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My Road Not Taken

29 Jul

One year ago today, to celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary, Husband and I embarked on our first European vacation. Throughout our trip, we spent time in Rome, Pompeii, Athens, Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi, Santorini, and Heraklion. As someone whose undergraduate degree is in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, the phrase “trip of a lifetime” doesn’t even begin to cover what this vacation meant to me.

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I’ve wanted to write about our trip for the entirety of this past year, but I wasn’t sure how. How could I possibly put into words the magnitude of the significance of what I experienced? There weren’t enough words; there weren’t the right words. A year has gone by. They still might not be the right words, and Lord knows there won’t be enough. (I apologize now, at the start, for the length of this entry.) But I have to try.

There’s a scene in The Jane Austen Book Club where Prudie, a French teacher who had never been to France, is expressing her frustration about devoting her entire life to teaching youth about a culture that she herself had never experienced. It’s a scene that until last year hit all too close to home for me.

Though it may have seemed like it to my family at the time, my archaeology degree was not one that I stumbled into haphazardly. I have an “All About Me” book from my elementary school years proudly declaring that I wanted to be an archaeologist “when I grow up” to prove it. The time spent in my undergraduate courses did not feel like work to me. I could have read about amphoras and friezes and ionic columns and themes in Greek tragedies forever and been perfectly content. I had every intention of continuing my studies in graduate school, and then going to do field work somewhere. I had dreams of getting published and goals of teaching at a University myself someday. To this day I know I could have done, would have done it.

Except for I got engaged in April of my freshman year of college, and got married 15 months later. Husband and I started to talk about our future together and a life with a house and kids and before I knew it, my dreams and goals had changed entirely.

This is the part in my story when I need to be abundantly clear so there is no misinterpretation. It was my choice, made without the input of Husband, not to pursue a career in archaeology. Husband would have supported to me the moon if that’s the path I said I wanted. (He was always, and still is, steadfast in support of my dreams like that.) I wanted the life with the house and kids more than I wanted the life with my pottery shards, and yes, there probably would have been some way to have both. It would have been a way that likely meant extreme financial strain and unplanted roots, and it would not have been a way that led to my happiness. It should also be noted that I love and adore my chosen career path, and am perfectly content to continue teaching for as long as I am able.

Still, though, archaeology has always been my life unlived. There were moments where my friends sent me postcards from the sites that I spent hours studying where I thought I would literally turn green with envy. It got to the point where every time Husband and I talked about another choice in our life (another kid, a bigger house, another family vacation) where I thought I might burst if I had to wait through another life decision before I finally got my turn to at least see with my own eyes what could have been my alternate reality. This trip was no longer the trip I wanted to take someday. It was the trip I needed to take for my own sanity.

As luck would have it, December of 2014 found Husband surfing the internet and stumbling across the cheapest flight to Rome we’d ever seen, just in time for our wedding anniversary. We meticulously planned every detail of our vacation from there, making sure that I would see as much of my archaeological world as we could humanly fit into our 12-night adventure.

Obvious life events aside, those were the best 13 days of my life. To see the details of Trajan’s column up close, to walk through the original streets of Pompeii, to climb the stairs of the Propylaia… Gazing out at the view from Delphi with the stillness of summer and hearing no sound except for the never-ending chorus of cicadas made it so easy to understand why the Greeks believed it to be a mystical place. Hell, if an oracle had appeared predicting my future, I sure would have believed her. That feeling is something no number of textbooks could have ever taught me. To imagine the ancient Greeks traveling all that distance and climbing those same mountains… Like I said before, there just are no words. All of a sudden the people I had spent years studying were not an abstract concept. They were real, and I could feel them, everywhere. I’m not an overly emotional person, but there wasn’t a day of our trip that I didn’t well up thinking about the gift it was to be there. It meant, and still means, everything.

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History nerdiness aside, I was also just so grateful for the cultural experience. I am not well-traveled, and my knowledge of culture outside of my own is embarrassingly limited. I relished every moment of my time in Europe. Every bite taken of a new food, every sentence I heard spoken in a foreign tongue, and every piece of life away from home I saw just made me want to taste more, hear more, see more.

Then there were the people. Professor Camp who took time out of his day off to give us a behind-the-scenes tour of his excavation of the Agora in Athens. Gracious Louanna, whose husband Albert chauffeured us around Santorini. One of our sunset cruise boat crew members who talked to me about dreams of college and made me instantly realize how often I take my own education for granted. The military man and his wife we spent hours laughing with, promising to look each other up on Facebook later except there was all-you-can-drink wine and I’ll probably never be able to recall their names. Our trip wouldn’t have been what it was without people like these. They were, and are, essentially strangers, but now they’re also treasured memories.

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Of course, I can’t talk about the joy of my trip without talking about Husband himself. For someone who sweats basically upon contact with the sun, he was such a trooper. He spent hours in sweltering humidity and 90 degree temperatures watching me read every plaque and examine every toppled column, and he didn’t utter one word of complaint. Husband enjoys history as much as the next person, but I know that every step (and there were many, many steps) of our trip was for me.

This vacation opened up new worlds for me, both literally and figuratively. When I think about our time spent in Rome and Greece, my heart literally aches with love for what I’ve seen and done, and longing to see and do it all over again. I may have taken this trip thinking it was going to satiate my desire to experience the world outside my own, but really all I’ve done was increase my hunger. I’m not sure how and in what capacity, but I know now that travel is something I need to have more of in my life, and hopefully in the lives of my children as well. There is just so much out there to experience, and I want to do it all.

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