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Different focus on travels nowadays?


Apr 6th, 2013, 01:40 PM
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Different focus on travels nowadays?

It seems to me that I recall asking a question about how different your travels are now than when you first began traveling or when you were younger, but I'm going to ask again. When I was younger, I guess I was interested in seeing "stuff"--architecture, different landscapes and cultures, but also in having a good time--drinkiing the local beers and wines, meeting people, partying, etc.

I'm getting ready for a trip to eastern Germany beginning May 15. My focus will be on WWII sites (ones that I haven't seen in past trips) in Berlin and also Cold War sites in Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig. I became especially interested in the Cold War in the DDR after reading several books recommended by Fodorites.

I'm still interested in seeing the architecture and landscapes and experiencing different cultures, but now I focus much more on the history of the area. I don't recall wanting to walk for miles just taking it all in or on sitting in a sidewalk cafe having a coffee the way I do now. Nowadays I try to learn about the history of an area before visiting it.

Recently I've been reading spy novels by Alan Furst, which have inspired me to see more of eastern Europe than the few large cities I've seen in the past. I can hardly wait to see more of these countries, and to see them in as much depth as I can.

I feel like I'm running out of time. I need to see Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuanian, especially after reading Gertie's trip report about them, and of course the Balkans. I traveled through Yugoslavia during the 60's but I was so clueless that I didn't absorb very much. Three of us were camping, and we seemed to focus more on finding a campground, setting up the tent and the cooking apparatus, and finding a shower than on anything like architecture.
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Apr 6th, 2013, 02:43 PM
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Hi Pegontheroad,
I always enjoy your posts and you ask a provocative question. I have only traveled to Europe since the late 90s so I can’t make comparisons with the days of my youth when I never thought that I would be able to see Europe. I am a huge history buff, particularly WWII.

On one of my first European trips with a friend, we did the Munich – Prague – Budapest – Vienna – Salzburg circuit. This was in 1998 just before the euro was introduced so we had to use five currencies. I remember going through a checkpoint into the Czech Republic – an old wooden structure by the side of the road, right out of a spy movie. We knew we were in Eastern Europe after the neat and tidy farmlands we were leaving behind.

I recall folks just over the border selling tacky/gaudy items. We stopped for lunch at an enormous food hall of sorts – previously attached to a brewery in Pilzen. The tour director cautioned us not to expect the level of service/promptness that was available in Western Europe. He said that the lackadaisical manner of the servers was a holdover from Communist days. At that point, the lovely cities that we visited were still pockmarked with reminders of the war and the “Communist gothic” huge apartment buildings that scarred the landscape. I recall noticing how few flowers were planted along the way – it was only my second trip to Europe, my first having been Ireland with plantings in abundance.

On a 2008 trip to Germany I indulged my WWII interest further seeing the Remagen Bridge where the Allies first crossed the Rhine, Potsdam Conference site outside of Berlin, decaying remains of the Nazi rally grounds outside of Nurenburg to name a few. When we visited Leipzig in the former East Germany, I thought the old men around the square had a particularly sad look - they must have seen so much having lived through the Soviet era, then returning to the West. Or was it my imagination?

I would be interested in following your travels through Eastern Europe. It is unlikely that I will be returning to there myself. Last summer I went to Normandy, a favorite with us Yanks. And, of course, I did the Churchill War Rooms a few years back. So many reminders in London of WW II – will be returning there this June.

Peg, have you firmed up your itinerary? Are you flying solo? Taking a tour? Relying of public transportation? So much fun planning, eh?
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Apr 6th, 2013, 02:45 PM
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Yes, I'm noticing a big difference between planning our upcoming trip to Europe than the first time we went. That was when the travel guide of the day was Frommer's Europe On $7 A Day!
In those days we'd just head off and find accommodation a couple of hours before needing a place to sleep. The sheer quantity of planning, reading up on history and pre-booking required now is a stark contrast.

I echo your feeling of traveling in the 60's and being clueless. My travels in the 70's were wasted and had us way too preoccupied with doing things on the cheap.

Our trip starting next week in Rome will be very different now that I have lifetime's accumulation of so much history, literature, art and music.

I hope you get as much out of your trip next month as I know we'll get out of ours.
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Apr 6th, 2013, 03:00 PM
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The internet has changed travel tremendously in that many more people are capable of independent travel and financially many people can afford to travel because it's less expensive to book your own trip rather than depend on a tour.

When I first started traveling I loved the ability to find rooms at the last minute and to walk into sights without lots of other tourists. There was no time limit on your viewing. There was the flexibility to go on a whim and know that you will be able to see the sights and find a room.

I also was clueless when I was younger but that did not diminish the trip enjoyment or the knowledge I gained from those early travel mistakes. It was a different type of trip and I'm glad I had those experiences.

I love the old days of different currency, getting your passport checked at the border and being asked if you have anything to declare. It was also difficult with fewer people speaking English but I learned that I could make myself understood (mostly) and that gave a sense of accomplishment. There was more adventure in travel when you didn't know exactly what was around the corner.

One thing that hasn't changed for me is the more leisurely travel style. Even when I was younger I didn't zoom from place to place, rushing through the marvelous European cities. I liked to linger and walk around and even though I couldn't afford many cafe stops I could sit on a stoop with my water bottle (or bota!) and get the same enjoyment for free.
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Apr 6th, 2013, 03:36 PM
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My younger sister's first trip to Europe was in the 1980's and at the same time I was at home with my babies. We didn't have the opportunity to travel until they finished school. After our first trip I was talking to her about different things we had loved and her response was inevitably along the lines of "nope, didn't see that". When I quizzed her, it turned out she mostly saw pubs and beaches. So Peg, yes I do think travel changes a lot at different stages of your life.
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Apr 6th, 2013, 03:47 PM
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My travel focus is very different now to the time when I first began traveling. All because of a 10-year-old boy!

I never expected to spend so much of my travel time going to forts, military museums, and battlegrounds.

I think my son would love to travel with you both, Peg and latedaytraveler!
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Apr 6th, 2013, 03:56 PM
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Absolutely. In those days I didn't have any money and had to make it stretch by sleeping on beaches and under hedges. And I was too concerned about travelling with friends/other people. I didn't have the confidence to travel alone and do what I wanted. Now that time is running out I want to see Where History Happened which leads me mainly to Eastern Europe and the Middle East (with a bit of Central/South America/Asia thrown in). Gotta cram it all in while I can! And I find that I actually prefer to travel solo so that I can do exactly what I want. Selfish?? Oh yes!
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Apr 6th, 2013, 06:19 PM
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Lateday: How did I ever miss the bridge at Remagen when I visited Bonn in 2001? Aargh!

And yes, I've firmed up my itinerary:

I'll spend five days in Berlin, including a day trip to Potsdam, which for some reason I've never visited.

Then I'll go to Dresden for seven days with numerous side trips to little towns recommended by Ingo, Cowboy, and Quokka.

Somewhere in there I want to visit Castle Colditz where allied prisoners (the "bad boys" who'd escaped from other prisons) were kept. I think mostly British prisoners.

I want to spend three days in Leipzig ("the city of heroes") in order to see the Nikolaikirche, where Leipzigers met every Monday night to pray for peace and afterwards to march in protest silently through the city--at the risk of their lives. I also want to see the Stasi museum, where the files with reports on the citizens were/are kept and also the various spy gadgets.

Then to Weimar, Wernigerode and finally for a couple of days in Frankfurt.

Gertie: Selfish? I don't think so, but maybe because that's the way I prefer to travel.
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Apr 6th, 2013, 06:28 PM
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That sounds like a fabulous itinerary, Peg. Please post when you return as I want to do part of that trip.

Try to take the Frankfurt walking tour. I loved it. We had a great guide the 3 hour tour turned into 5.25 hours as we chatted and walked along.
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Apr 6th, 2013, 06:47 PM
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Not really. I always was deeply interested in the history of the places I visited and did tons of research and read loads of books. I guess the main difference is I used to think nothing of taking a 6- or 8-week trip all over a bunch of countries (always by car), and now I take it more slowly. But I never rushed...I always took my time, and still do.

I always had the confidence to travel alone and alone with children (I think speaking other languages just makes that really easy, compared to folks who speak only English - I was always incredibly eager to try out my language skills with anyone, and got by famously because I did).

Then I got totally hooked and got dual citizenship and bought a house in France, which was an anchor for trips for 20+ years...somewhat limiting in some ways, but also so grounding in others (I know quite a fair bit about prehistoric man now, and know the Dordogne like the back of my hand). Will retire to the paradise home of my dreams and ...well...I had a dream and it appears it will come true. Still have quite a few hurdles, but there's no question Europe, and France in particular, and history, figured enormously in my life, and there I'll be, an old lady on a cliffside in the Périgord.
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Apr 6th, 2013, 10:33 PM
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Hey "pegontheroadr" (or perhaps you go by just Peg?).... I am sure I travel a bit differently, because I live a bit differently. (And btw, what a great question). We started coming to Europe 20 years ago... And have come back at least once each year since. In those early days, we had small children so we picked 2 places and spent a week in each. Some people save their entire lives for that one big trip and need to see as much as they can. I can respect that, but I have a bit more of a natural lazy streak. I think you travel differently when you plan to return. ( I say I travel thru a microscope not a telescope).

My husband and I are now living in Central Europe (at first Slovakia, now Hungary), and I really get your history point. I was not paying close enough attention when the 80 s and 90s were playing out! (Let alone understanding the impact of the Turks, the opulence of an empire). Yesterday, I went to the book store at the Central European University and loaded up on books about this region.

As for time running out, we all start to feel that. But living where we do has made me also understand and appreciate the need to return to a place I know I will love (we love Central Europe, but we do not vacation love it!). The older I get, the less I need to see it all. In fact, it may be why we have decided to become serial expats... The next step in really slow travel.

My happy place is also France. I study French at the local French Institute, I drink French wines, I cook French.... I am old enough to know what makes me happy, and to want to spend as much time as I can in that one spot.
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Apr 6th, 2013, 11:12 PM
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I guess my question is when did "want" become "need"?

There are a lot of things I want to see, but my needs are limited to paying my bills.
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Apr 7th, 2013, 02:29 AM
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Then: go places that are 'famous'.

Now: Small towns; unique beauty (but interesting - - can be stark, challenging, modern, quirky, decrepit, odd juxtapositions - - most of all, it has character); places that are sensually satifying in rare combinations of vision, sound and flavor; pleasant people (was in Amsterdam today - - what a moshpit - - though I'm sure each person would be pleasant in a small town - - Amsterdam is also getting more cluttered and junkier by the minute); great beer.
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Apr 7th, 2013, 02:49 AM
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No, my travel focus has stayed much the same. I hate cities, so avoid them like the plague. I love countryside, out of the way places. They don't need to be ancient or old, a museum is not necessary.

Luckily DH feels the same way.

We never have an itinerary set in stone. We know vaguely what we want to see and do, but if we find something else along the way great! We take our time, and relax. It is a holiday after all, not some death march of museums and history.

When we visit the US for instance we enjoy visiting National Monuments, and BLM sites. The quieter, and more out of the way it is the better. We enjoy Scenic Byways, small towns - if we like the sound of a place on the map we'll visit it, just to see what it is like.
Yes of course we visit some of the biggies like the Grand Canyon, but we have no desire to see Vegas, or New York for instance.

We enjoy finding places by accident. We don't mind if we miss something which is a "must see" for others.

Now he is retiring we will have even less money for travels, so will be concentrating more on Europe than in the past and we'll probably start camping again. City trips won't be on the agenda.
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Apr 7th, 2013, 05:30 AM
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Peg, DH and I were both very interested in history and often made our vacations history related. In the US we explored lots of Civil War battlefields and national cemeteries, colonial sites, Washington, DC, etc.
When I started going to Europe with friends in 2004 there were several of us who loved the historical aspects of travel, and we spent a lot of time doing that, as well as just soaking up the local atmosphere.
DH and I went to France for the first time and while we went to Paris, our main focus was Normandy and the WWII sites. We hired an excellent (and somewhat expensive) guide and got so much out of his knowledge, even though we both had book knowledge. Being there was so different, seeing the beach the allies had to cross to land at Omaha was stunning.
We did the same thing for another trip, this time the focus was on Battle of the Bulge sites. We had a guide for two days, overnighting in Bastogne, and it was simply amazing. It was nothing we could have managed on our own in that amount of time. Well worth every penny!
There's nothing wrong with people watching and cafe sitting, or shopping, or any of the other activities, but we always made sure to have some historical focus for our travels and found it added a much deeper understanding of the country and people.
My upcoming trip to Scotland is with a cousin, who, thankfully, is also very interested in history. And the grandsons I plan to take next year are both into history, so while we'll do other things, we will spend a good bit of time on historical aspects.
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Apr 7th, 2013, 06:14 AM
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Hi Pegontheroad,

Actually the Remagen Bridge no longer stands, just the huge supports at the Rhine’s edge with an explanatory plaque. It was the last bridge remaining for Allied forces to enter Germany at the time- much to Hitler’s chagrin. A great deal has been written about this site.

Potsdam is a must see in my view. About 15 miles from Berlin it was the residence of Prussian Kings and German Kaisers until 1918. Sanssouci Palace (we could only see that from the extensive grounds) is perhaps the best known. The town has gorgeous chateau-like homes, somewhat like the city of Versailles where court figures lived. After WWII the area was neglected under Soviet control but is now being renovated.

Nearby is Cecilienhof, a lovely English Tudor country house designed for the Kaiser oldest son, where the Potsdam Conference of 1945 took place with Stalin, Churchill, and Truman. The rooms where they negotiated and slept are well preserved – very interesting tour, a must for WWII buffs.

Pavot – wrote, “I never expected to spend so much of my travel time going to forts, military museums, and battlegrounds.” Lucky you to share this experience with your ten year old son. He will never forget those experiences.

Gertie, enjoyed your trip report on Eastern Europe. I would not call you “selfish.” Although I have been to Europe in the past with my adult daughters and two close friends on many occasions, now I am focused of seeing exactly what I want and they would not be interested. My friends are great fun but prefer sleeping late, room service, wine with lunch, and shopping. Another thing – the would never walk the same distances and love to “cab it.”

To each his own…
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Apr 7th, 2013, 07:16 AM
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Not much difference except I have a little bit more money these days. I have always been a history buff although in the beginning medieval stuff was my big interest. Now WWII, ancient, still medieval, and everything in between. Still like to travel by myself, find a room on the run (no sleeping in train stations or on park benches these days) and hope to have my own bathroom. Didn't start renting a car until the mid-80's so now don't have to depend on public transportation outside of cities.
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Apr 7th, 2013, 07:27 AM
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My focus is probably the same as it was when I traveled to Europe one summer during college. Then, as now, I went to concerts and art museums and sought out good local food. But I do much more research now, plan much more ahead of time, and my comfort level is much higher.
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Apr 7th, 2013, 07:39 AM
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Hey P,

>Different focus on travels nowadays?<

Of course.

We are no longer interested in quaint hotels with a shared bathroom down the hall.

We don't think that dragging our luggage onto 2 trains and a bus is an interesting way to "live like the locals".

In fact, we aren't that interested in "living like the locals" since they all seem to want to migrate.

In short, we are older and wealthier and can afford to travel like a couple of rich Americans.

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Apr 7th, 2013, 07:40 AM
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You might find Domitz interesting, this is the town which is the most westerly point on the Elbe which was in the DDR as a result they had a small police boat system (to pull escapees out of the river) and a good museum showing the development of the town under the DDR.

Again because of its position it is the start of a large nature park on the banks of the Elbe based on the old mine fields and once removed these have proven to be a great protection for beaver, otter and wild birds

Finally, due to its position it has an ancient fort which was a pivotal fort in various battles between the local nobility in former times.

The place itself is a dump, but worth a drive out from Berlin.
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