Life can be full of let-downs and disappointments - the first time you taste beer as a teenager and wonder what all the fuss is about; that feeling when you open a giant parcel to find a tiny gift and an awful lot of plastic packaging inside; that first date, soon abandoned, with the guy who, it transpires, looks nothing like his Tinder profile.
The world of travel is not immune to such shortcomings. The breathless opinions of your friends and the hyperbole of glossy brochures might lead you to believe that such and such city/hotel/restaurant is the greatest thing in all eternity - only for your own experience to unearth a crime-ridden hellhole/rat-infested hovel/overpriced mess of posing hipsters, rude waiters and food which is as bland as the portions are miniscule.
Then there are the landmarks which are very famous and very busy - but which, on close inspection, turn out to be rather smaller than legend has it. Not in terms of popularity or the number of other tourists clustered around, but in actual physical size.
Take the Mannekin Pis, an icon of Brussels, which celebrates its 400th birthday today. This notorious fountain of a small naked boy merrily urinating is a constant source of camera clickery. But it is truly tiny. How small? A mere 61cm of sculpted bronze. Don't plan a weekend in Brussels around it.
Are there other tourist-beloved marvels of the world whose contours have been rather exaggerated, even if only in the mind's eye? Why yes, there are a few of them. Such as...
The Little Mermaid
Tourists flock in their thousands to this celebrated statue, which sits on the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen. A representation of the titular heroine of one of of Hans Christian Andersen's most affecting fairytales, she sits a reasonable walk - about two miles - from the centre of town, but many visitors still make the hike in search of her.
It is only when they arrive that they realise the mermaid really is little. Specifically, she is about 1.25m in "height". Better hope your camera has a decent zoom feature.
By artistic definitions, Leonardo Da Vinci's 1503 depiction of silk merchant's wife Lisa del Giocondo is a Renaissance titan - a captivating creation on canvas so sizeable in impact, influence and fame that it practically has its own gravitational field.
It is only when you try to gain a glimpse of that slight smile, pushing your way through the crowds in the Louvre, that you realise just how small "La Gioconda" is in the flesh. Specifically, the painting measures 77 cm × 53 cm. Watch where you're waving that selfie-stick, you almost had my eye out.
The companion-piece to the pyramids of Giza was hewn from the limestone of ancient Egypt by the gods who oversaw this early civilisation. They created a figure of size and splendour, part human, part lion, to inspire awe and devotion through the ages.
Well, that's roughly the spiel. In fact, Cairo's most notable cat-man hybrid is significantly smaller than the fabled tombs it loiters next to. Its statistics - 73m long, 20m high - mean it is big, but nothing like as large as many imagine. Oh, and it was made by mortal craftsmen some time between 2558 and 2532 BC. Obviously.
Christ The Redeemer
Never has one statue dominated a city's skyline as much as Cristo Redentor - soaring above the beaches, bars and barrios of Rio de Janeiro, the crowning glory atop the swarthy jungle-clad peak Corcovado.
What do you find when you reach the top of the mountain? The slightly deflating truth that this particular Christ is a "mere" 30m in stature. To put this in context, the Eiffel Tower prods the clouds at 324m. Now that is an urban giant.
The Statue of Liberty
The same case of slight return perhaps applies to the most famous American lady who is carved from copper and lives on an island opposite the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan.
Again, it is not that Liberty is tiny. The statue, to the tip of the torch, measures 46m. The whole construction from ground level up is 93m. And yet, all those representations in films, TV shows and American mythology leave you expecting just a little more.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
The same principle. Only in Tuscany.
In reputation - very big indeed. In reality - 56m. Obviously, if it didn't slouch so much, it would be a little taller.
It looks huge, seismic, a timeless temple assembled by the hands of neolithic giants. It is only when you see it in person - or when a load of Summer Solstice revellers are allowed to go goo-goo for the sun in the middle of the main circle - that you realise those colossal slabs are not quite as colossal as you might think. Each standing stone measures 4.1m - roughly the combined height of two averagely tall men. Impressive but not gargantuan.
Photo: Ontario Tourism
It is not that this feature is determined to lambast America's most noted landmarks. "You call that big? That's not big. I should have gone to Russia."
It's just that, for all its image as a Grand Canyon of the US north-east, all frothing water and clouds of spray, Niagara Falls is not really in the top league of waterfalls. At least, not when it comes to height. Consider these numbers. The Horseshoe Falls segment of Niagara Falls drops 57m. Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe manages a plunge of 108m. Angel Falls in Venezuela goes the whole hog at 979m.
When you put it like that...
Seven Mile Beach
Beware false advertising. Seven Mile Beach sits on the west coast of Jamaica, spreading out around the town of Negril. It is beautiful. It has sumptuous sunsets. It is four miles long (6.4 km)
The very idea of carving the faces of four American presidents into the living granite of the Black Hills of South Dakota suggests size and scale. Messrs Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and Roosevelt were political behemoths. Their likenesses must be suitably enormous, you would assume.
Well, ish. Mount Rushmore itself is 1745 metres tall. Each face amounts to 18 metres of chisel work. Still, there's plenty of space left if the current incumbent of the White House decides he merits a place on the rock face. You know he's thought about it...
Plymouth Rock: It has its own cage and everything. Photo: iStock
Honestly America, this is not a character assassination. But only you would build part of your national psyche around a boulder on a rainy bit of the Massachusetts shore.
Let's run through this briefly. The legend - the spot, the very spot, where the Mayflower Pilgrims landed on New World soil in 1620, giving birth to the modern USA. The reality - a chunk of granite which broke in two when someone tried to haul it to Plymouth town square in 1774. Oh.
The Blue Lagoon
No visit to Iceland can be complete without a dip in this well-named attraction about 40km outside Reykjavik. With good reason. The water is indeed blue (or appears to be). It is also warm. People bathe in its soothing heat and feel happy - seemingly ensconced in a steaming inland ocean. Look at the picture above for proof.
This is all fine and dandy. It is only when you see a wider photo of the lagoon that you realise it is a) not huge and b) an off-shoot of the adjacent Svartsengi geothermal power plant.
The Telegraph, London