The Current

Forget Paris: Go to Winnipeg, says author who has visited more than 110 countries

After a recent New York Times article called for the Mona Lisa to come down, travel writer Robin Esrock argues tourists need to stop focusing on hot-ticket bucket list attractions like the famed painting and try some humbler travel destinations.

Robin Esrock says ongoing Mona Lisa conversation points to larger issues with overtourism

Crowds to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris are so big that one New York Times author has called for the museum to take the painting down. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)
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For the many tourists in Paris waiting in line to maybe catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa over the tops of other people's heads, author Robin Esrock has a suggestion: try going to Winnipeg.

"Winnipeg in summer is an amazing place to visit. Saskatoon — cool little city," Esrock, who has traveled to more than 110 countries, told The Current's guest host Duncan McCue. 

"Go up north to Whitehorse," he suggested. "Summer or winter, you go there, you meet the characters, you taste amazing foods and you see nature, wildlife that you haven't seen before."

Esrock was responding to a controversy sparked by New York Times art critic Jason Farago, who argued in a recent column that the Mona Lisa should be removed from the Louvre art museum and placed in its own separate pavilion to help divert the excessive crowds.

The museum's woes, Esrock said, point to a bigger issue plaguing traveler hotspots around the world: overtourism.

Esrock experienced the phenomenon recently at Moraine Lake in Alberta's Banff National Park.

"I was stunned to see just overcrowding, just RVs and and caravans and cars, so much so that they had to close off the road at 10:00 in the morning," he said.

In 2017, these visitors wanting to catch a glimpse of golden larch trees near Moraine Lake, Alta., waited up to two hours for a shuttle bus. (Chris Franklin/CBC)

Esrock, author of The Great Canadian Bucket List and The Great Global Bucket List, admitted that travel writers like him are very much complicit in this overcrowding.

"[Media] has focused so much attention on the same attractions ... the top 10 lists, the bucket lists," he said. "That's what consumers and tourists feel we need to see in order to tick off our bucket list — to have fulfilled an experience."

But those experiences can end up being a real letdown, he said. 

Robin Esrock is the author of The Great Canadian Bucket List and The Great Global Bucket List.

When he first saw the Mona Lisa himself, he said, "I thought there would be God rays and confetti, and angels would be singing with harps. But it just looked like this small painting that was pretty cool — but there were a lot cooler paintings."

Paris syndrome

For some people, the gap between the expectation and reality of a tourism experience can have serious mental health consequences. 

One of the most striking examples is a condition known as "Paris syndrome," in which almost exclusively Japanese tourists experience physical and psychological symptoms like dizziness, hallucinations and sweating upon finding that the city is far from the charmed, rosy image they had of it. Some have had to fly back to Japan under medical supervision.

TOPSHOT - People cool themselves at the Trocadero Fountain in front of The Eiffel Tower in Paris on July 27, 2018, as a heatwave continues across northern Europe. (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)

"[They're] expecting this romantic ideal that they've painted in their minds," said Esrock. "And then they get there and they find it's crowded and dirty and the waiters are treating them terribly, and it's not at all what they think."

Skipping the 'rockstar attraction'

While Paris syndrome may be an extreme example, disappointing travel experiences can happen anywhere.

That's why Esrock recommends focusing less on famed hotspots and more on the surprising experiences you can have in humbler locales — including Winnipeg.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

"A lot of the times the best experiences are the ones that you don't have these huge expectations for, the things you don't plan," he said. "It's meeting somebody on a bus or having an amazing meal in a restaurant you just stumbled across."

"It doesn't have to be the rockstar attraction."


Written by Allie Jaynes. Segment produced by Ben Jamieson.

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