Sunday, 5 April 2020

Five travel destinations that I happily avoid



One thing you will rarely see in a newspaper or travel magazine is a piece that is critical of a destination, be it a city, country or merely a resort.

Newspapers, magazines and TV networks rely on advertising to keep going. So you simply are not going to see stories saying how awful it is to go ocean cruising, or how the people in Marseille are rude and dismissive of tourists.

Such stories would not help generate advertising - and that's the bottom line.

The world is full of magical places. Whether you love food and wine, arts and culture or action-packed adventure holidays there is somewhere that will delight and thrill. I will often review them right here.

Here, however, are five that I do not need to visit again. Ever. Just my personal experiences.

Marseille

In theory I should love Marseille. I adore France, speak the language and lived in France for several years. But while the port city of Marseille can be visually appealing in parts, it is the locals that let it down. The city is often described as gritty - like its inhabitants. Try getting decent service in one of those delightful waterfront eateries; you've got more chance of being mugged at night or coming across a street corner drug deal. Marseille was described in a news story in The Guardian as "corrupt, dangerous and brutal to its poor". Districts like the quartiers nord are more dangerous than Soweto was in its brutal heyday. Head inland to St Remy de Provence or Avignon instead.

Marseille: Not as lovely as it looks
Rio de Janeiro

The biggest city in Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup final and 2016 Olympic Games and while it has probably improved, I remember it from years ago as a poverty-stricken dump full of dodgy characters where you need to have eyes in the back of your head at all times. I had my jeans stolen from underneath my towel on Copacabana Beach after I sat up to show my watch to someone who had asked me the time. I had street kids spray liquid on my shoes so they could "clean" them for me. The massive shanty towns, or favelas, sit right above some of the most acclaimed beaches - and the residents need money to survive, so scams/crimes are frequent. Well worth avoiding.

Bucharest

While cities in many other former Eastern European nations have emerged as tourism hot spots, you'll rarely hear of anyone recommending the Romanian capital for a romantic weekend, or as a gourmet destination. While Prague, several cities in Poland and many in the former Yugoslavia have blossomed, Bucharest remains firmly behind the eight-ball. No surprise. When I visited during the Ceaucescu era I found it a bleak, dismal sort of place - a grey, concrete sprawl with unsmiling denizens. As a western journalist - covering sports, not politics - I was followed everywhere by blank-eyed secret police types. I can't think of a single reason to go back.

Tel Aviv

I'm immediately wary of anyone who considers themselves to be chosen by God above others. The Israelis, however, extend their superiority theories to their everyday behaviour. They love pushing and shoving. Stand in a bus queue in Tel Aviv and it will disintegrate into a mad brawling scrum the moment the bus arrives. And Tel Aviv's international hotels follow kosher rules, which means that if you enjoy a burger and a milkshake you are out of luck - unless you want to consume them separately. Imagine the Irish insisting you must eat fish because it is Friday? The Israeli rabbinate mandates no fewer than 68 guidelines of kashrut (dietary laws). And whatever you do don't mention Palestinian rights. If you enjoy visiting cities where the locals are bolshie and there are machine-gun toting military everywhere then Tel Aviv will be right up your street.

Naples

Naples often described as edgy - which is being kind. It is surrounded by various attractions but is best avoided unless you are in the company of a local. It's a dirty, scruffy place with bag snatching one of the most popular local sports. Pickpockets abound - there are signs on all public transport warning against them - and when it gets dark some very shady characters come out to play.The Neapolitans love to dump their garbage in the streets and the city is home to the Camorra, a Mafia-style secret crime society. With so many other fantastic destinations in Italy, why would you bother unless you are visiting purely for pizza?

No doubt many of you will love some of these cities and feel I'm a bigot or trotting out stereotypes. I'm just calling it as I saw it. Feel free to disagree - or offer your own selections.

# This is an updated version of a story from several years ago.

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