Opinion

Why travel?


Jet lag. Twenty-three and a half hours after leaving Rome we touched down at SeaTac. One entire day and night of cramped seating, blah food and security checks. One
day that discombobulated my internal clock to leave me sleepless at night and groggy during the day. It was not an ideal time to wrestle with the question, why travel.
Thats all in the past. Three months have passed to dim sour memories of the discomfort and inconvenience of a long flight home. Time to confront the question that regularly depletes our bank balance and leaves our friends and neighbors shaking their heads. Time to admit that weve become travel junkies. The question remains, why do we travel?
First off, travel is therapy. One can sit around only so long in cultural sameness before a tendency to not think about or actively care about the outside world sets in. Further, basking in cultural sameness is too much like working out on one exercise machine. Only a few of our mental muscles get any benefit.
Beyond that, the passage of days in this land leaves me living life too much on my terms, hearing too much of my own thoughts echoed through friendly conversations and news media. My wife and I have been around just enough to appreciate that other peoples have worked out different, but perfectly good ways of dealing with whatever comes their way. Witnessing how they do it is my favorite version of adult education. Its invigorating.
So off we flew to destinations in Croatia and Italy where money, language, living conditions, food, transportation and cultural differences pose daunting but not insurmountable challenges. Their love for tourists money all but guarantees that a good time might be had by all.
Friends assume a twenty-three day stay in Europe had to be super-costly. Not so when our United Airlines credit card had amassed enough points to allow us to fly free. Not when breakfasts for two of fruit, yogurt, croissants and coffee cost less than six dollars. Not when lunches of paninni sandwiches and bottled water cost another eight dollars. Not when dinner for two including a half-liter of local wine costs about twenty-seven dollars. Not when local custom calls for leaving only small change for a tip.
Planning an affordable European jaunt is half the fun of it. Even foreign rail and bus timetables are only a couple of well-aimed keystrokes from my desk. Websites for B&Bs picture rooms appointments and spot their location on city maps. A problem with that is that maps are only two-dimensional. According to the web-map, our room in Dubrovnik looked to be an easy hundred meters off the main drag, a distance that proved to be a near-vertical climb of 108 stairs to get from the street to our room.
But now were back home in Marysville to mull a wealth of experiences that leave us glad to be back but sorry were not still there. Its nice to have a car again, but not nice enough to balance the ease and comfort of traveling on Europes convenient trains and buses. Our Marysville home feels extravagantly roomy but it would be nicer if we had a coffee shop and restaurants on our block, a la Italy. Our spacious lawns and gardens are nice, too, but a little patio with potted flowers has its points.
In short, travel confirms that there is more than one good way to live. But there were grim lessons, too. A trip to war-torn Mostar (Bosnia-Herzgovina) put us in the midst of bullet-riddled devastation, a place where peace-keepers are still necessary to keep hostile factions from clashing. Over dinner, Stjepko Simovic told of spending three years crawling around mountaintops with his rifle while his wife and daughter took refuge in Munich. Three years cut out of his life, he said.
As to learning, we visited Paradise Regained, a Chinese exhibition in Venice that focused on rural architecture, then toured and talked our way through the Natura-Urbana conference in Perugia that blended urban architecture with ecology. We enjoyed long conversations with Croatian school-people; had a chance meeting with Karen Dolan of Americas Institute for Policy Studies, found ourselves in Assisi for the Feast of St. Francis (pomp with all the trimmings) and checked bookstores to see whats being written overseas about our homeland. I enjoyed two gab-sessions with Michael, a retired Channel Islander and economist. As we parted, he asked, Had you not been born American, where in the world do you think you might want to live? Interesting.
Along the way we chatted with Norwegian dancers, an Argentine steel man, Croatian hoteliers, a Bosnian refugee, a Croatian artist, a retired Vietnamese-American stockbroker, a Chinese architectural engineer, a fiercely Irish Irishman, parents who described their childrens education in Croatia and tourists from Canada, Brazil, Australia, Germany, Ireland, England, Poland and elsewhere who were gracious enough to join in discussions.
Thats why were already tossing around ideas for another trip. So much world to learn about and so little time.

Comments may be addressed to: rgraef@verizon.net

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