Planning our next European vacation 2017

The Beginning:

About 18 months ago we were sitting around the dining table with one of my sisters and the talk turned to travel….as it invariably does when I’m around…..and where we’d like to visit next in Europe. We started with Romania and Poland then somehow the conversation moved to the Black Forest and parts of Germany. My sister, Darelle, fancied a river cruise through Germany taking in the Black Forest. ‘Hmm, not so sure I’m old enough for a river cruise’ I said and Ty chipped in ‘and if she isn’t old enough I’m certainly not river cruise material!’ I’d been to a number of the towns the cruise visited previously but perhaps relaxing on a river cruise would be good for us. Darelle had never been to Paris either so we agreed that for the year of her ‘big’ birthday we’d take a river cruise, spend some time in Paris, revisit Belfast as well as catch up with family and friends in the Midlands UK. I also had an idea for a small group tour I wanted to trial.

The Planning:

The planning stage had began the minute we agreed on the river cruise and my mind went into overdrive, some people take drugs or alcohol to excess, gamble or have a mania for exercise to get the adrenalin flowing….for me I just need to plan a trip!! Unfortunately for Ty it’s a little more stressful as my trip planning affects our household budget and he can be prone to the odd panic attack. At those times I reassure him that I’m not overspending, we’re fine and, to make him feel more at ease, I keep the costing spreadsheet firmly hidden.

As well as wanting to ensure Darelle sees the places on her dream list it was only fair to include some of the places on my bucket list not just revisit places. There are a couple of towns on the Rhine river I’ve not visited yet, Colmar is one such town, and there are others. There are also a couple I’ve visited twice previously but I’m good to visit again. It’s easy to miss some little quirky item or piece of information when we’re touring on our own so a guided tour often gives up some secrets. On the other end there is Donegal and Sligo in Ireland….on my list every visit to Ireland I’ve done over the past 40 years…..finally I’ll make it.

Once we decided on the river cruise that suited us I then looked at the other places and put them into the spreadsheet. Placing these ideas into chronological order could have been challenging luckily, however, the cruise companies advertise the dates of the European river cruises 12 to 18 months ahead so I used that as my starting point. The spreadsheet quickly took shape and after a little more juggling the plan was in place.

For me planning where to go is the easiest part of any holiday….accommodation can be more difficult with so many hotel choices, reviewing websites, pricing and our expectations. This is often the longest stage of organising any trip.

The Base Itinerary

As you can imagine, with 5 travellers, our itineraries are varied….. we’ve commenced the journey together but as the tour progresses several will branch off to other areas.

  1. Day one arrive Amsterdam for 3 days
  2. Embark Avalon Felicity for a 7 night river cruise to Basel Switzerland.
  3. Paris 2 nights
  4. 7 night Chateau and Champagne tour returning to Paris for a further 3 nights
  5. Ireland, Northern Ireland and U.K. will be the final 2 weeks of our

The Duration:

I know what you’re thinking, ‘how strange to place the duration or length of the trip this far down in the organisation cycle’. All I can tell you is that I’m a little different to most people organising a holiday. The ‘where I’m going’ is most important and I do have a timeframe in my mind but it’s not listed on the spreadsheet and it’s not agreed to at the beginning. I let the places and distances help me work that out. When it goes over the time that I know to be reasonable
“How do I know what’s reasonable” you’re thinking….WELL when Ty asks how long this holiday will be and he goes into meltdown when I give him my calculations I know I need to look at condensing!!

We’re away from home for 38 days in total…just over 5 weeks. I don’t think 38 days sounds as long as 5 weeks…what do you think?

Who has joined us and who hasn’t:

In the beginning we were 4 travellers, Ty, myself, Darelle and Troy (aka Lord Lunchalot in previous blogs). Several months later we became. A party of 6 with Lesley and Jacinta joining the trip. However, Lord Lunchalot felt he couldn’t make the trip due to work commitments and dropped out so we became 5. We were a little disappointed when Lord Lunchalot dropped out but I have no doubt we’ll cope.

As mentioned above we start this European holiday in Amsterdam via Guangzhou flying with China Southern. We’ve flown with this airline to Europe previously. Darelle is not keen on flying at all but is improving. Four of us are flying business class with China Southern with our 5th companion flying Qantas with an upgrade request in place ….. at the time we left there was no word on her upgrade. We have our fingers crossed for her. Flying on different carriers also means we arrive early morning and Jacinta arrives at the hotel late afternoon.

We’re doing this one in style, although, as you know, dear reader, I try to do all my trips in some sort of style! The limousine picked us up from our home for the 2 hour drive to the airport hotel….no early morning rush for us just a nice leisurely evening before a very short walk to the international terminal.

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The Flight

Departing passengers no longer need to complete the departure card and electronic gates have replaced customs officers in booths which makes things a little easier. It also helped that we received express path cards from the check in desk. Three of us passed through baggage and body screening with relative ease however Lesley was stopped for a body search as she has had a knee reconstruction and the scanner picks up the metal. Lesley did tell the officer about this, however the woman continued to pat down her legs and when Lesley complained of her hurting the leg another officer told a her to place Lesley in the body scanner but the officer ignored him, he tried again several times to tell her to place the traveller in the scanner but she continued to carry on her frisk search. Eventually she let Lesley through and we carried on to the Skyteam Lounge for breakfast.

The flight was uneventful and on time. However, Guangzhou airport is a little disjointed as many international flights arrive and then taxi to an area away from the main terminal. Passengers are bused from this outside area to the terminal building with business class passengers being transferred in a mini bus. This was not the most comfortable ride …. we had to place our handbag and hand luggage on our laps. The airport is very big and very spread out but given they’re now a hub for passengers transferring to/from Europe the airport should be upgraded to allow more planes access to an aero bridge making a better customer experience.

Transferring to your next flight is not that much fun either. Our flight left from terminal 4 but it didn’t actually taxi out from terminal 4. Terminal 4 is down a set of escalators that didn’t actually work so we walked down the non moving escalators carrying our cabin baggage. Didn’t bother us as we didn’t have a lot but some passengers had several bags. There was a lift which was extremely slow because of the number of bags many people had which didn’t allow for large numbers to ride the lift at any one time. This area is more like a basement and certainly does not have enough seating for the number of flights leaving from this transit lounge. China still needs to work on this area to have all international flights able to connect to an aerobridge. I know busing your customers back and forth to planes sitting out in various holding areas creates lots of employment but it certainly doesn’t add to the customer experience at all. When our flight number was called we were taken to buses for the ride out to the plane.

We had a 5 hour layover which was mostly spent in the VIP lounge where we had the time to shower and change into more comfortable clothing for the overnight leg. I booked in a time for my shower as had a number of other people. The attendant on her way to collect the next people in line when a man, who had just walked into the lounge, stopped her and said he wanted to take a shower now. He was quite angry when told there were others waiting before him and he raised his voice at the young lady. Everyone in the lounge was looking at him…

Darelle and Lesley both had a meal at 1am after leaving Guangzhou for AMS. Lesley all 5 courses, Darelle just the main. We opted out and went to sleep – we couldn’t eat another thing… When I went to see them after breakfast Darelle is munching on chocolates – the snack and drinks bar was in their little section and ‘it’s lunchtime at home’ was her excuse!! Glad we didn’t have a snack bar in our section Ty would have wanted the seat opposite.

I had prearranged a transfer to our hotel in Amsterdam so when we arrived we were expecting to see as person holding a sign with our name on it….no, no sign to be seen. I looked at the voucher and read that we needed to be at a meeting point, a red and white square, we could see signs to meeting point and headed that way as Ty wandered off in the other direction to find the driver. He was much more successful than us and came back weigh him just as Darelle and Lesley decided to go in the opposite direction to find the meeting point. A little like a group of sheep being herded. The driver then had to find the rest of the herd whilst telling us to stay exactly we here we were…’we could go and find them as we know what they look like’ I said. ‘No, tell me what they’re wearing I will find them’ and he did! That sorted we headed to the car.

We arrived at our hotel, checked in and straight to our rooms. Time for a shower, unpack a little and head to the executive lounge for morning tea. Well, morning tea for Ty and I but I suspect Darelle and Lesley will opt for a second breakfast.

Let the holiday begin…………..

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