Tuesday, May 14, 2013

So I Booked My Trip ... Now What?

Dublin seemed like a fine starting point. I guess it would have to be since I'd booked the ticket already and had not bothered myself with mundane considerations like where I would be landing, if this was in any sense a logical starting point, or was this country currently being ripped apart by civil war?

Dublin would have to be fine because there was no way to change my flight itinerary now, not without further cost. I was Irish after all. 

Or someone on my mother's side of the family was Irish. Their surname was Mullins which supposedly came from McMullin or McMullen or McSomethingIrishSounding, no one elderly enough to trust in my family is really very certain. 

We had definitely always said we were Irish, though. Or maybe we just thought we were. The more I thought about it, my great aunt Jean partook a bit too often of a particular Irish creme whiskey in her morning coffee and we had often joked she was Irish. Perhaps this was the extent of my Irish family roots - a little extra libation in Aunt Jeannie's morning brew. My Irish heritage being of indeterminate validity, I was going to set off undaunted on my great European backpacking adventure using my potential motherland as a launching pad.

The next decision after Dublin was, "Where to after that?" And that quickly brought me to another, more important question, "Do I really want to know?"

I scanned a map of the continent and began to get my first understanding as to the scale of the undertaking laid out before me. 

From Dublin I had a very general idea that I'd like to see Scotland. This was based mostly on my love of kilts, bagpipes, and the movie Braveheart. Besides, it was right next door to Ireland. At least on the map they seemed very close. I also wanted to spend time in London of course. (London, like Paris and Rome, were cities that seemed to include themselves on any European adventurers itenarary. To skip one of them would be akin to vacationing in New York City and neglecting to visit Manhattan). 

From there I could jump to the mainland. Perhaps Paris or Amsterdam. This might not be so difficult after all, I thought. I had already loosely planned the first couple weeks of my journey.

From there, however, I came to realize that no logical order exists. Europe is an amalgamation of countries, districts, and provinces. Some were flattened by war 70 years ago. Others were destroyed by war centuries ago. Some towns have changed allegiances some seven times since the Roman Empire. There are plenty of big cities to see, but shouldn't I try to experience the culture of a quaint European village tucked somewhere away from skyscrapers and taxis and wifi as well? 

A traveler could stay in Paris and then take side trips to the countryside perhaps. How long would I want to stay in Paris? Two days? A week? How could I know if I'd never been. 

And what of Amsterdam? I felt like this was a place where my plans might not matter as much after a couple days. What I needed was some flexibility. I hopped on the Eurail website and after a bit of wandering discovered a train pass that I thought might be the answer. For a fee I could purchase a pass that could be used as much or as little as I would like. I could plop down in some Western European hamlet and stay for a week or just for lunch. There was no limit the range and frequency at which I could travel. I was buzzing thinking of the potential of it all.

To me this idea of jumping on a train in some foggy station just after breakfast and rolling on to the next mysterious and yet to be determined destination seemed irresistable. It barked of adventure, spontaneity, and perhaps most paramount - an excuse not to plan. This always tantalized my lazier nature.

So Dublin would be my starting point, I would see a bit of the United Kingdom and then I could throw darts if I so chose.

A small point of information here for the traveler on a budget: the comfort and affability of a universal train pass  is not lost on the folks who price these sorts of things. I found rather quickly that it is costly to decide your travel plans off-the-cuff.