Little Adventures for Longer Lives
Ela and I want to stay fit and interested in life, so we take recreation regularly. Not vacations: we enjoy those when we can, but they’re big chunks of time that take lots of money and planning to use. As a supplement, we take recreation every week or two; it’s more spontaneous and easier to budget than a big vacation. And it improves the quality of our lives.
By definition, recreation refreshes and restores, and it’s essential to living longer, happier lives. We always keep at least one recreational event posted on our calendar. We go through the week’s routine (yes, retired people have routines) anticipating our little adventures, preparing for our next excursion, our days more interesting because we have something planned. Mostly little things; biking to a nearby village, hiking a new trail (as a couple or with a group), site-seeing, even rest and relaxation. Because my partner and I like lots of physical activity, almost everything we do includes walking.
The mountains in Zakopane are remarkably similar to the Northern Rockies and the trails are busy with hikers. I spent eight years in America living in the Salmon National Forest, so having mountains nearby makes my new home feel familiar. Ela has been to the Tatras in eastern Poland many times and likes to take me to her favorite trailheads. We don’t climb with ropes or camp out at night; we prefer the hotel with a generous breakfast buffet. But we exercise, refresh our bodies, and circulate fresh air through our brains.
We would spend more time in Zakopane, but it’s too far from Strzelin to visit more than a couple times each year. Closer to home are the mountains on the border between Poland and the Czech Republic. Karkonosze National Park and Karpacz feed our appetites for hiking and we can make it a day’s trip, if necessary. Hiking, eating, and talking on the trail together are activities that take only an hour or two to plan.
Doing something for recreation is essential for good physical and mental health. It must be some sort of action or activity that is distinguishable from the daily routine.
If there is no separation, there is no recreation.
For example, we garden. A lot. Our home is surrounded by an ornamental garden that Ela created 15 years ago. Giant hedges and pine trees protect ornamental and flowering shrubs of all shapes and kinds. Hundreds of plants need our regular attention; watering, feeding, pruning and trimming, mowing, and new flowers with new seasons. It’s a hobby and we enjoy it, but it does not qualify as recreation anymore because garden maintenance is part of our domestic routine. As much as we enjoy gardening (like many people truly enjoy their jobs), it doesn’t count as recreation. We leave the house and garden to hike or site-see, and we do it every couple of weeks. Once a month, at least.
The castles in Poland are a major attraction. Experiencing history that dates back a thousand years is mind-boggling for me and probably most Americans; though I can see and touch the buildings, art, and furniture, it’s hard to wrap my mind around it. I can push a weeks-worth of old thoughts out of my mind during a half-day’s walk around a castle imagining its glory days. When I was a school boy, we read about a few of the famous artists and scientists from the late Middle Ages, but book learning was no substitute for standing where those historical figures stood, feeling their surroundings, and understanding them as humans just like us in another time. Feeling amazed at their technologies; however archaic it appeared in the display case, there was time when that primitive instrument was ‘high tech’. Touring historical sites is great recreation because it stimulates the body and the mind. On our never-ending tour of Poland, we visit two or three castles each year.
We were driving to Castle Ksiaz, a clifftop castle amid a dramatic forest. While waiting patiently to cross a bad intersection, Ela nonchalantly commented as she pointed down the highway to the left…
“That’s the way to Duszniki.”
I laughed, of course. The sound of the word tickled my ears.
“Duszniki,” I repeated so I’d remember the cool name. “Tell me more.”
“Maybe we can go there. You can stay at sanatorium.”
And for the next half-hour, we laughed and joked as she explained that sanatoriums in Central Europe are not the same as they are in America. Much to my great relief.
“Oh, no! It’s not mental hospital, Kochanie. Our sanitoriums are for rest and recreation. They have mineral baths from local springs, many kinds of therapies. Can be such situation where the government helps to pay. We recognize the value of such activities. And the facilities are very comfortable. Like hotels.”
In the district of Poland near the Czech border, there are spa towns built around mineral water springs and into the forested surroundings. Destinations like Polanica and Duszniki are suffixed with ‘-Zdroj’, which means ‘spa’ in Polish. People come from all over Poland and surrounding countries during vacations for – you guessed it – recreation.
Ela looked online and called a couple friends, and we booked a few nights at a hotel in Duszniki walking distance from the city center. Our short stay was remarkably relaxing. We were refreshed and restored in the ambience created by the cobblestone streets, generous walkways, attention paid to simple things; a cultural maturity that exudes a peaceful calm. I can describe the park in Duszniki, the little Chopin museum, and the water foundation that danced to his music, but I cannot capture the feeling. Last spring, we did the spa thing for a weekend in Polanica. The hotel served a nutritional breakfast and late lunch, and guests scheduled sessions through the afternoon. Massage therapy, cryo-therapy, skin therapy, aromatherapy; all provided by professional hotel staff. And in the evening, we’d go out for a walk and enjoy dinner in the town. If we weren’t in the hotel getting healthier, we were out in the town getting happy. It cost more than hiking, but easy weekends being romantic are recreational, too.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter what type of recreation we take as long as we take it regularly. As long as we spend time away from the daily grind to refresh our perspectives and restore our energies, we are building happier and healthier lives.
One caveat: recreation evolves. It’s been my experience that one adventure leads to another – even the little ones – and they expand or change. Fishing on the weekend might lead to buying a boat or maybe travelling to a fishing paradise. Buying a boat might lead to skiing or scuba diving. Or you’ll meet people on a trail that attract you to new hobbies and friends. Recreate with enthusiasm and an open mind; it will open doors to new adventures and contribute to a longer, happier life.