I just went on an off-the-grid vacation. I wanted to truly get away from it all, so I didn’t take a smartphone or a tablet or any other electronic device. Because I was traveling in Northern Greece, from Thessaloniki to Métsovo where few American tourists venture, I saw no English language papers on the newsstands. Occasionally I heard a bit of news from friends I was traveling with who had brought devices. But for the most part, I was completely out of the loop.
Initially I worried that being so disconnected would make me feel lost, but it turned out to be refreshing to let the world turn without my help. The stock market was the same when I got back as when I left without my checking its rise and fall along the way. I didn’t think about the Republicans’ latest presidential candidates or who was getting money from the Koch brothers. I heard not a word about the Jenner/Kardashian saga.
Since I didn’t have a phone, I didn’t worry about the NSA bugging it. I didn’t have to respond to beeps of email calling for my attention. I had no idea how Don Draper was doing or what was trending or going viral. And I didn’t care.
Without the constant buzz of electronics I seemed to see and hear more intensely. My friends and I went on a boat ride on the tranquil Lake Kerkini where we saw pelicans, hundreds of pelicans. I’d never been birdwatching before, and this was birders’ heaven. We saw cormorants, flamingos, and even a stork nesting atop a telephone pole. When the boat stopped, the only sound was the melody of the birds’ song.
In the town of Métsovo, we marveled at the beauty of the snow-capped mountains in the distance. At night, we looked up and saw the stars that our city lights have hidden from view.
We saw wild tulips growing on the side of a hill, calla lilies in a garden on the way up to the castle overlooking the city of Thessaloniki, and bright red poppies everywhere.
In the woods near Xanthi, we went on a truffle hunt with dogs and watched them wag their tails ecstatically when they found the truffles, which we got to eat.
We visited the town of Goumenissa where we watched women roll out filo dough and then twirl it above their heads until it was so thin you could almost see through it. Then we ate their famous sweet custard-filled filo pastries called bougatsa.
Throughout our stay, we ate with abandon, because the food was so good and so fresh. Concepts like low-fat, gluten-free, and non-dairy did not exist. Nor was there such a thing as fast food. We sat in cafes and lingered over tall glasses of frothy cappuccino freddo when the weather turned warm.
We ate real food - rich Greek yogurt, meats and vegetables braised in flavorful olive oil, crusty breads, local wines, semolina cakes soaked in honey. We ate in family-run restaurants with mom or dad in the kitchen, sons and daughters serving, and everyone encouraging us to eat just a little more. We took our time. No beeps or texts or ring tones interrupted us.
Now at home, reality has returned. There are plans to make, emails to answer, people to contact. I know it’s important to keep up with the news. But now I also realize that a lot of it is not worth my time. If I hadn’t been away on vacation, I would have spent time reading more about the pros and cons of self-driving cars, or why Elizabeth Warren should or shouldn’t run for President, or just how many people have bought an Apple watch. And I wouldn’t have learned anything worth mentioning. So I’ve promised myself that every now and then I will step away from the devices, noise, and clutter. I’ll stop and listen to a bird singing or pause to smell the lilacs or take time to really taste a peach, as if I were still on vacation. At least, I’ll try.
Photos by Kathleen Flynn