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 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.
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
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
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
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
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 🙂
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!