Marolt: The accidentally ignorant tourist
I told you about the time I mistook a water fountain in the basement of a Florence museum for a urinal. We were there very early to avoid the crowds and so there was no throng to follow. My son saw my mistake. He howled, but all I could do was finish my business.
If this was the only idiotic thing I ever did as a tourist you would think it would be enough to make me more empathetic with those who visit our resort, but it is not the only stupid traveling mistake I ever made, and I remain an unrepentant scornful local.
It’s not that I learn from my mistakes away from home. Years ago I drove blissfuly unaware for 20 kilometers along a scenic bike path next to a French river, dismissing the incredulous looks of pedestrians and cyclists as uninterpretable foreign expressions, eventually figuring things out up against a barrier at its end and having to reroute the rental car through a village park.
It was a once in a lifetime mistake, right? Wrong. I did it again this summer on a lakeside Slovenian pedestrian route. To my credit, I figured it out early. The problem was that the path was too narrow to turn around on so I still had to follow it to the end. The awareness made the drive less relaxing, but I will say that the people stepping aside into the bushes seemed more patient than the French were.
We spent some time in Murren. For those who don’t know, the Swiss words for “recreation center” and “spa” are very different, but if you are relying on instinct, the two places can be easily mistaken. The concierge who handed us free passes for the recreation center probably gave us perfectly good directions.
We all headed there together after a day of hiking to stretch out and relax a little. My son and I stopped outside to play some one-on-one soccer in a cool little fenced arena in the town square while the girls went inside the rec center. Later we went to meet up with them, but couldn’t find the entry. We eventually found a lonely stairwell that looked promising.
The signage was poor. I eased an unmarked door open for a peek. Bingo! Inside was as nice a fitness center as you ever saw, although smaller than I had pictured. And, it was completely empty; not even a person at the front desk to check us in.
We figured we would make ourselves at home and hand in the free passes when someone showed up. We found the luxurious locker room and changed. We enjoyed our time very much.
Eventually, we saw the girls out of a window with a throng of others out by a lap pool that seemed too far away. We headed outside to meet them. All the doors we passed through locked behind us.
When the girls asked where we’d been, we pointed and they laughed so hard they couldn’t speak. Apparently we’d just spent the afternoon in an appointment-only private spa. The problem was now that all of our clothes were still in there. The only option was to exit the recreation center in our bathing suits, walk into the fancy lobby of the spa dressed that way, and try the side door again, which somebody had apparently forgotten to lock. Thankfully it worked and the place was still empty, although now I did feel a little uneasy being there.
I wish that was all. We spent a rainy day exploring the underground grottos that drained the glacial melt-off from the Eigor. Amazing! But, very wet. Between the rain and that, people looked like seals in their shiny Gortex.
We had hiked to the site but decided to take the bus back due to the weather. Someone from some other country told me, I think, that you buy tickets once you are on the bus. Stepping in from the rear entrance I came face-to-face with a young woman in all black. I pulled out my wallet and said, “Five please”, holding up five fingers to make myself clear.
She looked at me and raised her eyebrows. I stated my business louder and tried to give her the correct payment for what I believed five tickets cost. My daughter noticed and laughed until she ran out of breath and yanked me away.
Looking back I guess I should have noticed that the woman on the bus was holding a GoPro camera and purse and not a ticket printer and bank pouch. I should have more sympathy for visitors.
Roger Marolt thinks ignorance in a tourist is forgivable as long as it is genuine. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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