Two Weeks In Europe: Site Seeing

I am back from my epic two week trip to Europe! I’m going to split the recap into three parts: gen­er­al overview, take­aways from trav­el­ing, and a detailed look at the costs of the trip.

amsterdam_canal

General Overview

Itinerary:

Oct 1st: I had a blast spend­ing my first day off with my fam­i­ly and friends in my home­town. It was great to get to relax with those who know me the best.
Oct 2nd: I took the bus to the air­port from my home­town and man­aged to get to meet with the one and only Leigh and her hus­band. We had a fab­u­lous con­ver­sa­tion that made my time in the air­port fly by! (pun not intend­ed). After fly­ing to Atlanta with a short stay in one of their lounges (access pro­vid­ed by the Pres­tige Pass via my Chase Sap­phire Reserve) I got on the biggest plane of my life to fly to Lon­don. It was GINORMOUS. And had a full ser­vice BAR. WHAT. There was room for almost 400 peo­ple but we had just over 100 on the flight, so I got a whole row to myself to stretch out on. The red­eye went by in a snap!
Oct 3rd: I got into Lon­don at 10a. After a brief jaunt through pass­port con­trol and grab­bing my lug­gage, I was picked up by my sis­ter and her friend from Heathrow and dri­ven to our flat. It was a good thing she was dri­ving, because I have no idea how to dri­ve on the left hand side of the road. I got my butt kicked by jet lag, so after explor­ing the town a bit I took a nap. Then we had a deli­cious gluten-free din­ner with amaz­ing British cider.
Oct 4th: My first full day in Eng­land was spent in Cam­bridge. I got to meet up with the mas­ter­mind behind Ditch­ing the Grind! We had a great chat about life and FI in gen­er­al as we explored Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty and the sur­round­ing area. I had some of the best beef stew from a street mar­ket stall. (Seri­ous­ly, DTG, don’t feel bad your daugh­ter shared my lunch. There was plen­ty for both of us :D). He had to leave to pick up his oth­er kids from school, so my sis­ter (M) and her friend (A) and I went punt­ing after­wards. You know those gon­do­las peo­ple take in Venice? Same thing. It was a fan­tas­tic way to see the city and col­lect Poke­mon with­out actu­al­ly hav­ing to walk around.

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Oct 5th: My sec­ond day in Eng­land was devot­ed ful­ly to the Har­ry Pot­ter play. OMG WAS IT AMAZING. I can’t wait to see it again when it even­tu­al­ly comes to the US (which I’m sure it will). I also want the sound­track because I loved the music. This was my first expe­ri­ence with both pub­lic trans­port in Lon­don, and nav­i­gat­ing Lon­don, and I had to do it by myself. A bit tense, but I fig­ured every­thing out and it went smooth­ly. Thank good­ness for Google’s Project FI phone plan, because I would’ve been up a creek with­out data access.

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Oct 6th: All three of us went into Lon­don to play tourist for the day. We did it in spades as we got tick­ets to their Hop On Hop Off tour. High­lights include hav­ing a pint in the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub where Dick­ens and a bunch of oth­er famous writ­ers used to fre­quent, see­ing St. Paul’s Cathe­dral, the Tow­er of Lon­don, Lon­don bridge, Big Ben, the Shard (so ugly), West­min­ster and West­min­ster Abbey and get­ting a hilar­i­ous nar­rat­ed tour on the Riv­er Thames boat ride.

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Oct 7th: We went back for our sec­ond tourist day in Lon­don. We attempt­ed to see the chang­ing of the Guard at the palace, but they weren’t doing it that day. They weren’t even stand­ing out­side. So then we walked to the British Muse­um and spent a good chunk of the day get­ting lost in arti­facts from var­i­ous times in his­to­ry. They’ve got some seri­ous­ly cool stuff in there and admis­sion is free!
Oct 8th: After a week of almost non-stop tourism, I was pooped. My com­pan­ions felt the same, so we had a lazy day inside. I didn’t even change out of my paja­mas lol. We all spent the day catch­ing up on var­i­ous stuff (they wrote les­son plans and emails, and I wrote up my month­ly spend­ing report for Sep­tem­ber and checked work emails). We round­ed out the day with tasty drinks and a movie.
Oct 9th: We had an eas­i­er day sched­uled. We drove to St. Albans and explored the town and their mar­ket. There’s been a mar­ket there since 960. The his­to­ry in Eng­land is tru­ly astound­ing and it seems like you stum­ble over some­thing ancient at every turn. Then we went and had our­selves a prop­er British after­noon tea. We picked a place that offered a gluten-free tea, and I’m so glad we did. It was absolute­ly deli­cious. I’m not a big tea drinker, but I had two whole pots of an amaz­ing fruit tea by myself. It was held in a build­ing that is now a hotel, but used to be a manor and then a con­vent school. The grounds were so beau­ti­ful.

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Oct 10th: We then trav­eled to the Isle of Wight. Don’t under­es­ti­mate traf­fic around Lon­don, because we did and failed to make the fer­ry we had booked in time. For­tu­nate­ly we got on the next one for a small fee. We explored the west­ern half of the island after set­tling in at their friend’s cot­tage. There were so many quaint British vil­lages to explore! Again, every­thing was super old and it was hum­bling to real­ize even the cush­ions in the church (built in the 1600’s) were old­er than you. Part of the coast on that side belongs to the Nation­al Trust (basi­cal­ly a nation­al park), as it is absolute­ly gor­geous. We had a great time explor­ing the area! I’ve nev­er seen soar­ing chalk cliffs before but I thor­ough­ly enjoyed the views they pro­vid­ed.

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Oct 11th: We explored the east­ern half of the Island on the 11th. That side of the island is much new­er, so we spent some time walk­ing through the shops in the towns. We also vis­it­ed an orchard and a vine­yard for some super tasty tast­ing ses­sions. We must have looked like alco­holics, because all three of us stocked up. I was pleas­ant­ly sur­prised to see there was a mead­ery on the island, so I got some local mead that I will be hap­py to drink once the weath­er here at home turns cold. We also had my first of 3 birth­day din­ners! The burg­ers with toast­ed mayo gar­lic from The Gar­lic Farm were deli­cious and I was also sur­prised with crème brûlée for dessert! Noms!
Oct 12th: We explored the cen­tral part of the island. This basi­cal­ly meant we spent some time in the ‘cap­i­tal’ and explored the Caris­brooke Cas­tle, which is only about 900 years old. It was super cool to stand on the wall where they once defend­ed against French invaders, and get­ting a tour of the bed­room where King Charles I was impris­oned for a year. I real­ly wish the US had that rich of a his­to­ry, but that’s the prob­lem with liv­ing in the “New World”. Also, I don’t think cas­tles would sur­vive earth­quakes, tor­na­does, or hur­ri­canes very well.… After explor­ing the cas­tle, we had the option of going to see Roman ruins, but we were all exhaust­ed so we just grabbed some fish n chips (gluten-free of course) and ate it at the cot­tage before we relaxed and took the fer­ry back home. I’m glad we left ear­li­er, because I had an ear­ly flight to Ams­ter­dam the next day!

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Oct 13th: I flew to Ams­ter­dam from Luton Air­port. I can’t say I was impressed, but I was remind­ed it was a small­er air­port and wouldn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have all the fan­cy things like heat­ing and seat­ing in their ter­mi­nals. I man­aged to suc­cess­ful­ly nav­i­gate the Dutch air­port and signs to get from the air­port to the City Cen­tre on the train. My hotel, the Crowne Plaza City Cen­tre, was very nice. I was impressed. Since I booked a club room (even though I didn’t pay with points), I was giv­en the white glove treat­ment which includ­ed choco­lates upon arrival, ear­ly check-in, club lounge access which had a wide assort­ment of free food and drinks, two free drink pass­es to the hotel bar, and free wi-fi. As this was the most expen­sive part of my entire trip (includ­ing the air­plane tick­ets!!), I was pleased to get so much from the hotel. I met up with my Dutch friend and we explored the city for a bit. We were both very amused as we con­tin­u­al­ly con­fused the Dutch servers and cashiers by speak­ing in our native lan­guages. I will say though, that almost every­one we inter­act­ed with switched almost effort­less­ly between Eng­lish and Dutch. A lot of the restau­rants in Ams­ter­dam have both Eng­lish and Dutch menus so order­ing food wasn’t a prob­lem. The one restau­rant we went to for my birth­day din­ner even had menus in Ital­ian, Span­ish, and Japan­ese. Total tourist trap, but the tra­di­tion­al Dutch food they offered was amaz­ing.
Oct 14th: MY BIRTHDAY! Also known as the best day of the entire year lol. We walked over 15 kilo­me­ters as we explored the city. I think I fell in love with the qui­et grace of Ams­ter­dam. We didn’t have time to hit any­thing in-depth, but we did walk past the muse­ums, sev­er­al his­tor­i­cal land­marks, the Anne Frank house, and the Red Light dis­trict. That last one was quite.… um inter­est­ing lol. The smell of cannabis is per­va­sive through­out the entire city cen­tre, and was very read­i­ly acces­si­ble. I did not par­take in any, as I want­ed to explore and enjoy the city with a clear head. The only drug I did was drink the free cham­pagne the hotel sent up in hon­or of my birth­day. It was very unex­pect­ed, and pret­ty darn good cham­pagne. All in all, I have to say this one was one of the best birth­days I’ve ever had. A great way to start my 26th year!

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Oct 15thMy birth­day was so great and then this day sucked hard. I woke up at 4a to pack and get to the air­port in time. I made it just fine, but I was unable to link my tick­ets togeth­er. That meant instead of check­ing my bag all the way to Atlanta, I had to col­lect it and go through pass­port con­trol, cus­toms, check-in, and secu­ri­ty in Heathrow. It’s an inter­na­tion­al air­port, so there were an absolute shit ton of peo­ple. Turns out that 2 hours is not enough to do all that, espe­cial­ly when check-in for your flight clos­es a FULL HOUR before the flight leaves. So I had to rebook my flight for a lat­er one, which then cas­cad­ed through my entire day and made me miss my bus home. Thank­ful­ly, I have amaz­ing friends and one of them drove the 3 hours to come get me. I of course cov­ered her gas, food, and mileage expens­es, but that meant I was up for 27 hours straight and paid for more than I need­ed to. I was incred­i­bly tired and will be exam­in­ing any future trav­el plans to see how long I’ll be trav­el­ing in one day.
Oct 16th: One last day with my fam­i­ly as I had my last birth­day din­ner. It was a com­bi­na­tion birth­day din­ner since my oth­er sis­ter has her birth­day short­ly after mine. We had exchanged presents, had a great time hang­ing out, and then I drove the last 4 hours to my place. Doing that while jet lagged was not fun. Not only that, appar­ent­ly my brain flew out the win­dow as I ran out of cat food, lit­ter, and water all at the same time. I also had no food to eat for din­ner, which I reme­died the next day.

 

Over­all, the trip was incred­i­bly amaz­ing and I’m so grate­ful I got to go. Two weeks away from the crazi­ness of work was just what the doc­tor ordered! I can’t wait to go back to all these places to explore them more in-depth, espe­cial­ly Ams­ter­dam.

Thanks for read­ing! Check out Part Two and Part Three!

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19 thoughts on “Two Weeks In Europe: Site Seeing

  1. Sounds like a won­der­ful trip! So many great pho­tos. I def­i­nite­ly loved hav­ing an entire row to myself on an overnight from LA to Lon­don a few years ago. 🙂

    Also jeal­ous that you got to meet DTG and the infa­mous Leigh! Have been chat­ting with her for prob­a­bly half a decade by now.

    I’m still won­der­ing what it feels like to talk about FIRE with peo­ple in per­son since it’s so taboo/non-tra­di­tion­al in most cir­cles.
    TJ recent­ly post­ed…Why I’m NOT Quit­ting My Job to Inter­na­tion­al­ly Trav­elMy Profile

    • It’s super fun to have peo­ple look over at you with fun­ny expres­sions on their faces when they hear you debat­ing the mer­its of a Tra­di­tion­al IRA vs a Roth IRA.

  2. Very neat to see your sum­ma­ry. We’re head­ing to Europe for 9 weeks next sum­mer with our 3 kids. No plans to vis­it Eng­land (though the falling GBP con­tin­ues to offer an entic­ing val­ue propo­si­tion!), though we will cap off our trip with a few days in Ams­ter­dam (or some­where near­by in Nether­lands) before fly­ing back home out of AMS. I’m try­ing to fig­ure out how to ditch the kids (which prob­a­bly means the wife too!) and at least walk through the red light dis­trict, but that seems sus­pi­cious from a mar­i­tal per­spec­tive. 🙂

    I see you spent over a full day trav­el­ing — that’s some rough stuff. When search­ing for the best options for flights to/from Europe I looked very close­ly at min­i­miz­ing our time in tran­sit. I lucked out with a 10 hour flight from Raleigh to Lis­bon on the way over and a 13 hour flight back from Ams­ter­dam on the way home. I think the transat­lantic legs of those flights are only 7 and 8.5 hours (con­nect­ing through Wash­ing­ton DC). With kids there’s no way I could do 27 hours straight I don’t think. 🙂

    Looks like a great trip!
    Justin recent­ly post­ed…Sep­tem­ber 2016 Finan­cial UpdateMy Profile

    • To be hon­est, the Red Light dis­trict was pret­ty meh. Maybe because I’m female, but I had no real desire to oogle at most­ly naked women in a win­dow of a build­ing in an alley. The size of the dis­trict has real­ly shrunk over the last decade, and most of the win­dows are in alleys now.

      I would def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend pay­ing close atten­tion to trav­el time. My trav­el plans got derailed, so it took about 3 hours longer to get home than I thought. Still pret­ty bru­tal. If you buy your train tick­ets from a kiosk in the Nether­lands, they only take deb­it cards. No cred­it cards. That threw me for a loop! The Schiphol air­port and train sys­tem is super nice and pret­ty easy to nav­i­gate.

  3. Sounds like a great trip! I’m so jeal­ous. Some­day, some­day maybe I’ll have the time and the mon­ey. Or the time or the mon­ey.

  4. Gwen — You’ll have to con­sid­er check­ing a hos­tel next trip you go on! It’s the best way to go, an awe­some way to meet peo­ple, and find hid­den gems in the city.
    I’ve only had pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences on all the trips I’ve been on and bud­get friend­ly too, high­est bed for me being 25$.

    • For most of my trip, I only paid 10 pounds a night for a bed as I stayed with my sis­ter in her flat. The hotel in Ams­ter­dam was the doozy, and I’d wish I would’ve trans­ferred over some points to bring that down. The ser­vice was amaz­ing and the loca­tion con­ve­nient, so I don’t regret fork­ing over the dough for it.

  5. Gwen, sounds like you had an awe­some trip! I’m glad we had the chance to meet. You’ve giv­en me some great ideas on places I need to vis­it. And like you men­tioned and we talked about, the amount of his­to­ry here around every cor­ner is unre­al. Tru­ly amaz­ing!

    • Thanks Ms. Mon­tana. It was amaz­ing! I haven’t added all the costs up yet, but I’d ball­park I spent rough­ly $2k for the two week trip. Not too shab­by!

    • I def­i­nite­ly learned not to jam pack activ­i­ties togeth­er. I felt like I need­ed a few days off after I got home to decom­press and relax!

  6. Wow that sounds like an awe­some trip and a very nice birth­day! That’s too bad about the flight home, it’s always tough not to let that tar­nish the trip and be the pri­ma­ry mem­o­ry. Sounds like a blast and I’d love to take my fam­i­ly one day. I look for­ward to the next post!

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