Travel readers on hits, misses around world

You know those destinations you feel obligated to visit but don’t really want to? Travel section readers do. We asked them to tell us about some of the places they were certain weren’t right for them, and here’s what they said. Sometimes, the destination was a wonderful surprise; other times, not so much. Read more online at

Utah, Colorado road trip

What I expected: Thirty hours in a cramped, six-cylinder speeding bullet with our in-laws, two dogs, a suitcase full of bargain basement books-on-tape (intrigue! espionage!) and the assorted body odors, creaks and noises that come with the explosion of ear hair and a disdain for any music made after 1982.


What I found: I pouted as we got underway that June morning. As we passed Nevada and briefly brushed the sun-drenched corner of Arizona, the beauty of our surroundings started to overtake me. The soft, calming, prairie-like foothills of southwestern Utah, with their cylinder agro-sprinklers dancing with the midafternoon sun, gave way to a climbing, rockier and steeple-like mountain range. My dreaded road trip was anything but. Driving through Utah and Colorado is breathtaking, and something everyone must experience. My wife, our pets and my in-laws, however, are off-limits. Only I am lucky enough to claim them as my family.

Billy Mange, Redlands

Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Ariz.

What I expected: I was in a wheelchair, so I had serious concerns about accessibility. We called ahead and were told that the general tour was wheelchair-accessible.

What I found: This is a beautiful and interesting site, and it is still Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural institute. But paths were made of loose gravel. Ramps were metal sheets laid over stairs, their pitches so steep that ascent was nearly impossible and descent rammed me feet-first into the ground. I had to get out of the wheelchair so my husband could wrench the footrests out of the ground. (Thank goodness I was able to get up. I might still be there otherwise.) At several points, I was asked to detour and meet up with the group elsewhere, and once was placed so far away from the group I could not hear the guide’s remarks. Taliesin West is a remarkable site and everyone should be able to experience it. Many of the fixes would not be difficult, especially with all those architects-to-be on hand.

Lorrie Farrelly, Yorba Linda


What I expected: Magic.

What I found: It is a run-down amusement park. It feels nothing like the Disney resort in Orlando, Fla. I realize this park is older, but it is carny-like, even the newish California Adventure. I was looking forward to visiting Disneyland because of my affinity for Disney World and was sadly disappointed. There wasn’t any magic.

Tanya King, Los Angeles

Dubrovnik, Croatia

What I expected: On a Mediterranean cruise that started in Rome with stops in Sicily, Florence and Venice in Italy, Barcelona, Spain, and Nice, France, we also had a stop in Dubrovnik. I was a bit hesitant; I imagined a devastated city ravaged by the Yugoslavian war.

What I found: When our ship docked, I was taken aback by Dubrovnik’s beauty. It was clean, had awesome medieval buildings, friendly citizens and great prices. The city had recovered quickly from the war. This ended up being one of the highlights of our tour.

Robert Garcia, Cerritos

Las Vegas Strip

What I expected: The Strip is an adult theme park on steroids, and it’s easy to be drawn in by the luxury spas, the excess in both food and amenities, the pageantry and people-watching, the entertainment and the colorful light displays.

What I found: I consistently need a vacation from my vacation each time I return, starting with enforced silence for at least three days. The casinos and conference spaces have no windows or clocks and are often filled with smokers. It’s a cacophony of sirens, bells, whistles and horns, and the floor space seems to go on for miles. Every trip out of your room requires hiking shoes.

Kristina Fitzhugh, San Francisco

Pisa, Italy

What I expected: I felt obligated to go because I don’t want to be the only person without a picture of myself pretending to push up the leaning tower of Pisa, but I knew it would be crowded.

What I found: The grassy area of the leaning tower was filled with so many tourists, it was packed like Disneyland’s Main Street during Mickey’s parade.

After walking around the tower, I was disappointed at myself for traveling all the way to Pisa only to become trapped in a destination that had nothing to offer but a way to spend money.

Shirley Wang, Playa Vista


What I expected: I always imagined Yose- mite Valley as Disneyland in the mountains, with huge crowds and obnoxious people, not what I usually look for in a camping trip.

What I found: The views were spectacular. It was an amazing visit.

David Eaves, Redondo Beach

New York

What I expected: Crowds, noise pollution, shouting, zombie Wall Streeters, jostling, total lack of manners, arrogance.

What I found: My experience was mixed: so much art, so much heritage, but dealing with New Yorkers and the amped-up level of confrontation that they seem to thrive on and their general nastiness was exhausting at times.

Michael Routery, San Francisco

Yosemite National Park: Another view

What I expected: Having secured a coveted reservation months in advance, we visited Yosemite in the autumn of 2005.

What I found: The crowds were thicker than the flies, garbage cans overflowing, traffic gridlocked, hotels overpriced, food terrible, all of it [missing word? ‘it’?] overshadowed the natural splendors. The experience felt more akin to being in downtown Los Angeles than a storied national park. Visitors have loved the place to death.

Maryruth Wilde, Carmel

Disneyland: Another view

What I expected: You pay to travel here, pay to stay, pay to park, pay to get into the park, pay to eat in the park, you pay for a ton of memorabilia for the kids.

What I found: The traffic is horrible, you still walk miles after you park, your hotel room stinks, tickets run you hundreds of dollars, the food is less than average, and your kids break, lose or ignore all those souvenirs you just got for them. Bottom line, you might hate it, but you’ll be back at least five more times before your kiddo hits puberty. Disneyland has a gravitational pull equal to that of Jupiter.

Heriberto Rosales, Sacramento


What I expected: I visited only because my grandmother lived there. She was a delightful lady, as were her friends, but nice people are the area’s only redeeming element, and you can find them anywhere.

What I found: The primary cultural activities are the exact same chain stores and restaurants, repeated every two miles ad nauseam nauseum. No character, no views, no beauty: American shopping mall sprawl at its worst. I will, however, credit them with some decent parks around the country club area and a nice symphony hall.

Lee Bridges, Los Angeles

New York: Another view

What I expected: I hated it because the rudest and nastiest customers that I have dealt with are always from New York. I hated it because it looked way too congested and too expensive. I hated it because New Yorkers are snobs and think their city has the only culture this side of the pond.

What I found: When I finally visited last spring, I fell in love with the diversity, the energy and the freedom of the city. It had everything you could possibly imagine layered in with things you don’t want to imagine. It was dense and crazy and expensive, but it was also exciting and even magical. I vowed to go back as soon as possible.

Anna Hoener, Los Angeles

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

What I expected: Exquisite; amazing craftsmanship, a world jewel. Plus, surrounded by all the abject poverty and beggars missing limbs that is India.

What I found: Next to one of the most posh hotels on this planet, gated and guarded of course. One only need visit once to be simultaneously impressed and sad.

Raena Honan, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Las Vegas: Another view

What I expected: I am 24 years old, from Southern California. I enjoy staying up too late, beautiful women and drinking too much as much as the next person, but I can’t bear the thought of another Vegas trip.

What I found: Las Vegas is a place where simply spending money is the goal, and I am most likely going to be waiting in line to get into smoke-choked rooms or pools. I’d much rather party hard after a day of skiing, mountain biking, surfing, hiking, or a good, old-fashioned backyard barbecue.

Evan Rodriguez, Santa Barbara

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland

What I expected: I expected Auschwitz, the Nazis’ largest, most notorious concentration camp, to be traumatic.

What I found: It was not as traumatic as I thought it might be, primarily because I’ve been to several Holocaust museums that prepare you somewhat by explaining what happened there. Still, seeing it in person means coming face-to-face with real evil, which is something no museum exhibit can possibly duplicate.

I didn’t realize till I got here that what’s referred to as “Auschwitz” is really three different camps. The first camp was called Auschwitz and was a former Polish army barracks. When the Nazis outgrew that, they built another facility a few miles away called Birkenau, which was striking for its massive scale. Row upon row of barracks to house men, women and children, most of whom didn’t last more than a few months before dying or being killed. Along with Buna-Monowitz (the third camp), the whole place was just a gigantic death factory.

Although it was worth visiting, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Auschwitz or Poland. The entire country is just a vast graveyard for what was once a vibrant and prosperous Jewish community. All that’s left now is cemeteries and museums.

Guy Nadivi, Renton, Wash.


What I expected: My wife and I have a list of places we want to visit based on a tier system: first tier, most desired to visit, second tier and third tier and so on. For us, Scotland was third tier -- second tier, at best.

What I found: During a trip to Europe, we went to Scotland with my wife’s parents and had an apartment in Edinburgh for a week. (The rest of the trip was six days in Amsterdam, three days in Paris and seven days in Locarno, Switzerland.)

My father-in-law was keen on going to Scotland, and being elderly with a bad knee, he needed our help. So we went to Scotland for him. And we loved every minute of the place. We rented a car and drove on the wrong side of the road everywhere. We visited St. Andrew’s, Glasgow, the Edinburgh Zoo, Sterling Castle and many other places and things. We so thoroughly enjoyed our trip that Scotland has become first tier and is now on our “must-revisit-very-soon” list. We plan to take a driving tour of the Highlands.

Scotland taught us that having little or no expectations can leave you open to the unexpected and then everything is a delight. No expectations also means no disappointments for those must-see, must-do things that don’t work out as planned.

Chris Brown, Santa Maria

Yuma, Ariz.

What I expected: Yuma, Ariz.ona? In August?

What I found: My daughter had been urging a trip to Yuma since she discovered it was the home of the nearest Cracker Barrel restaurant, a chain she had fallen in love with during a cross-country trip five years ago.

She, my 15-year-old granddaughter and her best friend, and I drove around the Salton Sea, past fields of cotton and date palms, on heat-shimmering highways to Yuma, the second freeway exit, once we reached Arizona. The Shilo Inn, where we had reservations, and the sought-after Cracker Barrel were dead ahead.

We registered and dashed to our air-conditioned rooms: one for the girls, one for us. Next stop, Cracker Barrel. We were seated immediately. Few tourists visit in August, but, in winter, we were told, the line goes out the door.

Mission accomplished, with a day and a night to spare. The temperature was about 107. Hot, empty streets of historical old town led to the Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park.

We returned to Cracker Barrel for breakfast before driving toward Julian and cooler weather.

Lin Humphrey, Claremont


What I expected: Throughout my life, I had been educated about the Holocaust and Germany’s devastating persecution of so many people. I was hoping to be open-minded about the trip, but I was uncomfortable and anxious about my negative attitude. And I was embarrassed about it. I am generally a very open-minded person who enjoys and seeks out new experiences, differences and diversity. But this time, as they say, not so much.

What I found: From the moment we arrived in Germany, I found myself listening carefully to nuance, looking over my shoulder and, particularly in the beautiful forests, thinking about the many people who had hidden and died there. At the same time, I continued to meet people of all ages and despite language differences, was able to connect with them. I found them curious, interested, open-minded and just as devastated about Germany’s past as we were. The forests, castles, rivers, architecture and parks were overwhelmingly beautiful in their serenity and grandeur. I fell in love with Germany. I’m convinced that the more people travel and have the opportunity to interact with others, the more appreciation, understanding and respect will be gained.

Arlene Antonoff, Malibu


What I expected: I can’t count the number of years my husband had been campaigning during our annual vacation planning session to go to Alaska. I had gone as a 14-year-old with my parents and had been less than impressed. British Columbia, which we had passed through on our way, was way prettier, I thought.

What I found: We started with an Amtrak train ride from San Diego all the way up the coast to Seattle. We then hopped on the ferry (part of the Alaska Marine Highway) for three days of cruising through the Inland Passage to southeast Alaska. We visited Haines and Juneau with visits to calving glaciers and Admiralty Island (home of a large concentration of grizzly bears).

We found a level of discomfort in the divide between the red and blue states we weren’t quite prepared for. And the coastal towns along the Inside Passage have been turned into cruise ship destinations with badly rendered totem poles and souvenir shops selling Eskimo souvenirs and seal, beaver and deer fur coats. With up to five cruise ships in port at any one time, the population of the towns can swell by 15,000 people.

But nothing can substitute for being in Juneau when it was announced Sarah Palin would be the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party.

Diane Altieri, San Diego


What I expected: For years my husband has wanted to visit Berlin, because his grandmother had been born near there. So this summer, when planning a Baltic cruise, we also purchased a Eurail Pass to travel around Germany. One of the first stops was Berlin, which I wasn’t too enthusiastic about, picturing dark, depressing areas of Eastern Germany. I was much more excited about going to Prague, Czech Republic, which was next on the itinerary.

What I found: We had reserved a room at the Westin Grand Berlin for two nights, which as it turned out, was in East Berlin. Imagine my surprise and his delight when Berlin turned out to be one of the best stops on our trip.

We loved every minute, with fine restaurants, warm, friendly people, easy transportation and great historical value. One of the most intriguing aspects of Berlin is the wonderful marriage of old, restored buildings with new, modern structures. Not only did we come to appreciate this bright, beautiful city, but extended our stay an additional night. Anyone who appreciates history or architecture certainly needs to have Berlin on their must-see list.

Conversely, Prague, which had been the most eagerly anticipated destination on our trip, turned out to be the most disappointing. From our arrival at a train station outside of the city with interesting taxi service into town, to the overwhelming crowds, constant worry about pickpockets, and extremely high prices at restaurants, this certainly wasn’t the “Little Paris” we had looked forward to seeing.

Mary K. Dana, Huntington Beach

South Florida

What I expected: We had planned another trip, but because of the economy, we compromised and decided to visit his relatives in South Florida. In August. Initially, I was unimpressed with the humidity, the random storms and the bunk beds we were sleeping on.

What I found: South Florida had much more to offer: We saw a shuttle launch, visited the Dalí museum and spent two days in magical, laid-back Key West. So magical, in fact, that we got engaged at the Hemingway House. South Florida went from a begrudging compromise to one of my favorite places in the world. In fact, we’re even considering getting married in Key West, just maybe not in August.

Gwen Cassidy, Los Angeles


What I expected: The Middle East. Why would I want to go there? Even if I hadn’t written countless news stories with the words “war-torn,” “embattled,” “grisly execution,” and the like, it’s a long way in an economy seat from LAX. Did I feel duty-bound to visit? Only if I wanted to be considered a good mom. That’s right: Flying for eons and braving terrorists = good mom.

What I found: Last year, my adult son took part in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem and fell in love with the place. He wanted to return and this time, he invited me.

We decided on the trip with only a few weeks to plan, so we didn’t get the best prices, and once in Israel, there were a couple of incidents that smelled of rip-off. But there were also wonderful explorations of the walled Old City, seeing traditional Christian holy places and feeling that we were living on the edge when a taxi driver took us to Bethlehem. The Dead Sea? Awesome. We floated. We also got pepper sprayed during a protest of a parking lot that is open on Saturdays. And seeing folks around the city with rifles or pistols, we weren’t that worried about terrorism.

Good mom points? Still waiting.

Monica McGarva, Encino

West Coast road trip

What I expected: We dreaded the road- trip for six months. The thought of 60 hours on the asphalt over a two-week span was enough to make me curse Henry Ford. Someone once said, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” I don’t think they were talking about a 3,000-mile road trip with a 2- and 5-year-old, though. Or were they?

What I found: Our itinerary from Los Angeles: Portland, Ore., Seattle, the Washington Coast, Livermore, Calif., and Monterey. Did I mention we have two kids under the age of 6?

Preparation was essential: Michael Jackson and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” in the CD player? Check. Travel bingo? Check. DVDs? Check. The dime/nickel bribe jar? Check. It would be the four of us, in our moving bubble, with nothing to do but relate.

But much to my surprise, the intense planning worked. The kids were riveted by the passing countryside. The restaurant pit stops were like a trip to Disneyland. Our 5-year-old was so taken with Harris Ranch that she requested we stop there again on Day 2 . We informed her that unless we drove backward for seven hours, it wasn’t happening.

Someday soon, our kids will disappear into Leapsters, iPods and any number of electronics that will shut us out. But we will always have the memory of the American ritual we loathed, even feared. Turns out, it will probably be the vacation we cherish most.

Sondi Toll Sepenuk, Los Angeles

Rio de Janeiro and Brazil

What I expected: My husband and I always meant to visit Brazil. His mother was born in Germany but grew up in a large family in Rio de Janeiro. There were many relatives still living there. Some we had met on their visits to the U.S. and some we only knew by name. But now some were elderly and there was even a new baby. Maybe it was time to go. We’d heard all the old stories, but we’d always thought Rio was far and maybe even dangerous.

What we found: We finally made the trip this summer (their winter). Aunt Celia’s first words to us when she and Uncle Jack met us at the airport were “You went to Africa before you finally came here?!?” Nonetheless, there were hugs and smiles and aunts, uncles and cousins drove us all over. We saw Ipanema and Copacabana and marveled at the views from the tops of Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado. As they drove, they pointed out the homes where relatives had once lived, offices where they worked and we even visited the cemetery where my husband’s grandparents were buried.

Rio is magnificent, even with clouds and some rain. It is a city of mountains and beaches, bays and rain forests, fancy hotels and the shabby rainbow-colored houses of the favelas.

After less than a week filled with sightseeing, family dinners and visits, we moved on to other parts of Brazil, promising ourselves we would return to Rio. Our travels took us to see the amazing waterfalls of Iguaçu, up to the Amazon where we stayed in an eco-lodge, on the immense Amazon River, walked in the jungle and adopted a monkey. Last, we flew to Salvador da Bahia where we walked in the old streets of Pelourinho, savored the African influence in the music and food and enjoyed the best caipirinhas (an alcoholic drink)[this necessary?] of the entire trip.

We now wish we had not waited so long to visit Brazil. We plan to take our two adult children with us or, at least, to encourage them to visit on their own. Brazil has a special spirit we thoroughly enjoyed. It is a photographer’s paradise, and as such, we have an album full of photos to enjoy until the next trip.

Elaine Feuer-Barton, Encinitas


What I expected: People said Athens was hot and noisy, stinking with pollution -- but a necessary stop before hitting the Greek islands.

What we found: Eyes stinging from the smog, we arrived at our modest hotel in the Plaka, three pouting kids -- the boys, 13 and 15, a girl, 14 -- and I. Our rooms were closet-like. The air conditioners wouldn’t work without a cord from the desk. “No cords,” said the desk guy, shrugging.

Next morning at 7, I dug the kids out of bed. Whining, they trudged to the Acropolis, beating the tour buses and the midday sun. Two out of three were impressed by the Parthenon.

Athens was having a major heat wave. We made many stops for water and sodas. Sitting at a sidewalk table, we called for service, gulped our drinks then waited forever for the bill. It took more than an hour to walk a few blocks through traffic-choked streets to watch guys in pleated white skirts changing the guard at the Presidential Palace. Cracked the kids up.

In the evening the Plaka came alive with laughing crowds, cheap tavernas and stands selling gyro sandwiches of roasted lamb shaved off a dripping slab. Full of gyros and gloating over wacky flea market bargains -- gas mask, fur rug and jewelry made from auto parts -- my guys perked up. But Athens was over for us. Shucking the crowded city we turned our faces to the wine-dark sea, headed for Mykonos, Crete and Santorini. We never went back.

Jean Shriver, Rancho Palos Verdes

New Orleans

What we expected: We were uncertain about New Orleans, imagining it to be hot, humid, dangerously crime-ridden and the French Quarter lined with strip clubs and crowded with drunks.

What I found: New Orleans was magical. The city loves to eat and party. We feasted at Commander’s Palace, had muffuletta from Central Bakery,[cq? Not Central Market?] po’ boy on Magazine, beignets at Cafe du Monde and a Creole dinner at Mother’s.

Five o’clock at Bourbon Street and St. Peter, Cajun and zydeco music blared from a club on the corner. Just down the block, a rock ‘n’ roll band played, and people were dancing and cheering as if their party was eternal. Across the street electric blues poured from the open door of another bar. In Preservation Hall we were transported to the mid-1920s. Someone in the audience asked the musicians to play a song I don’t think they knew. A horn player started with a melody. The drummer picked up the beat, the piano player, started tentatively on the keys, the bass player kept up a rhythm and soon the other horn players joined in with whatever they thought would work. It brought the house to its feet. The band high-fived one another, and we had witnessed jazz at its improvisational best.

Next day, our guide on the Cajun tour was almost impossible to understand, his accent was so thick. However, as I listened closely, his choice of words and phrasing sounded like poetry I could have set to music.

Patrick Powers, Anaheim Hills

Maui’s Hana Highway

What I expected: I expected a difficult road.

What I found: It was worse than expected. It was the longest and most torturous waste of time: about a nine-hour drive round trip with very few stops. Booooorrrrinnnggg!

Talin Andersen

Temple City

Naples, Italy

What I expected: “See Naples and Die” is an expression that has been used for years to describe the beauty of the Bay of Naples. I had been to Naples several times before.

What I found: The crime and grime I saw during my recent trip astounded me. The young, attractive Russian room maid at the hotel where I was staying seemed to be flirting with me all the time. It appears she was actually flirting with my luggage, the contents of which were noticeably lighter after she had made up the room. As for the “security” wallet I had been carrying on my person, someone in Naples is the proud new owner of 30 British pounds (about $50) and 850 Israeli shekels (about $250). Some security wallet. I want a refund. Some beautiful city. I’ll stick to Florence, Venice and Rome next time.

Richard Rebhun, Los Angeles


What I expected: A long-time friend moved to Cleveland and kept bugging me to visit. I figured she was the only reason to go there.

What I found: I finally relented and was pleasantly surprised. I discovered great restaurants, a revitalized downtown, an amazing public market, an “emerald necklace” of beautiful parks circling the city, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and more. I even went back a second time.

Chuck Zaremba, Oceanside

Cleveland: Another view

What I expected: I have to have a really good reason to go to the Midwest and this seemed like it would be worth it. I live in Seattle, where we have the Experience Music Project, but I felt compelled to visit.

What I found: I am never going to Ohio again unless the West Coast burns to the ground. After the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, I had four days to “experience” Cleveland, which involved mosquito bites along Lake Erie, relatives talking about their trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and people asking me if I go to Starbucks every morning in the rain. It was more than I ever could’ve imagined, -- more uneventful, that is.

Nicholas O’Mahen, Seattle