288 Hours Together…in Europe

My husband, Jimmy, and I traveled for 12 days together this summer. We went to Paris, Venice, Cinque Terre, and Florence.

We rode bikes, ate amazing food, toured cathedrals, fumbled with different languages, ate more amazing food, talked with interesting people, drank wine, and ate more amazing food. I hope these are the kinds of things that everyone does when they go to Europe (however, I know it’s not because I watched a lot of other tourists being real idiots, but that’s another post).

The surprising part of our travels wasn’t how the places and people affected us, because we expected that to happen, and it did. The surprising part was how traveling for 12 days changed our relationship.

I started to reflect on our long flight home (9 hours), and this was the longest uninterrupted time we’d ever spent together. Our honeymoon was only a week. We’d spent 12 days, 288 hours, together without killing one another! Something to celebrate! Flight attendant, I’ll have another free glass of wine. (Alcohol is free on international flights! Can you believe this? Who thought, let’s put a bunch of tired strangers on a cramped, sealed vessel together and give them all the booze they want? Crazy.)

The point is, we entered into new territory during this trip because traveling to a different country, especially when you don’t speak much of the language and are on a budget, demands a lot from you. At first it was rocky, but we quickly got our traveler wits about us and became a real team. We were already a team in our everyday lives, but this was different. This experience was intensified with different demands, AND we were always together. In our usual lives, there are other members of the team, like friends, family, and co-workers. We only had each other to depend on this trip.

One of the best pieces of advice given to us before we married, and the advice flows like gelato in Italy before you get married, was to view our differences as strengths, not annoyances. I’ve thought about this often during our first year and a half of marriage, but I really “got it” on this trip. I imagine this “survival” mode is what parenting feels like times about a hundred.

For instance, Jimmy has a whole hell of a lot more patience than I do. I’m not proud to say that I want things when I want them. But, people, I know what I want. I also like to think fast, and I want others to do the same. I tend to get really excited and also really pissed off. I fit in with the Italians this way. Jimmy, on the other hand, is more even-keeled. Sometimes, maybe, even a little too slow to react. I think he would agree with me on this one.

Here are some examples of how our differences were really strengths on this trip:

A. You have a flight leaving from Paris to Venice at 7:30 AM. Your hotel tells you no train leaves at 5:30 AM, which is when you need to leave Paris to get to the airport in time. Your hotel is lying to you because they get a commission from the shuttle bus that they recommend. You smell something fishy. You find a train attendant the night before your flight, and he swears, in broken English, that an RER train leaves from St. Michel at 5:35. He seems nice. You trust him and put all your eggs in that basket. (Nothing online is very helpful, neither are other Parisians). This sounds like one of those horrible word problems from seventh grade, but this is the setup for our morning trip to Venice. We’re a bit nervous that morning because we don’t want to miss our flight, but my instincts really liked the train attendant. I trust him. He knew what he was talking about; he smiled at me. We get to the St. Michel stop, take one last look at the Notre Dame, and then realize the station is empty. We run down the steps and scan the screens for outgoing trains. Our stop isn’t listed. After about thirty seconds, Jimmy said, “Let’s just get a cab.” We had ten minutes to figure this out, and a cab would cost us 40 Euros. “Just wait. I know that guy was telling us the truth.” I put my ticket into the machine, and in true Parisian-style, it spit it back out at me. Okay, now you’ve pissed me off, train station. Oh, I’m coming in, and I’m taking your train, too. I threw my bag over the gate. “Megan!” Jimmy whisper-shouted. I jumped over the gate. “Come on. I think it’s downstairs. Give me five minutes. Then we’ll get a cab.” Jimmy inserted his ticket and the machine decided to let him right through.

We ran downstairs with our rolling, cumbersome bags and finally found an area where trains were leaving. I immediately start to search for someone to ask for help, while Jimmy stares at the confusing configuration of signage. Europe is not the best on signage. A Moroccan man politely pointed me in the right direction, I grabbed Jimmy, and we stood and waited. The train arrived at 5:40, just five minutes late, and we were off. We made it to our flight as it was boarding, only we only spent 16 euros versus 40. Score!

B. Throughout our entire trip we relied on a lot of maps and directions from different people. I’m not the best with directions. It isn’t that I can’t follow them or that I don’t have a sense of direction, I do. But I begin to believe they are the wrong directions if I don’t arrive at my destination quickly. I know I’m supposed to enjoy the journey and all that stuff, but if you are lugging around luggage in the hot Italian sun, sometimes you just want to get to your hotel and its shower. For example, the trip to Venice was like a video game, catching the train in Paris; then catching the small plane; then finding the ferry; then we finally step off onto the island. It’s beautiful. I can’t wait to explore, but I smell bad, and I want some creature comforts. Our directions were: Turn left until the street ends and then turn right. Simple enough, right? What the directions failed to mention were the set after set of steps on this walk-till-it-ends road. After about two sets of 40 steps, I started doubting. Wouldn’t they mention how many steps you had to climb to get there? It seemed like an important landmark. Maybe some mileage or distance? “This can’t be right,” I said. Jimmy answered with, “Let me take your bag.” I say no, but then after the next set of stairs, I let him. He lightened my load and my perseverance grew. And his quiet patience paid off. The hotel was exactly where it was supposed to be. The directions were simple and right. I would have had us going down side-streets and asking every shop owner if we were on the right track. That’s the thing with trusting your instincts–they aren’t always right. Thank goodness, my husband relies more on logic. By the way, we loved our hotel in Venice, Allogi Barbaria. It was worth every step.

These are two mini examples from a trip that was full of teamwork. I would have never seen the inside of the Notre Dame if Jimmy hadn’t insisted we wait in line, which ended up moving quickly and we got to hear a service when we got inside. Or the many meals and tours we would have missed out on if I hadn’t made a reservation. It definitely took both of us to make this trip happen.

Some vacations should just be about relaxation. Believe me, I can get on board with sitting in a chair on the beach with a daiquiri in hand, but I also really appreciate what this type of vacation did for us in terms of growth. We learned so much about other cultures and people, but we also gained a lot of gratitude for our relationship.

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