend with you, respect their time and space, especially when they are spending it playing tour guide with you. While I’m lucky to work from home, I still need time every day to answer emails and write fine blog content like this, and appreciate friends who have found other ways to entertain themselves for a few hours. Take the time to do a super-touristy activity your friend wouldn’t be caught dead doing, catch up on the local history, or just go hang out at a cafe on your own. I spent a great afternoon last summer with a visiting friend sitting by the Bosphorus, drinking beer and reading books – no itinerary required.
  4. Share your “fresh eye” with your host – No matter how long your friend has lived in town, they probably don’t know EVERY restaurant or piece of local trivia. If you read about a cool new restaurant, make reservations and treat your host to dinner. Taking a walking tour one afternoon? Maybe your friend would like to learn more about the area too. This makes your pre-trip research all the more valuable and take the pressure off your host to come up with fun new things all the time.
  5. Stay in one night – While it’s a lot of fun to eat out when traveling, it can get old fast, not to mention expensive. If you are in town more than a few days, offer to make dinner or order take-out for your host. Just going to the supermarket in a foreign country or discovering what Chinese food is like in Turkey can be a memorable travel experience. A night staying with your friends, sharing some good duty-free wine (another thing to add to your host gift!), can be a perfect way to end your visit.

Any other tips you’d share with house guests (or hosts)? Leave them in the comments below.

“The Tourist”: Is it worth the trip?

the touristAt the beginning of the new movie “The Tourist,” a mild-mannered American schoolteacher is sitting alone on a train from Paris to Venice. A mysterious and beautiful English woman approaches him, sits in the open seat across from him, and engages him in conversation. Soon they’re drinking wine and flirting over an elegant dinner on the train.

When they arrive in Venice, they are briefly separated, but when the teacher is poring over a map near St Mark’s Square, the beauty pulls up in a sleek motorboat and whisks him off to the Doge’s Suite at the five-star Hotel Danieli, where they end up in a long kiss.

This so closely resembled my own first experience as a tourist in Europe that I thought the movie was a documentary. But then I realized that in this version there were no pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. Now that’s bending the truth a bit too far.


I had been excited to see this movie. I’m a big fan of Johnny Depp, and Angelina Jolie is, well, Lara Croft incarnate, and the movie was shot on location in Paris and Venice – the geographical equivalents of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. So how could this movie not be smoking hot?

I also thought that a movie with the title “The Tourist” might provide some interesting perspective on that old-as-Venice debate about the difference between a traveler and a tourist.

Well, movie-viewing is like traveling. Sometimes you look at the brochures and the postcards and you arrive thinking, “This place is going to be unbelievable.” And it turns out to be unbelievable – but in the wrong way. That’s how it was with me and this movie: I felt like a duped tourist at “The Tourist.”

The plot was contrived and implausible, and the actors just seemed to be going through the motions – there was none of the passion-spark that ignites a new infatuation, whether with a person or with a place.

But let me tell you what I did like about the film: Venice. (Paris, I should note, played just a cameo role in the first 15 minutes of the film.) Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmark presented Venice in the same way that he presented Angelina Jolie: with long, lingering, loving shots. After a while, this didn’t work so well for Ms. Jolie, but Venice handled this treatment superbly, the old pastel buildings reflected in lapping canals, the ceaseless water traffic of gondolas, taxi-boats and barges passing elegantly sculpted facades, the terra-cotta roof-tiles, shadowy side-streets, voluptuous bridges and romantic terraces. Venice at dawn and at dusk, at noon and midnight – we got to revel in a variety of Venetian moods, all of them glorious.

Of course, one could quibble. Like it or not, Venice smells, and the Venice in “The Tourist” looked antiseptic, deodorized. Similarly, the city was less littered and crumbling than the Venice I love, and certainly less pigeoned, and while there were a couple of promising chase scenes, the plot didn’t allow the film-makers to get lost in the intricate and beguiling back-alleys of the city, where its real magic blooms. (Come to think of it, the plot didn’t allow us to get lost in the characters’ back-alleys, either – a real shame.)

But still, in addition to the majestic Danieli and elegant St. Mark’s, the film offered a sumptuous selection of Venetian sights, including the incomparable Grand Canal itself, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and its alluring canal-level terrace in the Dorsoduro district, the workaday Rialto Fish Market near the Campo de la Becarie, and the peaceful, mostly residential island of Giudecca – a particularly rewarding off-the-beaten-path stop for real tourists.

Which reminds me of one new ripple in that old tourist vs. traveler tempest: I was delighted to discover that STA Travel has a prominent advertisement on the movie’s official home page proclaiming, “Visit STA Travel to find trips to experience Italy like a true tourist!” I can’t recall any other time when experiencing somewhere “like a true tourist” has been touted as so exciting!

Is “The Tourist” worth the ticket? Well, as a cinematic traveler, I didn’t get to see the Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie I had been hoping to see, but I did get to savor La Serenissima in wide-screen splendor for an hour and a half, and that was a real trip.