What. A. Trip! I don’t know where to start in regards to my recent trip to Europe, so I guess I’ll just go chronologically. Those of you who say you want more personal posts, this one is for you (all 1200 words of it)!
As I mentioned before, my mom wanted to celebrate her birthday in Prague with the whole family. We had done a family trip before, to Belgium in 2012. It was a lot of fun, so I was eager to meet up once again overseas. October is a fantastic time to travel, especially for a Southern Californian like me. Shoulder season means prices are lower, and I can get my dose of beautiful fall foliage in a climate different from my home.
6 Cities, 11 Days
I am going to come out and say it: This itinerary was very ambitious and resulted in some exhaustion by the end of the trip. Oh how easy breezy it sounded when I first came up with it! Overall, I had an amazing time visiting big and small cities I had never been to before! However, at the end of this post I’ll cover something I would definitely have done differently.
In the past, my motivation was always to see the world’s biggest cities. Bigger is better, right? Our prior Europe itinerary contained London, Paris, and Madrid, for example. Lately, my interests have been shifting to small picturesque towns or at least medium-sized cities for another angle on how people live in other countries.
Related: Where I’ve Been – Where I’ve Loved
Prague was the launching point and most glamorous destination to say. Just say it aloud: “Praaahgue.” It was the easiest short answer to give when people asked where I was headed. I didn’t know much about the city, and didn’t have time to do a ton of research ahead of time, so I just sort of stumbled out into the street and let the city show itself to me.
This was the part of the trip spent with my mom and dad, sister and brother-in-law, and husband (obviously). We did many things as a group such as a guided tour (our guide was awful) and exploring Prague castle (which was great). We ate together, shopped together, and explored together. I hope it met my mom’s expectations for her birthday because I know I had a lovely time.
Karlovy Vary was a curveball. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I certainly wasn’t anticipating elderly people drinking salt water out of special mugs with a straw for a handle. I can’t wait to write my full blog post about my Karlovy Vary experience, because it will take a little while to explain. I’ll leave you with this: it’s possibly the most beautiful mountain town I’ve ever seen, and if you are planning to visit Prague you must add this on on as a day trip.
We spent just about 15 hours in Bamberg, (including sleeping), so it was really just a pit stop on the way across Germany. What a charming town; however there are other Bavarian towns that are just as picturesque. What Bamberg is famous for is beer. Smoked beer, in particular, almost black in color and certainly not a flavor for the faint of heart. It has been in production since 1405—yes, over 600 years!
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
The tagline on Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s tourist map is, “Romantic but real!” This sounds a little silly, but I admit that I was continually reminding myself that the half-timbered architecture is what inspired Disney creators when coming up with designs for Disneyland. These buildings have really been around since the 1500s! It’s been hard to pick a highlight from this trip, but this town is one of them.
Strasbourg (& Alsace)
When your friend moves halfway around the world, and then extends their hospitality to you—you have to take them up on it, right? I’m a confirmed francophile but sadly have not spent any time outside Paris (aside from the Loire Valley). In my quest to absorb even more French culture, you better believe I was ready to visit Strasbourg and learn more about Alsace, the region on the France-Germany border that has changed hands many times in its history.
To say that Strasbourg has lots of German and French influence is an understatement. As a borderlander (living on the US-Mexico border) I am keenly interested in how humans inhabit these gray areas. Surrounding towns in Alsace have extremely German names, but follow in the strong French tradition of making excellent wine, taking extended meals, and appreciating life’s finer moments.
A week amongst picturesque half-timbered homes really did feel like stepping into a fairy tale, but the law of diminishing returns states (I’m paraphrasing) that the 2,000th half-timbered house is not as charming as the first one. So we left Strasbourg and after a very stressful travel day, arrived in…
It was a drastic and welcome change to arrive in Milan and once again be surrounded by big buildings and power lines. The city was not as glamorous as I envisioned—I had images of Beverly Hills or Rodeo Drive in my mind. Instead, what I found in Italy’s second-largest city was… just another big city. It was grittier than Paris but more fast-paced than Madrid.
The Duomo was breathtaking; one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen. The shape of the façade certainly sets it apart from classic cathedrals with two spires. I enjoyed window shopping at the high-fashion flagship stores and eating aperitivo to save money. The pastries and chocolates exceeded my expectations! Visiting Milan was a nice stepping stone to re-entry. Returning back into city life… but not my city, at least not yet.
What Would I Change?
Milan was honestly more wonderful than I expected, so I am happy that I tacked it on the end of the trip, but my motivations for adding it did not meet the reality of making it happen.
I picked it as a departure point since the cost (points plus taxes and fees) was much lower than flying out of France or Germany. However, the cost of the easyjet, the Milan airport train, and hotel in Stuttgart easily outstripped the “savings” that I reaped from flying out of the cheaper airport. Not to mention the hassle. We lost about 24 hours from leaving Strasbourg to arriving in Milan: Time that could have been spent more wisely exploring Alsace or heading to Berlin for a final flight home.
If I were booking again, I would have departed from Frankfurt, Berlin or Paris. Any of those cities would have been more convenient, with a high-speed train out of Strasbourg making more sense.
- Miles by plane: 14,008 (SAN-LHR-PRG; STR-TXL-MXP; MXP-JFK-SFO-SAN)
- Miles by bus: 279 (Thanks Flixbus!)
- Miles by train: 405
- Miles by car: 112
- Miles by foot: countless
- Total miles: 14804
A marathon trip with a marathon summary post to match. In the coming weeks I’ll be elaborating more about each city I visited, where I stayed, what I’d recommend, etc. If you’re a regular reader, I hope you look forward to this. If you’re a new visitor, please follow along! I recommend subscribing on Bloglovin or social media (Instagram, Facebook) so you don’t miss anything.