Riga’s spectacular art nouveau Alberta Street is crammed with clumps of senior tourists, trailing behind leaders who hold aloft ping pong bats with numbers… 15, 9 and 27. Every morning monster cruise ships dock in the harbour, and each disgorges tour groups for a quick whip around Riga’s main attractions.
I’ve often regarded such tourists with patronizing pity – those poor old people (or foolish young ones) who are too lazy or ignorant to organize their own travel. But now I’m one of those poor old people myself, having joined a 20-day Odyssey Travel bus tour , ‘The Emergence of the Baltic States’. It’s been an eye-opener, with my fellow travellers and the trip’s organization challenging my preconceptions.
I always assumed that package tourists got only sanitized, superficial experiences. They gawked at architecture, but didn’t understand it. They met few local people, had no interest in local culture and they preferred McDonald’s and Starbucks because of the familiar food and clean toilets. In short, their travel didn’t teach them much about the world. Continue reading