Thursday, September 30, 2010

Europe 2010 - An Overview

Now that we've been home for 10 days I feel slightly recuperated from our whirlwind tour of Spain, France and Portugal. We had such a great time and really saw just about everything we wanted to see. We bought our tickets into and out of Madrid since that was what was cheapest at the time.  It made sense to do a circle and this was the way we decided to break up and the order of our two weeks.

Madrid - 2 days
Paris - 4 days
Barcelona - 3 days
Seville - 2 days
Lisbon - 2 days
Madrid - 1 day

We talked about trying to get to Granada and Cordoba in Spain, Porto in Portugal and some of the smaller towns in the French Rivera like Nice and Cannes.  With only two weeks and wanting to cover as much ground as possible we realized that without a car it would be really hard to go to the smaller areas without major transportation networks.  We turned our focus to the major cities in those countries. 

At first we were all about taking overnight trains from city to city to save on hotels since we had always heard the train was cheaper and the timing was so convenient.  On the surface those were true statements but when we started crunching the numbers and realized that it was actually significantly cheaper (read over $300) to fly between cities and pay for the extra couple nights hotels.  The base train tickets you purchase do not include the booking fees for each segment or fees charged for overnight train accommodations.  Instead, we ended up taking two flights on both Vueling and Easyjet, airlines which are both low cost European carriers. 

Easyjet was most similar to Southwest in the USA except we had to prepay about $12-15 per bag we checked instead of paying the $25 at the airport.  They also had general boarding with a sit anywhere policy but we just lined up at the airport like southwest used to be.  Vueling had the same baggage policy but you could choose to get assigned seats by paying more money for them.  We opted not to pay the additional money and they just assigned seats to us.  One time we were across the aisle from each other and the other time we were next to each other.  Both airlines had a strict 1 bag carry-on limit, which included even purses, but they were not as strict on size as RyanAir.  RyanAir ensures that all carry-on bags fit in the carry-on bag sizer you see at the airports and if it doesn't fit, it is required to be checked and pay the extra fee to do so.

We still kept one overnight bus ride in our schedule between Seville and Lisbon since the bus was significantly cheaper than both flying or taking a train.  Of all the travel arrangements or hotels this was the worst thing.  The bus was what we would consider a standard coach bus but it barely had enough leg room for me when the seats were up.  When people leaned the seats back I was squished and poor Darren, he was far worse off than I was!  We made about 5 stops between Seville and Lisbon, turning on the lights every time, and fortunately a few people got off a couple hours into the journey so Darren ended up with his whole row and I ended up with a seat the the back of the bus where I could stick my legs into the aisle.  At least then we were both able to sleep a little.  We both said within an hour into the journey that we have had an overnight bus experience and next time we will splurge and just fly or take the train!

Well that is a little (or a lot!) of background on planning our trip, I can't wait to share all of our pictures with you! Stay tuned an onslaught will be headed your way over the next couple of weeks!

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