Terri and I have been to Europe on vacation previously 4 times. Three of those visits were to Italy and one was to Scotland and Ireland. We had also been there for business on multiple occasions, particularly Terri who traveled to Germany in her previous job at least twice a year. My first trip to Europe was way back in 1967 to visit relatives in Ireland. We spent 6 weeks there and although I was only 7 years old at the time, I still have many fond memories of it.
The trips we took to Italy were self-planned where we decided to visit particular cities. We made arrangements for moving from place to place on our own. We have friends in Monza, Silvio and Louisa, who we always stop to see as well. The Scotland-Ireland trip in 2003 was a bus tour organized by a Brendan Travel and one where the whole itinerary was planned in advance for us. This was an interesting way to travel and it reduced the stress of wondering where we were going next and how to get there, but it was a rather full schedule that required getting up early each day to pack up and move to a new location. Terri and I had taken to exploring the pubs in Scotland and Ireland during the evenings and had some late nights followed by early wake up calls so some of the bus travel remains a blur. But it’s a great way to see a lot in a short time and still affords some freedom to do things on your own. If you get a good tour guide, it can be very entertaining as well.
After watching several seasons of The Amazing Race, we got the bug to do some international travel again and so we began planning for a trip to Europe. I had accumulated enough frequent flyer miles on United to qualify for two round trip tickets to Europe, but after playing around on the United website for a while, it appeared that there were absolutely no frequent flyer seats available to any European city any time in 2006, so I called to talk to a real person at United. After searching around for about 30 minutes, we found that we could get into Ireland, but not out of it. However, we could get out of Amsterdam and back to the U.S. via Canada. Since we had planned to visit Ireland and Italy already, the challenge then was how to get from Ireland to Italy and then from Italy to Amsterdam. I had never been to Amsterdam before and so it seemed like a good place to visit as well.
I got on the Internet and started looking at Ryan Air and Aerlingus and was pleasantly surprised to find that one-way fares are very reasonable in Europe, something that you won’t find in the U.S., where they often cost more than a round trip fare. If you’re willing to fly out of cities that may be off the beaten path, Ryan Air has € .01 one-way fares! The € .01 fare is a little misleading because there are airport fees and taxes, but even so, the tickets come out to be around € 30 per ticket which is incredibly inexpensive. Our tickets from Dublin to Milan on Aerlingus were around €45 each. Ryan Air had similar prices.
We couldn’t get flights from Milan to Amsterdam at a reasonable price, but if we flew to Charleroi Airport outside of Brussels from Bergamo (about an hour east of Milan), we could get a Ryan Air € .01 fare! Then we just needed to figure out how to get from Brussels to Amsterdam, which would be a relatively easy train ride. This would give us a chance to see two new European countries and add some adventure to the trip.
Then next challenge was to find accommodations and plan the itinerary… more on that next time.