Ever since I became an adult and started thinking about where to spend my two-week vacation, I’ve wanted something different. I’ve wanted to stay someplace for a while; long enough to get a feel for the rhythm of the place, to get a taste of what it’s like to actually live there.
Americans don’t normally travel like that. Our thing is more like the quick overview. Log as many sights as possible, take pictures of everything and wait until you see the pictures to know what you’ve done. There’s an old movie called “If It’s Tuesday this Must be Belgium” about some Americans doing a guided tour of Europe. It’s satire, naturally but like all satire there’s some truth to it.
Maggie and I saw that in real life on one of our favorite vacations. We were still working, but we decided we’d take our two weeks and see just a little bit of Provence. We wouldn’t see everything, but what we saw, we’d see really well. We spent several days in Fontvieille, a little village that has nothing of interest, except it’s centrally located between several tourist destinations: Arles (scene of paintings by Renoir, Van Gogh and others), Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (where Van Gogh was hospitalized), The Luberon (Peter Mayle‘s adopted home), The Carmargue, a huge wetlands, and many others. We used Fontvieille as a base to spend a day in each place, and felt bad that a day didn’t do them justice. Even then, we didn’t spend all our time touring. We spent one entire day by the hotel pool, eating snacks we’d bought at the local market, reading and watching the Americans rush in and out. We saw a dentist from Chicago dash out in the morning, his family in tow, then drag back in the evening, waving his arms and shouting, “There’s nothing to see in this country! We drove through Arles, Saint Remy, the Luberon, the Carmargue, and saw nothing! I don’t get why people come here!” They must have put a couple of hundred miles on the car. It’s no wonder they didn’t see anything – they had to drive at top speed to hit all of those places, probably eat lunch in the car while Provence flashed by their windows. Maggie and I looked at each other, shrugged and went back to our books. Poor sap. He saw everything and missed it completely.
What we’ve discovered with slow travel is that you get to pick and choose the sights you see: you can see the countryside when the weather is good; go to the art museum on Wednesday, when it’s not crowded; on Mondays, when the museums are closed, you can go to the local market, stroll the historic district, or have a picnic in the park. Since you’re not trying to see as many destinations, you can pause to observe the things you do see, so you come away with a real appreciation for the place. You can leave the camera in the room sometimes, so you can walk around and notice things that you might have missed otherwise. You also save a lot on housing, since you’re renting by the week instead of by the night.
Now that we’ve quit our day jobs, we’re able to take this to the next level: renting by the month. Let me tell you, this is great. We’re getting to know our neighbors a little; the people who work at the local stores and restaurants recognize us (and let’s not kid ourselves, the local bartenders are happy to see us, too). This was worth working all of these years – at our jobs and at our marriage, so we have the time to spend and have somebody that actually wants to spend this much time together. I could have never wanted anything more.