When I was working full-time, my wife and I visited our children in New York only on weekends, perhaps extended to three or four days if a holiday fell on a Monday or Friday. In addition to the kids and grandkids, we would squeeze in a few “biggies” of the NYC tourist scene–Broadway shows, Statue of Liberty–before running out of time and returning home. Now we live in the city for six months of the year (I am a Visiting Professor at Columbia) and this makes all the difference in the world. We not only have time for important sights (we still go to the theater, Met, and Chinatown) but also some less well-known activities that we rarely had time for before–walks on the High Line, picnics in Central Park, dancing at a Russian nightclub in Brighton Beach, fall colors along the Hudson. That’s what you can do when you have time to uncover the hidden pleasures of a city and region.
The same is true on a working vacation. When you spend a week in London or Paris you only have time to enjoy the four and five-star attractions listed in your guidebooks. In contrast, a working vacation affords the time to settle in, talk with colleagues and neighbors, and discover those less well-known places that are not in Lonely Planet but which are nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable. Let me offer two examples:
Before leaving for a working vacation in Japan our son Ben told us about a most unusual bar near Tokyo–a sake house where the waiters are, honestly, macaque monkeys. The animals bring hot towels before the meal, as is traditional in Japan, serve beer, sake, and hot tea, collect the bill, and bring your change. They also accept tips, but not in cash–only edamame (soy beans). The monkeys are actual employees whose hours and working conditions are vetted and approved by local authorities and Japanese animal rights organizations.
We stopped at the bar when we were in the neighborhood and had the privilege of enjoying drinks and dinner served by Fuku-chan (F) and Yat-chan (M) as well as meeting their two young off-spring being groomed as the next generation of waiters–when it comes to monkeys, I guess it is easier to breed new employees rather than hire them. This certainly had to be one of our more unusual side trips, and one that we have shared (accompanied by raucous laughter) with friends and family.
On a three-month working vacation in Turkey, we had time to visit the small village of Kanlica on the Asian side of the Bosporus. According to my colleagues Kanlica is famous for making the world’s richest, creamiest, and most delicious yogurt, a food item my wife and I dearly love. After traveling there by water taxi and enjoying a thick bowlful at a local restaurant, we could only agree. I have not enjoyed yogurt that rich and delicious since returning from Istanbul.
Like our side trip to the monkey bar, this “yogurt outing” is typical of the fascinating and delightful off-the-beaten-path day trips you can experience when given adequate time to uncover the hidden treasures of a host city. A short-term working vacation, even one as short as four to six weeks, gives you that time. I doubt that either Fuku-chan or Kanlica would be included on your typical four-day/three night “Highlights of … ” packaged tour.