A Reader Writes about Travel

rom time to time, The Antiques Diva™ gets letters from readers that are simply too good, too informative and too well-written “for my eyes only”. When that happens, I ask the writer for his or her permission to share their experience on my site… Today’s Blog comes to you from “Matt in Texas”.

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I’m a pretty lucky traveler. As a businessman, I visit some pretty spectacular cities and, if I’m lucky, see some of the famous aspects of the region or country. But of the 17 vastly different countries, the quilted American states and countless cities I’ve frequented, one thing remains constant. It’s not a food item, not Coca-Cola, not even the automobile. It’s the tourist trap. From the Champs-Elysees to the Orlando airport, the scenery never changes. I plane, train and automobile myself around the families and Japanese tour groups to go directly to my hotel for a quick snack on the ubiquitous club-sandwich from room service. On the way, the tourist traps all look the same.

Somewhere in China, I’m sure, is a factory that makes these kitschy t-shirts and shot glasses by the plane load and every night, the foreman comes in to change the embroidery machine from “San Francisco” to “Panama” or “Brazil” or whatever the next destination needs. Do people ever plan to buy these items? Before a trip, do people sit around and think, “You know, when I go to Costa Rica I’m going to buy myself a rain parka that says ‘I saw the rainforest.’” Of course not. Look around next time, these items are always there for the taking. And your money is what they’ll take.

One long day on my European family vacation, my family was traveling from The Netherlands to Belgium to visit the historic city of Bruges (pronounced like Brew, then a soft j and a silent s). After an uneventful drive from Amsterdam in a rental car, we finally arrived to the city center and stretched our legs. Immediately, my daughter spots a local store that is selling shirts, mugs, Christmas ornaments and spoons that sport the “insert city here”.

“Dad, can I have this t-shirt? It is SO COOL!”

In my best fatherly voice I start in on my lecture: “Emily, why don’t you wait and see the city first and find out if you really want to have a shirt from here. We’re going to see the cathedral, view the Madonna; cross some medieval bridges and have some of the local foods first. I’m sure we’ll see this shirt again when we leave tonight and maybe we can get it”.
Without batting an eye she says to me, “Oh, I hate Madonna!”

(At this point I was sure my daughter hadn’t grown up Catholic).

“Emily,” I say, “Madonna is another name for the mother of Jesus. This is Michelangelo’s only sculpture outside of Italy and it’s of Mary and a young Jesus.”

“Oh. Okay.”

This is all I get. As if somehow I had just ruined my daughter’s opinion of Europe .

So next time you stroll down Fisherman’s Wharf in San Fran looking for the perfect parka or tootle around Time’s Square in search of the world’s largest chocolate Empire State Building…think of me. I’ll be the snickering guy in the suit, taking off my tie and in search of something local, something that locals do. I’m always up for an adventure and it normally lies in the shadows of the tourist trap. Ask me what I brought home from most of the places I visited and you’ll probably get an anecdote about a stomach virus from Brazil or a laundry bag full of pottery from Poland .

Now, to be clear, I’m not the fuddy-duddy father and vacationer this story might make me appear. My closet isn’t void of these items. I do have a nice hat from Key West that I bought the day I went deep sea fishing; I needed one and didn’t have one. I even have a stolen pint glass from my favorite pub in London .

And, let the record show, my “daddy’s little girl” has a pink shirt from Belgium.

Signed,

Matt from Texas