Hey everyone! Hope your week is going great so far. We had a beautiful Spring here in the desert, but now Mother Nature has thrust us into full-fledge hot temps -- 110+. YIKES! At least it's still a "dry heat" at only 29% humidity, but that will change, too, as we quickly roll into the monsoon season. We will be making a mad dash this morning to install our sunscreens and pack away the patio furniture, hopefully before it gets too warm. Anyway, while things are still fresh in my mind about our recent travels, I thought it would be fun to share a bit of a review about the tour company we used and some travel tips. I'm certainly not professing to be some kind of travel-expert, but I just want to share "the good, the bad, & the not-so-good" of our experience. So let's get started.
These are the suitcases we used, both of which have wheels. They are not expensive luggage, and I don't know why anyone would purchase expensive luggage. I sat in our boarding area in Phoenix and watched luggage being "thrown" onto the conveyer into the plane. Sometimes, one throw wasn't enough, the guys would pick them up and throw them again! It's pretty interesting, they show no favorites -- pretty ones, cheap ones, very expensive ones all get the same treatment. What? Did you say you always do a carryon? Argh! Don't even get me started on the subject of carryon bags! I truly wish airlines would stop allowing it. Maybe if the people who insist on carryons had to board & deplane LAST, they could see what they are doing to those who check their luggage but have to wait forever while passengers wrestle those over-stuffed bags into and out of the overheads. See, I told you not to get me started!
The Hefty Jumbo zip bags continue to be my BFF for travel packing. I used this method last summer for a road trip to Oregon & then again for our Christmas road trip across the country. If you want to see my method, GO HERE. The only things I did differently for this international trip were:
1 -- I planned my entire trip wardrobe around the basic colors of black, gray and denim, and only added 2 tops in bright colors and 4 colorful scarves.
2 -- Everything was mix and match and could easily be layered.
3 -- I only had 3 pairs of shoes, including the ones I wore.
4 -- The Man rolled his pants and secured them with large rubber bands (no problem with wrinkles).
5 -- Instead of planning out individual outfits, I made a list of all the possibilities (incl. accessories) & would refer to the list depending on where we were going, what we were doing and what the weather predictions were.
We chose Gate 1 Travel for this tour, mainly because The Man's Peru trip had been through Gate 1, and he was extremely pleased. Comparatively with other River Cruise/Motor Coach Tours, Gate 1 was about $8000 less. Trip insurance was also considerably less.
A couple of times we were moored right next to one of the other lines and would have to go through their lobby to get outside. They did have a beautiful chandy in their lobby......maybe that's worth paying an extra $8000 to some, but not to us! I'm not trying to put down the other companies, because I haven't tried them; but we could not have gotten better service during the time we were on
Whether we were on the boat or......
On a motor coach, we were well cared for!
There were a couple of "missteps" with this tour that were a bit disappointing:
1 -- Arriving in Amsterdam on King's Day, and not getting to go into the city because it might be too raucous. We were all consenting adults, for crying out loud!
2 -- Arriving in Strasbourg on Labor Day when most businesses are closed. These people don't actually work on Labor Day. We didn't know that, but the tour company should have.
3 -- Having a tour guide (this was for the first part of our trip, including the boat) who has worked for the company for several years but struggles with communicating in English. She was very nice, but she didn't seem to know enough about the different cities to give any suggestions on places to eat or even to just grab a snack.
If you've never been to Europe, these are just some things you might want to know:
1 -- Cobblestones are pretty whether in a pattern or not, but......they can be pretty hard on the feet. And bless their hearts, I even saw business women in heels traversing the many cobblestoned walkways!
2 -- Every hotel and the boat, made their beds with duvets. I'm not talking the cutsie comforter covers that we all like in this country. This was a comforter and top sheet in one. The Man liked it, but it was too hot for me.
3 -- These river boats really know how to utilize every inch of space! They used a much lighter comforter, so it was a lot more comfy.
3 -- Bathrooms are very efficient, but you will need an assortment of electrical adapters if you are using a blow dryer, curling iron or flat iron. Even with the right adapter, some of the smaller towns did not have adequate electrical units to heat up a flat iron. I ended up buying one over there so I have it for next time.
4 -- Most tourist stops had restrooms, but most of them charged a fee. Our guides usually knew about this in advance and would warn us. I didn't mind paying, because that usually meant the restrooms were clean.....usually!
5 -- Most restrooms were located either upstairs or downstairs with no elevators. Anyone with a handicap might run into some problems.
6 -- Watch out for bicycles, because they are not watching out for you. I don't think you would have to worry about the one on the left, but those on the right could be hazardous to your health.
7 -- Speaking of health, I was shocked at all the cigarette smoking! Most restaurants do not allow it inside, but the patio is okay. They also do not have the rule that the US does that you have to be a certain distance from doorways to light up. Lots of times, the smokers were standing right in the doorway.
8 -- Europeans know how to do mass transit very well. This was the cleanest train station I've ever seen. We didn't have an opportunity to use it, but it looked like it would be quite easy to navigate.
9 -- Take "selfies," even if you are really bad at it (selfie stick is ordered) and chop off part of the Eiffel Tower. It's the Eiffel Tower for goodness sake, and even part of it is awesome!
10 -- Be open to different styles whether they are your style or not. I had to have a pic of this very avant garde sofa.....crazy fun to look at, but it was so uncomfortable!
11 -- Be smart about souvenirs. On other trips, we've gone kind of crazy with gifts for friends and family. Those things never seemed to have the impact that you expect, so we didn't do any of that this time. We didn't buy many souvenirs at all, but we planned in advance what we might like to buy. I think this Tiramisu Chocolat will bring back fond memories when we once again have chilly weather. The little tin is holding a Mozart Ball -- some kind of creamy nougat incased in delicious chocolate that was just delicious, and I now have 2 cute little tins. This was a gift from our wonderful tour guide, Annette. She bought them for everyone on the coach -- so sweet!
12 -- You probably will grow weary of seeing so many cathedrals, palaces and castles, and it's okay to admit that. I think it's the over-the-top extravagance of certain classes of people at the expense of the very poor that starts to get to you after awhile.
13 -- Don't expect that you will ever have a clear, no other people around, kind of photo-op. Someone's hand, head or camera will sneak in at the last minute!
14 -- Farmers' Market vendors are not here to chit chat with the tourists; they are here to do business with the locals who are buying for their families.
15 -- Keep yourself open to new friendships. You might be surprised at how quickly bonds can form.
This is a "just because" photo. If we had lived in Europe when our children were young, I would probably have dressed them in lederhosen and Alpine frocks until they started high school.....just sayin'! If my kiddos read this, "You lucked out!"
Well, I think I can call this a "wrap" on the European travels. I've gotten my photos developed and sorted so I can start working on my scrapbook. I'm really excited to get that going! I may even have a diy or organization post for you pretty soon. I know you just can't wait, right? Anyway, hope your week is going great & I'll see you soon!