|Tue, Sep 23, 2014 06:20 AM
|Issue of September 17, 2014
August 14, 2013 | 10:54 AM
I think I have finally emptied all of my travel bags, pockets and folders and washed the last load of vacation clothes. I wish I could say that all of the household chores that built up during my three-week absence are completed and that the e-mails have all been responded to, but that is not the case. When you return from a trip, everything seems to need attention at the same time.
It is also true that about three days before one leaves for a trip, it enters the mind that perhaps the time off is not worth the preparation. I always try to avoid this trap by organizing my workload differently or making new priorities. But, alas, I have found no effective system to deal with the mail, plant watering and newspaper delivery.
I usually either have the newspaper held until I get home or I return to a stack of pink plastic sacks that are covered with a variety of dust and driveway grit. I go through these old newspapers with a fine-toothed comb hoping to become up to date on what happened while I was away. This year I took advantage of a new service by my Indianapolis paper; I subscribed to the newspaper's online version and told it to donate the copies to schools. I felt good about this efficient and productive solution to the newspaper pileup. But I found I couldn't work the "app" on my phone and never did get the important stuff sent to me. I now fear I will be out of date.
In order to survive the "getting ready" period of the trip, I told everyone I was not scheduling anything until my return. I guess you can see where I am going with this. Opting out of the mainstream of activity is just not realistic.
My trip was a beautiful cruise down the Rhine River through Europe. No responsibility here, just a marvelous view. However, I wonder if I couldn't have seen the same places by watching a good TV travelogue. I probably would have learned more.
I was disappointed that the largest part of the trip's programming was shopping stops in tourist towns. I could have been anywhere on the planet because the items for sale were all made in China. I couldn't even find a wood carver at any port on the German section of the Rhine River.
My fellow travelers were interesting and of good nature. And, I must admit, the food here at home is subpar to that on the ship. But, at night on the boat, the fine meals were followed by entertainment that had no foundation in the countries we visited. It wasn't bad, but it didn't connect us to the life and places we had come to explore. It felt as though the tour company thought its guests just wanted to be coddled and amused.
During the day, we often did a lot of walking, with stairs and uneven cobble-stones along the route. This was not easy to navigate, and many in our group were elderly. As I followed my cohorts through the days, I heard no griping or moaning. They just kept chugging along. Don't tell me these folks just wanted the easy life of mindless entertainment. They had active minds and wanted to experience new places, people and ideas. They wanted to see old buildings as well as learn how these old buildings are relevant today. They wanted to hear how the European Union is functioning and what that means to international stability and to the workings here in the USA. They wanted to understand how the Rhine River contributed to the development of Europe.
We have tourists and guests in our communities. What do we provide them that will enhance their lives and involve them in new experiences? How do we bring them into the story of rural or small-town life in the year 2013? How can we share that which is unique to our community and can't be found anywhere else? Our little First State Capitol alone won't do it.
During my preparation for this trip, I tried to reduce my normal daily activities. I returned from the trip "on overload," and so I remained disengaged. While I was on the cruise, I was lifted to the never-never land of no responsibility or opportunity. Life was nonproductive and unstimulating.
By contrast, two experiences on our trip took us to the heart of the places we visited: the Flanders Field area in Belgium, of importance in the first world war, and the Liberation Museum in Holland, depicting the second world war. Both expressed the human side of war. The presentations were interactive, using historical settings with up-to-date technology to describe the tragedy. Our guide emotionally explained that these disasters weren't caused by storms or lack of resources, but by human hands.
These weren't sweet, happy stories but, instead, reminded me of why our awareness of situations in the world is urgent and important. They made me know why I came all the way from Indiana to witness them.