Sunday, February 24, 2008

European Wish List, Part 3

Well, I just spent the last few hours trying to hack out a sample itinerary, factoring in things like time, distance, train schedules, hotel rates, and miscellaneous fees (tours, tickets, etc.), and I came up with an absurd amount of money. Here are some other things I discovered in the course of doing business:

  • There is no simple or short way to get from Dublin to Calais. One can get back to London (Euston), but then you've got to find the magic path within British Rail that gets you to Dover and thence to the Chunnel. The maps were not helpful. I ended up working with a ferry from Liverpool to Dublin and then a flight from Dublin to Brussels. The moral: it's farther from Ireland to Europe than I thought.
  • Aside from my side trips to some battlefields in Belgium, there is really not much need for a car, assuming I can afford hotels that are close to train stations.
  • Prague, while undoubtedly beautiful, is not convenient to anything in my current itinerary--by plane, train, or automobile--unless I adjust my route dramatically.
  • All trains lead to (or from) Paris. Moving east-west across France is problematic.
  • There are no tours or one-day seminars available at the International Space University. I suppose I could my exalted status as a NASA writer and AIAA member to request one, but otherwise Strasbourg turns out to be an unnecessary detour. Anywhere I'd drive from there would eat up half the day, so using it as a "base of operations" isn't quite the option I'd hoped.
  • I got exhausted just reading the itinerary. If I continue on the travel-alone path, I might have to severely curtail the number of times I cahnge "homes," if only for my own safety/sanity.
  • Advantage: America. Our hotel chains have a consistent look/feel/quality to them. And they're ubiquitous. If you can't find one that's empty, there's generally one down the street or across town, and you know what to expect once you get there. I also believe the American system of travel is more flexible in terms of extended or curtailed stays. From what I've been able to determine, the European hotel system tends to expect a little more dependability from its guests. I could be wrong, of course.
  • More items might come off the list, especially if I find myself fighting "train fatigue." For instance, any or all of Northern Germany. I've already come to the conclusion that driving isn't worth the aggravation.
  • I might have to check into tours that offer longer stays in fewer cities, offering quality instead of quantity.
  • I bought another book on Europe, as recommended by the Rough Guide. I went with the Frommer's Europe, which was a dollar more than Fodor's because I'm a sucker for a fold-out map.
  • I have said some mightily uncomplimentary things about travel agents, especially after being on the receiving end of promises they've made to clients checking in at Disney. However, if my next agent actually manages to pull together an itinerary that does most of what I want or need to do, she will have more than earned her money. (And no, I'm not being sexist--I haven't ever met a male travel agent when I've walked into an agency.)
  • I need to put a more realistic leash on my budget. I was coming up with a number well above my original plan for the entire trip, and this was BEFORE factoring in food, beverages, or souvenirs. Ouch.

And I guess that's it for tonight. Tomorrow I go find a travel agent that's open longer than M-F, 9-5. Sterling Travel helped me out on one trip, but that was when they were open on weekends.

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