Having been involved in other, more remunerative activities, Consulting Editor Tom Bestor, a Gemütlichkeit co-founder, hasn't been heard from in these pages since late 80s. This 17th anniversary issue seems an appropriate time for him to step to the podium and say a few words. - RHB.
One of the best things about Gemütlichkeit readers is their attitude toward travel. You don't simply share our love of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, you also seem to share some of our philosophy about how you experience places foreign. A few weeks ago, as my brother and I sat late one evening on his deck, sharing a bottle of wine with his friends, the discussion turned to just this topic; how does one maximize the travel experience? Time and money, after all, are in short supply.
My answer is simple: travel deep.
The cliché of American travelers (and like virtually all clichés, it's based in truth) is that we tend to skip from place to place, cramming as much variety into a trip as possible. This penchant was epitomized in the 1969 movie "It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium". The British version might be Monty Python's famous travel agent sketch, in which Eric Idle talks non-stop to a travel agent about wanting to avoid the sort of package tours where one is carted around in buses, surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs in their cloth caps and their cardigans, complaining about the tea, 'Oh they don't make it properly here, do they? Not like at home,' and so on.
On a first trip somewhere, it can be valuable to spread your net wide in order to see what calls to you, to make mental notes of regions to which you want to return and explore more fully on subsequent journeys. But I still hear of people who trot off to Europe for three days in London, three in Paris and somewhat less than a week in Northern Italy, which gives them time to do Florence, Venice and a day trip to Siena and/or Pisa. Short attention span travel.
If that satisfies you, fine, but ultimately, all travel is about choices; after all, you can't go everywhere. The 'travel deep' philosophy simply means choosing to narrow one's focus. Like many philosophies, it doesn't have a lot of rules just guidelines. And only three at that:
Stay Longer in One Place
For example, you could take a two-week trip consisting of three days in Berlin, three touring the Mosel valley (Trier, Bernkastel-Kues, Cochem, ), a couple of days in Munich, two more in Salzburg, two in Zürich and two for traveling between those places. Or, you could choose to spend a full week in Berlin, and another week at the Chalet du Lac near Interlaken. Or do a couple of weeks in Vienna. Or rent a house in the Ticino.
One of my favorite trips was two weeks in a studio apartment in Paris, attempting the life of a Parisian. (Albeit a Parisian without a job, and only basic skills in French.) I'd already seen the major sights (the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Center, etc.) and had gone deeply into second tier sights, as well: the Rodin Museum, Victor Hugo's house, the catacombs, etc. Thus freed from my normal desire to bag attractions like I was on some sort of cultural safari, I was able to experience the city in a different way.
On the first three mornings I was there, I tried three neighborhood bakeries. When I had decided which I liked best, I went there for the next 11 days for a morning baguette and brioche. I spent hours in the Parc Monceau reading and people-watching. I wandered through department stores and watched Parisian kids whining about what their moms wanted them to wear and didn't even need French to know what was being discussed.
The point is, focus brings freedom. Suddenly time seems to stretch out in front of you. And that makes vacation time (which is precious for most of us) more relaxing. And it all comes from narrowing your options.
This works no matter how much time you have—if you have only a day in a city, you can decide to concentrate on one neighborhood, maybe even a single intersection, rather than trying to cover it all. If you have a month, try spending it all in one country, or even one region.
Live Like a Local
Even if you're only in a place for a few days, traveling deep means jumping feet first into the lifestyle of the place. Get around the way the locals do—often by public transit. Go to a cultural or sporting event. Pick up the local paper. Read it if you can. Go shopping for mundane things like shoelaces or writing paper. Go to the same place often enough and you might even be invited to sit at the Stammtisch, the table reserved for regulars in many German, Austrian and Swiss restaurants. Order food and wine that comes from the region. Stay away from places with translated menus, and from other tourists.
Avoid Americanized Places
Sure, locals go to Starbuck's and McDonald's, they're now global brands, but hanging on to such lifelines of familiarity prevents you from fully experiencing the foreignness of a place. And isn't that at least partly why you're traveling?
So on your next trip out of the country, think about traveling deeper—you might be surprised at what you find below the surface.