Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Virtual travel

It’s quite a weird affair, this travel writing. I have to admit I do enjoy it, and the writing of my eTravellers series has recently taken me to some great places and made me appreciate them far more than I used to.
The problem is I cannot go everywhere. Well, I can visit all the towns and areas – and even the attractions – which I endeavour to do. But not all of the restaurants.
And that poses a problem. Because then, I am reliant on other people’s opinions rather than my own and can never be quite sure if they are accurate.
For example, using research from websites such as Trip-Advisor usually means that many of the reviews will be written by Americans, who’s opinions greatly differ from my own.
They say things like: the service was dead slow and the portions very small. But then, they are probably comparing it to Burger-king?
Or they mention: the red wine was really nice….when we know they quite possibly topped it up with Coca-cola.
Sometimes there is a one star review by a whinging Brit. You know the type, all beard and encyclopaedic knowledge on the fauna and flora. He will write: The langoustines would have been alright if they had all been the same size – or - we arrived for our table at 8pm, which I booked by phone, 4 years ago and then confirmed by telex, fax, email and text, to find the table wasn’t ready until eleven minutes past!!!!!
Often, it will be up to the wife to write, who says things like: the service was awful, as our waiter didn’t understand English, no matter how loud my husband shouted at him..
I will admit, any review that uses more than one exclamation mark is instantly ignored – as this is usually from insignificant people trying to be heard.
But still – it is my job to sift through this chaff, to try and establish whether an establishment is worth a mention, in a good way, or not at all.
I know, I know – I should write up the bad ones as well, but is that really fair?
If I wrote: …avoid this tardy little café at all costs, because it’s white wine isn’t served at exactly 8 degrees…just on the reasoning of Mrs & Mrs Edwards from Peterborough, I am not sure I would offering a proper service to anyone.
One guy wrote – admittedly he was German – the beaches were far too hot! Yes Günter - this was in Biarritz, in July. Even so, he probably had a point?
In the front of my books, I try and add a disclaimer, saying along the lines of: …the recommendations of this book were accurate at the time of writing and the author takes no responsibility for their reliability…which, in itself is a bit of a cop out, but I can’t add: …because he has never been there, and is relying on here-say…else I would have a thousand angry people on my case.
In my defence, all I can offer is that it is almost impossible to capture a whole French region in 6000 words that will please everyone. Last week a man commented on one of my books saying there was absolutely NO new information on the area that he didn’t already know - and he should know, because he lived there. And by the way, you spelled the name of my local restaurant wrong… and then gave the book a one star!
What did he want me to do, invent things? By the way, Mr Too-cowardly-to-leave-your-name, if you lift up all the cobbles in the Rue de Bastard, you will find a piece of Asterix the Gaul’s toenail!?
Yes, I only wrote 20 nice words on the small town of Nonentity, because actually there is bugger all there - except a river, a supermarket and crappy restaurant by the main road that serves half-cold pizzas and cheap wine that would dissolve your fillings!
But instead of writing this, I used the term – a functional French town, with all amenities but not much in the way of tourist attractions. Pretty fair, I reckon.
My God – an honest Hack. Who would have thought it? They should kill me and have me stuffed!

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