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June 16, 2007

Packing for 59 Days

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Here I am, ready to go, with everything I need for 59 days.

I’m going to be away from home for fifty-nine days.

Compared to our “long trip” (our 14-month trip to Europe in 2004-2005), this is a short trip. But compared to most American vacations, this is an extended vacation… a long time to be gone and a long time to plan and pack for.

Anyone else remember Parkinson’s Law? Mr. Parkinson wrote a famous best-selling business book back in the late 1950's, in the same era as the Peter Principle book. His law definitely applies to packing for a European vacation. His basic law was that “work expands to fill the time allocated to it.” One of the examples I remember relates to someone who needs to write and send a postcard. A busy person dashes into a shop, quickly buys a card, scribbles out a message, buys a stamp and sends that card on its way. They can accomplish this task in 15 minutes or less if that’s all the time they have available. But a person with much more time can make that simple task last for hours, maybe even all day. They take their time preparing to go out, visit a couple of stores, browse many possible cards, carefully compose their message and so on.

The amount of time you spend on packing can definitely expand to fill the time you decide to allocate to it. Some people are really into the packing and allocate lots of time. They start packing days—even weeks—before a trip and really get into the process. They make lists, stack up piles of possible clothes, evaluate alternatives, contemplate their luggage, buy all sorts of special travel gismos, and are all ready to go several days before the trip. On my first-ever trip to Europe, I traveled with a friend who not only had a list—she had a schedule for the trip detailing each outfit and accessories she planned to wear n every day. And of course she had a very large suitcase.

Continue reading "Packing for 59 Days" »

February 15, 2009

Planning This Summer's Trip to Europe

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Beynac Castle in the Dordogne - we'll be back this summer

I always love planning a trip and feel a little bit bored when I don't have a trip I'm working on. I really enjoy the travel research and seeing a trip come together.

After lots of discussion among the three of us, we recently finalized a plan for our summer travels in Europe, and now I'm busy working on the details. Charley and I will be in Europe for 2-1/2 months and Kelly for two months. One of the "perks" of being a college professor is having summers off. And we can plan our personal travel around our work on the Experience trips, which helps make our travel less expensive too.

The last two summers Kelly has gone to three-week summer camps through the Duke TIP program, a special program for academically-gifted students in grade 7-12. Because she was away, I went to French language school in Aix-en-Provence both summers during the same time. Charley was on his own. Charley and I assumed that Kelly would want to go to camp again this summer, since she had such a great time the other two years, but she surprised us and said she didn't want to go. There wasn't a camp that really interested her, and she said the program too expensive. I think she also wants to be with us. As we are starting to think about college, we know there may not be many more family summers together, so we are excited to have more time together this summer.

Kelly is going to fly over to Europe without us for the first time. She is much more capable to fly alone than some adults, and we think this is a good growth experience for her. She will also have a friend with her, a classmate named Becka, who will be with us for almost four weeks on her first trip to Europe. The two girls are very compatible.

Kelly, Charley and I talked about several possibilities for the summer. Part of our schedule is committed with our Luberon Experience trips in Provence (three weeks) and our new trips, The Salzkammergut Experience (one week in St. Gilgen, Austria) and The Bavarian Experience (one week in Garmisch, Germany). We definitely wanted to do another long-distance walk, to include some physical exercise in our summer, And we hoped to spend a week or two in a place we've been before and loved, so that we could research another Experience trip to potentially offer in the summer of 2010.

Kelly lobbied hard for visiting some "new" places, and I worked for one long night trying to figure out how to include Amsterdam, Copenhagen and possibly Berlin. We were going to spend a lot of time and money traveling between these cities, and we finally decided to put these aside for another time when we could stay longer.

We had a couple of ideas for the walking trip and agreed that we wanted to walk two weeks again. I researched long-distance walks in England (maybe the Southwest Coastal Path or the Pennine Way), the Alps (the Mont Blanc circuit) and France (the Dordogne, Brittany or the Loire Valley). We really wanted to do Mont Blanc, which would take us through France, Switzerland and Italy, but we couldn't get the logistics to work out. I was also worried that it might be too challenging for me because of so much elevation change.

Another idea I had was that we might attend a language school together. I thought it would be fun to do this as a family. We would probably be in three different classes, and we could spend the afternoons and weekends together, visiting a new area. I was interested in going to school in Tours, so we could visit the Loire Valley. When we broached the idea with Kelly, she quickly shot it down. She does love her French studies, but says she goes to French class every day of the week. That wasn't her idea of something fun to do on vacation!

So finally we have an itinerary we have all agreed on, and now I'm working on accommodations and transportation logistics. I've booked our airline reservations, our two-week rental in the Cotswolds, our walking trip and a few of our hotels. We will be visiting mostly places where we've been before (which is something we do enjoy doing), but we'll also be exploring some new areas.

May 6 - 30: Bonnieux (Provence) for three weeks of Luberon Experience groups. Kelly and Becka will arrive on May 26. We always love being back in Bonnieux.

May 30 - June 3: Travel to St. Gilgen, Austria via the Cote d'Azur, Lake Orta in Italy, and the Engadine in Switzerland. This will all be "new territory" for us. I have hotels picked out andd need to finalize these bookings.

June 3 - 13: Salzkammergut Experience group in St. Gilgen, Austria. We'll have a couple of days on the front end to get organized.

June 13-20: Bavarian Experience in Garmisch, Germany. We'll drop Kelly's friend at the Munich airport on June 20 and take the train to Paris.

June 20-21: Overnight in Paris. Travel to the Dordogne by train.

June 21 - July 3: 133-mile walking trip in the Dordogne. I posted about our itinerary on Slow Travel here. We stayed near this area in 2004 during our long trip, and we're looking forward to getting to know it much better.

July 4 - 6 or 7 (TBD): Visit with our friends Dennis and Gloria, who live in the Dordogne. Then we'll take the train from Brive to Paris.

July 7: Eurostar from Paris to London. I get claustrophobic, so I'm a little nervous about the Chunnel.

July 7 - 10: London. We're using Marriott points to stay at the Renaissance Chancery Court. We stayed at this hotel in 2002 when it first opened, also on points. This is a five-star hotel, a splurge thanks to points! We plan to get tickets to see Mamma Mia. We haven't been to London since the beginning of our long trip in 2004, and we're excited about being back.

July 10-24: Cottage rental in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. We will research a possible "Cotswolds Experience" trip while we're there. We love the Cotswolds and are looking forward to a leisurely two-week stay. This will be our fourth trip to the Cotswolds.

July 24-25: Overnight near Gatwick. I've booked at The Turret based on a Slow Travel review.

July 25: Home to Knoxville and a few weeks off before school starts.

I've posted a few more photos below of some of the places we'll be this summer.

Our summer plan is coming together, and it's one we're all happy about. The biggest challenge: packing for 2-1/2 months of varied activities with only a moderately-sized suitcase and a backpack each!

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Our beautiful village of Bonnieux, in Provence


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We're looking forward to being back in St. Gilgen for the third time


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And Garmisch too... I especially love this little street

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On our walk we'll spend a night in the pilgrimage village of Rocamadour


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I really love the countryside in the Cotswolds! This is one of my favorite photos of Charley and Kelly from our long trip.

February 20, 2009

My Love of European Travel: Where It All Began

I was born in Munich, Germany.

Okay, I'm not really German and I speak only a little tourist German, but I've always loved saying that I was born in Germany. My young parents were American and I was born in a US Army hospital. My dad was a soldier in the US Army, stationed about 35 miles southeast of Munich. He was just 22 when I was born, and he and my mom (only 20) had been married almost two years. They had eloped just a few weeks after they met, much to my mother's parents horror.

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My young parents before I was born

Not long after they were married, my dad was shipped overseas. My mom moved back with her parents for several months and worked to earn money to join Dad in Germany. They lived off-base in the village of Bad Aibling, about halfway between Munich and Salzburg. They didn't have any money really at all and rented a small apartment in a German woman's house. Instead of a crib, I slept in a wicker laundry basket.

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Their best souvenir from living in Germany-- me!

My mother's father was a manager with Shell Oil. During the time my parents were living in Bad Aibling, before I was born, my grandfather also had a European job assignment, and he and my grandmother spent about six months in Amsterdam. My grandparents met up with my parents several times and took them around Bavaria and to Paris and Venice, maybe other places too. I think my grandparents paid all the bills, because otherwise it would have been very difficult to my parents to see much of Europe.

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My parents in Venice. Notice my mom's maternity top-- this was my first visit to Venice too!

I don't have any memories of living in Germany because we moved to the USA before my first birthday. But I do have special memories of growing up in a house with parents whose lives and view of the world were shaped by those two years they lived in Europe. We learned German drinking songs, and our house was decorated with hummels and beer steins and some nice artwork my parents brought back. Every few months my dad would set up the slide projector and we would look at their slides of their travels, pictures of Paris and Neuschwanstein Castle, of the village of Bad Aibling, my young mother and father in Salt Miners clothes, baby me in the laundry basket. Later-- from when I was 8 until almost 13-- we had the opportunity to live in Melbourne, Australia because of my dad's work. (That's a good subject for another post.) I remember our four years in Australia well, and it's a big part of why I wanted to spend the extended time in Europe at a similar time in Kelly's life.

Because of my German birth and my parents experiences living in Europe, my dreams of going to Europe began when I was very young. It took me 35 years to finally get back, but once I had the chance to experience Europe, the burning ember turned into a flame!

I've always felt a strong connection to Munich, Salzburg and the Bavarian Alps. This area is so incredibly beautiful and there's a liveliness we enjoy too. But I know my connection is also related to my personal history. It's special to know that this is the area where I was born and this was where my parents lived in their early years of marriage. They have now been married 55 years and have traveled all over the world.

I've been to Munich five times as an adult, though I've never tried to find that Army hospital where I was born. I've stopped in at Bad Aibling three times over the years, to see the place where I lived when I was a baby, to show it to Charley and Kelly. My parents went back to Bad Aibling several years ago, and they said the house where they lived isn't there any more. The Bad Aibling station, the intelligence center for the National Security Agency where my dad was stationed, closed in 2004.

Today Bad Aibling is a pretty town of about 18,000 people. There's an ornate church with an onion-domed spire, painted buildings, and a "little Venice" area (called "Klein Venedig") where a river runs through the town. It's not a major destination for American tourists (except perhaps for people who were stationed at the base over some 50 years), but it is known for its spas, mineral baths and "peat pulp" baths. ("Bad" means "bath.") We've never stayed in Bad Aibling overnight, but sometime we should do this and experience a peat pulp bath!

Here are some photos from our last visit to Bad Aibling in 2005.

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