When we first arrived in Europe on March 31, it felt very much like a foreign land. We spent many days alternating between a state of confusion and wonderment. We were only supposed to spend three months in Europe, but ended up staying just shy of four months. Some time during our four month stay – probably when we escaped back to Spain after having a tough time in Morocco after getting ill – we came to view Europe as more familiar than foreign, no matter what the country or the language. Sure, every country is unique, but every country we visited is fundamentally Western. Once we adjusted to travelling somewhere that we couldn’t speak the language – which admittedly is still difficult and frustrating at times – everything else fell into place.
We traded going to Europe for going to South America, which we’ll save for the future. Going to Europe definitely ate into our travel budget much, much more than if we had gone to South America, but it was worth it. We had never been to Europe before. The European countries have had and do have such a dominant influence on the rest of the world that it would be difficult for us to understand other countries and cultures without first experiencing Europe itself. We tried to minimize costs by going to countries that are rumored to be less expensive – Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, and Poland. None of those countries were as cheap as we hoped, but costs are definitely lower than some European countries. We did slip in a few countries with higher costs – France, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, and Northern Ireland – but tried to counterbalance those costs in France and Germany by staying with friends and in Germany and Belgium by only staying a short time. If you missed it, I posted about our average daily cost to travel through Europe yesterday.
Even with four months, we barely scratched the surface of Europe. I know we will be back someday – I still need to eat my way through Italy after all. As we move on to the rest of the world, I thought I’d close out our experiences by sharing our rants and raves about Europe:
So there you have it! Traveling in Europe is a fabulous experience. I can’t wait to go back someday, but it was great to move on after spending so much time there. Stay tuned for posts about South Africa and Jordan in the weeks to come, then it is Asia time!
Back in our planning stages, I loved reading travel blogs to day dream, but the practical side of me was always wondering: how much did it cost? Here’s a brief breakdown of our average daily cost to travel through Europe. This figure does not include supplies or gear; costs at home; misc. fees like ATM fees; or most significantly, major transport (which we define as anything that takes us from one overnight destination to another, whether it be plane, train, bus or rental car). Basically, the average daily cost includes things like accommodation, meals, snacks, alcohol, activities, and minor transport like subways. Any oddities are noted below.
There are a lot of factors that affect costs, and I plan to write in the future about some of them, including tips we’ve learned for saving money. To give you a sense of our travel style, we are not eating ramen noodles and staying in hostel dorms, but we watch our spending. Where you stay has the biggest effect on the budget. In general, when it comes to accommodations, we always have a private double; we try to avoid shared bathrooms, but will share if we’re feeling cheap; we try to find clean, simple budget accommodation, which means a variety of hostels, pensions, apartments, guesthouses, and B&Bs; and we will sometimes spend $10 or $20 more to get a private bathroom, free wifi, better location, or overall nicer place. When it comes to eating, we always eat 3 meals a day and usually dessert or snacks; we usually order a drink or two with dinner, and occasionally have a few drinks at other times; we stay at places with free breakfasts if it makes sense, but tend to self-cater breakfast otherwise; we tend to eat out almost every day for lunch and dinner, but sometimes self-cater if we have a kitchen; we usually spend our most money at dinner, as it is typically our nightly entertainment; and overall, we tend to eat what we want and not skimp on food.
Hope that helps to put the European portion of our trip in context. Europe is definitely not as cheap as developing countries, but as you can see, it does not need to be outrageous. If you have any questions about our European costs, leave a comment or send me an email.
I’m going up the country, baby, don’t you wanna go
I’m going up the country, baby, don’t you wanna go
I’m going to some place where I’ve never been before
I’m going, I’m going where the water tastes like wine
I’m going where the water tastes like wine
We can jump in the water, stay drunk all the time
I’m gonna leave this city, got to get away
I’m gonna leave this city, got to get away
All this fussing and fighting, man, you know I sure can’t stay
Now, Baby, pack your leaving trunk, you know we got to leave today
Just exactly where we going I can not say
But we might even leave the U.S.A.
‘Cause it’s a brand new game, and I want to play
No use of you running or screaming and crying
‘Cause you got a home as long as I’ve got mine
- Going Up the Country, Canned Heat
Due to my sheep obsession, I talked Sean into spending two nights on a working beef and sheep farm in County Armaugh in Northern Ireland after leaving Belfast. The actual quality time with sheep was not what I was expecting. We only met two lambs and sadly, their days were numbered.
It turns out visiting the farm was interesting for other reasons. Had we not gone into the country, I would have continued to assume that the Troubles only touched upon people living in the cities. That was far from the case. Bombings took place in the country, as well. Some took place long ago, in the seventies: the pub up the road from the B&B had been bombed, and there was remains of a car bomb on the farm where we stayed. More troubling was the more recent activity. We ate dinner and had a few pints in the neighboring town, Keady. I never would have suspected any problems there, but several bombs had been planted in the previous few months. Much of the activity is aimed at police. When we were standing on the road, chatting with the owner of the B&B, he waved at a passing car. That was the local police, he told us. They wear armored vests and drive in unmarked cars because too many people try to shoot at them. He said this matter-of-factly, like this was normal, whereas Sean and I were surprised, once again, how the problems in Northern Ireland are not dormant.
On a lighter note, we also saw and did some things that only happen in the country.
Went to the combination general store/post office/public phone/gas station:
Saw road bowling, something Sean had saw previously on the Travel Channel:
Made farm friends:
Saw a new, gangly, awkward, adorable baby mare:
Held a chicken:
Got up close and personal with hungry cows before moving them to a new pasture:
And saw beautiful rural scenery:
Sometimes you just gotta go where the water tastes like wine.
After spending time in Derry, we wanted to learn more about the Troubles in Belfast. To do this, we took a cab tour of the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.
Somehow, we got gypped out of taking a black cab, but it turned out okay because our tour guide was very passionate about explaining the Troubles to us. When the tour ran long, he told us that always happens to him because he talks so much. Luckily, his talking was interesting. He drove us around to different sites in the neighborhoods, such as places that had been bombed, murals, the church where developments for the Good Friday Agreement took place, and memorials. Along the way, he gave us a running commentary. He told us right off the bat that he tries not to be biased, but it quickly became apparent that staying neutral was impossible for him. He had grown up in the Catholic neighborhood, and his family was forcibly removed from the neighborhood when he was little. While it would have been nice to talk to someone from the Protestant side as well, it was fascinating to hear about the Troubles from someone whose life was so directly impacted.
He spent a lot of time explaining the meanings behind the murals on Falls Road, which runs through the Republican/Catholic neighborhood. It helped to hear the reasoning behind some of the murals. For instance, I assumed that the one mural was an ad for the taxi company giving the tour – Taxi Trax – but we learned that the murals was in commemoration of the taxi cab drivers who continued to provide transportation to the Catholic area of their own accord after the city stopped public transportation there.
He took us to a memorial park in remembrance of those who had died during the Troubles from the neighborhood. Next to the park, a giant wall known as the “Peace Wall” divides the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. The gates are still closed every night to minimize trouble. According to our guide, the British government places the wall smack dab against the houses in the Catholic neighborhood, while a large expanse lies between the walls and the houses in the Protestant neighborhood. I’m not sure if the placement of the wall was intentional, or if there is some sort of rationale for the placement, but we saw that the wall was much closer to the Catholic side as he said.
People on tours write messages of peace on the side of the wall filled with graffiti. Our guide told us that he hoped that someday, we could watch them tear down the wall on television like they had done to the Berlin Wall. Only then, he said, would real peace and progress be achieved.
After we left the Falls Road area, he took us to Shankill Road, which runs through the Protestant/Unionist neighborhood. In the Catholic neighborhood in Derry, we saw Irish colors everywhere. In the Shankill Road area of Belfast, British flags flew all around. (Later, we realized that the neighborhood in which we were staying also flew British flags, which we had not noticed earlier. I found myself beginning to wonder about the religion and politics of every person to whom we talked.)
Our guide told us that a couple of years ago, he would not have entered the Shankill neighborhood, and he would have handed us off to his Protestant counterpart. It was obvious that he felt uneasy being in the Protestant neighborhood. I think he was relieved it started raining harder, so we didn’t have to get out of the car much.
The Troubles are a fascinating part of Irish history, not the least of which because they were so recent. Like many things we learn about during our travels, more questions are raised than answered, but our learning process continues.
Plagued by violence for so long, Belfast is reduced on the news and in music to a city dominated by the Troubles. Van Morrison, a native of Belfast, is one of the few singers who sing about the good things in Belfast. We visited two places that appear in Van Morrison’s songs. One of my favorite parts of traveling is when dots on a map or names in a song become real, living places.
This is the street where Van Morrison was born and raised. Much as it was when Van Morrison was growing up, the street is in the middle of a working-class neighborhood with small, sensible houses.
Near Hyndford Street, Cyprus Avenue stands out from the others around it. Many years ago, a developer envisioned a grand avenue. He planted big cyprus trees lining the street that would someday grow into big, stately trees, providing shade and magnificence to the avenue. The homes there are not mansions, but are considerably bigger than the houses on Hyndford Street. Apparently, Van Morrison used to go to Cyprus Avenue to daydream, and later wrote a song about the avenue.