Well, another year is officially in the books! Another decade too (depending on how you count it). And by some special brand of holiday magic, the sentimental strains of Auld Lang Syne have already softened my recollections of the hectic and stressful days that led up to the sweet close of 2019!
I’m talking about the days where I could no longer park near my grocery store because of the horrendous holiday hordes. Where whatever was left on the shelves inside was one less than my recipe called for. And where listening yet again to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” while waiting in a shopping-cart-to-back-of-the-ankle-tight checkout line that snaked into the flippin’ frozen food aisle (okay – breathe!), I’d come to believe Andy Williams was totally full of tinsel.
In the end though, it was all good! I don’t have agoraphobia or anything – but I will own that huge bunches of people like there tend to be around the holidays make me a little nuts. It’s a nuttiness I’ve also felt in some of the great tourist destinations of the world! A nuttiness – but a privilege!
SEND IN THE CROWDS…
Like in the ruins of the once thriving city of Ephesus in Turkey (pictured at the top). The local river may have silted up long ago, but there’s now a roiling stream of excursionists bubbling over sneaker-polished stones in a rush to view that iconic library facade!
This charming photo is of Mum on a bridge over the Corinth Canal in Greece – but she was not alone! Well yes, I was there taking the picture – but while we jockeyed through a pressing throng for this prime viewing position, a clever thief was positioning himself just feet away to lift a woman’s wallet…
And here’s a picture of my folks holding their own amid the swirls of wind and humanity atop the Acropolis in Athens! While I was tempted a time or two to take a penalty for throwing an elbow, their sightseeing spirits don’t seem dampened at all – probably because you know, in the end, it’s the Acropolis!
Over the years, I’ve tried to be a grown-up like Mum and Dad and learn to share these incredible sights with fellow tourists (while clutching my purse pretty tightly!). But I’ve also tried to find ways of hedging my bet so I can enjoy amazing travel moments both as they happen and as the years go by!
WORKING ON MY TIMING
For one thing, I’ve tried where possible to visit places during off-peak hours. Like my first time viewing the Acropolis was very early one morning before the fleets of tour busses arrived! (I covered this and other Greek travel adventures in The Thrice in a Lifetime Bit.)
Rising early always seems a better idea when I set my alarm than when it goes off – but the chance to experience such a rich piece of antiquity during a calm before the sightseer storm can be worth forgoing the beauty rest!
On another occasion (and I can’t vouch for how advisable this is), a friend and I wandered Washington, DC’s National Mall at night – and the cool and dark of a summer evening really lent to the solemnity of our nearly private tour.
I almost felt part of the statuary platoon makings its way across a field in Korea.
And everywhere we walked that night, it was as if I could feel a quiet presence awaiting his turn to greet me from a far end of the Mall. Eventually, we arrived at the imposing Lincoln Memorial where I got to pay my humble respects.
GETTING ABOVE IT ALL
I’ve also enjoyed getting a feel for my surroundings by ducking the foot traffic in favor of a bird’s eye view. Like after being carried along (albeit happily!) with London crowds beside the majestic River Thames, I crossed the Millennium Bridge to climb up into the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral!
From outside its dome, I could view the whole sweep of my favorite city – a chance to get lost in history instead of (as is my habit) just plain getting lost…
WAITING FOR IT
I’ve always loved taking pictures so I can savor special moments down the road! If I can, I like to get travel shots without tourists in them – and sometimes that just takes a little patience (plus maybe a wee bit of cropping!).
Here’s a section of the impressive grounds of the palace of Knossos on the island of Crete!
No offense to the people I caught in the frame but, according to the digital time stamps, I only had to wait two minutes for the chance to preserve an image of these spectacular ruins without a modern soul in sight!
GETTING AROUND IT
I’ve also found it easier really to connect with a historic site by spending time in an area that might not house quite as big a “big ticket” item. More than once, I’ve found near solitude in the very place that was designed for people to gather – in an agora!
In olden Greek times, agoras were hubs for markets and meet-ups – but I’ve happened to catch a few in moments where they were far less populated than attractions nearby. And it was while wandering the quiet avenues of an agora, able to hear the thoughts in my head and the crunch of ancient earth under my feet, that I was able truly to feel immersed in a bygone age!
In the end though, there’s sometimes no getting around the fact that we have to experience some great places shoulder to shoulder – even cheek by jowl – with others.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Italy’s romantic city of Venice twice! Once on a sunny summer’s day:
And once on a rainy fall one:
Venetian weather dictated very different experiences – but the crowds were a constant!
So, what to do? Well, for me, it often comes down to seeking some small detail or view that draws me in and speaks to me through the pandemonium. Like the differing – and so ordinary – positions of Lincoln’s hands in the statue of a man so great. Or the forlorn perspective from inside the cold stone of Venice’s Bridge of Sighs (definitely more sigh-inducing on the rainy day…). Or the space between the outstretched fingers of Adam and God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
These are moments and images from distant places that I may have had to brave commotion, crowds and even chaos to purchase – but they’re gifts that have proved all the more precious to open again and again in the hallowed space of memory. Wonderful, wonderful days of auld lang syne – well worth a few shoulders and jowls!