I recently ran into a former neighbor and friend I hadn’t seen in years. After the usual pleasantries, asking about each others kids and family, she told me she and her older daughter had traveled Europe for nearly a month over the Christmas break. I, of course, was immediately full of questions, especially when she mentioned having visited Italy and Greece. But as our conversation continued, I realized she and I could never travel together. She’s a sweetheart, and I love hanging out and having a coffee and a chat with her at home, but I think our friendship needs to stay on this side of the Atlantic. She saw more in her month abroad than I would see in 3 months. Easily. When I described our planned Itinerary – 4 full days in Athens, 4 full days in Venice, and 5 full days in Florence, not including the travel days in between – she immediately balked. “Don’t spend any more days than 3 in Athens, and you don’t even need that. Two would be better. Then, take a flight to Malta.” Was her response. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the only reason we’re not spending more time in each of these cities is that we can’t abandon the girls any longer than we already are.
Now, let me be clear, my friend loved her trip! She had a great time, and it was a wonderful time of bonding with her older daughter before that daughter graduates from college and moves on with life. I hope, really, really, hope that I get to do something similar with my daughter(s) when that time comes. My friend traveled the way that she enjoys, and I’m happy for her.
But I couldn’t travel like that. I need time. I want to wander the streets, only dragging out my map when a pressing need for water or a bathroom forces me to. I want to sit in a cafe and watch the people of Paris, asking myself if my perception of street fashion from the articles I read is accurate or a myth. I want to get photos of the iconic sites of Athens while the light is waking up, and by the warmth of sunset, and in between I want to savor the feel and tastes and smells. I want to find where the locals shop for groceries, and the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants that seem to be the best in every city. I want to read about the history while I look at the reality, preferably while sipping a good coffee in the midst of it, if possible.
That’s why, when I spent one day in Venice and then 2 days in Florence a few years ago on an organized tour, the way I enjoyed it was by focusing of the family I was spending time with willing to see whatever was next on the docket (ok, we ducked out of the 14th church visit in Padua and went to get coffee and pastries), and telling my husband afterward that it was strictly a scouting mission. I left each city yearning to stay and really get to know the nooks and crannies and foods and peoples and history and present. I knew before I left I would come back if it was humanly possible. And I’d spend time.