A tale of Discovery

I love travel, and when I was asked by a regional tourist office to write an article about Romaty, I jumped at the chance. Apparently, tourist numbers to Romaty had been dropping year on year and this was affecting business in the city. They hoped the article would reverse that trend and showcase the city to a wide audience.

I had visited a few years ago, so wasn’t unfamiliar with the city. I had a trusty guide book covering all the things a traveller would want to see: restaurants, hotels, sights and sections dedicated to getting around by public transport – all the usual stuff you see in guide books. I liked the guidebook because it was nicely laid out, with big pictures and seemed to cover every aspect of the city from museums to nightlife.

The last time I visited, I got talking to several people.

Paul was a party animal, I found him clutching a handwritten note and marching purposefully towards a dimly lit back alley. The club Le Cool was certainly a find, real music played in a tiny basement to the chinking sound of champagne glasses and thorassic thud of feet tapping in time to the hypnotic beats. We drank litres of gin washed down with anchovies and olives from the bar and watched on as the locals danced towards daybreak.

Jessica and I met in the museum, staring at the same scene. She was an art historian and probably thinking that I knew what I was looking at. I didn’t, I just like purple and the painting was, I calculated, about 78% purple. She started to tell me about the life and times of the artist, how local students would most certainly include an essay on this very piece in degree course across the globe. I thought, I wonder if they mention the levels of purple in this picture. As a scholar, she had access to all areas, and showed me fine pieces of art I won’t forget.

Mark was in his sixties and had run several triathlons, and the Romaty tri was an international fixture. He said people came from the world over to run the Romaty, and was entered again when I met him ploughing up and down the Olympic sized pool. The Olympic park was not mentioned in the guide I carried, but Mark said all the facilities were excellent and underused following the games in the 1970s. It was a mecca for the fitness obsessed, and Romaty still had an active sporting calendar, milking the ties with history.

The return trip

As the tourist office had given me a generous advance, for a simple article, I wanted to meet up with the people I met last time I visited.

I called them all, explained the project, and to my surprise, they all agreed to join me.

It was to be a voyage of discovery. I still had my old guide book, although it was now version 5 and promised to include useful phrases as well as weights and measures, dress sizes and the names of every Mayor since 1890.

We met at the airport, I explained that Romaty was experiencing a loss of visitors each year since we all last met, and that I was writing an article. My plan was to work my way through version 5 of the guide, spend a little time at museums, eat at the best retaurants, go on a couple of excursions and eat at the other restaurants in the guide too. Along the way, I would note what I found and write the article. Nicely ordered – like an audit.

Paul said “screw that”, and headed immediately towards an information desk in the airport. He returned moments later with a handwritten note and a face that suggested he knew where we should stay for the best time. The hotel he had noted on the paper was not in my Romaty guide v5. It was an excellent choice, but there were no stairs. Paul could care less about stairs, but Mark could not stay in a hotel without stairs for more than 10seconds – he feared his fitness would deteriorate quickly if forced to use a lift for even a day or two. Paul appeared to listen to the discussion, then said he was getting the first round in, so we followed him like sheep to the bar…

I learned that the Olympic park had closed to visitors and Mark needed to keep fit in any way he could find – that included using the stairs and not hotel lifts. He said that not only had the park closed, the Romaty run was not on the calendar since the accidental death of two runners that ran straight into river in a freak accident 3 years ago. The city road network had to be re-arranged and getting about was harder now, with safety railings and pedestrian crossings everywhere. In fact, when you looked at what they had done in response to the incident, it was almost impossible to cross the streets when you wanted to now. Safe it may be, but the barriers ruined the view of several historic sites (unless you viewed them from the selected vantage points in v5 of my guide – from all those angles the antiquity looked as good as before). Jessica hated my guide, it was edited with disdain for the significance of the buildings apparently. She said the vantage points in the guide were not the best angles to see the architecture, or to visualize history and that this was bound to irritate scholars and historians alike.

Jessica was now a professor and had hoped to get a sabbatical to Romaty to prepare for a teaching module. The museum was still there, but a collector in the States had been buying up all art that was over 75% purple. The knock-on effect of the collector was that the student field trips and study courses didn’t run anymore, fewer people visited the museum and there was to be no teaching module as a consequence. Paul said that the bars were much less lively, Le Cool now closed at 10.30pm as the clientèle were not as limber as before. The lack of art students was affecting Paul’s nightlife.

We worked our way diligently through the Romaty guide v5. The restaurants were all exactly as specified – 5stars right down to 2stars. The museums were all open when the guide said they would be. The things to do, could be done and the historic sites all looked good from the prescribed angles. On the surface, Romaty looked just the same, except the safety police had perhaps been overzealous with the new pavement furniture.

If I had visited on my own, it would have been impossible to tie the recent changes together and put my finger on exactly what had changed here in Romaty.

Thankfully, I had Paul, Mark and Jessica with me to write the article. The city, as far as I could tell was still functioning, people still went about as before, yet there were certainly less young people and less fit people and less artistic people if you knew you had to look for them. A visitor to Romaty would see a dull, less lively city than the one I remembered.

The guide v5 was accurate, and despite the updates, still a little incomplete as before.

The people I took along with me knew the real causes of Romaty’s decline. Those few days we spent together ensured the article covered all aspects of Romaty and gave the tourist office what they didn’t know – visitors were not returning to Romaty because nearly all the reasons to come to the city had been removed.

Romaty the city was still broadly as it was before, but the full impact of a few minor changes (a missing purple painting, the addition of pavement furniture, cancelled events and removal of the Olympic facilities, and the nightlife had declined as the visitor demographic shifted) would have gone unnoticed if I had come and simply followed the guide.

I needed my friends to help me re-discover Romaty and see the true causes of the decline in visitors.


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