July 30, 2012

European Adventure!

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I meant to be so much better at blogging this summer, what with all my free time and all!  Not so much!  The first half of my summer vacay was full of extra summer work days, and the every other second was dedicated to planning our trip to Europe!  It paid off, of course!  We had an absolute BLAST!  We visited France, Germany and Italy. 

We've had a lot of people ask us, "Who planned your tip?  What travel agent did you use?"  Well, the answer to that is, ME!  Travel agent?  Yeah right, I can totally do this!  How, you ask?  I'll tell you!  I relied very heavily on certain resources for our trip.  The first step was to buy plane tickets, if I could get cheap plane tickets at one point in the summer over another, that would clarify the dates of our trip.  I searched a LOT of sites, every day, for about 3 months!  I used Priceline, Skyscanner, Kayak, Expedia, and even the main websites of airlines like Lufthansa, United, and Air France.  Not only did I research so many different dates for our trip, but I researched departing and arriving and dozens of different airports.  Again, this helped define what our trip would be like.  We knew for sure we wanted to visit France and Italy, so I tried every major airport in those countries.  All place tickets were coming up about $1300 - $1600 a ticket!  Travel in the summer is pricey, but there is no way around it for me.  I only have certain times of the year I can travel, since I work in a school!  So we were gearing up our finances to take a $3000+ hit, just for air travel!  Then, by miracle, one day I searched the combo of flying out of Newark, NJ (about 2 hours from us) and flying into Dusseldorf, Germany, about a 2 hour train ride from Paris.  The price came up as $1380 total.  TOTAL!  I thought I was dreaming!  I entered the itinerary in a few different sites and sure enough, the tickets were coming up at around $600 a ticket.  CHEAPY CHEAPY!  I immediately called Dave and he said, BOOK THEM!  So, we were officially going to Europe in July!  So fun!

As for lodging, I had already decided to use Home Away, so that we could stay in actual apartments in the cities we were visiting.  Home Away is site that lists safe, legit apartments that people own all over the world, that we are able to rent.  I love it!  I don't know if I ever want to stay in a hotel again (except for Disney of course!)  I found our Paris apartment (click here for the link to see it!) and our Lucca, Italy apartment on this site.  They were absolutely perfect for us, great locations, GREAT prices, great all around!  I am homesick for both places already, even though we only spend 4 nights in each.  This allowed us to stay in really nice places, for not a whole lot of money.  I think I paid just around $100/night for each apartment.  Do you know what $100/night gets you in Paris or Tuscany during the summer?  Nothing nearly as nice as these two lovely apartments!  Here are a few pics I snapped...


This was the view from our apartment in Paris.  The Eiffel Tower looks far away here from some reason, it is actually closer that that!  What a view!  It's a million dollar view!

Here is Dave in our sitting area, looking into the bedroom.

This is our bedroom in Lucca.  This apartment was really huge!  I only snapped a few pics of the interior, but I have a video too - to be posted later!

 Looking into the bedroom from the main hallway.  So beautiful!

Seriously, we couldn't have made better choices, we were absolutely in love with our apartments, and the owners were so sweet and nice and very helpful!

So, with the plane tickets and the lodging taken care of, we just need to plan how to get to each place, and what to do while we were there.  We mostly used the train in Europe, it's insanely easy to use.  For tickets, I made a lot of my reservations through the country websites, instead of Rail Europe, because their prices were ALWAYS way way WAY more expensive.  So if you are planning a trip, I highly suggest using the website of the country you are traveling in, they always have a language choice so you don't have to navigate in a language you don't know.  I used the German site (the BEST for all timetables around Europe, but you can only book online if Germany is on your itinerary.  I used this site constantly before and during our trip, to look up local train times,) the Italian rail site and the French site (to buy, you have to tell them you live in an obscure European country like Slovakia or something so you get their prices, not Rail Europe.)  It's a lot easier than you think once you get over there too, there are timetables everywhere and lots of helpful people, and hey...if you get on the wrong train it only takes one stop to realize it and you can just hop off and get on another.  We didn't end up getting a Eurail pass because I priced that out versus point to point tickets and for us, point to point was hundreds of dollars cheaper - but you'll need to do that research too, to see if it's the best choice!  We did use one cheap Europe flight to get from Paris to Italy, and that was Easy Jet.  It was $150 cheaper to fly to Pisa then get a train there, and it was much faster too.  Saving money and timing = priceless in Europe!

Each stop was like a launching pad for us.  We explored the cities we stayed in, and eat most of our meals in those places, but almost every day we took a day-trip somewhere!  Here was our complete itinerary, if you are interested!

Day 1: Fly to Europe
Day 2: Arrive, get train from Dusseldorf to Paris.  Enjoy Paris for the evening.
Day 3: Normany - train to Bayeux and D day sites
Day 4: Disneyland Paris
Day 5:  Paris sites
Day 6: Fly from Paris to Pisa, train to Lucca, enjoy Lucca for the evening
Day 7: Lucca all day!
Day 8: Cinque Terre, Italian Riviera
Day 9: Wine tasting in Tuscany
Day 10: Train to Florence, Florence all day, board night train to Dusseldorf
Day 11:  Arrive in Dusseldorf, explore Old Town
Day 12: Fly home!

It was a whirlwind trip for sure, but we saw so much and enjoyed everything we experienced, it was a trip of a life time!  As for what to see and where to stay and sites to visit, I used my favorite travel writer, Rick Steves, for advice.  He tells you the must see stuff in each place, and likes to elaborate on the cool, not-so-toursity-stuff that really makes a big impact.  Like Lucca, the little town we stayed in, it's an off-the-beaten-path that not a lot of tourists know about and O.M.G - I can't believe it's not more popular that it is!  Oh and the Cinque Terre?  You don't know what you are missing!  Most people do miss it too, it's not a hugely popular spot but it's one of the most perfect places I have ever been!  So yes, buy Rick Steves books, you won't regret where he will take you and what he will teach you.  It's like having your own tour guide right there with you!

That is how I planned our trip!  Please ask if you have any questions - I have tons of answers!  For now, I'll just leave you with some pics:

 Omaha Beach
 American Cemetery - D Day
 Disneyland Paris
 Piazza Anfiteatro - Lucca
 Eiffel tower
 Piazza St. Michele - Lucca
 View from Guigini Tower - Lucca
 Vernazza - Cinque Terra
 Cinque Terre
 Cinque Terre
 Ligurian Sea
 Riomaggiore - Cinque Terre
 Florence - Dave posing with replica David

 Ponte Vecchio - I bought 2 Pandora charms on this bridge, idk why that is cool, but it is;)
 View from Ponte Vecchio
 Dusseldorf - German bar
 Dave's favorite meal from ALLLLLL that we ate, German meat & potatoes (shaking head)
 Disneyland Paris
 Tuscan Vineyard
 Dusseldorf, last day of our trip!

Hope you enjoyed learning about our travels!  We missed home terribly by the end, but now that we are home we are wondering why we ever came home?!?  LOL!!