It's Christmas. It's time for a long, slow trip.
I remember our first one, more than 20 years ago. Bess and I lived in a German village called Viernheim. We'd been married for seven months, and I'd spent most of that time in the field, training with a tank battalion.
Now I was home, and we were sitting in our little attic apartment, thousands of miles from our families and faced with the challenge of creating our own holiday traditions.
Actually, we had one family member with us: Bess' identical twin sister. I'd taken her to the post exchange to help me pick out gifts for my new wife, but then I disregarded her advice and bought a vacuum cleaner.
Of course, this was a mistake. But for the moment it was wrapped in colorful paper and looked impressive under the tree.
It was the night of Dec. 23. "Let's go somewhere," Bess said.
We awoke the next morning at 3 a.m. I'm not sure how or why we chose that hour, except that we wanted to take our time doing whatever we were going to do.
We weren't sure. We just climbed into our little Volkswagen and headed south on the autobahn.
After a while, we stopped somewhere for strong coffee and fresh bread, and kept moving. We chose a winding country road, and snow began to fall. The flakes danced in the headlights. At dawn, we stood on the shore of Lake Constance, which is claimed by Germany, Switzerland and Austria. German speakers call it Bodensee. Technically, we were in Austria. The shore was covered with smooth stones and we had a skipping contest, but the skips were hard to count the skips because of the mist moving on the water.
Our next stop was the nation of Liechtenstein, where we toured the castle and bought postcards to prove we had been there.
Then we followed twisting roads to Switzerland, where the livestock wear bells around their necks.
We parked in Lucerne. We left our guidebooks in the car and took a long walk. Everywhere we could hear icy water bidding farewell to Lake Lucerne and humming down the Reuss River. Two ranges of the Alps loomed in the distance. We crossed a bridge built 700 years ago. It was a bright day and the river caught sunlight and shone brighter and better than any holiday decoration.
We saw other things and made other stops. We ate wurst and potato pancakes and some Gruyere and Emmentaler. In the middle of the afternoon, we hit the autobahn and started the four-hour trip home. We told stories and argued about life and when the night turned black we sang carols to stay awake, and because it was Christmas Eve.
Twenty years later, we have minivans and mortgages and children looking at college. We can't just drive to Switzerland for a day. But we can take the time to get away, and to focus on being together instead of making checklists and being busy.
Contact Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org