Travel indispensables

Travel indispensables
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First Published: Wed, Feb 10 2010. 10 47 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Feb 10 2010. 10 47 PM IST
TripAdvisor, the travel community with 10 million registered members and 23 million reviews of just about every place in the world, has come up with yet another of its quirky lists. In an era when face masks and hand sanitizers are up there in the must-pack list with passport and camera memory cards, its members polled on tourist attractions one should keep at arm’s length.
1. Blarney Stone, Blarney, Ireland
The gift of the gab, they say, is a kiss away. So are a million germs, given that 400,000 mouths from all over the world—a conservative estimate, no doubt—touch the stone, embedded in the battlements of Blarney Castle, each year. It’s a bit like drinking from a teacup that’s been unwashed for more than 1,000 years. Yewww.
2. Wall of Gum, Seattle, Washington, US
It began as an icky habit and has blown into a full-fledged, nausea-inducing tradition: Sometime in the 1990s, visitors to Seattle’s Market Theatre in Post Alley began sticking their wads of chewing gum on to the white wall while waiting in queue. After more than a decade, the wall is a sight enough to churn the strongest of stomachs—yet apparently not enough to thwart some wannabe artists from moulding shapes and faces out of the masticated gum. Excuse us for a minute now.
3. Oscar Wilde’s tomb, Paris, France
While he was alive, Wilde’s sexuality was always a matter of rumour and innuendo (and famously, a two-year prison sentence for homosexual relations). After his death, though, his fans had no compunctions about wearing their hearts on their sleeves—or more accurately, on his tomb in Paris’ Père Lachaise Cemetery: The grave is covered with carefully placed lipstick prints. Lip service? We’ll pass.
4. St Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy
Venice is beautiful. Piazza San Marco, even more so. But the hundreds of pigeons that populate the Byzantine buildings and Gothic designs surrounding the square may never allow you to notice their magnificence. At one time, vendors sold food to tourists thrilled at the sight of the fluttering birds. Now bird feed is no longer available in the square but no one evidently told the pigeons that: They are still liable to rush the unwary bystander. And then beware the guano.
5. Forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California
First came the stars, right from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920s to Hugh Jackman and Robert Downey Jr last year, imprinting their hands and feet on wet concrete. Then came legions of their fans, placing their extremities where their idols’ had been. Keep away—or keep those gloves on before you measure your digits against Johnny Depp’s.
The Northern Lights. No, we aren’t talking about the first book in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy, merely the natural phenomenon that is one of the biggest attractions in the high latitudes through the depths of winter, when the skies are the darkest and these celestial lights most visible. Now independent traveller company The Backpacker Co. has put together a trip that will take a group of around 10 people to Finland to witness the spectacular lights. Beginning 5 March, the personalized 10-day visit will also pack in lots of other activities, including rides on local vehicles—snowmobiles, dog-sleds, pendolinos—and panning for gold. The trip costs Rs1.95 lakh per head, including airfare, visas, insurance, activities and most meals. Visit for more details and to sign up.
So much to see, so little time. Planning a vacation in Europe for the first time can be daunting. To ease the pain, request an “I Know Europe”, or IKE, certified travel agent at your regular travel agency. Instituted by the Globus group (next up: I Know America certification), an IKE travel agent is one who has gone through rigorous training on travel information about 26 European countries, including the UK, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey and Russia as well as the Scandinavian and East European countries. IKE agents bring updated knowledge on food, transportation, accommodation, in fact, just about anything to upgrade the comfort level of your holiday. Log on to and select your location for a list of the agents; narrow it down further on the basis of your budget or brand preference. There are no extra charges for an IKE agent.
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First Published: Wed, Feb 10 2010. 10 47 PM IST