Two days ago, we found ourselves eating lunch in a carless Swiss village, 1300m altitude. It was a sunny afternoon and we ate facing a snow capped mountain, its top in a halo of light, as paragliders floated down into the valley. The tables were close to each other, and next to us were two aging English women, who lived up to a certain stereotype. At one point, the more talkative of the two said resignedly, ‘Oh well – we’ve crossed another one off the list, getting to here.’ (They also spoke of how early one could go upstairs for a Scotch, and when the bill came, a polite disagreement arose – ‘Mine was only twelve fifty.’ Unhappy wealthy widows forced to travel together?)
   These poor women felt an obligation to their tourism, a list mental or physical which must be ticked. As amusing as I found them, I believe the sense of obligation is usually present in tourism, albeit less pronounced. I know we have been tempted by guilt some days at the sights we have not seen, at the experiences we have not had. Perhaps, as much as anything, imagining the disbelief, disapproval even of others – ‘You went to Paris and didn’t see the Mona Lisa?’
   Of course, it’s silly, and I am determined to balance some sightseeing with leisurely eating and unashamed relaxing. Yet the feeling remains, and really it is to revisit the theme of my previous post on photography: tourism as consuming. At what point is a sight consumed? What sort of satisfaction does it bring?
   It is, of course, better to think of sights experienced rather than consumed. We see sights to experience them: to encounter something wondrous, quaint, inspiring, or at least interesting.
   Yet to confuse my use of the word ‘experience’ by returning to the tour bus full of young adults I mentioned last time, I think we could distinguish two different approaches to the meaning of tourism: tourism as sightseeing and tourism as experiences. The divide is generational, and it it is a blunt generalisation. But the same backpackers unmoved by the Swiss mountains and lakes were signing up to white water rafting and rope climbing. The attraction is not the sights, but activities. And events: the bus host told of the hordes about to descend on Munich for Oktoberfest, and the hordes who had just come from La Tomatina, the tomato throwing festival.  It would seem that tourism, for them, is tied up to experiencing events and activities – and probably just as much, backpacker culture itself. Not the culture of the place one is staying in, but the solidarity of being there with other young people finding themselves. (Of course, it is an illusion or conceit of tourism that we can ever experience anything as the locals experience it; I don’t know if it is more authentic to not even try or to be proud of the  little moments which seem authentic to us.)
  And now I leave this post unpolished in order to be in time for my reservation at Lucerne’s best restaurant. I have not even discussed food and its role in the meaning of tourism!