Life in London / Travels

Planning a White Christmas

I know, I haven’t posted for a while. It was because I thought I hadn’t been up to much interesting – work (oh, and Andre got a job! Woohoo!), church, fellowship group, hanging out with friends, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary.

But I have been planning our next trip. And I thought, it is just as worth blogging about planning trips, as blogging about the trips themselves!

Where to go?

The first thing to do when planning a trip is to decide where you want to go. For Andre and me this time round, we wanted a white Christmas. In Europe, looking for close on guaranteed snow means either going super far north (like, Scandinavia) or up in altitude (the mountains). We decided we like sunlight thank you very much, so would give Scandinavia a skip in the middle of winter. Germany is renowned for its Christmas culture but its snow is nothing like guaranteed in December, while neighbouring Austria has cheap  and higher mountains. This, for us, meant either Dresden or Nuremberg for the German Christmas markets, and then Seefeld in Austria to go skiing over Christmas, followed by a few days in Vienna before going home (and boy, did it take us forever to pick which mountain village to stay at over Christmas. Weighing up altitude, likelihood of snow, convenience to Germany, price, character, etc etc!) We wanted to visit Berlin too, but this would be affected by how much time Andre could get off once he found a job.

How long?

Planning how much time you want to spend in each place will impact how many places you can actually see. You might start with ten places you want to visit, but you can’t spend 3 or 4 days in each of those places if you only have 4 weeks. Generally, you are better off cutting out places than spending less time in each place just to visit every destination on your list. Why? Two main reasons. One, the more often you move from destination to destination, the more expensive your trip will be. Transport is one of the most expensive bits about travelling. Two, you won’t see each place very well at all if you only spend a day or two there. You won’t have time to explore museums and galleries, wander through markets, or stop and relax in parks. You’ll only have time to rush about the city taking photos of the main sights for a day or two, and then the next day you’ll be on another train onto the next place. And it’s tiring, moving that fast.

So you might find, as you figure out how much time you want to spend in each spot, that the number of destinations on your list changes. When we planned our first trip to Europe, we ended up dropping 4 destinations off our list – Berlin, Barcelona, Beaune (in France) and the Cotswolds. Beaune got dropped in favour of the french Alps, but the other three just got dropped due to time. Barcelona was so far out of the way from everywhere else we were visiting, too. It would have been expensive and time-consuming to get there and then on to our next destination. ‘Next time,’ we said. We didn’t know when ‘next time’ would be, but you have to tell yourself there’ll be one or you’ll go nuts trying to cram everything in.

And here we are on our ‘next time’. Andre ended up with awesome employers who were happy for him to take an extra week off before Christmas week, so we were able to add Berlin to our itinerary!

So how do you decide how much time to spend in each spot? My rule of thumb is a minimum of 4 nights in big/capital cities and a minimum of 2 (preferably 3) in smaller towns and villages. This can change though. Do your research on each place. Make a list of things you want to see and visit. Read up on how long people recommend you spend at each attraction. For example, don’t budget an hour for the British Museum. You want at LEAST half a day (even then you will only see a fraction of the place). Take into consideration your likes and dislikes. If you’re a Harry Potter nerd, don’t allocate half a day for the Warner Brothers Studio tour. You WILL spend the entire day there. If you love skiing or snowboarding, don’t allocate 2 nights (only one full day) in the Alps. Spend a few days there! You want to get value out of the travel it took to get there, plus the cost of ski hire!

I’m not saying you should plan out an hour-by-hour itinerary for every single day. But you want to get a general idea of how long it will take you to see your highest priorities in each place. In some places, there might only be one or two things you want to do or see. In those cases, 2 nights might be appropriate. When we visited Cirali in Turkey, all we wanted to do was spend a day on the beach and visit the flames of the Chimaera in the evening. So two nights was fine. In other places, you might find there’s more there than you expected. I was thinking 4 nights for Berlin would be fine. I knew there were bunch of museums on Museum Island, Brandenburg Gate and the Reichtstag, plus a few World War 2 & Cold War attractions – Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial etc. Then I started reading up on it, and ended up with such a long list of places I wanted to see there that I decided 5 nights would probably be safer. Plus we got a great deal on our accommodation where the fifth night was free! We also spent 5 nights in London and Paris on our first Europe trip. And hey, if you find you are getting sick of all the museums and galleries you thought you’d be bursting to see, most (all?) large cities have places just outside them that make great day-trips (London – Oxford; Paris – Versailles; Berlin – Potsdam; Florence – Pisa).

How to plan the itinerary?

It is also worth checking out special events at each place as this can influence when you visit them (or avoid them!). This will depend on how flexible your itinerary is – otherwise it makes the most sense to go from place to place via the fastest route, rather than criss-crossing back and forth across the continent. If there is one event you are determined to attend, then build the rest of your itinerary around that. For us, we built our itinerary around spending Christmas in Seefeld, and visiting the German Christmas markets before Christmas. As a result, it made the most sense to visit Berlin at the beginning and Vienna at the end. Such events might include Oktoberfest in Munich (September), Keukenhof in the Netherlands (April-May), La Tomatina in Bunol (late August), or a particular concert or convention.

So that is how we have ended up with an itinerary of Berlin (5 nights) – Nuremberg (3 nights) – Seefeld (5 nights) – Vienna (4 nights). And we will be back in time to spend New Years Eve with friends in London!

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