Travelling is an enlightening, educational and enjoyable experience, but sometimes also somewhat surprising, even at times, disappointing.
The Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires is the stage for the most gripping scene of the movie, Evita. In the film, Madonna stands on the high balcony of the Casa Rosada as she sings “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”. Far below her, a throng of her emotional countrymen lift up their shiny eyes in an attitude of worship and anguish. I thought the movie beautifully and heroically staged, so imagine my disappointment when I saw the pink palace for myself. This was no towering edifice, but rather a three-story colonial-style building that was painted a pale shade of Pepto-Bismal.
In Copenhagen, we visited the famous statue of the Little Mermaid. It turns out that for once the travel promoters were honest. This bronze statue that sits out twenty feet from the shore is indeed petite, only four feet high. This bronze, created in 1913, was inspired by the famous story written by Hans Christian Andersen, who had in the 19th Century adopted Copenhagen as his home. The bronze is attractive in a diminutive sort of way, but I really don’t understand all the fuss about this piece in a city that is studded with beautiful statuary that easily surpasses the half-fish, half-woman rendering. While we were there, a dark-suited young man carrying a bouquet of flowers walked from the crowd into the water. As he approached the mermaid, the water deepened until it closed over his head. The tourists gathered there stood stunned, mute. After a few seconds the young man re-appeared to the confounded crowd. Only then did we realize that we were part of a low-budget film.
I hate to admit it, but one of my most saddening letdowns was my first view of Buckingham Palace. To be sure, it was many years ago when “Buckhouse” still wore a grimy face like an East-end waif. As a child in school, I had heard this palace described and venerated, so my chagrin at its gray dirty appearance was profound. Silly me. I had expected this home of our Queen to look as grand and as elegant as the old part of Mutual Life, Clarica, now Sun Life Financial Services (Buckingham Palace).
Several years ago, friends visited our tile-hung, ancient cottage in Kent. We were eager to show them the local countryside that included a string of towns that line the English channel. Hastings is one of the more important of these with his historic battle connection. You know Battle of Hastings–1066 and all that. We were charmed as we walked along the shore where fishermen were preparing their craft for a day’s work. Right at the front looking over this scene, an old restaurant displayed a sign, “The Best Fish and Chips in England”. Wrong! Someone must have altered that banner. It should have said “The Worst” (Unloading the Fishing Boats, Hastings).
As an artist and a lover of paintings, I was excited as I anticipated a visit to the incomparable Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. This gallery, founded by Catherine the Great in a city renowned for hundreds of years as a second Paris, beckoned to us as we prepared for a cruise in the Baltic Sea. I was terribly disappointed to find the Hermitage to be a building without climate control or even decent lighting. No funds are available for this temple of art or the crumbling potholed streets of St. Petersburg. The street lights are even without bulbs. It is hard to believe that for several hundred years wealthy tourists from across Europe made a pilgrimage to see this once fabled city and its treasure trove of art, the Hermitage. Ah, how the mighty have fallen.