Europe 2019 – the itinerary

Getting there (and back)

We’re flying premium economy with Cathay Pacific for the two main legs of the trip. Voted #4 in SkyScanner’s Top 5 best premium economy seats worth paying for, my angel/travel manager Chris Ezzy said it offered the best value for money. My choice to go premium is because:

  • You get more leg room and reclining pitch, making it easier for everyone to catch a few zzzz’s
  • It also affords slightly more privacy (I don’t want everyone to see me drooling) particularly if you can get two seats alone. This avoids the awkward scenario of climbing over people or having them climb over you, which is also important when someone’s bladder is small. Ok, when both bladders are small.
  • It often comes with priority embark and disembarkation so you don’t have to wait around with the riff raff 😉

First stop – Rome!

Flying direct routes is not only cheaper but it just makes sense to start somewhere central. And it happens to be the starting point for land tour with Intrepid Family. This 8-night tour is terribly expensive for what it is, and given I haven’t yet done it I can’t tell you if it’s worth the money or not. But my rationale for choosing an organised tour includes:

  • I’ve never been to Italy and we’re travelling on our own, so being introduced to the country as part of a small group made sense for practical and safety reasons. We learn how to get around and pick up a few tricks in the safety of a guide and other families.
  • Being part of a small group will help with getting around tricky places like the Amalfi Coast as it’s all planned out for you.
  • The itinerary allows for time to explore on our own.
  • The Intrepid tour was actually the cheapest price. For some reason the only multi-day tours for families are pitched as luxury tours!?
  • What if there is a hot single dad in the group? Potential.
  • What if the tour guide is a hot single Italian man who has always dreamed of moving to Australia, more specifically to Brisbane? Potential plus.

Naturally my biggest fears about the organised tour include:

  • What if there is not a hot single dad in the group, but rather many lovely wholesome families who have never even met let alone associated with d-d-divorced single parents. The horror!
  • What if the tour guide is a total wanker?
  • What if everyone on the tour is a total wanker and I’m stuck with them for 8 nights?
  • Buses, big or small.
  • All of the above, every day.

Barthelona!

A hop-skip-and a short plane ride from Naples sees us arrive in the land of Gaudi – Barcelona, Spain. My godson would probably actually prefer me to say ‘the land of Mesi’. He’s a soccer player apparently? I’m meant to keep an eye out for him.

But we’re not here for long – we drive straight to the port to climb aboard our floating hotel – Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas for a 12-night Mediterranean cruise. I had originally booked with Celebrity Cruises which has amazing reviews, but I felt the target market wasn’t quite right. I’m somewhere in between cheapskate bogan (P&O) and opulent former private school girl (Viking), so I settled with RC which seemed to be in the middle. I figured there was no point being on a cruise with a kids club for Hardy, if there weren’t any kids on the boat to play with him.

I know I’ve fashioned a bum bag in the past but you must be wondering why I’ve chosen to do a cruise considering I’m so young compared to the normal cruising market. Well, marginally younger. I chose to because:

  • It has a kids club.
  • It has alcohol.

That’s all folks.

But seriously, again it enables us to see a few more places (many we are re-visiting which I’m also not sneezing at) in a safe and comfortable way. I didn’t want this trip to be about running between trains and having a panic attack about getting lost, so I’ve balanced it out with time being escorted around safely, and running between trains and having a panic attack about being lost.

Of course the downsides to cruising:

  • Rough seas?
  • Expensive alcohol?
  • Hardy making me feel bad about leaving him in the presence of strangers at the kids club
  • The Titanic / Costa Concordia
  • Missing the boat at some point
  • The general thought of living amongst thousands of other humans, most of whom I predict I will hate
  • Bum bags. Kidding, I’d happily wear one again.

Monopoli

Not to be confused with Monopoly, this beautiful piece of Italy lies on its east coast in the region of Puglia. AND in very promising news, we’ll hopefully be joined by good friends Shannyn and Ben Rosengren and their delightful wee man Teddy.

According to our local tour guide, Alessandro (side note: yes it’s a sexy name, but he is middle aged with two young boys so.. probs not), we will:

  • Tour the Grotte di Castellana
  • Head to Noci to taste ‘one of the best panino (sandwich) in Italy made with lots of creativity and passion’ (ok, bread – he’s talking my language)
  • Alberobello and the UNESCO-listed Trulli villages
  • Locorotondo: the quaint round village.

Add to this some time relaxing at any of the beautiful local beaches, visiting the Rosengrens in Polignano a Mare and maybe a boat ride, and you’ve got one very excited young lady!

Borgo San Lorenzo

If you can recall my reference to running to catch a train, this is where it may in fact happen. From Monopoli we get to soak up some of the Tuscan countryside with a train ride to Borgo San Lorenzo. This is another opportunity to relax a little bit as we’re staying in a delightful resort just outside of Florence; Monsignor Della Casa.

Looking beyond its clear potential as a wedding and/or honeymoon venue, there is a playground and a swimming pool and even a sandpit! So Hardy is set. They also have babysitting services and can organise tours to the vineyards, so mummy is set!

Lucca

From here we have another opportunity to rush to catch a train, heading to the beautiful village of Lucca. In addition to simply exploring this amazing town, Lucca is our gateway to the Cinque Terre. I wasn’t originally planning to go here because the reference to crowds (and lots of them) made me recede into my shell, but the longer I looked at those fairy floss-coloured buildings, the more I knew I had to visit.

A small-group tour (organised by Chris of course!) will take us there and help us navigate some of the little villages, again balancing time to ourselves and embracing the benefits of organised travel. Fortunately Hardy is now more than capable of riding a bike without training wheels, which puts him in great stead to get around towns like Lucca.

Florence

Ermagahd I’m totally frothing about Florence. Should that be a hashtag? We only have a few nights here but I’ve lined up two evening river cruises and a family-friendly tour to check out some of the key sights.

Oh and apparently there’s a statue of a naked dude!

The choice to leapfrog over Florence to do Lucca first was because the closest international airport is in Florence, which is where we’ll fly to our final stop – Pari!

Paris

I’m really not sure why I tacked 7 nights in Paris to the end of the trip but #noregrets. Well, I do know: vintage carousels, the beautiful parks, croissants, French men.. AND DISNEYLAND! Actually my experience with French men would be con, not a pro.

I’ve already been to Paris so it will be great to just see where each day takes us and not feel rushed to see the keys sites, because I’ve seen them. It helps that Peppa Pig has been here so Hardy has a vague idea of what to expect! (She’s actually also been to Italy FYI).

Aside from an organised tour to Monet’s house (haven’t seen it) and Disneyland, we will spend our days swanning around the City of Light, and I may even force him to wear a beret! Oui oui!

The final leg

As if we won’t be tired enough after all that, and fat mind you after all the bread and pastry, we unfortunately have a rather long layover in Hong Kong. Hopefully my cousin Paul who is a pilot based in HK will be able to show us around. We then have to fly via Cairns to Brisbane.

Update: We ended up cancelling our return flights with Cathay due to the civil unrest in Hong Kong at the time. With a long layover it wasn’t practical to stay inside the airport, not to mention the risk to our safety and flights being disrupted or cancelled.

Instead we flew home with Singapore Airlines who were faultless in their service!

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