I can still see myself standing in the middle of the cobbled street, the warm rays penetrating the lush leaves of the tall plane-trees while the lively murmur from the busy tables floats around me. The line of restaurants and cafes stretches far, each with a board listing their daily specials. For a moment, I am transfixed, feeling as if I had walked into one of the Impressionists’ paintings I’ve always admired. My eight-month-old daughter’s shriek of displeasure wakes me up from my revelry, and I push the stroller forward towards the parking lot, abandoning our plan to visit the atelier de Cezanne. She is tired, and she’d had enough. Still, I sigh with pent-up frustration because it was the n-th thing I had to cross off my long list of must-see sights in Provence.
That was ten years ago, on our first family trip when I had realised that travel would never be the same again.
Up until then, the guidebooks for me were never like buffet tables to pick and choose from. I perceived them instead as a list of chores I had to accomplish: try local food – check, enter every famous building – check, walk around the quirky neighbourhoods – check.
There’d be enough time for rest once I’d get home and rest is all I did after I managed to drag myself through the front door.
Away from maddening crowds
For the first few days that we spent in Aix-en-Provence, I’ve pursued and defended my itinerary with zealous belief that it was my daughter who had to adapt. But as I’ve soon discovered, there’s little reasoning with a baby. With resignation, I dumped the heavy guidebook into the nearest bin yet not accepting complete defeat.
To this day, our family travels are about finding common ground, compromising. They are a combination of old family classics such as theme parks, ice creams, swimming pools mixed with hiking, visiting galleries, museums and trying new food, all carefully spread out through the trip not to overwhelm us.
Wanting our family trips to be fun and relaxed, a change from the hectic daily routines of school, work and extracurricular activities, we have gradually stopped visiting famous tourist hotspots that come with crowds, snaking queues and heavy traffic jams.
Years ago to get away from all the tourists descending on to the Isle of Skye and around Loch Ness, we followed one lane roads as far up North as we could get, to a small village Bettyhill near Thurso. Each morning we woke up to the sound of sheep lazily grazing in our front yard. We’d look out the window at the Ocean stretching past the rocky cliffs to determine the itinerary for that day.
If it were raining we’d make an elaborate breakfast with scrambled eggs, crunchy cherry tomatoes and sizzling bacon, wait it out. Sunny spells would kick us out of the house with nothing more than a slice of toast. We’d idle around the coast in search of the perfect sandy beach, where we could ly around on a tartan blanket watching the kids built their elaborate castles in the sand, recreating the ones we’d pass along the way.
After we’d had enough, we’d hike the many abandoned paths cutting through the meadows of heather to reach the razor-sharp cliffs protruding out of the water. There was no schedule or list of sights, just the four of us savouring the Scottish weather, nature and pounds of scones in every little tearoom on our way.
Less is more in the post-pandemic travel
When we travel abroad, we believe in less is more, slowing down, picking and choosing, immersing ourselves into a destination, and not just rushing through, on to the next one.
Travel is not a sprint, not even a marathon, it’s a dive into the unknown depths that beckon us to explore.
We do, on our way to Bettyhill, we stopped in Edinburgh, parked the car and discovered the city on foot, we visited the Castle, but then we let the kids play at a playground in the local park, while the two of us read a book.
Exploring our home
At home, I encourage our family to think in terms of everything. We should experience everything our city has to offer, all the sights our capital is famous for because it will give us a chance to appreciate it more. That is why I love hiking up to the Ljubljana Castle perched on a hill or taking the ride on the Ljubljanica river, which meanders through the centre. Both allow us to see the city we know so well, anew.
For a moment, it’s not about the daily grind. Instead, we are travellers embarking on a new adventure. That is what got us through the lockdown, exploring the nooks and crannies of our city, our country.
And Slovenia is beautiful, encompassing lush forests, calm glacial lakes with surfaces that reflect the snow-capped mountains in the distance, the small chunk of the sea with just enough beaches and vineyards beckoning a taste. Not a bad place to be trapped in, but because it was forced upon us, I had a tough time acknowledging it.
As the lockdown eases around Europe, we start planning new adventures past our border. I am already aware that it will not be the same. The post-pandemic travel will demand a new way, more responsible, slower … I, for one, encourage it. Because as I’ve learned from my kids, there’s always room for improvement.
Hopefully, the post-pandemic travel will make us enjoy travel more. And return home refreshed with a new appreciation for what we’ve had a chance to experience and for what we have in front of our doorstep.