How to survive your vacation without shouting at your spouse in public

We were going through security at Sainte-Chapelle when the woman in front of us had a breakdown. The chapel is housed in a complex that also includes a working courthouse, so you have to go through airport-level security to get in. We had been eavesdropping on the American family of four (goofy Dad, somewhat frazzled Mom, smart-alecky college-age Daughter, dorky high school Son) in front of us during the relatively long wait, and they seemed to be having a good time. Mom was explaining the concept of organ donation to Son, Daughter was rolling her eyes good-naturedly, Dad was cracking lame jokes about selling Son's organs on the black market. You know, the usual.

Things went south very quickly when the security guards attempted to confiscate Mom's corkscrew. Dad was still on the other side emptying his pockets and removing his belt when Mom started yelling at him. "THEY'RE TAKING MY CORKSCREW! WE NEED IT FOR OUR PICNIC!", quickly morphing into "I DIDN'T EVEN WANT TO COME HERE AND NOW LOOK WHAT HAPPENS!", ending with an emphatic, exasperated "THANKS A LOT, MARK!" * before she stormed off (sans corkscrew, I might add). Dad, Daughter, and Son looked shell-shocked.

A little later, CM turned to me and said, "I hope I never end up yelling at you and our kids in a crowded public place." "Me too," I said. "But I know I will," he added. "Probably," I said, "and I probably will, too. We'll get through it."

There's no way around it: traveling is stressful. It's easy for tempers to flare and moods to rollercoaster when you're hot, and tired, and thirsty, and not sure where you're going, and you've just been French-waitered** for the tenth time in a row.

CM and I are still figuring out how to travel together. That's not a euphemistic way of saying we're terrible at it, like when my report cards used to say "Louisa is still working on staying quiet in class when the teacher is talking." But traveling together is very different from traveling solo, and we're discovering with each trip what makes us happy and what invariably makes us grumpy.

I've put together a few guidelines of what seems to be working for us so far.

Smaller is better
The worst choice we made on our trip (possibly in our whole lives) was to go to the Louvre. Oh, it's a beautiful museum which houses a breathtaking collection, and I'm sure we would have absolutely loved it, if we had been on a private tour. We were not, however. We were there on a normal morning in mid-June, and this was mostly what we saw.

Just looking at this picture gives me a stress headache

We lasted barely an hour. I for one will not be back any time soon. Thank goodness for the small delights of Paris, like the Orangerie, which just might be my favorite place in the world.

Much better, no?

I also prefer Sainte-Chapelle to Notre Dame and the Museum of Modern Art to the Pompidou. We loved our charming, tiny hotel on the charming, tiny Île St-Louis. The one Parisian exception to this rule is of course BHV, one of the most enormous stores I have seen, through which we wandered quite happily for longer than we lasted in the Louvre.

Plan ahead
We struggle a bit with making decisions in the moment about what to do next, so it helps us to make some plans beforehand. Before we left, I bought us short-term Vèlib subscriptions and boat ride tickets. I also downloaded this guide to help us focus our energies, since we there so briefly. We asked our hotel concierge to make us a dinner reservation at a fun fondue restaurant we'd read about in the guide. We are the King and Queen of Talking About Things and Then Never Doing Them, so having tickets and reservations for things helps us immensely to follow through on our plans.

But be flexible
Because of work schedules, our trips tend to be relatively short, so we like to always say, "We'll be back." It takes so much pressure off when you don't feel like you have to do and see every single thing. For example, I wish we had been able to reserve Eiffel Tower lift tickets in advance, but by the time we tried they were already sold out, and we were too daunted by the lines to do it day of. No problem—we'll be back. We also didn't get lucky with the weather on our trip. It was chilly and rainy most of the time, and we didn't really pack the right clothes. I had pictured us having a lot of picnics in various parks, even going so far as to bring a picnic blanket with us, but the weather just never cooperated. Solution: bed picnics.

This Brie is NOTHING like what we find in US grocery stores. And in the background? Beignets!
Finding the right balance between plans and flexibility seems to be the key to vacation nirvana. We're definitely still working on it (okay, that time it might have been a euphemism).

Find your places
No matter how many guide books you read, the places you remember the best are the ones you stumbled upon yourself. I think it's important, anywhere you go, to find YOUR places, the ones you'll revisit next time and recommend to all your friends. We'll be recommending Les Cocottes de Constant to anyone visiting Paris (although to give credit where credit is due, Anthony Bourdain found it before we did), and congratulating ourselves for finding the Van Dongen exhibit and the Dufy room at the Museum of Modern Art. Those are our places now.

Oh, for all the plans we make and guidelines we follow, I know there will come a day when we will be standing in a public place, in a city that is not our own, shouting at each other over something as seemingly mundane as a corkscrew. We'll say ridiculous things, some of which might end up as running jokes in someone else's marriage.

We'll survive.

*In the retelling of this story, CM is fond of changing this last line to "THANKS FOR RUINING PARIS, MARK!" and my version includes "I HOPE YOU'RE HAPPY, MARK!" While we find both quite entertaining, neither is entirely accurate.

**A couple of my friends coined this verb for when a person, usually a French waiter, deliberately misunderstands something you say because you haven't pronounced it exactly right. CM got French-waitered when he tried to order a Perrier. Honestly.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the survival guide! I will try to only shout at strangers...


Post a comment. Pretty please?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...