Or, how travel is a little bit like sex
Most of the miles are behind us, and most of our itinery is completed. We are, in fact, a little road weary and are looking forward to settling down in Sancerre for three weeks of French classes. The idea of not having to pack our bags again for awhile is welcome. But with most of the trip behind us, we have begun to reflect on the overall adventure, and have made a few discoveries about how we like to travel.
First and foremost, let me say that we are still married. It has been 114 days of 24-hour, no-decision-made-alone, usually-it's-wrong, nothing-is-familiar living. Usually I say "the things a couple does apart are as important as the things they do together," but here that has just not happened. We talked about days of independence, but in truth, they just never materialized. In general, I do prefer to travel with someone, but also realize that traveling together can be more rough than living together--even when the trip is short: just 1 or 2 weeks. That we have been doing this for months speaks well for the tolerance of my Amore.
When we set out, we thought this was going to be a languid trip of exploration. Rarely has this been the case. Time has flown by leaving us with less time to relax than we had thought. India and the Balkans we notably rushed, moving frequently. Every day is Day One. Day One is very exciting, but very frustrating. Everything is new, with nothing to compare too. Where is your hotel? Where is a good restaurant? Does anybody have a map?? It is intense, in your face travel that is both exilerating and exhausting. Day Two is often not much different, but at least you know where your hotel is! These parts of the trip left us drained, although in the moment we were very excited to have seen so much.
Even more pleasurable have been the times when we stayed put. Sydney, Bali, Dubrovnik, and hopefully Sancerre, were completely different experiences. We stayed for five or more days, in the same hotel, in the same neighborhood, and were able to explore every nook and cranny of our new little world. This is counter to my previous travel M.O., which is to see as much as possible in the time allowed. We found places we liked, and became "regulars," if only for a few days. The shop owners began to recognize us and greet us. We could spend a few hours just loitering and not feel like we should be using the time to perform tourism. We learned the public transportation system, discovered how to tip, and learned a few extra words of the language. We could have the same dish in more than one place to see how they compared. By Day Three things begin to feel like home, without a surprise lurking around every corner.
As I began to ponder these experiences, I began to feel like each new city was a new sexual partner. The first time is wild and crazy, but a little awkward. It leaves an indellible impression, but the whole encounter is a little stressful. The second time is a little better, but mostly like the first. By the third time, you begin to get in the groove. You have discovered a few things that work, and a few things that didn't. You can try the successes out again, and see if they are as good as you first thought. You have learned how things work, and can get from A to B so much easier. In the end, the familiarity leads to a much better experience, and while it might be less intense, it is much more fulfilling.
In France, many of our stays have been in the 3 to 4 day range. I began to joke that, around Day Three, we had figured the city out so it must be time to move on. It is a comment born out of slight frustation; if we didn't need to get to Sancerre for my classes, I would have prefered to stay in many of these places much longer. Jenni has a term for it: she says that long term travel really is not about moving from place to place, but rather about the Sojourn--taking the time in one place to soak up the feel and vibe of where you have gone. It is knowing the best restaurants, having a few acquaitances, knowing the bus schedule, and even having a multi-use pass for the public transportation. It is being in place so long that it could be home, at least for a little while.
As Jenni points out, my Sojourn is just beginning. We will return to the United States, but not to home. Right now, there is no home: just a dream of living in the heart of Chicago. I'll need a place to stay, and probably even a map. There will be bus schedules, CTA passes, and the quest for the best coffee shop. And Day One will be more like Month One.
It gives Sex in the City a whole new meaning.