On the Way to Berlin

August 11, 2011 - 6:46 pm No Comments

I’m sitting on Air France flight #39. My seat in 15L is next to a window about 30 feet from an enormous engine. Out the window is the featureless blue-gray swath of the Atlantic Ocean. It stretches to the horizon, where bubbly cumulus clouds and layers of white stratus are having a party. This will be the seventh time I have crossed the Atlantic.

Atlantic Blue

Dinner on Air France

With my personal life calming down a bit and the tail end of summer approaching, I decided that it was time for another travel adventure. I didn’t have any friends willing or able to go with, so I was on my own.

I had a couple of weeks in August that seemed like a good time to go. The season motivated me to pick a northern hemisphere destination, but where? When picking a destination, I am often guilty of paralysis by analysis. It took some effort, but I whittled down my “must-see” list to these three options:

  • Iceland/Scandinavia – I’ve always wanted to take a photographic expedition to Iceland, and I’ve always been curious about Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. I also know that summer is be the only time to go to these places.
  • Greece/Turkey – Greece is a must, and I hear good things about Istanbul.
  • Central Europe – I haven’t seen any of these countries. Prague and Italy are high on my list.

I reached out to traveler friends and relatives for advice, leading to some in-depth conversations on Facebook. My cousin Eric and his partner Carl were particularly helpful, having been around the world themselves.

Economic instability and rioting ruled out Greece for the time being, and Iceland/Scandinavia looked like it was going to be a very expensive trip, so I eventually settled on central Europe.

I loved my organized tours of Australia and New Zealand with Oz and Kiwi Experience, and I thought it might be fun to do something similar in Europe. A bit of online searching, and I was overwhelmed. Carl, now a travel agent, had the inside scoop on a lot of the tours. He steered me away from Contiki, saying that those trips would be filled with drunk, vomiting teenagers. He recommended Intrepid and Gap Adventures.

I found an attractive package with Intrepid going from Berlin to Venice, and when I learned that they were offering 20% off the package price for the dates I wanted, I jumped on it.

It’s such a cool and strangely nervous feeling when you click the book button and stare at the web browser for a few moments before you get confirmation.


  • Berlin, Germany – Was never high on my list, but it’s included and might be cool. There’s the obvious WWII history, which I want to explore. Other than that, all I know is that Germans make great cars, don’t really have a sense of humor, and have a rough-sounding language. I’m getting here a day before the tour starts to do some exploring on my own.
  • Krakow, Poland – From there, I’ll be taking a day trip to Auschwitz. Don’t know much about Krakow itself.
  • Prague, Czech Republic – I’ve heard only amazing things from people who have been there. Beautiful city, beautiful people.
  • Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic – Never heard of this place. A quick Google search reveals it to be a small, medieval town. Hopefully, there’s some charm there.
  • Vienna, Austria – The place to see and hear classical music. Other than that, I’m guessing Austria is pretty similar to Germany.
  • Budapest, Hungary – I think I’ve seen pictures with some cool architecture, but I don’t know anything else about it.
  • Bled, Slovenia – Never heard of it, but my friend Josh just went there and loved it.
  • Venice, Italy – For some, the most romantic and beautiful place in Europe. For others, 24 hours is more than enough. From what I’m hearing, the city is slowly going underwater, so I should probably see it while I can. I want to see the rest of Italy, but to do it thoroughly, I’ll need to devote a separate trip to it. I’ve booked an extra day at the end of my trip to relax a bit before heading home.

It’s an impressive-looking itinerary. Should be lots of opportunities for photography, good food, and people-watching. I’m a little concerned that a day or two in each of these cities won’t be enough, but with careful planning, I should be able to hit all the highlights. We’ll be spending quite a bit of time in transit, but that’ll be a good time for me to catch up on blogging and photos.

Accommodation in hostels, hotels, and apartments is included. Transportation by train, coach, local bus, minivan, and metro is arranged, as well. In each city, we’ll have lots of optional activities to choose from, but my understanding is that we’re free to do as we please.

I’m also looking forward to the nightlife in each of these cities, given that my social circle at home is slowly being dismantled by relationships and careers. That’s what happens in your mid-thirties. It’s been many months since I really let loose.

After years of mostly independent travel, this is the first organized tour I’ve taken since 2000, when I toured New Zealand (or since the summer of 2004, when I was a Trek America tour leader, if you count that). I’m finding that, as I get older, I have less and less patience for all the comparison-shopping, schedule-making, and communication difficulties that go along with booking complex international itineraries. With a friend doing some of the gruntwork, it’s tolerable. If it’s just me, I’m all for easy.

At last check with Intrepid, there were only 5 or 6 people booked on this trip. With so few, it’s a crapshoot. One or two assholes or a few boring, old people, and the next two weeks could be miserable. But if I luck out with fun and interesting travel companions, it’ll be a blast. Tour guides can also make or break a trip, but when most of our time is away from the group, I wonder how involved the guide really is. Seems like his/her role would be mostly logistical.

The Ride to Paris

This Airbus A380-800 is a big-ass plane. The ride is wonderfully smooth, and it’s pretty quiet up here in front. The flight’s at barely 50% capacity. I wonder how many people they need in order for the flight to be cost-effective. There’s a camera in the tail and nose of the plane, as well as one on the bottom that looks straight down. You can use the in-seat video monitor to check out the view. First time I’ve ever seen that.

Flight Cam

The captain said that flight time to Paris will be only 6 hours, 23 minutes. We arrive at 6am local time, which will be midnight for me. I should try to get some sleep to minimize jet lag.

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