The “Frankenstein” list

Frankenstein's monster (Boris Karloff)

I have never seen the film of Frankenstein, but the image of the monster with his deformed face and bolted on head, positively dripping with evil is famous.  I have recently been reading the book, and it has revealed a totally different side to the character of Frankenstein’s monster, to the point where I empathise with him much more than his creator, Dr. Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley’s monster is a creature to be pitied.  Dr. Frankenstein (the creator) obsessively pursues knowledge and spends every waking moment in his quest to bring life to his creation, blind to the wider implications of what he is doing.  Once successful, he is repulsed by what he has created and immediately abandons his “monster”, who is then left entirely alone, knowing nothing of the world or of his place in it.  Everywhere he comes across other people, the “monster” is met with fear, revulsion and violence.  He hides himself away from the world eventually turning his back on it, driven to hatred as a result of his rejection.  However, if anyone could have seen past his external appearance, they would have discovered a kind and gentle character who was incredibly lonely and above all just wanted to be loved.

So what has this to do with travel?

Reading Frankenstein made me think about how quickly we make judgements.  We all do it – we have our prejudices and assumptions about people and places that prevent us from seeing beyond our own expectations.  And this does influence travel decisions; at least it has certainly influenced mine.

So I started thinking about those “Frankenstein” places – destinations that I have been to with the intention of leaving as quickly as I possibly can based on a judgement that it will be dangerous or dirty or there will be nothing to do etc. etc.  But perhaps, like Frankenstein’s monster, had I spent any time at all in these places, I may have discovered that there is more to them than meets the eye.

So here are my “Frankenstein” destinations:-

1. Johannesburg

I never got beyond the airport in Johannesburg.  On the various flights that I took to, from and within South Africa, there wasn’t actually any time to leave the airport, but I did not try to build a stop over in Johannesburg into the trip, and probably would not have left the airport if we did have a longer lay over.  This is a case of Johannesburg’s reputation preceding it – I believed that Johannesburg was a dangerous city and that I would be at much greater risk as a tourist there than in other parts of South Africa.

My only picture of Johannesburg, taken through the airport window

My only picture of Johannesburg, taken through the airport window

I may well have done a disservice to Johannesburg, as these bloggers would testify:-

Adventurous Kate

A Lady in London

Wandering Trader

2. Naples

When planning the trip to Italy last year, I had originally envisaged that we would stay in Naples for the Pompeii leg of the trip.  However, I just couldn’t bring myself to book anything there.  Naples is a city that in the past has been ruled by the mafia, and has a dangerous and seedy reputation.  I was relived on doing further research to find that it would be just as easy to visit Pompeii from Sorrento.

Naples by night with Vesuvius looming

Naples by night with Vesuvius looming

On arrival in the train station in Naples, I felt as if we had made the right choice.  It was somewhere I felt on edge, and very conscious of being a tourist.  I think that was probably a skewed impression based on Naples reputation.  By not staying in Naples, we missed out on seeing what is perhaps a less touristy part of Italy, and in hindsight, I think exploring a city with the constant threat of Vesuvius looming would be fascinating .  Walks of Italy makes a good case for why Naples should not be skipped.

3. Birmingham

I have always envisaged Birmingham to be a huge, sprawling expanse of a city, and for size alone it has never really held much appeal for me.  My only experience of visiting Birmingham is the train station and bus station, where I would often have to change on journeys between Newcastle and Cardiff.  I hated changing trains in Birmingham due to the sheer volume of people – it was always a stressful experience trying to navigate an extremely busy station by myself, with luggage I could barely carry.

I had a 45 minute wait in the bus station once and ventured out into the streets.  I didn’t stay for long, as it was quite a muggy day and I felt that I was breathing nothing but exhaust fumes.  So Birmingham has never featured on any of my UK travel agendas, although I am more and more tempted to visit following the opening of the new library – the largest public library in Europe.

4. Los Angeles

Unlike the other places above, I did actually stay in Hollywood for a total of 5 nights.  I hated it.  The city was overwhelmingly big, and the public transport for a city of that size was poor, so I felt really trapped.  The smog was also some of the worst that I have ever come across – on the transfer from the airport even though it was boiling hot, we couldn’t have the window open as we could barely breathe for the smog.

Hollywood through the haze

Hollywood through the haze

Of everywhere on this list, LA is the place that I would like to return to the most as I think we would do a better job of seeing more of the city now that we have more travel experience under our belts.

5. Sunderland

This one is a lot closer to home, and so a lot easier to remedy.  The rivalry between the Geordies and the Mackems is legendary, and as a person born and bred north of the Tyne, I instinctively have a mild aversion to Sunderland.  A few years ago for work I had to go to court in Sunderland, and had to get a taxi due to a Metro strike.  When I told the taxi driver where I wanted to go, it was as if I had asked him to take me to a foreign country.  When we arrived in Sunderland, he did not know the streets, but he didn’t want to ask any of the local cab drivers for directions as he did not think a Mackem would help a Geordie.  It was a misplaced belief – a local taxi driver did help us, and for the most part, the rivalry is pretty good natured.  However, it is something ingrained into the psyche of the people of the north east, and it is hard to shake off.  I’m planning a day trip to Sunderland in the near future to see the best it has to offer, and I hope that I will be able to take it off my list of Frankenstein destinations.

Seaburn, Sunderland

Seaburn, Sunderland

There are very few genuine stick a pin in a map at random and go there type travellers.  We all make travel judgements – simply by choosing to visit a place we are making the judgement that there will be something in the place or the people or the food or something else that we will like.  By choosing to visit one place over another, we judge that the chosen destination will suit us better than the rejected destination(s).

There are many destinations that I have not been to that I have a similar instinctive aversion to, such as parts of South America and Eastern Europe, and even some of the Northern industrial towns in the UK.  I’m not going to rush to arrange travel to places that I don’t want to go, as there are loads of places that I do and they will obviously take priority.  However, if any of my future travels take me in the vicinity of somewhere that I may instinctively reject, I will remember Frankenstein’s monster and think twice – if I take the time to look behind reputation and preconception, I may be surprised by what I find.

What are your Frankenstein destinations?

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One response to “The “Frankenstein” list

  1. I arrived in Naples for the first time at about 7.15 am after travelling on an overnight train from Brindisi, sleeping in the corridor next to the WC!
    Guess what I discovered that Naples Station was busy and very Italian, and unfortunately English is not much use to work out how to get to Pompeii! I just gave up, lay flat on my back exhausted, took an arty shot of the station clock at precisely 7.15am and couldn’t have been less motivated to explore Napoli if I tried. I did end up in Pompeii that day (or was it Herculaneum-still not sure) but on my return to Napoli proper I just boarded a night train heading to Rome then on to Verona and Innsbruck, and Napoli passed me by. So I reckon like you Naples is on my “Frankenstein” list too!

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