I started to write this post on the 88th day of our European adventure but Tiffany & I did not get to finish it until we were already 5 days into our Egypt trip. I am amazed at how quickly the first three months of our trip abroad has elapsed. In our ‘unplanning’ of this adventure before we left Maui, we had anticipated spending the allowed 90 days in the EU – Schengen Area with the normal visa. We booked our first destination on the Azores Island of Ponta Delgada in Portugal. Practically every onward destination from there has been made without any premeditation or planning! In our 87 days, I estimate that we have traveled approximately 12750 miles (20400 km) by planes, trains, cars, subways, electric trams, taxi cabs, buses, tuk-tuks, cable cars and horse drawn carriages. I am not including the many hours (and distance) that we covered on foot exploring our surroundings whenever we landed in a new destination. I am pleased to report that there were relatively few complaints from our three girls (10,7,6) when we went on our many self-guided walking tours whether it was thru narrow city streets or nature trails. We often went on these walks with no particular agenda, purpose or map (not even ‘smartphones’!). Our EU adventure included 5 countries (Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and Malta). We stayed in Ponta Delgada (Azores Islands of Portugal), Lisbon (capital of Portugal), Sintra (Portugal), Porto (Portugal), Madrid (capital of Spain), Barcelona (capital of the Catelonia Region of Spain), Vallirana (Spain), Vilanova i la Geltru (Spain), Nuremburg (Germany), Rostal (Germany), Palermo (capital of Sicily, Italy) and the Island of Malta.
We have lived in 10 residences (houses and apartments) that we booked thru Airbnb or Booking.com for usually one to two week stints. The rent varied considerably from $47 per day to $167 per day. Occasionally we have also stayed in hotels for a few days usually on impromptu extracurricular adventures. We have rented cars in Portugal, Spain and Italy. The renting part is easy and fairly inexpensive. It’s the driving part that was occasionally very challenging! Some of us have shopped (of course!). Shopping for clothes and other must have ‘treasures’ (and sometimes homeschool supplies or art projects) requires creative repacking of the suitcases each time that we move on to the next destination. It has also required us to mail packages home in every country. This seemingly simple task has been challenging in some countries (and expensive). We have posted some of these stories in our blog. Since I have to work at my consulting structural engineering practice while traveling to pay for our life abroad this year, I rely on the internet to communicate with my clients (most of whom are located in Minnesota). The reliability of the internet and WiFi systems in the residences and even hotels where we have stayed has been very poor to very good. We have become quite comfortable using local public transportation (buses, trains & subways). Deciphering the schedules has been challenging at times but we have managed to not get ‘too lost’. Since we have been living in houses and apartments, we have shopped in the local grocery stores and street markets (which seem to be everywhere in Europe). By and large, we have found that prices for food staples, cosmetics and toiletries are significantly less than in U.S. stores for similar or the same items (we are getting majorly ripped off in the states!) For example: Byly natural effective deodorant $15 US (amazon) €1.67 in Spain, Baguette $4.99 (Whole Foods) €0 .65 any country we’ve been). The same can generally be said for normal restaurant prices across Europe. All in all, we have found Europe to be a relatively good bargain for international travel.
We interviewed our girls Scarlet 10½, Eleanore 7, and Grace 6 to get their views on our travels thru Europe. Here are their words (mostly unedited):
- What was your favorite Airline?
Scarlet: Nile Air (fast service gave you food on a 40min flight)
Elle: WOW ( I like how it sounds, purple plane), Delta (Maui airport because it has a Starbucks)
Grace: Night Flights because its dark and you can see out the widows and it looks pretty
- What has been your favorite place we have stayed?
Scarlet: Nuremburg Apartment…why? cozy, warm, good beds and good places to walk to (Hot Tacos)
Elle: Lisbon Apartment, Madrid Apartment (4bedroom), Le Meridien Hotel (Cairo, room service and a heated pool)
Grace: Sintra House (with the musty cups, because I could watch the trains go by) and our current villa in Dahab
side note: I find that small children tend to remember the most recent things best. There fore including some things that were not technically part of Europe.
- What was the thing you enjoyed most that we have done?
Scarlet: Shopping with family, Lion King in Madrid, Madrid Zoo
Eleanore: Bird Show at Madrid Zoo
Grace: Feeding the Cats in Sicily, being chased around by a little Spanish boy at the Airbnb in Vallirana, Spain, Lion King Madrid, Aquarium Malta, Esplora (Malta)*
*If you get a chance, Esplora in Malta is an incredible interactive children’s science museum and Planetarium. The best we’ve seen anywhere in Europe or even in the states!
- What was the most boring thing that we have done so far?
Eleanore: Post Office
Grace: Prado Museum, Madrid
- What was your favorite mode of Transportation?
Scarlet: U-bahn Germany (took only a few minutes to get somewhere)
Eleanore: Tuk Tuk, Portugal
Grace: U-Bahn (subway, big tunnels, underground, cool)
- What was your favorite food experience?
Scarlet: Hot Pot, Madrid (where you cook your own food at the table in a boiling cauldron called a Hot Pot, we were hoping for familiar Chinese dishes and instead had platter and platters of uncooked unidentifiable food brought to us and had no idea what to do with it. Tiffany’s Comment)
Eleanore: Wendy’s pancakes in Minnesota (my mom’s best friend) “Wendy’s pancakes are so good”
Grace: All you can eat Sushi in Sintra, Portugal and 3 course menu in Spain
- What was your worst food experience?
Scarlet: Hot Pot, Madrid “It was fun cooking it, but not fun eating it”
Eleanore: Popeye’s Village Hamburger, Malta
Grace: couldn’t come up with any
- What was the best dessert you had on this trip?
Scarlet: anything chocolate
Eleanore: Plain Mango ice cream, Nuremburg
Grace: “I don’t know because there are so many to choose from.” Store bought Neapolitan and Stracciatella Ice Cream, (Lidl Grocery, Sicily)
- What was the worst dessert that you had on this trip?
Scarlet: Yogurt flavored ice cream, Madrid
Eleanore: Nutella Street Crepe, Dahab Egypt (again most recent not Europe)
Grace: Banana Street Crepe, Dahab Egypt
- What was your favorite purchase?
Scarlet: “I like it all”
Eleanore: Stuffed Cat Steiff Germany
Grace: Snow Dog stuffed animal in Barcelona Airport and Penguin stuffed animal at Malta, Aquarium
- What was your favorite animal encounter?
Scarlet: Pandas, Madrid Zoo
Eleanore: baby twin goats, streets of Dahab Egypt
Grace: Cats at the Baglio in Sicily
- What was the best park that we played at?
Scarlet: German Park next to Norma Grocery Store
Eleanore: German Park next to Norma Grocery Store
Grace: Sea Park, Aquarium Malta
- Where was your favorite place that we visited?
Scarlet: Germany the house, temperature (coming home to a warm house), people were nice and it was pretty
Eleanore: Minnesota (to see Wendy and Cash and the uncles John and Pete) North Dakota (to see Grandma Stroh and Zoe)
Grace: Minnesota (Wendy and Cash, good food, good pool, good waterslide), North Dakota
- What was the most beautiful thing you saw in nature?
Scarlet: Falling leaves in Germany, Rocky formations in Sicily
Eleanore: São Miguel Island, Portugal, overlooking the Atlantic and beautiful Islands
Grace: Porto Beaches
- What language have you heard that you are interested in learning?
Scarlet: Spanish, because I am already learning it
Grace: Gracias (Spanish)
And that’s all for now folks. Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter!
Tiffany & Bernie