The Grand Plan

As those of you who’ve followed our previous trips know, we plan everything out for these trips and this one is no exception. While we’d like to just show up somewhere with our backpacks on our back and see what happens, we’ve gone the “plan it all out in advance route” for a couple of reasons:

1) Availability:  Because we’re usually only in each place for a couple of nights, we’re pretty particular about where we stay to minimize time spent getting to and from the attractions, etc. We also try to avoid chain hotels or North American style hotels as much as possible And we like breakfast included. And character is good. And… I admit it, we’re kind of picky… I want something funky and historical and centrally located preferably with access to local culture (translation food and beer). Caitlin wants places that are clean (ie. no possibility of a spider lurking anywhere in a 6 block radius) and have a bathroom – preferably with a shower large enough to turn around in. Marie wants all of that, plus turn-down service, chocolates on the pillows and king-size beds… And it can’t cost more than $11 a night…  We’ve found with the increasing popularity of Trip Advisor that a lot of other travellers are looking for the same things (well maybe not exactly the same things but you get the idea) so even with us booking as far ahead as February, many of the really highly rated budget places were snatched up… Such is the downside to traveling during the summer months…

2) Cost: Traveling with a third person is expensive outside North America… I remember a time when I was still in high school and bunch of us who worked at McDonald’s were staying overnight in Nanaimo for a slow-pitch tournament… I think we fit 18 people into 2 hotel rooms… We just rented the room, lied about the number of people and crammed people in wherever there was space. That ain’t happening in Europe. We found that most of the places we stayed in Europe wanted to know exactly how many people would be staying in the room (and checked passports, etc. to confirm it) and charged accordingly. Even when the room came with two double beds they charged extra for a third person…

Because we’re gone for a fair length of time and the hotel costs really add up, we try to keep the per night rate as low as possible. We’ve found booking in advance gives us much better rates than we’d get if we just showed up and took what was available. This is also the case, we’ve found, with traveling around once we’re in Europe where train and plane tickets are usually quite a bit cheaper if you book them well in advance. And of course there’s the whole – we’re traveling at the peak tourist time in most of these places – so it’s always nice to know you actually have a bunk on the overnight train to Transylvania.

3) Time: When we traveled to Thailand a few years ago we didn’t book our room in Bangkok in advance (we weren’t sure exactly when we’d get there, we wanted some flexibility, etc.). We ended up spending more than an hour in the Bangkok airport using their crappy wireless connection, an iPad and a pay phone to try and find a decently priced hotel on what turned out to be a really busy long weekend… If you ask Marie she’ll tell you that her and Caitlin were gently making suggestions that I viciously shot down… I know the truth. They were evil. In any case, that hour was time we could have spent exploring a new place, sampling new foods, playing a game of cards in a local café… or shopping! – so now we book in advance so that we’re not fumbling around looking for places to stay instead of enjoying the sights. As strange as it sounds, while we don’t have the freedom to just go wherever the winds take us, we find taking care of all the accommodation and travel stuff in advance actually gives us more time to see the sites we want to see and to do some exploring than if we just showed up and winged (wung?) it… There’s also 68% less chance of our family having one of those messy domestic-squabble-in-a public-place moments.

So having said all that, here is our ridiculously detailed, booked insanely far-in-advance plan for thirty-eight more nights in Europe…

Day 1: Friday, July 18 – Victoria to Prague, Czech Republic

The success or failure of this trip will actually come down to one simple decision on Marie’s part today – either she can leave work as scheduled at noon and be home in time to finish packing and taking care of the million little things that need to be taken care of when you leave your home for more than a month… or she can stay late and risk eternal hellfire and damnation (and the wrath of her angry husband)… Assuming she chooses Door #1 and doesn’t leave work at the very last minute with one last resume clutched in her fist, we’ll catch our 5pm Air Canada flight from Victoria to Vancouver to Munich to Prague.

Day 2: July 19 – Prague

We’ll arrive in Prague around 4:15pm, do the usual customs and luggage thing then grab a taxi to our home for the next few days (Church Pension Praha – triple room, shared bathroom, breakfast not included, $80/night). After settling into our room, we’ll head out for a bite to eat (and some of that famous Prague beer!), take  a quick look around then head back to the “hotel” to hit the sack early. This worked out pretty well in terms of jet-lag the last time we travelled so hopefully we’ll awake tomorrow refreshed and ready to explore the wonders of Prague! If not, hopefully they’ll have coffee…

Days 3-4: July 20-21 – Prague

Sunrise-in-Prague

We haven’t worked out all the places we’re planning to see or the things we’d like to do in each place yet, so you’ll have to keep following the blog to see what we actually get up to each day in a lot of the places were’ staying…

Day 5: July 22 – Travel from Prague to Vienna, Austria

T0day we’ll hop on a 10:30 train for the approximately 5 hour trip to Vienna… which should have us arriving around 3:30 in the afternoon. We’ll make the short walk to our hotel (Hotel Mocca – triple room, own bathroom, breakfast not include, $101/night). After dumping our bags we’ll head out and start exploring (apparently we’re about 9 seconds away from one of the premiere shopping streets in Vienna so three guesses where we’ll probably end up spending our first night…

Days 6-7: July 23-24 – Vienna

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Day 8: July 25 – Travel from Vienna to Budapest, Hungary

Today we’re back on the train at noon for the 2.5+ hour trip to Budapest! We’ll hop on the subway and make our way to our Fashion Street Apartment (studio apartment with washer & dryer, own bathroom, breakfast not included, $83/night) right in the heart of Buda. Somehow we managed to situate ourselves right smack dab in the centre of a popular shopping district so that’s probably where we’ll start.

Days 9-10: July 26-27- Budapest

There are thermal baths in Budapest. Lots of them. ’nuff said.

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Day 11: July 28 – Travel from Budapest to Sighisoara, Romania

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Sleeper car with the 2nd & 3rd bunks folder against the wall

Tonight we make our way to Romania by way of overnight train… We’ll board our train around 7pm and settle in for the approximately 12hr overnight trip to Sighisoara. We’ve booked a 3 bed sleeper car which should look something like this one… I suspect that there’s going to be a lot of fighting over who gets top bunk! This will be our first of two overnight train trips so hopefully it all goes well. Marie and Caitlin are still a little traumatized by the overnight trip we took by train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok a few years ago but this is a much different setup (private compartment instead of couchette sleeping cars) so we’re hoping for the best… but bringing lots of movies to watch and books to read  just in case.

Day 12-13: July 29-30 – Sighisoara

We should be getting into Sighisoara sometime between 6:30am and 7:30am. We’ll make the 20 minute (approximately) walk from the train station to our home for the next two days (Pensiune Citadela Sighisoara – triple room, own bathroom, breakfast included, $63/night). We’re pretty excited about Sighi – it’s an old citadel town, the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler and someone described it as looking like it was coloured with a box of pastel crayons… Our pensiune is located right in the citadel just steps away from the iconic clock tower and is old, creaky and full of character… in Transylvania… It’s like an episode of Scooby-Doo!

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Day 14: July 31 – Travel from Sighisoara to Bucharest, Romania

Today we’re back on the train around 11am for the 5+ hr trip to Bucharest. For those keeping track, that’s 23.5hrs on trains thus far and we’re not done yet… We liked traveling by train on our last trip (more space to move around than on a plane, great way to see the countryside, economical) so we’re hoping the magic of rail travel will continue to appeal this time around… Although some of the trains we’re on this time around are a lot older than the ones we rode on last time around I think… Nevertheless, we should get into Bucharest just after 5 pm and will make our way (by bus or taxi) to our apartment (Rainbow Accommodation – one bedroom apartment, own bathroom, breakfast not included, washer and dryer included, $68/night)

Day 15: August 1 – Bucharest

We’re hearing mixed reviews of Bucharest. Some people say it’s really quite beautiful – one of the most underrated cities in Europe. Others say it’s an ugly Soviet-era concrete wasteland. We suspect it will fall somewhere in between. Certainly it’s a place with lots of history so it can’t be all bad. And they sell beer so there’s that, I suppose.

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Day 16: August 2 – Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Today we’re, you guessed it, back on the train for the 6+ hr trip from Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo – the picturesque one-time capital of Bulgaria. We’re really just here for the day as we’re on another overnight train tomorrow to Istanbul! We’ll probably spend our time exploring the old city, the medieval castle and some of the pubs and restaurants. Apparently specialities include shopska salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, onion peppers and sirene (feta type) cheese… hmmm… sounds familiar) and Zagorka beer. For tonight we’re staying at the Lucky Motel (junior suite, own bathroom, breakfast included, $54/night… and the room even includes a kettle!!)

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Day 17: August 3 – Veliko Tarnovo to Istanbul, Turkey

Tonight we’re piling back onto the train for the 12+ hr overnight trip to Istanbul (for those keeping score that brings our time-on-train total to a whopping 42hrs!) We could fly to Istanbul in 2.5 hrs for twice the cost of the train but we all agreed it just seemed more appropriate somehow to make out way into one of history’s most fabled cities in something a little more old-fashioned. And since the caravans aren’t traveling anymore, the train will have to do. We’ve booked a 3 bed sleeper car again (I think it might even be the same train we took from Budapest to Sighisoara now that I think of it)… At this point we’ll be 17 days into our trip, crammed into a space considerably smaller than a decent sized walk-in closet… I don’t think they have any food service on the train… Marie will be stoned on Gravol… What could possibly go wrong… I’m especially looking forward to the 1am disembarking to have our passports stamped when we enter Turkey. But tomorrow morning we’ll be setting foot in a city I’ve dreamed about visiting since I was old enough to know there was such a thing as history… the Greeks called it Byzantium. The Romans called it Constantinople. Many historians mark its fall in 1453 as the end of the Middle Ages… Crossroads of east and west with one foot in Europe and another in Asia… Home of the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar… It’s going to be awesome! Of course we’re also arriving in Istanbul right around the time of their Presidential election… one where their current prime minister (a man of decidedly mixed popularity) is running as president and advocating for greater powers for the president… Sounds like the beginnings of a dictatorship… And all the really good protests in Istanbul take place in Sultanahmet Square… Which is not that far from our hotel…

In Instanbul we’ll be staying at Ajan’s Pi Home (triple room, own bathroom, kitchenette, breakfast not included, $75/night). We’re just 1km from the Blue Mosque and Sultanahmet Square, 20 minutes from the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace and a short walk from the Grand Bazaar. There’s a ferry terminal nearby to get to other parts of Istanbul and a wide variety of local restaurants and bars… Sounds like it’s going to be perfect… we hope.

Days 19-22: August 5-8, Istanbul

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Day 23: August 9, Travel from Istanbul to Goreme via Kayseri

From this point on we’ve abandoned trains and will be doing a lot more flying to get from place to place. Today we’re leaving Istanbul on a Pegasus Airlines flight at 8:40am… Given the relatively low cost of this flight we’re kind of worried that the plane may be missing critical features we’re grown accustomed to in Canada… like wings and doors… In any case, assuming the plane takes off and lands as planned, we’ll be touching down at Kayseri Airport in Central Turkey. From there we’ll be boarding a shuttle bus to make the 1 hour trip to Goreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey… Our home away from home for this part of the trip will be Room 5 – a Double Deluxe Cave Room (king bed & sofa bed, ensuite bathroom, breakfast included, $116/night) – at the Eren Bey Cave Hotel… That’s right we’re staying in a cave… But just as Hobbit holes aren’t your usual hole in the ground, this definitely isn’t your usual cave…

Days 24-25: August 10-11, Goreme (Cappadocia)

It’s our 23rd anniversary on August 10th so we’re piling on all the luxury tourist activities while we’re here… horseback riding, hot air balloons, an old fashioned “Just Lather, That’s All” shave – don’t laugh, apparently it’s one of the number one tourist attractions in Goreme – their barbers really know there stuff, Turkish baths, hiking in the desert, luxury cave hotel… The words.  We’ve heard so many rave reviews of Cappadocia that we’re a little afraid it won’t be able to measure up to our expectations but here’s hoping!

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Day 26: August 12, Travel from Goreme to Izmir to Pamukkale, Turkey

Today we head back to the Kayseri Airport (1 hr by shuttle bus) to board our 9am flight to Izmir, Turkey (1.5 hrs). Once we land, we’ll pick up our rental car (a lovely economy class Fiat Albea) and make the 3-4 hour drive to Pamukkale. Leaving time for rest stops and picture taking along the way, we should be getting in to Pamukkale around dinner time. Our home for the next couple of nights will be Melrose House Hotel (triple room, own bathroom, breakfast included and they have a pool!, $68/night). I imagine most of the evening will be spent with Marie and Caitlin lounging in the pool… I will be experiencing local customs and cuisine… yes… I will probably be sitting at the bar…

Day 27: August 13, Pamukkale

We’re pretty excited about Pamukkale. We’ve heard nothing but great things about it from anyone who’s been there and it seems pretty cool. You have Hierapolis – a famous and important city dedicated to the God Appollo, you’ve got Cleopatra’s Pool – a hot springs where the “stuff” you’re swimming over happens to be the collapsed columns and walls of ancient Roman buildings. Although Cleopatra herself never actually swam there (as far as anyone knows) it’s been a “sacred pool” for almost 2000 years. And you have Pamukkale itself… We won’t say more, but check out the picture… In case you’re wondering, all that white stuff isn’t snow or ice but is actually rock…

Koray-Pamukkale

Day 28: August 14, Pamukkale to Kusadasi 

Today we’ll leave Pamukkale to make the drive back to the coast – but first we’ll stop at Aphrodisias about a 2 hr drive from Pamukkale and  an important Roman ruin. It’s home to one of the best preserved ancient stadiums in the world and a host of other well-preserved Roman buildings. As a side note, lots of Roman stuff survived in Turkey in better condition than Rome or other parts of the western Roman Empire because the Eastern Roman Empire (centred out of Constantinople – now Istanbul) did not fall until the 1400s. People were using these Roman buildings much later than most of the ones in Rome or Greece so they haven’t been abandoned for as long… In any case, we’re planning to spend 3-4 hours exploring the ruins and the museum and then pile back into the car to make the 3 hr drive to Kusadasi on the west coast of Turkey. Our home for tonight is the Ephesian Hotel Guesthouse (triple room, own bathroom, breakfast included, $66/night) – only 300m from the water and right in the heart of the city…

Day 29-31: August 15-17, Kusadasi

From what we’ve heard, Kusadasi’s not much to write home about. It’s kind of a busy tourist port city of the sort that are springing up all over the Mediterranean. It has some beaches (Marie and Caitlin will like that) but they’re not that stellar and there’s the usual beachfront bars and all that stuff. It’s supposed to be pleasant enough in it’s own right but what it really has going for it is its location. We’re planning to use Kusadasi as a base to go exploring with our micro-mini super economical rental car… From Kusadasi we’re planning to spend most of one of our days exploring the beaches and trails at Dilek National Park. We’ll spend another day exploring the ancient Greek city of Ephesus and some of the little towns along the way. Our final day in Kusadasi will probably be spent driving to Miletus and Priene – a couple more important Greek historical sites. Depending on how good the beaches are in Kusadasi, this could be a day where I spend my time roaming around piles of ancient rocks while Marie and Caitlin work on their tans at a local beach… However it all turns out we’re planning for this part of the trip to be kind of a laid-back spend some time on the beach, go exploring, see what happens part of the trip.

Day 32: August 18, Travel from Kusadasi to Lisbon, Portugal

So… at this point, we are sitting on the west coast of Turkey (think a ways down and to the right of Greece on a map) and we’ve decided to cross the entire Mediterranean to go to Lisbon, Portugal. Why? you might ask… Because Caitlin begged us and begged us to add Lisbon and Madrid to the trip so we did… How could we resist? So this morning we will stumble out of bed bright and early to pile into the rental car and make the 1hr drive back to the Izmir Airport where we will drop our faithful steed off and board an 11am flight from Izmir to Athens (with a ticket price so low we’re wondering if there will be an actual plane or if they’ll just give us some cardboard wings and tell us to get ourselves in the air). We’ll touch down in Athens around noon and will have a couple of hours’ layover before our 3:30 flight from Athens to Rome. We’ll touch down in Rome around 4:45 and will then board a 7:25 plane from Rome to Lisbon… Why 3 separate flights using 3 different airlines you might ask… It’s been so long since we set this trip up that I actually don’t remember… I seem to recall it’s because Lisbon is a frustratingly difficult city to get to… And this was probably the cheapest way to do it… When all is said and done we should be firmly on the ground in Lisbon around 9:30 where we will be picked up by the owner of our apartment for the next 3 nights (Alfamakey Apartments, one bedroom apt, own bathroom, breakfast not included, $90/night)

There may also be another motive for traveling via Athens… As some of you may recall from my last blog, while we were in Athens we discovered a little place in the plaka called Brettos that has been making their own ouzo for about a hundred years… It is superlatively good. It is also basically impossible to ship to BC because of outrageous duties and other fees (a $20 bottle ends up being close to $100 after all the add-ons)… And I am now out of it. I managed to stretch the 1 litre bottle I brought home two years ago until the night before last… So how’s this for a plan… if I get off the plane, get Marie and Caitlin to pick up my checked luggage, dash out of the arrivals terminal and flag down the first cab I see, I can be in the plaka in about 30 minutes. Then I can dash into Brettos, buy 2 bottles of their nectar of the gods, run back to the cab, have the driver floor it to the airport, find Marie and Caitlin in the departures area, stash my two bottles (fortunately they’re aluminum bottles so no breakage worries) in my backpack, check my luggage back-in and then check-in for the next flight. We’re supposed to land at 1210 and our flight leaves at 1525 – leaving a solid 3hrs and 15 minutes to pull it all off… What could possibly go wrong?

Days 33-35: August 19-21, Lisbon

At this point, we’re not really sure what we’ll be doing once we’re on the ground in Lisbon but they have beaches, art, good food, good wine,great people and Fado (a type of traditional music) – I think we’ll be able to keep ourselves busy for a couple of days… just saying…

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Day 36: August 22, Travel from Lisbon to Madrid, Spain

Today we’re boarding a 3pm flight to Madrid that should have us on the ground by 5:30. Although the cities aren’t that far apart, it’s surprisingly difficult to get to them via train in a timely way… And we were a bit worried that we’d be trained out after the first part of the trip… and flights are ridiculously cheap ($90 each all in) so we decided to book another flight (for those keeping score this will be our 6th “commuter” flight – all using budget local airlines… we expect we’ll have stories to tell!)

Once on the ground in Madrid we will make our way to the Hostal Persal (triple room, private bathroom, breakfast not included, $98/night). Built in 1871 it overlooks the pedestrian Plaza del Angel and is just 150 metres from Puerta del Sol – Madrid’s main central square. It’s also close to the Plaza Mayor, the Prado Museum and a bunch of other popular sites in Madrid. And there are lots of restaurants and bars nearby… Heaven!

Days 37-38: August 23-24, Madrid

At this point we have no firm plans for Madrid. With great art, magnificent cathedrals, and a vibrant food, music and dance culture, I think we’ll have no trouble filling up our final two days in Europe in enjoyable fashion.

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Day 39: August 25, Travel from Madrid to Victoria

Today we catch a 12:15 Air Canada flight from Madrid to Munich. Once there we’ll transfer to Air Canada flight #9433 non-stop from Munich to Vancouver which should have us on the ground around 5pm our time. We’ll have a short layover in Vancouver (time for Caitlin to get her post-traveling Tim Horton’s fix) and then catch our 7pm flight home to Victoria. All going well, we should be tumbling into our own beds by about 9:30 tonight. Given we’re flying Air Canada, we expect our luggage will be tumbling home some time after that…

Thats’ it. That’s the plan. Thanks for reading. Now all that remains to be seen is how it all plays out in reality…

 

Comments
  1. Sounds like a great itinerary 🙂

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