Tuesday, January 21, 2014

If You Are Even Slightly Interested In My European Plans...

You might all be thinking...

We get it, Sam, you're going to Europe.

Or maybe...

Shut up about it already.

But you clicking on my blog link means you're at least vaguely interested, so I got that going for me, which is nice. We have a lot of our plans solidly nailed down and only extreme extraneous circumstances could alter what we have planned and booked, so I thought I'd share what I'll be doing for the month of April.

March 31 will be the last day ever of teaching abroad. We are gonna hang around for a few days, get the last remaining things in order and then hightail it to Tokyo on April 3. I've never been to Tokyo. I lived in Japan for an entire year and have gone back for two subsequent vacations and yet, no Tokyo. I'm pretty excited to hang around that city for the evening/night and see our friend Vivian. (It's nice having friends all over the planet.) Plus, I love Japan. I'm really, really glad to be getting to stop back there one last time and have some delicious food (and milk tea) before returning to the Western World. 

We depart the Asian continent for good the following morning, April 4, at 11am, with a nonstop flight to London. I have a feeling that my excitement will not be contained easily. This flight is 13-14 hours, and like the five other planet-crossing flights I've taken, this one will be no different: GET ME OFF THIS GOD FORSAKEN AIRPLANE. 

We will be in London April 4-8. I'll be spending my birthday there! That's quite the birthday gift, I'll take it. We'll be doing a lot of AirBNB, which I'm pretty excited about. 
Here's our place in Prince Harry Land: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/294177 
We have to stay pretty far out of the city center, in Zone 4, so that's slightly a bummer but Al and I are not hostel people, so my main goal was to just find the nicest, cheapest place in an area where we won't get mugged. Zone 4 was the closest we could even afford to the center, but that's alright. We also want places with a kitchen (hence using AirBNB a lot) so we don't have to eat out every meal. We are trying to do this budget (a word that is NOT synonymous with Europe), not exactly on a shoestring, but saving some cash by cooking a few of our own meals is a smart way to go, I think. 

April 8 we're taking the bus up to Liverpool so Al can see all the Beatles stuff. I'm sure it will be a nice thing to see, but that's more his thing. The Beatles have cool history and are respectable for sure, but just not something I'm whole-heartedly interested in. He's pretty excited. Everyone told him that the sights are easily done in a day, so we're just spending the day and night there. 

The following morning (the 9th) we're catching the train from Liverpool down to Paris! I can't believe in just a few short months I get to see the Eiffel Tower with my own eyeballs. Sure, most Parisians consider it an eyesore of the city, but whatevaaaaa. I'm going to do everything cheesy and cliche (wine and cheese picnic on the lawn, a kissy romantic picture in front of it...) and NOBODY CAN STOP ME!!! 
Here is where we're staying: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/132533 
It's not exactly a cute Parisian apartment with the pretty gates on the windows and parquet floors or whatever, but you can't beat the price. And for Heaven's sake I'm in Paris, I'm not going to be in my room. 

On the 12th, we're taking the trek to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to pick up our rental car and begin our France/Italy road trip, the bulk of our vacation! The amusing part is, the first time Al will be behind the wheel of a vehicle in over two years he will be trying to navigate himself out of CDG airport. Good luck, Al. We're getting an early start and making our way about 3 hours south of Paris to the Loire Valley, our first stop. This area of France is known for its castles and wineries. (Castles and wineries! Swoon.) Check out these cool castles we're going to see:

Is that not something out of Beauty and the Beast or what?

Here is where we're staying in this area: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1395494 
We'll be hanging around here April 12-14, then early on the 14th we're going to start driving south (to the "South of France", dur), stopping wherever our hearts desire. I for sure want to stop in Arles (so much Van Gogh history!), and then Aix-en-Provence and possibly Marseilles, Nice or Cannes, but it's all about time and prioritizing. We will drive east along the Mediterranean, cross into Italy and continue down the coast until we reach Rome. A few months ago Al had the insane idea to go to Rome (Vatican) for Easter. I mean, being in one of the most holy cities on earth on one of the most holy holidays of the year? AND get to see the freaking Pope? Sign me up! So that's what we're doing (along with millions of other people making the pilgrimage for the exact same reason). Easter is super late this year, so we'll be in Rome April 18-21, that's giving us 5 days to drive from the Loire Valley to lovely Roma, in which we are staying here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1314143. We have to stay pretty far outside the city because we'll have a car, and it's basically impossible to drive in the center. We'll park it for a few days and take public transport into the center and The Vatican. 

We will fight the Easter crowds in Rome (I am going to sob when I see the ceilings in the Sistine Chapel, just sob) and then get an early start the morning of the 21st and head back up north, where we are going to relax in Tuscany for a few days. I realize "Tuscany" is a very large area, I just haven't narrowed down where exactly yet. I know we're going to go the farmhouse route and stay among wineries and olive groves (It's a B&B! It's a farm! They have wine and chickens and Italian cooking classes and cypress trees! Heaven!). It seems they are a dime a dozen though; it all just comes down to picking one I guess. 

On the 24th, we are going to start our journey back north, back to Paris. The only stops I know for sure we're making on this leg of the trip is Pisa (no I refuse to do the stupid picture of "holding up" the leaning tower) and the Cinque Terre region. Check this out: 

No, you're eyes aren't deceiving you, this place actually exists, it's not some Photoshop miracle. I just found out about it a few months ago and immediately added it to our stop list. There are five little towns along the cliffs that all look like that, and it's called Cinque Terre. I know enough Spanish and French to know that translates into Italian as "five lands". Stoked. We will continue driving up to Paris until the 28th or 29th. I'd like to spend our last day or two in Paris again to relax a bit after all the driving. 

On April 30th, we catch our flight from mainland Europe up to the Arctic to go to mofo ICELAND. This, above everything else, is what I'm looking forward to the most. I mean, who goes to Iceland!? Me, suckas, ME. I've always, always wanted to go. Iceland Air is hella cheap with a free stopover there, so of course we're going. We only planned on two nights and one full day as kind of long layover before heading to the US, but after watching "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (a must-see) we decided to add an extra day. We land in the afternoon, so we'll spend that day and the next full day in the capital, Reykjavik (it's the northernmost capital city in the world!), and then early the next morning we're renting a car and making the drive along the southern coast to Jokulsarlon, the iceberg lagoon. There are tons of spectacular sights along the way, and I'm also hoping we're not too late in the year to see the northern lights. We'll stay the night somewhere in SE Iceland, then make the 500 km drive back to Reykjavik where we catch a flight home at 5pm. 

The flight from Reykjavik to Newark is about 6 hours, getting us there in the evening, too late to catch any flights out...meaning we have to spend the night in Newark. Gag. Oh well, we fly to Nashville the next morning, arriving early afternoon. 

So, that's the plan. I like it! I can't wait to see all the amazing things we'll add to it along the way! 

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