Sunday, 15 June 2008

There's tourists and tourists...

This is the time when Cesky Krumlov fills up, sometimes to bursting point. All the little pavement and riverside cafes are busy, with tempting smells of freshly roasted coffee and cakes wafting in the air, the narrow streets echo with a multitude of languages, the river becomes a true canoeists' and rafters' highway, and the riverbanks become one long beach. And if its always true that living in Krumlov feels like being permanently on holiday, it is doubly true in the high season. Because as one goes about on everyday business the pace is slow, as the visitors don't rush about but stroll, looking at the town with wide-eyed wonder that reminds one every time how lucky one is to be at home here, and the joyful shrieks of the canoeists as they negotiate the weirs with their rapids below can't but bring joy to everyone that hears them.
At night, Krumlov becomes one big party, with restaurants spilling onto the pavements, and with well-dressed foreign tourists that admire the lit up scenery mingling with beach-clad Czech youngsters that stroll about in search of a cheap pint, and music is oozing out of bars into late hours.
All this is simply great.
If only....
Of course, everything good has its shadow, and here it comes in the shape of multinational company tourism. The normal flow of strolling visitors gets completely blocked here and there (and everywhere) by tightly-packed mass of confused and stressed herds desperately following their guides, trying to work out where the heck they actually are - having so far managed to tick off a whole string of towns from Paris to Prague and are on their way to Venice or wherever, each stop for a couple of hours and the rest of the time spent like sardines in some coach or another. They come from all corners of the world, but many groups are from the Far East, who tend to walk about with cameras to their eyes, not actually looking at the reality but recording images of it. A lot wear breathing masks in fear of catching some imaginary Czech disease, so all you see of them is a mask and the artificial eye: very weird when 50 or 60 of these apparitions are slowly coming towards you en masse.
Who organises these tours, and what benefit do they bring to the people they so bus around, or indeed to the towns which they visit? Certainly no benefit to the town, or even to the countries their buses criss-cross. Most such tour operators are never local, but some big-business chain. And so the guides, the drivers, the buses, the hotels they stay at, even some of the restaurants they use, usually belong to the chain - meaning the local restaurants, hotels or pensions don't get any business from them, and the schedule of 2 hours per town visited doesn't allow the groups time to even spend anything in the local shops. They only 'spend pennies' in the municipal toilets, leave litter, and clog up the town for the visitors who genuinely came for holidays. And their buses clog up the roads.
Just as well we don't have groups of masked wonders hiring fleets of rafts and canoes. Yet! So hurray for going down the river :-)

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