Reflections on three weeks in Europe

Earlier this summer, my wife and I spent three weeks travelling across mainland Europe visiting eight extraordinary cities.

This trip was almost a year in the planning, starting with just a flight to France and a flight home from Croatia. With those simple constraints in place, we spent many a cold winter hour plotting a route between the two countries that would incorporate just the right number of stops and allow us to travel by train as much as possible.

By the time we came to set off, we had a pretty robust itinerary in place and accommodation booked in each city.

This sort of planning would put off some travellers, and possibly scare others, but I enjoy it.

By planning many months in advance, we have plenty of time to get our heads into a trip. In this case, we could research the cities that we most wanted to visit and then plot some interesting routes between them, making the most of our 23 days and limited budget.

We were able to book some of our travel in advance – securing a good deal on an otherwise pricey sleeper train, for example – and arrange accommodation that ensured we hit the ground running when we arrived in each new city.

We’re never inflexible with an itinerary, and we always book refundable rooms in case we want to make last minute changes (as we often do).

As it happens, we got the plan for this trip about right. I could have happily spent another night or two in Lisbon, and we possibly had one night too many in Piran (though the opportunity for a rest day on the beach meant that we were recharged for the final week).

This felt like a series of long weekends across Europe, which is no bad thing, but if I have one regret, it’s that we didn’t stay in any one city long enough to properly get under its skin. It has, however, given us a good idea of where we’d like to return to and spend more time (Slovenia, mostly).

Of course, throughout the trip, it was the unexpected and simplest pleasures that were the most memorable: Early morning stops for coffee in San Sebastian, a generous invitation to dinner in Lisbon, a glass of wine in an impossibly quiet corner of Venice, kayaking on Lake Bohinj and a stroll around historic Ljubljana at dusk.

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