“You’ve got to see…,” they say.
“Don’t miss the… (Insert Monument Here.)“
True or not, there are some monuments that have their own claim to fame. It’s what locals point to, and seasoned tourists nod sagely about. As if every city as an unwritten list of things to see before you depart, and it is everyone’s job to point you in the right direction. Paris? Eiffel Tower. New York? Empire State Building. Do they define a city? Not necessarily. I’d just as soon point to Gray’s Papaya or The Strand when advising someone on NYC.
What’s worse is when you finally do see the thing that everyone has been pestering you about and think: well. You could’ve been huddled up in a café somewhere instead of standing outside in the cold waiting for this damn clock to chime. Truth be told, this was my reaction when I’d seen the Mona Lisa live and in person. Who knew that after racing through the Louvre (with the Da Vinci Code playing in my mind) that I would feel disappointed at the finish line?
Personally, I’m more inclined to a) see monuments that have a story or are generally lesser known, b) trust travelers I know to steer me in the right direction, c) do my research so I know what’s a tourist trap and what’s not.
For example, Holly and I loved the Clock Museum (aka The Palace of Time) in Jerez, Spain. It was WAY off the beaten path, super weird and charming. Thank you to whomever wrote that in the Fodor’s guide. I didn’t see what all the fuss was about with the IAmAmsterdam sign in the city of the same name (I was focused on nearby Van Gogh). People flock to the peeing statue (Mannekin Pis) in Brussels, Belgium. The astronomical clock in Prague, Czech Republic draws a crowd at every chime. Worth it? Maybe.
On my recent trip to California, I was able to visit an awesome monument that I’d never heard of before. Watts Towers, tucked into a small neighborhood in Los Angeles, are a work of art. Visiting my artist friend and LA native Natalie also guaranteed an insider look at the local art scene. She knew the story of the Italian immigrant who had come to California and spent over three decades using found objects to build this unique fortress of art.
History says that the artist eventually abandoned his project, and the neighborhood that was giving him grief. It was almost torn down until it was put to the test – literally – by an engineer, at the request of the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts (composed of community members, artists and activists trying to save the site). Once the structure was determined safe, the city declared it was allowed to stand where it still stands today. A small community arts center, free of admission, tells the artist’s story and the monument itself stretches high into the California sky.
A little story goes a long way, doesn’t it?