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Some argue that Europeans are not going as far as they used to. Roberto Perrone, of Rome's Turicam agency, says: "Maybe a two- or three-hour flight, but no more." This could be due to money and safety jitters, but they are not the only reasons the Great European Vacation is changing. The traditional months off are July and August, but more people now seem to be breaking their time down into smaller chunks instead of taking one three- to four-week lump. Travel agents even have an ugly neologism for the shift. "It's called deseasonalization," says Maura Chicarella, of Realize Tour in Rome. She says many Italians now opt for, say, a fortnight in summer, a week at Christmas, and a short trip in spring or fall. Others say they see a similar pattern, perhaps attributable to the rise of discount airlines. Horst W. Opaschowski, who heads Germany's Leisure Research Institute, says: "A second travel market of short trips and short distances is coming into being."
Is this a good thing? In Spain, where the trend is similar if less marked, Madrid psychiatrist José Luis Carrasco Perera argues that tourists who substitute several short breaks for one sustained vacation "do not disengage sufficiently the mind doesn't have time to forget the workplace." Alain de Botton, author of last year's The Art of Travel, agrees: "There's a huge advantage in a long holiday, really getting into a place, getting unwound and also getting bored. You realize the limits of leisure."
[an error occurred while processing this directive]A side effect of fragmenting vacations is that many of Europe's big cities are no longer summer deserts. Madrid and Barcelona, for instance, only a decade ago looked neutron-bombed in August. Everything shut, everyone off to la playa or el pueblo. Today, many Madrileños and Barceloneses are rediscovering their cities in summer and loving them. Noise levels plummet, there are parking spaces to pick from rather than pull knives over, many restaurants and shops stay open to cater to locals and people avoid the worst part of travel the traveling itself.
In Paris, they've gone as far as faking a beach. Paris Plage has just begun for the second year on the banks of the Seine, a 3-km-long stretch with 3,000 tons of sand, 300 deckchairs and 250 umbrellas. O.K., you're not allowed to swim in the Seine, but there are water sprays and organized games for kids. Last year Paris Plage drew 2.3 million visitors.
Even for those who insist on the traditional long getaway those who each summer confront roads, airways, terrorism, disease, salmonella, stretched budgets and local males with stretch jeans and tmt (too much testosterone) the European vacation spirit is unconquerable. The thing about vacations is that recollection of the bad bits fades in direct proportion to exaggeration of the good bits. Says German researcher Opaschowski, "Tourists have chronic short-term memory." No sooner are we back at the desk than we start daydreaming, planning like hordes of Houdinis our next escape.