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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Let's see what's out there

Long story short: I'm getting laid off this summer and while I don't have a new job lined up yet, I have the luxury of a year's worth of salary to fall back on. So I figured that without a job to worry about, I have a unique opportunity to travel and not have to worry about taking time off work or what I'm going to have to deal with when I get back.

I started by looking at a map and figuring out where I want to go, and I've decided to do as many cities as I can rather than pick a few and spend more time there. I want to go and be a tourist and do and see all the things that tourists do and see, cliches or not. I want to see the important stuff, whether it's a museum, a monument, a castle, a marketplace, a pub, whatever.

For years I've wanted to travel Europe by rail, so my plan (at least for now) is to fly into one city, spend a couple days there, then hop the train (or bus/plane/ferry as appropriate based on time and cost) to the next place, overnight if possible on longer trips so that I'm ready to go in the morning. I'm thinking no more than 3 days/2 nights in any city, with some places just passing through. I'd probably leave in early September because that's the earliest I can use my frequent flier miles to get there and back, though I'm not sure how bad the weather would be as the month goes on.

This is my rough itinerary, stopping at all the places on my list - though I probably have too many places now, so if you've been there and have some advice about how long to stay (or even whether to go), or someplace else I should go, please chime in. I've only been to is Europe twice, London in 1984 and Paris in 1988. If I go to every place on my list, this looks like 4-6 weeks easy. One reason for the order of these cities is that I'd rather end up in southern Europe come late September.