Europe/Asia Update

It's only a month and a day until we begin our trip to Singapore, Europe and Japan. After weeks of pouring over travel books and train timetables we have finally pinned down our plans. This time we are giving ourselves longer at each stop, at least three nights in every location except London and Barcelona (two each) and St Malo (one). All the hotels, bar those in France, have been booked. I am still waiting for a few of the French hotels to respond to availability requests.

As with our last trip, virtually all the planning and booking has been done by ourselves, using the web. The savings can be of fifty percent or more when compared to the prices given in the travel brochures. That said, there is something about going through a travel agent and using brochures that I miss. On our honeymoon trip to Paris we did all our booking through Qantas Holidays. All we did was look through the Qantas Holidays European travel booklet, pick out a hotel, a day tour of Mont St Michel and purchase some museum and transport passes.

Our research was limited to chatting to a couple of other local travel agents (initially we thought of visiting Disneyland in LA, for which there were cheap package deals). I borrowed a couple of books from our local library on walking in Paris and a French language primer and Beatrice bought a Lonely Planet Paris Condensed book. Those items, along with a map of Paris annotated by a French friend, constituted our only guides for the holiday.

Flash forward now to our last and current European vacations. We borrowed piles of books from the library, reading detailed histories and descriptions about places we plan to visit and many that we don't. Nights and weekends spent trawling the internet for cheap deals on accommodation, reconciling the prices with the comments of other guests. Figuring out an itinerary by matching destinations to train timetables.

It's a lot of work, often fun to start off with. However, as we read more and more, not only is ignorance dispelled, by also some of the mystery. That first time in Paris, we had no idea what to expect. How would we cope with the language barrier, using the metro?

Now, after visiting eleven (twelve for B) other countries and passing through two others, those mysteries are lessened. There will still be many new things to discover, but the shock probably won't be quite so great.

Actually, I think a lack of foreknowledge is one of the reason why our stopover in Seoul was so interesting on our last trip. Neither of us had ever planned on visiting South Korea and had rarely seen it shown in the popular media, so, despite reading a Lonely Planet on the city, we had very little idea of what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised!

No such stopovers on this holiday. Out of the six countries we plan to visit on this trip, Spain is the only one we have not set foot in before. You may also count the UK, although we did stopover at Heathrow twice before!

I'm looking forward to visiting London. Ever since I can remember I have been reading books and watching television set in the city. That's only natural considering that it's the home of the English language. When we flew over London enroute to Paris I recognised so many of the landmarks below. Now I'm looking forward to seeing them up close. Despite the previous exposure I strongly suspect that London's size means that there will be many new perspectives to assimilate.

One place I have been hesitant about visiting is Barcelona. It seems like every description of Barcelona (and I have read/heard many) includes a mention of petty crime and scams. What worried me was not having our pockets picked in the middle of the city - we need carry very little in them. It was having our luggage snatched between our train arrival/departure and the hotel, especially on the metro. It's during those journeys that you can't keep your possessions as empty as you would like to. I have tried to solve this by selecting a hotel right at the Barcelona Sants railway station. Of course, pickpockets and bag snatches exist across the world (Paris and Madrid included) and we always try to take maximum precautions. It's just that they don't have quite so many mentions as Barcelona... In that respect I'm quite looking forward to Japan (although Tokyu Hands' PA did incessantly warn of pickpockets during our last visit).

We have planned the holiday as follows:

  • Singapore (4 nights with a day trip to Johor Bahru in Malaysia)
  • London (2 nights)
  • Avignon (3 nights, explore Provence/Languedoc)
  • Barcelona (2 nights)
  • Madrid (3 nights, explore the region and perhaps Seville)
  • St Malo (1 night)
  • Paris (3 nights)
  • Japan (3 nights)