driving across Austria
Last summer, July/August 2010, I had just over three weeks to travel Europe as I chose. Who could hope for something better? With the benefit of traveling on my own I considered where I wanted to go and how long I wanted to stay there. After a bit of finagling I had a plan in place that included traveling from southeastern Austria to Munich, Dublin, Galway, London, Southampton, Glasgow (and a tour of Scotland), Portsmouth, St. Malo, Caen (and the D-Day Beaches), Paris, Versailles, back to Munich, Salzburg, and the return trip to southeastern Austria in about 22/23 days. It was a lot of ground to cover and a lot of places/sights fit into the timing including visiting two different friends from college-one studying in Galway, Ireland, and the other living with her husband in Southampton, England. It really helped having everything written down (I took my schedule with me in my backpack to have handy at a moment’s notice. This way I was able to prioritize my time as I went. My time with my friends, visiting Scotland where my maternal grandfather’s family came from, and Caen-known for its role in World War II history- were musts on my trip. Knowing my struggle with sticking to a schedule, I refrained from making all of my transportation and overnight accommodations before I began the trip. Instead, I made them as I went along once I knew things were a little more concrete-this was largely possible because of my little netbook I carried with me as well as internet cafes along the way.
along the river in Dublin, Ireland
My plans didn’t last long. I did spend my scheduled time with my friend in Ireland and had a fabulous time seeing the area and sitting in on her class she was taking while I was with her; it really made me miss school and consider going back for my master’s degree. From Dublin I flew to London and traveled by train to Southampton but instead of staying only a couple of days my time with friends there extended itself to nearly a week. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them including this amazing fish pie dish my friend made…it was SUPERB!!! I realized, however, that I needed to get moving along to make everything I wanted to do happen so I made arrangements while with them for the next two legs of my journey. Train travel to Glasgow, Scotland, and a 2 day tour of the countryside and Highlands with Rabbie's Trail Burners. A train ride down to Portsmouth, England, and an overnight ferry ride to St. Malo, France, followed by a night in Rennes, France, before traveling on to Caen. Here, my itinerary took another detour. I absolutely fell in love with Caen. It’s a wonderful town full of lots of history, charm, and friendly people. While initially planning on being there only a couple of days, I ended up staying 4 nights there before being forced to leave in order to make it back to Austria in time to be to work the upcoming Monday morning. I was able to extend my stay at the Hotel Courtonne after a brief and stilted conversation with the French owner. (*Note that is may not always be possible in the summer in a popular tourist destination, but it is a little more feasible when traveling alone*) My trip back to southeastern Austria was a bit rushed and frantic and probably a good example of being a bit too spontaneous as I managed to travel from Caen, France, to Feldbach, Austria, but train (and bus where the train routes were under construction) in about 36 hours. Quite a feat I realized after looking back over the train schedules and the route I had to take when trains were full.
They say that hindsight is 20/20 and while there may have been a better way of going about my 3 weeks of travel I really would not have changed a thing about it. I had a fabulous time visiting friends and seeing history brought to life. I managed to meet people from all over including some wonderful Canadians who became my photographers while on the 2 day tour in Scotland, a fun mother and son from California traveling in France before heading to Italy to visit family, and a great older couple from Oklahoma returning to visit the D-Day beaches where family friends had pushed their way on shore that June morning struggling and fighting for the freedoms of so many-people they never got to meet.
at the American Cemetery near Colleville, France
All of this to say that while planning is a necessary part of travel, leaving a little room for spontaneity is highly recommended. I was able to go back to places in Caen and really absorb the importance of what happened and the beauty of a wonderful town with its wonderful marketplace in the square so I was able to enjoy some amazing fresh fruit and baguettes. I met people I otherwise would not have crossed paths with by extending my stays and allowed myself to really absorb the surrounding culture and take time to enjoy the area. You can learn so much from the citizens and really see what life is like wherever you choose to go. Just make sure you allow some flexibility in your travel plans next time you embark on a journey.
city view of Caen, France, after a thundershower