The Europe trip of a lifetime
We all have that childhood dream – becoming a doctor, having a Ferrari or even just a pony. I think one of my first dreams were to visit Greece. I have been playing Zeus (a computer game where you build your own empire) and fell in love with the mythology. When I got (much) older and finally got my first opportunity to travel, I went to Italy. I know, it seems strange to dream about something for years and then not grab the chance when it comes, but I was travelling with a friend and we found the middle ground.
Another two and a half years and I am living in Sweden with a residence permit allowing me access to the Schengen area. And I still haven’t gotten to Greece. I have however just kicked off the most amazing trip you (or then me) can ever imagine.
So I will try to keep you posted as I move around. Being on trains a lot should give me a chance to jot down some ramblings. But first I’d like to tell you about the trip in general.
How it got started
When I got the opportunity to move to Sweden, I saw one huge perk: three months summer vacation with open access to Europe. I have been saving up for ages with no specific plan. So this was it. I was going to see Europe.
I started planning in January and quickly realised that three months only sounds long. If you want to visit the whole Europe that means very little time in each city. So I had to trim and skim and sadly eliminate some places until I got a rough plan of which countries I could get to.
The overall route
After a careful (and a bit sad) process of elimination, I decided I will visit Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria and Czech Republic. Yes, Portugal is in cursive – the trip was still too long, so I moved that up a bit and visited Portugal early April. I will tell you about it sometime.
And as you will notice Greece is again not on the list. For now the plan is to do that next year.
Inbetween all this, I wanted to make time to go home to South Africa. Now, I haven’t seen my aunt and uncle in a year, so that was a priority. I also wanted to visit the coast and I’d need to say hello back in my home town. So I picked two weeks overlapping my brother’s school holiday (so we can visit the South Coast as a family) and looked for flights from anywhere in Europe. Finally it was decided: I will be flying from Amsterdam to Cape Town to visit my aunt, then from there to Durban for our holiday and then we drive up back home (close to Johannesburg). So a mini SA tour squashed inbetween.
Planning the itinerary
Everyone has their way of planning for a trip. I like to plan for ages on random trivial things and then do the important things in the ‘final hour’. This is thanks to both my somewhat short attention span and amazing ability to procasternate. Anyway, I started by finding the top things in each country to do (sorted into cities). Then I looked at the easiest way to make a round trip around Europe.
Okay I am lying. I wrote and edited, scrapped and rewrote, and edited again. But I finally got a plan that would have me in Amsterdam on time for my flights, Brussels to meet a friend I haven’t seen in ages, Turin for another friend’s graduation and somewhere nice* for my birthday.
*somewhere nice: this was the very specific requirement I had. I also did not want to travel too much and wanted to be able to either relax or go out and have fun. So yes, pretty much anywhere. Initially I planned for Paris, but after reconsideration I will now spend the weekend in Aix-en-Provence (France).
My first important step was to decide on travel mode. I took hours, days even, to weight the prices and durations. I prefer train over bus – it has more room and you can get up and walk somewhere; and it is faster. Now if you are wondering if the rail pass is worth it, let me give you the long and short of my considerations and why I decided to buy it.
- I had the option of Eurail or Interail as I am a non-EU citizen currently living in Europe. Interail is (somewhat) cheaper if you buy anything up to a 2 month pass. There is however no 3 month continuous pass as with Eurail.
- Youth passes are cheaper (we know that, right). The thing is, you have to be 27 or younger the day you activate the pass to utilise this. So if I would buy a three month pass, I could use the youth pass. If I would buy a shorter pass, I would probably validate it after my 28th (shhhhh) birthday.
- I calculated costs for most of the journeys I want to take. Seeing that I want to travel a lot, this amounted to quite a huge sum.
Everything considered, the Eurail pass made a lot of sense for me. I would like to suggest that you take the time to first see what the value of your travel would be before you buy it, as it is not always cheaper to buy the pass. Offcourse I was extra lucky as there was a summer sale on and I ended up paying €780 for my 2nd class 3 months continuous youth pass (say that 3 times fast) with shipping.
I was writing exams until Saturday and departed Monday night. Now keep in mind it was the end of our school year, so Saturday (whole day after the exam) was dedicated to a social with the class. Sunday afternoon was spent saying goodbye to friends and laundry afterwards. So in short: I did not get to much. Up till now I have booked places for half of the trip, but I need to do the rest soon. Mostly I plan to stay in hostels – it is affordable, but I prefer to stay in them for the atmosphere. If you haven’t tried it yet, you really should! I’ve also reserved my spot on the chocolate and cheese train in Montreux (Switzerland). The rest I’ll take as it comes.
So now you know my general plan, welcome to my trip! If you follow along and want me to share something specific, give me a shout and I can add that in the upcoming posts. Same goes for any questions about my planning or itinerary in general.
As always – thanks for reading!