In my 25 years long career as a tour leader and tour guide I had the privilege of travelling to several Countries and to operate every possible aspect of the tourism industry, spanning from big groups to individual travellers. In both case I had the chance to spend plenty of time with amazing people from every continent, all from different cultural and educational background and with different habits.
Education and culture are the key factors to make a country’s people, thus influencing our views over other traditions, spanning from arts, architecture, food, language and idiomatic expressions that may turn a happy chat into an argument just because the tone of voice or the literal translation of a word into another language endorses side meanings.
That is why travellers should be well prepared at time of planning trips abroad and should be well advised. Culture changes from one Country to another, education spans from primary studies in under developed Countries to Phd in well-developed ones. However, it is a fact that, regardless of the extent of our own personal education and our lifelong learning process, under no circumstance we can manage to learn everything about other countries’ culture and traditions.
Despite the above, there are some images that are sculpted in everyone’s mind and make a specific place very unmistakable due to its mass media exposure and press coverage, which is pretty much based on photos and videos nowadays. Thus, I challenge most of you to deny recognizing a picture of the Great Wall of China, or the Pyramids of Giza, the Niagara Falls, the Golden Gate bridge or a Gondola in Venice. All of us are familiar with such places having seen them dozens of times on books, magazines, tv shows, movies, documentaries and so on.
Nevertheless, as a tour leader and city guide I happened to be asked some very funny questions by my dear guests, some of which were understandable, being both of us from different geographic area while others surprised me and made me difficult to refrain from laughing out loud. Here below is a short list of the funniest ever.
1 – B.c. or A.c.?
A while ago I was with a group of students at the Vatican Museums in Rome, one of the largest collections on earth, put together by several Popes and displaying more than 5000 years of world history, spanning from antique Egypt to contemporary arts. Being inside the Vatican City, 99% of what you see is somehow linked to the Catholic religion, thus making it impossible for the museum guides to avoid speaking the names of many Saints, the Virgin Mary and, most of all, Jesus. At the end of the visit, which took us approximately 4 hours, covering the main 3 corridors, the pine nut courtyard, the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica of St. Peter, a girl approached me to ask the unthinkable:
Q – I can’t understand: is Jesus before or after Christ?
A – Neither. Jesus and Christ are the same person
You won’t imagine how her face painted in astonishment before such discovery.
2 – Is that the Himalaya?
The Alps are beautiful mountains and their extension covers quite a long mileage being their watershed, from left to right, the borders between Italy and France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. Although the Alps are not the highest mountains on earth, some of their tips reach a considerable altitude. The Mont Blanc is the highest, topping 4.810 meters a.s.l., then comes the Pink Mount, topping 4.634 meters a.s.l. and then the Matterhorn, topping 4.468 meters a.s.l. Beside the highest tips, there is one Mount that is definitely the most iconic ever, with an unmistakable pyramid-shaped tip: the Monviso, with an altitude of 3.841 meters a.s.l.
Piedmont, in the northwest of Italy, offers the nicest view over the Alps from every corner of the Region, thus making such Mount visible, even from downtown Turin, the capital city.
I was on a bus with a group of tourist on our way from Torino to Langhe, the wine area of the region. When we left the city behind us, driving along the highway, the Monviso appeared in front of us, shining brightly in the morning sun that usually turns it into a pastel pink colour.
It was in that very moment that I heard one of my passengers screaming loud:
W: “Oh my God, that’s the K2!!!! Isn’t it amazing?!?!
G: “Sorry madam, that’s the Monviso, not the K2. Those are the Alps, not the Himalaya”
At the end of the tour, the woman bought herself an atlas.
3 – Ruins, Ruins Ruins!!!
Travelling through Europe is almost like travelling in time. Even the most insignificant city or village roots back to centuries ago and hides some unexpected historic treasure. Every European city is a mix of contemporary and modern architecture flanked by Baroque, Renaissant and Gothic buildings or… their ruins.
Most the ruins you see across Europe deal with Roman Empire. Several European cities were built by the Romans, in fact. For example Paris in France, whose roman name was Lutetia, or Budapest in Hungary whose roman name was Aquincum, or London in England named Londinium, or Seville in Spain named Hispalis, just to mention very few of them. Roman ruins are everywhere in Europe; in some cases are well preserved, while for others you have to use imagination to mentally reconstruct the original building from a small relic that is still visible on the ground.
Among the Roman cities in Europe, founded thousands of year ago, lies the German city of Trier or…Augusta Treverorum. The city managed to keep a number of 2000 years old roman buildings in a very good shape, thus making it easy to understand the how the city was at that time. Among the most impressive ruins, Trier still houses the Roman Baths, the arena, the city gate, and the impressive Basilica of Constantine, the Roman Emperor.
I was walking in the city centre with a group of tourist, led by a local Guide, enjoying the magnificent view over the city gate (Porta Nigra), when a voice from behind me exclaimed:
Voice: “I’m bored!!!! Why did the romans only built ruins!?!?!?