London, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, Zurich: The ultimate itinerary for my trip to Europe

Euro Trip 2014 MapIs this real life? Am I seriously heading to Europe in less than one week? I’m so excited, I can’t even see straight, and I really hope I haven’t scared away any strangers as I randomly gaze off into the distance as I daydream about the trip. I’ve been planning to go back to Europe since the day I stepped foot back in the U.S. last summer after returning from Spain. I just can’t believe it’s now one week away.

I’m finally taking the time to jot down the entire itinerary of my 24-day trip through 11 cities in six countries. Primarily, I’m making the list for personal reference, but I hope my friends and family can use it track where I am along the adventure. And of course, I hope anyone reading this will be inspired to plan a fast-paced Euro trip of their own. I’m sure it will be the experience of a lifetime.

June 10th – Washington, to New York, to London

I live in D.C., but my flight to London leaves from JFK airport in New York City. So I’ll be using Megabus to get to New York (have I written my ode to Megabus yet? I’m practically married to the company at this point), where I’ll then have four hours to make it to the airport and get myself through customs. This will be my first time flying internationally alone and I’m, like, crazy nervous. But I’m so excited for this trip that I know I’ll combat my nerves with thoughts of beautiful England, enchanting Ireland, feisty Spain, alluring Italy, majestic France, intriguing Monaco… wait, what was I talking about again?

June 11th – London Calling

I’ll arrive around 10 a.m. where my lovely, lovely travel pal Sarah will pick me up from Heathrow airport and help me get acquainted to the city. She and I will be staying with her aunt in Wimbledon, and Sarah will have arrived a few days before I do, so she’ll be ready to hit the town as soon as I get there.  Sarah’s been to London more times than I have fingers, so she’ll be my personal tour guide and take me around the London bridge, Big Ben, the London Eye, Abbey road, Platform 9  and 3/4, etc. She and her aunt are being so awesome about letting me stay with them and showing me around, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it.

June 12th – Explore London

Sarah and I will do more sightseeing and souvenir shopping early in the day. We bought tickets to Once, the musical, and will have to make our way over to the theater midday. Afterward, there will be time do more exploring after the show before we retire early to get a good start the next day for Dublin.

June 13th – Off to Ireland!

For more details, see my post: How we’re seeing Dublin in 38 hours (we might just be crazy)

Rising early, Sarah and I will take a train to the coast of England and then ride a ferry across the water to Dublin Port. The 8-hour journey will take up most of our day, but we’ll arrive with just enough time to hang out in Temple Bar and take a nighttime sigh-seeing tour of Dublin.

14th – Irish Overload

This will be an incredibly fast-paced day, with a morning 3-hour walking tour and then back-to-back visits to the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery. At night, we’ll go out like true Irish lassies and hit up a bar crawl with our fellow hostel visitors.

June 15th – Back to London for a Bit

A ferry and a train will take Sarah and I back to London, and spend the rest of the day relaxing and recovering. Sarah will be preparing to head back to the States, and I’ll get ready to start my Contiki tour the next day. But we must get one last scone together before we part.

June 16th – Head to the hotel in London to start my Contiki tour

I’ll have to check in to the hotel by 2 p.m. and then spend the evening getting ready for the tour. There will be orientation for the trip where I will meet the tour manager, chef and my fellow travelers. The checked-in travelers have a chance to go out to dinner, but we can’t get cray cray since we have to get up early the next day to head to Paris.

June 17th – Depart London for Paris

Off to Paris! We’ll begin our voyage on a ferry to France, where we’ll pass the White Cliffs of Dover. Then we’ll hop on the Contiki coach bus and travel through World War I battlefields in the Valley of the Somme to Paris.

Once we arrive at our campsite, we get to set up camp – which I’m super excited about because apparently, we’re sleeping in pairs in these cute little blue tents. I’m sure tight quarters will force us to become very close with our fellow travelers – literally. Once we have set up camp, our bus will leave for the Tour of Illuminations, which will take us around the beautiful, lamp-lit streets of Paris, passing the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Champs-Élysées.

June 18th – 19th  Explore Paris

The city of love will bring us plenty of sightseeeing to do over these two days: Left Bank, Notre Dame Cathedral, Louvre and more. I know the enchanting smell of French baguettes will draw me in and I’m so looking forward to chowing down on some French cuisine. Plus, shopping!! I know everything will be way expensive, but I will do my best to find a few Parisian gems to ring back to the states. Our tour also includes a trip to Versailles, France’s most well-known château, where we will explore the impressive exterior of the extravagant palace. I’ll have to make sure I bring extra memories for my camera!

On the last night in Paris, we get to experience a Parisian night out, starting with an optional dinner in an atmospheric restaurant and authentic cabaret experience, complete with can-can girls and champagne. I’m so ready to live the high life.

June 20th – Depart Paris and drive through Bordeaux

Surely tired from the previous night’s festivities, we’ll pack up our campsites and head through Loire Valley, traveling past rolling vineyards and chateaus. On our way to Spain, we’ll stop in Bordeaux and visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed St. Emilion, with its fortified medieval city.

June 21st – Biarritz and Pamplona

Leaving Bordeaux and heading south, the bus will stop at the beach resort of Biarritz, known for some of the best beaches and surf in Europe. Since I’m not a huge sun-bathing person, I’ll probably spend most of my time in Biarritz hitting up the coastal shops and boutiques. Apparently, Biarritz has great beach fashion and locally made linens and regional produce like hams and salamis.

Leaving Biarritz, we cross the border to Spain and spend the evening in Pamplona, the city know for the Running of the Bulls. Pamplona has an awesome Gothic cathedral that I’m sure I’ll obsess over, and amazing Basque restaurants that serve traditional foods like barbecued lamb, fresh trout and red peppers.

June 22nd – Off to Barcelona!!!

Lately, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with Barcelona. Already suffering from an obsession with Spanish language and culture, I can only image how I’ll soak in the incredible, vibrant colors and beachy vibe of one of Spain’s best-known cities.

So on the way to Barcelona from Pamplona, the bus will head through the Baroque city of Zaragoza, set on the banks of the Rio Ebro. We’ll stop for lunch and engorge in Spanish tapas, and get a chance to check out another amazing Spanish cathedral. Once we arrive in Barcelona and set up camp, we depart for the city just in time to hit up Montjuic, a hilltop with full vistas of the city and location of the 1992 Olympic Games complex. Then we will check out the Sagrada Família!!!! I can’t wait!

Later, we get to enjoy a night out in Barcelona, which I’m sure will be one we won’t want to tell the kids.

June 23rd – Explore Barcelona

After a morning walking tour of the city, we’ll have free time to visit shops on Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla, Parc Güell, or hang out on the beach. That night, there will be a family dinner and optional Flamenco show, then we head out for a night out in Barcelona – part two.

June 24th – Off to the French Riviera

The rugged coast line of the stunning Côte d’Azur will capture our attention as we roll along on the coach bus, stopping for lunch in Arles.  The beautiful city of Cannes will great us as we roll along the Riviera on our way to Antibes.

June 25th – Explore the French Riviera and Monaco 

On this sunny Wednesday, we’ll stop at the Fragonard perfumery, the home of the French perfume industry. We’ll have some free time to explore the area and try some French wine and, at night, get to explore Monaco and maybe even blow some cash at the Monte Carlo casino.

June 26th – Off to Florence

Leaving France, the tour crosses over the border to Italy. First stop: the Leaning Tower of Pizza (hehehe had to do it 🙂 ). We next drive to our campsite, have a family dinner, take a tour along the river and unwind with a glass of Tuscan wine.

June 27th – Explore Florence 

We’ll hit the museum and the city centre, take a guided tour through crowded streets, and watch a demonstration of Florentine leather making. At night, we’ll have an optional group dinner  (an authentic Tuscan feast, which there’s no way I’m missing), and then head out to experience Florentine nightlife.

June 28th – Head to our last stop: Rome!

Traveling through Tuscany, we’ll leave Florence and head to Rome where we’ll set up our last campsite on the tour.  A coach tour if the city will guide us through the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia, where we’ll then then step off the bus to see the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. With our free time later, we get to check out the Trevi Fountain or see the Spanish Steps. And at some point, obvi, we’ll  be stopping for pizza and gelato.

June 29th —  When in Rome…

In the morning, a tour guide will take us through the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Then, of course, the tour leads to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

Free time later in the day will give us a chance to explore the city, eat more pizza, go shopping, and, knowing me, take lots of pictures. I just really want to know what it means to “do as the Romans do.” Ha.

Then, it’s our last night out! I know that I’ll have made some awesome friends during this crazy Euro adventure, and the group will want to go out with a bang. And if that predication is wrong, I’ll just go out by myself. Whatevs.

June 30th – Ciao for now Rome!

On this day, everyone packs up and rolls out. The tour ends midday Monday and we’re all on our own to transport ourselves back home. But Europe won’t be able to get rid of me that quickly. I’ll have a few more days before I head back to the States.

July 1st – 2nd – ?????

Still not quite sure what I’ll be doing these two days before heading back to London. My friend Rachel, who is studying abroad in France, and I planned to meet up in Switzerland, but that might not be possible anymore. So I will probably just be spontaneous and pick up a one-way ticket to some place I’ll want to explore before heading back to the Heathrow airport the night of the June 2.

July 3rd – GOODBYE EUROPE

Oh, parting is such sweet sorrow. I fly out from London that morning, expecting to be back in Washington, D.C. later that evening. With the next day being July 4th (U.S. Independence Day), I can’t think of any better way to feel welcomed back to my home country than with firework, hot dogs, and everything stars and stripes.

Gracias, Merci, Grazie

5 reasons why I’m grateful to be broke

5 reasonsI had a long discussion with some friends last night about another friend  or ours who is studying abroad in Europe. She traveled to a different country almost every other weekend during her semester and now that her classes are finished, she’s traveling around Europe. We kept asking ourselves, “How is she affording all of this??” I mean, she is seriously living out my dream of traveling all throughout Europe – but the only way I could do that is by working long hours and saving up for it for months.

Turns out, my friend’s family is paying for her trip. She is traveling at ease while I’m at home working 30 hours per week on top of a being a full-time student just to be able to spend 3 weeks in Europe this summer. And while our conversation about this friend could have turn into a jealous rant, my friend Rachel, who is paying for her study abroad trip to France, said something that completely changed the conversation. “Yeah, it’d be more luxurious doing it her way, but the gratitude level is much different for us.”

And I thought about that for a spell. She was so right. I’m grateful that my parents, who are definitely not poor, decided they wouldn’t pay for my travels (or food, or clothes…) because they wanted me to know what it’s like to have to live on a budget. And there are 5 reasons why I’m so grateful for that:

  1. I know the value of money.

There’s nothing like working every moment you’re not sleeping, eating or in class that makes you appreciate money. My hard work put every dollar in my bank account. I don’t buy things frivolously because I want to put my hard-earned money to good use. Instead of spending $300 on a designer purse, I’d rather spend that money on a plane ticket to somewhere I’ve never been before.  I know what money is worth and I’ll make sure I’ll extract every ounce of its value.

  1. I know how to earn my way.

Now this might turn into a bit of a rant. I know too many people who haven’t worked a day in their lives. Or they have, but just for fun because their parents still pay for everything. We all wish someone would just hand us money – but what is the good in that? Once I graduate college, I’ll know how to save up for a house, a car, groceries, etc., because I know how to earn money. I can be a functioning part of society, making an honest living, and do so because I know how to independently earn my way. I will never wait for someone just to hand me something.

  1. I appreciate things so much more.

Ever notice how a meal tastes so much better when you make it from scratch rather than buying it at a restaurant? Or how the cabinets in your kitchen look so much better when you build them by hand than when you buy them at the store? It’s because you worked hard on them. You exerted some sort of effort into making them what they are, so when you eat that meal or see those cabinets, you are also reminded of the fruits of your labor.

And that’s how I feel about everything I pay for. When I get to Europe this summer, I’ll be reminded of how many hours I worked to pay to be there. And every meal or souvenir I buy abroad will be memorabilia of not only the trip, but also of every time I had to say no to something because it was too expensive and I had to save money. I appreciate everything I have so much because I earned it.

  1. I’m more connected with the real world.

At least 80 percent of humanity lives on less than 10 USD a day, according to GlobalIssues.org. Out of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty. And 1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity.

In most of the world, people’s parents can’t afford to send them off to travel Europe. In fact, they can barely afford food for the week, or sometimes not at all. I know my friend who’s abroad is aware of these things, but there are so many other people in the U.S. who live in complete ignorance that other people are struggling out there just to stay alive. They’re completely disconnected from what’s happening to the other 80 percent of the world.

I’m unbelievably fortunate that I can shower, change my clothes, eat three meals and watch TV every day.  And with that, I should also say that I am so fortunate to even have a job – and three at that. At least I can earn money (even it if takes a while), whereas most people in the world can’t say that. I’m extraordinarily blessed.

  1. I’m a better person.

Because I’m broke, I’m a hard worker. I’m independent, and I know how to persevere. I know what it means to have to work for what I have. And know how fortunate I am to have what I do.

My friend who is abroad is not a bad person. She is really a sweet girl with a great heart, and has been blessed with amazing opportunities. I don’t mean for this post to be a negative rant about her. This post is a reflection about how she helped me realize that I should never be jealous of what other people have; instead, I should be more appreciative of everything I have. I want people to read this and realize how lucky they are, too. If you’re reading this, it means you are literate and have access to the internet. At least half of the world doesn’t have what you do. Think about it.

How we’re seeing Dublin in 38 hours (we might just be crazy)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Did I mention how excited I am that we’re going to Ireland? Mid-June is possibly the best time to travel to the Emerald Isle, and we’ll be in Dublin June 13-15.  The average temperatures for those days are in the 60s, and according to TimeAndDate.com, the average sunrise for those days 5 a.m. and sunset is just before 10 p.m. Talk about getting the most out of our day!

Because we will be so lucky with our timing, we’ll be able to pack our days with sightseeing. After doing a lot of research, I’ve come up with a rough itinerary for the weekend that will maximize our time in Dublin without running us into the ground. Here’s what I have so far:

oconnell-street-bridge-at-night-in-dublin

DAY 1: Friday, June 13th  
  1. Arrive at Dublin Port by Irish Ferries
  2. Taxi to Abigail’s Hostel – 10 mins
  3. Get settled in the hostel
5:30 p.m.
  1. Dinner at The Temple Bar
  2. Meander around town
  3. Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral to take pictures at sunset. The cathedral will be closed but we can view from the outside.
6:30ish
  1. Dublin by Night Open-Top Bus Tour:
  • O’Connell Street
  • Georgian Dublin
  • Docklands District
  • Dublin City Centre
9:00 p.m.
  1. Night Out (Maybe at Fitzsimmons)
10:00 p.m.

guinness

DAY 2: Saturday, June 14th  
  1. George St. Arcade (if we can squeeze it in)
9:30 a.m.
  1. Walking Tour from City Hall: We’re using New Dublin Tours for a free 3-hour walking tour!
  • Dublin Castle
  • Dubh Linn
  • Dublin’s Medieval Walls
  • Viking Remains
  • Norman Dublin
  • Georgian Dublin
  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • Adam and Eve Church
  • The National Library
  • Famous Writers
  • Temple Bar
  • U2 – Origins of the rock legend
  • Trinity College
  • Leinster House
  • Chester Beatty Library
  • St. Stephen’s Green
  • 1916 Easter Rising
11:00 a.m.
  1. Guinness  Storehouse Tour
  2. To Jameson: Walk 16 mins, Taxi 4 mins
3:00 p.m.
  1. Jameson Distillery Tour
5:00 p.m.
  1. Pub Crawl leaving from Wellington Club: we’re using New Dublin Tours again – but this time, the adult version.
  2. We may also want to do a free Irish dancing show at 9 p.m. Arlington Hotel across the way from our hostel!
7:30 – All Night

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DAY 3: Sunday, June 15th
  1. Wake up and check out
  2. Taxi to Dublin Port – 10 mins
7:00 a.m.
  1. Depart to Holyhead
8:45 a.m.

Of course, we’ll still miss out on a few must-sees in Dublin, such as Kilmainham Gaol, but I am convinced this itinerary will provide us with a great balanced experience of Dublin. With just more than one month to go, we also have plenty of time the make alterations. I know we will have an incredible time in Ireland, regardless. I mean, c’mon. It’s Ireland.

For more, see my post about our transportation and accommodations: How we’re squeezing in a weekend trip to Dublin

*All photos from Google

 Have you been to Dublin? How long did you stay and what did you do? Do you think we can squeeze all of this in?

StudentUniverse: my go-to site for cheap flights

I cannot speak more highly of StudentUniverse. It’s absolutely my favorite resource for finding the best deals on flights. The company is a Boston-based travel agency focused on providing college students with discounts on flights, hotels, tours, activities and rail.

HOW IT WORKS

Before you can access the deals on the site, you have to create an account using your school’s or institution’s information to verify your status as student. Once StudentUniverse’s technology confirms your status, it connects you to hundreds of companies offering discounted products and services to StudentUniverse customers.

The company has over 65 major airline partners, including American Airlines, United Airways, Virgin America, British Airways, AirFrance, Jet Airways and numerous others. It’s travel company partners include the following:

Travel Guard Rail Europe HostelBookers G Adventures G Adventures

Student Universe has also partnered with travel sites such as Kayak, TravelZoo and Fly.com, so that those sites can redirect you StudentUniverse for discounts once you find your flight.

THEIR JUSTIFICATION

“It’s about getting the most out of your time in school. We believe in the positive effects that travel experiences can have on a person’s character and that having those experiences early on in life is critical in personal development. We believe that travel enriches education and that students should be able to experience their world without breaking the bank.” (http://www.studentuniverse.com/about-us)

FLIGHTS

My favorite feature on the site is the flight flexibility grid. When searching for a flight, you have the options of making your travel dates flexible and choosing from multiple airports in an area. If you select those options, StudentUniverse displays a grid comparing the cheapest flights on the market for a range of days around the departure and return dates you indicated. I’ve been able to save $300 on a flight just by flying out the night before I had planned.

grid

Thanks to StudentUniverse I was able to book my round trip ticket to London for my Mini Rider tour in June. I saved hundreds of dollars by picking an earlier departure day. Now I’ll be flying in to London a few days before the tour begins, so I’ll have more time to explore the city. Next, I’ll have to look into budget hostels or some place to Couchsurf while I’m in London!

My Upcoming Contiki Tour: The Mini Rider

I browsed through the Contiki tours and discovered on somewhat within my budget and target duration. It’s the Mini Rider, a 15-day tour through London, France, Spain and Italy. I want to see the major Euro tourist attractions — the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, London Eye, etc.– since this will be my first trip through Europe. When I go back after graduation, I’ll explore the off-the beaten path spots.

TOUR TYPE

This is a camping tour, which means I will be sharing a tent with another traveler. It’s not as glamorous as staying in hotels, but camping is more adventurous and fun– and it’s a fraction of the cost. Along that note, I am assuming my tour mates will also be adventurous and open — and hopefully as broke as I am, since they, too, chose the budget tour.

COST

The tour is $1,620 with an additional $250 for food. In total, it will cost $1,870. I didn’t purchase the traveler’s insurance, which was another cost. Luckily, Contiki has a layaway option, so I can pay two to three hundred dollars toward the trip every month, or as often as I would like. Contiki layaway also allows other people to donate money to the fund through a link that users can email to others. On that note — I am writing this post on Dec. 24 and hoping tomorrow may bring some monetary gift from my parents (I’ve been good this year, I promise!)

TRAVEL PATH

Commencing on June 16, 2014 and concluding on June 30, the tour follows a curved path though southern Europe. Travelers are to fly into London on June 16, meet the tour mates and receive a Contiki orientation, then depart for Paris on June 17 (I plan on flying into Europe a day or two early to have more time to explore there). We’ll spend a few nights in Paris, then head to Pamplona, Spain. After leaving Pamplona, we will head to Barcelona for two days before traveling back to France, along the French Riviera. We’ll stop in Monaco along the way, then embark into Italy, where we will spend a few days in Florence and then swoop down to Rome. After two nights, the tour ends, and travelers are responsible for getting ourselves home.

 

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From contiki.com.

As many of the reviews mentioned, the trip involves a significant amount of time on the bus. As someone who spent her childhood on road trips, though (and who, even at age 20, is rocked to sleep like a baby on any mode of transportation), I am fine with long bus rides. As long as I am sitting where a video is visible, I’m set.

ATTRACTIONS

But along with those long rides, there are also tons of sightseeing and cultural immersion opportunities. These are the major sights and destinations the tours covers:

Paris

Image from wikimedia.org
Image from wikimedia.org

Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower

Louvre

Notre Dame Cathedral

Champs-Élysées

Château Versailles

Loire Valley

Pamplona & Barcelona

Image from independent.myreaderoffers.com
Image from independent.myreaderoffers.com

The Lighthouse & Bay in Biarritz

Sagrada Família

Rio Ebro

Montjuic and the 1992 Olympic Games complex

Zaragoza

Gothic Quarter

Parc Güell

French Riviera 

Image from royalcorrespondent.com
Image from royalcorrespondent.com

Côte d’Azur

Arles

Royal Palace in Monaco

Monte Carlo

Florence

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Duomo Cathedral

Statue of David

Image from thewondersoftheworld.net
Image from thewondersoftheworld.net

Ponte Vecchio

Medici Palace

Duomo

Basilica Santa Croce

Giotto’s Bell Tower

Baptistry

Piazza della Signoria

Rome

Vatican City

Image from destination360.com
Image from destination360.com

Colosseum

Roman Forum

Piazza Venezia

Trevi Fountain

Pantheon

Piazza Navona

St. Peter’s Basilica

Sistine Chapel

This extensive list of sights is, of course, paired with a list of night clubs, restaurants, bars and shops for souvenirs and nightly outings. I am beyond excited. As more plans unfold, I will be adding posts with details regarding the Contiki Mini Rider Tour!