Saturday, April 4, 2009

Only 24 days until...

...we head to Europe! {big smile}

On April 28th, Brian and I will be hopping aboard an American Airlines flight to Brussels, Belgium (via Chicago) for a two-week trip to Amsterdam, portions of Germany, and Austria.

Here's our official itinerary:
Home--Brussels--Amsterdam (Haarlem)--Bacharach--Rothenburg--Munich--Salzburg--Halstatt--Vienna--Brussels--Home

Isn't this view just gorgeous?!

Can you name this destination? (Nope, not Switzerland, but close!)

While sifting through Halstatt (Austria) hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, I came upon this picture and it just took my breath away. I immediately went to Hotel Braugasthof's website and reserved a room with a balcony. Even though it is a bit more than I like to spend on a hotel room (I try to stay around $100/night and this one is $125/night), I just couldn't pass up a view this spectacular! (I'm praying that the weather will be nice, so I can capture a shot as nice as this one!)

In preparation for our trip, I've had my head in these two Rick Steves books for the last several months. If you're traveling to Europe anytime soon, be sure to check out Rick's books. (The library often carries his books, but sometimes they don't have the latest version, so I chose to buy these two books. One was 25% off, though, with our Entertainment Book coupon!)

In case you're not familiar with Rick, here's a little bit about him. Since 1973, he has spent four months a year in Europe doing research for his books. (Talk about a dream job!) Rick is a little dorky--then again, so am I--but he has a lot of candid and humorous advice about where to stay, what to see, where to visit, and what to eat while you're in a particular locale. Many of the hotels/bed & breakfasts/hostels he recommends offer a slight discount (5-10%) if you carry the appropriate Rick Steves book with you. (Both of our books will be making the trip with us and I suspect a certain gnome will be accompanying us, too.)

For our first trip to Europe in 2006, I relied on Rick Steves' Best of Europe book and his website to plan our three-week journey. I also viewed a few episodes of his PBS travel show. This time around, as I was in the initial planning stages of our itinerary, I ventured onto his website to search the Graffiti Wall (forums) for ideas on what to see in Germany and Austria. In addition, I posted a question on the Graffiti Wall and four people provided helpful responses. (The fifth response was dripping with sarcasm, so much so that I won't even acknowledge it here! Oops...I guess I just did!)

And just this weekend, I purchased our Eurail passes on Rick Steves' website. Man, Eurail passes are not cheap...but definitely more economical than renting a car and paying $2.50 per LITER for gas. Plus, I know it will be a stress-free, not to mention environmentally-friendly, way to travel. I {loved} traveling by train the last time we were in Europe, but I don't remember much of it because I slept most of the time!

In order to wrap my head around all of the dates/places/accommodations involved in this trip, I pulled this laminated organizer out of the closet a few months back. (It had been stashed away since our wedding in 2004!)

As you can see, I'm just a teeny-bit Type A. And a bit of a post-it note addict.

What gave it away?

The use of the organizer?

The post-it notes?

The three different colors of post-it notes?

Go ahead and laugh; it's o.k. because I'm laughing, too.

I used three colors to distinguish the major travel days (pink) from the vacation days (green) and I also wanted to to include some question tags (blue). No doubt, I would have incorporated other colors, but I only have those three colors back here in my office. Additional post-it notes can be found in my bedside table and out in the kitchen, but I was having a lazy day and didn't want to walk that far.

On each pink "sticky," I scribbled the basic travel details (such as where we're flying) and on each green "sticky," I wrote down the city we'll be visiting that day, any scheduled train travel, and our reserved overnight accommodations.

Speaking of overnight accommodations, last time we visited Europe, we took one overnight train... what a joke! We paid more for our own compartment (with bunk beds), but the three Italian women next door talked and laughed all night long. That, combined with the jarring movements of the train, made for a relatively sleepless night for both of us. As you might expect, this time around, we'll be spending our nights in hotels, not trains!

Here's one of my (many) questions:
How long does it take to get from Salzburg to Halstatt?

3 hours by train.

In addition to Rick Steves' website, I also accessed the following sites during trip planning:
(This site calculates exchange rates. As I was searching for hotels, I simply typed in the number of Euros, and this site converted it to U.S. dollars. Sweet!)
(This is a fantastic site with extensive travel forums and tons of information on accommodations worldwide.)
On this site, you can create your own customized calendar. (I've used this site for years, not only for travel purposes, but also to plan out school projects and lessons.) Now that I've mapped out our trip on a big calendar, I'm going to transfer the information onto a smaller calendar, which I'll carry with me.

I'm so excited about this trip! I think it will be GREAT! Now I'm off to start rummaging through my closets to see what kinds of clothing I have for high temperatures in the mid-60s and lows in the 50s!

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