Friday, 16 November 2007

More tourists in legend land

Despite all our warnings, it has come to our attention that some of you are still travelling in the land of urban legends without a map. And just look what's happened to you!

Those dam workers

Tour guides at the Hoover Dam in the United States aren't much better than in the foreign lands mentioned in the previous blog entry. If you want to believe everything they tell you, then this story is really, really true:

During the building of the giant Hoover Dam, with its tall grey columns that tower into the sky, a number of construction workers plunged from the wall to their deaths in the wet cement below.

Their bodies were never recovered, and they still lie cast somewhere in the concrete to this day.

Nowadays, tour guides are officially required to tell you that there is no truth in the rumour, but millions of tourists still insist that it really happened. The vast creation is so big, so inhuman, that they feel obliged to humanise it in this macabre way.

Despite the firm denials of historians, engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation that administers the dam, few Americans don't accept that its great arch is, in one writer's words, "not only a dam but also a sarcophagus".

But wait! According to Wikipedia, there were 104 deaths associated with the construction of the dam. And the story gets even creepier: The first person to die in the construction was J. G. Tierney, a surveyor who drowned while looking for an ideal spot for the dam. And, his son, Patrick W. Tierney, was the last man to die working on the dam, 13 years to the day later...

Liquid glass

It's not just in frontier country that gullible tourists can fall for the patter of tour guides.

At London's Westminster Abbey, the guides show visitors windows that are probably close to 1000 years old, and tell them that the glass has become slightly thicker at the bottom due to "settling".

What they don't tell you is that London would have had to suffer a rather extraordinary heatwave for glass to experience this kind of "flow": in fact, a heatwave that would measure from 270 to 550 degrees Celsius. Room temperature of glass seldom goes above 50 degrees Celsius.

Rome built in a day?

And then there are the taxi drivers. They've seen and heard everything, yet there will always be a tourist who will push them beyond the limits. This one happened (honestly!) in Rome.

A taxi man was driving an American fashion buyer around the city to view the architectural highlights. At each one, the American asked how long it had taken to build it.

The driver would say "two years" or "four years" and so on. Each time the American would mock the effort, saying things like, "Well, in the States we would have had that building up in two months."

Finally the taxi man had had enough. He was driving past the Vatican, when St Peter's Basilica caught the American's eye.

"Now that is really beautiful! How long did it take to build that?"

The driver, quick as a flash, exclaimed: "For heaven's sake. It wasn't there yesterday!"

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