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Places... Overrated

Athens? Ack! Paris? Pshaw! One veteran traveler shuns these and others. Is he right or off his rocker?

December 07, 2008|Leon Logothetis

Travel is a magical way to discover the sweet spots at the center of your soul. My many journeys help me leave behind life's stresses and immerse myself in new cultures and the wonderful experiences that such adventures bring.

My journey to Nepal, for instance, and the blinding snows of the Himalayas taught me the essence of survival. I felt the same magic again in the Galapagos, where I swam with black fin sharks, and once more during a magnificent journey across the Sacred Valley to the famed Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.

I've been lucky enough to experience travel at both ends of the spectrum, from luxury to its polar opposite. And I've found great places -- and their polar opposites. In my TV show "Amazing Adventures of a Nobody," I travel on $5 a day so I must rely on the kindness of strangers. In my 31 years, I've traveled to more than 200 cities in 45 countries and have found a unique flavor in each. Most of the time. But there have been disappointments. For me, the clunkers had one thing in common: the quality of human connections I experienced. Using this as a measure of a place, I realized that some of the most beautiful and famous destinations were -- gasp! -- overrated.

With this in mind, I have compiled my list of some of the places that probably won't become part of my soul. Feel free to disagree; indeed, I expect many of you will. Or add your own places that you think are overrated. You can respond at latimes.com/overrated. And be sure to see what Los Angeles Times readers told us were their least favorite spots, on Page 4 and at latimes.com/overrated.

Here, then, are the Logothetis No Love Lost Destinations.

5. Athens

I thought long and hard about Athens, primarily because my heritage is Greek and my father will probably disown me when he reads this. But I will take the risk to spare you the torment.

Greece is a country of majestic beauty, its thousands of miles of coastline a wonder to behold, its islands oases of raw beauty and tranquillity.

Not so the capital city, population 3.9 million in the Athens prefecture. It's crowded and filled with smog (although that has improved slightly in recent years) and crazy taxi drivers.

Athens, of course, has the famed Acropolis, but its charms are blunted by the frenetic pace and emotion that seem part of everyday life here -- at least, the numerous times I've visited.

For instance, on a cab ride from central Athens to the suburbs, my driver went ballistic when I suggested an alternate route. He started screaming at me, swerved across two lanes of traffic and kicked me out of his cab -- but not before demanding payment. This may have been extreme, but it wasn't an isolated demonstration of Athenians' interpersonal skills either.

During the hot summer months, the locals head to the islands to cool off (physically and emotionally). So take a tip from the Athenians: Avoid the city altogether. And if you must go there, see the Acropolis and then get out of town.

Sorry, Dad.

4. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Until a few decades ago, Dubai was a dot in the desert. Today, its skyscrapers shimmer as the sun sets on what is now a thriving metropolis. Dubai is an amazing, almost miraculous feat of human creativity and perseverance.

Still, for all its achievements, Dubai lacks a soul. Part of that stems from the clash of its local culture and the capitalist spirit that drives it. It is, apparently, much easier to create a metropolis in the desert than to combine thousands of years of Middle Eastern culture with capitalism in one dazzling manifestation and have it ring true.

On a March visit to Dubai, I spent most of my time interacting with ex-pats, which is not the way I like to travel. But on this trip, the most interaction I managed was with my taxi driver Ranjit, and he was Pakistani. There seemed to be an invisible, impenetrable shield between us, and when I tried to break through it, I felt an uneasiness and a sense of mistrust.

I didn't get that vibe in the Westernized parts of town -- at the astonishing Mall of the Emirates or the myriad high-end hotels -- but when I visited some of the many mosques and historical parts of town, I felt lost and out of place. The flavor of the Middle East, which I hoped to embrace, eluded me. And my spirit never felt challenged.

To awaken myself, I decided to embark on a day trip to Yemen to see if I could delve into its cultural delicacies. I rented a car and left Dubai in the early afternoon but got horribly lost. I eventually found my way to the right highway, but when I stopped for gas I bumped into a local who told me that traveling to Yemen overland at night was unwise.

"Yemen is not like Dubai," he said. "We understand you Westerners. There, you will not be safe, especially at night."

My adventure was a nonstarter, so I headed back to the safety of my Western hotel.

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