Tuesday, December 13, 2011

25 Post-trip travel tips


A friend sent me this list of someone's 55 top travel tips. My travel tips and lessons learned, mostly from this trip, in the order that I wrote them down:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

By the numbers

I like to keep track of things, like how many of something: new countries, passport stamps, train segments, new airports, places I slept, beers I drank, gelato I ate, jaywalking tickets, etc. Here are some stats:

Oh yeah, I'm home

I got home in more or less one piece, on Thanksgiving Day (Nov 24) as planned. Despite a few minor setbacks, itinerary replans, missed trains, rail strikes, and an overly-ambitious schedule, I've got to say, that it all worked out pretty well.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 69: flying home (Nov 24)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: early flight from Madrid to Frankfurt, change planes for the flight back home to Houston in time for Thanksgiving dinner. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 68: Madrid (Nov 23)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Royal Palace and the Egyptian Temple of Debod. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 67: Tangier, Gibraltar (Nov 22)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: ferry to Tangier and city tour, then bus ride from Tarifa to Gibraltar again. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 66: Gibraltar (Nov 21)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: train ride to Algeciras and bus ride to Gibraltar, caves and monkeys tour, British pub. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 65: Madrid (Nov 20)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: the Reina Sofia and Thyssen Museums, Plaza Mayor, Mercado de San Miguel, the royal church, and downtown at night. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day 64: Madrid (Nov 19)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: the Prado Museum and Puerto del Sol at night. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 63: Madrid (Nov 18)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: a bus tour of Madrid and a walk from Puerto del Sol to the Royal Palace. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 62: Barcelona (Nov 17)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: an all-Gaudi day featuring Casa Batllo and La Sagrada Familia, plus Montjuic. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Madrid, Gibraltar, & Tangier details

Here's the plan for my last week in Europe: three days in Madrid (one of which might be a side trip to Toledo), then 2 nights and 2-1/2 days at the tip of Spain (Gibraltar, Tarifa, Algeciras) and into Morocco, then back to Madrid for one final night before heading to the airport. Then home!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 61: Barcelona (Nov 16)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: La Boqueria again, the Old Town, Picasso Museum, the Block of Discord and Casa Batllo, and paella for dinner. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 60: Barcelona (Nov 15)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: a walk down La Rambla, La Boqueria, and tapas for dinner. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 59: Provence, Arles, Aix (Nov 14)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Arles, Aix-en-Provence, Chateauneuf du Pape, and Oppede le Vieux. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Barcelona details

I'm stuck on the train for 8 hours, from around 7am til 3pm, but unfortunately it's not the same train, I have three connections to make so I can't even sleep for very long. There seems to be enough to do that I can do and see most of what I want in the 2-1/2 days I have in Barcelona, assuming I don't stay out too late or sleep too late. Then I leave for Madrid on Friday.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 58: Provence, Avignon (Nov 13)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Avignon and the Pont du Gard. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Day 57: Nice, Monte Carlo (Nov 12)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: the Chagall Museum, walking along the beach, the farmer's market in Nice, the bus ride along the coast to Monte Carlo, the walk around the bay, and the Casino. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 56: Pisa, Genoa (Nov 11)


Pisa is 1:15 from Florence, train station to train station. If you have bags, check them at the Pisa train station, look for “deposito bagagli” — as you get off the train, it’s to the right at the far end of platform 1, past the police office.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 55: Florence (Nov 10)


Left Rome about 9:45 for Florence (we wanted to leave around 8:15 but we got stuck in rush hour traffic on the bus going to the metro station), got in around 11 (it’s a 95 minute train ride, they leave on the :15 and :45), and since our hotel was on the way between the train station and the stuff to see, we checked in and dropped our stuff off. We were out and ready to go by noon. We stayed at the Hotel Europa, which is one of Rick’s recommended places (but our rates were much lower since it was off-season).
First off, since you’ll be going to both of the museums (the Uffizi and the Accademia) that are going to have huge lines, you’ll need to make reservations as far in advance as you reasonably can. Otherwise you’ll be standing outside for literally hours. We were lucky, we had checked online when we were in Rome and we were told that in mid-November there are no lines and so we didn’t need to make reservations. There were maybe a combined 10 people in front of us in line at both museums and inside it wasn’t crowded. I expect it to be much different in June.

South of France details

Here's what I had planned for the South of France. Originally I was going to spend one day each in Nice and Monte Carlo, but I took an extra day in Rome and ended up combining the two cities into one day. We get into Nice late on Friday night, then Saturday we start out in Nice and spend the afternoon and evening in Monte Carlo, coming back to Nice for the night. Then Sunday we get to Aix-en-Provence and rent a car to drive around the Provence area for 2 days, the first night in Avignon and the second in Aix. Because we have a car, we have the luxury of going wherever and whenever, not depending on the train or bus schedules for once, and so I've got a list of places that we'll pick and choose from over the two days.

Italy details

With the flooding in Cinque Terre, I had to switch up my itinerary. I was going to go from Milan to Venice to spend 5 days in Rome (with a day trip to Amalfi and Pompeii included), then a day in Florence, then a half day in Pisa followed by a day and a half in Cinque Terre before heading to 2 days in Nice/Monte Carlo.

The new plan had me going from Milan to Venice to Naples (via Rome) for 2 days, including a ride down the Amalfi Coast and a tour of Pompeii and a climb up Mt Vesuvius; then 5 days in Rome; then a day in Florence; then a half day in Pisa and a half day on the train going to Nice, followed by 1 day in Nice/Monte Carlo. Basically, I swapped Cinque Terre for Naples and took one day out of Nice to give to Rome.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 54: Rome (Nov 9)


The two main things I wanted to do today that were left on my list were the Borghese Gallery and Trajan’s area (Column, Market, and Imperial Forums). Both are on the Roma Pass museum list but the Gallery still requires a mandatory reservation that you need to pick up 30 minutes ahead of time. I also wanted to see the Piazza del Popolo. Given that none of the three are really near each other, I thought we might start at Popolo and take Rick’s “Dolce Vita Stroll” down Via del Corso (with maybe a stop at the Ara Pacis museum along the way) but by the time we got to the Piazza (we slept in) it was nearly lunchtime already.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day 53: Rome (Nov 8)


Today was a walking tour I put together mainly out of geographic closeness and bits & pieces of Rick’s various tours in the northern part of Rome. It was also day 2 of the Roma Pass and we hit 2 museums on the list.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day 52: Rome (Nov 7)


This was designed to be day 1 of the Roma Pass, and the start of the museum-type attractions that were covered by the pass, concentrating on the Ancient Rome sites like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Circus Maximus, and the Church of St Peter In Chains, with Trajan’s Column if we had time.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 51: Rome (Nov 6)


Fortunately I had this day roughly planned out and didn’t have to stay up late the night before. The plan to start out was doing the Night Walk from last night, only in reverse, starting from the Spanish Steps, and taking time to go inside or see the sights. We slept in and got to the Spanish Steps (metro stop Spagna) around noon.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 50: Rome, Vatican City (Nov 5)


You should get a Roma Pass for each person. It’s 20 euros but pays for itself quickly. It’s valid for 3 days and covers public transportation and free or discounted admission to major sights. In those 3 days, the first two sights are free, so choose the priciest ones. It’s available at the Tourist Information (TI) booth in the Termini train station. Remember that the Vatican is closed on Sunday; the following are closed on Mondays: National Museum of Rome, Borghese Gallery, Capitoline Museums, Catacombs of Priscilla, Museum of the Imperial Forums (includes Trajan’s Market and Trajan’s Forum), Castel Sant’Angelo and Ara Pacis, so plan accordingly. The Ancient Rome sites are open seven days (Colosseum, Roman Forum). We were in Rome Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so we ended up using our Roma Pass and arranging the schedule so that the museums were on the last three days. The Vatican is not part of the Roma Pass.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 49: Naples, Amalfi Coast (Nov 4)


The second day in Naples was planned to be a tour of the Amalfi Coast. I read in one of the guide books that the best way to do this is just take the regular passenger bus from one end to the other for a couple of euros, no need to hire a guide. So my plan was to take the Circumvesuviana train from Naples to Sorrento (it’s a local train, not covered by my rail pass), take the bus from Sorrento through Positano and Amalfi to Salerno, and then take the regular train from Salerno back to Naples. (Think of it like a right triangle, go south from Naples to Sorrento, east from Sorrento to Salerno, then northwest back to Naples.) We ran into three problems. First, my dad got pickpocketed on the bus from the hotel to the train station, it had his driver’s license and 3 credit cards (his ATM and a 4th credit card were back in the hotel). With no internet (or even wifi), we couldn’t use Skype to call the US to cancel the cards. Second, the rumors we heard yesterday at the train station were true, there was a train strike on the Circumvesuviana so our options were to pay a cab to go to Sorrento (Pompeii is a stop along the way, by the way) or double our trip by taking the train to Salerno, the bus to Sorrento and back, and then the train from Salerno to Naples. The cab would have been quicker but much more expensive, the train was cheaper but meant a longer day. Since we had nothing else going on, we chose the double-train and double-bus. Our third problem popped up later.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 48: Naples, Pompeii (Nov 3)


Our overnight train from Venice had us change trains in Rome. When we got to Naples they were in the midst of a huge construction project right across from the train station. WARNING: Naples is notorious for pickpockets (and my dad had his wallet picked while on the bus our second day there), keep your stuff very secure in your front pocket and carry your purse over your shoulder across your body and zipped up.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 47: Venice (Nov 2)

Checked out of the hotel and took a vaporetto to the Santa Lucia train station to start the Grand Canal tour. First we left our luggage with the bell desk, then we went upstream to the nearby new Calatrava Bridge. I used Rick Steves’ audio guide and self-guided cruise info from his book (you pause the audio at each stop). Take the slow #1 boat (not the express #2), you can do the whole trip in 45-60 minutes if you don’t get off at any of the 16 stops. We got off at the following stops:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day 46: Venice (Nov 1)


We had two days and spent the time leisurely, but you could probably cram this into one. The two main things were to take the Grand Canal Vaporetto tour and to spend time in St Mark’s area (which includes the piazza, the Basilica, and the Doge’s Palace). Make sure you account for opening and closing times for the Basilica and the Palace. We bought a 24-hour vaporetto pass. My original plan: day 1 do the Grand Canal tour and stop at the various points of interest until it gets dark, then on day 2 finish the tour in the morning and do St Mark’s all afternoon and evening.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Day 45: Milan (Oct 31)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: the Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and a piano recital at Teatro alla Scala. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Day 44: Glacier Express, St. Moritz (Oct 30)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: train ride across Switzerland on the Glacier Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Day 43: Zermatt (Oct 29)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: train ride to Zermatt, a walking tour of town, and a trip up to the Gornergrat to see the Matterhorn. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Day 42: Interlaken, Schilthorn, Murren (Oct 28)

Here are today's pictures.

  • From Interlaken, I took the BOB up to Lauterbrunnen, took a series of trains and cablecars up to the Schilthorn. 
Up to Schilthorn
- Interlaken West to Ost
- xfer to train to Zweilutschinen
- xfer to bus to Lauterbrunnen
- xfer to cablecar to Grutschalp
- xfer to cogwheel train to Murren
- xfer to cablecar to Schilthorn
Stopped at 2200m for 5 min 
  • There’s a restaurant at the top there called Piz Gloria, it’s got a history as a filming scene for the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. It was a little less than 2 hours for the whole trip from Interlaken, so it should be roughly the same from Grindlewald.
  • Spent about 2-1/2 hrs at the top with lunch and taking pictures of the mountains from the restaurant, left at 3:30pm. 
Down
- cablecar from Schilthorn to Murren (wander 1 hr)
- xfer to cablecar to Gimmelwald (wander 30 min)
- xfer to cablecar to Stechelberg (wander 40 min)
- xfer to bus to Zweilutschinen
- xfer to train to Interlaken Ost
                            • Murren is a main stop on the way down. The station for the cablecar up to Schilthorn (the Schilthornbahn) and also to the small towns of Gimmelwald and Stechelberg is at one end of town, and the train down to Lauterbrunnen is at the other end. It’s a really nice walk through town, with fantastic views of mountains and valleys. On one of the shops I saw some stickers for Ron Jon’s (in Cocoa Beach), so I stuck another of the Endless BBQ stickers on the door (if you see it, please take a picture). I took the cablecar down to Gimmelwald to marvel at the small town, then down to Stechelberg (6pm) where I caught the train to Lauterbrunnen and back to Interlaken (7pm).
                            • I'm not a hiker, but there are tons of trails all around where you can make a day of it. I didn’t have that luxury (plus I’m lazy) so I took the cablecars and trains.

                            Cinque Terre flooding - have to reroute

                            Sad to hear that a major storm in northern Italy on Oct. 25th has devastated the Cinque Terre region: 20 inches of rain in 3 hours, according to one resident of the area. Flooding, devastation, trains re-routed, towns cut off and accessible by sea only. Non-residents told to evacuate, few have water and/or power. Several meters of debris on the rail tracks. That's obviously not going to get back to normal by Nov 9th when I was originally going to get there.

                            My trip plans were 1 day in Milan starting on Monday, then 2 days in Venice, 5 days in Rome (with 1 of those being a day trip to Amalfi and Pompeii), 1 day in Florence, 1/2 day in Pisa, 1-1/2 days in Cinque Terre, 2 days in Nice/Monte Carlo, and 2 days in Provence. The total number of days is not flexible, but where I spend those days is very flexible.

                            Anyone have some good ideas on what to do with those 2 days? I could spend an extra day in 2 places, or go somewhere nearby for 2 days. My clock starts ticking when I get to Milan on Monday (not flexible).

                            Facebook friends have recommended Sicily, Naples, Tuscany, Lake Como, Lyon, Paestum, Verona, and Asisi. Other suggestions?

                            (Originally posted 10/28/11 at 10:40am, Interlaken)

                            Thursday, October 27, 2011

                            Day 41: Interlaken, Jungfrau (Oct 27)

                            Here are today's pictures.

                            • From Interlaken, I took the BOB up to Lauterbrunnen, then switched to another train to Wengwald and Kleine Scheidegg. From there, you can go up to the Jungfraugoch, which is the built-up area (mall/restaurant/viewing/skiing/etc.) at the top of the Jungfrau. See the map at the top for the path I took. On the way back down, I got off at Kleine Scheidegg and switched to another train going to Grindlewald. 
                            • My trip up had the following transfers (which I had to write down to keep straight):
                            ​Going up
                            - RE train from Interlaken West to Ost
                            - xfer to Zweilutschinen on train 151
                            - xfer to Lautenbrunnen on bus
                            - xfer to Kleine Scheidegg on cogwheel train 351
                            - xfer to Jungfraujoch on cogwheel train 551  ​ 
                            Down
                            - Jungfraujoch to Kleine Scheidegg on cogwheel train 570
                            - xfer to Grindlewald on cogwheel train 470
                            - xfer to Interlaken Ost on train 270
                            - xfer to West
                            • All of the named stops on the train line from Kleine Scheidegg up to the Jungfraugoch are places where the train stops so you can get out and take a look out the windows carved in the walls.
                            • At the top, there’s a restaurant and gift shop (of course). There’s also a platform to go out and look at the glacier and pose with the Swiss flag atop the pole. It’s mighty impressive. And cold, too – I wore a light jacket over a sweater plus a scarf, gloves, and a hat.
                            • Photo tip: there’s so much snow that the reflected light backlights the subject if you’re taking a picture of someone, so set the flash on your camera to always go off.
                            • In the vestibule is a large picture of the mountains, saying it’s a UNESCO site. In the upper left corner is another one of my stickers (orange circle with a BBQ grill reading “#Endless BBQ”) – if you see it, please take a photo.
                            • Also at the top, on the inside they’ve got an “ice palace” (Eistpalast) to walk through. It stays below zero all year around.
                            • As the sun goes behind the mountains, they take the flag down and bring everyone in. It gets really cold out there with no sun.
                            • As mentioned earlier, on the way down, I changed trains at Kleine Scheidegg and went to Grindlewald. Due to the train schedule, I wouldn’t have had enough time to hang out there for dinner (it was 6pm) so I went back down to Interlaken and had dinner at the Grand Café (menu looked good). I had tomato soup with a dollop of ricotta, macaroni with meat sauce (National Dish of Interlaken) and applesauce, Alpenperle beer.
                            • Stopped by the casino at night, having been to Las Vegas I wasn't impressed and didn't stay long. The casino has 125 slots, 2 roulette tables, 2 video roulette, 2 blackjack tables, and 3 poker tables. Only one of the 7 tables was in use, one of those for roulette.

                            Wednesday, October 26, 2011

                            Day 40: Interlaken (Oct 26)

                            Here are today's pictures.

                            • Arrive in Interlachen, drop off my stuff. I took the train to Thun and wanted to take the boat across the lake, but the boat only runs on Sundays, so it was the train all the way in.
                            • I booked the hotel based on price and availability, I stayed at the Hotel Loetschberg. I got there on a Wednesday just before lunch, and left Saturday morning. The hotel closed for the season on Sunday, and there was only 1 other person in the hotel when I was there. Because it was the end of the season, a lot of summer-season activities were closed and the winter-season stuff hadn’t opened up yet, but the desk clerk found a paragliding company that was still open.
                            • October has great winds for paragliding. My pilot had a selfie stick (which I had never seen before) and took pictures and video of us in the air, and I was allowed to use my own camera as well. This company said they guarantee at least 10-15 minutes of air time, but with the good winds I was up for about 30 minutes. It took about 30 minutes to drive up to the top of the mountain, so the whole thing was done by about 3pm.
                            • I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and checking out the main “downtown” area and scouting a restaurant for dinner. Finally settled on the Banhof Hotel, just because they were the only place around that had cheese fondue for 1 (all other places had fondue for 2 or more).
                            • I checked out the casino after dark, but it wasn’t great. It was mostly a bunch of slot machines. Played 20 francs worth.

                            Switzerland details

                            I've fallen behind in my daily writing - as I write this now, I'm going on day 3 in Switzerland, so I still have 1 day of Hallstatt, 4 days of Munich, 2 days of Bavaria, and 2 days in Switzerland to get caught up - but I still have to plan for where I'm going more than write about where I've been.  So here's the plan for Switzerland.

                            Tuesday, October 25, 2011

                            Day 39: Bern (Oct 25)

                            Blog post coming soon! Highlights: walking tour of the city. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

                            Monday, October 24, 2011

                            Day 38: Lucerne (Oct 24)

                            Blog post coming soon! Highlights: walking tour of the city. ​It was still pre-dawn and cold/foggy at Buchloe when I changed trains from Fuessen to Lucerne (changing trains again in Zurich - it's definitely not a no-smoking facility like Germany is.) In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

                            Sunday, October 23, 2011

                            Day 37: Fuessen, Schwangau (Oct 23)

                            Here are today's pictures.

                            Just a €9 bus ride from Garmisch, left 7:50, had a quick breakfast at the hotel before I left. Transfer from 9606 to 73 at Bad Bayetsoien (Echelsbacher Brucke). Pass thru Obergammerau & Untergammerau on the way. Frost covered fields of cows and goats, fog shrouded valleys. Part of Romantic Road. Arrived in Fuessen, drop off my stuff. I booked the hotel based on price and availability: I stayed at the Altstadthotel zum Hechten (which has the Ritterstub’n restaurant attached). Again, this was a “place for my stuff and to sleep” home base.

                            Get reserved tickets for the Castles. You’ll do Hohenschwangau first, then two hours later Neuschwanstein. If you miss your appointed time, you can’t get in. With reservations, you’ll still have to pick up your tickets so make sure to allow enough time for that (30 minutes before the first one, 60 minutes before the second one).

                            From the bottom, the best way to go is taking a one-way bus up to Mary’s Bridge for the money shot view of the castle, which then has a 10-minute downhill walk to the Neuschwanstein entrance. Then catch a horse carriage from the castle down to the parking lot (or walk, which I did – it’s a long walk, but downhill).

                            I took a nap when I got back but overslept, and by the time I woke up, most of the restaurants were already closed, so I ate at the restaurant attached to the hotel (cash only).

                            Saturday, October 22, 2011

                            Day 36: Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Zugspitze (Oct 22)

                            Here are today's pictures.

                            Arrive in town, drop off my stuff. I booked the hotel based on price and availability, I stayed at the Gastof Fraundorfer Hotel in Partenkirchen.

                            Head to the railroad station and buy a ticket on the Zugspitzbahn up to the top. As you can read below, there are 2 ways to get up to the top – cogwheel train all the way, or part train and part cablecar. The train takes about 15-20 minutes longer but you’re climbing up and through the mountain (with stops so you can get out and look around), while the cablecar should have some great mountain views. I took the train both ways, I don’t know if you can do one of each. Made it back down about 1800.

                            Up top at the Zugspitze are some AMAZING views of the mountains. There’s a restaurant at 2600 meters, great place to have a beer and just relax. Then there’s a cablecar that takes you up even higher. You’ll probably have a lot of sunlight, by mid-October the sun was going behind the mountains at 1615.

                            Had a beer & apple crumble torte at Sonn Alpin (2600m, 8530 ft), summit at 2962m, 9618 ft. Surprisingly, it got warmer in the mountains - it was 3 deg (37F) when I left Munich at 7:45, 4 deg (39F) in Garmisch at 11am, and 9 (48F) at Zugspitzplatt at 2pm.

                            Back at the bottom, I wanted to go to the Tourist Information booth, but I didn’t get there in time, so I had a nice little wander in that general direction (see the Banhof in the center, the TI at the upper left, and the hotel at the upper right: https://goo.gl/maps/u9ayPR93g6G2 )

                            After I came back from the mountain, I strolled around the town before I decided I was hungry and wanted dinner. I stopped at Pizzeria da Renzo in Partenkirchen, a few blocks from the hotel. Nothing special, I was just in the mood for pizza.

                            Turns out the hotel has a recommended restaurant (I didn’t notice it when I checked in, and didn’t check for any recommendations). Later that night I came down for a beer there was a party going on. I posted a photo with the caption “Sitting in the lobby restaurant of my hotel in Partenkirchen, in Bavaria (with a half liter of Paulaner). There are men in lederhosen and women in dirndls, and a guy playing the accordion. And in my booth are signed pictures on the wall by astronauts Jim Newman and Ox van Hoften.” TJ Creamer commented “Been there... didn't sign! Congrats! GREAT atmosphere and exposure... Was kann ich jetzt sagen, aber: SUPER Gemuetlichkeit!”

                            Friday, October 21, 2011

                            Day 35: Munich (Oct 21)

                            Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Dachau and the Alte Pinakothek museum. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

                            Last day started with a metro ride to Dachau for a walking tour of the concentration camp. After lunch, I had the day free so I spent some time at the Alte Pinakothek Museum, which has paintings from the 14th-19th centuries [Rembrandt, da Vinci, Botticelli] (my other choices were the Neue Pinakothek with paintings from 1800-1920 [Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh], the Moderne with early to mid 20th century stuff [Picasso, Dali], and the Brandhorst with late 20th/early 21st century [Warhol, etc.]). Dinner was at Opatija im Tal, a Slovenian restaurant that was recommended by one of my guide books.

                            I didn’t spend as much time in the beer gardens as I had anticipated, I was always busy doing something else. The Augustiner is considered the best in the city because got no music and it’s away from the tourist hordes. Other recommended beer gardens are Andechser am Dom, Nürnberger Bratwurst Glöckl am Dom (both trendy and touristy), Altes Hackerhaus and Der Pschorr (both popular with locals), and Spatenhaus near the opera house.

                            Thursday, October 20, 2011

                            Day 34: Munich, Rothenberg (Oct 20)

                            Blog post coming soon! Highlights: tour of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and return to Munich for dinner at the Ratskeller. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

                            Took the train up to Rothenberg ob der Tauber (if you go, make sure it’s this one and not the other Rothenberg), which was a 2-1/2 hour ride. The town basically looks like it got stuck in the 1600s and is really neat to walk around and sightsee in. I got back to Munich at dinnertime, I went to the Rathskeller in Marienplatz.

                            Wednesday, October 19, 2011

                            Day 33: Munich (Oct 19)

                            Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Marienplatz, St. Peter's Church climb, Viktualienmarkt beer garden, Jewish Museum, and the Beer & Brewery walk ending at the Hofbrauhaus. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

                            Went to Marienplatz to check out the clock tower at the Rathaus, then climbed up to the top of the Peterskirche for a great view of the old town area (only 306 steps). Walked over to the Viktualienmarkt for lunch at a Hofbrau kiosk. Also in the area is the Jewish Museum and Asam’s Church (Asam Kirche), which is a 1700s church with a lavish interior. Right off of Marienplatz is the Apple store, which was built on the site of the first Nazi party meeting place.

                            I stayed in this area to catch the Beer and Brewery Tour at 18:15 under the glockenspiel in Marienplatz (there are many walking tours that depart from here, no reservation required, including a City Walk and Hitler’s Munich) which took us to the Paulaner brewery and dinner at the Hofbrauhaus.

                            Munich & Bavaria details

                            Came up with this list of things to do in Munich and the two days in Bavaria a few days ago, but haven't had a chance to sit down and post it yet. I've got 4 days in Munich, one of which was originally supposed to be a day off but has of course morphed into a day with something to do. Then I'll go off to two towns in Bavaria: Garmisch, which is at the base of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain, and has some pretty neat sounding ways to get up the mountain (all of which involve me not actually climbing much); and Schwangau, the home of King Ludwig's castles. The details in those areas are a little fuzzy right now.

                            Of note: Thursday is stocked with museums, but I can't see spending 8 hours in art museums. I'll probably just hit the highlights and then go have a beer or check out the English Garden or something.

                            Also of note: Friday is the halfway point in my journey.

                            Tuesday, October 18, 2011

                            Day 32: Munich (Oct 18)

                            Blog post coming soon! Highlights: hop on/hop off tour, walk from Karlsplatz to Marienplatz, and Marienplatz at night. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

                            Hop on/hop off bus tour of the city - Gray Line Tours has hop-on, hop-off bus tours that leave from in front of the Karstadt department store at Bahnhofplatz, directly across from the train station; there’s a 1-hour Express Circle and a 2-1/2 hour Grand Circle route. Just show up and pay the driver (cash only), or get a €1-2 discount by buying your ticket in advance at EurAide (€13 Express tour, €18 Grand tour, daily in season, tel. 089/5490-7560, www.sightseeing-munich.com).

                            Then walked from Konigsplatz (former home of the Nazi party in Munich) to the monument at Karolinenplatz down to Karlsplatz and to the town hall at Marienplatz. Google maps says it’s a 22 minute walk but you’ll probably be stopping along the way. Dinner at the Lowe am Markt nearby (no particular reason, prices were decent and had a good menu) in the Viktualienmarkt.

                            Monday, October 17, 2011

                            Day 31: Salzburg (Oct 17)

                            Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Sound of Music tour, Mozart's birthplace museum, and a river tour. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

                            Sunday, October 16, 2011

                            Day 30: Salzburg (Oct 16)

                            Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Rick Steves Old Town Walk and Hohensalzburg Fortress. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

                            Saturday, October 15, 2011

                            Day 29: Hallstatt (Oct 15)

                            Today's pictures are here on Flickr.

                            While doing my research in the months before I left, I came to quickly find that I enjoyed the Rick Steves guide books much more than Lonely Planet, Frommers, Fodor's, or any other (though I did consult as many as I could find). It also helped that Rick had a TV series, and a great many of his shows covered cities that I had planned to visit. One of those shows was on Salzburg and its surroundings, and while Halstatt wasn't on the list of places from the Frommer's car trip that got me to Melk, Krems, and Bad Ischl, he liked it enough to devote a segment of that show to the town (which you can watch here, it's only 3 minutes). I saw that episode and said that looks cool enough to spend a day there on my trip through the Salzkammergut.

                            Friday, October 14, 2011

                            Day 28: Bad Ischl (Oct 14)

                            Today's pictures are here on Flickr.

                            The only things I knew about Bad Ischl were that the Austrian Emperor had a summer home here for 60 years, and that it was famous for its spas. It’s also further west, towards Salzburg, in what’s known as the Salzkammergut area (roughly translated to “Salt storehouse”), after train transfers in St Poelten (3rd time) and Attnang-Puchheim (1st time). The train to Attnang was delayed by about a half hour while they cleared the track ahead of us; apparently someone got hit by another train further up and they had to bring the police, ambulance, and cleanup crews in before we could get going. Of course my connection had long since left by the time I got there, but I just hopped on the next one going to Bad Ischl, leaving me time to grab lunch from a kebab stand nearby (that was really good – a shwarma sandwich but in a tortilla wrap). The train only made it as far as Ebensee, though, due to construction on the tracks, so we had to disembark from the train and get into a standing-room-only bus to get the rest of the way to Bad Ischl. I had booked a B&B the night before in Mautern, so I found the Tourist Information office and got a map of the town, and she helped me figure out where I needed to go.

                            Salzburg details

                            Two days seems to be enough to cover all that I want to see in Salzburg, though if I had a third day that would be ideal (same as Vienna). However, I still have Munich, Bavaria, and Switzerland to see before my hard deadline of Oct 30 in Zermatt, so I'll have to make do with two days. The two big tourist draws in Salzburg are the Sound of Music and Mozart, so I'll take whatever else I can get.

                            Thursday, October 13, 2011

                            Day 27: Melk, Krems, and Mautern (Oct 13)

                            Today's pictures are here on Flickr.

                            The next 3 days will be different from what I’ve done so far – they’re in the Austrian countryside, or at least relatively small towns compared to all the big capital cities I’ve been to so far. The Frommer’s guide book recommended a driving tour from Vienna to Salzburg to Innsbruck, and as I was only going as far as Salzburg I used their ideas for a train tour. And since they aren’t big cities, there’s not as much to do, which is kind of the idea. There will be enough to keep me occupied but not busy.

                            Wachau & Salzkammergut details

                            So apparently the Danube Valley is called the "Wachau" region. I discovered it while researching Austria, Rick Steves doesn't cover it but Frommer's does, as part of a driving tour that goes from Vienna to Salzburg to Innsbruck. I'm not going that far, but the book does mention some interesting-sounding things to see and do in the Austrian countryside. I decided to make it into three days, one day in the Wachau region of the Danube River not too far from Vienna, and two days further west towards Salzburg in the Lake District or Salzkammergut. Even though they're very different areas, I'm lumping them into one post here for convenience.

                            Wednesday, October 12, 2011

                            Day 26: Vienna (Oct. 12)

                            Today's pictures can be found here on Flickr.

                            Slept in a bit and went into town to see the Lippizzaner Stallions at the Spanish Riding School. They have a performance this weekend and I was hoping to see some cool stuff at their regular morning practice, but it was mostly just warming up, walking around, and a few things like prancing in place or side stepping, but only occasionally. In the arena, five horses practice for 30 minutes, then they leave and are replaced with five more horses. This goes on for 2-1/2 hours, and people are free to leave when they want. I stayed for a little more than an hour, seeing two full practice sessions.

                            Tuesday, October 11, 2011

                            Day 25: Vienna (Oct. 11)

                            Today's pictures can be found here on Flickr.

                            The train got in close to 6:30am, and I had already been up for an hour. I knew this was going to be a long day. I was in occasional email contact with my host in Vienna, and rather than get there so early, I left my luggage in a locker and after checking my email and getting some breakfast in the 1st class lounge, I jumped right into my tour of the Vienna sights. I took the metro into town from the Hauptbanhof (main train station) and picked up a ticket for tomorrow’s morning practice of the Lipizzaner Stallions, who train right next to the Hofburg area.

                            Monday, October 10, 2011

                            Day 24: Prague (Oct 10)


                            Today's pictures are here on Flickr.

                            It's Columbus Day back in the US. Over here, it's "A European allegedly discovered you 500 years ago? What were you guys doing for a couple thousand years before that while we were over here building castles and cool stuff like that?" Day.

                            Vienna details

                            Now that I've rested and relaxed as much as I can for a couple days in Prague, I'm ready for another trip back on the road and rails. Next up: Vienna.

                            I've gone northeast-ish from London to Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, and up to Copenhagen, then south to Berlin and Prague, and now I'm headed west for a while through Austria, Munich and Bavaria.

                            Sunday, October 9, 2011

                            Day 23: Prague (Oct 9)

                            Today's pictures are here on Flickr.

                            Since I had all day today (Sunday) and one more night at the apartment, checking out in the morning, I originally planned to relax for the day, get some writing done (both here and figuring out future plans), and then on Monday I’d go to the Castle Quarter while leaving my bag in the room. That would end with dinner, picking up my bag, and heading to the train station.

                            Saturday, October 8, 2011

                            Day 22: Prague (Oct 8)


                            Today's pictures can be found here on Flickr.

                            I had an email waiting for me when I got up, from my host telling me that the room was vacant the next 2 days and that I could stay if I wanted (I’d pay in cash at the same rate). The only things really on my agenda for the day were to do laundry and change my train ticket from Prague-Budapest on 10/9 at 12:04am to Prague-Vienna on 10/11 at 12:04am. I’d put off the Castle Quarter for Sunday or Monday.

                            Budapest details

                            Before I left, I had figured out my daily plan up through Prague. Had I realized how little time I was going to have during my trip to figure out what to do after Prague, I would have started earlier and done more up-front work. So now while I'm in Prague, I'm fleshing out a plan for Budapest which is my next stop. This was much easier to do sitting at home at my kitchen table.

                            Update 10/9: After staying up til 4am putting this together, I decided that it was just too much and I needed some time off to relax (I haven't really had a day off since I left) and to plan ahead, plus get some writing done.  I didn't want to be figuring out what I'm doing in Vienna while on the train to Vienna. So regretfully, Budapest will have to wait for a future trip, but this is what I would have done.

                            Friday, October 7, 2011

                            Day 21: Prague (Oct 7)


                            Today's pictures can be found here on Flickr.

                            Rather than getting up early to visit the Jewish Quarter, I saved that for after lunch, which was from the vendors in Old Town Square, roasting hams and grilling bratwurst. I had a wurst and a Gambrinus beer, with some pretzel-y thing for dessert (they put dough in a spiral around a metal bar, then heat it over the fire, then put cinnamon and sugar on it).

                            Thursday, October 6, 2011

                            Day 20: Prague (Oct 6)

                            Today's pictures can be found here on Flickr.

                            Once I did my usual thing of getting my bearings, finding a map, and finding some wifi to check in, I made my way down to Prague’s Old Town Square where my apartment was. I couldn’t have asked for a better location, it was literally right in a back alley off of Tyn Church, about a minute’s walk from the Square. It wasn’t too long before I realized that Prague was what I was thinking of when I wanted to see “Old Europe”, even though I didn’t know it at the time – churches, cobblestone streets, castles, rivers, photogenic bridges. By the end of the first day I was already thinking that this was my favorite new city of the trip so far.

                            Wednesday, October 5, 2011

                            Day 19: Berlin (Oct 5)

                            Today's pictures can be found on Flickr here.

                            Last day in Berlin was Museum Island day, in particular the Pergamon and the Neues Museums. The Neues ("New") Museum is known for its huge collection of Egyptian artifacts, including mummies and a bust of Queen Nefertiti. Upstairs they've got a prehistoric museum collection that's still in work, but includes some Neanderthal skeletons.

                            Tuesday, October 4, 2011

                            Day 18: Berlin (Oct 4)

                            Today's pictures can be found on Flickr here.

                            I originally had some additional things planned for the day north of Unter den Linden in the afternoon, but I spent it all down south. First up was the Jewish Museum of Berlin. It was very powerful, moving, and evocative, tracing the history of the Jews in Germany in general and in Berlin specifically. I tend to linger at museums like this, where there are a lot of things to read. I didn't take many pictures because there really weren't many things to make remembrances of. It took about 2 hours to go through the museum and so I stopped for lunch at a nearby shop. Most of my lunches in Europe tend to be of the "grab a sandwich on a baguette" type of meal.

                            Monday, October 3, 2011

                            Day 17: Berlin (Oct 3)

                            Today's pictures are on this Flickr set.

                            On the one hand, the Berlin train station is really empty and pretty quiet at 6:00am. On the other hand, there's not much open. The tourist info booth doesn't open til 8, and the hop on/off bus doesn't pick up at the train station until 10:20, so I have to amuse myself for a few hours. Dunkin Donuts has good donuts, and Starbucks next door has free wifi. Yay free wifi!

                            Sunday, October 2, 2011

                            Day 16: Copenhagen (Oct. 2)

                            Pictures from today are in this Flickr set.

                            I had some things on the schedule today and leftover from yesterday - the Danish Jewish Museum and the Library, and the Rundetarn (Round House) which was originally built as an observatory for Tycho Brahe - but the only one that really interested me was the Viking Ship Museum in nearby Roskilde, so I slept in.

                            Saturday, October 1, 2011

                            Day 15: Copenhagen (Oct. 1)

                            Today's photos are posted on Flickr here.

                            Woke up around 8:30 or so, after a good 8 hours sleep - which I haven't had since before I left. The train pulled into Copenhagen an hour late, around 11:30, despite the ontime departure, and I had to sit on the internet to finish arranging my lodging for the day.

                            Friday, September 30, 2011

                            Day 14: Cologne (Sept 30)

                            Here's the Flickr link to today's pictures.

                            This turned out to be almost a day off for me, I ended up doing not very much and it was nice. I had learned my ticket lesson already and had booked a reservation on the Amsterdam to Cologne train on the day I got to Amsterdam. The train leaving Amsterdam was about 15 minutes delayed, and stopped in Utrecht, Basel (last stop in the Netherlands), Arnem (now 20 minutes), Dinslaken, Oberhausen, Duisburg, Dusseldorf (now 40 minutes), and finally Koln.

                            Thursday, September 29, 2011

                            Day 13: Amsterdam (Sept. 29)

                            The set of photos from day is on Flickr here.

                            The first place I was going to go today anyway was the Anne Frank House. Online reservations were sold out, so I took the suggestion of arriving early before the first admission at 9am so I could stand in line for a non-reserved ticket. It was about a 15 minute walk from the apartment, and at 8:30 when I left it was during the hustle and bustle of morning rush hour, yet it didn't seem busy. I only waited about 15 minutes in line at the house before going in.

                            Wednesday, September 28, 2011

                            Day 12: Amsterdam (Sept. 28)

                            Today's photo set is here on Flickr.

                            So apparently they're serious about this whole reservation thing. It's like The Amazing Race where you go up to the counter and buy the earliest ticket to the destination if the direct route isn't available. Since I didn't make a reservation on the 8:25 Paris to Amsterdam train, it was sold out (who knew that it would be a popular route on a Wednesday morning?), and so they booked me on the 8:58 to Lille, Flanders, arriving 10:00 with a 5-minute layover to catch the next train, the 10:05 to Antwerp, Belgium, arriving 11:55. From there I had an 8 minute layover to catch the noon train to Amsterdam, arriving 14:09. If I miss any of the trains, there's another one an hour later. However, I planned on arriving direct at 11:43 so I'm already thinking of how I'll have to rearrange my 2 days in Amsterdam schedule.

                            Tuesday, September 27, 2011

                            Day 11: Paris (Sept. 27)

                            Today's photo set is here on Flickr.

                            On my last day in Paris, I started with the dead and finished with a boat ride down the Seine.

                            Monday, September 26, 2011

                            Day 10: Paris (Sept. 26)

                            Today's photo set is here on Flickr.

                            While waiting at Notre Dame last night, I discovered that one of the things I planned to do today (Monday) was closed, so I swapped my entire Monday and Tuesday schedules. Fortunately it was easy.

                            I started out with another Rick Steves suggestion, take the #69 bus from the Eiffel Tower to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. That gave me time to eat my curry chicken on a bagel sandwich sitting in the Champs du Mars waiting for the bus, looking out over the Tower. It occurred to me that most Parisian are probably jaded and don't think twice about seeing it every day. Among other places, the bus took us past Invalides (the Army museum and Napoleon's Tomb), along the Seine near Notre Dame, and past the Bastille Monument before arriving at the cemetery.

                            Sunday, September 25, 2011

                            Day 9: Paris (Sept. 25)

                            Today's photo set is here on Flickr.

                            With today's changed schedule, I was kind of stuck because while everything else was open all day, I wanted to see the organist at St Sulpice church, and that was only open from about 12:30 to 1pm, so I decided to sleep in. Got some lunch and after a trip downtown I arrived at the church. 

                            Saturday, September 24, 2011

                            Day 8: Paris (Sept. 24)

                            Today's photo set is here on Flickr.

                            Because of my schedule, I only had Saturday and Sunday to use the museum pass. Monday many of them are closed, and I leave Wednesday. I tried to figure out which of the museums I wanted to see and tried to cram as many into those 2 days as time and location allowed. Yes, it was going to make for a long day. The original plan was to do Rick Steves' historic Paris walk around the Ile de Cite area, followed by the Louvre, the Orsay, and the Orangerie, all by 6pm when the last of them closed for the day. After that, a walk down the Champs Elysees from Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe to catch the view from the top at night. Somewhere in there I'd catch dinner.

                            Friday, September 23, 2011

                            Day 7: Paris (Sept. 23)

                            Today's photo set is here on Flickr.

                            The train from London to Paris was so uneventful that I slept for half of it, somewhere inside the tunnel until I arrived at Gare du Nord station. It took a bit to get my bearings there and figure out where to go, how to get money, where to buy the museum pass, and where to catch the #4 train to the Reamur/Sebastopol stop. I managed to figure that all out (got the museum pass and the hop on/off bus ticket at the TI kiosk at the far end) and met David, my host, at the apartment. He gave me some tips on the area and the key to the tiny flat which was mine for the next few days.

                            Thursday, September 22, 2011

                            Day 6: London (Sept. 22)

                            Today's photo set is here on Flickr.

                            Last day in London. Boo! There's still so much to see and do and I don't have any more time! Well, that's what the next trip is for.

                            Wednesday, September 21, 2011

                            Day 5: London (Sept 21)

                            Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Millennium Bridge, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Windsor Palace and the Royal Collection, and the play "Wicked". In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

                            (Originally published 9/29/11 at 2:09am, Amsterdam)

                            Tuesday, September 20, 2011

                            Day 4: London (Sept 20)

                            Here's the set of pictures on Flickr for Sept 20, 2011.

                            The plan for today was to get up and go to the train station for a tour that goes out to Stonehenge and Salisbury, leaving at 9:15 and returning at 6:45, then grabbing a bite to eat and heading to the Globe Theater to watch a play. I got to see Stonehenge, at least.

                            Monday, September 19, 2011

                            Day 3: London (Sept 19)

                            Here's today's set of pictures on Flickr for Monday, Sept 19, 2011.

                            On my first day in London yesterday, I was knackered from lack of sleep so I decided to push my 8am bus tour into a 10pm bus tour. I slept in a bit longer than I had anticipated and made it out to Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard a few minutes late, but it turned out that it didn't matter because they're on every-other-day status now instead of every day, and nobody bothered to tell me. That was the only time I had allotted and I'm not sure if I can swap other things around to make room for it on another day. We'll see. Will and Kate never answered my email about a private tour of the Palace (neither did Harry or Pippa) so I was left at the gates.

                            Sunday, September 18, 2011

                            Day 2: London (Sept 18)

                            Here's the entire Flickr set of today's pictures.


                            After my Virgin Atlantic flight landed on time despite a late start, I breezed through Customs (my questions were "What's your name?", "What's your purpose here?", and "When are you leaving?", I'm not sure if the Customs official even looked at me), my first order of business was to figure out where I was going. It was more difficult because there was no free wifi in the terminal, which I had been counting on. Fortunately I remembered the name of the Tube station, Kennington, and I figured out how to get from the airport to the Kennington Station. I bought a one-day Travelpass which allows unlimited use of the Tube and bus system, and gives discounts on other travel (like river cruises).

                            Saturday, September 17, 2011

                            Day 1: New York City (Sept 17)

                            Here's the Flickr set for today in NYC.

                            My trip was planned with a 9-hour layover in New York so that I could see some people I used to know when I lived in the area as a kid. For various reasons, nobody was able to come out, so I was stuck having to take a 7:50am flight getting in at 12:20 with no plans until my flight left at 9:30pm. So I figured I'd head down to the World Trade Center site and then spend the rest of the afternoon at Stout NYC, a bar conveniently just a block away from Penn Station (which is where I entered and exited NYC from Newark Airport).

                            Monday, September 12, 2011

                            Prague details

                            My initial plan was to spend 3 days touring Prague, and one of my weekly days off, making 4 days altogether. But both Frommer's and Rick Steves said I could to pretty much all I needed in just two days. I took a look at the guide books and split the difference - I'll do their 2-day trips in 3 days (really 2-1/2, since I get in early afternoon from Berlin on the first day), all of which include a lot of easy wandering and meandering, which I'm good at. And to me that's relaxing too, just checking things out without a tight schedule. So I'll leave a day earlier than planned, and use that in Budapest.

                            Saturday, September 10, 2011

                            Berlin details

                            For some reason, the sights in Berlin seemed to me to not be as quantifiable in how long I should spend there, so I just grouped them in rough chronological order in geographic regions. First day after the bus tour is west to east along Unter den Linden, from the Reichstag to Alexanderplatz. Second day is the stuff south of Unter den Linden like Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish Museum, then the Museum Island stuff north. Third day is the west and central stuff like the Ku'damm and Victory Column. I think I've arranged it so that I have good areas for lunch and dinner/evening.

                            Thursday, September 8, 2011

                            Copenhagen details


                            At the moment, still working out when to go to Cologne (Koln) and whether I'll get to Copenhagen from there or from Amsterdam, but wherever I get here from, they both arrive right around 10:00am.

                            The other unplanned hitch is that I didn't read the rail guide carefully and I assumed that the overnight from Copenhagen/Malmo to Berlin runs every night. In fact, it only runs Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday night. So I had to choose between staying my 3 days in Copenhagen/Malmo (Saturday 10/1 thru Monday 10/3) and flying from Copenhagen to Berlin on the morning of Tuesday 10/4 (otherwise it's an all-day train ride, getting in mid-afternoon), or cutting a day out here and saving it for later. Right now I'll do the latter, and have a spare day in my itinerary.

                            Wednesday, September 7, 2011

                            Amsterdam details (plus a bonus day in Cologne)

                            So, originally I had 4 days planned for Amsterdam, 2-1/2 for sightseeing (I get in from Paris around noon) and one for a day off. I took one of those days and gave it to London. Now I have to take another day and plan for an unexpected side-trip to Cologne (Koln), Germany.

                            Monday, September 5, 2011

                            Paris details

                            Paris is the second stop on my trip. I was last there in 1988, and this is the last stop that I have already been to. Here's what I came up with back in March.

                            The first two full days in Paris are front-loaded with museums. I was pretty much forced into putting them on Saturday and Sunday since most are closed on Monday and/or Tuesday, and I arrive in Paris at lunchtime on Friday and leave Thursday morning. I'll get a Museum Pass, which is free admission to all the places on those two days with an asterisk in front of the name. I tried to lighten my days on Monday and Tuesday, since I will not have had a day off since I got to Europe - late starts, strolls, etc.

                            I've got a couple of cousins I've never met who live in Paris (our great-great-grandfathers were all brothers, making us 4th cousins), I'm hoping to be able to meet up with them at some point.

                            London details

                            Looking at my itinerary, I kept getting fooled that I had one extra day in London, but I was bookkeeping my first airplane travel day against London. So really I only had 4 days, not 5. And with one of them taken up by a full-day trip to Stonehenge, I needed another day. I was able to steal one from my time in Amsterdam; after reading the guidebook for that city, I found that I had given myself one too many days there. Overall, though, I did pretty well with my original rough cut back in March.

                            So, here's my detailed itinerary for London.

                            Thursday, September 1, 2011

                            Milan, we have a problem...

                            Looking to book a ticket to see DaVinci's "The Last Supper" in Milan on my only day there, Monday Oct 31st (maybe my Halloween costume should be a Disciple?). Of course, that's the only day of the week that the museum is closed. There are slots available the day before I get there, while I'm taking the train across Switzerland, and one week after, while I'm in Rome. 

                            Tuesday, August 23, 2011

                            Travelling with an iPhone (part 2)

                            In part 1, I went through the apps on my iPhone which I have used while traveling domestically, either on cross-country road trips (Houston to KSC), city stays (Las Vegas), or regional trips (San Francisco Bay Area). In part 2, I'll cover the travel-related apps, in particular those specifically for Europe.

                            If you have any comments or suggestions, please add them at the bottom, I'm always looking for the best app for something.

                            Travelling with an iPhone (part 1)

                            In spring 2000, I drove from Houston to KSC for the launch of space shuttle mission STS-101 with paper maps. I was the only one in my group who didn't have a cell phone at the time, and it was on that trip that I realized how useful it really was for coordinating a group of people who were staying at different hotels and making last-minute plan changes. I got my first cell phone shortly after, and as a direct result of, that trip. I think I'm on my 5th phone now, an iPhone 4, and looking back I'm amazed at how much I use it these days and how indispensable it is. I can't imagine not using it and wonder how we got along without smartphones.

                            With that in mind, I decided to go back and look at my iPhone and see what apps I used on my recent trips to KSC, about 11 years after that last trip in which I did not have a cell phone at all, as well as Las Vegas and the San Francisco Bay Area, and update it for my upcoming Europe trip.

                            Part 1 of this post (since it got too long) looks at everything I used or plan to use while travelling, except the actual travel-related apps, which will go into part 2. Once I figure it out, I'll write another one about how I plan to manage a cell phone over there.

                            What do you use on your Smartphone while travelling?

                            Saturday, August 6, 2011

                            iTunes Playlist

                            Sometimes I make an iTunes playlist inspired by a vacation place (like Las Vegas) or theme (road trip to see a space shuttle launch). I decided to make one for my Europe trip. My rules, such as they are, are that the song title and/or lyrics have to relate somehow - even tenuously - to the location or activity. I'm taking flights from Houston to NYC to London and Madrid to Frankfurt to Houston but mostly trains between cities, thus each city leading off with a train song. What else would you add?

                            Saturday, July 23, 2011

                            Luggage & netbook

                            I've debated back and forth about what kind of luggage to take. Many sites (One Bag, Reid's Guides, Rick Steves, etc.) say to pack as lightly as possible, with as few clothes as possible, in as small a bag as possible.
                            Until you’ve learned this lesson yourself (swearing to never make these mistakes again) the temptation is to pack everything you think you’ll be able to carry rather than pack as little as you can get away with. Even after hearing this advice most people will make this mistake anyway, so hopefully some of this will come in handy and you’ll be ahead of the game. (via)
                            I have decided to heed that advice but stray a little more to the side of comfort. I don't NEED my bag to be carry-on size (22"), I'm only going to be taking two flights (there and back) and will be on the train the rest of the time, and since I'm going overseas I can check a bag for free.

                            Monday, June 27, 2011

                            Gibraltar & Tangier (Nov. 22-23)

                            Gibraltar is one of those "well as long as I'm here I should go there" places that seems more interesting the more I look at it. One reason is that it's so close to Tangier, Morocco, sometimes known as the Tijuana of Africa. It's almost like I'm so close that cannot not go.

                            So, the Gibraltar/Tangier 2-day trip will be the last stop on my epic journey: Madrid to Gibraltar one day, then Tangier and the trip back on the next.

                            Madrid (Nov. 18-21)

                            Madrid is the last major stop on my trip. On Friday Nov 18 I arrive from Barcelona. I've got 4 days booked here, including one day off for relaxing. In theory, on Tues Nov 22 I leave for Gibraltar and Tangier, and I'll be back sometime on Nov 24 (Thanksgiving Day in the US) to catch my flight back home.

                            One difference between Madrid and other cities is that I've got a friend who lives here (hi, Alan!) who offered to host me at his house, so I may rely on him to help plan my days here.

                            Andorra (Nov. 17?)

                            When I was in 7th or 8th grade, a classmate pointed out to a teacher in one of my classes (geography? Spanish?) that there was a tiny country between France and Spain. The teacher refused to believe it until it was pointed out to her the existence of Andorra (468 square km), nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. Since 1978 or thereabouts, I have wanted to visit Andorra, and if I'm going to Europe I'm going to try like hell to go there.

                            Barcelona (Nov. 15-17)

                            Barcelona will be the last of the Olympics host cities I visit on this trip (Paris, London, Berlin, St. Moritz, Amsterdam, Garmisch, Rome, and Munich) and my final country on my Grand Tour, not counting side trips. Only 10 days til I fly home!

                            Frommer's One/Two/Three day tours look like this:
                            • Day 1: This is going to be a very full day, so make an early start at the Plaça de Catalunya. Spend the morning wandering down La Rambla to the Mirador de Colón beside the port. Return via the Placa Reial and explore the neighboring Barri Gòtic with its central Catedral. In the afternoon visit Antoni Gaudí's unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Família, and the Parc Güell before returning to the Raval and Poble Sec districts on the western side of La Rambla. From there, take the funicular to the top of Montjuïc for a fine view of Barcelona and its harbor. Explore the gardens and castle museum, and if there's time, pop into the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya for a glimpse of the finest collection of Romanesque relics in Spain.
                            • On the second day stroll through the pond- and garden-filled Parc de la Ciutadella and visit the Zoo, time permitting. Then explore the narrow-laned barrio of La Ribera, with its Picasso Museum and imposing Santa María del Mar church, and walk down to the old (but gentrified) maritime quarter and beachfront of La Barceloneta with its modern adjoining Port Olimpic area. It's the ideal spot for an atmospheric seafood lunch. In the afternoon wander around Port Vell and explore the regenerated El Raval district.
                            • On Day 3 make a leisurely morning exploration of L'Eixample, the 19th-century district that expanded the city away from the congested Barric Gòtic and Ciutat Vella in general. This is where you'll find Barcelona's widest avenue, the Passeig de Gràcia, and greatest concentration of moderniste (Art Nouveau) architecture, highlighted by the Manzana de Discordia zone, where Gaudí's Casa Batlló, Puig i Cadafalch's Casa Amatller, and Domenech i Muntaner's Casa Lleo Morera are all so close they virtually shake hands with each other. Most famous of all is another Gaudí gem, Casa Mila (popularly known as La Pedrera) further along the paseo. Pop into Vinçon, the city's famed design emporium, for a descent to relative normality, and then continue up to the village-like district of Gràcia at the northern edge of L'Eixample. Return to have lunch in Casa Calvet, a restaurant housed in an early work of the omnipresent Gaudí. In the afternoon catch the Metro up to Pedralbes and visit its monastery and palace. Then continue up to Tibidabo by funicular for the best overall panoramic views of the city and coast stretching north toward the Costa Brava. In the evening wander into the adjoining Collserola Park, still high above the city.
                            My problem is that I have only 2-1/2 days budgeted for Barcelona (Tuesday Nov. 15 to Thursday Nov 17, leaving for Madrid on the morning of Nov 18), arriving the first day from Provence. I've got 4 days in Madrid (including one day off) and then a couple days in Gibraltar & Tangier, so I might find myself running out of time unless I freed up a day earlier in the trip. Rick Steves more or less suggests the same things for the first two days, so I might skip their third day suggestions in favor of a day trip.

                            I also want to go to Andorra (see separate post), but that's a full day trip to and from Barcelona. Rick Steves also suggests a side trip to Montserrat, which is another whole day trip unto itself.

                            According to the RailEurope site, the train from Barcelona to Madrid takes about 3 hours.

                            Provence & the French Riviera (Nov. 11-14)

                            Going into this trip, the only place that I knew I wanted to go to on the French Riviera was Monte Carlo, Monaco. But at this point in my planning, I already have my itinerary and timeline set (I had to book my airline tickets) and I know how many days I am going to spend on the trip, so now it's a case of fitting what I want to do into the time I have left, and determining if I need to take a day from somewhere else (like my 4th day in Rome) to extend my stay here.

                            Sunday, June 26, 2011

                            Pisa & the Italian Riviera (Nov. 9-10)

                            Sure, the Leaning Tower of Pisa could be considered a tourist trap, but I'm a tourist, so what the heck. Pisa is on the route from Florence to La Spezia.

                            I had never heard of the "Cinque Terre" (Five Lands) on the Italian Riviera until I started researching this trip, and everyone who has been there raves about it. So I figured it's worth looking into. They are five fairly isolated seaside cliffside villages just up the coast from La Spezia, great for hiking and sightseeing.

                            Florence (Nov. 8)

                            Update 8/3: And we're back on, I added one day in Florence and removed one day in Cinque Terre.

                            Update 7/11: Changed my mind again and removed Florence from the itinerary so that I could spend the time in Provence, France, instead. Maybe I'll add Florence back in if I cut something else out.

                            Update 6/12: I squeezed out a couple extra days here and there from my itinerary to make room for a stop in Florence after Rome. Those who have been told me that I couldn't come through Italy and not stop here. So I'll check it out.

                            Rome (Nov. 3-7)

                            This is the entry that I've been dreading most, both because it's the place I most want to go and the place that's going to be the hardest to preview because there's so much stuff I'm going to have a tough time cutting stuff out. And with my limited time I have to cut out Florence and everything south of Rome (Amalfi Coast, Capri, Mt. Vesuvius & Pompeii) for my next trip.

                            And so, Rome. Sic transit gloria mundi.

                            Packing

                            Today I went on a little shopping spree at Bed, Bath & Beyond (mostly Beyond), things that I think I'll need. Let's look at the damage:
                            • 1 Eagle Creek 14x10x3 Packing Cube and 2 7x10x3 Half Cubes (cheaper at BB&B than Amazon, especially with coupons). Packing cubes are supposed to be a great new concept in travel, you buy these cubes and put stuff in them so when you have to unpack it'll be much easier to remove and replace, rather than taking out a handful of socks, shirts, or whatever. I'll see what things look like when I'm packing. I'll probably keep at least one of the half-cubes so that small loose items don't get lost in the suitcase (which did not come with pouches lining the inside).
                            • 1 Wordlock combination lock (uses letters instead of numbers so that you can remember a word as the combination instead of a random 4-digit number). It doesn't have a cable, though, so I'll probably return it and find one that has one.
                            • A few items from their travel section - a 3-pack of Puffs tissues, a 2 oz container of hand sanitizer, a pack of 4 SHOUT Wipe & Go stain remover wipes, a roll of Charmin To Go (I was traumatized when I visited China and it was BYOTP), an emergency rain poncho (clear plastic, folds down to credit card size), a 2 oz clear jar (for tiny things), and a collapsible travel cup (thinking of places I've travelled where they didn't even have a cup in the room to rinse after brushing my teeth). These all ranged in price from $0.99 to $2.99.
                            Other stuff I had lying around that I'll be taking:
                            • Travel umbrella, manufacturer unknown. I used to carry this in my briefcase to work (when I had a job), when completely collapsed it's only 11 inches long.
                            • A 9-LED flashlight (identical to this one) that I got at a job fair. If it fails, I've got my iPhone light as a backup.
                            • A small rubber doorstop. Several guidebooks said it's a good thing to bring along, I guess if you're in a sketchy hotel room or something.
                            • A 3-oz plastic bottle to be filled with laundry detergent. I already have the bottle and the detergent, no sense in going out to buy the one-load packets.
                            All of the non-cube stuff fits inside one of the half-cubes, except for the umbrella.

                            My tech gear:
                            • Debating on whether or not to take my Garmin GPS. I haven't loaded the Europe maps yet though. I won't be driving, but it'll be nice having an idea of where I am. I know my iPhone has GPS but I probably won't have a data plan and would only be able to rely on wifi hotspots.
                            • My netbook, as mentioned earlier, with its power cable, a USB travel mouse from Targus, an ethernet cable, a mini-USB cable (for charging my GPS), and an iPhone cable that connects to a USB port on a wall plug (I can charge it via the wall or charge/sync it to the computer). I can charge my GPS and iPhone via USB ports on the computer. Also a USB-powered AA/AAA battery charger and a portable laptop hard drive (200 GB) with a case that is powered by USB. I'll sync up my photos and my iPhone/iTunes library to both the netbook and this portable drive, as I want to have a backup of my pictures in case something happens to the netbook which is my primary backup.
                            • Canon G12 camera with 3 batteries, 1 wall charger, mini-tripod, two 16 GB flash cards
                            • iPhone with spare battery pack (got it at Fry's a couple years ago for about $30, adds about 50% to the iPhone's electrical charge) and a battery powered speaker.
                            • A Velbon T-3500 tripod. It was a Wal-Mart special about 20 years ago and it still works well for me. It fits into my suitcase and I can put it in my backpack and walk around with it during the day.
                            My tech stuff (minus the tripod) will all go in my carry-on backpack, everything else will go in the suitcase.

                            Friday, June 10, 2011

                            Milan & Venice (Oct. 31-Nov. 2)

                            Coming in to Milan, I have an unexpected (and unplanned-for) half day to spend. I arrive from St. Moritz at 12:50pm on day 45 (Oct. 31st), then spend the rest of the day and night in Milan, then take the 8:05am to 10:28am train the next morning into Venice on day 46 (Nov 1). Wonder what Halloween in Milan is like?

                            Sunday, May 29, 2011

                            Updates

                            So...

                            1. A friend of mine is getting married on Friday Sept. 16, so that pushes my leave date to no earlier than Saturday Sept. 17th, and my return date into mid November, possibly as late as Thanksgiving.

                            2. I've finally realized that I have too much on my plate. I'd like to plan it so that I use up my 2-month rail pass. Since England isn't on that rail pass, it would start the day I leave London for Paris (day 6). I also want to have about 10 days of buffer in my itinerary to account for days off, side trips, relaxing, etc. so that I'm not constantly on the go. So that leaves me about 50 days of travel once I hit the continent. However, I've tracked through roughly day 47 just getting into Venice, with all of Italy, the French Riviera, Spain, Gibraltar, and Portugal left, so that's not going to work.

                            3. Thus, my newly revised itinerary: subtract 5 days for England, skip Belgium/Luxembourg, skip Budapest, skip most of Italy (save it for the next trip). That makes just 36 days since leaving England, with 15 left (they count by months, not days, so I get 61 days by virtue of Oct 31st) to hit 51 days, with 10 remaining as a buffer. From Venice, I plan to do Rome (3 days), Pisa (1/2 day), Cinque Terre (2-1/2 days), Monte Carlo (1 day), Andorra (pass thru), Barcelona (3 days), Madrid (3 days), and maybe Gibraltar/Tangiers.

                            4. My frequent flier pass allows me one stopover anywhere, as long as it's allowable for the same number of miles. That means pretty much anywhere in Europe, tacked on to the end of my trip. I've already confirmed that Istanbul and Athens are available. What other places should I look into? And if I want to spend a little more money (less than $200), I can buy some miles and go off to the Far East somewhere, maybe even turn this into an around-the-world trip.

                            Monday, April 11, 2011

                            Thoughts on Italy

                            I like old stuff. I like old books, old buildings, old paintings. I even took a Roman Medieval History class in college because it sounded interesting, and it wasn't even a requirement or elective. So I know that going into Italy, I'm going to want to stay and see everything. Which, of course, isn't going to be possible on this trip, but I don't want to minimize my time, either.

                            Switzerland (Oct. 24-30)

                            5/29 Update: I have deleted Zurich in favor of spending more time in the Bern Oberlander area.
                            6/12 Update: I found out that the Glacier Express only runs through Oct. 30, so I had to cut one day out of the Bern Oberlander stay
                            8/3 Update: Had to reroute my St. Moritz to Milan train

                            Day 39 heading out of Germany into Switzerland, I wanted to try to stop off in Liechtenstein but apparently no express trains stop there. My options:
                            1. The closest nearby town is Buchs, Switzerland, and only one train out of Fussen gets there within a reasonable time, leaving at 5:51am and getting in at 10:59am with two transfers (Buchloe, Germany, and St Margrethen, Switzerland). Then I could take the 2:12pm direct to Zurich, arriving 3:30pm, or the 3:01pm-4:23pm (via Sargans).
                            2. Or, I can take that same 5:51am train out of Fussen, transfer in Buchloe, and get into Zurich at 11:44am.
                            Not sure (yet) if it's worth nearly 5 hours. I'd lose pretty much all the daytime on my first day in Zurich if I did, and there doesn't seem to be much worth stopping for aside from postage stamps.

                            Thursday, April 7, 2011

                            Munich & Bavaria (Oct. 18-23)

                            My friends have got me confused about Munich. One person tells me to skip it, it's nothing special and it's all about Nazi history while another says "Munich is a great city, and I'd spend as much time there as possible." Someone else tells me that I absolutely MUST go during Oktoberfest if I have the chance, while another tells me "Avoid Munich during Oktoberfest! I was there once. Never again!" And I was told that I have to do at least part of the Romantic Road. So let's see what there is to see. Arrive in Munich from Salzburg on Day 32, Oct. 18th.

                            Unless I drastically re-route my plans, I will not be here during Oktoberfest, which is Sept. 17 to Oct. 3 this year (that covers my days in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen). I'd have to go from Paris to Munich to Amsterdam to catch Oktoberfest here.

                            Tuesday, April 5, 2011

                            Vienna & Salzburg (Oct. 11-17)

                            Heading west into Austria out of Prague towards Munich, I have come to realize that for the first time on this trip I don't know where I want to stop (Vienna? Salzburg?) or what I want to do. I'll see what the guidebooks have to say.

                            Budapest

                            5/29 Update: Not going to make Budapest on this trip.

                            The overnight train from Prague gets into Budapest at 8:35am on the morning of day 25. This is the furthest east in Europe that I expect to be going, but there's so much more to see east of here - Scandinavia, Poland, Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Balkans, Greece, Istanbul, even out to Israel - that'll have to wait for my next trip over (whenever that is). From here on out, it's mostly west and south til it's time to fly home.

                            Monday, April 4, 2011

                            Bratislava?

                            5/29 Update: Not going to Bratislava (or Budapest, for that matter)

                            Going from Prague to Budapest, I can take the overnight train that leaves just after midnight and gets in at 8:35am.

                            Or... I could leave at the same time and get into Bratislava, Slovakia at 5:40am (or spend the night in Prague and take a 7:39am train that gets in at noon) and spend the day in Bratislava wandering around. Then, I can either stay the night or leave during the day (1:54-4:35, 3:54-6:35) to head to Budapest in 2h41m. If I stayed, the next day I'd take the 9:54am which gets into Budapest at 12:35pm.

                            Anyone have suggestions on whether or not to take a day or part of one in Bratislava rather than passing through it at night while I sleep?

                            Sunday, April 3, 2011

                            Prague (Oct. 7-10)

                            Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Soviet Russia and the Warsaw Pact were the bad guys. So the fact that some 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism (mostly) in eastern Europe, countries like the Czech Republic are in NATO and are tourist attractions would have been too absurd to even consider. Yet here I am, ready to plan a trip to see Prague, and I don't even need my passport to cross a border. Just goes to show you something or other.

                            Departure date

                            So it appears that the week prior to the date I was originally planning to leave is actually more open than
                            I thought for frequent flier tickets. Houston to London in the fall is not exactly high season.

                            Thursday, March 31, 2011

                            Berlin (Oct. 4-6)

                            In light of the previous post, in which I discovered I'd have to totally revamp my trip order to accommodate Oktoberfest in Munich, I'm going to continue evaluating cities on my original itinerary until such time as I decide to change it.

                            Going from Malmo, Sweden to Berlin will be the second time passing through Germany on this trip, the first was when going from Amsterdam to Copenhagen. Taking the overnight train into Berlin, I'd arrive around 6am. Those who know me, know I'm not a morning person. This train ride gets me into Berlin the morning of Oct 4th.

                            Wednesday, March 30, 2011

                            Thoughts about Germany

                            Looking through the Germany guidebook, which I didn't earlier, some things have occurred to me, one of which could seriously reroute much of my trip: do I need to be in Munich for Oktoberfest?

                            Tuesday, March 29, 2011

                            Copenhagen/Malmö (Oct. 1-3)

                            The train from Amsterdam gets in to Copenhagen at 10am on October 1st.

                            Frommer's 3-day tour, based on "if you only have one day, do this, and if you have two days, do the day 1 stuff plus this other stuff":

                            Monday, March 28, 2011

                            Amsterdam (Sept. 28-30)

                            Update 5/29: Removed Belgium from my itinerary, replaced with train from Paris to Amsterdam.
                            Update 9/6: Removed 1 day from Amsterdam, now only 3 days.

                            Probably take the 8:25am train from Paris, arriving 11:43 in Amsterdam. There are enough trains that I could switch that to one that stops in Brussels if I want to stay there for a few hours, getting in to Amsterdam in the early afternoon instead of lunch time.

                            There's an 8:04am train from Bruges to Amsterdam that gets in at 10:43am, assuming I don't miss my 5-minute connection in Antwerp. If I do, then I've got to wait an hour for the next one.

                            At some point I'm probably going to need to rent a bike. It's cheaper than taxis or buses and the city is really geared towards bikes (no pun intended). Frommer's says that "It’s possible to see almost every important sight on a 4-hour walk, and most people should be able to cover the center city on foot, though not all at once." It sounds like Amsterdam will be the kind of place that I can wander (as long as it's not raining).

                            Sunday, March 27, 2011

                            Belgium

                            5/29 Update: Had to delete Belgium from my itinerary. Maybe next time!


                            Now we get to the part of the trip where I have never been before, so I'm going to be relying on guidebooks and crowdsourcing.

                            Everyone tells me that I have to visit Bruges, the Venice of the North. In fact, some have even told me to spend more time there than in Brussels. It's about a 3 hour train ride from Luxembourg City to Brussels, with 7 different trains leaving between between 5:20am and 9:00am. The 7:00, 7:20, or 8:20 trains are more to my sleeping habits (though I'd sleep til the crack of noon if I could!). I think I'm going to stick to the trains in the morning unless it's a long trip in which case I'll take the overnight sleeper. Unless, of course, the long train makes some interesting stops along the way. Planning is hard!

                            Saturday, March 26, 2011

                            Paris (Sept. 23-27)

                            5/29 Update: removed Luxembourg from my trip but I left my planning here for future reference
                            9/6 Update: planned one extra day in London, so Paris got moved one day to the right on the timeline.

                            PARIS

                            In 1988 when I went with my family to Paris, we spent 4 nights and 5 days. We stayed at the Prince de Galles right off the Champs Elysées (my dad used some frequent flier miles to book the room, at 400 per night now I don't think I'll be staying there this trip!). We did a bus tour (probably the Cityrama tour) and then the Arc de Triomphe, Montemarte, and Notre Dame. Day 2 we drove out to Rhiems and Epernay, saw the Dom Perignon winery and the American cemetery. Day 3 was the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, Day 4 was Napoleon's Tomb and the Louvre again, and Day 5 was Versailles and a Bateaux-Mouches tour of the Seine before flying home. I have some photos I can't readily identify that most likely include some of the places below, too.

                            London and southern England (Sept. 17-22)

                            5/29 Update: Departure date from Houston is Sept. 17, so I get into London's Heathrow Airport on the morning of Sept. 18.
                            9/5 Update: Decided to add one day to the stay (4 days in town, 1 day out of town).

                            I will have a Eurail pass before I leave, I'll get the one that is good for about 2 months and allows me unlimited access. The rail pass also allows me discounts on buses, ferries, and other stuff along my way, but I plan to do the vast majority of my intercity travel by rail.

                            I went to England with my family after I graduated high school in 1984. We went to Paris in 1988 after I graduated college, before I started my job (and ironically, I'll visit after I leave my job with that same company). But that's the extent of my journeys in Europe. I've always wanted to do an open-jaw trip (fly into city A, travel on my own to city B, and fly home from there) so that's where this trip came from. And a co-worker suggested that "if you have the chance to do something that you've wanted to do since you were a kid, do it" so I've got a few of those sprinkled in this trip too.

                            An epiphany

                            In talking with my friends and work and online about my trip planning, something finally sunk in and I had an epiphany of sorts about this trip. Without a specific reason or a deadline to come home, I don't have to limit myself. That's such a radical departure from how I have always taken vacations - I have a set amount of time and I fill up that time with whatever I can.

                            On this trip I can stay an extra day or leave early. I can take a long scenic trainride that shows me the countryside and allows me to stop in small towns along the way, or I can take a faster (more expensive) train that gets me there sooner so I see more at my destination. I can take a day off when I'm feeling burned out.

                            A friend at work suggested that rather than book hotels far in advance, either book online a couple days in advance if I know when I'm going to be somewhere or have a list of a few hotels/motels/hostels that I can try when I get to my destination. My style of independent travel is to read what the guidebooks have to say and their suggested itineraries, pick and choose what I want to see and put them in a rough order, and then be flexible. That worked out pretty well in Australia & Hawaii in 2002 and China/Korea in 2009, and yeah, I missed some things because I was doing something else but that's what happens sightseeing in a new place.

                            Wednesday, March 23, 2011

                            Itinerary

                            Update 11/27/11:
                            • This is the final itinerary as it occurred.
                            This is a work in progress, I'll be updating it as I go and figure out how much time to spend in each place. Color coded to keep the countries straight.

                            Days off in bold are placeholders and are flexible. My Eurail pass runs out 2 calendar months after my first trip on the Continent on Sept. 23 from London to Paris Sept. 28 from Paris to Amsterdam, so it's good til Nov. 23 28.

                            Boring change history moved to the bottom of this page.
                            1. Sat. Sept. 17: Leave the US, fly to London overnight
                            2. Sun. Sept. 18: London (and jet lag), day and night
                            3. Mon. Sept. 19: London, day and night
                            4. Tue. Sept. 20: Stonehenge + outside London for the day, return to London for the night
                            5. Wed. Sept. 21: London, day and night
                            6. Thu. Sept. 22: London, day and night
                            7. Fri. Sept. 23: Eurostar train to Paris in the morning, then Paris in afternoon and night
                            8. Sat. Sept. 24: Paris, day and night
                            9. Sun. Sept. 25: Paris, day and night
                            10. Mon. Sept. 26: Paris, day and night
                            11. Tue. Sept. 27: Paris, day and night
                            12. Wed. Sept. 28: Train to Amsterdam in the morning, spend the day and night
                            13. Thu. Sept. 29: Amsterdam, day and night
                            14. Fri. Sept. 30: Train to Cologne, spend the afternoon, overnight train to Copenhagen
                            15. Sat. Oct. 1: Copenhagen, day and night
                            16. Sun. Oct. 2: Copenhagen in the day, Malmö Sweden in the evening, overnight train to Berlin
                            17. Mon. Oct. 3: Berlin day and night
                            18. Tue. Oct. 4: Berlin, day and night
                            19. Wed. Oct. 5: Berlin, day and night
                            20. Thu. Oct. 6: Train to Prague in the morning, day and night
                            21. Fri. Oct. 7: Prague, day and night
                            22. Sat. Oct. 8: Prague, day and night
                            23. Sun. Oct. 9: Prague, day and night
                            24. Mon. Oct. 10: Prague, day and night, overnight train to Vienna
                            25. Tue. Oct. 11: Train to Vienna in the morning, day and night
                            26. Wed. Oct. 12: Vienna, day and night
                            27. Thu. Oct. 13: Train to Danube Valley (Melk) in the morning, night in Krems & Mautern
                            28. Fri. Oct. 14: Train to Bad Ischl in the Lake District in the morning, day and night
                            29. Sat. Oct. 15: Train to Hallstatt in the morning, day and night
                            30. Sun. Oct. 16: Train to Salzburg in the morning, day and night
                            31. Mon. Oct. 17: Salzburg, day and night
                            32. Tue. Oct. 18: Train to Munich in the morning, day and night
                            33. Wed. Oct. 19: Munich, day and night
                            34. Thu. Oct. 20: Munich, day and night
                            35. Fri. Oct. 21: Munich, day and night
                            36. Sat. Oct. 22: Train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the morning, day and night
                            37. Sun. Oct. 23: Bus to Fuessen in the morning, day and night
                            38. Mon. Oct. 24: Train to Lucerne in the morning, day and night
                            39. Tue. Oct. 25: Train to Bern in the morning, day and night
                            40. Wed. Oct. 26: Train to Interlaken in the morning, day and night
                            41. Thu. Oct. 27: Interlaken, day and night
                            42. Fri. Oct. 28: Interlaken, day and night
                            43. Sat. Oct. 29: Train to Zermatt in the morning, day and night
                            44. Sun. Oct. 30: Glacier Express train to St. Moritz [** hard constraint - last day for train]
                            45. Mon. Oct. 31: Train to Milan in the morning, day and night [** hard constraint - meet Dad]
                            46. Tue. Nov. 1: Train to Venice in the morning, day and night
                            47. Wed. Nov. 2: Venice in the day and evening, overnight train to Naples
                            48. Thu. Nov. 3: Naples (Pompeii/Vesuvius), day and night
                            49. Fri. Nov. 4: Naples (Amalfi coast), day and night
                            50. Sat. Nov. 5: Train to Rome in the morning, day and night
                            51. Sun. Nov. 6: Rome, day and night
                            52. Mon. Nov. 7: Rome, day and night
                            53. Tue. Nov. 8: Rome, day and night
                            54. Wed. Nov. 9: Rome, day and night
                            55. Thu. Nov. 10: Train to Florence in the morning, day and night
                            56. Fri. Nov. 11: Train to Pisa in the morning, stop for dinner in Genova, train to Nice at night
                            57. Sat. Nov. 12: Nice in the morning, Monte Carlo in the afternoon, back to Nice for the night
                            58. Sun. Nov. 13: Train to Aix-en-Provence in the morning, drive to Avignon for the afternoon/night
                            59. Mon. Nov. 14: Drive thru Provence in the day, drive to Aix-en-Provence for the night [** hard constraint - Dad's flight out of Marseilles early 11/15]
                            60. Tue. Nov. 15: Train to Barcelona, day and night
                            61. Wed. Nov. 16: Barcelona, day and night
                            62. Thu. Nov. 17: Barcelona, day and night
                            63. Fri. Nov. 18: Train to Madrid, day and night
                            64. Sat. Nov. 19: Madrid, day and night
                            65. Sun. Nov. 20: Madrid, day and night
                            66. Mon. Nov. 21: Train to Algeciras in morning, then bus to Gibraltar in afternoon, bus to Tarifa for the night
                            67. Tue. Nov. 22: Ferry to Tangier (Morocco) in morning and back in afternoon, bus back to Algeciras in afternoon, Gibraltar in evening, Algeciras for the night
                            68. Wed. Nov. 23: Train to Madrid in morning, afternoon and night
                            69. Thu. Nov. 24: Fly to Houston
                            One other thing - I am allowed one stopover on my trip, meaning I can fly to pretty much to any city in Europe that the Star Alliance flies for "free", spend as much time as I want, and then fly to Houston. Cities under consideration include Reykjavik, Majorca, Las Palmas, Athens, and Istanbul. Of course I'd have to pay for my time there too, but the flight is "free".

                            Boring change history:

                            Update 5/29/11:
                            • Removed Luxembourg, Brussels, Bruges, and Budapest (to make room for Spain at the end of the trip). 
                            • Added placeholder days off every ~7 days 
                            • Removed Zurich and redistributed the time in Switzerland
                            Update 6/12/11:
                            • Removed 1 day in Switzerland to be able to make the Glacier Express on 10/30 (last day of availability)
                            • Removed 1 day from French Riviera
                            • Added 2 days in Florence
                            Update 7/11/11:
                            • Changed my mind and removed Florence (again) to make room for time in Provence
                            Update 8/3/11:
                            • Changed my mind yet again and added 1 day in Florence (again) at the expense of 1 day in Cinque Terre
                            Update 9/5/11:
                            • Removed 1 day from Amsterdam and added it to London, shifted Paris to the right by 1 day 
                            Update 9/7/11:
                            • No overnight train from Malmo or Copenhagen to Berlin on 3rd day there, so return to Copenhagen for the night and fly to Berlin in the morning 
                            Update 9/8/11:
                            • Forget the above, will cut short my stay in Copenhagen and leave for Berlin 1 day early. Took the extra day and added Budapest in between Prague and Vienna (Oct 10).
                            Update 9/12/11:
                            • Cut a day out of Prague, now I've got 2 days in Budapest
                            Update 10/8/11:
                            • Too tired to go to Budapest, so decided to stay those 2 extra days in Prague anyway
                            Update 10/13/11:
                            • Scheduled my free day in the Austrian Lake District (10/15) to be in Hallstatt
                            Update 10/22/11:
                            • Removed one day from Lucerne and added it to Interlaken, moved everything up one day
                            Update 10/28/11:
                            • Due to disastrous flooding in Cinque Terre, had to change my routing to replace it with Naples. Now instead of Venice --> Rome --> Florence --> Pisa --> Cinque Terre --> Nice, it's Venice --> Naples --> Rome --> Florence --> Pisa --> Nice. Also removed one day from Nice/Monte Carlo (formerly 2 days) and added it to Rome.
                            Update 10/29/11:
                            • Will rent a car in Aix-en-Provence and drive around for 2 days instead of taking buses, which allows visits to Avignon, Arles, and various small towns in Provence
                            Update 11/17/11:
                            • Moved up the trip to Gibraltar and Tangier by one day to make the connection back to Madrid easier, now I get back to Madrid and have the afternoon to catch up on anything.