Sunday, March 25, 2007

You call this a vacation? Long days, no weekends, but great sights, people and food

I’ve already heard from some folks back home about what a great “vacation” this is. Let me clarify: vacations involve downtime, relaxation, no schedules, and hopefully, fruity drinks. Using those criteria, this experience does not qualify.

We have very full daily schedules and our days typically begin at 9am for a group meeting and travel to the first of several lengthy group meetings and discussions with local officials, personal appointments with local leaders and activists in our areas of interest, more meetings/discussions with officials and Marshall Fund contacts over lunch, followed by more meetings or tours of historical sites or political institutions until 5 or 6pm.

Barring travel time, we may have a short break before heading out at 7 or 8pm for dinner meetings that often last until midnight or 1am. In every European city we’ve visited thus far, lunch and dinner are long meals (2-4 hours) and dinner especially begins and ends much later than most of us are used to at home.

For this reason, breakfast is critical, and fortunately, it’s been included with our room stay in every city. So here’s an example of a power-up breakfast to get me through the day in Copenhagen. Tasty, yes? :-)

The Danes typically start meals (including breakfast) with fish, such as pickled herring, as evidenced by this herring “bar” at one restaurant. I tried it and enjoyed it, but one of my lessons of the day in Copenhagen was that pickled herring on an empty stomach does not really agree with me. Another fellow suggested I start with a bread buffer layer on future attempts. Note to self.

We usually spend 4-5 days in each city, with at least a day, sometimes more, spent traveling in or out. The remaining 3-4 full days, weekends included, are packed with meetings and activities. So I’m often up until 2am or 3 am just handling other daily duties, such as checking in by e-mail or phone with family and friends, and most importantly, doing laundry in my room.

Dry cleaning is exorbitant everywhere in Europe, so I took the advice of previous fellows and brought lots of stretchy but business-appropriate cotton/lycra shirts and sweaters (not to mention underclothes and even one pair of suit pants), which can be washed by hand and dried over a night or two. This would come in handy when my luggage took off on a side trip of its own partway through our travels. Twice.

So while this trip is providing unparalleled access to international locales, leaders, sights, sounds, and cuisine, it is not a vacation. Although I did finagle one fruity, non-alcoholic drink in Paris. ;-) Bottoms up!

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