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Travel Essays & Travelogues

The End of Elsewhere

Travels Among the Tourists

by (author) Taras Grescoe

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Jan 2006
Essays & Travelogues
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2006
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Hilariously informative: the travel book of the year
Where do you go when there’s nowhere left to go?

Now that seven hundred million tourists leave home every year, there doesn’t seem to be a single patch of earth untouched by the tourist industry. Lager louts vomit on Mediterranean beaches, extreme athletes race up the Matterhorn, and blue-collar sex tourists head to Bangkok to hook up with under-aged girls.

Rather than fleeing the hordes, Taras Grescoe plunges into the ruts where the tourists are thickest. Starting at the tip of Spain’s Land End and finishing, nine months later, on the soldier-patrolled beaches of China’s End of the Earth, he crosses the entire Eurasian landmass, touring France using Michelin guides, taking the cure at Baden-Baden, stuffing his face on a cruise ship, and following the Lonely Planet crowd from India to Kathmandu. Along the way he tells the story of leisure travel – from the Grand Tour of old to the Cook’s tour of today, from ascetic religious pilgrimages to all-inclusive charters to tropical islands. Can a thirty-something Canadian writer survive bunking with a homophobic roommate on an If-This-Is-Tuesday bus tour? Partying with college-aged pub crawlers in Rome? Trekking among the opium-growing hilltribes of Thailand?

A hilarious on-the-road odyssey, The End of Elsewhere is also a brilliant history of world tourism. It’s a lament for the way we’ve turned the remotest corners of the world into places in which authenticity is a quaint performance put on by the locals. And it’s a superb account of how one compulsive traveller came to see that, in the end, you must go home again.

From the Hardcover edition.

About the author

TARAS GRESCOE is the author of four books, including the bestselling Bottomfeeder, which won the 2008 Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize and the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction. Two other titles, Sacré Blues and The End of Elsewhere, were shortlisted for Writers’ Trust awards. His work has appeared in a great variety of major publications including The New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, Gourmet, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Geographic, The Times (UK) and The Independent. He lives in Montreal. Visit him online at

Taras Grescoe's profile page

Excerpt: The End of Elsewhere: Travels Among the Tourists (by (author) Taras Grescoe)

Naples, a little too scary and real for North American college kids, ­wasn’t a popular stop. I’d overheard the backpackers at Fawlty Towers regaling one another with stories of pickpockets and muggings. It was true: in Naples, you had to be on your toes, if only to avoid the helmetless 12-­year-­olds riding three-­to-­a-­Vespa. Shelley witnessed a murder within minutes of his arrival, and one Grand Tourist reported seeing a street urchin steal a handkerchief from an English dandy at one end of the Largo di Castello and peddle it back to him at the other. Even today, Naples, with its genially shambolic street life, had something of Bombay to it. Patrick, a hostel guest from Limerick, told me about being offered a cut-­rate carton of Marlboros in the market.

“Jesus,” he marvelled, “the fellow was completely mesmerizing. I ­couldn’t take me eyes off him.”

The salesman took Patrick’s money, handed him a well-­wrapped Marlboro carton, and melted into the crowd. When Patrick tried to check his purchase, an accomplice appeared, ripped open the packaging, and showed him the cigarette packs were filled with nails.

“Then he panicked, as if the carabinieri were coming, and ran off with me bloody nails!” he said. “It was worth it, though, just to see the sheer artistry of those fellows.”

At the desk, Diane, from Seattle, also cautioned me about scam artists.

“If you get offered a digital camera for like a hundred bucks in the market, ­don’t buy it. You’ll just open the box and find a block of wood or a bag of sand inside. It happens a couple of times a month to guests here. This is a good place to pick up counterfeit Gucci, though.” (Later, one of my banknotes was pushed back to me at the rail station window. It was a colour-­photocopied counterfeit. Naples — a town so crooked that even the bank machines rip you off.)

Over the next few days I got to like Diane, a pretty woman in her mid-­20s, with big dark eyes that betrayed her Cuban-­American roots and tight dreadlocks that spoke of her involvement with Seattle’s anti-­globalization scene. She’d been travelling for four months, mostly in Spain, and was looking for a change in her life. Over a glass of wine in the kitchen one night, she told me about her courtship of the Italian boys.

“When I arrived, I saw all those hotties on their scooters, with their sleeveless shirts, and I was like — mmmm, I gotta get me one of those.” She gave her phone number to the guy who delivered the laundry, but he stood her up. “So, forget it, buster, I said. You know, these Italians are all spoiled by their mamas. They live at home, they’ve got a regular girlfriend they know they’re going to marry. Until then, it’s like: ‘What can I get today?’”

Lately, she’d been hanging around the Piazza Gesù Nuovo, trying to score hash from the anarchist squatters, and she had high hopes for a guy from the local communist centre. She reminded me of myself when I’d been rattling around Germany and France in my 20s: a little lost, looking for something new — preferably a genuine relationship with a European, not a drunken one-­night stand with another backpacker.

I’d come to Naples with a particular goal: the Secret Cabinet, a collection of erotic art in the National Archeological Museum that had been a required stop on the classic Grand Tour. For much of its existence the Gabinetto degli oggetti osceni could be visited only with a permit, and had actually been walled up by the Bourbons in 1851. Recently reopened after a complete reorganization, the collection was still kept behind a metal gate, and while our group waited to enter, I studied the petitions of English dignitaries asking the Bourbon kings for admittance. “The foreigners visiting Naples on the Grand Tour tended to indulge in ribaldry whenever the collection was mentioned,” a sheet in a display case noted dryly, “and their comments could be decidedly defamatory with respect to life and morals, both ancient and modern, in the Kingdom of Naples.”

A pretty young woman in a red top led us into the first of the Cabinet’s five small rooms.

“Welcome to the Gabinetto Segreto, a collection of objects that were considered unmoral in their day. As you can see,” she said, pointing to a cabinet of objects from the Borgia collection, “they are all in the shapes of virile members, uteruses, and breasts.”

“Careful where you sit down, luv,” an Englishman whispered to his girlfriend.

How the Tourist toffs must have tittered when they’d finally gained admittance. Many of the objects had been recovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Bakeries were advertised with images of erect stone phalluses — an allusion to rising bread — and bronze bells made up of clusters of penises had hung outside middle-­class houses.

“These are pygmies, in a Nile scene,” said the guide, gesturing towards a narrow fresco of naked, childlike figures from the House of the Doctor in Pompeii. “They were considered a very lascivious people, very close to nature, and were usually depicted with very large phalluses. Here you can see them involved in some very strange performances.”

“Gives me some good ideas for my next trip to Egypt, that does,” said the Englishman, sotto voce.

There were Kama Sutra — like frescoes from brothels, a marble of Pan sodomizing a goat, and a Venus in a bikini leaning on a tiny figure with a huge erection. (Or it would have been huge, if some Vatican censor ­hadn’t snapped it off.) I was particularly taken by the Freudian symbolism of a bronze gladiator duelling with his own penis, which was turning on him like a wild beast. The Gabinetto Segreto must have been the 800-­metre bungee jump of the 18th-­century Grand Tour, providing Tourists with a new perspective on their long and dull Latin studies and fodder for dinner conversation for the rest of their lives.

Editorial Reviews

“Essential reading.”
Globe and Mail

“Sheila Copps would have done better to give every household west of Ottawa one of these with the $20 million she squandered on flags.”
Edmonton Journal

“Read this entertaining book.”

Sacré Blues forms a GenXer’s guide to Quebec, one that’s witty, well-researched and topical…If Grescoe’s book were put on school reading lists, we’d all be richer for it.”
Toronto Star

“A terrific study of contemporary Quebec.”
Vancouver Sun

“Entirely entertaining, insightfully chatty and often delicious…. a revealing, gloves-off journey.” –Hour magazine
“A thorough, thoroughly entertaining Ski-Doo ride through [Quebec’s] economy, language, climate, and popular and spiritual culture…his is a book to be revisited.”
Quill and Quire
“Grescoe know what it is to investigate a subject and nothing scares him: Sacré Blues unearths les differences in mores and morals, cuisine and language, immigration and ethnicity, economics and social policy…and much more with zest, precision and remarkable compactness. Grescoe is always interesting and accurate in his wide-angle descriptions of everything from the St-Trite rodeo to the corporate culture of Bombardier…Along the way, he catalogues everyone and everything of value that all of us ought to know about the culture of French Quebec at the beginning of the new century.”
Globe and Mail
“Well-researched, well-written, funny in all the right places, opinionated and profound when it needs to be without pomposity, Grescoe’s book captures nicely a time-slice of what is truly a distinct society.”
Halifax Daily News
“Reading his portrait of us, I thought to myself, Boy, I’m glad to live here! Why doesn’t everyone feel the way I do?...For the reader little accustomed to what is going on here, a primer like Grescoe’s is exactly what’s needed.”
Montréal Gazette
“Quebec is a nice place to visit, and you would want to live there…Explaining how foreign cultures go about being distinct is Taras Grescoe’s forte…imagine an extended edition of the Lonely Planet television series, with the hip host being a resident, and you have the flavour of this book…If being well-written and informative are sufficient virtues, it will do well.”
National Post

“[Sacré Blues] is informed by his extensive travels throughout the province, by [Grescoe’s] keen and observant eye and by a genuine thoughtfulness. Respectful of Quebeckers, but also delighting in some of the cheesier aspects of pop culture, Grescoe sets out to avoid the usual political discourse and explore the fertile tensions which have given Quebec its cultural identity.”
Ottawa Xpress

From the Hardcover edition.

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