Monday, August 18, 2008


It seems to me that there are two different kinds of vacations to take. The first type of vacation is where you go to a familiar place and do familiar things. Maybe you have a favorite cabin on the lake where your family has been gathering for years. Maybe there’s a spot on the ocean where you love to walk the same beach, time after time, year after year. The activities are comforting and predictable, and the relaxation is deep. There are usually no surprises—just the comfortable familiarity of a traditional vacation spot.

The second type of vacation is one where you have new adventures and try new activities. The stress level is somewhat high because you are always being confronted with the unknown: How do I get from Point A to Point B? How do I communicate when I don’t know the language? How should I behave? What does this cost in American money? How does this strange process work?

Our recent 35th anniversary trip was the second type of trip, the new adventure with new activities. For the past two weeks, there have been times when we were disoriented, when we were nervous and wary, when we were uncomfortable, when we were hot and sweaty, but also when we were downright dazzled. However, it’s impossible to have a new adventure without risking the unknown.

The following are things I have now done that I had never done before:
  • Bought a ticket at 8:09 a.m. for the 8:11 a.m. express train from Livorno to Florence, Italy, and literally ran from the ticket counter down the platform to catch the train, even though I wasn’t entirely sure we were even getting on the right train.
  • Saw a cow’s head hanging in the entrance of a meat market in Tunisia where the temperature was 117 degrees that day.
  • Camped out for 15 hours on the floor of JFK Airport in New York with approximately 10,000 other displaced travelers who were victims of cancelled flights and missed connections because of two days of thunder storms.
  • Went to mass in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City on our 35th wedding anniversary.
  • Rode in a van hurtling along at speeds between 85 and 100 mph (speedometer read 145 kph at one point) on the highway between Rome and Civitavecchia, Italy.
  • Entrusted my life to an Italian bus driver named Pasquali who managed to get us from Naples to Amalfi on a road along the Amalfi coast that was approximately three inches wider than the bus itself and whose road shoulder dropped hundreds of feet into gorges below (and unlike some other passengers, I never threw up).
  • Witnessed a fight between our bus driver and an irate passenger near the Rome Central Train Terminal—luckily our driver won with a swift kick to the groin and slammed bus doors.
  • Was serenaded by four members of the Opera La Roma on the Spanish Steps in Rome who sang for free to the unwashed, sweaty masses of tourists and Italians who treat their opera singers like we treat our rock stars.
  • Had our anniversary song sung to us in Indonesian (didn’t understand a word but there were lots of smiles and a lot of clapping).
  • Walked six miles in 95-100 degree heat (three miles were planned, but the other three were not entirely intentional) in Palma de Mallorca.
  • Saw where the richest of the rich people on the face earth go to play in Monte Carlo—where the yachts are so big that they have helicopters perched on the back of them (we now have new standards for what constitutes “rich”).
  • Haggled with a street vendor who spoke only Arabic asking 12 Euros for a crudely made wooden camel, during which I resorted to the old trick of pulling an empty pocket inside out to show him that the 3,5 Euros I was offering was all that I had.
Was it fun? Not always but mostly. Was it comfortable? Occasionally. Did it broaden my understanding of other people, other places, other customs? Most definitely. Would I do it again? Absolutely—but not anytime real soon. I need to get caught up on my sleep.

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