Onward to Europe, our way

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

My wife Lisa and I are traveling to Ireland next month for a much needed vacation. I’m embarrassed to say it’s the first time I’ve traveled internationally since 2001, when I was in Italy a month after the 9/11 attacks.

That trip — my first to Europe — was wonderful, though colored by the palpable omnipresent gloom of 9/11. I had a quick layover in Paris, just enough time for a pastry and espresso at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was huge, modern, and filled with heavily armed French military. I knew international airports would be changed by the 9/11 attacks, but this was my first look and it was jarring.

After getting settled in at my first destination, incredible Florence, I quickly learned that the American way — rushing all the time — wasn’t going to fly in Italy. The pace of everything was slower, more humane, more human in fact. The care and respect given to food and truly savoring meals, the reverence for art and architecture, new and ancient, and the insistence on rest (Siestas?!? Are you kidding me?!?) had a profound effect on me. I spent most of my time in Florence, Siena, Venice, and San Gimignano wandering around museums, in modest restaurants with spectacular, unfussy food and wine, or just sitting in public squares sipping coffee, reading and watching people.

It was transformative.

I returned to my then Venice (California!) home determined to change my ways. But here we are 22 years later and I’m right back where I’ve always been, fully immersed in the myth of “multi-tasking,” rushing about, saying “yes” way too much, and feeling guilty about not doing enough for my family.

It’s astounding to me that it’s been so long since I’ve been anywhere more than a few hours away by plane. But raising children has been my primary vocation for most of these past 22 years, and to be honest, international travel just didn’t sound that appealing, what with all the gear and preparation required to cart three kids halfway around the world. Perhaps it was the age gaps, with each child about four years apart; it was like having three completely different species of human, each with specific needs and requirements, emotional and physical. Managing all that chaos was challenging enough at home. I couldn’t fathom pulling it off so far from the familiar.

I have oodles of friends and family who have regularly taken their children overseas and continue to do so. I know it’s possible, but it just didn’t feel right for my family. I’m open to the possibility that I was wrong. I probably was. Again. Regardless, my youngest kids are now 13, nearly 18, and 21. They’re just going to have to see the wide world on their own time, barring some later in life inspiration from their old man.

I’m not yet sure what Ireland has to teach me. I hope to come away awed and inspired by its history, art, architecture, food, music, and people, just like I was with Italy all those years ago. My friend Danny’s been to Ireland many times for work and pleasure. He had some great advice about rental cars (pay for the full coverage insurance because driving over there is much different, and not just because they do it on the wrong side of the road), among many other things. The overall takeaway was music to my ears: the best thing about Ireland is the people. They love talking and telling stories. Yay! I love listening.

I also have deep roots there, as my father’s family — who are a near complete mystery to me — come from County Mayo. So, we’ll go there and see if we can find some of my paternal relations, or at least some evidence of this heretofore opaque branch of my dysfunctional family tree.

And though Lisa was born in England, she too has never seen Ireland, so this trip will be a first for both of us. She’s been busy monitoring the weather in Dublin and Galway — generally in the high 40s to low 60s, windy, rainy, typical for this time of year apparently — and doing practical stuff like finding hotels for our roundabout of the island by car over the course of two-plus weeks. Me? I’ve been obsessing about shoes, finding the perfect jacket (waterproof not water resistant!), and researching compression socks. Who knew compression socks were a thing?

One might correctly say I’ve wasted weeks sweating the minutiae of travel. But as our departure date has grown closer I’ve come to realize Lisa and I are well suited European travel companions. She too is cool with leaving just a little to chance and taking roads less traveled in the interest of spontaneity and adventure. We both abhor spreadsheets, preferring to “simply wander” rather than check boxes on a list of must see attractions. Neither one of us is an early riser, nor are we looking for that perfect mountain hike. In fact, we’d prefer a nice sit and a glass of wine or a pint, if you don’t mind.

We’re booking hotels every other day or so, making space for unexpected overnights in TBD locales. This may backfire, of course, but I believe we’ll be able to navigate whatever obstacles our willy-nilly-ness brings forth.

We promised each other we’d do this once a year whether we like it or not, with each of us choosing the destination on alternating years. Ireland was Lisa’s pick. Next year I may force her to sit on a beach somewhere for an extended period of time and do nothing but sip tropical drinks and read a stack of books. Or Japan. Not sure yet.

Sorry kids, you’ll have to dream up your own adventures.


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