Reflections on international living and travel



Museum d'Orsay - clock 
Museum d'Orsay - clock and people.


The Queues of Paris

Paris, France - April 2023 - by Jeffrey

Have you noticed that queues to get into popular tourist sites have become ridiculously long? You can easily find yourself spending more time in queues than enjoying the place you queued to get into. Booking on-line can help. You'll still find yourself waiting in line, but it will (probably) be a shorter, faster moving queue. Nevertheless, it is a queue and long queues outside usually mean big crowds inside. There were so many people in the Louvre in Paris (see below) that there was a continuous and unpleasant background roar of ten gazillion people in a building with echo-ish acoustics. Sadly, this is sure to get worse unless we do somehing.

Fortunately, I have a solution: ban photography at popular touristic sites. Ban it completely. Allow me to explain.

A generation ago, you could just pop into museums, palaces, cathedrals and other sites. At worst, you might have a small queue of people ahead of you -- perhaps you might have to wait ten minutes or so to get in -- unless there was a special show on. Today, in the big tourist destinations, there are massive queues to get in to the more popular sites; and massive queues outside cultural places of interest pretty much guarantee crowds inside.

And most members of those crowds are frantically taking photos and selfies. Indeed, some are so caught up in snapshotting that they fail to actually look at the stuff in exhibit. For those of us old-fashioned sorts who actually like looking at art and other cultural thingies, this can be frustrating. We have to dance around selfie takers in order to see stuff, doubtless irritating the selfie takers by occupying their Instagram-destined images.

 Again, things were different a generation or two ago. Then, phones did not take pictures. Cameras did -- and they required film which cost money to buy and more money to process. So, snapshots were not free. They were cheap on a per-snap basis. But, if you took a lot of pictures (like many travellers seem to do these days) the cost adds up.


Crowd trying to get close enough to Mona Lisa for a selfie.
Crowd trying to get close enough to Mona Lisa for a selfie.



When Ira and I were in Lisbon a few weeks ago, we experienced substantial crowds. But, that was nothing compared to Paris, which Ira, her sister and I visited last weekend.  Fortunately, we had the good sense to book the popular places (Musée d'Orsay, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Georges Pompidou Centre and Versailles) on-line and in advance. We still had to wait as much as an hour or more to get into the sites. But, the ticketless were in queues that seemed to stretch around the planet. I could imagine some poor couple, coming to Paris for a romantic weekend and spending the entire weekend queuing to get into the Louvre.

Speaking of the Louvre, the first time I was there -- in 1978 -- the Mona Lisa hung on a wall in an ordinary gallery. Sure, it had a number of people around it. But, with a little patience you could get up close enough to really see the world's most famous painting; close enough to see the cracks in the paint. Today, the Mona Lisa has a dedicated room so packed with people that being trampled to death is a possibility. And, even if you get to the front of the room, you are still too   far to see the cracks in the painting or to appreciate the fine detail (in fact, the Mona Lisa is a relatively small painting).


Queue to get into Versaille Palace (with e-ticket).
Queue to get into Versaille Palace (with e-ticket).



So, What Happened?

So, what happened? Where did everyone come from?

I believe a couple of things happened. Firstly, after being confined by Covid for a couple of years, many people have a thirst for travel. And they are attempting to satiate that thirst. Secondly, when airlines had to cancel flights because of the pandemic, they issued travel vouchers to affected passengers. Apparently, many of those travel vouchers are expiring soon. So, people with those vouchers are booking flights with wild abandon.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, travel has become incredibly cheap over the past few decades. My first international journey was in 1978 between New York and London. If memory serves, a cheap economy class ticket then was a bit under US$1000 - say $750 (paid for by my Dad's employer as we were expats). That's not far off the dollar cost of a ticket today. But, if we factor in inflation, $750 in 1978 money is equivalent to more than $3500 in today's money. That's a lot of money, especially if you are buying tickets for a family.

InIn addition, countries like China and the Soviet Union were pretty much closed off from the West. Only the families of high-ranking communist party officials could travel. Today, China delivers tourist by the busload while wealthy Russians have flocked to Europe for years. Ira, who spent her childhood in the Soviet Union says that when she was young, she could never have even dreamt of travelling as she does today.

Oh, and the world population in 1978 was about a third less than it is today. As a result of all these factors, there were far, far fewer tourists invading places like Paris, Lisbon and href="touristless_venice.php">Venice a generation ago than there are now.

On top of all that, digital photography has essentially made quality picture taking cost free. Moreover, social media such as Facebook, Instagram and others allow dissemination of photos that are all too likely to cause jealousy among friends, some of whom will book exotic trips so they can post their own jealousy inducing images. That's fine and dandy after the trip. But, during the trip, picture takers cluster around exhibits taking pictures and then selfies (with artificial smiles), making it hard for others to navigate the museum.

And, it is not uncommon in museums to see people so intent on photographing things that they fail actually to look at the things they are photographing. And, as much as my generation likes to blame smartphone obsession on the younger generations, the truth is people of all ages obsessively photograph stuff.


And the crowd inside Versailles.
And the crowd inside Versailles.



My Idea

Hence, my idea: ban picture taking in touristic areas. Force people to actually look at stuff without a smartphone interpreting what they see. I am sure people would move along faster and fewer people would even bother to visit cultural venues.

Of course, tourist areas could have special photo zones where people can take photographs and selfies in front of a particular monument. In addition, souvenir shops could sell digital postcards (possibly certified to prove the sharer had actually visited the places the shops were attached to). You could even set up selfie booths, in the souvenir shops, that would allow people to take digital photos (again, certified authentic) of themselves against artwork, palaces or whatever the tourist site might be.

I believe many people would either rush through museums or not even bother with them and just buy souvenir pictures.

This would not bring tourist numbers back to 1978 levels by any means. But, it would reduce the number of tourists considerably, I believe. In addition, it would reduce the congestion caused by obsessive photographers and selfie-takers who would also move through museums faster as they do not need to stop and photograph everything.

Meanwhile, those of us who like actually to look at stuff in museums, galleries and other cultural places could enjoy ourselves even more.



 Soon AI tools will be able to create stunning and convincing photos of you in any tourist site in the world. Or even off the world.
 Soon AI tools will be able to create stunning and convincing photos of you in any tourist site in the world. Or even off the world. But this picture is my own creation (Saturn photo from NASA).



Maybe My Idea Is Not Necessary

Maybe my idea won't be necessary. Soon (if it is not the case already) artificial intelligence (AI) tools will be able to create stunning and convincing photos of you in any tourist site in the world. Or even off the world.

And once there is little to differentiate real photos and AI photos (except, that the AI photos will probably be better), many of those who travel for the selfies and wannabe influencers will lost interest in travel. Why go to the hassle of a cramped, economy class flight to Bangkok when you can get better Thai selfies at home?

But, if that means fewer travellers and more space in cultural sites, I am fine with it.



Selfie of Ira and Jeffrey.
In spite of the crowds, we enjoyed our trip to Paris.
Selfie of Ira and Jeffrey. Yeah, we took selfies too.




In Spite of the Queues and Crowds

In spite of the queues and crowds, Ira, her sister and I all enjoyed our long weekend in Paris. It is a city rich in culture, art and history. Add fine food and a good public transportation system and the result is a great city to visit. No wonder it's so overwhelmed with tourists! And, in spite of all the people, we managed to visit everything we wanted to see.

Below are a few random snapshots from the trip - without crowds.



The Eiffel Tower, of course.
The Eiffel Tower, of course.




Street scene, Paris.
Street scene, Paris.




Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.




Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.




Also Versailles.
Also Versaille.



And one more of Versaiiles.
And one more of Versailles.





And, just for the heck of it, an ugly sort of apocalyptic photo of Paris.
And, just for the heck of it, an ugly sort of apocalyptic photo of Paris.





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