Insights into My Second Swipe of Europe This Summer

europe swipe ii

When people do a tour of Europe, I always wonder what route they take and how they get from point to point. Very rarely, if ever, did I get this information. So here I am now, sharing the result of my extensive research and the result of it. I haven’t finished writing about my country-to-country coverage for my first swipe of Europe, but this second one is coming in exactly a month time, so I just gotta share now because I’m excited!

So I made this itinerary with consideration that it’s gonna be in summer, I would like to visit countries that I haven’t visited in my first swipe as much as possible, and that I’m going to travel with 3 old(er) ladies — my mom and her sisters, who henceforth I will call the Wyrd Sisters (as a homage to both Shakespeare and Terry Pratchett). This is the first time for two of them to be in Europe.

The Wyrd Sisters are all devout Catholic (hence I was born and raised a Catholic too – though went astray after that) so our most important point in this trip is Rome and Vatican City, naturally. My initial itinerary was a lot simpler and took less time too: London > Paris > Barcelona > Rome > Athens > London. But the Wyrd Sisters pointed out that they’d really like to go to Lourdes as pilgrimage to Mary (I didn’t even know where it was – and was surprised to find out that it was in South of France) and Netherland since we used to be colonized by the Dutch. And my mom even has a side mission to visit Iffezheim in Germany – a small town where the family’s company’s medical equipment is from. (Really mom?! It’s in the middle of nowhere!)

So to cut the story short, I had to use all my traveling skill power to the max, added more days, and squeezed destinations in. I even swap the entire itinerary around, from starting with Paris, to ending with Paris, just because we need to be in Iffezheim on a weekday for the factory and office to be opened. (But at the end I found that it works rather nicely, because we’ll be in Rome and Lourdes on Sundays – very important to me so I don’t have to attend more than one mass a week)

So my final itinerary for 18 days is: (straight line indicates train ride, and curvy line indicates air ride)

London to Rotterdam via Brussel (train London-Brussel 3 hours and Brussel-Rotterdam 2 hours. Brussel is a required transit to go to Netherland from London.)

Rotterdam to Amsterdam (1 hour train)

Amsterdam to Heidelberg (5 hours train. Heidelberg is the closest big city to Iffezheim, the small town we need to go to. And Heidelberg itself has been one of my candidates since the inception of my first Europe trip.)

Heidelberg to Athens via Frankfurt (the closest airport from Heidelberg is Frankfurt which is 1.5 hour away by train. Frankfurt to Athens flight takes 2hr45mn. This is the most expensive part of the journey, since I guess Athens is really quite far from Frankfurt, or anywhere else, looking at the map now. Strangely it was almost impossible for me to find flight from Frankfurt to Rome, the prices were overly inflated. Lots of the cheaper flights to Athens make transit in Berlin and would waste a lot of our time.)

Athens to Rome (2 hours flight – very easy and cheap to find, no problem)

Rome to Barcelona (1.5 hour flight – again, very easy and cheap, no problem at all)

Barcelona to Lourdes (Now this is the trickiest part of the trip. There’s no straightforward way to get to Lourdes from Barcelona, although on paper they look really close. People usually go to Lourdes from Paris, with 6 hour train ride. There’s no closest airport to Lourdes so to speak, not the one from Barcelona anyway. Some people even suggest to fly from Barcelona to Paris, then do the train, which I think is super silly, considering how close we are already – just need to cross that freaking border! So after going up and down the world wide web, I found a way! There is a small station at the Spanish-French border called Latour de Carol or La Tor de Querol in Catalan, which you can probably guess by now how tricky, because it’s not even called the same in the two countries. This small station is pretty unique, in that there are three different train tracks of three different train systems: Spanish train, and two French trains (from Toulouse or mid France and the East coast). So you do need to stop at the station and change train, because the trains don’t connect. That is why there’s no direct train from Barcelona to Lourdes. From here I checked Spanish train timetable and the French timetable separately at two different sites and made the connection myself. I’ve bought tickets from Latour de Carol to Lourdes via Toulouse, but I have not yet found a way to buy ticket from Barcelona to La Tor de Querol. But I reckon since it is a local train, I should be able to buy the tickets later when I arrive in Barcelona. I was thinking for a while, whether it’s a wise thing to go off the beaten track at this point, since I’m going with the Wyrd Sisters, whose adventurous level I’m not very sure of (except for mom – she’d be cool). But as you can see, I’m going ahead with this plan. So fingers cross everything goes okay! If this is successful, I will definitely report back with the more detailed way to arrange connections between these two cities (or I might come back with failure report). Though the trickiest, I’m hoping that this will also be the most picturesque part of the trip, since we’re going straight through the middle of Pyrenees!)

Lourdes to Paris (6 hours train)

Paris to London (2.5 hours train)

In preparation of the trip, I’ve been reading and listening to the history and art of Greece and Rome for the past couple of weeks, which I love love love. The more I research about Greek history though, the more I’m brokenhearted that I will only be in Athens for 2.5 days, in this country that used to be the central of Western civilization, so overflowing with history, and has so much to explore! But hey you gotta do the best with whatever time you have.

So this time around I am really most excited about Athens, Rome, and Barcelona! Weee! :)