Friday, March 27, 2015

My Euro Trip - An Overview

So, as you know by now, last week I was in Europe. 

Since I've been back, I've been getting a ton of the same questions - how was it?  what did you do?  where did you go?  Etc., etc., etc.  To help myself from being on constant repeat, for the next week I'm going to devote my blog to recapping my trip, posting photos, and telling you all about what went down. 

Let's get started! 

I'll begin my recap today with an overview.  Next week, expect more photos and a more detailed recap city by city.

Update:  read all the recaps back to back!  An Overview (and how to pack), Stop One - Amsterdam, Stop Two - Paris, Stop Three - Munich, Stop Four - Rome Day One & Second Day Bike Tour, and of course a follow up summary.


My European Vacation - An Overview


First, the origins of this trip -  last week was my 10th wedding anniversary.  This trip was a direct result of that major milestone, and also the reason why this vacation popped up out of the blue.  Here's how it went down:

Me - So, husband, should I take a couple of PTO days a few weeks from now so we can do something together on our anniversary?

Husband - Sure. 

Me - Ok, I submitted PTO for the Thursday and Friday of our anniversary weekend.

Husband - How much more PTO do you have?  Just a few days?  Can you take off that whole week?

Me - (Confused) Well, I have like 10 days or something.  I guess I could take off the whole week  Why, did you want to go to the cabin or something?

Husband - Nope.  Happy anniversary.  I'm buying you a plane ticket to Europe that week.

Me - *Passes out in chair and falls to floor*

Ok, so that's not exactly how the conversation went, but you get the idea.  Essentially three weeks before we were about to depart, we were booking airline tickets. What followed was an absolute whirlwind because (1) we didn't have ANYTHING planned out or reserved and (2) I realized my passport was due to expire in a matter of about 2 months.

Yikes.  We had a lot to do!

Immediately the next day, I was taking a long lunch to get my passport concerns addressed.  By the way, if you need to get your passport expedited, the process in Minneapolis is actually quite smooth ... if you schedule an appointment to go into the offices downtown and fill out the expedited paperwork properly.  I had my new passport mailed to me within a week!!  I couldn't believe it.  That was a major relief.

With the passport ironed out and the flight booked, we spent the entire day the following Sunday figuring out logistics (those tap rooms sure do come in handy sometimes, ha).  After much stewing over the Eurail website, and reviewing potential train routes throughout Europe, we settled on this:

If you can't read the above map well, to clarify it reads: Amsterdam, Paris, Munich and Rome.

Now, before I go further - I know that the possibilities in Europe are endless, and there is much discussion to be had about the merits of the route we planned.  I will even admit there were many other places I was wanting to visit.  But with a trip of essentially 8 days and no car, we were forced to limit ourselves to places that we could get to via rail AND cities that were feasibly able to be experienced with about 2 days worth of time to visit each. 

Knowing the above limitations, our journey began in Amsterdam simply due to convenience and cost, as Delta has a hub both in our hometown of Minneapolis and in Amsterdam and we could fly directly there on a Friday night via an 8 hour flight.  Then, since there was a high speed train between Amsterdam and Paris (the Thalys), our second stop was a no brainer.  From there, however, our route was a bit of a question mark since I knew I wanted to make my way into Italy somehow - ideally Rome - but I wasn't sure how to make it happen.  We ended up determining that there was a night train that ran from Munich to Rome (the City Night Line), and two different high speed trains that ran from Paris to Munich with a connection in Stuttgart (the DB Bahn).  Boom!  Problem solved. 

And that is how we arrived on the selections of Amsterdam, Paris, Munich and Rome.

Once our train tickets were booked (which was a bit of a chore, as a few sites didn't like our credit cards and required a few phone calls to straighten things out with false fraud alerts), we started researching hotels. 

Ugh, another tough hurdle.

After reviewing a plethora of options, we decided to be somewhat "safe" by choosing brands we recognized, and somewhat "frugal" by choosing locations that were a bit further away from the tourist sites to save ourselves some money.  Our hotels ended up being:

Amsterdam - The Sheraton at the Airport
Paris - The Le Meridian Etoile
Munich - The Le Meridian near the Train Station
Rome - A boutique local hotel called Villa Duse

Four or five hours later, and closing down a taproom, our trip was finally sketched out.  Now all that was left was the fun part - planning what to pack.  In a back pack.  *sarcastic eye roll*

Our arrival to Amsterdam was Saturday, March 14th and our departure from Rome was Sunday, March 22nd.  Read: volatile spring weather.  Ugh - this is very likely the hardest time of year to plan wardrobes for in your own home, let alone trying to figure out how to cram all of that into a back pack for a week's tour of Europe. 

Not to mention, Europeans are notoriously more stylish and well dressed when compared to Americans.  Yet at the same time, they are much more understated and subdued in their fashions. 

Uh-oh.  Understated is definitely not part of my wardrobe.

After some reading online, much himming and hawing, and many checks to the weather in all the cities we were to visit, I settled on a pack list as follows:

Three pairs of pants
   one skinny black jean, one skinny dark wash jean, one standard boot cut dark wash jean
Two pairs of leggings
   one black, one black and white striped
Two light weight sweaters
   one lightweight long sleeved black tunic v neck, one black three quarter sleeved cardigan
A three quarter sleeved black blouse with white polka dots
A black v neck t-shirt
Two InkNBurn long sleeved pullovers - flutter and sugar skull
A lightweight poly dress, short sleeve and just above the knee - because it never wrinkles!!
Four tank tops for layering/warmth - two white, two black
Two fashion/pashmina scarves - one solid black, one solid magenta
Undergarments and socks (one spare of each)
One pair of sporty tennis shoes, bright aqua

**You'll notice most of the items above are fairly plain in color.  This is intentional, as it allowed me to mix and match anything throughout the entire trip.

In addition to clothing, I also packed a small travel umbrella, a curling iron that ran on 220V (this is NOT US standard, but I was fortunate enough to have a curling iron from my days of doing business in Hong Kong that ran on UK equivalent electricity, so I just needed a plug adaptor for the European 2 pin system), a hairbrush and some various hair clips & ties, a few empty plastic Target shopping bags (to segregate dirty clothing later in the trip), and a standard Ziploc bag / airport friendly toiletry bag.

All of the above (except the shoes) fit in my Jansport Rightpack without any squeezing, and I even had room for a few small souvenirs later on in the trip.  For size reference, I believe that pack is about a 30-35L.  I also carried a Tumi cross body tote bag for my purse (that is where my sporty tennis shoes ended up when we were on the move).

In addition to the above, on the plane, I wore a pair of VERY COMFORTABLE AND SUPPORTIVE black boots (which I highly recommend - the Hush Puppies Feline Alternative), a heavy weight pair of black leggings, a white tank top, a light weight tunic length blush colored sweater, and my jacket for the trip (a light weight trench type jacket).

Yep, that's all I had for an entire 9 days.  And amazingly, I didn't even end up wearing everything!  I realized later I could have skipped the striped leggings and the boot cut denim and still come out ok!!

BTW - If you're a guy, or curious what I packed for my husband, his wardrobe consisted of mostly button down shirts, lightweight sweaters or long sleeved shirts, a few undershirt t-shirts, and casual but dressier looking pants (khakis, dark wash non-worn denim).  For shoes he wore a pair of casual dressy tennis shoes, similar to the Sketcher's Vassell.  Also, he used a really nice Osprey Fairpoint pack that I recommend; it had a detachable mini backpack, which came in handy on the trip.

And ... this is how it all began.  With a last second plan, and our packs .... well, packed ... we were ready to go!!

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