|We've been home now just over a week and still handling mail and 8+ months of magazines. Still feeling a bit overwhelmed by what is involved in returning to a routine after being away so long but now I'm actually enjoying the challenge.
Our fabulous trip-of-a-lifetime was exactly that! But we are happy to be home with our friendly neighbors and sleeping in our own bed every night. It was such a wonderful trip but impossible for us to answer the common question, “What did you like best?” As we tell folks, every country has its amazing sights and fascinating history and culture. We have many 'bests'!
A recap of our trip with a few comments:
*Amtrak and car rental from Tacoma, WA, to Ft. Lauderdale, FL – 1 week
*3 Holland America Caribbean cruises: East, Southern, Western – 1 month
[We prefer smaller ships like the Maasdam w/ 1295 passengers, not 2195
like the Nieuw Amsterdam]
*Transatlantic & Mediterranean cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam – 1 month
from Ft. Lauderdale to Venice
[Really enjoyed the shore excursions starting with the Azores]
*1st RV caravan in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria - 1 month
[Highly recommend this tour for experienced RVers who can adapt to
a smaller class C motorhome. Wagonmasters Dieter & Gaby are amazing!]
*2nd RV caravan in the UK countries - 1 month + 1 week
[Again, wonderful leaders; great trip but the narrow roads with stone walls and
no shoulders are not for the feint-hearted]
*1st riverboat cruise – from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland - 2 weeks
[Marvelous because it included both the Moselle and Rhine rivers!
Learned our favorite riverboat cruise company is Vantage (based in Boston;
make your own reservations online and not through a travel agency)]
*2nd riverboat cruise – on Rhone River from Chalon to Avignon, France – 1 week
[River scenery not nearly as scenic as the previous trip! Don't care as nearly as much for the Viking riverboats]
*1st Rick Steves tour – Paris and the north of France - 11 days
[Great tour; lots to see and do; be sure to travel light(ly)!]
*3rd riverboat cruise – Amsterdam to Budapest, Hungary - 2 weeks
[Don't go in August as rivers run low and you may end up on a bus; it is a
great trip; suggest going earlier in the summer on Vantage]
*2nd Rick Steves tour – Belgium and Holland - 11 days
[Great tour; lots to see and do! Excellent leader]
*3rd Rick Steves tour – Paris and the south of France - 2 weeks
[Another great tour with another great leader]
*4th Rick Steves tour – Villages of northern Italy - 2 weeks
[Same story – another great tour with a great leader. However, we don't recommend that you take 4 R.S. tours in the same summer or if you do, try to
space them out better than we did! Tend to get saturated and TIRED after so
much in a short time!]
*Transatlantic cruise from Southampton, England, to NYC - 1 week
[Queen Mary 2 is an elegant ocean liner with a strict dress code (i.e. men must
wear jackets to the dining room every night); good crew; great musical shows;
just so-so food; largest library at sea]
*Bus from Port Authority, NYC, to Finger Lakes, NY, to visit friends/family – 10 days
[If you can, try to miss any hurricanes!]
*Rental car to Iowa to visit friends and family - 2 days
[Do this only if Amtrak is not running]
*Visit Iowa and Minn. Friends and family - 8 days
*Amtrak (Empire Builder) & bus to Sequim, WA - 3 days
[Recommend a roomette for the 2 nights; all meals (good!) are part of the fare]
You may recall that I described several of the towns and cities we visited as “gems” or “must see” places. There were many such towns, mostly small or tiny, with lots of character and charm. We really didn't expect to find so many communities that made us want to stay longer and get to really experience them. Alas, that was not possible. Our recommendation would be to pick an area or a couple of countries and really explore them. We are ever so grateful for the opportunity to “taste” 19 countries but we can't say that we really got to know any of them very well. We got a marvelous overview – and as that was our goal, we were very successful.
You'll remember that we didn't fly at any time but relied on trains, buses, ships and boats and our feet. We don't regret that one bit. We got to see a lot and always had our luggage with us! (But, it does mean you have to have adequate time for these slower modes.)
Be prepared to have some tour guides that speak broken English or with a very thick accent. We had several very fine and knowledgeable guides that Ivan was not able to understand because their spoke so rapidly and /or with a strong accent.
For those times when we would be traveling on our own we made all our hotel reservations (13 of them) before we left home as we would be traveling during high season. As Rick Steves recommended, I e-mailed each of them about 1-2 weeks out to tell them we were on schedule and what time we were due to arrive in their town.
Pack clothes you can wash and drip dry overnight so you don't have to pack so many changes. I was so glad I took 2 inflatable hangers that helped clothes dry faster and that folded flat for packing. Use scarves and layers to add interest and variety to your few pieces. I really liked my security vest (from Magellan or Travel Smith) so I didn't have to carry a purse. It left my hands free to take photos and I didn't have to be concerned about keeping track of my valuables all the time. (Really nice on crowded subways!) We both recommend you wear hats most of the time. I got along quite nicely with one pair of sturdy walking shoes and one pair of good sandals for all other occasions.
As we wrap up this blog we want to thank all of you who responded and let us now you were following along at least part of the time. Your encouraging words and questions gave me the energy and incentive to continue with it. It was more time consuming than we expected, taking about 2 hours per entry, but now we have another record of our great trip. Thanks to all that traveled with us and please let us know if we can take a trip with you sometime!
We wish you good health and happiness, and success in ticking off items on your bucket list!
“Keep on traveling!” Fondly, Carol and Ivan