Spoiler alert: Spending 14 days to see 5 European countries will result in the most delicious kind of travel fatigue that will blow your “electrical” circuits (along with your budget).
Back in mid-February, when it was cold and wet and dark in Washington, DC and summer seemed only a memory, I decided that 2023 would be the Year of the European Vacation. It had now been three years and three months since the pandemic ended my twice-annual vacations on “the Continent.”
I wasn’t content to just visit one country. I needed to make up for lost time. When you are older, you are always measuring the remaining years left for hiking and walking adventures before your knees (or hip . . . or illness) derail the plans.
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Craving international travel
I have yearned to travel abroad since I was a teenager reading novels written by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Mary Shelley, and George Eliot.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”St. Augustine
However my plans to do my junior year abroad were upended by my mother’s death when I was 19. Suddenly, I needed to get a college degree and a job as a journalist.
The funny thing is IF you want to do something a lot, you will find a way. So I ended up working for a New York City trade publisher in my 20s and then started my own communications company in my 30s. My job permitted me to travel to five continents (Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America). But I wanted to linger more.
Fast forward three decades. I am slowly exiting my company. I don’t ever want to stop being involved, but I do understand the importance of taking time to discover new pursuits.
My most radical decision during the pandemic was to adopt a Golden Retriever. His name is Parker and he is frequently the star of my travel blogs for local sights to see in the Washington DC region, such as Great Falls National Park, Theodore Roosevelt Island, National Arboretum, Monticello, and Annapolis.
Until Parker came into my life, I had never lived with a dog. To be honest, I didn’t really even understand “dog people” (pre-Parker) because I was a cat fanatic. I have never in my life been without a feline companion.
But my adult children both adopted dogs starting six years ago and I suddenly began to understand the allure. Dogs help you meet people. The canine zeal for making friends with everyone that they see on their multiple daily walks is contagious. You can’t help yourself but stop and chat while the dogs sniff the grass and each other.
During the pandemic, I packed Parker and my two Siamese cats (Eliot and Henry) in the dog mobile (yes I purchased a Suburu Crosstrek in 2021 after Parker entered my life) to travel. The first outing to New England resulted in a bad car accident which taught me that you don’t acquire a puppy, lose sleep, and try to drive a car. Suffice it to say, there are no New England road trips in my future!
But I did pack the pets in the Suburu to visit Asheville, Hendersonville, Biltmore Village, Chimney Rock, Black Mountain, and the Blue Ridge Parkway in April 2022. It was extremely hard to find an Airbnb owner who permitted three pets, but I persevered. I would definitely return to western North Carolina for another “pet cation.”
But I longed to return to my pre-pandemic days of escaping to Europe for hiking adventures with Exodus Travels and city treks on my own. My last European trip took me to the island of Madeira in Portugal to hike in January 2020. I was lucky to have my niece Karen join me on this escapade. No one could have possibly conceived how the pandemic would reshape our world in March 2020.
14 days to see 5 European countries
So to make a long story short . . . I guess that unknown – the fact that we can’t plan on anything staying the same in our world – prompted my crazy plan to spend 14 days to see 5 European countries (Germany, Croatia, Switzerland, Denmark, and The Netherlands).
Now anyone who loves to travel knows, planning a vacation is one of the best parts of the experience. There are so many possibilities. I knew that I would be attending a business conference in Sibenik, Croatia for five days, but I could go anywhere at its conclusion. (I explored Berlin before my business conference started with Alternative Berlin Tours.)
Choosing the destinations
The possibilities were endless. Greek islands. Slovenia. Slovakia. Baltic Republics. Hungary. I haven’t visited any of these countries (YET) so I immediately began researching transportation. Every lead seemed to collapse when I looked at the cost of travel or the time to get there.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”Gustave Flaubert
Then I came up with a peculiar plan. I decided to hopscotch across Europe. I pulled up the EasyJet website and began keying in cities that offered direct flights from Split, Croatia. I ended up choosing Basel, Switzerland as the gateway to my whirlwind trip.
Now no one exactly is jealous when they hear you visited Basel. Most people, in fact, don’t even put it in the same category as visiting Zurich or Geneva. But this is a big mistake because Basel is perfect for a two-night vacation that includes museums, art festivals, swimming in the Rhine River, and an Old Town walking tour.
Basel also provided me the opportunity to make my dream of visiting Copenhagen, Denmark happen. Somehow my business travels have never permitted me to visit Denmark, even though I have enjoyed wonderful family vacations in Finland, Norway, and Sweden.
When I discovered that Copenhagen was honored as UNESCO’s World Capital of Architecture for 2023, I knew that I had to join the celebration. Denmark was now included in my plan to spend 14 days to see 5 European countries. The only problem was getting there and the high cost of hotels and food. Luckily, EasyJet made it a much cheaper option to visit Copenhagen than flying across the pond on United Airlines.
As soon as my flight landed, I was ready to explore the city. I had purchased my three-day Official Copenhagen City Card (around US$125) so my transport on the subway from the airport was free. Since there was only one direct metro line to the airport, I couldn’t get lost.
My next step was to study the map to see how many stops to my hotel. Thankfully, it was only five stops (which seemed odd) but I was tired and ready to end an exhausting travel day from Switzerland to Denmark.
I tried to use my iPhone to direct to me my hotel through the Google Maps app. But it so confused me that I ended up asking two Danish women to guide me in the right direction. I was pretty disappointed that “my Copenhagen” didn’t include canals or historic buildings. I just saw several high-rise and mid-rise apartment buildings. And a lot of bicyclists streaming past me on the towpath.
Travel is expensive . . .
It turns out that I had not booked my Go City Hotel in Copenhagen proper but rather on the island of Amager. While the center of Copenhagen is only five metro stops away, the hotel’s location was a disappointment. I didn’t really understand how I made this mistake, but I am sure cost was a factor. You should be prepared to spend $350 to $550 a night for a good Scandinavian hotel during the popular summer months. I had booked my hotel stay during the “3 Days of Design” festival which may have accounted for the expensive hotel rooms.
My biggest shock when I entered my “upgraded” hotel room was the shower (or rather lack of stall). I just stood under a showerhead while the water pooled on the bathroom floor. It was just one of many cultural experiences when visiting another country that left me puzzled.
But I realized that one of the advantages of staying in a residential area as opposed to the tourist sections of Copenhagen is the cost of food. My local grocery store was a short 3-minute walk. Since my hotel room had a refrigerator and a microwave, I could stock up on foods that I was craving – cornflakes with strawberries for breakfast, hummus with pita bread, and delicious dark red cherries (Kirsebær). I also searched for nearby restaurants serving Neopolitan pizzas and discovered a cheap neighborhood favorite. I guess you would say that I made lemonade out of lemons (travel mistakes).
Fast forward three days, I managed to visit 10+ museums, take a historical walking tour, ride a canal boat, master the Metro, and never use an Uber in Copenhagen. I calculate that my Copenhagen Card saved me about $200 in tickets. But only a crazy traveler like me would walk a marathon (26 miles) over two days in her determination to see and do everything in Copenhagen.
Searching for Vincent
My final destination was Amsterdam. More than two decades had elapsed since I attended a business conference in the city. I had only one goal. I wanted to visit the Van Gogh Museum. It had become an obsession since I finished reading the 1,514-page Van Gogh: The Life. Authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith enthralled me with their story of Vincent’s creativity and his lifelong fight with depression and mania.
So instead of visiting all four major art museums at the Museumplein in Amsterdam, I chose to spend hours walking the aisles of the Van Gogh Museum. I felt like I entered a window into the mind of Vincent. Much of it was dark but his love of art also shone.
With 10 hours to spend in Amsterdam, I chose to concentrate on exploring different neighborhoods in the city. I didn’t buy any more tickets to visit other museums. After I left the Van Gogh Museum, I just wandered down the streets of along a canal packed with houseboats.
I found a little café to buy a Dutch grilled cheese sandwich with a Heineken beer. Then I headed for the Waterlooplein open-air market to search for postcards.
Free walking tour
At 5:30 pm, I reported for my GuruWalk with a local guide at Dam Square. I had never heard of this community of people who love walking tours, but the price was right. Free. That’s right, you only pay for what you think the tour is worth. According to the website, the typical payment is 10 euro to 20 euro but some people pay considerably more.
I almost backed out as the time grew near. I was tired, hot, and hungry. My suitcase still needed to be packed for my flight to Berlin. I was ready for the vacation to end. Then I saw my guide Fernando waving a card and I walked over to say hello. He was born in Portugal but has lived in Amsterdam for the last seven years. He was so friendly that I decided to take his two-hour tour (Amsterdam: Past and Present).
Making new friends
Eleven people joined our tour. I was the only American. There were also travelers who lived in Canada, Germany, Italy, Mexico, South America, and the United Kingdom. Over the next two hours, our merry Guru led us past the Royal Palace Amsterdam, Beursplein, Oude Kerk (Old Church), Chinatown, Nieuwmarkt, and the smallest house in Amsterdam (Salon de The).
We ended at Rembrandtplein where we took a group picture and tipped our guide. It was almost 8 pm. The cafes were packed. Our group was now breaking off to head out to eat or return to their hotel. I lingered briefly, marveling at how travel brings people together.
For two hours, we had not thought of work, obligations, or even text messages on our phones. We were immersed in the world of Amsterdam, where merchants and sailors had shaped a city of commerce in the early 17th century.
This is why I travel . . . to be amazed.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”Marcel Proust
Would I recommend you book five European countries to see at a blisteringly fast pace over 14 days? Probably not. Unless you are a little crazy like me . . .