Beyond the Scaffolding of Travel

It’s just my luck. Good grief, if Charlie Brown traveled the world, this would probably happen to him at every turn. Maybe I’m caught in an extended Seinfeld episode set outside New York (I did recently drink a beer called Costanza).

Sometimes I feel like I’m touring construction sites rather than beautiful historic sites.

forbidden city
Quite a spectacle to see at the Forbidden City

Just about every time I visit a major tourist destination that I’ve wanted to see for years, it’s undergoing renovations of some sort. I understand the need for restoring artwork and preventing ancient buildings from becoming ruins, but I always seem to time my visits to coincide with such restoration work.

When I visited the Forbidden City in Beijing, most of it was shrouded in scaffolding in preparations for the 2008 Olympics. The Hall of Supreme Harmony was even replaced by a picture; it was a rather disappointing sight. Rather than photograph the buildings or artifacts, I focused on the crowds and the scaffolding.

Isn't the Forbidden City amazing?
Isn’t the Forbidden City amazing?

I had hoped that that would be the end of my adventures in renovations, but it wasn’t even close. In Bangkok, I witness the restoration of paintings at the Grand Palace. Watching people work at restoring historical paintings was more interesting than it sounds.

Touching up the murals at Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok
Touching up the murals at Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

At Angkor Wat, many of the temples were being restored–or, in some cases, saved from encroaching nature. Much of the restoration at Angkor Wat is recent and made possible by international foundations–I was surprised to learn that much of the work was supervised by organizations from China and India.

angkor wat
Welcome to Angkor Wat. Please, use the side door

The restoration efforts are most noticeable at Ta Prohm–many walls have had to be reinforced and braced as the trees that have grown into said walls are forcing the ancient bricks to separate and crumble. While it may ruin a few photo opportunities at the temples, the efforts to preserve what remains is commendable. It would be interesting to see the temples as they were first constructed, but it wouldn’t be such an amazing experience as it is now–it would be like witnessing the newly reconstructed Great Wall of China at Badaling versus the ruined preserved section at Simatai.

This is not how I imagined Ta Prohm
This is not how I imagined Ta Prohm

The trend continued as I arrived in Rome. A fellow traveler at my hotel told me to not bother visiting the Trevi Fountain because it was closed for renovation. My parents and I wandered past it anyway without intending to. It’s beautiful behind plexiglass, but it loses its allure without the water.

trevi fountain
The Trevi Fountain in all its glory

And then there’s the the Baptistery in Florence, one of the city’s oldest buildings and supposedly one of the most beautiful (after the Duomo). It was completely shrouded in scaffolding, but that didn’t stop people from paying to go inside. I decided I had had enough of seeing renovated history after paying to see scaffolding inside the Medici Chapel.

medici chapel
Check out all that beautiful scaffolding in the Medici Chapel

I should just give in to fate and expect that my travels will forever be obscured. Someday I’ll be pleasantly surprised to encounter an untouched relic.

Is there a recurring theme to your travels that’s beyond your control that leads to disappointment? Or does it at least lead to an amusing anecdote?

2 thoughts on “Beyond the Scaffolding of Travel”

  1. Ah I can’t believe that many places have been under construction while you were there! It seems like you just go with it though and accept that it is what it is, so that is a good outlook!
    I am trying to think of a theme that has popped up during my travels but I don’t think there is one! I suppose my extreme amount of sweating tends to put a damper (or at least a comical spin) on everywhere I go. Granted a lot of things I do involve exercise (hiking up to Macchu Piccu, biking over the Alps, etc.) but it seems like great photo moments for me in awesome places involve lots of sweat and a gross looking girl! Oh well.

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