Remember the scene in National Lampoons Vacation when Chevy Chase (Clark W. Griswold) and family reach the Grand Canyon? They're out of cash and in a hurry to continue their quest to Wally World. It's a classic. "Clark, don't you want to look at the Grand Canyon?" He puts his arm around his lovely wife, gazes out a the splendor, bobs is head, wearing that cheesy hat that he stole, and says, "Let's go." Three seconds at the Grand Canyon.
I love that scene. The down side is that is exactly how so many of us manage our travel these days. It's horrible. We as a culture take so little vacation time (a topic that needs more focus...later) so we try to stuff as much activity and as many sights as we can into one small adventure. Let me ask a question. How much time would it take to view the 50,000 pieces of art in the Vatican Museum? Hell, it would take at least 30 minutes just to run throughout the halls at top speed. Another? How long would it take to walk the stairs at the Colosseum? Again, that could take hours.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you view and study all artifacts in the Vatican. We're not all art history or religious study majors. Nor am I suggesting that you put a foot on every step in the Colosseum. But I am suggesting you take your time. Unpack your bags. Stay a while. Sit down in the Colosseum and listen. You may just hear faint whispers of the ghosts of gladiators who died there and the clank of their swords. You may learn that it is the design of all modern sports stadiums and that they could fill it and empty it of its 40,000 spectators in 15 minutes.
Go to the Vatican Museum and stare at the history and mythology of modern human religion. See God, or at least the Catholic version of God. Think you might stay too long and miss seeing the Spanish Steps? Fine. They've been there for centuries. They'll be there long after we're gone. The secret to travel is to travel like you're going to return.
The only way to truly experience and learn about any place is to stay long enough to unpack your bags.
Trip Advisor has articles on what to do in Rome if you only have an hour. Seriously? Fodors has one about what to do in 5 hours. Wow. And how about our friend with two first names? Rick Steves is famous for detailing what you can do in Rome in one day.
Hang out in front of the Pantheon for 30 minutes and you'll see hundreds of tourists clutching their little blue and gold Rick Steves books running in, staying for 45 seconds and running out to catch the Piazza Navona. Check it off the list. Just like Clark's three seconds at the Canyon. Saw it. Been there. Done that. But did they really see anything?
As I write, I'm sitting here on a lounge chair in Mexico watching a cruise ship empty out its passengers for a two hour excursion on land. Then, it's on the water again. Did those cruisers learn anything about Mexico in their brief time on shore? Or, did they simply pay $100 to stay long enough to take a picture of a bird, get molested by trinket vendors, buy a hat and eat a burger at Johnny Rockets? Ah, Mexico. But hey, at least they'll be able to say the saw 8 different towns on that cruise. Sweet. World traveler.
The only way to travel is stay in one place long enough to unpack your bags. Go to Rome and spend a week, maybe two. Who cares if you miss Pisa? You'll be back. You have to think of it that way. Unpack. Take a walk. Get lost. Be bored. Hit up a few different restaurants and bars, you know, the ones in far off corners where to locals go. Have a coffee in the evening. Eat good food and bad. At least you'll know the difference. See the sights at midnight and noon. Stick to the recommendations and time schedules of the travel books and you'll end up seeing a whole lot of nothing and eating in restaurants that are filled with tourists and having food that is worse than the offerings at your local Olive Garden. That would be like spending $2000 on speed dating. Is that how you want to find a husband? Is it worth it?