Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Look out, Europe ‘cause here we come!

Shortly I will leave the continent on which I was born and travel to a new one. There are only seven of them, but I find myself in my 50’s having only stepped on North America. Furthermore, while I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, I have only visited one other country other than my own, which isn’t saying much, since I lived only two hours away from Niagara Falls as a child and we went to see the Falls every year.

This whole thing came about rather suddenly. After years of saying, “One of these days...” my father recently took me to task for it. “If you keep saying ‘One of these days...’ you’ll never go,” he told me. “Set a date and go. You won’t regret it.”

That was on my birthday in January, just as the Viking River Cruises were starting their big advertising campaigns, as did the collective we call The Caribbean. The latter held no interest for me—I’m not much into lying around on beaches or swimming in water that I have to share with sea life. But Europe? Cruising down the Danube or Rhine? Yeah, I could get into that. Even though I really wanted to visit Ireland and I knew my husband always talked about Italy and France.

So we looked into it and winced. Holy cow, they’re expensive. Six nights for nearly $8000 – and that was the buy one/get one price that didn’t include airfare. Surely we could get more for our money than that?

The idea was in our heads, our calendars on the table before us and we had a block of time (four weeks) with which to play. We have money set aside from my husband’s mom who passed away nearly a year ago. She was a world traveler herself and would be thrilled to know we spent some of what she left us on a trip in her honor.

We’re AAA members, so it made sense to start there. We walked in, sat down with one of their travel agents (waving hello to Linda at the Pittsford, NY branch!) and told her our dream. She got to work, asking questions and determining our comfort level (yes, we’d drive in Ireland but not Italy. Getting lost would probably be our lot and I wasn’t comfortable doing that in a country where language would be a barrier), and helping us find the “must-sees” of our dream trip. By the time we were done nearly two hours later, we were going to Europe for twenty days. Not six, but twenty days!!!!

Neither my husband nor I like group tours where we have to be certain places at certain times. That was the attractiveness of the Viking cruises. You had a guided tour in the morning at each port, then were on your own for the entire afternoon where you could go where you wanted and see, in depth, whatever you pleased. How to balance those elements when were planned on our own would be our challenge.

We solved it by opting for a Mediterranean cruise that has seven ports of call. Structured in that our transportation was taken care of, unstructured in that we determine what we do in each port. Starting from Rome, we dock at Palermo, Tunis, Livorno, Genoa, Toulon, and end in Barcelona. Because of last week’s events, I’m not sure we’ll get to visit Tunis, but I hope we do. Being able to step onto a third continent, if only for a day and if only for a short distance, was one of the reasons we chose this cruise. But we certainly understand the world will not hold still for our little excursion and so we will wait and see what develops there. (UPDATE: We’re not going to Tunis at all. No third continent for us.)

We also chose this particular route because of the stop in Palermo, Sicily. My husband’s mom’s side of the family came from Palermo and Calabria. We don’t expect to find relatives on this short visit, but it will be fun to walk the streets his ancestors did and see what they saw.

We don’t get much time in Barcelona, our last port of call. Pretty much we get off the ship and head straight for the airport to catch a flight, not to home but to Dublin!

Yep, the second part of our trip is a Go As You Please tour. This part was surprisingly affordable. We pick up a car in Dublin and have vouchers for nearly 900 Bed and Breakfasts throughout Ireland. We make our own way and do our own thing for the next six days (eight days total; we’ve bookended the tour with nights in Dublin). We almost immediately decided to find two B&B’s and use them as a home base while we go out for day trips from there. Less time spent packing and moving and more time spent enjoying Ireland.

Depth rather than breadth. That’s the way we like to travel. We don’t see as much, perhaps, but we get to know a smaller area deeper. More relaxed, that way. The only thing that worries me a little in this part of the trip is the driving. Left side of the road is a perspective change (expect me to wax philosophical about that later), and we’ve asked for a manual shift. I can drive standard easily enough – had a standard for thirty years – but shifting with my left hand? I’m dyslexic, remember. I think my husband will be doing most of the driving. Ireland will thank me for that later.

So my husband and I are going to Europe! We’re leaving the house (and the cat!) to my daughter. She’s just as excited about that as we are about leaving. I remember when I had to work and couldn’t vacation with my parents anymore – how I loved having the house to myself! She told us not to let the door hit us on the way out, even if she wishes she could go with us. :)

I’m looking for all the travel tips you might have. We’re planning to take only carry-on luggage, so we’re packing light. What do you suggest are necessary accoutrements? What about traveling in Italy and Ireland? Suggestions on what to see, do, experience? How to behave? We’re going to be pegged as tourists, we know that, but don’t want to be the Ugly American. To that end, we’ve already begun learning a few phrases in both Gaelic and Italian.

And so, instead of my usual sign off, let me say dia duit and ciao!


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