The backstory… There’s always a backstory…

Posted: July 6, 2014 in Planning & Preparation

As those of you who’ve followed our previous trips know, there are always a few good stories to tell long before the plane ever takes off. This trip is no exception…

Let’s start with planning where we’d like to go. Originally, this was going to be a trip to Turkey. Maybe a couple of the Greek Islands thrown in for good measure. Then someone (who shall remain nameless but she’s usually the source of these harebrained ideas) thought it would be a good idea to combine Turkey with eastern Europe “because we’re over there anyways, right” So that led to the decision to fly into Prague and make our way to Turkey. At one time or another our trip plan included Moscow (way too far away and Putin’s being a bully these days so probably for the best), Krakow (the wrong direction, would have had to double back, would have to include a trip to Auschwitz which would be a bummer way to start the trip), Sofia, Bulgaria (too far off the train route to Turkey, would have meant too much doubling back), Brasov, Romania (on the right route but spending a night there would have used up a night someplace else so it’ll have to wait for another trip), the Ukraine (too far away and we all know how things are going in the Ukraine these days), a whole whack of different Greek Islands (too much time to get to them, too expensive, have to go by ferry which makes Marie want to puke, etc.) and the list goes on.

We had 38 nights to play with (the absolute maximum number of days Marie could manage without getting fired from her job)… The trick was to cram as much into those 38 nights as we possibly could while satisfying she-who-shall-not-be-named’s desire to visit as many countries as possible (hence the stopover in Veliko Tarnovo – which worked out nicely because it’s apparently a very lovely little town). Add to this, the younger she-who-shall-not-be-named decided to weigh in with a “is there any way we could just, you know, pop over to Spain and Portugal because we’re basically there anyways.” Aside from a quite appalling lack of geographic awareness, the younger she-who… rarely asks for much when we’re planning these trips so we said we’d see what we could do…

In the end we (translation I) made up 14 different draft versions of the trip before we settled on this one. Then it was time to start booking flights… The memories. Dear god, please make them stop… We book at least some of our flights through Avion Rewards using their site and buy the other ticket(s) through them as well but charge it to our VISA instead of using rewards points. It’s a screwy system if you’re trying to fly together as, in this case, you end up with one invoice for two tickets and another for a single ticket. And it can be tough making sure we’re all together. And Avion will book almost any flight you can find so you really should do your homework before connecting to them… In all it took days. Not hours. Days. To settle on flights, confirm they existed (sometimes they just go poof from one day to the next), pick connecting flights, etc. Finally it was all over and we’d paid our fees, chosen our seats (where we could) and printed our gibberish filled email that is a ticket but isn’t and moved on to the next part of planning the trip. Except for Marie – who decided that it would be a good idea for future reference purposes to continue tracking the costs of the tickets to see if we’d bought at the best time…

We hadn’t. Not because we didn’t try but because there is no freaking best time. For the next 6 months I was treated to an ever-shifting litany of exclamations from “arrrggghhhh why didn’t we book today instead” to “yeahhhh… glad we booked when did ’cause some sucker is paying way too much for his ticket!). In all seriousness, we found the price of our tickets varied from being $800 cheaper a week after we bought them to, at one point, being more than double the price we paid. Today they’re running about the same price we paid but we have much better flight times and fewer connections than you could get if you tried to book today. We’ve talked to a bunch of people in the industry about when the best time to buy is and they have no answer. The old “buy as early as you can” approach doesn’t seem to be the best way to go but there’s no rhyme or reason to airline flight pricing so you need to pick a day, pay your money and – like Orpheus – never, ever look back… It’s worth noting that when Marie called Air Canada a week after we’d bought our tickets to complain about them being ridiculously cheaper than when we’d paid, the woman on the other end of the conversation commiserated with her, explained that she does the same thing and had no suggestions whatsoever about how to avoid it… Typical Air Canada helpfulness…

After booking our tickets, it was time to start booking hotels and buying train tickets and making car reservations. We dove into the hotel bookings with gusto because Eastern Europe is cheap everyone said. No. No it’s not. We had visions of cozy guest-houses with full country breakfasts and comfy beds… Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Forget comfy and breakfast and cozy… That’ll cost you extra. Forget hostels because with having to pay per person they cost more than most of the hotels we settled on. Instead, imagine a smallish room with three single beds (the double bed is when they push two together… works great as long as you remember to “mind the gap”,) and sometimes you might have your own bathroom (if you’re really really lucky you might be able to turn around in the shower)… If we were willing to spend more, we’d have had a much easier time finding hotels… But where’s the challenge in that… I mean we could just go buy fish at a supermarket too, I suppose, instead of dragging a tiny anchovy around on a hook trying to catch our own… In the end we did pretty well. We set a goal of finding only hotels/hostels/pensiunes, etc. that were well rated on (8+ ideally), were close to the major attractions, restaurants, etc. and had to cost less than $100 per night Canadian (and ideally would only be about $80 Canadian). It took almost a full month of working each evening for a couple of hours but we did it… Our most expensive hotel is a deluxe room at the Eren Bey Cave Hotel($116/night)  in Goreme, Turkey and it’s a special occasion… Our cheapest is the Lucky Motel in Veliko Tarnovo – $54 for a junior suite and breakfast is included! In between we’ve got a room without our own bathroom at a church-run pensiune, a couple of charming bed-and-breakfasts right smack dab in the middle of the action, some private apartments and even a motel with a pool!  We’ll be commenting on hotels in the blog as we go so you’ll hear how it all turns out.

We’re starting to pack this week… I’m sure there will be lots of fun stories to come from that…

  1. Joyce Patterson says:

    Glad you two have lots of patience

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