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In Praise of Guided Tours


The following is an excerpt from JEFFREY BLOOMER | January 25, 2018 | Slate.com |

The Vermont State House, on a manicured lot in central Montpelier, is not an original. The previous capitol was savaged by fire in 1857, and little survived, other than the six portico columns that still stand out front. The new capitol opened in 1859 and, fortified against attendants who might neglect the furnace, has stood ever since. The structure is a gem, with lobby floors decorated by the fossils of extinct animals and walls dotted with charming portraits of Vermont statesmen. Admirers of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean should make a hard left upon entry, where they will find a spectacular official painting in which he grips a giant oar next to a lake. This is more than I ever expected to learn about the Vermont State House. I would understand if it is more than you want to know. But I’ll tell you what: I’m delighted to know it.

No one is more surprised by this development than I am. I’ve hated guided tours for as long as I can remember hating things. The risk is too great: A 45-minute visit can turn into hours. You might end up in the thrall of pedant who cares about this far more than he should. You might end up with the guy who asks a dozen follow-up questions about local cheese making. You might have good old-fashioned social anxiety. (The tour guide and her other victims are strangers, after all!) You might prefer to “explore by yourself,” a thing I have said even though it is not really true. And then there is the deeper problem: You might be outed as a know-nothing interloper, a gawky tourist, when all many people want when they travel is to masquerade as “a local.” In a tour group, no matter where you are, you’re nothing but another clueless dork with a camera around your neck. Fumbling over the local terrain solo at least allows you to pretend you belong.

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