Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Far from satisfying my dream of travelling, the trip to Europe has fuelled my wanderlust. Not entirely unexpected, but a much stronger reaction than I anticipated. I certainly wasn't ready to return home when my time was up.

Our trip blog is here, so I won't go through it all again, but I do want to mention some of the things that stand out about the trip for me.

Renting apartments and staying for a week or two was absolutely the right choice for us.

I wanted to have a 'home' in a few places, rather than spending a lot of time in transit, trying to cover a lot of ground and not really experiencing the places we stayed. It meant we only unpacked/packed three times in five weeks, we could revisit places we really liked, and we could get to know some of the local people (as much as you can get to know people in a limited time).

Looking out the window in Paris
Everyone we dealt with in regards to apartment rentals was helpful and professional. Michael, Philippe (both owners) and Vinod (from an agency) were all on time to meet us at the apartments, gave us plenty of useful information, and were contactable if we needed them for any reason.

Each apartment had its particular highlights. The one in London had two bedrooms - much as I love my daughter, we slept better in separate rooms. It also had the most comfortable beds and lounge furniture of the whole trip.

The Paris apartment was in a Hausmann building, on the 6th floor. We had a lovely view of the street below, without being assaulted by the traffic noise at street level, and three tiny balconies - just enough to step out the window. Best shower of the trip.

In Rome, we were in an old building with a massive wooden door, marble steps, and large shuttered windows that you could hang out of to talk to your neighbour across the street and admire their beautiful window boxes. This was the largest apartment, although only one bedroom, and the most centrally located - we walked almost everywhere.

Long day trips weren't such a great idea.

Brandishing a Roman gladius at our
impromptu swordfighting lesson in the
Micklegate Bar Museum in York
 I thought a few day trips out of the city might break it up a bit for Miss Tizz but, while she enjoyed the places we went, she wasn't particularly enthralled at watching the scenery from the windows of a train for an hour or two each way. I'm very glad we did the longest trip first (London to York), and that they got shorter as we went along (London-Salisbury, and then London-Oxford), but by the time we moved on to Paris she'd had enough, so my idea of perhaps going to Giverny was scrapped. The furthest we went was Montmartre! I'd also thought about Rome-Tivoli, Rome-Orvieto, and Rome-Pompeii, but we did none of them. The longest distance we travelled from the city centre of Rome was Ostia Antica, about 30 minutes towards the coast. And that was far enough.
The main road through Ostia Antica

Taking a netbook and using Skype to keep in touch worked really well.

We had no problems keeping in touch with the boys at home, using Skype on the netbook and the free Wi-Fi connections in each apartment. It didn't really feel like we were such a long way from them when we could see them and talk every day. The little netbook was also fabulous for storing photos (I downloaded them from the cameras every evening) and blogging daily (we used Travel pod). I had a few games loaded just in case Miss Tizz wanted them, but she preferred to log into Club Penguin online. The netbook was also useful for email, and making a couple of bookings online (we booked our London Eye tickets the night before, after checking the weather forecast, and booked a car to take us to the airport in Rome). We checked the weather, directions, opening hours, etc. in the apartment before we left for the day.

I chose the right time of year, and the right order of countries.

Yes, sometimes it was cold in England and France, but I was assured this was unusual weather for October, and with all the walking we did it didn't matter too much to us. I expected more rain, but we only had a few wet days. And as the weather became cooler, we moved further south - England, France, Italy.
Often the best things are those you don't plan.

Filming the next instalment of
Pirates of the Caribbean in Greenwich
Turning up in Greenwich and seeing Johnny Depp filming the next Pirates movie. Feeding the pigeons at Notre Dame - and going back five times to do it again. Miss Tizz being the audience member selected by buskers to join in their act. Accidentally getting into the wrong language area on our second visit to the Time Elevator in Rome, and listening to the presentation in Italian (although Miss Tizz wasn't so thrilled). Being talked into an expensive but fabulous horse and carriage ride around Rome, and then being recognised and acknowledged by the driver near the Pyramid, as he waited in his car to collect a friend. Being befriended by the waitress at the restaurant in 'our' piazza, and exchanging email addresses so we can keep in touch. All wonderful experiences, and each of them an unplanned surprise.

A year of planning and research really paid off.

I read a lot before we left. I joined the Slow Travel forums and read everything in the UK, France and Italy sections. I borrowed numerous guidebooks before deciding on the ones to buy. I studied printed maps and Google maps. I walked around parts of the cities with Google street view. I found out how the transport systems worked. I bought tickets and passes in advance. I read up on street scams and potential problems and how to avoid them (and we did see them, but had no problems ourselves). I took a basic Italian language class. I borrowed DVDs and novels from the library. And everything went very smoothly once we were there.

I love slow travel.

Miss Tizz loved the carousels in Paris

The idea of slow travel is to get more of an experience of a place, rather than ticking off a list of 'sights'. We had days when we spent several hours in cafes and restaurants, over coffee, lunch and dinner. We had one particularly rainy day when we lounged around the apartment and read and watched tv until 4pm. We walked miles most days, sometimes following a specific route, sometimes just seeing where we ended up. We rarely had to be anywhere at a particular time, so we could change our plans if something caught our attention. And frequently, it did.

I want to go to other parts of the world, and back to the places I've been.

I'll definitely be returning to the Roman Forum
So much to see and do, and not nearly enough time, even with two weeks in one city. I would love to be able to travel for a month every year if I could - perhaps going somewhere new every second year, and revisiting places I've been in the alternate years. London is huge and wonderful, Paris is breathtakingly beautiful, but it's Rome that's captured me, and I foresee plenty more trips in that direction.

Other places I'd like to visit - New York, Scotland, Ireland, Egypt, other parts of France and Italy, Greece, Russia, in fact, pretty much anywhere!

Planning the next trip already ...

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