The romance part, I have to admit, was accidental: I hadn't intended to keep our destination a secret from Jessica when this thing started out.

"I was thinking we might go to Buenos Aires for spring break," I had said.

Everyone who had vacationed there raved about the place. The city is an incredible mix of European refinement and South American warmth, they said, at once sophisticated and laid-back. Gourmet magazine had just run a big feature story on its cuisine. Friends who visited a decade ago maintain that it's one of the most engaging, romantic, and fun places they have ever been.

"Won't it be great?" I enthused.

Jessica and our 15-year-old son, Sam, looked at me, wide-eyed, the expression of people overwhelmed by a tremendous idea.

"Buenos Aires?" Jessica responded. "Isn't it cold there this time of year?"

"Buenos Aires?" Sam said. "Can't we just stay here? I wanna hang."

"Okay," I said. "That's it. We're going somewhere. And you know what? I'm not telling you where. You'll find out when we get to the airport."

"That is so romantic," Jessica said when she returned home from work the next day. "That is what everybody is saying."

"They are?" I replied. "Romantic?"

"Well, except one woman. She thinks I need to be careful. She said it's the sort of thing you read about in the papers."

And that's how the romance ball got rolling.

The problem now was choosing a place. I wanted to pick somewhere all of us would enjoy. I considered Prague and Budapest, two cities Jessica yearned to visit. Sam had his heart set on Chile. I contemplated Hong Kong, where all of us wanted to go, and Barcelona, where Jessica and I had visited years ago and always hoped to go back.