THE WORST TOURIST IS A TINY ONE
During the off-season, invading armies of visitors withdraw from the museums and galleries of Europe to be replaced by assault squads of schoolchildren. I find them more alarming than bag snatchers. They knock people over and make a great deal of noise. They often appear more interested in inflicting grevious bodily harm on each other than in viewing the exhibits. However, I’m sure their teachers and parents hope that the legacy of these excursions will be a lifelong appreciation of art, and culture in general.
To be fair, jealousy may have jaundiced my view of the little wretches. My own school excursions were a good deal more mundane. I was brought up in a small rural town in Tasmania. In grade one my classmates and I held hands with a partner and trooped off to visit Ray’s Bakery. At the impressionable age of six, the smell of baking bread seeped into my soul. The result is that my overseas travels tend to become pilgrimages to the bakeries and cake shops of the world.
I may be a little shaky on where to find the best example of post-modernist portraiture or abstract expressionism, but I can tell you where to find the best flapjack in the UK. And yes, the statue of David is a feast for the eyes, but so is a well constructed Italian pizza.
As if to reinforce my destiny as a food tourist, the only other school excursion I can remember was to the local bacon factory.
Cultural pursuits are top of the list for most tourists in Paris (including me), but remember; it is not obligatory to spend one’s entire visit in the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay. Why gaze in frustration at the goodies in a Dutch Renaissance still life when you can exchange your euros for the real thing at Fauchon, in the Place de la Madeleine? Food presentation in this famous store has been elevated to an art form, with masterpieces of gastronomy that will blow your mind.
Please don’t think I am a total Philistine. During a week in New York I could have maxed out my credit cards on Fifth Avenue or sought out the Big Apple’s most delicious bagel. Instead, I spent many hours at the Frick Collection, and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unfortunately, just days after I returned home the fine detail of the El Grecos and the Rembrandts began to blur. Meanwhile, the blissful memory of hot pastrami on rye eaten in Central Park remained as sharp as ever.
Travellers often complain of art gallery fatigue, but being a food tourist is far more taxing. For one thing, the hours are longer. In New Orleans the Museum of Art closes at 5.00pm, but you can eat heavenly beignets at the Cafe du Monde twenty fours hours a day. Now there is a serious risk involved in this. I was once scoffing beignets in mindless gluttony when I inhaled a disabling lungful of powdered sugar. Do they deliberately pile on the sugar so that victims have to wash it down with more chicory flavoured coffee?
TOO POOR TO PARTAKE
On the positive side, sampling bakery goods on an international scale is easier on the pocket than completing a tour of Michelen starred restaurants. Mind you, even this is beyond the reach of the impoverished student tourist. On a recent visit to the UK I met some young Aussie backpackers who were existing on one minute noodles and baked beans. Although almost swooning every time they passed a bakery, all they could do was press sad little faces against the window. Fortunately there was some joy in their lives. They told me they had become addicted to jam doughnuts from a Northern supermarket chain – a steal at a pound for a packet of ten. According to the girls the doughnuts were ‘absolutely wicked‘.
In the interest of research I made it my business to sample some of these doughnuts and I agree, they are truly wicked. However, before you set off on a pilgrimage to Manchester and beyond, I should point out that the word has an entirely different meaning in my vocabulary.
Are you a food tourist dear reader? And if so, what is your greatest weakness? You can leave a comment in the box below. Complete the little anti-spam sum before pressing ‘SUBMIT’ or it will disappear into the ether.