Europe 2017 Part 1: Planning

When Adam & I first started dating, we quickly realized we shared something very important: Our love for traveling and experiencing new things. A repeated topic of discussion was places we would most like to see. So after we got married we knew that we wanted to take one big vacation overseas before we started even thinking about a family. So we each made a list of our top places that we must see before we die. Italy & Greece made the top 3 on both our lists. And so it was decided.

We began thinking about our big trip pretty much the minute we got back from our Honeymoon, but we needed to re-coop some of our spent money and vacation time of course. So the trip would need to wait just a little longer. Adam had suggested we shoot for mid to late March as work should be slower and it would be before peak tourist season in the countries we were heading too. So I quickly sent off for my new passport, with my married name and began researching. What cities should we visit, what do we HAVE to see when we are there, how much would hotels costs, what were the prices of plane tickets leaving in the middle of the week vs the weekend, etc. There was so much to look at! Then around October/November, Adam came home and told me that there was a huge project going out for him at the end of March and it just wasn’t possible to take 2 weeks off right before that. Instead, maybe we could shoot for September. So disappointingly, I halted all research and went back about my life thinking I had all the time in the world to worry about this later. Fast forward to the new year, after I’d taken a few extra vacation days for Christmas since of course I would no longer need to hold on to them for a vacation later and Adam suggests we start looking at going in May! Excited me jumped right on the opportunity to not delay her dream vacation any longer than needed and started back on the research.

We booked flights right away and with secured dates we needed to start planning out where we would be and when. We started by narrowing down where we wanted to go: Italy = Rome, Venice & Florence, Greece = Athens & Santorini. This took the most dedication as we had to figure out how to divide our time between 5 cities in 14 days, without exhausting ourselves. Luckily, there are a ton of resources out there to help you prioritize. Many that you can find for your exact length of stay. From all the blogs and books I was reading, I realized that we could pretty much see most of the small cities in 1-2 days and spend 3-4 in larger cities (meaning Rome & Athens). I began by looking at a map and planning the routes that made the most sense. North to south or south to north, Italy to Greece or Greece to Italy. Since we found a reasonable round trip flight that made our route a little bit more elaborate than had we chose to fly in to one city and home from another. So Rome was our base point, but knowing that we now knew no matter what dates we were everywhere else we had to be back in Rome by May 26th to catch our flight back home. Let the good part begin!
ITALIA
Like I said before there are so many resources out there to help you build your trip for Italy. We relied heavily on Frommers Easy Guide for Rome, Florence & Venice 2017 edition which Adam got for me for Valentine’s Day. I was certain we would only need 2 days in Florence, 1 day in Venice to just explore so that left plenty of time to fit in day trips elsewhere near our overnight cities. Through our research, I also found out that the Pope blesses the crowds at St. Peter’s square every Wednesday or you can attend a church service on Sunday led by him. So knowing this we decided we ought to try and plan to be in Rome around one of those times.  With that settled we started to build our itinerary.

Budgeting time and booking trains and flights was a bit challenging as we didn’t really know how far anything was from each other or how much time we would really want to spend in places. And Adam only relaxed on days that we didn’t need to be somewhere at a certain time, which was basically 2 days out of the whole trip. Looking back on our trip, I don’t think I would have changed a thing but maybe spend a little more time to truly get lost in Venice. Here is a snapshot a snapshot of our calendar that we marked up before heading out.

20180407_131801

My suggestion when planning your trip to Italy is to make a list of the cities you most want to see and the top 3-5 things you want to see in each of those cities. Use that list to budget your time accordingly.  We spent 2 full days in Florence, half a day in Pisa, basically 1 day in Venice and 3 days in Rome.  I planned our time based on what we were hoping to see in each place.  Looking back I think we would have opted to spend one of our Rome days in Florence instead but it really was adequate all around. I don’t feel like I missed anything but it would be nice to just sit and enjoy a little more. If youare planning your own trip, remember that what worked for us, may not work for you. Especially if you are an artist or historian that wants to really deeply read and admire every square inch of the museums and sites.

We already knew what we just had to see in each of the cities we choose to visit but Adam & I were lucky enough to know a few people who have traveled to the same places we were going, knew someone that lives there or was originally from there! So we had so many wonderful suggestions of restaurants and hidden gems to try and find. Most of our suggestions came in Rome where it seems there is a never-ending plethora of amazing restaurants and the gelato guys, the gelato..it’s unlike anything you’ve ever imagined! A lot of our time was spent seeing the big stuff but the best part to me was just walking and soaking in the culture. That’s always my favorite part of visiting anywhere. The downtime. Make sure you don’t overpack your schedule with too many touristy sites that you can’t sit at a cafe, trattoria or pizzeria and just enjoy yourself and the fact you are in Italy!

GREECE

We knew we wanted to make it to Greece on this trip too. So Athens was of course #1. When we started looking at other options, I just kind of knew we had to see a Greek Island I just didn’t know where. So I started researching the greek isles and there were 3 that were on my radar: Santorini, Mykonos & Crete.  Crete I knew was going to be expensive and it was the farthest. Santorini was somewhere I had always dreamed about visiting with it’s instantly recognizable blue & white buildings and rocky shoreline.  It is exactly what you picture when someone says Greece. However, as we were researching it came to a point where Santorini was super pricey as well; so I decided to research and look into some other options. That’s when Mykonos came on my radar. Just as beautiful but a little closer to Athens and a little less expensive. Basically when looking at the smaller islands that are closer to Athens I just went to a map, saw what was there and then googled each island for pictures. That’s how I came up with some other options for Adam. Mykonos, Paros & Naxos. There came a point on our planning that I said to Adam, let’s just not go. I was sure flights would be super cheap, like less than $100 cheap but I was wrong. Between flights & hotels it was going to be so expensive I just couldn’t let us do it. I figured we could spend more time in Italy or go somewhere else inland in Greece and save the $3-400. Adam wasn’t having that, and he told me to book the flight. His reasoning was that it wasn’t anymore expensive than us traveling to Kansas and we get to relax somewhere amazing even if it was outrageous for a 45 minute flight. Very solid point. So we went! While it was our priciest part of the whole vacation – it was also one of our favorites.  We opted to spend 2 full days in Athens and 2.5 days in Santorini. We decided to give us a break in the traveling by flying back to Rome the day before we departed so we could get some much needed rest before our long trip home. All in all it went very smoothly.  If you book your trips early enough it might be a better option to just fly directly home from the last leg of your trip. We didn’t spend a lot of time researching options but the price difference was really better to book all our flights separately so we just went the roundtrip route. If you happen to be very flexible with your travel schedule you can also score some good deals. We weren’t as flexible so we ended up paying for the prime times. After such a jam packed and busy time in Italy it was really nice to end our trip with a relaxing trip to Santorini, we had zero plans and could do whatever we wanted. It was the perfect way to end our Eurotrip.

Inner country Travel

After mapping out what days we wanted to spend where the next step was booking trains and travel to get there. I used RailEurope to book our travel. We decided to book individual trips rather than do a EU Rail Pass. They do offer multiple country passes if you are doing a trip between neighboring European countries. We were not doing that and so the cost was not justifiable for us. This site allowed me to see just how long it would take us to get to each place and so I could map out our departure and arrival times based on what time we needed to be at our new city to start our day.  I booked all the big ones first: Rome to Florence, Florence to Venice, and Venice back to Rome. The longest leg was the last one taking 3 hours. High speed trains are more expensive but well worth it. You don’t want to spend your whole day in a seat. While I enjoyed the countryside as it flew by I couldn’t imagine spending more than we did just to get from one city to the next.  Coming and leaving Venice was probably one of the coolest experiences on the train. But I may have been personally bias towards Venice entirely. Adam was less than impressed. But seriously where else do you come in and you are practically floating on water!1

My only regret was not planning for Florence better. We had wanted to see both Pisa & Naples. We only got to Pisa and by the time we were there traveling to Naples was going to be too costly and long that we elected not to. I really regret that we didn’t take the time to do that but Naples will hopefully always be there for another journey overseas.  Day trips are trickier to plan for because we didn’t know how long we were going to want to spend somewhere. Definitely think very carefully about your time if you are on a shorter trip like us. If you are spending 2 weeks in Italy alone you can be a little more flexible. We really only wanted to see the tower in Pisa and grab some pizza in Naples so we weren’t planning to spend more than half a day in either place.  Ultimately losing a full day in Florence by trying to do both just didn’t make sense to us. Florence has so much to see and experience that by decreasing our time there we would have truly been upset about. We choose to leave for Pisa early and return late afternoon but not too late that we couldn’t still enjoy Florence a little more.  I didn’t think about buying tickets for the tower itself. Thankfully getting there early in the day saved us and we were able to score a couple tickets for within an hour of arriving.  I suggest you plan ahead and book your tour time in advance so you know for sure you won’t miss your train out of the city.

The Travel Plan:

To ensure we knew where we needed to go and what time we needed to be there I created an itinerary for our travel times that I sent off to both Adam & I’s mothers as a just in case precaution if they needed to know where we would be at any given time.

Dates: May 11, 2017 – May 26, 2017

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

British Airways Flight #BA0197 departs at 20:25 from IAH

Friday, May 12th, 2017

Arrive at LHR at 11:45

British Airways Flight #BA0556 departs at 14:20 from LHR

Arrive at FCO (Rome) at 17:50

Hotel:    Spagna Ave

                              Via Dei Due Macelli, 31

                               Rome

                                00187

                                IT                            +39066794223

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

                Leave for Florence

                Train: Frecciarossa 9508

                Departs at 07:20

                Arrives at 08:51

                Hotel:    Luxury B&B La Dimora degli Angeli

                                Via dei Brunellschi 4/nero

                                Florence

                                50123

                                IT                            +39055288478   

 

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

                Day trip to Pisa

                Train: Regionale 11881

                Departs at 08:28

                Arrives at 09:28      

                Return Train: Regionale Veloce 3124

                Departs at 14:32

                Arrives at 15:32

Monday, May 15th, 2017

                Leave for Venice

                Train: Italo 9986

                Departs at 15:54

                Arrives at 18:00

                AirBnB: 993/A San Polo

                                Venezia, Veneto 30125

                                Italy

                Hosts: Marinella – Maria – Andrea

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

                Leave back to Rome

                Train: Italo 9985

                Departs at 16:12

                Arrives at 19:33

                Airbnb: Via della Cisterna, 22

                                Roma, Lazio 00153

                                Italy

                Hosts: Paolo & Daniele

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

                Vatican City

                *No travel info, should be taking a bus

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

                Travel to Greece

                Alitalia Air Flight #AZ 718

Confirmation# UKZFQH

                Departs 14:50     Arrives 17:45

                Airbnb: Gouemster Διαμέρισμα, Athina, 117

                                42, Greece

                Host: Yiorgos 

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

                Travel to Santorini

                Aegean Airlines Flight #OA354

                Confirmation #6FDGXU

                Departs at 10:10

                Arrives at 10:55

                Hotel:    The Majestic Hotel

                                Fira

                                Santorini

                                84 700

                                GR                          +302286025972

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

                Return to Rome

                Vueling Airlines Flight #3315

                Confirmation # TCQ45D

                Departs at 16:20 JTR

                Arrives at 17:40 FCO

                               Hotel:    Intorno al Fico

                                Via delle Carenarie n. 81/D

                                Focene

                                Fiumicino            

                                00054

                                IT                            +393396888806

               

Friday, May 26th, 2017

                Return to the states

                British Airways Flight #BA 0551

                Departs FCO at 08:00

                Arrives LHR at 09:50

                British Airways Flight #BA0197

                Departs LHR at 14:20

                Arrives IAH at 18:35

As you can see we were pretty busy! Most of our between city trips took place in the late afternoon and early evening hours so that we could spend as full of days in each city as possible. Our day trip to Pisa took us away from Florence for 7 hours which is why we opted for a later train to Venice. We spent less than 24 hours in Venice, we didn’t tour any of the cathedrals or museums, we simply walked the streets, crossed the Rialto bridge, took some pictures in of  Piazza San Marco, rode a gondola through the canal and ate some food. It was enough for Adam, I enjoyed the quaintness of the city, it was far less busy than Florence and much smaller. I thought it was wonderful, I would have liked to have spent a little longer there but there wasn’t anything that I felt like I missed by not going into a cathedral or museum and I feel like if all you want to do is just say you’ve been to Venice and take a gondola then you can easily see it within a day.

The trip to Rome was long but the nice thing about train travel is you have a lot more space than you do in a car or a plane! You can take a nap or read a book or take advantage of the free wifi (if it’s working, it hardly seemed to work for us on any train).

Inter-country travel

We had no trouble traveling between Italy and Greece. Our flight to Athens was about the same as a flight from Houston to Chicago but honestly with less hassle.  Rome’s airport has electronic gate checkers if you will, you simply scan your boarding pass and these little gates open up for you to head into security.  Almost like a subway system. I didn’t get any pictures of that but it was pretty awesome! We didn’t even have any customs to pass through in Athens. No one looked at our passport nor stamped it for that matter, which was a real bummer for me. At first I thought maybe we did something wrong and perhaps we did but we followed all the signs. I’m guessing since it was within Europe we were not considered international.  Who knows but I want that stamp!  Security was toughest in Athens & London.  I was asked to remove our aerosol sunscreen and dslr camera when passing through security on the way out of Athens. London was on a high alert when we were passing through due to some sort of conference going on and the terrorist attack that had happened earlier that week in Manchester. Other than that, air travel in Europe was a breeze. You get to leave your shoes on and liquids were not quite as big of a deal. Overall however it’s not much different from domestic traveling in the states.  The flight to Santorini was on a tiny little plane and was a bit sketchy on the landing but you are landing on a rocky island and you can’t beat the views. If you are wanting to hit a Greek island on your trip, definitely go for the flight. If you can, I would pack light and you can get super cheap tickets (think of it similar to Spirit or Frontier here in the states) and it’s a super short flight. I’ve heard of cruises too which would be great if you have the time. We debated on a ferry but it would have taken the whole day to get to Santorini and that was not worth it. Really research prices and what is most important to you when deciding how you want to travel. Time was our biggest factor so we sacrificed cost to not lose valuable hours and minutes in all the places we traveled.

Packing

My sister lives overseas and I remember when I traveled to Turkey with my parents after my first nephew was born 10 years ago. I was in college and obsessed with fashion. I had to be wearing the most fashionable clothes which meant I had to be in cute boots and heels. Especially if I was going to be going to Paris for a night! Well, what I remember most about that trip was #1: lugging around 3 huge suitcases and some carry ons all over the streets of Paris trying to find our hotel and #2: walking all over the hilly cobblestone streets in Istanbul and up a hundred flights of stairs in my cute heeled boots – my feet did not thank me by the end of that day.  The moral of this story, which my sister so kindly reminded me about when I was telling her about our plans, is that you are going to be walking, a lot. In fact we walked about 90 miles on our trip (based on Adam’s phone calculations, which we may not have always had on us).   So plan to pack as lightly as possible and invest in some good shoes! I did my pinterest search on how to pack for 2 weeks in one carry-on.  That was my goal.  I picked my outfits based on one color scheme: navy blue & gray. I picked tops that I could wear with different pants and a neutral cardigan that I could wear with everything. I planned on bringing enough undergarments and that we could do some laundry at some point in our trip.  Once I was had my outfits planned, I did a practice run a few weeks before we left and everything fit! This was without undergarments and toiletries which I stuffed in the side zippers. I added some additional pieces before we left so it was a little tighter fit but it still zipped!IMG_2670Here is a list of what I packed:

3 pairs of jeans: 1 light, 1 dark & 1 white

3 pairs of shorts: 1 navy, 1 jean & 1 beach shorts

1 black cotton skirt

4 tanks: all solid colors including a white tank to layer with, 1 was a nicer blouse tank

4 blouses & tees: 2 nice tops & 2 tees

3 dresses – 1 fancy, 2 casual (I picked up a 4th in Rome)

1 gray cardigan, 1 white unstructured blazer, 1 beach cover-up kimono & last second I packed a fleece which I’m glad I did.

1 pair of Sperry’s (my walking shoe), 1 pair of nice sandals, 1 pair heels (nude), 1 pair of flip flops for the pool/beach

2 swimsuits

A t-shirt and shorts to sleep in and a couple easy to pack nightgowns.

I packed one belt & plain crystal & silver jewelry that I could wear with everything including one watch.

I only packed a straightener, makeup, travel toiletries, razor & a spare blade. A handful of bras and plenty of underroos! Here’s a quick shot a a sample of the items I took.

I definitely was thinking to pack as little fabric as possible knowing that my pants would take up the most space. So plan for layers. It was easier for me to pack lightly since we were going in May and the weather was going to be nice. If you are planning for a fall or winter trip you might need to add some bulkier clothing which would be in my opinion difficult to fit in a carry on but not impossible. Everything fit pretty nicely rolled up but coming home my carry on was packed, heavier and much more difficult to fit everything in.  We also tried to leave enough room for momentos we picked up along the way and only purchased small items we could squeeze in our bags. If you plan to buy bigger items – you may want to bring an extra bag for your purchases.

By the end of the trip I had split coffee on one tank and ruined it, sweated through my nice green silk blouse (don’t worry that story is coming up in the next part) and ruined it, realized I didn’t pack any socks which was a mistake, and just felt really stinky in my clothes. If we could have figured out how to use the washing machine in our Athens apartment I would have washed everything. I was too afraid I would break something so we resorted to washing garments in the sinks and air drying them but nothing felt quite that clean and of course was much stiffer than we were use to.  My biggest tip would be spend a couple days really walking in your so called walking shoes before you go on your trip to ensure that they are in fact the right shoe for the job. I loved my shoes, they were super comfy whenever I wore them around town, they seemed like they would be great for my trip and they still looked nice not like a running shoe. After one day in Florence I had nasty blisters on the back of my heels where they rubbed (hence me not having socks being a problem). In fact I had to change in the train station to Venice into my sandals because I could barely walk. That was not the greatest way to start our trip. I had to hunt down socks which I bled all over and multiple stops for bandages.  By the end of the trip the shoes were great and I still love them to this day for long days on my feet but I sure wish I would have known I would need to cushion myself a little more! So please – break in your shoes or take shoes you already can walk in, don’t worry about looking silly. Everyone else is in tennis shoes over there including the locals!

I packed all of this into one Delsey Helium Shadow carry on & a Marmot Kompressor Plus backpack which we purchased off Amazon here.

Adam purchased a Travelpro which was super lightweight but he went with a larger size so it was not a carry on but smaller than our other regular checked luggage, I think it’s like 24-25″.  He is taller than I am and his clothes take up a little more space but between that piece and a backpack he was able to fit all of his clothes and supplies as well as a new pair of shoes he found in Florence.

We purchased some snack bars to keep in our back packs for snacks during the day and reused water bottles to keep us hydrated. We decided against packing a plastic water bottle from home but you can definitely do that if you want. Rome had many fountains and plenty of access to free, clean water. We filled up a few times throughout our journey.  You should never be without water especially if you are sightseeing in the spring or summer!

With our bags packed we were ready to head out! Next stop. ITALY!18382358_159773997890551_5958852139164893184_n

 

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2 thoughts on “Europe 2017 Part 1: Planning

  1. Looking forward to reading your story about the green silk blouse! Also, sorry to hear about your poor blistered feet. I’m still on my trip and deeply regretting the shoes I brought too. They’re comfy and I’ve walked plenty in them… so I had a different problem than you. I have TOO plenty in them and they’re isn’t enough traction on the soles and the cushioning is all compacted now. Oops!

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    1. Oh no! I hope you were able to get your shoes taken care of. That sounds worse than blistered feet! I realize I’m a bit behind on following up on your comment and still have yet to get that blog post done. Hopefully soon! I hope your trip was amazing!

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