Category Archives: Planning Travel

Two Weeks Until China!

GAAAAAAAAH.   I am not ready to go and I no longer want to go.  Do not fear though, I experience this before EVERY trip I take.  I always melt down before I go and wish I had not taken on such a huge project.  Then I get there and I forget I ever felt that way until I go back home and see these weird and foreign whines in my diary.

I could psychoanalyze myself and tell  you why I do this, or you could join me in ignoring me and together, we can move on from this.

I am still not going to post my updated itinerary because OH HEY GUESS WHAT?  Just yesterday I flipped a coin to see about changing it.  The coin said no, but I do not agree with it.  So maybe I will change it again tonight.  Or tomorrow.  Or every day until I leave.

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I am kind of sort of set up for Tibet.  I sent in a deposit and I await my Tibet Permit.  I have booked less than half of my domestic transport.  I would like to have that no longer hanging over my head, but some train tickets are just not available yet.

I have decided to bring all my money in cash and exchange it in China.  All it took was one person to warn me off ATM’s rejecting foreign cards for me to agree to this. I am aware that ATM’s give you the best rate but it’s worth it to be shorted a minimal amount to have peace of mind.  I do not have anyone back home to call should any problem arise with my ATM or credit cards.

I am definitely looking forward to not being at work for a month.  Five out of seven employees walked out in the same two week period.  So for the past three months, I have been doing my job while training the newbies FOR THREE MONTHS. Enough already.  I have now officially gone from “I am leaving in XXX days, you need to learn this” to “I will be gone for 33 days, figure it out.”

This weekend I will pack.  I have everything out already, just waiting to be put into my bag.  My shopping list is now very short.  I think all I need is a small flashlight and and a travel umbrella.

Stupid little things I bought, that I never had to deal with before:

– A SteriPEN.  This is a portable water purifier.  I am too nutso to actually drink SteriPEN-ed water.  But I figure I can use it to brush my teeth. Or maybe I will get brave during my trip and try it out.

– Rolls of toilet paper.   I have been saving almost-finished rolls so I can have a little roll on me at all times.   China doesn’t seem to like including toilet paper with its public toilets.  Hell, it doesn’t seem to like including TOILETS in public toilets.  Hole in the ground it is!

– Sunglasses.  Can you believe I have never owned a pair?  I bought enormous sunglasses and a pink floopy sun hat, in hopes it is not immediately obvious I am American.  I do not want my picture taken nonstop by strangers.  Then of course, I realized that I am scared to put in contact lenses.  China’s water is poison so I cannot wash my hands to the level of cleanliness I would like them to be before touching my eyeballs.  So I need to wear my real glasses.  Sorry new sunglasses, you will get your day.

Regrets:  Flying into Hong Kong and out of Shanghai.   As I posted here, I was so set on doing this even though it made so much sense to do it the opposite way.  I now really wish I were going to Hong Kong last.  Hong Kong (and Macau) are truly more Western than the rest of China.  By the time the end of my trip rolls around, I am going to be curled up in a ball in the corner of a squat toileted hostel room, crying and chanting about wanting to be back in a first world country.  Hong Kong would have gotten me there sooner.

I have also decided to bring my little netbook, which is always frozen and never lets me do anything I am trying to do, over bringing my actual laptop.  My laptop is big and HEAVY.  Plus,  I do not want it to be easy for me to keep my blog up when I am gone, because doing so takes time.  I am not a full time traveler so why not save the bulk of posts for when I am home?  I can do updates with the netbook, but I will not want to.  So they will be minimal.  Or they will stop entirely when my netbook freezes just ONE MORE TIME and I throw it into the Li River.

And that’s that for now.  Join me next week, when we see if I go further dark and actually cry about going to China. OH WOE IS ME!  I HAVE TO SPEND A MONTH AWAY FROM MY JOB, TRAVELING AND SEEING THE WORLD, LIFE IS SO HARD, or if I stop being a baby moron and exhibit some actual excitement.

 

How to Get into Manhattan from Any New York City Airport

Today’s post comes to you by special request from someone who attempted to read the Jfk Airport’s ground transportation instructions and got confused.  Which makes sense since the MTA is a jerk.   Once I started typing this out, I realized just how difficult it will sound to someone who has never been here before.  I apologize on behalf of the MTA for this.  I also apologize on behalf of myself for taking well over a month to type this out.

New York has three major airports, none of which are in Manhattan.  One isn’t even in the state of New York.  JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airports are both in Queens.  Newark Airport is in New Jersey.

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How to Get From JFK Airport into Manhattan

1.  Taking a Cab:  Recommended when you are traveling with someone who can split costs and/or when you have luggage you cannot easily manage on your own.  Note: This is the only viable option for you if you have luggage you cannot manage carrying up steps on your own

Cabs from JFK to Manhattan are flat rate – meaning  you do not pay the meter.  The flat rate is a whopping $52.50.  If you have four people and are not used to public transportation, or if you have more luggage than you can handle carrying up many steps with out an escalator, this may be the choice for you.

Please do not forget to tip the cab driver on top of the fare. It is not okay to stiff them because you feel the fare is too high. It is not their fault  you chose to travel to a city where the cost of cab fare (and everything else for that matter) is so ridiculously high.

2. Using a Combination of the AirTrain and Long Island Railroad: Recommended ONLY if your hotel is located within walking distance of Penn Station AND you do not have luggage that you can not manage easily.

The MTA wants you to take this option because they make more money off of  you.  This option costs either $13 or $21, depending on several factors.  BUT WAIT!  THERE’S MORE!  Unless you are staying at a hotel right near Penn Station, which where the Long Island Railroad will leave you, you then have to get to your hotel from Penn Station.  That will cost you more money.

How this option works:  You take the AirTrain from your gate to Jamaica Station.  There are signs everywhere, you cannot miss them.  You do not pay until you exit, so just hop on.  Make sure you get on the one going to Jamaica.  This is really easy to figure out, it is not a guessing game.  There will be signs above the train doors.

Once you get to Jamaica (last stop) you exit.  Upon exiting, you then have to buy a Metrocard to pay for the AirTrain that you just took.  There are lots of Metrocard machines right there, you cannot miss them.  The cost of the AirTrain is $5 BUT the MTA charges you an additional $1 to buy a new Metrocard.  So you are paying $6.

Once you pay your money to leave the AirTrain, you are at the Jamaica Station stop of the Long Island Railroad.  From here, you have two options.  One is to take the Long Island Railroad, the other is to take the subway.  What’s the difference, you ask?

Taking the Long Island Railroad from Jamaica to Manhattan: The Long Island Railroad is a commuter train designed to bring people from Long Island into the city.  The total trip from here to midtown Manhattan will take no longer than fifteen minutes.

If you are arriving between 6:00 am and 10:00 am on a weekday, you are going to be taking a peak train.   The same applies if you are going back to the airport between 4:00 and 8:00 pm on a weekday. This will cost you an additional $9.50 to board IF you buy the ticket before boarding.  VERY IMPORTANT:  If you buy your peak time Long Island Railroad ticket on the train, it will cost you $16.50 instead of the $9.50 it would have been if you had purchased a ticket in advance. Off peak tickets cost $7.00 each way if you purchase a ticket in advance, or $13 if you purchase it on the train.

You can purchase tickets at a vending booth on the level you exit the AirTrain from.

Also VERY IMPORTANT:  If you are indeed taking a peak train with luggage, you may actually not even be able to get on the train because it will be way too packed for  you and your luggage.

EVEN MORE IMPORTANT:  If you have luggage AND you can fit on a train, your dilemma is still not over.  When you get to Penn Station, there is no guarantee at all that you will find a working escalator or elevator.  Or maybe you WILL find a working elevator that is filled with smeared feces or two inches of urine.  If you do not believe me, then you should ride any elevator in Penn Station.  Then you can come back and apologize for calling me a liar.  It’s okay, I forgive you. So PLEASE keep in mind:  You may have to carry your luggage up steps to exit the platform.  

3.  Using a Combination of the AirTrain and Subway:  Recommended if you are solo OR if you are traveling to anywhere not in walking distance of Penn Station.  Not recommended if you have luggage that is hard to handle.

This option is the cheapest.  It may also be the best for you, depending on where you are actually going to.  This can also be complicated to figure out.  I will explain:

The MTA would like you to take the AirTrain to Jamaica and exit like described above in the Long Island Railroad option.   From here, you would exit to outside, where you will be walking on an above ground walkway for the Long Island Railroad.  Keep walking until you reach the other side.  There is an elevator here that takes you downstairs to the E train.   Take this.  Take it to where?  Well that depends on where you are going.  You can use hopstop.com to get your exact directions.  Just make sure you put in the correct date and time.  The subways here are always running weird at nights and on weekends.

How to Get From LaGuardia Airport into Manhattan

Note: There are no subways at LaGuardia.

1.  Taking a Cab:  Recommended ONLY IF you have more luggage than you can handle.  Cabs are expensive.  Avoid them at all costs, especially from airports in NYC!

2.  Taking the Bus to the Subway:

Q72 bus – this bus is absolutely worthless to you if you are going in to Manhattan

M60 bus – This bus stops in Queens at the N and Q lines.  Note: You have to walk up stairs to get to the station platform.  There is no escalator or elevator.  Consider how heavy your luggage is.

This bus also stops in Manhattan at Lexington and 125th Street on the 4, 5 and 6 lines.

The Q70 bus – This will drop you off in Queens at the E, M, F, R and 7 train.  What train line do  you need?   Again, look it up on hopstop.com – making sure you have the correct date and time.  For one example, the M train is a train that runs completely different on weekends than it does on weekdays.   PUT THE CORRECT DATE IN WHEN YOU DO YOUR SEARCH.

How to Get From Newark Airport into Manhattan

Newark Airport is located in New Jersey.  You may think this means that it is the hardest one to get into Manhattan from.  Well you would be wrong.  It is actually the easiest.

1.  Taking a Cab – VERY EXPENSIVE.  Do not take a cab.  Not only is it expensive, there will likely be traffic.  In addition to this, you have to pay tolls.  Do not take a cab. If you cannot manage your luggage on public transportation, STILL DO NOT TAKE A CAB – READ ON

2.  Shuttle bus.  These exist.  I do not recommend them unless you have too much luggage to handle on your own.  I took one once and it took over an hour to go the sixteen miles from midtown Manhattan to Newark Airport.  But if you decide to take one, they are $16 for a bus to midtown Manhattan.  These stop at Grand Central Station (41st Street between Park and Lexington Avenues), Bryant Park (42nd Street) and Fifth Avenue) and Port Authority (41nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues)

If you have too much luggage to handle, you can take the shuttle bus and then catch a cab once you are in Manhattan.

3.  AirTrain.  This is so much easier than taking the AirTrain from JFK.  Why?  Because you have zero choices.  This makes it simple.  You board the AirTrain and half an hour later, you are in Penn Station.  Easy Peasy. REMEMBER:  Not every track in Penn Station has escalators or elevators.  You may have to walk up steps with your luggage.

If you have any questions or if you are confused (the latter is likely, I tried to keep this simple but unfortunately, the complexity is out of my control) please ask away!

Three Months Until Asia Extravaganza

Once upon a time, I started binge buying outdated copies of Lonely Planet for $1 each on eBay, so I could learn more about places and decide where to go.  One of those guide books was for Tibet.

The more I read about Tibet, the more I wanted to go.  But finding out that you cannot travel independently made it seem like a huge production that I did not want to deal with.  So my Lonely Planet Tibet guide book sat untouched for a few years.

Then one day, I came across a blog post by someone who had traveled from Tibet to Nepal with a tour group.   Reading his post made it sound so completely simple and a lot more affordable than I would have guessed it to be.

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Within an hour of reading that post, I had a month of vacation time approved and I was going to Asia!  I did a quick check of airfare and discovered I could fly to Hong Kong, travel overland to Tibet, continue onto Nepal and fly home from Nepal, with a 24 hour layover in Doha.  So I get to see Doha!  OH WOW I AM EXCITED!

My typical maniacal behavior served me extremely well for this trip.  Instead of rushing and booking airfare RIGHT NOW I WANT TO GO RIGHT NOW, I started my intense research to make sure everything lined up perfectly with the dates.

This was how I discovered the hell that is a China visa.

If like me, you know nothing about a China visa – let me explain to you.

In order to apply for a visa, you need to show (a) an itinerary that includes booked hotels for your stay (b) proof of arrival AND DEPARTURE.

So my original plan of flying to Hong Kong, traveling across to Tibet, then traveling from Tibet to Nepal and flying home from Kathmandu, was now impossible.  Because you need to show departure from China.  But you cannot have that departure be from Tibet.  Why?   Because if you list Tibet as a destination on your visa application, it will be denied.

So let’s see here.

I cannot fly home from Nepal because I need to show a flight leaving from China.

I would then logically  have to re-enter China from Nepal, so I can show a flight home from China.

I will most likely not be able to do this because most first time applicants for a China visa, do not get approved for a multi-entry visa.

I will not know what type of visa I am approved for until I apply for one.  I cannot apply for one until I book flights.  Because I need to show those flights on my China visa application.

Is your head spinning?  Mine is.

So.  I had to redo my plans to travel from Nepal back into China.  This gives me a flight home from China to show on my visa application.  Of course, I do not have any idea if I will be approved for a multi entry visa, so I do not know if I will be allowed to enter China a second time after using my first entry earlier in the trip.  For this reason, I picked Shanghai because you can travel in Shanghai without a regular visa.  You can get a tourist visa, good for up to 72 hours.

I decided that I have to deal with the Nepal – Shanghai travel plans after I find out what type of visa I get.

When I first looked into flights,  I saw a flight that arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am.  I did some research and discovered that the Hong Kong airport has beds you can rent hourly, and also showers.  And a spa.  Oh wow!  So I can land at 5:50 am, take a nap and shower.  Then go to my hotel at some time between 10-11 am.  Drop off my stuff and go out and do the “LOOK AT ME! I AM IN HONG KONG AND I GOT MYSELF HERE BY MYSELF MY LIFE RULES!” thing until exhaustion nearly kills me.

Then I could go back to my hotel and pass out likely while it is still daylight outside.  Then I could wake up in the middle of the night and head to Lantau Peak and hike up to watch the sunrise.  Best idea ever.  Right?

But in order to book it, I need to either have a layover on the way home, or pay an extra $300 for a non-stop flight home.  There is now also the option to switch it and fly to Shanghai and home from Hong Kong.  This flight option sucks because it cuts a day off my trip and does not allow me my “LOOK AT ME! I AM IN HONG KONG AND I GOT MYSELF HERE BY MYSELF MY LIFE RULES!” into watching the sunrise at Lantau Peak plan.

This option would probably also be the smarter option because instead of dealing with getting a tourist visa in Shanghai, I would need NO VISA AT ALL if returning from Nepal to Hong Kong.

But not being smart, I am just not wiling to give up my “LOOK AT ME! I AM IN HONG KONG AND I GOT MYSELF HERE BY MYSELF MY LIFE RULES!” into watching the sunrise at Lantau Peak plan.

So I debate and decide that I will indeed fly to Hong Kong and then home from Shanghai, with a layover on the way home.

Fine?  Absolutely fine!  Until I tried to book it.

My first attempt at booking the flight went horribly wrong.  My bank rejected the charge, which was enough to set my blood boiling.   But there was also only “one ticket left at this price!” so when I went to rebook, it was $200 more.  Think that’s annoying?  Try adding on my bank now deciding that the initial transaction was a security breach and nothing I could say would stop them from cancelling my card and sending me a new one in 7-10  business days.

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no

ayfkm

To add more to this, because really, why not add more frustration at this point – I had to go to the store to pick up prescriptions.  With my card now cancelled by my bank, and me having no cash on me, AND it being a Sunday so the bank is not open for me to walk in to do a withdrawal –  I call the bank to explain they need to let the charge go through.  They tell me that they cannot do this unless I call  them from INSIDE THE STORE.  Wait, what?   I am telling you, I am going to this store, I will be there in five minutes.  The charge is this exact dollar and this exact cents amount.  But they will not let the charge go through unless I am on the phone with them as it is being put through.

So now I am standing in CVS, which is packed with people.  I am saying my card number OUTLOUD, my full name, my full address, answering security questions IN FRONT OF EVERY PERSON STANDING THERE.  Added bonus:  the store makes you say your birth date before releasing prescriptions, so I am now also offering up that information.  Why not just flash my social security number on a screen while we are at it?

What were my alternatives to this?  I live in New York City, I do not drive so I did not have a car to do this in the parking lot.  Even if I did, I would have not found parking anywhere closer than my apartment.  I could go outside, sure.  But there are more people outside on the sidewalk, walking by, then there is inside this store.

So all of this absolute nightmare, just to book a flight, that I didn’t even get to book?

3d5effbe4fc47c153f6c069d_Grumpy_Cat

I decided to take a break from this and not even think about booking a flight until I received my new card in the mail.  I am actually almost glad this happened because since the failed attempt to book a flight, I read a blog where someone went to Lantau Peak to watch the sunrise.  First, it’s not exactly easy to get to (according to the author) but second – he got a leech on his leg AND there was a “small rodent’ running around up top.  I don’t care if he is mistaken/exaggerating or whatever – I am now PETRIFIED to do this.  So I no longer care to do this.

Now would be a good time to reconsider my itinerary and arrive in Shanghai and fly home from Hong Kong – NO VISA NEEDED WHEN RETURNING FROM NEPAL.  But I still don’t do this.  Why?  Who knows anymore.

Flash forward a few weeks:

It is time to book my flight (AGAIN!)

I ended up on a Delta flight with a schedule I do not like, but that I am willing to deal with.  I used $400 in flight credit I had from giving up a seat to Los Angeles back in December.   I will also have enough miles after this trip to cover a flight to Las Vegas later this year.  Win/win.

Of course now I am rethinking my itinerary and may just stay in China the entire trip.  I would still travel though Tibet and see the Mount Everest Base Camp.  But by not crossing into Nepal, I am guaranteed 100% that I will not have visa issues with flying back into China from Nepal.

I also gain about eight or nine days in China.  I could do a lot with these days.  Plus, Nepal will be in monsoon season when I am there.  So maybe going to a place I will likely see only one time in my life, may be better done while said place is not in monsoon season.

What I do know is that whichever I pick will be the wrong decision. And I will deal with it. That I am sure of.

Join me next month for my “Two Months Until Asia Extravaganza!” post.   Who the hell knows what I will have done and undone in my plans by then.  Knowing me, I could end up anywhere.

I will also start getting my vaccinations.  What fun that will be.

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TODAY EUROPE

guide books

 

Oh I am so excited.  As an extra special send off, I am spending my last day at work during “Bring Your Kids to Work Day”.  No please, never bring your kids to work. Ever.

My finalized itinerary is as follows:

Belgium – Sleeping in Geel for both Groezrock Fest and the pre-show, which is in Ham, Belgium . So excited for this.  I will also have one night in Brussels.  I wanted it to be Ghent but I waited to long to plan this out and I simply didn’t have the time to research it.  Until I quit my job and travel forever, I will keep my Type A personality and never be able to travel freely without over planning.

Paris – I never wanted to go here.  Now I am and oh hey, I’ll be there on a Monday when things are closed and also on May Day when things are closed.  Grade A Type A fail.

Naples – I will be going to Capri, Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii.

Rome – I am excited to cross the line into Vatican City and add it as another country I’ve visited on my list.  It’s not cheating. I swear.

Bosnia – Sarajevo and Mostar.  I may take a train one way between Sarajevo and Mostar as I’ve read it has really beautiful scenery even if it takes a lot longer than the bus.

Serbia – Sigh.  After doing and redoing and doing and redoing and (insert more and more and more doing and redoing) this part of my trip, I am settled.  I am going to Nis.  I want to be in Nis so bad.  It just took a while to get it to fit.  I would like to thank my new laptop and its installation of Free Cell for working my brain to be able to solve the puzzle of how to do this.  I am getting a partial overnight train ride on here.  That’s a cross off on my “List of Things I Want to do So Badly in Life”.

Bulgaria – Oh so excited for this part of my trip.  I knew NOTHING about this country when I started planning this trip.  Now I know everything.  I will be in Sofia, traveling to the Rila Monastery, Veliko Tarnovo and the place I am most excited for on this entire trip – BELOGRADCHIK.   Let me post the picture again!

061_001_Belogradchishkakrepost.jpgI can not wait to have my own picture to post.

Then last stop, Istanbul.  I still have no idea how to get there.  I have so many routes printed out.  Nothing is clear at all except that at one time, there was a train from Veliko Tarnovo to Istanbul.  It may or may not be running due to construction. It may or may not leave at 23:04, 23:28, 00:04.  There is also a bus…maybe.  It may be run by Matpu or Oz Batu or maybe there’s two, one by each company.  What time do these buses leave?  Damned if I know.  Matpu shows schedules from Plovdiv, not Veliko Tarnovo.  Oz Batu doesn’t exist on the internet.

So that’s that.  I can not wait!

One Week Until Europe!

I need this vacation so bad.  I can not wait to be out in the world where my biggest stress is not being able to find iced coffee.

I am STILL not ready to leave.  I am not even sure how this happened.  I am one of those “packs months in advance!” neurotic kinda gals.  My life is just so hectic right now. I can not wait to escape it.  I can not wait to be standing HERE:

061_001_Belogradchishkakrepost.jpg

How do places like that exist on this planet and why the hell have I waited so long to see them?

I am also insanely excited to take my first steps on the continent of Asia.  Sure it’s cheating as I am doing this in Istanbul.  But I’m counting it.

Yesterday, my job asked us to pick which summer Fridays we want.  I love picking summer Fridays.  I love how I was already off for four of them, so I am gaining back more vacation time.  This also means I now have an additional two long weekends that I need to make plans for.

My head is all over the place today.  My job is insane. The people who work here should not be allowed to see daylight.   I can not wait to be far away.  Come on one week from today…..just one more week.  I can do this.

 

 

 

Two Weeks Until Euro Extravaganza!

I am getting freaked out about how close my trip is. I am still not ready to go.  I am also still redoing my plans.  My last revision now has me going to Belgrade, Serbia and taking an overnight train to Bulgaria.  I have always wanted to take an overnight train.  I am sure that the reality of it will never match the vision of it that I have developed in my head.  But in the end, I will still have crossed yet another item off my bucket list.

It is so difficult planning travel in the Balkan countries.  Public transportation information is basically nonexistent online.  Adding to that, there is just so much to see.  It is killing me to know that lack of complete freedom in life is keeping me from seeing these places that I will be so close to:dubrovnik-croatia

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imgp2858-edit kotor_montenegro2 lake_ohrid_2 Lake-ohrid-in-macedoniaMy time is too limited.  I need to put 100% effort into altering my life so that I can quit my job and take off to see the world without having any obligations other than seeing the world.

In other news, I am now the proud owner of my first netbook!   I can upload pictures and update my blog when I’m gone.  I have read a lot of people saying that updating while traveling is a lot harder to do than it seems it would be.  I thought that would not apply to me.  I love writing. Saying I would not have time for it is like saying I would not have time to pet a puppy.  But this past week in my life has been so chaotic.  I have barely had time to breathe, let alone write out any of the posts I had wanted to have up before I go.  It actually sounds hilarious hearing me say that I don’t have time to post on the internet.  This is all I have been doing for years. But there it is.

Tomorrow I am taking a weekend trip to Washington, DC for a fest.  I have not even given any thought to packing yet.  This makes my currrent life’s biggest problem that I am too busy planning fun things to have time to pack for other fun things. I am a fan of the life I have made for myself. Everything I do and everything I have is all my own doing.

I do not ever want to be one of those people who list things like “laundry” or “cleaning my apartment” as weekend plans. I love that the biggest stress in my life right now is making sure I have enough clean band shirts before I leave for Europe so that I can leave with three packed bags left behind, ready for the three back-to-back trips that start 48 hours after I arrive home from Europe.

Three Weeks Until Euro Extravaganza!

This morning I got up for work.  My first thought was “THREE WEEKS UNTIL VACATION!!!!”.  While getting my morning iced coffee out of the refrigerator, I noticed a fortune cookie that was leftover from last weekend.  I opened it and got THIS:

goningYes misspelled fortune cookie, yes I am.

My trip is so soon and I am still not ready.  Today I have decided to redo my itinerary again.  This is all because I can not find out if the Nis, Serbia bus station has luggage lockers. I had planned to stop there for a few hours between Sarajevo and Sofia.   If i take a chance and leave my trip the way its been cemented in for weeks now, I may find myself carrying my bag around sightseeing.  The internet tells me nothing.  So here I am right now taking a break from going  nutso and redoing my itinerary to switch out the “stop there for a few hours” part with “spend one night in Nis”.  Then I have to find a night in Bulgaria to give up so that I have a night to spend there.  I really need to consider booking more flexible trips, where I don’t insist upon seeing so much at one shot, so that I do have spare days.  But I dont want to, because I want to see every inch of planet earth right NOW.

So my updated upcoming travels are now:

April 26 – May 20 – Europe

May 22 – May 27 – Seattle, WA

May 29 – June 3 – Austin, TX

June 6 – June 9 – combo of Chicago and Toronto.

I am the opposite of a fan of my job.  But I will admit that I am in love with both the amount of vacation time I get, as well as the fact that they let me take it all in a row like this.  Most places would not.

 

 

Booking European Train Travel

My first European train ride was taking the train from London to Brussels. It was so easy.  Despite living in New York, or maybe “because I live I New York”, I was expecting complications.   Well Europe is very unlike New York.  In New York, I have no idea how tourists handle the subway, let alone commuter rail elsewhere.  The subway is never operating fully as it is supposed to.  Never.  There’s always trains skipping stops or going over other lines or whatever.  In Europe, you are taking this train; you look for it on that sign, and get on it.  That’s really it.

My first ride, we got on the train in London and got off in Brussels.  We then took a local train to Geel, which was the town we were staying at.  We had to transfer two or three times.  Even this was simple.  There are preprinted timetables all over the place and most of them tell you ON A PREPRINTED TIMETABLE what track you will be on.  Because the train always comes on that track.  Really??  because I have taken the Long island Railroad from Penn Station fifty bazillion times in New York and its always on different tracks every time.   What a novel concept, the train runs on the same track all the time, to the point where it can be labeled correctly on a preprinted schedule!  This was so easy!

Once my fear of living my life was completely wiped out by this trip, I was able to start work on my second trip. This trip would be a real trip.  Not a starter trip, not a “cling to Rachel” trip, not an anything other than “I’M GOING TO SEE THE WORLD!” trip.

Planning train travel can be a huge pain.   Right now I am working on my upcoming trip. I am going from Paris to Naples.  I checked flights and on the day I want to go, it leaves at 6:30 am. so id have to be up by at least 4:00 am to get up, get dressed, go to the airport, go through security, land in Naples, get to my hotel…..pass out from being so exhausted and probably not be ready to go anywhere until evening…..after which I would probably not be able to sleep at night since I had napped.

My other option is to spend all day on a train.  Honestly, this may be my preferred option, although I haven’t fully made up my mind yet.

Bahn.de has all the schedules you need.  But they do not sell tickets for routes that do not include Germany.  So then you need to figure that out.  There are so many options out there and you should check routes and prices on all of them.  You should also keep track on where you saw what price.  There is nothing like spending two hours pricing everything only to find out you now don’t remember what website you found that $13 ticket from Milan to Rome on.

To give you an idea, when I had still been planning to go to Bern, and then from Bern to Italy, I had to check prices on both the Swiss train website, then on Italiarail and Trenitalia.  These ended up being the options:

Bern to Naples 7:34-15:55
Train# 51 Departs Bern at  07:34 and Arrives  Naples Centrale 15:55
$163 italiarail
$185  sbb.ch

But by not buying one ticket and instead buying a ticket for each leg:

Bern to Naples 7:34 – 16:43
Bern to Milan italiarail       $32 7:34 – 10:34
Milan to Rome italiarail      $52 11:00 – 13:55
Rome to Naples italiarail    $13 14:39 – 16:43
total = $97

Bern to Naples 14:00 – 18:15
Bern to Milan italiarail       $32 7:34 – 10:34
Milan to Naples italiarail    $55 14:00 – 18:15
total = $87

Bern to Naples 7:34 – 00:05
Bern to Milan italiarail       $32 7:34 – 10:34
Milan to Naples italiarail     $13 15:05 – 12:05
total = $45

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Buying one ticket for the full trip is way more expensive than buying a ticket from Bern to Milan and then a second ticket from Milan to Naples.  If you had started out on the sbb.ch website and saw a ticket for $185 and booked it without looking any further, you would have overpaid greatly.

Even with doing two separate tickets, there are still multiple options.  All leaving Switzerland at the same time, all arriving different times, all different prices, all found on different websites. It pays to do research.

Where Will You Go in Europe?

How do you pick what trip is perfect for you?  Well that’s up to you really.  Don’t listen to other people, do what YOU want.  I once read a message board where some woman posted that her niece (or whoever) went to (wherever) and hadn’t planned enough time in that city and that “The poor thing rushed around so much that she couldn’t even remember what museums she had visited!”.

See, that’s not how I view it at all.  To me, the “poor thing” arrived in a city unclear of what there was to do and see there, and followed other people’s advice rather than doing her own research.  That’s how she ended up at places with names she couldn’t remember.  Trust me, if she had done research and planned “I want to see THIS”, she would have made a beeline for THIS and she would in fact remember seeing the thing she was most excited to see in that city.

If you aren’t sure what you want?  Find out!   I bought a ton of completely outdated guide books on ebay for around a dollar each.  You can also use your library and get these for free.   The beauty of Europe is that everything is so old that you can read a book from a decade ago and all the attractions are still there.  You can find things you never knew existed, that are huge musts.  This is how I learned more about cities and this is how I began to find places I wanted to see.  I never had a clue that the dancing house in Prague existed.  What if I had gone to Prague and not had seen THIS:

dancing house prague czech republic

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For my second trip (which I consider my first real trip, the actual real first trip was a starter trip), I knew I was going to go all over Europe and see everything!

The first thing I did was price airfare.  The best way to go about seeing Europe is to fly open jaw (also known as “multi city” on some websites, including kayak.com).  This does not mean you purchase two one ways.  This means you use the “multi city” option and buy one ticket , arriving in and departing from different cities.  I didn’t even realize this when I booked my first trip.  I was trying to book one ways and it cost way more than a round trip so I was “stuck” going back to London.  The multi city option is your best friend. It gives you so much flexibility and lets you go so much further since you don’t have to double back to your originating city to catch a flight home.

My flight choice was made a bit easier since I knew where I had to start my trip (Brussels, to attend Groezrock fest for the second year in a row).  So now all I had to do was pick an end city.   This was overwhelming since I had never seen anything and wanted to see everything, so where on earth do I start!??  I wanted to go everywhere.  I knew that my main wants were Prague and Auschwitz.  I knew nothing else.  I didn’t even know where Prague or Poland were on a map.  I’m honestly not even sure I knew Prague was a city and not a country.  Now I can pick out pretty much any European country on a map, but back then, I was clueless.  I did consult a map and began using that map to price multi city flights landing in Brussels and going home from every country in Europe.  Even if they weren’t convenient countries, I priced them.  As far as I was concerned, I could do no wrong with picking any city in Europe to fly home from.  I wanted to see it all.

The best airfare I found was leaving NYC to Brussels and then home from Dublin.  I ended up crossing it off the list as I got deeper into planning.  The more I learned, the more I realized I wanted to be in Eastern Europe.  I didn’t really want to fly back to Dublin from there to catch a flight back to the states.  So I kept going and finally found NYC – Brussels, home from Milan. I hadn’t even considered Italy for this trip.   But the price for my flight was $539 total round trip.  So I booked it.

Using a map, bahn.de and booking.com – I was able to come up with what was the perfect schedule for me.  This took at least a month just to get the itinerary perfect.   For every place I planned to go, I made my list of things I wanted to see and figured out how much time I needed.   I ended up having to cut out a bunch of countries from my first imagined itinerary.   My dream of seeing Auschwitz?  This was probably doable but the more research I did, the more I realized that Poland is a country that I want to see so much of, that I didn’t want to just zip through and see one thing and leave.

I also wasn’t willing to spend a ton of time in one country because I was just dying to zip through and cross a bunch of countries off my list all at once.  Poland ended up being the first country on a now growing list of countries that I would like to go and spend a minimum of ten days in (other countries on the list are Germany, Ukraine, Norway and Turkey).  As an added bonus, it killed me because I was so close to being able to add in Poprad, which I was really dying to see.  But now whenever I end up doing Poland, I can just tack it onto that trip.

My second trip ended up being:

Belgium (Staying in Geel for Groezrock, the fest that kicked off my trip)

Prague, Czech Republic – with Kutna Hora as a day trip

Vienna, Austria

Bratislava, Slovakia

Budapest, Hungary

Zagreb, Croatia (with a day trip to Plitvice National Park – this trip to the park was the main reason or me being here)

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Venice, Italy

Florence, Italy (with a day trip to Pisa)

Milan, Italy – picked solely for the cost of the flight home.

A huge word of advice:  if you are picking your flight home based on cost, take some time to figure out if your route is doable.  Check train schedules on bahn.de.   Having a cheap flight and then finding out you cant get there in time to catch your flight home, outdoes the cost of the cheap flight.  I wasn’t even sure what route I would be taking when I started planning.  Somewhere in my apartment I am sure, is a leftover map from when I started.   I originally drew numbers on countries of how many nights I would spend in each one.  I’m sure it’s hilarious because I’m sure I planned to do one per night.   This is where insane research came in handy.

Take time to figure out if the routes you are taking allow you to see the places you will be.  When you are looking at train schedules and picking destinations based off of them, take the time to look at a guide, or even just Google the cities you are planning to spend time in.  Make sure you allow enough time to see them all. If your train arrives at noon and you want to see ten different things, you need to figure out how long those things will take to do.  Don’t guess, do research.  Also – train times.  Don’t just take a peek and move on.  Go further.  You might look on bahn.de and see a train that is six hours and think “okay so I will arrive at this time”.  But when you go to book it, you may see a train that is $100 less if you arrive two hours later.  Make sure to figure out what time for sure you are arriving so you know how much time you have in each city.  Make sure that when looking at trains, if you find a website that has cheaper train tickets, MAKE A NOTE OF IT.  Don’t expect yourself to remember that “oh hey two weeks ago, this train ticket was ten bucks on…….fuck what the fuck was the website FUCK”.  Keep a list as you are looking at stuff.

Once I was satisfied with the route I was going to be taking, it was time to start booking.  I can not express how much I loved myself for having spent the past month keeping track of every website I found my train tickets on as I was researching schedules.  I didn’t want to book until I had the itinerary set in stone. Once it was and I had to go back and buy everything, it was so easy because I had already done the research and I had every website listed in my spreadsheet.

I planned like a maniac.  I’m so glad I did.  It felt so great to be leaving so over prepared.  It just seemed like I had covered EVERYTHING for this trip.  Not everyone wants to vacation like that, but I sure did. I had one envelope per day, filled with maps, walking tours, train tickets, a list of everything I wanted to do and its cost, etc.  I also had a one page itinerary for the entire trip. On that itinerary was where I would be going, what train time, did I have a ticket, did I need a ticket, what hotel I was at, how I was getting there, how to say “hello” “goodbye” “please” “thank you” and “do you speak English” in the language of the day.  I printed out one to bring with me always, and then copies for each envelope “just in case”.  This worked perfectly when I got stuck in a rainstorm in Bratislava that drenched everything, including running all the ink on my itinerary. don’t worry, I have more YAY.

Oh.  You are probably wondering “Why doesn’t she just put all of this on her smart phone/laptop/notebook/netbook/Kindle/tablet”.  Because I refuse all of those things.  I would much rather spend my paychecks on plane tickets and hotels than a smart phone.  Call me crazy…

 

How My First Trip to Europe Came to Be.

I have always wanted to go to Europe.  Even before I really understood what that meant.

Two years ago, I had this conversation with a friend:

Me: I want to go to Russia

Her:  Me too!  Where do you want to go?

Me:  Uhhhhhhh, Russia?

Her: I want to go to Moscow, St.  Petersburg and ride the Trans Siberian railway.

OH.  I see what you mean.  You don’t just pick a country, you pick destinations within a country.  I was so not even close to being well traveled outside of America that even that had never occurred to me.

I had always wanted to see the world, but had a million different reasons that were stopping me.  I’m scared to go alone, I can’t afford it, I’d rather take an easy vacation instead…and so on.

Then it happened.  I was staring down the barrel of age 40. I was only two years away from the age my mother was when she was diagnosed with the cancer that eventually took her life.   I started panicking that I had done nothing in life that I had ever truly dreamed about.   In a way it was kind of like a midlife crisis.  Although as a good friend of mine once told me it’s not because “mid life crisises are for boring people who wake up one day and realize they are boring.  You just woke up one day and decided to be even more interesting”.  Either way, its time to go.

There are so many ways to travel in Europe.  I don’t mean just transport options, although that exists as well. I mean the whole “Where do I go?!?” and so on.  There’s so much to see in this world, how can you possibly narrow it down to ONE destination??

It can be completely overwhelming, which is another reason I had put it off for so long.  There are a million different ways to pick your destination.  How did I pick my first?

One night I was in Las Vegas, for my annual Christmas trip.  Before going to bed one night, I saw a Facebook event invite for one of my favorite bands (Grey Area, if you must know), who were going to be playing Europe for the first time, in Belgium.   I said “if I win enough to buy a plane ticket, I am going”.  Well……the next morning……

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I was completely shocked.  I now  had no reason to not go.  I could not talk myself out of it be Continue reading

cause every single justifiation I had was now taken from me.

My first trip was a very short one as it was a tester trip to make sure I could do this.  I believe I was gone six days.  I figured London was a great starter city because obviously English is the main language there.   I knew I wouldn’t have any problems with communicating.  It was also the perfect starting point for me because I have two friends who live in Liverpool who were going to the same fest in Belgium as I was.  They were more than happy to meet up and travel to Belgium together.  It was still scary, but it was made that much less scary by not having to do it completely alone.

I arrived in London, solo.  I was petrified.  I made a lot of mistakes.  I got lost looking for my hotel. I didn’t correctly bring helpful directions.  I had a map with me but I hadn’t blown it up enough to view smaller streets.  I incorrectly assumed that “making a left past the Google building” was a great landmark and it wasn’t.  I never found the Google building the entire time I was there, and no one, including the local police, had any idea where it was.

I booked a really bad hotel. I’m not talking about quality, although that was certainly part of it.  I never checked the weather before going; I assumed London was famous for being dreary so it would always be cool.  It wasn’t, it was hot.  I didn’t have an air conditioner.  I was lost for about an hour looking for my hotel.  When I finally found it, I realized it was maybe two minutes from where I started looking. But I had missing the tiny turnoff street because it wasn’t on my map. I arrived completely exhausted, sunburned, and miserable.

Stupid little things like that.

My flight had a layover in Iceland on the way there.  I had never even considered the concept of having to go through security a second time when changing planes in another country.  I then lost my water bottle I had brought with me and had no Icelandic money to purchase a second one after passing through their checkpoint. I was scared if I used my credit card, it would get shut off since I hadn’t alerted my credit card company I was going to be in Iceland.  I didn’t plan on using it there since it was just a layover.  I also didn’t have a cell phone with me because I thought it would be annoying to have with me.

There was so much that simply never occurred to me.  Even the idea that the Reykjavik airport does indeed accept American dollars didn’t occur to me to even look into.  Guess what?  They do.  All that dry cough for nothing.

Oh and just in case you are wondering “why didn’t you just empty the water bottle and keep the empty bottle and fill it at a water fountain?”   Well simply put, I didn’t think you were allowed.  Lesson learned:  DONT BE STUPID.

While we are on the topic of stupid mistakes, also allow me to add:  changing Euros into American dollars in London.  Stupid.  They first charge you to change your Euros to pounds and then charge you to change to dollars.  I should have done this while I was still in Belgium!

So back to that first day in London all by myself, making mistake after mistake after mistake.  Do you know what?  I’m so grateful for all those mistakes.  I went and I saw what it was like and I survived absolutely fine.   That was what I needed to see.  That was what I needed to realize “Hey, I CAN do this!”  Despite all the little annoyances that could have been prevented had I just spent less time freaking out in fear and more time doing basic research, it was a great experience.  On my second night in London, my British friends arrived and showed up at my hotel to collect me to go drinking, but I was out solo sightseeing.   I was actually quite proud of myself.  Look at me, being self sufficient, seeing LONDON BY MYSELF!!!

I recognize now that was I was SO petrified worrying about everything that I took no real time to pay attention to anything little because I was so scared of everything else.  For my second trip, I was so much more prepared.  I arrived with so much information all printed out and organized perfectly. I had maps and directions and every single thing I wanted to do was laid out with location and cost, including cost of public transit.  I also had every train schedule and intermediate stops printed out just so I could verify I was always going the right way.  I planned this trip perfectly.

I found that my time in each city was more than ample for what I personally wanted to see, because I did research to make sure I had enough time in every place I ended up.  A great tool I used to make plans were Rick Steves guide books.  He outlines so much information that makes it so easy.  It is crystal clear how to do walks in neighborhoods that take you to every tourist attraction. You find out accurately how much time you will need. It makes it so easy to figure out how much time you should spend in a city to see everything that you want to see.

As I start this blog,  I will be posting about my trip from last April/May, along with current plans for my next trip this coming April/May.  Taking trips involving many countries and train travel is a ton of work.   I realize there are people out there who arrive with nothing more than a train pass and just go go go.  I am not one of those people.  I over plan everything.  It’s the best way for me to get the maximum out of my trips, which is crucial when you are attempting to see the entire world on just vacation time from work.