I used to think that vacation was about adventure and challenge: figuring out the train schedules in a small, gritty city in Poland; lugging a backpack through a crowded street market to see the 27th most significant church in Central Europe; struggling over a menu offering "fried frog things" and other creatively translated fare, and eventually coming home with a new stamp in my passport and sense of accomplishment.
Lately, this structured wanderlust, while still alive and kicking, has ebbed slightly, allowing me to experience vacation in a different way--the way my wife prefers it: on a beach, looking out at the water, with a rum drink in hand.
Our latest vacation, billed as Honeymoon, Part II, was a late April escape from Boston to St. John, USVI. I had never really been to the Caribbean before—with the exception of a short business trip to San Juan, PR a few years back—and was anxious to experience a new island, in another ocean (Honeymoon, Part I was in Kaua'i). There was a significant period of my life (ages 9-17) when a trip to a tropical island would have been my greatest dream. I used to be oddly fascinated with lizards, fish and other tropical creatures—the result of a childhood raised on too much Jacques Cousteau and too many PBS nature shows, I guess. At that time, the closest I got to living this life was a few vacations to Cape Cod and the North Carolina coast.
A poolside iguana in St. John
Over time, and after the gradual realization that a career in marine biology was not exactly what I thought it was, this interest faded a bit. I discovered Jack Kerouac and Milan Kundera, visited Europe and fell in love with backpacks, trains, and (briefly) hostels. I learned to subsist almost entirely on baguettes, cheese, and cheap wine. As I longed to push further East--colder, darker, bleaker--my interest in becoming Pierre Cousteau and owning a huge pet iguana was repressed. To me, a vacation on a tropical island was like a cruise that didn't go anywhere. Where are the Soviet-style block apartments? What do you mean you can't get there by train? Why is everybody smiling? That blue sky is unnatural!
As I get older, I'm learning to reconcile my leisure life as lizard-loving snorkeler with my inexplicable fascination with Eastern Europe. A trip to Berlin a few years ago helped provide an improbable fusion: at some point after the fall of the Wall, East Berliners, dumped loads of sand along the Spree River and created several beach bars on the banks--complete with deck chairs, thatched roof bars, and reggae music.
Lounging with my feet in the sand and a cold drink in my hand in the heart of gritty Berlin, all was well with the world...