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Perfect vacation

Is there such thing as a perfect vacation?

There are many kinds of vacations. My father insists that group tours are cheaper and more efficient than the do-it-yourself variety. I'm a proponent of the latter, favouring independent travel, doing my own research using Rough Guides and other Lonely Planet, Let's Go books. I like to get lost and discover what's not recorded by my predecessors. Yes, I admit that group tours may save time and money, but they are not flexible. For travellers who prefer to be alone, being herded like sheep is the least of pleasures.

Today my friend who just returned from a luxury yoga holiday in Egypt whispered over the phone,"we stayed at a two star hotel. You know, I've never stayed below three stars." Having stayed in four-star hotel chains on business, I would prefer to do something different on holiday. Bed-and-breakfast, pensions, and zimmer-frei are often no or negative stars (unrated), but they offer a glimpse into the daily lives of local people. And I prefer the interaction that way.

Self-catering holidays are popular in Europe, because you get to do everything you do at home, but in a different location. Last summer I went to Wales this way.

But it's not just the organisation and the places you stay that make your vacation. It's who you go with and the management of your expectations.

The travelling companion could make or break your holiday. Travelling with a classical guitarist in the country of the guitar, the flamenco, could be compared with travelling with a horticulturalist to the country of forests and flowers.

In Andalucia, Spain - home of the great cities of Seville, Cordoba, and Granada, I freely indulged in the sights (of castles and mosques steeped in history and tradition), sounds (of flamenco music), smells (of fried fish in olive oil), and tastes (of tapas). And we stopped at every guitar shop, where the guitarist confidently asked,"Please, would you let me play your best guitar?"

So I ended up buying a hand-made guitar at the steps of the Alhambra (the famous Moorish castle in Granada). It was made by Victor Diaz, the 27 year old son of the famous guitar maker Francisco Diaz, who supervised the construction. Now, I have a chance to ask "please, would you let me play your worst guitar?" next time I travel to Spain. But next time, I might just take the train and do another tapas-like trip, stopping in different towns and villages.

Yes, I have to admit, this was the perfect vacation because I never expected it to be so good. But more importantly, I needed it badly.

12 May 2002 Sunday

Americans call it "vacation" but the English call it "holiday."
There is a good reason why Europeans get at least 5 weeks of holidays a year. Income tax is so high that it's not worth rewarding your employees with more money.
Apparently the French have a way of making sure their employees don't work more than 35 hours a week.
Gone are the days of bragging about how late you work.
Here in Europe, people lament about their last vacation and talk about their next. In the US, it's not the done thing.