France Mediterranean Travel

Three Weeks in Europe

June 25, 2015

Hello again! I’m back in the US from my trip to Europe. My husband and I had such an amazing trip and visited so many incredible cities – part of me wishes we could have stayed in Europe to explore more, but I am glad to be back home. I’ve missed blogging! Before I left I had several posts and articles prepped and I had hoped to write while I traveled. Both my husband and I had difficulties with Wi-Fi everywhere we visited, getting connected to the internet for extended periods of time was almost impossible – we were at sea for a good portion of the trip as well where internet connection was slow as well.

A quick overview of our stops:

Our trip was planned more for adventure and exploration versus leisure and relaxation. This was our first trip to back to Europe together since we met in Oxford on a study abroad trip when we were in college (many many years ago). We each had a wishlist of places to see on our first Europe vacation. In three weeks we traveled to four countries, in total we spent 6 days in Paris, 4 days in Rome (including a day trip to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius), 1 day in Athens, 8 days on a cruise through the Greek Islands covering Rhodes, Mykonos and Santorini, ended in Istanbul, then flew back to Paris for 1 more day on the way back home.

I’ll have highlights on each of our stops in upcoming posts, but for now an overview and some thoughts on our trip. In planning our itinerary I was worried it would be too much but it turned out to be just right if you want to spend a few weeks in Europe and get a sampler of as many places as possible. Our trip was split into 10 days in Paris/Rome, then 8 days on a cruise. I prefer trips where you book a hotel in one city for a few days before moving onto the next city, but the cruise was a nice way to not have to worry about much of anything – you have your room, excellent room service, food available 24/7, clean bathrooms.

Planning Our Trip

To plan our trip we reached out to friends for recommendations and also relied heavily on sites like Expedia, Kayak and Tripadvisor for hotel, restaurant and tour recommendations in each city. Sometimes that “amazing place” your friend recommends in Rome turns out to be on the opposite side of town from your hotel or where most of your actives are planned. I downloaded the Tripadvisor mobile app which helped narrow down recommendations by your location.

In terms of planning our daily activities, my husband and I are complete opposites in how we plan for travel. I like to have a list of places to visit and map them all out in advance knowing I probably can’t make it to all the points of interest, but at least it helps me prioritize what I want to see, where to eat, and tours scheduled. My husband on the other hand prefers to figure things out when one arrives at the destination. He will mark a few points of interest as anchor points for the trip and then prefers to explore everything else just as it comes to allow for more freedom in choosing what to do. We did a mix of both and it worked pretty well.

Packing For Our Trip and Travel to Europe

As many of you have seen from my initial packing post, we decided to do carry-ons only (yes, insane!). As you can see from our itinerary, we had quite a few stops. In total we took 7 flights (in addition 2 layovers in the US). It was because of the number of stops we had planned that we decided to do our best to limit our luggage to carry-on only. After going through all the different airports in Europe, I have to say that I think this was the best decision we could have made. We were able to skip insane lines you had to wait in to check luggage. We didn’t have to worry about waiting for luggage (or losing it) at baggage claim. Once we landed, we found it easy to get from the airports to our hotels, some required a bit of walking. We saw so many others fumble with suitcases that wouldn’t fit through doors or escalators, many that fell over constantly and some that looked really heavy to roll up cobblestone roads. Had we planned 2-3 stops, I would have definitely preferred to check luggage in a proper suitcase. With our itinerary, we would have wasted a lot of time waiting in lines if we checked ours. I’ll have a more detailed post on what I packed, what worked, what didn’t work and what I plan to do next time.

My husband used a mix of the travel sites and direct booking for flights and hotels. Here’s a list of what we flew on our trip. For US to Europe, we booked two separate airlines because we weren’t 100% set on our return date back to the US. For the cruise, my husband decided on Celebrity Cruises for our trip through the Greek Islands:

US West Coast to East Coast – Delta
US to Paris – La Compagnie
Paris to Rome – Vueling
Rome to Athens – Ryanair
Istanbul to Paris – Pegasus
Paris to US – La Compagnie
US East Coast to West Coast – Delta
Celebrity Cruises – Equinox Ship, Greek Isles to Istanbul

The number of options available for travel are overwhelming so picking flights took a lot of planning. Thankfully I didn’t have to worry about this as my husband did most of the legwork in picking out flights. He’s a loyal Delta customer – in the past he used to travel a lot for work and he’s always been pleased with Delta. I haven’t traveled as much but have nothing but good things to say about Delta’s service in general. For Europe, our original plan was to fly to London for a few days and then the Eurostar to Paris. Flying through Europe is significantly cheaper than taking any of the trains so we decided to skip London this time and save it for another trip.

To fly from US to France, we picked one of the smaller boutique airlines called La Compagnie which recently launched all business-class flights from New York/Newark to Paris/London. Our tickets for a round trip were about 1/2 of what it would cost for other major airlines for a business class ticket. Once we boarded the plane, we found the trip quite pleasant. It’s a no-fuss, basic and streamlined airline with friendly and attentive flight attendants. My husband researched reviews before booking, as usual with travel reviews, thoughts are mixed. You may want to check the blog called One Mile at a Time for helpful reviews and good photos of the airline.

We found our flight pleasant and without any issues. There was plenty of legroom and the seats were relatively comfortable. The boarding process we experienced in both Newark and our return from Paris on the other hand was less than stellar. They did not have their process flow figured out for smooth boarding. The attendants and staff seemed uncoordinated and the process of checking IDs and seat tickets was excessive. Even after going through security at the gates, there was an additional check of carry-on contents and pat-down of some people at the boarding gate. While waiting in line, a man in front of me lost it when he was asked to show his seat ticket after getting on the plane because he said it was “the 10th time” he had been asked. For our next trip to Paris or London, I am not sure we will rebook with them – if you’re looking for a good basic airline with business-class seats, I would highly recommend checking out the tickets with La Compagnie.

Pros include:

  • All business class seats (usually around 74 seats)
  • No long lines at check-in as with some other large airlines
  • Large roomy seats that recline fully so you can sleep lying down
  • Food is decent, better than average
  • Service on the plane from attendants is very good, all were friendly, attentive and very professional
  • Good pricing

Cons include:

  • Huge thumbs down for the boarding process
  • No Wi-Fi once on plane (our flights were around 8 hours, they should have the option to upgrade for such a long flight)
  • Finding the gates is can be a bit challenging since they are a smaller airline, we had to ask around 5 people where the gates were before we found it
  • Samsung tablets don’t always work well, the attendants could easily swap out the tablets for ones that work, but I noticed several people on both flights that had issues with theirs
  • They handed out little flight bags with very tiny Caudalie creams, socks and sleeping eye masks, all very cute and good in concept, but quality and usability not very good or functional
For flying within Europe, I had little to no expectations of any of the carriers. Reviews seem very negative across the board on all of them, especially the low-cost airlines. I expected the worst but have to say I was relieved to find all flights from Vueling, Ryanair, and Pegasus were no-fuss without any issues. Perhaps our experience was rare compared to the norm, but we had no trouble or issues getting through security, wait times weren’t too bad either although some airports were very busy. We allowed ourselves ample time to check in so we weren’t rushed. We also had only carry-on bags that didn’t look big so nobody bothered us when we boarded. I was particularly worried about these airlines – there are so many “I hate x airline” posts and reviews I expected the worst. Luckily our experiences were ok.

 

Trip Overview, Highlights and Summary Thoughts

There were so many amazing places we visited. I was worried it would be too much but we paced ourselves well.
The time we spent in each city of course was not enough time to
explore, but it was a very good trip to get a sampling of multiple
cities. We found it really interesting to see the differences in culture
with each city we visited. My personal favorites were Paris and Mykonos. My husband loved Paris and Mount Vesuvius. Some quick thoughts on each city we visited (more posts on each to follow soon):
Paris is amazing. I was a bit sad to leave. A part of me wishes that I could move there for the incredible food, beautiful parks, culture, and amazing shopping. The buildings and architecture are stunning and classic. We did a lot of touristy things here visiting the major monuments and museums. Parisian women are incredibly chic with amazing taste and style – the way they dress and carry themselves is simple but beautiful. We visited in the middle of summer and it was very hot, I was in awe of all the pretty summer dresses and gorgeous ballet flats that were everywhere. Food is absolutely incredible and the croissants were to die for. Everything we ate was fresh and delicious. One of our favorite things to do was just sit in the Tuileries Garden, drink coffee and people watch. Shopping of course was incredible – the stores and associates put American retail to shame. All the stores we went to had associates fluent in English and other languages in addition to French. Each one I encountered was incredibly knowledgeable about their brands. They were all friendly, patient and very helpful. I never asked for any samples but each beauty counter or store I visited was incredibly generous with samples without me asking. They even threw in men’s skincare and fragrance for my husband as he patiently waited by my side in a number of the stores.

 

 Diptyque Paris, Boulevard 34 Saint Germain

 Eiffel Tower view from Arc de Triomphe

Louboutin Beaute at the Louvre Carousel Shops

In Rome we did more sight-seeing and adventure tours. For touristy things in Rome, we visited Vatican City, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain (under construction). We took a day trip to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. We climbed up Mount Vesuvius and made it to the third gift shop (it’s the farthest they will let you go without a special guide). The best part of our trip was biking along the Appian Way with Top Bike Rentals. We biked from center city Rome to the the Appian Way (about 20-30 minutes). It is something I highly recommend. If we go back to Rome, we will definitely be checking out the other Rome tours. It’s something we will never forget. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate my biking skills at a sad 2.5 but I was still able to do it and had a lot of fun. There were about 10 people in the group, ranging from one 18 year old to several in the 50+ range. I would say that I bike like a granny, but there were several grandmothers in our bike group who were hauling ***. I was the only one that fell once – I missed a ramp and thought I could bike up a curb. It didn’t work out and I fell over. I got some minor scrapes on my knee and palms, but no injuries – I think the others were more concerned about me tipping over than I was. They have E-bikes which were amazing, especially for the uphill areas. Our guide’s name was Emmanuel, he was an excellent guide. There are a few Appian Way options, we booked this one.

Saint Peter’s Basilica

 Biking along the Appian Way

Rome

For the cruise, we went on the Celebrity Equinox. We started in Athens and spent a day at sea until we reached Rhodes. Each of the stops was 1 day which wasn’t nearly enough time to really explore or enjoy each city. Still it was a great way to get a sampling in a week’s time. After Rhodes, we sailed to Mykonos, Santorini, Ephesus and Istanbul. More on each stop and the cruise in an upcoming post. A few snapshots.

Mykonos – Elia Beach

Rhodes

 Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

 Athens

Istanbul Port

 Santorini

Hope you liked this overview of my three weeks in Europe. Many thanks to each and every one of you who gave me recommendations for each city! I was really touched by all your kind comments and although I wasn’t able to meet any readers on my trip, I was beyond grateful to see welcome comments on my Instagram feed as I stopped in some of your cities. I feel so blessed to have such amazing readers – I had no idea I had readers from Greece or Turkey! I’m sending you hugs and kisses πŸ™‚
I also feel incredibly blessed to have been able to spend almost a month in Europe and that I was able to do it with my best friend and love of my life. I have to say the thought of spending 21 days with someone 24/7 had me a bit worried before we left – I’m of the mindset that all relationships need a little space to work. With our hotel and cruise accommodations there was absolutely no space at all. Whatever we did though, it worked. We had the best time together and I couldn’t have asked for a better travel partner. We did a mix of everything. I planned what we would see in Paris, he planned what we would see in Rome and Naples. For Greece and Turkey we planned everything together. We liked trying new things. I was more adventurous and went outside of my comfort zone to bike 20+ miles through Rome, I climbed up and down Mount Vesuvius to see the volcano my husband was so excited about. My husband on the other hand isn’t a fan of beauty shopping, but he tagged along on a few of the beauty stores, helped me take pictures and was really patient with me for wanting to stop in a French Pharmacy every 5 blocks (lol).

Have you been to any of the cities in France, Rome, Greece or Turkey? Have you visited any multiple times? I am already trying to plan a trip back to Paris and also the South of France although I don’t know that we will be able to go back this year. I would go back to Mykonos in a heartbeat anytime I am able to. Actually any of the Greek Islands I think would require at least 2-3 days to really explore. Our 1-day stops wasn’t enough!

More on the trip to follow πŸ™‚

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  • Anonymous

    Oh wow. This sounds absolutely incredible. My husband and I are planning a 10-day trip to Greece in the beginning of October. We've been married almost two years and we finally decided to take some time for a honeymoon. Your pics are so inspiring and exciting that I'm going to see if we can't push in some time in Paris. We want to do a mix of exploring and relaxing. I can't tell you helpful your posts have been. I look forward to your next one!

    • Glad you liked the pics! Greece is amazing!!

  • Anonymous

    So glad you had a wonderful time in Europe with who better than the hubby! My husband and I took a similar trip last year and we had an amazing time. Couldn't ask for a better travel partner and I'm so blessed and grateful to have been able to share it with him. We returned to Paris this year for our babymoon for 6 days and did NOTHING touristy except walk around the city, eat and relax. It was really great. Looking forward to reading your future posts!

  • Lots of feral cats in Greece and Turkey…

  • What a delightful trip; thanks for all the information. My boyfriend & I would like to visit Europe but need to do a bit of research prior to making any decisions. Istanbul Port is gorgeous. :]

    // β–² itsCarmen.com β–²

  • Such a teaser! So excited to read the following posts <3

  • Jo

    I once spent three weeks in Europe. I went to London took the Eurostar to Paris, spent a few days there then took the train to Amsterdam for a few days (you MUST go to the Van Gogh museum), back to Paris, then took the overnight train to Nice for a few days (you will LOVE the South of France, it is gorgeous), stopped in Provence on my way back to Paris just to take a look around (oh forgot, got on the wrong train and ended up in Monaco for 30 minutes so I walked around) – are you catching my theme? LOL I spent most of the time in Paris. Everything is so beautiful and the history is amazing. I'm so glad you had such a great trip and just as happy you're back because I missed reading your blog.

    • Thank you Jo πŸ™‚ We are going to try the train next time – will be fun to see Europe that way!

  • You lucky lucky lady! This trip looks amazing, I can't wait for the rest of your posts so I can travel vicariously through you to Europe.
    The Beauty Bloss

  • Great trip Sabrina – thanks for sharing. ^_^ I'm a Francophile so I have visited France a few times. πŸ™‚ Each is memorable, but I'd say hubby & I have made the most of the country during the 2 road trips we've done around the country. Each was about 4-5 weeks. If you're confident enough to drive then I highly recommend it. You can go at your own pace & stop over at any spot you might unexpectedly discover along the way & do more exploring. We pre-booked most of our accommodation at the main cities we wanted to visit so while it gives you peace of mind, it does mean you still have to get there in time. πŸ˜‰ Amongst our fave stops in the South of France if you are most interested in that were: Avignon (fascinating city completely enclosed in its original medieval stone wall), Nimes (Pont du Gard is a must), Nice (a bit touristy, but still gorgeous), Arles (I've a passion for Post-Impressionist art esp those of Van Gogh's so it was a must-visit for me), Aix-en-Provence (with a drive away from Manosque where you can do a factory tour of L'Occitane – we visited but unfortunately couldn't fit into a tour at the last minute! Still did some hauling at their shop tho! LOL) & the beautiful and rich city of Monte Carlo. If you get the chance do consider our other faves: Dijon (rec staying at Grand Hotel La Cloche – very friendly helpful staff & beautiful hotel; excellent walking tours), Loire Valley (magnificent Chateaux incl. a boat ride through the canal admiring the Chateau de Chenonceau; & Clos Luce home of Da Vinci & where you can have a play with some of his famous inventions), Mont Saint Michel, Angers (repeatedly dined at Les Plantagenets – excellent restaurant & friendly head chef), Versailles & the Champagne region (highly recommend tour & tastings at the Moet & Chandon Cellars @ Epernay). For car hire we've tried Europcar and Avis and we much preferred Avis. If you want to go straight from Paris to the South e.g. Nice – you can also take an overnight train (tho it's also nice to watch the pretty French countryside scenery go by if you catch a day train maybe on your way back). I did this on my own once and it was quite easy, efficient & inexpensive. Hope this helps or inspires you further! Travelling is my favourite thing to do!! Happy planning. ^_^ xo.

    • Oh the South of France sounds amazing!!! It's on our list πŸ™‚ Thank you for all the lovely details and notes on places you visited πŸ™‚ I think all I want to do now is travel.

  • I was excited to read your post because I'm actually heading to Rome in a couple of weeks and also planning to take a day trip to Pompeii. I'm wondering if you can give me some tips on the type of shoes to bring/wear that will suffice for something like climbing Mt Vesuvius. Thank you, and I look forward to your future posts!
    http://www.okkeepitreal.wordpress.com

  • Happy to hear you had a great time! I absolutely adore Greece and have been there quite a few times. Travelling with someone makes you learn new things about each other; and you get to instantly share your experience with someone close! What can possibly beat that!?!

  • You certainly had a dream trip, and I'm so in love with you for sharing all the details with us!!!!!!! One of the best travel posts I have ever read, but then you never do things by half. I look forward to your further installments. You and your husband are also a match made in heaven!!

  • Looking forward to your posts about the different stops – also I've missed your regular blog posts! My husband and I went to London and Paris last May – we are in our 60s, and it was the first trip to Europe for both of us. Loved Paris – absolutely gorgeous – we stayed about 10 minutes from the Eiffel Tower. We really loved London as well – we definitely want to go back to London and also take side trips to other parts of England and Ireland. It's funny…now, when I see Paris or London in films or TV shows, I remember being there and seeing those sights in person. Makes it even more special!

  • Beyond jealous of all the gorgeous places you went to… amazing pictures! I missed your posts and glad you're back πŸ™‚

    makeupmusicbooks.blogspot.com

  • Anonymous

    So wonderful that you had such an amazing time! So very happy for you. All your photos were beautiful. I also must say that I truly appreciate your honest and thorough reviews of everything from beauty to fashion to travel. Your blog has become my go-to destination for whenever I am purchasing a new beauty item because I know you'll have unbiased views and gorgeous photos. Keep it up girlfriend!

  • What a gorgeously comprehensive overview of 21 days…loved reading this!

    xx

  • Ilene

    I loved the picture of your carry on! I did ten days in Italy with my husband and 3 children, ages at the time were 13-21. We did end up doing laundry once. Paris, I spent a week there with my daughter last summer and I loved it so very much. So glad you had a safe and happy trip

  • Amazing! My husband is the same as yours, lol-I am the planner, he wants to be spontaneous; and the times that I have let him do that, we end up eating dinner at 10pm at a Waffle House. Planning itineraries FTW!

  • Anonymous

    I am really interested in hearing about what you brought with you. I saw the post on the carry on, but what exactly did you bring: ie clothes, hair and skincare, etc. Thanks! love this post

  • Amy

    Amazing post!! Love it all!!!

  • welcome back Sabrina!!!! i see you have a lot of comments to read through already πŸ™‚ so i'll just add that i'm thrilled to see you had such a lovely vacation with your husband!! the pictures you posted are gorgeous and it is making me ache for a getaway of my own!!
    very exciting!!!!!! sj

  • Anonymous

    What a wonderful trip — thanks for sharing your beautiful photos!

  • Loved reading about your trip. Will be going on a similar trip next week- a Turkey and Greece cruise followed by London and Paris. Thanks for all the great tips and photos. I can't wait!

  • Anonymous

    I am glad that you had ans amazing time in Europe.
    For us here in Germany is travelling around Europe so easy and when you book your flight in advance it is also really affordable.
    Sometimes we fly only for a day to Paris for a bit of shopping and a cafe au lait and a lunch in a bistro.
    Can not wait to see what you brought!
    Greetings from Germany!

  • Anonymous

    I am really enjoying all o the wonderful details about your shopping experience in Paris; I have, however, really missed your product reviews.

  • Anonymous

    It was so fun to read about your trip. I have been to Paris a few times (and always want to return)and Rome. Love the French Pharmacies and also the grocery stores in Europe – they have lots of interesting things. Florence is also great for beauty product shopping, especially Santa Maria Novella.

  • I'm trying to plan a surprise 40th bday/5yr wedding anniversary trip for my husband next year so this was very helpful! How far in advance did you start planning and booking the itinerary? It seems so far away to be looking right now but i'd like to have a rough game plan.

    • Hi! Sorry for the delay in responding, I'm so behind on well everything. What a fun anniversary and birthday trip! We are probably not an example to follow as we are not planners at all. We planned for about 1.5-2 months before we left, but did not book everything until the week before because we were so indecisive about where to visit.

      I would say depending on what time of year you want to travel and where might determine how far in advance you need to book.

      In terms of planning our whole itinerary (scheduling and flights) it took a few days of trying to coordinate all the moving parts.

      Sorry, I'm not sure I was very helpful with this. I have a friend who is planning a trip to Iceland later this fall. She and her boyfriend have been planning this since the beginning of the year – but they've planned adventurous activities and seem a lot more organized than my husband and I are.