The word conjures visions of “National Lampoon” style roadtrips in the family truckster. “See Rock City”. Endless queues of sweaty people in stupid t-shirts waiting for hours to board a thrill ride that lasts all of three minutes. Long days in an increasingly gamey car, bickering over which exit should have been taken to avoid the construction zone ahead. Games of mini-golf, with dinosaurs and windmills springing from Astroturf that is warped, torn and stained by god knows what.
Not a bad thing, mind you. These are some of my favorite childhood memories. Visiting the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” Museum in Gatlinburg, TN. Camping at Santa Claus Land, Indiana. My all time favorite – visiting the NASA Space and Missile Center in Huntsville, Alabama!
Six of us crunched into a 1964 Ford Falcon station wagon – with me wedged between my parents in the front seat, my siblings shoe-horned into the back seat. No one in my world flew anywhere back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, so the summer vacation was built on where you could get in a car.
When my children were little, we did a lot of tent camping – that is, when we weren’t burning our precious vacation days visiting family over the holidays. Exploring the wilds of the upper peninsula of Michigan. A two week, 5,000 mile camping trip through the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. Most of our time was spent on logistics – getting there, setting up the tent, sorting provisions, unpacking “the kitchen”, deciding who slept where – but we also did a lot of hiking and regional exploration, too.
As the kids grew up, i wanted them to see more of the world. So it was off to Germany, England, San Francisco. The great “Skate Park and Thrift Store Tour of the Southwestern USA” to Arizona one year. These trips were pretty amazing. My ex-husband had no interest in going anywhere other than our vacation place on the Great Lakes, so i went without him, assuring that the kids got to experience an expanded bubble, and do things they couldn’t do at home**.
For me, the essence of “vacation” has always been “doing”.
Until this year… i’d never visited Greece, and looked forward to being a tourist in Athens. Once we got to the island, and settled into our apartment, there was simply nothing much to do. Companionship was center stage. A leisurely ten minute walk into the village of Skala Eressos from the rented apartment. Stop at the bakery for fresh bread. The green grocer had fruits and vegetables, and other provisions* were available at the general store.
After breakfast? Walk to the beach, toss down a towel and dip in the sea. Try not to be obvious when gawking at the naked people. Become a naked person. Dry off in the sun – reading or not. Repeat through the week as necessary.
Siesta. With a book, a magazine or a laptop, waiting out the hottest part of the day. Napping. Nibbling on fruit, or tasty treats from the bakery. Easy conversation or companionable silence. Listening to the birds, the buzz of bees feasting on the flowers on the mimosa tree, or the sound of bells on the goats in a distant pasture.
Getting to know “locals”*** over the course of the week. Seeing the woman who operates the bakery every day – and eventually explaining our ‘story’ to her. The Dutch woman who manages the local travel agency – complaining that she hadn’t seen those photos she’d heard about on the internet yet! Seeing the same couples on the beach during the early afternoon. The proprietors of our favorite restaurants welcoming us back.
This trip wasn’t about “doing”. It was about “being”. And that’s a pretty damn cool thing to do…
** Alcatraz. The Grand Canyon. Horseback riding through the desert at the old Tucson Movie Studios. Castles. Learning to ride the tube in London. Hanging out on the village square in small burgs in Germany. Watching surfers in St. Ives. Getting a much better idea of what “Old” means.
*** The managers at the apartment were simply marvelous! They host a barbeque every Friday night for guests and friends from town, providing an opportunity to better connect. We would be dining in town the next day, and see people we knew – giving us a sense of welcome and belonging. Never mind the fact that we presented a bit of an enigma – those three women from Australia, South Africa and The States who met on the internet and were photographing themselves in corsets! When our cleaning woman found the edible underwear we’d collected on the kitchen table for possible use in the photo shoot, she was MORE than a little vexed trying to sort out which bed was being left unused in the apartment…. Are they fresh meat for the beach or not? i’m pretty sure most of them never really sorted it out…