On Luxury

crispydoc Uncategorized 28 Comments

At the time of writing, we are in the midst of the most luxurious vacation we have taken yet as a family.

I do not consider it a luxury for the accommodations, although they more than meet our needs.

Lodging has averaged under $60 a night with all places offering 2 bedrooms and 1 bath, full kitchen, washer, and decent wifi. All were obtained exclusively via airbnb**.

Our current residence is a renovated 500-year-old Cycladic villa with original stone arches on the interior, picturesque whitewashed walls and intense blue shutters outside, and several decks overlooking olive groves and church domes of the rural Greek countryside.

I do not consider it a luxury for the food, although it is sumptuous.

I start each day with big bowls of backpacker’s delight al fresco on the deck: peak summer fruit, Greek yogurt and muesli.

Pinic lunches include smoked turkey sandwiches on fresh baked baguettes (a dollar buys a crusty loaf the length of your arm) and soft pita dipped in freshly smoked eggplant, a Greek version of baba ganoush.

Dinners are Greek salads, roasted kebab, souvlaki and gyro sandwiches eaten at one of four tables overlooking the only road of this one-road town. Our dinner theater: acrobatic performances by the swallows that nest behind the building.

Last night, for dessert, we inquired at a bakery if they sold any fresh baklava. Bracing us for disappointment, the proprietor replied, “I’m afraid we only sell baklava dipped in chocolate.”

Daily food costs for our family of four: 25 euro (~$30; add another $5-7 daily for gelato).

I do not consider it a luxury for the beaches in tiny fishing villages.

Their color palettes are like Hockney paintings emptied of all but blues and greens surrounded by homes of bone white, with water clear as glass.

Image

I consider it a luxury because this vacation is about time.

There is time to drive sinuous roads the width of a single car leading to orphanages that serve as trailheads for secluded beaches.

There is time to stop for an espresso under the arch of a Byzantine church.

There is time to chat with a favorite waiter at a local cafe. He has become a source of information (and our kids a source of his amusement) since usually we are the only patrons.

On our final visit he brings me a single large bill as change, and I ask him for smaller bills so that I may tip him. He sheepishly smiles, then unexpectedly bear hugs me and says, “No, it’s okay, thank you.” I’m thrown, having never interacted this way with a waiter, so we leave it at that.

There is time to visit the nearby waterfall, passing endless fig trees that remind one of our party of the elusive bowel habits that international travel have disrupted, and which will take a week to normalize.

This is time for the kids to fight, and for the adults to lose their tempers, and then for all involved to work through the issues and build a fragile peace over gelato until the next day’s eruption.

There is time for the kids to exhibit affection, the mermaid older sister supporting her dog-paddling younger brother by the belly and he practices dipping his face into gentle turquoise waters, or practicing gymnastics beside him as he digs a hole in the sand.

Image

There is time to be comfortable with our outsider identity, the same one that protects our frugal ways from social pressure to spend.

The beaches contain the occasional topless French middle-aged tourist and her partner in a speedo, both smoking cigarettes. Females from toddlers to geriatric age wear bikinis without exception, maximizing exposure of flesh on bodies of all shapes and sizes.

My wife and daughter are in one-piece suits, and all four of us wear long-sleeve rash guards. We come from flammable stock (think melanoma), and like the former drummer for Spinal Tap, have been known to spontaneously combust.

We also use sunscreen whose viscosity and opacity resembles infant butt cream. (That’s what was on sale in travel size a few weeks before our trip).

For three remarkable weeks, we have the time.

My crotchety old man refrain to my wife is that the kids are bound to resent us in the future, just for issues totally different than those we currently suspect.

When that painful time comes, and they explore who they might become by deciding how they are not like us, I hope they’ll remember this time as a spectacular experience whose  memory bring us together.

**save $20 while I make a small commission at no cost to you

Comments 28

  1. Looks like an awesome trip Doc!

    Extremely luxurious haha… just kidding, but trips like these are so awesome, and i think much needed from time to time, especially in the high stress environment of most careers.

    Time with family is always awesome! I’m very surprised about the waiter story… that’s pretty cool to hear, I’ve never quite experienced anything like that ever.

    Sadly most of the ones I’ve come across are typically out for self…. which i guess i can’t really blame them for, isn’t that human nature?

    Cheers!

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks TJ! This summer was an ambitious one for us – fulfilled a dream of travel with family I’ve had since before we started a family.

      Half of me feels like if kids have a pool and a park, you can take them anywhere, with many wise folks arguing that it’s not worth taking big trips since they won’t remember and may not appreciate travel at this stage.

      The other half feels like these experiences will be a nice foundation for the four of us to refer to years from now as wonderful shared adventures, memories to sustain us through the potentially turbulent adolescent years.

      The waiter moment totally blew my mind – guess I’m not the only sensitive new age guy out in this world after all. Like many of the most meaningful human interactions I’ve had, I tend to view those experiences that illustrate the better angels of human concern as most representative of what we can be like at our best – that’s far more telling of human nature in my book (or through my rose-colored glasses, as the case may be).

      Happy you could stop by!

      Fondly,

      CD

  2. You have definitely had an amazing vacation and it was fun living it vicariously through your posts.

    You are right, luxury is not how much you spend, but how much you live when on a vacation. Kudos on getting your priorities in order and truly enjoying the luxury of time.

    I have taken more than a week vacation, a 3 wk one for me sounds amazing and will have to do that sometime.

    1. Post
      Author
  3. Welcome to European sensibility, a different smoke than Cali no doubt. Your experience of the waiter is my favorite part of travel. Imagine looking out your hotel window and seeing 200 people orderly lined up in a park, kid to geezer practicing tàijíquán (aka Tai Chi) Superb post. It’s nice to take the spurs and cowboy hat off once in a while and slather on the baby butt cream.

    1. Post
      Author

      Oh, we leave the broad-brimmed hats on and simply add the zinc oxide cream as another barrier. In the beach community where we rented an apartment before purchasing our current home, our favorite mother and daughter run gelato shop would see us entering and yell, “The bucket hat brigade is here!”

      I love seeing how well other people pull off being human in other places, it leaves me with hope and perspective.

  4. Really hope PoF gives you appropriate plaudits for the Spinal Tap reference.

    Given the turnover in the role I hold as a VP for a MegaCorp, I reference the drummer about twice a month.

    1. Post
      Author

      That’s far less frequently than I’d expect in that role; you must be doing something amazing with employee retention.

      And it’s hard to top PoF with his Christopher Guest posts turning it up to eleven. I have yet to successfully incorporate the phrase, “Home for Purim,” in a post, but a boy can dream…

    1. Post
      Author

      BC,

      Thanks for the kind words. I think the three weeks in Greece were the first time in over 20 years I can recall an uninterrupted stretch of this duration. Looking at ways to make life like this more often…

        1. Post
          Author

          B.C.,

          I completely get your husband. This has been my dream summer – that kid in a candy store sense of giddy gratitude washes over me frequently, for no good reason, and I can’t help but smile. It really does feel like we’ve gotten away with some sort of perfect crime!

  5. This is the type of vacation that my wife and I have dreamed about for our kids in 10 years. Living slowly (even for 3 weeks) in the idyllic countryside somewhere in Europe (btw, you make Greece look so enticing) and taking our time. Minimal contact with our life back home, no distractions, and all the time and relaxation we can enjoy. And friendly, good-hearted locals and waiters too!

    1. Post
      Author

      DMF,

      We had about a 10 year incubation period for this dream, so definitely keep mulling it over (better yet, the data suggest the longer you postpone going through with a pleasure purchase like a big vacation, the more happiness you derive from that delayed pleasure!). Greece was a great choice for us, just be certain everyone in the family is in top health – some of the locations were quite remote, and my wife and I constituted the totality of health care available in a few villages we stayed in. Not an easy evacuation.

      The locals added a lot of kindness to our travel – they couldn’t do enough to make sure we had what we needed, and they were not wallflowers with their opinions, either. One Athens airbnb hostess who found out we were going to her favorite island made a list of the top beaches and ruins and seemed virtually giddy with vicarious excitement that we were going to her favorite places in her country.

      For our picnic lunches we’d hit the same supermarket deli counter, and befriended the counter guy. Our friendship was cemented when we asked for smoked turkey and pointed to the sample behind the counter. “Now way I’m letting your kids eat that – I’m getting you the real stuff!” His recommendations

      We all returned feeling much more attuned to one another and better rested than I’ve been in decades.

      Can’t wait to hear about your adventures. For what it’s worth, kids don’t seem to be slowing you down much at all!

      Appreciate your stopping by,

      CD

      1. Thanks for providing your thoughts on mulling it over. I can totally see the delayed pleasure and gratification. And I never thought about access to health care in a place so rural. Definitely something to consider!

        1. Post
          Author
  6. Thanks for sharing your trip. Your children will keep it in 5heir hearts forever. I’ve never done a trip where I didn’t feel rushed. Luxury is an attitude and I’ve gotta try me some slow travel!

    How on earth did I not hear of Home for Purim? Especially when I’ve seen Waiting for Guffman more than 10 times.

    I come from flammable stock too. I had basal cell carcinoma on my neck a few years ago. All is good now. I use spf 50 for our daily walks but I just can’t stay in a very sunny spot for more than a few minutes without being uncomfortable.

    1. Post
      Author

      Mrs. G,

      Slow travel is luxurious, but since you and Mr. G tend to excel at slow living, you’ve already mastered the principle; translating it to a new geography is more about logistics than mindset, so you’ve nailed the hard part.

      It’s funny, but I’ve started to wonder aloud, “What if my kids barely remember this as adults?” First I thought it could be considered an expensive fail, but the more I’ve considered it, the more I’ve thought that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal (second helping of cognitive dissonance, anyone?). The travel satisfies ulterior motives:

      1) My wife and I get to travel, which I truly love. I’m a lucky guy, and I’m also the major trip planner and itinerary guru in our family, so when I mull over something elaborate that turns out to be a hit with her, I’m thrilled at how happy it can make her.

      2) My kids get a sense that life is bigger than the bubble we are raising them in. We live in a safe and picturesque seaside community with excellent public schools and verdant hills. They see kids their age peddling chiclets in Mexico and it helps them realize the world is bigger. They also see cultures and lands that are extraordinary, and they feel like experiencing other places is a goal they want to share as well. I want to raise kids who hunger for world experience instead of thinking far away means Orange County.

      3) Had a number three, totally escaped me during my rant on number two. So it goes.

      I’ll mull over the “Home For Purim” and FIRE topic – it sounds promising, but it needs just the right sleepless night to really let it marinate.

      I feel like the flannel-clad guy who drives the tow truck through the snow-filled ski mountain pass on the way to the tony resort town. Really excited your car pulled over so you could sport me 20 bucks to put on your tire chains; grateful for your company here in my lonely neck of the woods.

      Fondly,

      CD

  7. OK now I see. The movie is For Your Consideration. But I didn’t know it existed.

    I got a post for you. “Why Hoping to be Home for Purim is like Saving for Retirement.” Eh?

  8. Great post. Having the luxury of time is amazing. Most of my vacations are go go go, see the sites, snap some photos, on to the next item on the itinerary. I think slowish travel is going to take some practice for me. Hope you are having a great time.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks MD – it was a wonderful experience. Giving up some ambition in exchange for more “interstitial time” let us follow last minute whims wherever they lead us (the bakery, a century old collapsing flour mill) and enjoy the journey. It’s a different “scorecard” for travel, to borrow Buffett’s favored term, but it was perfect for family travel.

      Appreciate the kind words,

      CD

    1. Post
      Author

      NZ Muse,

      Appreciate your encouragement. Italy is a version of heaven – the gelato, the art, Tuscany…I am so glad you got your taste, and I hope you have future opportunities to enjoy it. There’s this unreal sense when exploring places like Italy that I sometimes feel: You mean some folks get to experience this as their daily lives? It’s hard to imagine it feeling quotidian. I’ve heard wonderful things about NZ, and my wife and I have it on our bucket list for the future, so perhaps you are living another’s dream.

      Glad to have you here,

      CD

  9. One of the wonderful things about a family vacation like you have just given your children is that their happy memories of it will get even better with time. My parents are now in their eighties with serious mobility problems and don’t want to travel anymore. But they were adventurous travelers when we were children. I treasure those memories now.

    1. Post
      Author

      RocDoc,

      Thanks for the kind words. I feel a strong impetus to make these memories while we have our health, and I give enough life-changing diagnoses to peers my age that I might feel it more acutely than others. It’s reassuring to hear that those memories you made when your parents were full of vigor are still there – I hope someday our kids will feel the same.

      Fondly,

      CD

  10. When my wife and I went on our honeymoon a year after being married, we visited Greece. We both went to college at Texas A&M and happened to eat lunch at a restaurant that was owned by a graduate of the University of Texas. In case you don’t know, those two had been rival schools for many decades. My wife just happened to be wearing an A&M sweatshirt, and the owner commented on our school’s lack of intellect or something similar. Needless to say we talked to him for a while and found out that he went to school at UT and then moved home to take over the family restaurant.

    I love those types of vacationing stories like your waiter one.

    1. Post
      Author

      Very small world moment, fiberguyr1! A story I didn’t include was the Greek-American waitress we had a terrific conversation with at an outdoor cafe overlooking a park in an Athens suburb. She turned out to have spent a few years in LA before moving home to have a family and be nearer to aging parents, but knew our neck of the woods extremely well. While there’s plenty to be said about the downsides of the global economy, finding a rival school graduate or a former neighbor halfway across the globe does make the world feel less menacing and more intimate. What a wonderful place for a honeymoon!

      Thanks for stopping by,

      CD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.