Monday, April 23, 2007

If It's Tuesday In Europe, My Feet Hurt

This time last year I was frantically making lists and checking them 37 times, spending my days on ricksteves.com for packing tips, confirming and reconfirming foreign reservations, trying to remember high school and college French, sweating my way through exchanging money and stashing it discreetly in my little waist pack, and hoping transportation security in three countries wouldn't question my excessively large supply of Xanax.... (flying, especially over the Atlantic for eight hours, scares the crap outta me).

This time this year I'm serenely sitting at my computer, happily viewing the 338 pictures I took during that trip to Europe (see my favorites to your right) and vowing never to leave my house again with passport in hand.

On one hand it was a glorious sightseeing vacation, my first in 13 years of self-employment.
On the other hand, it was exactly the wrong trip for this type of comfort-loving, cranky, I-don't-want-to-leave-my-cocoon, curmudgeonly introvert.

In Paris I met up with a long-time friend who is a seasoned traveler, very familiar with many areas of the world and at home everywhere. He's very savvy about money and thus very thrifty, little concerned with gourmet food, amenities or physical comfort while traveling. He's also a certified extrovert.

While I can't speak for all introverts, I suspect that there's a profound difference in the way introverts and extroverts experience the world.

My friend can scan a map or guidebook in 30 seconds, decide in another 20 seconds exactly what he wants to see, find the best route and the best mode of transportation to get there (and not care if he has to run for a train or chase down a taxi), see the place in a flash, drinking everything in with one big gulp, including all historical facts and arcane tidbits....then be ready to move on to the next marvel.

I, on the other hand, need to mull over each possible site for weeks, research its history, plan every move and account for every eventuality, know for sure what the entire day, including the weather, will be like, have at least two fallback plans at the ready, and always arrive at the train station at least a half hour early. I also need to let the history and atmosphere of the site gather around me, to experience it through osmosis and imagination, silence and solitude and see the finer details through the lens of my camera. I'll move on to the next attraction tomorrow... or next week, long after this one has been absorbed.

It's been my experience that extroverts can truly live in the moment -- such a trendy thing to do these days. We poor introverts need to absorb the nuances over time, to meld the reality with expectation and imagination, and only in reflection, association and memory will the experience become real to us, part of us.

It was one of those "if it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" kinds of trips -- so much to see, a finite time to see it, and no time in between to rest or even to recover from serious jet lag. I can't even blame my friend for all of this -- it was I who set the sightseeing schedule, not realizing at the time I was sabotaging my own experience.

The plan was: a week in France, a week in England, hitting some high points that each of us had seen before and wanted to share with one another, and to see some new things together that had piqued our interest. A leisurely drive through the Loire valley, not to visit the chateaux but a pilgrimage of sorts to the abbey where lie the tombstones of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. (OK, maybe we were really searching for Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn of "The Lion In Winter," but whatever.) Throw in Paris, Chartres, Fleury Abbey, Orleans, London, Windsor and York in 14 short days, and you get the idea. Thank God we decided there wasn't quite enough time for a side trip to Haarlem or Amsterdam!

About three-quarters of the way through the trip, I'm afraid my response to almost everything was, "If it's Tuesday, shut up, leave me alone and let me sleep! NO, I will not walk another two miles to dinner because my feet are killing me now!"

In the end we saw everything we planned, and more, and I arrived home completely exhausted, lollygagging in bed for (seriously) two days before venturing out even for the mail. Transatlantic travel with all the post-911 security is not for the weak, the lame or the getting older. Those little airline seats aren't for the ample of ass, either. Although I had an hour between flights in Dallas on the last leg of the journey, I literally had to run for the gateway because of security delays and changes in gates. (WHY do they do that?)

It's taken 11-1/2 months for me to be able to look back upon that trip with fondness and a bit of nostalgia. It's also taken nearly a year for my introverted brain to assimilate the wonder of everything we saw and experienced, to filter the reality of it through my imagination and be able to realize the amazing history we touched upon. It's quite overwhelming to stand in a cathedral that has stood for a thousand years or longer, to walk on a 4th century Roman floor, and to tour an 11th century kitchen endowed by the most powerful woman of medieval France. I wish, like my friend, I had been able to internalize and feel all this at the time, but only time has been able to impart that to me.

If I'm ever brave enough to venture forth again to Europe, it will be for a much longer time and with far fewer goals. It will be with the knowledge that to appreciate history, I have to become a part of it, even if that's only in my imagination.

Next time, if it's Tuesday, it will be France....and the next Tuesday still France...and the next, and the next, and the next.

Well, maybe one quick side trip to The Netherlands....

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