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'Da Vinci Code' Tourist Letdowns

The success of the best-selling thriller "The Da Vinci Code" has inspired people to travel to Europe to see the artwork and architecture that the characters see in the novel.

In a report on The Early Show, CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth dubs people inspired by Dan Brown's blockbuster "Da Vinci Code tourists."

And though the Louvre Museum in Paris doesn't always acknowledge the international enthusiasm for certain works of art, there's no denying that the number of visitors is rising. "Da Vinci Code" tourists can book special tours in Paris, or go to London, Scotland or Rome. Even the travel guide Fodor's has published a do-it-yourself tour.

Minnesota talk-radio host Ian Punnett (leading one group of travelers inspired by the book) says it certainly is a phenomenon. "Everywhere we go with this book," Punnett says, "people wonder whether we are the last in an obscure group or the first of a wave; and I suspect we're the first of a wave."

Roth says they're following the "Grail trail" — and finding the mystery novel about a murderous monk and the secret of the Holy Grail has a way of stirring controversy wherever it's carried.

"Wherever we walk with this book," Punnett says, "we get a lot of looks. In France, there is a lot of resentment that — 'This is what brought you to France?' — it's not enough that (France) contains the most beautiful art and gorgeous gardens and historical monuments, but, a book? A novel?"

Responsibility, Roth notes, or blame, may be in the novel's preface, which asserts descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals are all accurate. Some critics insist that's all nonsense.

Michel Rouge is a life-long parishioner at The Church of the Saint Sulpice in Paris, scene of a brutal killing in the novel. He accepts that the murder's only fiction. What bothers him, is everything else.

"It's all wrong. The description of the artwork, the architecture, the documents in this church — (are) absolutely wrong. Secret rituals — I don't know, because we never had any secret rituals in this church."

So, explains Roth, part of the challenge - for Ian Punnett's group — has been to not let the facts spoil all the fun. "We loved … the obelisk in the corner. We were a little disappointed it wasn't quite what the book told us it was."

For some touring readers, Roth points out, the book has awakened curiosity.

It did for Da Vinci tourist Bill McMahon what his art-loving wife could not: make art palatable. "It's a motivator for me. I've been to Paris about six times in the last year, but I've never been to the Louvre, which is sort of embarrassing. I'm going to the Louvre."

What the book certainly has proven, Roth says, is there's fortune in its fame: from $3,000 trans-Atlantic tours, to the $400-a-day Jean Traimond charges just in Paris, for a tour debunking "The Da Vinci Code."

"I saw my customers coming out of large Paris hotels with (the book) under their arm, but I did not know it. But I noticed it was always the same book. I read it. I jumped up and down with shock and awe and I thought, nevertheless, that's a very good opportunity to make a critical tour about this book."

Literary license, is the way Olivia Decker sees it. She's a California realtor who happens to own Chateau de Villette outside Paris. It also figures in the book. She thinks the arguments about fact and fiction are a bit extravagant; a bit like the chateau itself, you might say, which she rents to tour groups for $50,000 a week, breakfast included.

Roth suggests the lesson for tourists may be that reality can be as surprising as fiction.

"I don't think it's a fair book," asserts Punnett, "but it's a novel, and as I've said to the group all along, 'This book is to religious history what James Bond is to the Cold War.' And we ought to be happy with that, and not expect it to be any more than that."

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