Historical Treasures in Travel – Hype vs Must-see?

During a recent online conversation on twitter, a group of travellers got together on #TNI (“travellers night in”) to discuss historical treasures. The question posed on which all could opine was: which historical treasures don’t live up to the hype, and which ones are must-see historical sites you would recommend to anyone?

I knew what my choices would be immediately. Do you?

For me, the Mona Lisa has got to be the number one in the disappointment category.

It was surprisingly small. When I stood in front of it at the Louvre in France, the only thought running through my head was “is that it?”  And I couldn’t get close enough to it.

Of course, it’s beautiful, signficant, and an important piece of work (especially if it is a self-portrait of Leonardo – kinda gives a wonderful irony to that smile). But after hearing about the painting all through my schooldays, to finally stand in front of the actual piece, surrounded by bullet-proof glass, not able to even get a good photo, kinda leaves you a little non-plussed.

Another historical treasure that I found didn’t live up to the hype was the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

Again, standing in front of that freestanding bell tower behind the catherdral, I was struck by the feeling “is that it?”

Of course, it looks wild, and is somewhat of an architectural wonder that the bloody thing didn’t collapse when it was first built over 800 years ago (let alone in the intervening centuries), but after I’d been led through all the tacky knick knack souvenir shops along the way, all I could think of as I did the obligatory pose was “tourist trap.”

The winners, though, in the “must sees” were somewhat surprising to me. Or perhaps, I should say, the speed with which I named them was surprising.

I’m not a history buff, at least not an acknowledged one, but two places stood out to me.

The first was Pompeii in Italy. 

How wild is it to be amidst the ruins of this city that Mount Vesuvius destroyed in 79 AD?  To actually walk in chariot tracks, and to see the bodies of slaves, pregnant women, animals, frozen, and captured in time is really awe-inspiring (and, terribly sad).

It is bizarre to see how the Romans lived at the height of their empire.  The ruins of Pompeii are, of course, a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Then there is another UNESCO world heritage site. L’anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.

Ok, I’m a Newfoundlander. So, you’d think that’d make me overly biased in the positive. But, I think the opposite is true. You never tend to look in your own backyard for wonderment. 

When I visited Norstead at the tip of the Northern Penisula in Newfoundland with my parents, husband, and young daughter, I was truly amazed to see the Viking Village of port and trade.  Actors re-enact what it was like in the first European settlement in North America (500 years before Columbus ever sailed over). 

The 11th-century Viking settlement has been excavated, and you can see the remains of the wood-framed peat-turf buildings. (There are similar ones found in Norse Greenland and Iceland.)


So, can you answer the question? Which historical treasures don’t live up to the hype, and which ones are must-see historical sites you would recommend to anyone?

[Note: #TNI is an online tweetup with other folks who love to travel. The weekly chat is held every Thursday at 3:30 est.  It is run by the folks at http://www.zipsetgo.com/travelers-night , and each week there is a different topic. You have to answer 10 questions in 10 minutes – you post your responses, and then engage in dialogue with others, get inspired, and learn.  Come join the fun!]