Cruising to Europe

We’re off to Europe – for 7 months! Imagine what it takes to book 214 nights’ lodging, transportation to 10 countries, and all the must-see sights you don’t want to miss. That’s our task – and we’re doing the planning while on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean….

When we sold our house and became Perpetual Travelers almost 3 years ago, Europe was solidly on our “bucket list” of places to go. We finally set the departure date while on a cruise to the Panama Canal with friends. The ship had a very good offer for a 14-day passage across the Atlantic to Europe – a small deposit, full cancellation privileges, a good price for a balcony stateroom, stops in 6 places and a $150 in shipboard credit. It was so attractive that we booked it on the spot, along with a return sailing in time to spend the holidays with the kids.

The Nieuw Amsterdam of Holland American

Holland American’s Nieuw Amsterdam

Phil and I had not cruised a lot so we listened when experienced cruisers told us how to get the best price. They said to either book early, book last minute, or book when the ship has a big sale. Back on land we continued to search sites like Vacations2Go.com for a better deal but this one remained on top. It was all set. We were going to Europe – and we had a lot of planning to do for 7 months.

We sketched out a kind of itinerary and booked a few things, but we didn’t have time for more. Instead we went off on another cruise, this time in the Caribbean, and then did a land trip to Costa Rica and Antigua, Guatemala. Planning would just have to wait.

How to plan for an entire 7 MONTHS

Finally we hunkered down in the RV in Florida to plan it all out. But things got in the way. We had friends to see, and our camping spot had terrific walking and biking paths. The nearby beach also beckoned and there were movies to catch up on. Then I made a trip to NC for a family event. We didn’t get very far in our planning.

Part of the reason was that it was all so daunting. We had to determine where exactly we wanted to go and when to go there for the best weather. Should we fly or take the train? What are the best districts in each city to stay in, could I really get by with just carry-on luggage and how was I going to get enough prescription meds to last me 7 months?

I got lucky exchanging our timeshares and booked one in Spain and two in the Italian countryside in September. We’ve long regretted buying into the timeshare thing back in the ‘90s. We find them hard to use but I was determined to figure out how to play the game and it seemed to pay off. With these timeshare properties booked, at least we had something in place to work around.

Before the bookings were all done, however, it was time for us to board the ship, bound for Europe. We tore sections out of guidebooks to take with us, treated ourselves to some bigger luggage (and new shoes for me), and boarded the ship with promises to skip dessert every night. We had earmarked our shipboard credit to offset the ship’s (exorbitant) internet fees so we could finish our work while onboard. We would have six days at sea before our first stop in the Azores in Portugal.

After the Azores, there would be 2 more days at sea then bam! Stops every day, first in the British Territory of Gibraltar, then the Spanish cities of Malaga, Alicante, and Palma de Mallorca before disembarking in Barcelona. There would be no time for planning during those going-ashore days.

Bad news about our 7 Month stay

I admit it – I had read about it from another traveler but I completely forgot this important and unfortunate fact – we are not allowed by law to stay in the European Union for 7 months!

After the EU was formed, the member countries met in Schengen, Luxembourg, and worked out a way for their citizens to travel from one country to another without needing visas. Foreigners like us, however, are limited to a maximum stay of 90 days during any 180 day period. Ninety days – not the 214 we were going to be in Europe.

The Schengen Agreement makes it very clear that there will be no in-and-outs for foreigners. Leaving the EU and returning does not reset the clock. That means that from the day we arrive in Barcelona on April 22 until 180 days later on October 20, we are only allowed to be in EU countries for 90 days in total. Aaarg, what about all the dates we had already booked and paid for that spanned over 7 months?

I had a bit of a hissy-fit about this until I remembered a discussion I had with our 6-year old granddaughter Gabriella. When we were talking about her taking a trip with her Grandpa and me, I asked her what her mother was going to think about it. Her straight-forward reply was, “She’ll just have to deal.” I figured I’d just have to deal with this.

Could we make this work?

It was tempting for us to ignore the Schengen rule and stay in the EU as long as we wanted. But the more we read about the penalties people reported – fines, being barred from returning to the EU, even jail – we agreed that we would comply. And just deal.

As the mathematician in the family, I got out my pencil and added up the days. Phil wanted to spend a month in Paris and another several weeks in Rome. We had already booked three timeshare weeks and a week in Provence, so the 90 days were pretty much accounted for. There were a lot of places we were not going to get to see. I reminded myself again that I’d “just have to deal”. Our 90-day clock would start again on October 20, so I needed to focus on exciting places to go outside the EU until then.

I googled the list of countries that are not participating in the Schengen Agreement and picked out a few we’d like to visit. As a lover of ancient history, Phil suggested the following. Instead of using our precious EU days in Barcelona when the ship arrived, we could go straight from the ship to the airport and fly to the Middle East for a tour of Israel and Jordan. We had heard that Turkey is very beautiful and Croatia is a hot destination these days, so we booked several weeks in those countries as well. But we still had lots more time to fill.

Some time ago, we visited Salt Lake City where the Mormons have a keen interest in their family heritage. This inspired us to dig into our family backgrounds so we had our DNA tested. My results pointed us to our next destination – Britain.

CarolSue DNA p.1CarolSue DNA p.2

With 95% of my blood coming from Britain and Scotland, of course I had to go there. Lucky for me, they don’t have the Schengen restriction, so I allotted England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland two full months of our travel time.

Or so I thought….

Another Cruise

It seems that Phil had now become a lover of cruising. While looking for a cruise to Greece, he found one for a very good price going to the Balkans. It leaves out of London on August 1 and stops in Brussels, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg Russia, Estonia and Poland. I hesitated at bit but we were encouraged by some new traveling friends who had been to these areas, and so we booked it.

This 2-week cruise falls smack in the middle of our 2 months in the British Isles, so my job, now that we knew I was the Brit in the family, was to divvy up our time there into 2 sections. I’m thinking we’ll go to England, Wales and Ireland before the cruise and England and Scotland after. There are so many English gardens and beautiful countryside manors and castles to explore (Downton Abbey, anyone?) that I’m now worried that we won’t have enough time. Plus I haven’t had time to fully book our lodging so it’s possible we may be “winging it”. Cross your fingers for us as it will be Summer high season, you know.

SHALL WE go to egypt?

We may not take that cruise back to the USA that we booked for the Fall. Booking time in Israel made me think about seeing the pyramids and the sphinx in Egypt. I understand that the best time to visit Egypt starts in October, when the temperature is no longer 115 degrees. If we go at that time, we’ll take advantage of the cruise line’s liberal cancellation policy and fly back to the USA instead of cruising. This is another decision we’ll delay until farther on down the road, so to speak.

“NOTHING TO DO AND SO LITTLE TIME TO DO IT”

That’s the saying on a cruise ship when there are lots of days at sea. Phil says he wants a cruise like that. We were very busy on this one, using what may be the slowest internet system known to man to do our bookings. To give you an example, it took Phil over an hour just to book a car on Budget. The connections were very slow and he kept getting kicked out and then having to start over filling out the form. I know we were in the middle of the ocean, but they can put a man on the moon, so why can’t we get better internet?

We watched other people on the ship enjoying the amenities we didn’t have time for. No lying around the pool sipping drinks garnished with little umbrellas, no games with the other guests or hours socializing in one of the many bars. We weren’t lying out on deck chairs reading novels on our Kindle or playing bridge in the game room. We had to pick and choose which of the lectures, classes, movies and shows we could afford the time to see. I did get in my 4 mile walk on the promenade deck each morning and we made sure we didn’t miss a meal. I think we consoled ourselves with the desserts we said we wouldn’t eat….

IMG_0751

Did we get it all done? No, not yet. But our time on the ship is over now and we’re off to the Middle East. At least this part of the trip is all planned, thank goodness.

How do you think it will all work out for us? Do you have any suggestions? Any places we must see? Have you had wild and crazy experiences planning trips? Please share your experiences and suggestions. If you reply in the Comments Section below others can see your comments, too, or you can email me. We’re a long way from home and it would be good to hear from you…

17 responses to “Cruising to Europe”

  1. Joyce says:

    Aloha Carol and Phil,
    I am having so much fun traveling with you guys, your pictures and
    stories are wonderful
    Take Care and Have Fun
    Mahalo Nui
    Joyce

  2. Susan Ullis says:

    Complex is right. I should have such problems! Looking forward to following your unfolding journey. Love all your photos.

    • CarolSue says:

      Hi Susan. Thanks for your comment. I am glad that you enjoy the photos of our travels. I’m glad you don’t see what an array of them I have. I can hardly bear to delete any, so I’ve had to add an extra hard drive just for photos! Glad you are along for the ride on our travels – it’s been a whirlwind lately. Best always, CaroSue

  3. Elsa Dixon says:

    Hi CarolSue
    I was sent a link to your blog by a friend of mine and I LOVE your posts and your descriptions of your experiences. I also love traveling and in fact, have organized small group tours for my friends.
    If you go to Downtown Abbey, make sure to book in advance – you won’t believe the crowds. There are 3 restaurants on the grass lawns outside. There is also an archeological museum in the basement – the original owner, Lord George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was the chief financial backer for the search and excavation of Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
    My friend, Barbara and I also did a tour of the island of Guernsey inspired by the book “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” (German occupation of the island) – check out our blogs re our trip of Southern England: https://dixone.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/monday-july-8-the-uk-travels-begin/
    I will be following your blogs closely – you are living the dream!!
    Elsa

    • CarolSue says:

      Dear Elsa, Thank you for your comment and for reading my blog. I’m so happy that you enjoyed it. Thanks, too, for the info on Downtown Abbey. I will certainly take your suggestions on this – very appreciated. I did not know the back story about the original owner. I, too, read the Potato Peel Pie Society book with my ladies’ book club on Kauai. I may have to check out Guernsey – but then there is so much to see that I think another trip will be in order.
      I enjoyed your blog of Southern England. I do want to see that area.
      Keep traveling yourself. I wish you Happy Trails.
      Best always,
      CarolSue

  4. Jodi says:

    Hello you lucky pair of so-and-so’s! I am positively green with envy; oh, sorry, did I already say that in a previous message? Erm, hello??? Tian will have a baby in a week so we’re off to S.B. and then somewhere else, I know not where. I really loved your Costa Rica story, for me it was the postest with the mostest. second was India. Thankyou for your exciting blogs; not always easy to get out but definitely well worth it for us, being on the receiving end. We are grateful you are keeping us up to date. Have a fab time in Europe, you lucky duckies!
    Aloha from the south shore.
    Jodi

  5. Aloha!
    We have had our fill of cruises, but just got an offer on homexchange.com to go to Amsterdam on an exchange. This is the second offer from Amsterdam we have gotten and may combine the two offers on a long term trip that is so far from Kauai. (90 days max) We have heard Amsterdam’s a good central location to travel from to easily get to other countries, like the UK. That is where my husband Joe (Williams) wants to go because, like your DNA- his DNA testing & research has taken him back to North Carolina, Great Britain, Wales, Ireland & Scotland. I think we have done all the genealogy digging we can do in Boone, Blowing Rock, Scotsville, Laurel Springs, NC for now. Our daughter is also talking about signing up for a study abroad college semester in a year or two, so that may be when we take the big (bucket list) long term trip to Europe, too. I have been to Europe a couple of times and even when I thought it was all planned out in advance, we did a bit of “winging it” because it is so easy to just hop a train and go somewhere extra you had not planned on or go back somewhere you really loved. We bought an extra backpack in Italy just to fill up with food & bring with us on the train so we would be able to eat healthy while hopping trains here and there at moments notice. B+B’s in Germany were more than happy to fill our back pack full of breakfast food if we had to leave very early in the morning to catch a certain train. Also, the best cheap local red wines we have ever experienced were in Italy so make sure you have an easy to pack wine bottle opener or buy one on the way – comes in real handy! We also had the hotel or B+B owner/manager book us our next hotel the day before we got to another city or county- Usually one of their sister hotels, thus very reasonably priced. Also, we learned to alway buy a First Class train tickets at the ticket counter the day we wanted to travel. (No advanced reservations seemed to be required) Second class is not bad, but First Class is not that much more and much better! A Eurail Pass used to be a good deal, but not sure if they still sell them. Hope these hints help and hope the US dollar is strong while you are there!
    Happy Travels,
    Carol Peacock

    • CarolSue says:

      Thanks, Carol. Sounds like you had a good trip in Europe. You have given us some terrific suggestions. It’s all very exciting to us. Hope you do the home exchange in Amsterdam.

  6. CarolSue:

    Have fun, enjoy the trip, and it does sound awful complex to me. I could not deal with it all.
    Pete Hueseman

  7. Sounds very complex to me, I probably could not deal with it all. Have fun and enjoy the trip.
    Pete Hueseman

  8. Donna says:

    Enjoyed hearing about your intense travel planning. Way, way back in the old days we set off for Europe without restrictions or reservations. We stumbled around for fourteen months with no internet and just a couple of well worn guidebooks. Best of times. As always, I look forward to hearing about your adventures!

  9. Pat and Orest says:

    Dear CarolSue and Phil:
    It was so wonderful to meet you both on our trip to Israel . We sure do agree on your comment that the tour was interesting but gruelling. I love your travel blog and will look forward to all your postings.
    We are very proud of you as you undertake this amazing adventure to explore our planet and immerse yourselves in the cultures and landscapes in this incredible life journey. We have been to almost 50 counties around the world and for us and our family, it has been a life changing experience. You mentioned that there are 192 countries in the world…I truly look forward to your travel stories as you continue on your adventures. Cheering for you always, Pat and Orest

  10. Di says:

    Hi!
    Love the colorful buildings & architecture!
    Macaques ??? 😉
    OXOX,
    Di

    • CarolSue says:

      Di, the Barbara Macaques are semi-wild monkeys, the only native breed left in Europe. You can make your way up to the Apes’ Den for a good look at them, but have to watch out as they steal anything that’s loose on your person. Phil and I got ourselves a snack at the concession stand on top of the Rock but were cautioned to eat it inside or we’d be hounded by these guys. Cute photo of the one posing for us, don’t you think? Love to you.

  11. Beaux McConnachie says:

    Great news you are coming to England still 🙂 x

    • CarolSue says:

      Beaux, I’m happy about it, too. Are you guys going to be there the last part of August? If so, message me on FB or email me more contact info, so we can connect! It’s been a long time since we enjoyed your company in Viet Nam! CarolSue

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