Friday, 5 June 2009

In praise of tourist offices...


Grasping a guidebook the Gaijin & his girl get off at the gare and grab a cab...

Under arm, in hand the tomes plain to see, Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Fodor or Cadogan; there should be a guide to guidebooks.

Does no-one use Tourist Offices anymore?

We are now in an age when tourists refuse to be tourists. What me a tourist? Heavens no, dear boy! Me, I'm a traveller. I do it all meself, on the Net. But the Tourist Office always sits there waiting for someone to walk in and ask, that is all just ask... They await you with a smile and maybe something else a little special....

But us? We had our Lonely Planet guide and arriving in Nara off the local train service from Kyoto we needed to find an ATM for yet more yen before we could do much else. We could not see where we were on the map in the guidebook and, bizarrely, as the Japanese seem to print maps upside down, the plan of the town erected by a wall on the pavement was no real help either.

"There's a tourist office," Mrs Pondlife said helpfully. "We'll ask in there." In we go - Hello, we're travellers you know, not tourists but we need to find an ATM.

Welcomed by a smiling woman at the counter she greets us in English, reaches for a map and indicates where we are, the location of the nearest International ATM and then asks where we are from? France I reply as Mrs Pondlife says, we are English. It always confuses. Do they mean where are you from or what is your nationality? Not necessarily the same thing.

But no matter, after explanations that take seconds and card filling for management feedback, she looks at us and asks,

"Do you like bonsai?"

Yes, I blurt and tell her I have a few at home. No not in Engrand, but Flance. She moves aside and takes a bright coloured flyer off a shelf and gives it to us and marks on the map she has in front of her, a cross.

"Here is bonsai. Wisteria, in private house. Free to foreigner. She gives me another flyer and the map and after prolonged thanks and bowing, we walk out into the sunshine and follow her directions to the private house, with open gates, and smiling owner gesturing us to enter. We are the only gaijin there and for the next hour we walk in our socks with Japanese visitors and a film crew, marvelling at the most beautiful bonsai'd wisteria imaginable...

Breathtaking in their perfume, staggering in their strength of trunk holding cascading shapes of the most beautiful blossoms, we walk from room to room fascinated.

If we hadn't entered that Tourist Office, we'd never have found this. It isn't in the guidebook.


Travel with a good guide books by all means, but don't forget the local Tourist Office which is usually free...

1 comment:

Steve said...

Good grief that Bonsai is stunning - and the photograph is impressive too. How big was it? It looks weighty and rooted.