Doing Europe in three weeks
by Pam Deck
It’s still fun to travel! Despite all the hassles of security check-ins, the world is an exciting place to venture in. I just finished three fun and exhausting weeks in six different countries. I loved every minute of it! Yes, even the “not so clear information” became clear with the help of many lovely people to guide me along. I did not do a “tour thing” because I hate large groups and I hate “cookie cutter” type of trips where everyone takes you to the same places. Yes, it is nice to be picked up and shuffled off to a hotel, but you can hire that service when needed as I did in Budapest. For me, the adventure of traveling is finding my own way. I like to mix it up with a few less expensive places and a few places that I know are wonderful and special. After all, the purpose of traveling to different countries for pleasure is not about the room that you sleep in, but about exploring the region, customs, and the people – and just getting out there.
So in a nutshell, here’s how I did it. I got a direct flight from Denver to London. Norwegian Air now flies direct in a beautiful new “Dreamliner” jet direct to London, Paris, and Barcelona). Yes, it’s a 9.5 hour plane trip, but free movies, good service, and comfy seats make a big difference… and a good small travel pillow is important too. Flights can be cheaper than you think, especially into London – the $298 special worked for me! Usually it’s $400-500, but not much more if you shop around. Pack light! Yes, you can live with one pair of jeans, two shorts, two shirts, two long-sleeved shirts, a sweater, a couple of lightweight dresses, tights, small jacket, and an umbrella. Layers work great when it’s chilly and when you fly. Wear your heaviest shoes, pack the others. I planned to wash clothes as needed, even in a sink and hang up to dry at night. No one but your friend knows you wore the same outfit in three different countries. I wanted to do “carry-on” luggage as it’s a lot less hassle at baggage claim and easier to lug around subways, trams, and on cobble stone streets, so I got it down to one small bag and one backpack with numerous travel size shampoos, cosmetics, etc. Count how many days and take only what you need! Don’t wash your hair every day – every other day or so is more than adequate and pony tails are great.
Here was my itinerary; London – four days, but wish I would have made it three. Then I flew EasyJet for a short flight from London to Amsterdam, Holland for about $59 – spent two nights there, but wish I would have made it three. I flew next to Berlin, Germany for four nights, then was off to Budapest, Hungary for three nights, but wish I would have made it four. I then flew to Milan, Italy for four nights – I could stay in Italy forever! I took the train to a small villa on Lake Como near Switzerland, but anywhere in Italy is wonderful. I took the train from Milan to Paris, France for three perfect days, with a bike tour and boat ride on the Seine River. Then it was all over too soon and I was back to London to return home.
I want to be honest – some of the tricky parts of traveling on your own are not the major things like booking the flights or trains in-between the countries or even deciding where to stay. I am a fan of Airbnb and many are wonderful for a great price, but if you can’t find a great location, don’t book it! No one wants to be in a suburb of Paris. Look for a small hotel in the center of where you want to be, or at least with easy access to where you want to be. In London, it’s “the Tube,” a very efficient way to get you to all the great sites – except Big Ben which is under construction scaffolds for two years. I kept asking, “Where is Big Ben?” Finally a worker on the street pointed up and said, “Up there.” It was completely wrapped in construction stuff and I couldn’t see any of it, but the free concert at Westminster Abbey made up for it. So if you have a bit of Catholic in you, most cathedrals are free, you have to be silent and come during a church time.
The tricky part of traveling is the local transportation or moving from the airport to where you are staying. You want to do as much homework as you can ahead of time. For example, I had the address of a hotel in Amsterdam with small rooms. But I incorrectly assumed I could ask “Information” the best way to get there. Everyone speaks English, I think to myself and Amsterdam is a very contemporary country so is should be easy – it’s not. Dutch language is very confusing and the person at the Information desk didn’t understand what I wanted even after I showed her the address. She mumbled something to me, wrote down some numbers, and shoed me away. I called the hotel and they said they would send a shuttle to pick us up for 40 Euros, or about $48. Ouch! When you are on a budget, that was a lot. But we were tired and I was traveling with a tired friend, so we said yes. Well, the communication even about “where to stand to get picked up” was crazy. About an hour later we were picked up by a very nice man who took us directly to our sweet, tiny room. On the return trip, we found out there was a bus for only $5 euro that took us to the airport. Grrrr. In Berlin, there was a train strike, so the three trains that would have been the best choices were not working. And in Paris we came in during “rush hour” and no one could guide us. So these are a few of the hassles one will encounter. Once you find your destination, you can breathe again! Let go of trying to figure it all out and just soak it in. Begin to laugh and see the comedy in it all. You find that most people are kind and want to help. You find that if you just stop and have a “Cappuccino,” it will get clear. You discover maps in English can be good, GPS on my iPhone worked great without an app for each country, and you always make sure you have a coin handy to use the “toilet” which may not be where you can find it.
And you take it all in. You discover things about other countries that are amazing and you learn that you are braver and tougher than you thought. You begin to “feel” things about each country that you come away with and that are better than souvenirs and trinkets. For me, I felt the “power” of the towers in England – the strength and stamina it took to build these fortresses. In Holland, I felt the goodness, honesty and dedication of a “windmill village” with dykes to travel everywhere and the value of a good wooden shoe. In Berlin, I felt the strife and shame of their past, the lessons they have learned, and where they have now created “transparent” museums that were once bombed out remains of the Wall to learn from. In Budapest, I felt the cultural respect for history and the beauty of health in their spas and dramatic monuments. In Italy, I felt the romance of love, tranquility of good wine, and the harmony and balance of its food and people. In France, I saw beauty, flowers, perfumes, and the importance of decorating their food and even the pretty shopping bags.
I learned respect for others and for myself. I saw the various ways each country handled security and even how they lined up or not for flying – most were much easier and quicker than in the USA. It was a whirlwind trip and next time I would like to stay longer at certain places next time. But overall, I am grateful I did it. I learned that people are good wherever you go, that help is just around the corner, and the “world is our oyster.” I also learned it’s not just about me. It’s about everyone working together to create this magnificent world. Yet I am glad to be home, to my own little house, to my own grocery and my own airport. I’d bet other travelers feel that way too when they return to their own country.