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What makes a tourist trap?

For well seasoned travelers, tourist trap establishments are the kinds of places they set out to avoid at all costs. No matter the locale or native language spoken, every city and country has them whether they’re in the form of a restaurant, attraction, or shopping store. However, is it fair to label historic establishments tourist traps simply because tourists seek them out in droves due to their iconic background and history?

One of the most memorable meals I had during my semester abroad in Spain was at Sobrino de Botin in the capital city of Madrid. It’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the oldest restaurant in the world, having been established in 1725. The famous Spanish painter, Francisco de Goya, is said to have worked there is a dish boy; this fact only adds to the restaurant’s incredible past. More importantly for me, it was immortalized in one of my favorite author’s works, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. At the end of the novel, the characters go there to dine on the restaurant’s signature dish, cochinillio asado (roast suckling pig). Although I opted to skip the pig, I still had a delicious tortilla, a Spanish omelet. When you walked through the doors it was like walking back in time. I could imagine Goya carting away dirty plates from diners’  tables in the 18th century, and two centuries later, Hemingway enjoying a loud and boisterous meal complete with plenty of vino (wine).

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A few weeks ago I was dismayed to read a couple of people label it a tourist trap on a post regarding restaurants in Madrid. Ironically enough, both people who labeled Botin a tourist trap were American expatriates living in Madrid. In my opinion, local residents are not going to go somewhere that tourists flock to even if the food is good and reasonably priced. When I dined at Botin, there were definitely Spanish speakers eating there as well. My language ear was not that good to determine whether or not they were Madrilenos (natives of Madrid), but I knew that they were speaking Castillian Spanish as opposed to Latin American Spanish. This proves that some Spaniards did not regard it as a tourist trap.

The last time I was in Paris, I made sure that D and I had a drink and something to eat at Les Deux Magots, a famous cafe in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area of the city. Although it’s had a long list of illustrious literary and artist patrons, its most famous was Ernest Hemingway, who was a frequent visitor when he lived in Paris during the 1920s. When we dined there, there also seemed to be a sizable number of local Parisiennes, those that stopped in to read Le Figaro while enjoying a cafe.We stopped at Deux Magots on our way back from visiting Montmartre. Sadly, the meal itself was not memorable and neither was the service. However, it is steeped in history which is something I like to partake in wherever I may be traveling.

For me, a tourist trap is a restaurant that has its menu available in six different languages, where the quality of food is sub par, and where the service is designed to churn out as many tour bus diners as possible. An iconic legacy does not make an establishment a tourist trap. Yes, you may find better prices and food elsewhere, but there is little that can compete with history.

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    Ernest Hemingway-a travel idol
    May 4, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    […] Frederich and Catherine travel after fleeing the Italian carabinieri (authorities). When dining at El Sobrino de Botin, a famous restaurant off the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain, I could feel Brett and Jake, two main […]

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