Europe Trip: Countdown is On!
In just a few weeks we embark on a major trip to Europe. The trip will be a month long exploration of 8 countries, more than a dozen cities and includes bucket list items from all of us. Spending 9 months making this trip a reality has been a roller coaster of emotions ranging from disbelief to excitement to fear to awe, and I’m noticing God’s hand guiding it already! As this will likely be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I want to make sure to document it all to capture our stories, emotions and memories for the girls to look back on many years from now.
The itinerary is simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.
Leg One: Italy
Our first stop will be Italy. We originally only had a few days here—four—but the airlines unexpectedly canceled our original flight. When they did this, initially I thought we’d have to accept spending only a day and a half in Italy, which wouldn’t work for my sister. Italy is the place she is most looking forward to. She knows so much about ancient civilizations like Pompeii, and Rome. A day and a half in Italy wouldn’t work. And this is where the first sign of God’s presence was seen.
I called the airline twice. The first time I called I was told that there was a flight out a few days earlier, but it was going to be an extra thousand dollars to switch to that flight. I didn’t have an extra thousand dollars, which is why I accepted the flight on the later date that gave us only a day and a half in Italy. But I called the airline back, and begged. The airline agreed to switch our flights to the earlier date without charging the additional thousand dollars. The date it was switched to was significant, and gave us more days in Italy than planned. Instead of four days, we now had a week.
The other part of this miracle was that with only having a day in Italy, I wouldn’t have been able to take an important day trip to Poland. But, given the extra time in Italy, I can.
So, our first 3 days will be exploring Rome. Tickets are purchased to see the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, the Pantheon is also included in the itinerary. After that whirlwind, Breathe and I will leave Rome to do an overnight trip to Poland while the rest of the group will travel to to Naples. They’ll explore Pompeii, the Archeology museum before moving on to Venice.
While the rest of the group explores Pompeii. Breathe and I will fly to Krakow, where we’ll visit the Jewish Quarter and Auschwitz. This day trip is really special and important to me. Growing up, the Holocaust offered me hope and the opportunity to visit and honor the victims—and survivors—of that era is a meaningful step in my own healing of child trauma.
After one night in Poland, Breathe and I will fly to Venice to catch up with everyone else. We are staying on the Grand Canal and plan on taking a sunset gondola ride. The next day, we’ll travel to Milan. Some of us will visit the Thunder Spa room while I take my niece to an interactive museum. This will be a day trip and we’ll return to Venice in time for dinner.
Leg Two: Ireland
After a busy week in Italy, we’re flying to Ireland. Here, we are going to do a road trip, making the epic circle from Dublin to Rock of Cashel to the Cliffs of Moher to Northern Ireland’s famed Dunluce Castle before coming back to Dublin. We’ll visit some pubs, listen to Irish music and stay in two castles. Between the countryside and the history, I am so looking forward to seeing Alight’s joy at seeing the land she’s wanted to visit for years.
Leg Three : Netherlands
This leg of the journey will see us catching a hot air balloon ride over the tulip fields, visiting the Kukenhoff Gardens and going back in time to visit Zaanse Schans, a town where you can see a lot of windmills, make cheese, buy handmade clogs and really just feel the joy of a slower pace.
Leg Four: Switzerland
From Netherlands, we’ll fly to Switzerland. We are staying in an AirBNB located in the famed, postcard-like valley of Lauterbrunnen. Lauterbrunnen is known for its many waterfalls and picturesque views. I’m looking forward to doing a whole lot of nothing here and expect to fall in love.
Leg Five : Greece
From Switzerland, my sister and Alight will fly to Athens, Greece. They will explore the historical Parthenon and take in the Acropolis. Meanwhile, the rest of us will fly into Santorini. Again, our itinerary is pretty fluid here. We mainly want to soak in the culture, walk around and spend time staring into the sunsets. On one day, though, we do have a sunset cruise booked that will take us to see ancient lighthouse, volcanos, hot springs and gorgeous sunset while enjoying a BBQ lunch.
Leg Six: France
I visited France 24 years ago as an 18 year old with my school. I was in love with it then and cannot wait to go back and share it with the girls. Tickets are purchased for the main attractions: The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, the Musee d’Orsay, Sacre Coeur, Joan of Arc, a few castles. But I am also excited about visiting Shakespeare & Co bookstore and eating authentic crepes and wandering around.
Leg Seven: London
This is a short trip: see Big Ben, ride the Ferris wheel, take a stroll. We are here only one night but are looking forward to making the most of it!
I live for being organized, so I have my color coded itineraries with all the important things: car rentals, train rides, flight and accommodation information; times for the excursions. I’m not really sure it’s sunk in that we are really going, or of how many dreams this is. Alight has always had a heart for travel, for wanting to see and do as much as she can. A passport is a license to adventure and being able to help her get out of the country is so special to me because it’s teaching her that there is no dream too big. Breathe gets nervous at airports, especially the security checkpoints. I want her to see that she is stronger than she thinks she is, and that she can do really hard things. I want to show her that she can have safety and independent adventure. My sister has dreamed of going to Europe for 30 years: she has a stockpile of knowledge on the ancient cities and I am excited about watching her experience a dream of wandering around Italy, speaking in its culture and history. My seven year old niece — I want her to experience the world: new cultures, people and experiences so she can learn now that nothing is impossible and that people all over the world are more alike than they are different. My mother has been to Canada, but nowhere else outside the U.S. She grew up having nothing, and she poured herself into my sister and I, always fighting for us. She wanted to travel, when she was young. She dreamed of being a flight attendant. I cannot wait to see her experience international travel, for her to see the Vatican and Santorini.
This trip’s itinerary—the countries chosen—were designed with intention, to be meaningful to our family and to be a stepping stone for more. It has been financially challenging and emotionally draining at times getting everything into order, but it has been worth it.
To prepare, it wasn’t just setting accommodation and transportation for 8 countries including flight, train and car reservations, but also things like:
1. Enrolling in SMART Traveler program so that I could be notified of culturally relevant information, like strikes.
2. Obtaining medical letters for all of my medications and making sure to get my iron infusion at the right time. Same for the girls.
3. Obtaining an IDP: an international driver’s permit so that I can rent cars in a few of the countries.
4. Creating calendar alerts for when tickets to excursions go on sale to make sure we purchased them before they sold out.
5. Buying the correct adapters. Did you know that you need a different adapter for Ireland than you do for Europe? Also buying appropriate clothing like rain jackets and anti-theft pouches. Things like this matter.
6. Arranging for an international phone plan so I don’t end up with a thousand dollar phone bill. Also, calendar reminders to notify my bank that I will be overseas so they don’t hold my money.
7. Preparing to work in the evenings by making sure I’ll have Wi-Fi access while overseas for two of the weeks and prepping my team for my absence for the rest of the time.
Generally, it’s a lot. But, at every step, I look back and it’s hard to believe it’s happening. But, at every step, God has been here. I’m sure a trip overseas isn’t an unreasonable dream for everyone but it would have been absolutely impossible a year ago for me. It symbolizes more than an extravagant vacation for me. And I am so, so thankful. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for us on the trip, who we will meet and which experiences will stand out the most. I look forward to seeing what it is that makes the girls the happiest. I look forward to the challenges and roadblocks we might encounter because it will give us the chance to think creatively and find solutions. And I hope that, upon our return, my girls think up a dream bigger than international travel so that we can again be challenged to prove that dreams do, in fact, come true.
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