Tuesday, August 19, 2014

JoeTourist goes to Europe

I have covered a great deal of territory since taking my first trip to Fiji in 1975 as a young man, however in all that time, I have only visited two European countries: Greece and Italy. My typical time to travel is when the weather where I live in Victoria, BC, Canada is cold and/or wet (our winter), and I tend to seek out warm and sunny destinations. So Europe (especially northern Europe) has never appealed to me, since their weather and seasons are very similar to where I live.

During the early part of 2014 I was searching for a new destination to experience for about three to four weeks. I was looking at a Mediterranean cruise, but I was pretty well “cruised out” after covering the Pacific Ocean on four cruises since 2010. I needed to experience something different and none of my usual sources of travel were helping me to make a decision.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italian Riviera
After churning through a wide variety of possibilities, I decided to try a Rick Steves’ tour…his original and classic European experience  Best of Europe in 21 Days Tour. Rick’s travel business is based in Washington State, USA, not far from where I live; and his reputation for well-planned European travel is rock-solid.

His tours offer terrific value, and he promises to show you Europe “through the back door”, which means you will see many of the typical sights, but your travel experience will more closely resemble how native Europeans travel. That certainly appealed to me; especially the idea of staying in a location for a couple of nights, and often staying outside major city centres to keep costs down and to provide a more authentic travel experience.

I also liked the idea that Rick’s tours involve some substantial walking to counter the inevitable bus and train travel. Finally, his tours include down time, where the group is left on their own. They can snooze in their hotel room for a whole day; go crazy and do some extreme sports; go to a remote beach to get away from the crowds; or shop until they drop!

Hiking the Swiss Alps
I didn’t book this tour until April 2014, and I chose to take the tour that covers the first three weeks of September 2014. As it turned out, I booked the last spot that was available. As a frequent traveler, I’m looking forward to finding out why these are such popular tours! Rick’s tours are pretty well all-inclusive once you get yourself to the starting point in Europe, however typically lunches are always on your own, and not all dinners are with the group either. I see this as being a good idea, since eating with the same people for three weeks could get a bit tedious.

I am leaving home two days early - a day for travel, and a full day in Holland to relax before the tour starts. The tour ends in Paris where the group stays two nights - we see some, but not all of the sights with our guide. I booked two extra nights at the same hotel so I can see a few more sights in and around Paris before returning home. I have already booked an advance purchase admission to the Eiffel Tower, since I don’t feel like waiting two hours in line. My travel time is precious!

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