Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ed & Annette in Europe - By Car and By Boat

In the past few years Annette and I have taken a couple of soft trips to Europe, I call them soft as they were pre-packaged tours which included airfare, a week at a hotel, and a one hour boat ride in the destination city. The first year we went to London, the second year to Paris; those trips were wonderful and so memorable that they seem like just last week we were there.

We enjoyed them immensely and they were a way for us to get our feet wet on a continent that we had not visited before. North America is pretty well all the same, no mater were you go, but Europe has a different feel altogether and we wanted to feel comfortable before we struck out on our own doing our own thing.

Fast forward a couple or three years, and we found ourselves looking at the travel guides searching out our next European destination. Annette had her heart set on seeing St. Petersburg in Russia, along with the world famous Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace of the Russian Emperors; Annette found a great week long boat cruise that started in Copenhagen, Denmark and had St. Petersburg as one of it's ports of call.

I said to Annette, if we are going to be in Denmark, then we have to do the "roots" thing and visit some of the places we know the Pedersen clan originate from. Add to the complexity of the agenda, Annette had also wanted to visit Brussels and Bruges in Belgium on a previous planned trip but an illness she experienced a couple of years ago put that dream on the back burner.

So, we have three weeks of holiday time to pull together an agenda that allows us to see as much of Europe as we can, and still hit our highlights - a tall order for sure. Add to the problem, at this time Annette is walking around with the aid of a cane while she is on a waiting list for a hip replacement.

We started out with the premise that the only hard dates we had was to be in Copenhagen on a certain Sunday to catch the boat, and that we would be back in town a week later. Other than that, we had free range over what we did. That also included where we landed in Europe - if we flew into Frankfurt we would have to plan our trip to start there; if we flew into London or Paris, that brought other considerations into play. As it was, we were able to get a flight into Brussels were we wanted to be for our first leg of the journey - now we just had to figure out how to get to Copenhagen in a week to catch the boat.

This quickly turned into a game of planes, trains, and automobiles - it became apparent that renting a car to get around Belgium was ideal, but the next section of the trip was awkward. We wanted to stop off on the way at the small island of Aeros in Denmark, which is on the way to Copenhagen - problem was, you couldn't get there from here! Every thing we could figure out was an awkward combination of trains that didn't go all the way, or a ferry to catch midway, or fly to Copenhagen and back track for day....all the while we had to cart around our suitcases and assorted bags we had on our trip. On top of that, Annette is walking with a sore hip and a cane in one hand....that seemed like it really limited our movability. And to be honest, I didn't relish the idea of carting our luggage on and off trains, buses, cabs, and ferries either.

The solution was simple - we would rent a car in Brussels and drive to Copennhagen - defintely not cheaper, as renting a car in Europe is very expensive, the car drop off price in Copenhagen alone was 700.00 euros! But, it seemed like the only answer with Annette's limited mobility, my lack of youthful strength, and the iternary we had for the first week. Keeping the car allowed us to be truly flexible and put us back in the driver's seat (pun intended) of our trip.

It also gave us some trepidation, as we would now be totally on our own for that week passing through several countries were we did not speak the language(s) and had to hope we could find a hotel at night where ever we ended up. Driving trips like this are nothing new for Annette and I, we enjoy the freedom and spontaniety that these trips bring - difference is, in North America, we always knew where we were and at least the natives spoke English.

Over the next few days I'll be posting more day by day accounts of the trip, plus a series of videos covering our week of driving through four countries in northern Europe, as well as a week of cruising visiting another four countries. Stay tuned, lots more to come on the "Ed and Annette Do Europe" tour!

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