Yesterday, I returned from a 10-day family vacation to London and Paris and have finally came back with a keener understanding of what constitutes a good vacation for me. I surprisingly returned without major jet-lag and am enjoying some down time. Though the trip had ups and downs, I learned so much about traveling and even about what I want my life to be like for the next few years. WARNING: a rather lengthy, rambling, personal disclosure follows.
The journey started in London: a place that I’d only ever read about or seen in movies. We took several guided tours and while these were, for the most part, pleasant and informative, I found them more trouble than they were worth. The first one was only partially “guided;” the company just drove us to the Warner Bro. Studios for the Making of Harry Potter tour (which was really great, by the way). The next tour we took covered Oxford, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Shakespeare’s birthplace, and Warwick castle. Our guide was very nice and knowledgable, but I found that everything was much too rushed. We didn’t really get to see Oxford (though I think British universities in general aren’t as open about campus tours as American universities) and I’d have loved more time to explore Stratford. The last tour took us to London Tower and Birmingham Palace, and once again, everything felt a little hurried. All in all, I think I could’ve done without the guided tour experience. It’s nice on one hand because you get a guide and special privileges such as group entrances at the more popular tourist destinations. However, I’d rather pick fewer attractions and take my time… It all sounded like a good idea in theory!
My overall impression of London is simple: I loved it. I loved the weather, the overall atmosphere, the customs, and the people. Although London isn’t famous for its cuisine, we had great meals the entire time. It also rained sporadically during the few days we spent there, which was a refreshing interlude in my Texas summer. I’ve been saying for a while that I want to study abroad in England, and now I know for sure that that’s what I want. I could really picture myself in the city–taking the Tube, enjoying endless gray skies, drinking lots of tea, reveling in the rich literary history. After hearing one of our waiters talk about Americans in the area, I even started imagining myself moving there one day! I know it’s far off, and a semester or year abroad will give me a better idea of what daily life is actually like, but I like to think of the possibility that I could really do it. It made me realize that I can do anything I want with my life; go where I want, do what I want. If I can find a decent paying job, that is. But still… The possibilities are thrilling.
Paris was a different story. Though I didn’t like it quite as much as I liked London, I liked our approach much better. Obviously it’s just as historic as London, so we had our tourist destinations to tick off on the list. Versailles, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, and Champs Elysees were pretty much all we had the time to do, but I was more than okay with that. Before arriving, I was really enthusiastic about everything that a European History and French student like myself should be enthusiastic about, but I found that I really disliked most of the major tourist venues. In fact, I felt pretty guilty about my lack of excitement. I’m the kind of person who appreciates history, so shouldn’t I have been psyched? I wasn’t. And for these few, simple reasons.
- I hate feeling like an obstruction. And in big crowds, you always feel like an obstruction.
- Apparently I have claustrophobia.
- There’s always much too much to see, accompanied by a feeling of sinking disappointment because you can only hope to skim the surface.
- I was surprisingly underwhelmed by seeing famous things (Mona Lisa) in person. I can’t explain this one.
The two things I appreciate most on vacation are the chance to absorb the overarching character of the city and visiting beautiful landmarks. Let me explain about absorbing character: what I like most about traveling is actually eating, simply because you get good food and the chance to learn (in a subtle, offhand way) more about the people and culture of the country. Seeing landmarks gives me more sense of awe and history than paintings do. Maybe it’s an unpopular opinion, but I just don’t get as much from seeing the paintings I’ve seen on computer screens and textbook pages in person (to my credit, I’m very interested in other museum items such as antiquities and sculptures). I do, however, feel the significance of a place like Notre Dame. I guess I’m just not a major art person. Now that I have a better knowledge of my interests, I can cut straight to the things I know I’ll enjoy.
The trip, while sometimes rough, really allowed me to get a feel for what I want to do when traveling. In the future, I’m not gonna let people shame me for not enjoying things that you, in theory, should. Because, after all, aren’t we all entitled to our own opinions? Some people don’t get any more pleasure from a physical book than an e-Reader (which I am equally as appalled by as art buffs will be by my previously mentioned aversion to paintings), some people might not care to visit the major tourist
traps spots. Traveling is all about what you personally make of the experience, and if I leave content, it shouldn’t be anyone’s business where I went or what about the trip made me happy. Does it all really matter in the end? “It’s a must!” is officially one of my least favorite phrases ever.