Europe had been a dream for years, since long before my wife and I were my wife and me. She had been to Germany and a smidgen of France with work before I knew her, and also to Berlin and Madrid while we were dating. Crushingly, I could not go with her on either occasion, but we were young, in our early-mid 20's, and there was always next time!
Twenty-something years later, we were not going to be denied. We went someplace every summer for a week or so, always to great American destinations. Nothing wrong with seeing one's own country before exploring the world, right? But with enough frequent flyer miles amassed, it was time to pull the trigger - a trigger that required being pulled eleven months in advance on American Airlines if we were to get the dates and airports we wanted. So we booked it last July for this June, as soon as school was out for the kids, and before the dreaded July and August. July and August bring two things to Europe that are to be avoided if at all possible: heat, and lots of tourists. There are plenty of tourists in June, and the weather is certainly already warming up, but the northeastern U.S. as well as much of Europe gets out of school around the end of June, so things get far more crowded then. The masses make places and activities more expensive and tougher to reserve, while many Europeans take time off and close down their shops and restaurants. Meanwhile, the nice, warm weather of late spring and early summer turns into oppressive heat in some areas once late June and early July roll into town.
Flying from Dallas to Europe required a big decision: which airport to fly into? Rome and Paris were always 1a and 1b as far as dream destinations, so we thought we would fly into Paris and then home from Rome. Maybe four or five days in each place, a week and a half total. Flights among big cities in Europe are short and cheap, so it would be easy to get from Paris to Rome. Many of these intercity flights are about an hour long and cost as little as $50 or $60 one way, which was shocking to see. One problem though: none of us, especially my high school daughter, had any desire to be in Paris with the ongoing terrorist attacks that have targeted major cities including Paris, Brussels, and London. Rome is always a target as well, but whether due to the prayers of the faithful or extra tight security throughout the city or a combination of the two, it has not been rocked like the others. So we decided to fly to Rome, then home from Barcelona. And on the excellent advice of many, to extend the trip from 10 days to 14.
With the flight to Rome came a five-hour layover in New York, sandwiched between a 3.5 hour flight from DFW to LGA and a 8.5 hour flight from JFK to Rome, during which time we had to gather our baggage when we landed at LaGuardia, get a ride to JFK, and wait to take off from JFK to Rome. The flight back from Barcelona via Philly would be much simpler. Making all of this infinitely more doable was the fact that my wife and daughter made the bold, winner move of making their packing of two weeks' worth of clothing work with NO CHECKED BAGS. I cannot overstate how amazing this was for all of us! They made the sacrifice, and we all reaped the rewards. This act of kindness was made possible by the decision to do the trip in airbnb apartments, no hotels. Airbnb can mean multiple bathrooms, at least one living area, a kitchen, and crucially, a washing machine for clothes. Amenities such as these (and of course, air conditioning) can all be selected when the search for lodging on airbnb's magnificent website is being conducted.
Alas, all was not bliss when it came to some of the finer details of the airbnb experience. More to follow tomorrow.