Greetings from Ghent! We’re making our way half an hour west to Bruges later, checking in to our rental apartment and trying to locate all the major sites from the movie “In Bruges.” I already have so many pictures to share with you guys when I get back. In the meantime, Lauren of Still + Life has graciously offered to share a story she calls, “Around the World in 12 Years.” Take it away, Lauren!
I will be the first to admit that we are, perhaps, not the best vacationers. For starters, we’re cheap, and I’m not as good as Erin at ferreting lovely things out for not much. Need to get her planning our next vacation, I think. But anyhoo. We also live at the beach, so when this (note: above) is minutes away, it can get hard to, well, get away.
Enter science and the wondrous invention that is the scientific meeting. It’s not a bad way to travel. Nicer hotels than we’d ever pick out on our own in destinations that I never dreamed I’d see. When Neel, Cal and I pow-wowed about this blog post we had a lot of choices: Munich, Montreal, Hungary, New York City. But really, for me it was a no-brainer. It had to be Greece.
I’d traveled to Greece in college (yeah, that minor in Classics really got me far, didn’t it?) and Neel had been in high school. To say I loved it is well, like saying I love the ocean or champagne or duck fat fries. I couldn’t wait to get back and share Greece with my family.
Scientific meetings have a way about them, and Cal and I are well versed. We never see Neel, except at breakfast and sometimes dinner but we always tack on a few extra days at the end to have some fun on our own. This meeting was different. We all met at a hotel in Athens and traveled together to a wondrous meal at a rooftop hotel in the shadow of the Parthenon. It’s a strange feeling to order your life this way. We gather in the lobby, somewhat jetlagged, board busses through the city, get off when they tell us, climb steps when they tell us and sit to eat where they tell us. All with a group of strangers. By the end of the week, we’re friends. I know I was woozy from lack of sleep, but I’m not ashamed to tell you that when I saw the Parthenon (and it really does glow, day or night) for the first time in 20 years, I cried.
The following morning, we board busses (again) to leave for the small harbor town where the meeting will be held. This meeting was different in that the talks only last until early afternoon so that families can have time for sightseeing together (one afternoon we rented a boat and went putt-putting around). During that time on our own, the hardest thing Cal and I have to do is decide, “Pool first, or beach?”
And how would you like this job? The son of the founder of the meeting (a Greek) traveled with us. His job was to facilitate the trip, and each day he would travel around the mainland checking in on restaurants. Maybe have a glass of Ouzo, and talk to the owner. Can you handle a group of 80? The meetings would be finished by early afternoon (a rarity, trust me), we’d eat a late lunch at the hotel and all gather at someplace local and wonderful for dinner. I cannot imagine a better introduction to a country than this. One night, we ate at an outdoor tavern. Mezze after mezze (tapas) as the wine flowed freely. Hours into the evening we were full and happy under the stars, and THEN they brought dinner!
There are so many things I could tell you about this trip, but I’ve already gone on too long. How when you’re in Greece, Greek beer tastes pretty good, and how Cal found a favorite drink in Fanta Limon.
How everywhere I turned there were breathtaking images that were classically Greek. Men fingering worry beads. Women nodding in the afternoon sun by their fishing boats.
How I could actually eat breakfast when it’s made up of cucumber, tomato, olives, yogurt, honey and dates, and how each vista was more breathtaking than the next.
We did tack on extra days, traveling by overnight ferry to Crete and then hydrofoil to Santorini. (And Santorini…meh. That whole volcano/caldera thing is supercool and that’s what I wanted Cal to see, but the rest of it. Not so much.)
I get asked a lot about traveling with kids. Fair enough. In his life, Callum’s flown across this country countless times and ridden across it once. He did a math problem in fifth grade where they counted how many states they’d been in, and he was the highest. His first cross-continent flight was before he was three months old and his first overseas trip came when he wasn’t even two. So I say go for it.
It’s a breeze!
Okay. It’s not always easy, but the compensations are truly worth the occasional (!) meltdown. We’ve learned some tricks along the way. We swallow our needs and do kids things. This isn’t to say that we’re going to EuroDisney, but we’re not spending hours in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens either. Next trip. Until then, it was a lot of beaches. Some ruins. A lot of stops to eat. We slow our pace and slow our expectations, and it’s good for all of us, I think.
And as I said, the benefits are huge. Callum loves to travel. We’re in a bit of a travel drought, and he’s not happy about it. I know his open, inquisitive mind comes in part from the other cultures we’ve been able to expose him to. He remembers so much about these trips, and wants to go, go go. And even the ones he doesn’t remember, we tell him things like, “Oh yeah, there was that time you threw your paci behind the barrier in Newschwanstein…” often enough that they’re part of our family lore. I love this picture of him and Neel. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
So I always think of these lines from Manhattan Transfer’s “Foreign Affair” when I think about our travels. Seems like it might be time to get the maps back out. Or maybe I should ask Erin to…
Planes and trains and boats and buses
Characteristically evoke a common attitude of blue
Unless you have a suitcase and a ticket and a passport
And the cargo that they’re carrying is you
A foreign affair juxtaposed with a stateside
And domestically approved romantic fancy
Is mysteriously attractive due to circumstances knowing
I will only be parlayed into a memory
I’m floored by Lauren’s gorgeous photographs, as usual. Greece just moved to the top of my list of countries I want to visit! I also can’t get over how young Cal is in these shots! Thank you so much, Lauren.