OK, so I suppose many of us know this already. Tourists are jerks. We want to see the world, but we still want the comforts of home. We supposedly want to experience new cultures, but we're annoyed when those cultures don't speak our language. We supposedly want to try new foods, but we're enraged when we can't find peanut butter.
We recently took a long weekend to Italy, which, overall, was wonderful. However, it took almost as long to plan as the trip itself. The great thing about the internet is that it opens up so many new opportunities – new places to stay, new things to see. Of course, this is also the worst thing about the internet. There are seemingly countless B&Bs and hotels, and just as many reviews to sift through. Twenty years ago, I backpacked through Europe armed only with my train schedule and my Lonely Planet book. How did we do this? This was pre-cell phone, pre Paypal, pre every-single-option listed online. Now, the number of choices seems dizzying, and for me, paralyzing. I am terrible at this. It took me almost 2 years to buy a new cello pick-up because I couldn't weigh the conflicting reviews – how can something be both “best equipment ever” and a “worthless piece of junk”?
“The agriturismo was beautiful – out of the way in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany. It was so remote that you could see a million stars at night. But the internet connection was soooooooo slow. We couldn't stream anything.” (2 stars)
“The breakfast, as promised, had delicious pastries with preserves made from local produce, but they were out of the organic honey that was advertised on the website. So disappointed. If I had known that, I probably would have stayed elsewhere.” (2.5 stars)
Seriously, who are these people?
Most of the bad reviews I read mainly focused on things that you can find in America that they did not have in Italy. Many read like this:
“The rooms were clean, but they had this weird shower thing that sprayed all over the floor and the bathtub was tiny. All Italian bathtubs are this way – why can't they make them bigger?” (3 stars)
- or -
“The pizza and pasta in Italy are great, but their breakfasts are terrible. Bread, cheese and coldcuts for breakfast? Haven't they heard of waffles and pancakes? Or at least an omelette? Man, what I wouldn't give for a Waffle House right now.” (2 stars)
My thoughts are that if you won't be happy unless you can eat at a Waffle House, you should probably only vacation in places that have a Waffle House. Go to Georgia or Texas – you'll love it there.
Essentially, traveling to new and different places requires a certain degree of adjustment. If you want things to be exactly the way they are at home, you should stay home. These changes might be uncomfortable, but sometimes you have to roll with it. I still remember traveling with our friends Rob and Lisa in Paris when Rob couldn't even fold himself into the “hobbit tub.” But the sights were beautiful, the staff were so pleasant, and France had just won the World Cup quarter final and Parisians were celebrating in the streets. Even with the hobbit tub, it was still at least 4.5 stars. When I traveled to Greece with my friend Jen, we were excited to order an actual vegetarian meal, only to be served a plate of potatoes and peas. But at least the wine was cheap and plentiful. When traveling with my friends Jane and Hannah and my brother Joe, we stayed at perhaps the scariest hostel I've ever seen. But it made the next night seem so much nicer. And I once took a 28-hour bus trip from Bucharest to Istanbul with my friends Michelle and Cheri. (Not advised - seriously NO stars.) But man, when we returned, did we ever have stories to tell. Yes, sometimes these inconveniences do make it nice to come home, which is also part of the fun of travel.
This time, we stayed for two nights at a lovely little “agriturismo” (farm stay) in the Tuscan countryside. It was not fancy, but the landscape was breathtaking. Minutes upon arrival however, Eric checked the coffee situation and realized that there was only a rusty little old percolator. This could be calamitous. Eric has carefully-calculated caffeine needs each morning to avoid headaches. Were we actually going to have to drink (shudder) instant coffee? We took the plunge, and discovered two things:
1.) Nescafe is not as bad as it used to be.
2.) Even tepid water with overcooked grounds would taste ok if you could have breakfast here.
If we were like some of the reviewers seen above, the review might read something like this:
“Well, it's beautiful, but when they say 'remote and peaceful' they really mean remote. All you can see for miles around is farmland and the Tuscan countryside. Plus, the coffee maker was rusty and the cheap corkscrew broke!” (2 stars)
Instead, it will most likely read like this:
“Lovely, peaceful rural setting, surrounded by mountains and olive groves as far as the eye can see. Our daughter loved the swing and searching for salamanders. Kind, warm, generous hosts – they even drove up and dropped off a new corkscrew after 9 at night. Having breakfast looking out at the Tuscan countryside was amazing – we didn't want to leave. Even Nescafe tasted good here.” (5 stars, plus all those in the Tuscan sky.)