Time tourism

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could not only visit a particular place for a holiday but visit it during a particular era?

Looking back at the city

I’ve been thinking about this in preparation for our upcoming visit to San Francisco, a city that I know and love and have visited a number of times over the past 20 years (erk!). It’s always good to visit (and especially so nowadays, as I have family and friends there), but on the train the other day I found myself ruminating about how interesting it would be to visit that incredible city, but during it’s hippified free-love-and-flowers-in-your-hair heyday in the late sixties. Or during the wild days of the Barbary coast?

San Francisco Panorama

What if you could book a holiday in the past?

That got me thinking about other places with particular times it would be interesting or characteristic to visit – like Manhattan during the late 50s and early 60s – the Madmen era.

Or London during the swinging 60s…wait, is this just a 60s thing? No, there must be other places with characterful or formative times associated with them…. Help me out here.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s imagine that the tourism time machine doesn’t go further than 200 years without your face melting off, so no visiting of Pompei or having hot chocolate with the Aztecs.

Where would you choose? And when?

13 thoughts on “Time tourism

  1. While I have my own reasons for visiting 1960s London, if I were to be stranded in time I’d probably pick around 1890. I’d get to see the tube boom (as in, the construction programme, not it going bang), the tail end of Queen Victoria’s reign, and when it came time for the Great War, I’d be too old to be drafted. Think of the technology changing, too. As a tourist, I’d probably go for the tail end of that period; 1910 or so, the peak of the British Empire (for better or worse).

    What about Brighton in 1820s, as King George VI is turning it from a fishing village into his pleasure palace? Not really my cup of tea, but it’s a thought. The Americas, while the natives were still in charge? How about picking a really good historic aurora and watching it? I gather there was a very big storm in the 1850s.

  2. Only 200 years? Bang goes London, 1728 or Edinburgh in the 1760s. So let’s make it London, 1922 instead.

    Trouble with “time holidays” is that you assume you’ll have access to all the worthies and sit in on all the notable events, but all those spaces will be booked out well in advance, while the time backpackers will be complaining that it’s all too touristy and spoiled these days. No point paying big coin to be part of an emerging subculture if it’s packed to the gills with gawkers from the future having their photos taken with Allen Ginsberg.

    The best way around that is to focus on events where things are a bit less exclusive. So rodcorp’s got the right idea, and I’ll throw in a package to London, 1851 for the Great Exhibition.

  3. Nick, that time-tourist-despoiliation was the scenario of ‘Vintage Season’, a 40s/50s story by husband and wife team Kuttner and Moore.

    Great Exhibition, yes! New York 1913, Armory Show, Duchamp! Dublin/Trieste 1922, Joyce!

  4. 1920s Berlin perhaps? My own great preference for being inconspicuous might preclude me from enjoying time tourism though.

  5. I was going to say the Great Exhibition in London – I’d love to see the Crystal Palace. I’d also love to see the Houses of Parliament as they’re being built.

    Paris of the 1880s – I’d visit the new Eiffel Tower and hang out with some Impressionists, otherwise I’d want a trip on the Hindenburg across the Atlantic in say around 1935, after a wee stay in Berlin just to see what all the fuss was about.

    I’d also like to go to the French Riviera in the late 60s/early 70s and spend some time in Nice/watch the Monaco Grand Prix. Fun times.

  6. Oh, along the lines the conversation seems to have taken: New York World’s Fair, 1939? Or the Montreal Expo in 1967? Even the Festival of Britain in 1951; who doesn’t love a bit of Skylon?

  7. it would have to be going back to england 1988 to take part in the second summer of love. all those big illegal raves with happy smiley people. unfortunately i was only 11 at the time so could not take part in the all the fun

  8. I’d choose the French Riviera around the time of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and dancer Isadora Duncan, although the self aggrandicement might make me want to punch someone after a bit.

    Or Liverpool of the 1910’s, but I’d probably get punched.

    Shanghai of the 1930’s would be awesome, too. Or New York in the pre-war bebop era.

    I will be thinking about this all day now. Great post.

    The 200 year rule JUST rules out Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia of the 1770s when it was the second largest English speaking city in the world.

  9. Thanks for all the ideas so far. Some really excellent thoughts!

    Sorry for imposing the 200 year rule, but you wouldn’t want your face to melt off, would you?

    I’ve been pondering further about the time holiday overcrowding issue and about how many people would want to witness the same events – in much the same way as when people claim to have had a past life, they’re always Cleopatra or Oliver Cromwell, and never a small child from Dunoon who died of consumption before they hit the age of five.

    So I think the best package experiences might be epochal rather than eventful.

  10. 1715, North Lincolnshire, Barrow upon Humber

    Room and board in exchange for work as John Harrison’s apprentice.

    But only if I can come back.

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