Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Europe Planning

I feel like we have been planning and talking about this trip for a very long time. Well, I suppose it has been a long time since we have been planning this trip for four years. For that reason it is so crazy for me to say that we are leaving for Europe in one week. It came up so fast that I forgot to blog about it. Whoops.

Let's start with the details. We had originally planned this trip for spring of 2015, but with Richard trying to find a job, the timing was not good. 8 months later, we were still not pregnant, so we decided to go ahead with plans for a trip to Europe in the spring, aka May 2016. If I did end up getting pregnant within the next few months, it would still be early enough in a pregnancy to make a trip to Europe. Well, oddly enough we don't even have to worry about that at all on this trip since we are still working on the pregnancy thing. Oh well. It makes this trip a lot simpler.

So we knew when we started planning that we wanted to do a cruise of some sort in the mediterranean in Europe. I have never been to Europe nor have I been on a cruise. We figured a cruise would be a good way to get a feel for Europe before we committed to anything big and on our own. A cruise is pretty dummy proof. We have someone else making plans for us and we get to experience Europe without too much pressure. Plus, I am an extremely picky eater so I knew being able to have dinner on the cruise ship was a safety net in case I could not find something on land. With all of this, we figured it was a good way to get comfortable with Europe and in the future we can venture out on our own a little more. I am glad we decided to do this because even the minimal planning I have done for the cruise has been overwhelming. It is just a completely different culture that I am not familiar with at all.

Once we had a general idea of what we wanted to do, I called up our trusty travel agent who booked both our honeymoon and my sister's honeymoon. I told her what we wanted and she did her magic to find us a cruise we liked. She found us a 7 day cruise that departed from Barcelona, Spain and ends in Rome, Italy. With starting and ending in two amazing cities, we are spending an extra two nights in both places. The cruise has some great stops along the way as well that we are super excited about. Here is the map of where we will be going. Quality is not great, but it works.
We only started planning a few months ago and at first I was a little overwhelmed. Our neighbors have been to Europe quite a few times and had some books they let us borrow. Unfortunately, they did not help us a whole lot because they did not apply to our trip. But we purchased a similar book, but one that applied to our cruise. It is called Mediterranean Cruise Ports by Rick Steves. Rick Steves has written many books about Europe and they are extremely detailed and so worth it. His cruise ports book tells us exactly how to get from the cruise port into town, how to plan out our day to make the most of it and what sites are most important to see. I only wished that he had more of our ports in his book since he is missing three which is a bummer. But he also talks about general cruise tips and things we did not even know about. Such as formal nights on cruises where you have to wear suits and formal dresses. We have two of those on our cruise. We also got the pocket books for both Rome and Barcelona that he wrote since we will be spending extra time there.

As I read the books, I realized that I needed to come up with an itinerary for all of our different days and trips that we would make. The biggest mistake that I think we made was that we did not know that we could book excursions prior to boarding the ship. By the time we realized that, some of the excursions were sold out so our options were limited. But, we were able to book some great excursions that we are excited about. For the cities we did not get excursions, we will have to come up with a plan on our own which will be interesting.

So here is our plan so far.

Day 1: Travel Day. We leave Dallas around lunch time and do not make it to Barcelona until 8:30 am their time which is 1:30 am our time. That will be an interesting day adjusting to the time difference.

Day 2: Our first day in Barcelona. We land really early in the morning, but will have a day full of exploring.

Day 3: Our second day in Barcelona where we will finish exploring and hopefully be better adjusted to the time difference.

Day 4: We have about half a day in Barcelona before we have to head down to the port to catch our cruise ship in the afternoon. Our cruise ship sets sail around dinner time.

Day 5: Cartagena, Spain. This is one day where all the excursions were booked so we will have to make our own plans. It is hard to find much information on this city so we may end up just winging it.

Day 6: Gibraltar, Great Britain. Even though Great Britain is nowhere near the Mediterranean, this city is considered part of Great Britain. It is also the main entrance into the Mediterranean Sea, located right across the sea from Africa. Gibraltar has a whole lot of history and is situated on a giant rock cliff. We are hoping to go to the top of the rock, visit the apes that are native there and maybe some caves or history or whatever we can find.

Day 7: This is a day spent at sea. We will spend it relaxing and enjoying the ship's amenities.

Day 8: Marseille, France. We will be in the area of France called Provence. We have an excursion scheduled for this day that will take us to Arles and Les Baux De Provence. Arles was founded by Julius Ceasar and was once home to Vincent Van Gogh. Then we will go to Baux De Provence a cute village with a ruined castle within it.

Day 9: Genoa, Italy. The cruise's intent for this port was so that you could make a trip to Milan if you wanted. Since it is about two hours from the port, we decided against it. We instead booked an excursion that will take us to a few cute villages in the area.

Day 10: Florence/Pisa, Italy. We booked another excursion for this port. We probably could have done Florence on our own and had a good time, but I really wanted to go to Pisa as well to see the leaning tower and I don't think we could have done both on our own. So our excursion will first take us to Florence where we will go to the Accademia and see some other major sights in Florence before they will take us to Pisa so we can see the leaning tower.

Day 11: We end our cruise in Rome extremely early in the morning so we are hoping to have a day full of sight seeing. We also have a tour of Vatican city booked for that afternoon.

Day 12: This will be our second full day in Rome where we will explore the city more, including seeing the Colosseum.

Day 13: We leave Rome around lunch time, but we land in Texas in the evening. To us, it will feel much later than it is, so I am sure we will head to bed right away. We are both going to work the next day because we figure that is the best way to get over jet lag--staying busy.

Whew. That is a busy few days, but it is going to be amazing and we are so excited for this trip. If anyone has any recommendations or anything we should make sure we do, we are open to suggestions!

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