We’re in Barcelona where our adventure began. Tomorrow we leave Europe behind. I thought I would do a little bit of reflecting on what worked and what didn’t and what I would do differently, partially for myself and partially for you, dear reader, should you decide to explore some of the places we visited.
For me the trip was about a week too long. I think in the future I’ll limit my trips to four weeks. The last week I’ve been feeling pretty road weary and a bit homesick. Europe has changed even since our last trip in 2002. Shoulder season starts later – November instead of October at least south of the Alps – and ends earlier – think April instead of May. It’s more crowded and a bit more crass in the worst cases. Still it’s possible to get away from the maddening crowds and have those magical moments all travelers hope for.
Something I learned is that neither Kay nor I tolerate places that are inundated with people very well, especially big bus tour groups. I would skip Montserrat near Barcelona for that reason. If you really must go to Montserrat stay overnight and experience it without the masses. By the same token we would avoid Roussillon in Provence or any other very famous villages such as Gordes or Isle sur la Sorgue. In the case of a must see like Pompeii, I would try harder to time our visit when the big groups are likely to be gone – very early or late in the day. In the Naples area we would stay in Salerno rather than Sorrento. Sorrento is packed with tourists and the Circumvesuviana train, the only way to get are around, is abysmal. Salerno makes a better home base. It’s just as easy to get to Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Pasteum or Pompeii from there. The regular Trenitalia system which serves it is much more pleasant. It has very little tourism, a cool old town and great food. The Palazzo Morese owned and operated by the wonderful Monica Giannattasio provides a beautiful two room apartment in a restored palazzo for less than a small hotel room in Sorrento and she’ll buy oranges for you so you can make your own fresh OJ!
In general I want to work harder next time to find cool places to stay. Two of the best we found, the aforementioned Palazzo Morese and Barrani Agritourismo in Corniglia, Cinque Terre, were not in any guide book! It is still possible to find the old Europe amidst the tour buses but you have to work at it. Luckily the internet makes it easy. When I planned our first trip together to Italy in ’97 I used fax machines. Today every place has a website. Next time I will also check Airbnb and VRBO for places to stay. In the coolest places we stayed, the two I mentioned above as well as Nice Home Sweet Home in Nice and Hotel des Voyageurs in Saint Saturnin les Apts, we made personal connections with the owners. That’s what great travel is all about. Another tip is if the place has no English version of their website it’s a good sign. I had to email Barrani Farm in Italian just to get a response.
Likewise I would rely less on guidebooks for restuarants. We had great luck with trip advisor for food. Also kudos to brother Ken for a couple of perfectly timed foody articles via text. Definitely read the guidebooks but check trip advisor.
That’s all I can think of although I’m sure there’s more. It’s been an amazing 5 weeks. Thank you again, dear reader, for coming on this journey with us. Have safe and rewarding travels were ever your wandering feet take you.