Years ago (I won't say exactly when!), The Husband and I spent a month and a half backpacking around Europe for our one-year anniversary. We met another American couple in Switzerland and ended up corresponding with them later and even visiting them in their home the following year. During that visit, we were shown an elaborate, beautiful scrapbook that our friend said she'd put together so carefully because, after all, this would be their only trip to Europe.
I recall being so surprised by this--shocked, really--that someone so young (they were our age, and again, this was years ago) couldn't envision herself returning to the continent I had so enjoyed twice and already looked forward to visiting again.
Even as a teenager visiting New York City, I vowed to return at least every five years to places I visited and loved. I haven't quite been able to keep this up, though I've been pretty close with regard to the Big Apple. I (we) took a good bit longer to return to Europe, owing to some years of birthing children, living in genteel near-poverty, travel to other places closer to our Texas home, and oh, yes--moving to Japan.
But we have indeed returned to Europe--and not just to visit this time, but to live. And on our December trip to London (my third time there), I remembered what our friend had said. I still find her sentiments depressing, though I now see that my dreams aren't necessarily hers, and maybe she really didn't want to come back to Europe, anyway. Maybe she felt that since she'd seen St. Peter's, The Louvre, and the canals of Venice, she could check those things off her "list" and move on.
I get it--I really do. I used to be much more inclined to rush manically, rabidly, from sight to sight, country to country, just so I'd have an impressive running tally to show. I kept strict Travel Schedules, that, frankly, were more than a little insane. The Husband followed along as fast as he could limp.
But after having kids, all of that stopped. Not the travel itself--oh, no, our children and travel have never been mutually-exclusive. It's just that now we see what we really want to see, when we want to see it--if we can find the time. We slow down and actually do smell the roses (and eat the ice cream, nap in the mornings, and spend imprudent amounts of time looking at shoes and books--some of us more than others, of course).
I don't fall apart when we can't fit in three museums in one day. I rush past monuments to take in the condiment aisle in a grocery store. Now I take pictures of random things I like--things that enchant me and give me a "feel" for the place I'm visiting, even if those things might not interest someone else in the least. After all, these are things that make our memories more than mental postcards of all the "must-see" sights a place has to offer.
On this trip, don't think we avoided the British Museum or Festal Evensong on Christmas Day at St. Paul's. Those were a couple of our favorite experiences, along with seeing the musical "Oliver!" and taking the requisite red phonebooth photos. But Persephone Books and the graffiti along Brick Lane meant an awful lot, too.
And yes, I'll admit that it helps when you're able to make plans to return, in five years or less.