Monday, March 29, 2010

Passport Arrived!

Okay, I've received my passport. Can I go now??

4 more weeks from this Thursday...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Weekly update

I checked the status of my passport and it's in the mail for delivery! I should be getting it on the 31st so it looks like it took about 4 weeks for processing. I'm so ready to leave now but I've got 5 more weeks to wait and it kind of feels like forever.

My business cards arrived too and they turned out perfectly! I couldn't be happier!

This Sunday I found out my dividend from REI was $135 so I was about to purchase most of the final, much needed items for the trip. (Compass, flashlight, toiletry bag, laundry kit, compact tote for the markets)
The pair of shoes I decided on were Teva Westwater Shoes in Bracken. With the dividend and a 20% off coupon they were only $53 so I'm happy. They look comfy and had some great reviews for people who have traveled and walked around a lot with them. They aren't as stylish as the Dansko's but they are a lot cheaper (and technically "free" since I used my dividend money).

As many of you know I love socks and couldn't resist 50% off nice wool socks. I bought a pair of Lorpen Merino Light Hiking Socks in Turquoise and as soon as I put them on I decided I wanted to buy a couple more. They are comfy and perfect for the trip. My dad's girlfriend, Deborah bought me some Smartwool biking socks for Christmas that I absolutely love and these are similar. Unfortunately, my Siamese mix cat really likes wool and she chewed up the green pair I got for Christmas. I can't help but to love her though, check out the cuteness:

I keep all wool and knitted items where she cannot reach them now :)

So, I confess, I did splurge on something I didn't need for this trip. I bought the Haiku Messenger Bag for everyday use in the brown color. I doubt it will make it to Europe because I already have a purse/carry on bag but ever since my rock climbing gear got stolen from my car back in November I haven't had a backpack and I've desperately needed something to pack clothes/gear in for overnights. This was affordable, practical and very cute.

And lastly, I bought the Mountain Hardwear La Rambla Skirt in Espresso because it's lightweight, matches the shoes and looks comfy to travel.

I'm choosing a lot of REI clothes to bring with me. They are expensive but from experience they are quite durable and really great for long trips. The style is kind of athletic-chic and usually the clothes are flattering on my figure. I always feel comfortable purchasing REI clothes because they are so great with returns. If something doesn't fit or I just don't like it they are amazing and refund or exchange immediately.

The funny thing is I started out not wanting to over-plan this trip and now I'm pretty much documenting and planning everything. I am just too excited. At least I haven't made any day itineraries yet! I plan on picking a few things from each city I'd like to see and planning when I get there. For now I'm mostly concerned with packing and space. I'm a clinical over-packer and in order for me to minimize how much I end up packing it helps to be organized and also buy a few new outfits I'm excited about.

It will be nice when I'm finally able to leave so I post a little more about where I am and less about the silly things I'm buying. One month left... My sister is going to be in Europe at the same time as me but she is going to be on a cruise with my Grandma. I'd love to meet up with them but they are going to be pretty far North so right now it's not in the plans. I don't even think Claire (sister) knows her itinerary yet either. We'll see though, it could be fun to plan a mini-trip!

Last weekend I got to enjoy the opening of the Portland Farmers Market at PSU and I may do the same tomorrow. I bought some amazing cherry strawberry lavender jam from one of my favorite booths and also picked up some nettles and wild mushrooms to make a delicious soup. I have leftovers for dinner tonight! The only downside of the market was scoring an $80 parking ticket for being a foot or so over the yellow line because car behind me parked out of their space. Yep, awesome. I won't be paying that ticket for a few months. And tomorrow I'll be biking! Hopefully the weather is nicer. Around this time Portlands weather is pretty bi-polar; one minute it's pouring and the next it's sunny and warm. Mornings are crisp and cool and afternoons are warm, bright and sunny. This is why we learn to embrace layers! I will miss Portland while I'm gone.

Friday, March 19, 2010

More things I've been ordering

I've been going down a checklist of items I need while traveling and while it was fun at first it's now tiring trying to find the best deal online. Thankfully it's my non-busy week of the month at work so I've had a little extra time to browse.

Amazon has a free 3 month trial of Prime shipping that I signed up for so my links are Amazon heavy. The prime shipping is pretty awesome. You receive everything in 2 days and shipping is free. My trial runs out the day I leave for Europe and I set it up so they won't be charging my credit card for the actual cost ($89 or so) for a year.

1) Iso Tourmaline Dual Voltage Hair Straighter: I indulged in one girly appliance to bring to Europe and found this for a nice price. I used it today and it works well! My current straighter (Solia) has a loose plate and isn't dual voltage. It made sense to buy this instead of a voltage adapter since everything else I'm taking is dual voltage.

2) 3 prong power adapter for my laptop and anything else I'm plugging in

3) A word padlock for the lockers in hostels. It's been recommended to buy locks for each zipper on my backpack too, which I will probably do. I found a 4 pack set on Amazon for $10.

4) Compact microfiber towel so I won't need to pay to rent a towel

5) Some earplugs. I bought a 50 pack of ear-plugs from someone on Ebay for $10. I hate earplugs but I'm a really light sleeper and hate getting woken up even more so I'll have to get myself used to them!

6) Timex watch: since I won't be carrying around my cellphone and it's my normal way to keep the time I figured it would be a good idea to get a watch with an alarm. Watches are pretty cheap nowadays!

7) Okay, okay, I guess there are two girly indulgences. I bought a Fleur De Lys Scarf from Piperlime because I had a $10 rewards coupon, found a $10 off $10 promo code and shipping was free. A few of the books I've read say a fashionable scarf is an easy way to spice up an outfit and stay warm at night. I have a simple jersey cotton black dress that paired with this scarf will look nice for a restaurant or club.

8) Maybe it's weird but I wanted to buy some tasty granola bars to throw in my bag for those times when I'm too lazy to make food, buy food or go anywhere. Snacks are good! You can buy boxes of them on Amazon and set it for them to deliver at regular intervals and get 15% off. You can cancel at anytime, no big deal. I picked every 6 months but I'm going to cancel that too; I just wanted the discount, haha.

I bought some KIND bars: apricot and almond. If you've never tried these you should! They are worth spending $1.75 on at the store. Yum! I also wanted to try out another bar that had some good reviews: Oskri Organic Turkish Delight. I'll pack a few of each in my luggage and use the rest for lunches until I leave.

Although all but 2 of the hostels provide linens I am considering a Hammond Sleep Sack just in case any of those places are a little sketchy. This will take up a little more space but I also have really sensitive skin and have had some allergic reactions before from different laundry detergents in bedding so it might be better to be safe on this one!

Things I still need to buy:
-3oz travel containers
-small toiletries bag to bring in shower
-considering an electric razor
-padlocks for my luggage
-laundry kit (woolite, clothesline or inflatable hangers and sink stopper)
-pajama pants
-2 fitted white t-shirts
-2 new tank tops (shelf bra)
-lightweight socks
-comfortable sandals! I like these but are they really worth $110?
Dansko Lolita. They look comfy to walk in and have great reviews but I think I'll check out a few local stores before I buy some online.
-Can opener
-Box of Emergen-c
-Mini-first aid kit - I think I have most of the supplies though
-Wrap/Shawl - although I think I will knit this
-lightweight packing cubes

I'm starting to narrow down the shirts and clothes I'm going to take. Everything is coming together nicely and there is still 5 weeks left. I can't wait to get my passport and get out of here. Everyone is talking about spring break. I forgot what that is! I can't wait to take a vacation from work for a little bit. Even though I'll be working on this trip I'll still be taking a few days off here and there!

Tonight I'm heading to the climbing gym. I've been thinking about checking out some places to climb in Europe. I won't be packing any harness but I bet there are some good boulders! Hmmm...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My new business card

While checking out places to order business cards I decided to use Vista Print because they had a pretty good deal. I didn't add my address or phone number on the card since I can always write this on the back. It's mostly a social networking kind of card anyway.

It's cute and only set me back $13.40. ($6.48 for cards, $3.74 to upload an image and $5.67 to ship) I wanted to have the back printed in color too but it was an extra $9 and it's not like I had anything else to add. The only problem is the minimum I could order was 250 so I'm going to have a hell of a lot of freaking cards.

Everything is ready to go!

This morning I finalized everything for my trip and it feels awesome! I leave 7 weeks to the day and it's pretty exciting to know it's coming up so soon. All train tickets, bus rides, hostels, B&B's, apartments and plane tickets are booked.

The total cost for 5 weeks of lodging Europe came to 860 euros, which is about $1175 USD currently ($33.57/US a night). I know I could have saved more money if I hadn't booked 2 apartments but it's a vacation! I've also had a few friends tell me they know friends in some of the cities I'm staying but I haven't heard any more details besides "I know someone who lives there!". I bought deposit insurance for $1 for each hostel in case something comes up last minute and I find cheaper or better lodging. It would be really nice to spend some time with locals and friends of friends so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

The exchange rate has dropped about 10 cents to the dollar since December (1 euro = 1.36 USD. In December it was 1.46) so I'm considering calling up my bank to see what rate they are using and exchanging some money once I'm able to cash a check my awesome dad gave me for Christmas. Exchanging money also makes it a lot harder to spend here. Linette loaned me a really comfy money belt so I feel a little better knowing that I may be carrying a little bit of cash. Because I'm clumsy though, most of it will be left at home in my bank account to withdraw over there.

For this trip I decided to cash in my 401K that has been sitting at another company since I left in 2007. There has been talk of charging me a few hundred a year to manage this account and since it's under $2,000 it really seems pointless to keep it there and lose money. I could have rolled it over to my own account but I'm still an irresponsible kid at heart who needs any and all the monetary resources available to me for this trip. My birthday is in June but I think some family members might be giving me an early b-day gift to help with costs, which is really sweet.

So, now it's a waiting game! I can focus more on the sights I want to see and wait patiently for my passport to be delivered. I am a member of REI and have a nice dividend coming to me at the end of this month which I can use to purchase some travel gadgets/gear. I know I want one of those lightweight super absorbent towels, 3oz bottles for soaps, a compass and some of that awesome space Neapolitan ice cream just cause they sell it there. Also, a padlock or two for the lockers. And personalized business cards with my name, picture, email and Facebook info to give to new friends. Oh, there are so many things but it's really exciting to be in the home stretch and gathering my final items. REI also has some amazing lightweight pants that are flattering that I may splurge on if my budget allows (they are $55). I've got plug adapters coming and may need to get a voltage converter for my hair straighter. It's the only girly thing that I really am going to give in and bring besides a small amount of make-up. For some reason I feel slightly less grody when I straighten my hair if I haven't had a chance to shower for a day or two.

For fellow travelers reading this blog, what are some essential things I should put on my list to bring?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My itinerary as promised!

Since I've booked my ticket my flight times have changed 5 times now. They're usually minor but every time I get that email I can't help but to worry a little. It doesn't matter so much about my flight leaving Frankfurt, but my flight in I need to make sure is the right time because someone is picking me up from the airport.

You know when you arrive at an airport and see people with signs? One of those signs is going to have my name on it. It's kind of exciting! The lady from the bed and breakfast I'm staying at offered to pick me up for free, which was amazingly sweet of her. She is about 40 minutes from Frankfurt and usually charges about 40 euros to pick people up so I'm very thankful that she offered. I have to pay 50 euros a night because of that rub-it-in-your-face single supplemental fee but it will be worth it to have 2 days to relax, orient myself and stay in a small town with a local family. It's her husbands birthday the first night and she invited me to celebrate with them if they do something fun. I need to figure out if people tip for B&B's. She's going out of her way to do some really nice things for me that I feel like I should give her more than 100 euros for the 2 nights. I'm on a pretty tight budget but kindness means a lot! This is where I'll be staying:

Water Lilly Bed and Breakfast

It's simple, pretty and looks really nice. I'm not sure how I even stumbled across this place but I'm glad I did!

From there I'll take the S-bahn or bus to Frankfurt, stay a night and then find my way to Amsterdam. I don't know where I'm staying in Frankfurt yet and will probably book a hostel. Right now I'm not feeling very excited about the city but I haven't read much about it. I could always leave a day early and stay somewhere else along the way.

Frankfurt to Amsterdam: I'm looking for the cheapest way to get there. Ryanair doesn't seem to want to accept my credit card which is pissing me off. I've tried 3 cards and a debit card. There are a few forums online where people have mentioned this problem but others seem to be just fine so I'm not quite sure why I'm having trouble.

Amsterdam: 3 nights. I'm staying at a Christian hostel because I'm not really interested in smoking pot or drinking at my hostel. Most of the reviews I've read of the other cheaper places to stay had lower safety ratings, cleanliness and stressed a lot of noise. A good portion of this trip will be spent in hostels so I'd like to minimize contact with the annoying party people if possible. I'm also a big fan of sleep. This hostel has a bible reading get together that you can be sure I'm not going to hang around for. It's still a hostel in Amsterdam, how bad can it be?

I'll be leaving that Friday morning and heading to Berlin for 7 nights. After looking around online for different ways to get around Europe I decided it would be easiest to be a part of a tour so I wouldn't have to worry too much about bus schedules. This is still a vacation so having some part of the trip taken care of is pretty alluring. I booked a bus tour called Busabout on the Northern Loop. Basically these buses start out in Amsterdam and travel through different cities on a loop. The bus stops at major cities and smaller places along the way but it only stays overnight at the bigger cities. You have the option to stay at the smaller stops for an even number of nights and at the larger stops for an odd number of nights. It's flexible and they pick you up and drop you off at a hostel. I'm not staying in all of the ones on their list but the ones that I've booked are pretty close.

In Berlin I'm staying at Paula's Comfy Corner.

Paula has been friendly and accommodating and we worked out an amazing deal for the promise of cookies. Writing a nice email really works! I'm thrilled to stay there and for 6 nights! The final night I'll be at the pick-up hostel for the bus so I don't have to travel across the city at 7am.

The rest of my trip is:

Berlin to Dresden for 2 nights
Dresden to Prague for 5 nights
Prague to Cesky Krumlov for 2 nights
Cesky Krumlov to Vienna for 3 nights (I really wish I were staying longer now)
Vienna to Salzburg for 2 nights
Salzburg to Munich for 3 nights (day trip to Fussen)
Munich to Paris for ? nights
Paris to Frankfurt to home!

I'm staying in an apartment in Prague and in Vienna. I need to find a place to stay in Munich and in Paris but something has been holding me back from making those reservations... probably because they are both expensive cities! More details on the rest later. I'm slowly flushing out my plans but I could use some recommendations on things to do everywhere I'm staying! I have a small list from a few friends but nothing on paper.

Portland has been beautiful recently. Today I can feel a chill coming in from my window and the smell of rain is in the air. We've had an amazingly mild February and March so far and hardly any rain. There was a yarn crawl that I was tempted to take part in but I know what happens when I go to yarn stores and I'm very much on a budget! Plus, I have too much yarn anyways. It seems like the perfect day to fix an espresso and sit on ones bed with the window open reading my Lonely Planet book. I think I'm going to try to read a bit more about Munich and Paris so I feel a little more inspired to finalize those plans. For as long as I've dreamed about going to Europe I feel pretty unprepared for what I should want to see/do on this trip. I think I'm focusing more on going and just being over there and absorbing the culture instead of museums and tours. If anyone has any suggestions please feel free to comment, I'd love any input!

Friday, March 5, 2010

well... that went well!

I was planning on getting my passport this weekend but thankfully in a moment of sheer genius I checked the "where can I get a passport" website this morning and found out passport offices have weird schedules like: 10-3pm. No Saturday's. I'm on an 8 week crunch where every day is precious and getting my application in ASAP is pretty much my goal.

I sent my boss the obligatory email and started getting ready. For some reason (actually, I know why) I started browsing youtube for Spice Girl video's and got really distracted. Then I put on way too much makeup and left for the post office. I had on sage green eyeshadow that matched my shirt and a nice red lipstick to bring out my lips and even flat ironed my hair. I filled out the application, waited in line and then got my picture taken and.... I look like a big ole hooker. Seriously, it's bad. I was too embarassed to ask them for a tissue to take the lipstick off and re-take it so I'm stuck with this awful picture for a long time. Oh well! I got the application in and maybe I'll get expedited because some swarmy guy at the passport office will like the photo.

Yesterday I had a meeting with my boss (Bill) and other sort of boss (Frank) to discuss my plans. I approached Bill about 2 weeks ago with a proposal for this trip. Turns out he was impressed with my vacation request in an excel format and he's happy I'm going to Europe. I had requested to work while I was over there and I've spent the past month ensuring I'm staying at places with wifi, renting a few apartments for downtime and making sure I can log into my computer remotely. Everything has been working out perfectly and I still have my job during the trip to work part-time. Any income is a major plus and I'm happy to log in remotely and keep up with some work. How many people get a 5 week vacation in Europe but still have the ability to work and make money? I like downtime and my job won't be too taxing. I feel really lucky! I invested in a light netbook to take with me and it's the perfect size.

I've yet to find a place to stay in a few cities and I suppose I should book some hostels now to finish up my trip plans. This trip is turning out to be a lot more structured than I originally wanted but a few weeks ago I started stressing about not knowing last minute costs and the general feeling of being totally stranded and lost in another country and started planning. I suppose not planning this trip kind of goes against my nature anyways - I'm pretty organized. It's cool though, I'm on a bus tour that is more like a bus service with some annoying college kids that I may or may not get along with and I've got places to stay that are not the hostels most of them will be staying at in case it's the latter.

This weekend I'll work on finalizing plans and figuring out the best way to get from Frankfurt to Amsterdam and then from Paris back to Frankfurt. Once I have all of that together I'll be posting my itinerary! I'm also going to try to find an inexpensive smaller digital camera somewhere as the one I own has dropped acid. It's LCD screen is full of rainbows and there's no viewfinder. This isn't too helpful when trying to actually take a picture of something. "Oh yeah, here's the mountain next to an awesome castle!"

Finally, I need to get my sh*t together and make a full on list of what to bring. I have read so many books with tips and I'm bound to forget some of them. I've concluded there is just way too much literature on Europe. It's overwhelming but it's still exciting to read. I'm limiting myself to a carry on sized bagpack so I can call myself a real backpacker. Good thing I'm used to wearing the same pants everyday now cause I'm packing light! I need to start running more and working out so I can fit into a few of my lightweight dresses too. Ahh, so many things to do. Time to get to work!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why I've started a new blog

I'm starting this blog specifically for my Europe trip in May. I know many people travel to Europe each year and I don't doubt that my experiences will be similar to others who write travel blogs, but I wanted a place for family and friends to keep up with my journey.

So welcome! I'll be updating here instead of my normal LiveJournal blog (which is private) and posting pictures, experiences, thoughts, adventures and just reflections of my trip. I'm pretty far along with the planning process at this point but I still have a bit more left to get together before I leave. More specifically: my passport!

I had to order another copy of my birth certificate, which was from Maryland. Of course I realized I had lost my birth certificate during the worst time ever - the east coast snow storm. Finally 2 weeks later it arrived in my mailbox and I'll be heading to the local post office to fill out the forms this Saturday morning.

Soon I'll update more about my trip and where I'll be going as well as my itinerary. Europe in 5 weeks seems like a lot of time (and money) but I know that there is so much more to see over there. A common thing I've heard is that travelers rush from place to place too quickly and never really have the time to experience the culture except through a snapshot. Rushing around sounds unpleasant and while I'm still covering a lot of ground I've focused this trip on 4 countries and mainly, 4 cities. I'll be staying in smaller cities for 2 days and others I'll be at for 4 days to a week.

I've always loved reading travel memoirs and other people's experiences so I have small hopes that this blog will be inspiring to some and a light, entertaining read to others. Or, in the case of my parents, know that I'm safe.

More soon!