In May of this year my husband and I set on a long-time-dream trip to Europe which lasted about 4 months. On how we did it and why, I touched upon here and here. Our trip ended in September and it's taken me all this time to begin sharing about it. For some reason, I have been wanting to keep it to myself, refusing, to some extent, to acknowledge that it's over.
I can't say we left with high expectations, but I secretly had high hopes for our time abroad. After a few tumultuous years, we wanted to take a proper vacation and reset, but mainly we wanted to see a different way of living. We wanted to learn something new.
Disclaimer: Everything shared in this post is my true, honest opinion. If I mention a website, it is because I personally used it, and I was not paid to mention it.
Many of us heard about the life in Europe: the time-off people get there (in many countries it being a full month per year), and the overall slower paced life. It's also known that Europe is the place to go if you want to experience all-in-one culture, history, architecture, landscape as well as food.
Before our travels, I was more interested in the logistics, rather than the places to see. The internet is full of information, making it easy to find the places to go to or see, but there’s not a lot of information about the rest. We did a lot of research to be as prepared as possible, but found out that we were still unprepared in some ways. But what I definitely learned during our travels is that I could not have learned these things in any other way than doing it myself.
There simply aren't two people alike, having the exact same experiences; me and you could be looking at the same peach, and while you see it perfectly mouthwatering, I couldn't help but see the fuzz on it, making my skin crawl. What I'm trying to say with this is that, what I share on here is the truth through my own experience and what I liked the most or disliked during our trip could be different for you.
And don't get me wrong... I loved Europe... the places we've been to, they all have a place in my heart... some bigger than the other, but I hold all the memories we made in each city dear to my heart. During our 4 months, we visited Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland (which is part of UK), London, UK, Paris, France, Chisinau, Moldova (where we stayed the longest), Athens, Greece, and Rome and Florence in Italy.
Our journey began in Boston, US, from where we were flying to Glasgow, UK as our first destination. We found good flight prices from Boston via Priceline with Icelandair.
Before we booked our flights, I have checked prices every single day, from various airports that were easy to get to for us. I checked different websites, but for me, Priceline was the most convenient and less-cluttered, since I wasn't interested in just *any* flight to get us there. Flight prices, in most cases change daily, but we bought ours on a Tuesday, when I found them to be the lowest, after a week of daily monitoring. We bought the tickets to Glasgow, UK in mid-March for our mid-May overnight flight with a 4.5 hours layover in Reykjavik (I tried arranging all our flights/train rides mid-day so that we don't arrive too early to check into the hotel, nor too late to find ourselves at dark in an unknown city).
The day we flew from Boston, the boarding was a bit chaotic, and honestly, the first part of our flight (Boston to Reykjavik) was pretty uncomfortable (seat + legroom etc.).
While in Reykjavik, our wait time was actually not bad at all. We arrived around 6am and found ourselves in a fairly small airport but well organized. We found out we could pay in US dollars for food and such, which was very convenient, and had to have our boarding passes scanned when purchasing something, due to it being a duty-free zone.
The second part of our flight (Reykjavik to Glasgow) was surprisingly pleasant. We were served some food (which was not the case on our transatlantic flight), had plenty of legroom, the seats were nice and comfortable, and the landscape below was incredible, as you see from the photos above -- Scotland is a very green country, literally.
Throughout our trip, we mostly flew from one place to another and our experience flying in Europe was... challenging.
Worth noting is that Europe has a great train system in place, however, sometimes trains are more expensive than flying. Not to mention that train workers strikes are a real possibility in Europe and it's something to be aware of.
While it can be a more pleasant experience riding the train, we decided to go with flying as we had a budget to stick to (otherwise, I would definitely recommend trains).
So our 4 months trip looked like this: Boston to Glasgow by plane (with one stop in Reykjavik) via Icelandair; Glasgow to Edinburgh by train via ScotRail; Edinburgh to Glasgow by train via ScotRail; Glasgow to London by plane (cheaper than train) via British Airways; London to Paris by train (best option - recommend) via Eurostar; Paris to Chisinau by plane (with one stop in Bucharest - do not recommend) via Tarom; Chisinau to Athens (with a stop in Bucharest - do not recommend) via Tarom; Athens to Rome by plane (most expensive flight, considering the distance) via Alitalia; Rome to Florence by train (easy and affordable) via ItaliaRail; Florence to Boston by plane (with one stop in Barcelona), via "what in the world!", aka Iberia, oh, surprise!... Vueling, no, wait!... Level (yes, I'm being sarcastic - explained below). Note: since these are foreign websites, if you decide you want to book through them in the future, check your CC for foreign transaction fees. Whew, I know this is a brain twister but I felt the need to share these details.
So about flying... I can't stress enough - give yourself plenty of time for your layover (aka no 55 min - 1 hour layover), if you have one... read on why...
If you fly within European Union, you don't have to go through security in every single country, which means that your passport will get stamped only when you enter and leave European Union - it's important to have one stamp showing when you entered EU and one when you leave EU. Not having to go through security makes it easy and convenient as some countries don't make it clear what they want you to do - some ask you to take your liquids out during security scan, others don't; generally they don't require you to remove your shoes, some don't ask you to remove your belt, others do - it's confusing.
Usually the gate information is not provided until one hour prior to the flight, but what was the most bothersome in European airports is that you are bused to the aircraft.
At boarding time, your pass gets scanned and your passport verified, and you hop onto the bus. You wait on that bus (most likely in the heat) until it gets full and you are transported to the airplane. The process is repeated until all passengers are boarded, which caused all our flights (but the ones to/in UK) to be delayed, several times by A FULL HOUR. The worst delays were in the Romanian airport during our layovers in Bucharest and I would recommend avoiding it as much as possible. Between Romanian airport security taking apart our bags and scanning them and our things TWICE, doing the same with everyone else, and even opening another passenger's Duty Free SEALED (marked with DO NOT OPEN) package, and their boarding as well as take off delays, the Otopeni airport in Bucharest takes the prize for the worst airport experience overall.
However, the worst flight experience is awarded to Vueling and Level. I would firmly recommend to avoid them at all cost, especially Level. We didn't even know we were supposed to fly with these companies as we bought our tickets via Iberia, due to lack of options for our date, and thought we were supposed to fly from Florence back to the States with Iberia. Before booking with these companies, please check their reviews, especially the bad ones. After our experience, and reading about other people' experiences, I really do believe we were lucky to make it home as planned.
If you're wondering about security in Europe... Everywhere we went, we felt safe. I do have to say that we never went out at night, and if an area seemed less than desired, we avoided it.
In Paris, we noticed a lot of armed police walking the streets, train stations etc. Main attractions have security gates, where they check bags and you have to go through a metal detector. This is the general rule in any country' main attractions. Italy has actual military barricades and officers at every important monument. You'll often see heavy armed policemen or officers walking the streets. Because of that, we were never worried for our safety. I still encourage you to be aware of your surroundings and practice common sense. Travel.state.gov + USA.gov has practical advice and lots of travel information. Also, read this post I wrote about the things you need to know before traveling abroad. Remember that you can never be too safe.
In spite of our flying adventures (and others), traveling to these places in Europe has been something I will cherish forever. No, it was not all butterflies and we liked some places more than others but, overall, Europe is well worth the hype it gets.
Out of all these places, I would go back to Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London in a heartbeat. I want to visit more places in Greece and definitely more cities in Italy.
But don't take this post as the end to me sharing, as I have details and many photos from these cities. I have to wrap this post up since it's getting too long but more are coming - stay tuned!
Until next time.
from the Author
Through travel one gets to know the outer world as well as the world within.