Yes, the Hotchkisses (not sure what the plural of Hotchkiss is... Hotchki?) are planning another vacation. We're heading over to the U.K,. where we'll be spending a few weeks in a speck of a village called St. Arvans in Wales.
The Delight's in the Details
I love planning vacations. In this last instance, I realized I spent more hours planning than I will spend vacationing. Part of this is through necessity. We're doing a home exchange, so it's a little more involved than just booking a hotel. It's a "self-serve" vacation -- you need to know things like where is the nearest grocery store, what is there to do in the area and, most importantly, how close is the nearest pub? Luckily, it's the UK, so no matter how small the village, there are always pubs close at hand. We actually have three to choose from within a five-km drive. How civilized!
I have also spent a number of hours just finding a place to rent a bike. Note for the interested, in the U.K. it's known as "bike hire." Same with cars. Just in case you were wondering.
Living in a Virtual Wonderland
The point is, in this process, I have Googled, TripAdvised, Expedia-ed, Nile Guided, Wikipediaed and TripIted myself into a state of online vacation bliss. It's almost as if I've already been there. In fact, thanks to Google Earth, I've been able to get the lay of the land -- literally. I have a satellite-eye's-view of the Wye Valley, Tintern Abbey, Chepstow Castle, the Cotswolds, Bath and other surrounding areas in contention to be added to the Hotchkiss "Come on, kids, it's not as lame as it sounds" agenda.
I know the streets of Bristol to avoid, the name of a good Indian restaurant in Bath, the nearest access point for the Offa's Dyke foot path, and, in a conciliatory gesture to my two teenage daughters, the scheduled train departures to London for a day or two of shopping to ease the pain of too many quaint country villages, castles and cathedrals. I have even tracked down the closest pub in the vicinity of Oxford Street, because two hours in Primark or John Lewis just doesn't hold a candle to the quaffing of a Guinness or Boddingtons. Hmmm, I sense a theme emerging.
And I Need to Go There...Why?
My question is, with the potential of all this virtual globetrotting waiting just a click or two away, do I really need to drag my wife and kids through the pain (not to mention the expense) of a nine-hour plane ride, capped off with the hell that is called Heathrow? Google Street View gets me about as close to Primark as I really want to be, I can shop online at John Lewis, I can tour the Tate Modern virtually, and YouTube has plenty of videos of the choir at St. Paul's Cathedral. I can even get a six-pack of Boddingtons at my local store. Touring online is faster, easier and a hell of a lot cheaper.
For all of you seething at this point, spitting out "See, this is exactly what's wrong with the world today. Nobody actually wants to live their life anymore. They just want to click their way through it" between clenched teeth, I'm being somewhat facetious. Why would I ever want to forgo the pleasures of airline check-ins and those extensively trained TSA agents? Plus, the prospect of spending nine hours on a red-eye flight just to jump in a rental car and hop onto Britain's busiest motorway, driving on the wrong side of it to boot, fills me with giddy anticipation. I'm sure there are lorry-loads of wonderful experiences to be had, living my life in the real world.
But just in case things don't go as extensively planned, I'm bringing my laptop with me. If all else fails, I can check out Google's Street View of my home and pretend I'm there.