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Two advertisements in the back of a travel magazine caught my eye. One was an invitation to spend a vacation week in a romantic little apartment on the Ile St. Louis in the middle of Paris. Good price, too - less than the cost of staying in a hotel. On the same page was a similar ad for another romantic little apartment, but this one was in Seattle.

Now, I live in Seattle. So, I had never considered spending a vacation here. Vacations are something you're supposed to do somewhere else, right?Why do people go on vacations, anyhow? To get away from work and routine, to see new sights and have fresh experiences, to sleep and read, and to have adventures. But the truth about vacations is that all too often, the best parts are the anticipation of going and the memories of having been. The reality is frequently exhausting, stressful and disappointing. We go too far, try to do too much and spend twice as much as we can afford. Sometimes, we do it with the people we may need a vacation from - not with. So, when it's over, we say it's so good to be home - right back in our humdrum routine again. Is there something a little cockeyed about this?

The elemental issue is: How far do you have to go and how long do you have to be gone and how little can you spend and still have a really great vacation?

One of the things I always liked about Henry David Thoreau's experience at Walden Pond is that he didn't go very far to refresh his soul and body - the pond was an easy walk from Concord. I wondered how much vacationing I could do just a little way from home. An experiment was in order.

During the week that our houseboat was under repairs, my wife and I rented that romantic little apartment - not in Paris but in Seattle. Exactly 2.7 miles from our home, in a district in Seattle we had always liked but never had time to explore. Packing was simple - we knew what the weather and environment were like. We called a taxi to take us to our hideaway. Neighbors, friends and family were told just enough truth as necessary: "We're taking a week off, but we're not sure what we're going to be doing."

The apartment was inexpensive, comfortable and uncluttered. The local natives spoke our language, so it was easy to find out where to shop and eat. We got about on foot, and we saw sights as new as if we had been 1,000 miles from home. We didn't read the local newspaper, watch television or listen to the radio. We caught up on our sleep, read books and never managed to get more than 20 blocks from our romantic little apartment.

Several of my days were spent in Spain - the easy way. In my imagination. At a nearby bookstore, I bought guides to Spain and the city of Barcelona, along with a couple of maps and a copy of Hemingway's tribute to bullfighting, "Death in the Afternoon." At a newsstand, I found an English-language newspaper published in Madrid. To complete my lazy man's kit, I bought a tape of flamenco music at a record shop and then stopped off at a Mexican take-out delicatessen for two paella dinners and a bottle of Spanish wine. Ole! My wife did the same thing - only she went to France. Which meant we had a great deal to talk about over candlelight dinners.

Easiest vacation we ever had. And it proved that a vacation isn't how far you go or how long you're gone but the shape you come back in.

At the end of a memorable week, we called a cab and were home in 10 minutes. No airports, no customs and no jet lag. We arrived relaxed, in high spirits and good health. Since we stayed within our budget, no unpleasant surprises from the credit-card companies were in the mail. And there were no slides to organize or impose on our friends.

I did send our neighbors postcards from Seattle: "Having a wonderful time, wish you were here. We were."