Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Europe: Packing Our Bags

Destination London
So we went to Europe this week. It wasn’t a whim, but the product of months of planning, almost overplanning, if one can actually overplan a trip to Europe. If so, I may have come close.

I had definite ideas about what kind of trip Ron, Benny and I would take, and it wasn’t about dinners, shopping or theater. We had a 9-year-old and a tight budget, and tickets for “War Horse” in London or a fricassee of snails and wild garlic at Le Meurice in Paris wasn’t in the plan.

Instead, this trip was about seeing the sights and enjoying European history and culture without spending a fortune. So the Europeans were treated to the sight of a dazzled, badly dressed American trio staggering along the cobblestones, bags on their backs and under their eyes. (We really underestimated the jet-lag from a 10-hour, San Francisco-to-London flight. It took days to recover.)

I was resigned to the dorks-on-parade quality of this trip, so to help me plan, I turned to the Head Dork of European Travel, Rick Steves. I was no fan of his TV shows: the constant shopping, the staged local encounters, his soothing put-down-the-knife voice.  “See?” he seemed to say cheerfully. “Europe isn’t scary. Europe is fun. I know you haven’t been off the couch in 15 years, but that’s okay.  So go, go to Copenhagen.”

How will we fit it all?

But I did remember liking his “Europe Through the Back Door” book 15 years ago, so I ordered it through Amazon, and after 10 pages was ready to do almost everything it said. Pack Light, Rick said, so I stuffed everything for a two-week trip into two backpacks (just under the carry-on limit) and four smaller bags. Clothes, toiletries, vitamins, journals, earplugs, travel alarm and a small roll of duct tape, and we were ready to go.

Our luggage for the trip - cat not included.

Rick said to use money belts, so I spent an hour rifling through our closets for the belts Ron and I used when we lived in Prague. We stuffed them with passports, credit cards and about $1000 in U.S. dollars between the two of us. We’re drawing the rest of our funds from ATMs overseas, per Rick’s instructions, which is working out beautifully. We’re only using our cards for big-ticket purchases, like hotel bills or ferry tickets. Benny’s been getting a daily allowance to buy himself treats and souvenirs.

So each of us boarded our British Airways with one big bag and one little bag and we didn’t check a thing. Our flight to London was uneventful, but I’d forgotten how long it took to escape Heathrow. The “Other Passports” line was miles long, packed with cranky people. Then we trudged through passageways and doorways and up and down escalators and through tunnels until we popped out into the main terminal and it was time to spring into action. I’d decided to take the Tube into London for 5 pounds apiece because the shuttle was 20 pounds and a taxi at least 65 pounds. But the Tube ride would take an hour and Benny was starving. So I bought chicken and apples at an airport market for him and Ron to eat while I figured out how to buy Tube tickets.

The Tube ride went well – I flipped through a magazine while Ron and Benny fell asleep in their seats — and we found our B&B near the British Museum with no trouble. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, of all things, on a busy, interesting corner swirling with black cabs and red double-decker buses. Returning to the B&B, we went to bed at 8 p.m., exhausted but thrilled to be here at last. Thanks, Rick.

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