Europe – the recap

We’ve been back in the land of Oz for a few weeks now which has given me time to reflect on our epic adventure. Particularly with all the ‘what was your favourite part?’ or ‘How was it!?’ questions. Well, to be honest at first I felt a bit deflated and wondered why I had even done it. I have no money and have felt a bit depressed. I don’t have anything to look forward to any more. Some people have actually asked ‘where to next?’ My internal response is ‘bro you must be fucking kidding.’ (Side note: it’s Japan or Hawaii). Plus I’ve been quite unwell which hasn’t helped. I put it down to a completely made up term – emotional jet lag.

I’ve caught up with as many friends as I can because I missed them. And I actually missed my life. Driving my car (particularly knowing where I was going!), eating at my favourite sushi haunt, sleeping in my own bed, my dog and my family (not necessarily in this order of course!) Even being back at work hasn’t made me want to stab my eyes with spoon (quite the opposite in fact.. whatever the opposite of that may be..).

Travel is an eye-opener on so many levels. It reveals your flaws and shortcomings most certainly, but also your strength and ability to adapt in a new environment. I learnt so much about myself (mostly bad things to be honest!) but I also learnt that these things were ok and I actually liked them. I like me. I am great. Hardy is great. We are a great team and we live a great life. Emotional jet lag has been declared over.

So, here are my answers to your questions about the best and worst bits of #KatieAndHardyTakeEurope:

Least favourite part

The cruise. I know there is a huge cult following for cruising but I’m not part of it. Sure, perhaps being there on my own made it boring, but a lot of the fun or interesting things (I use those terms loosely) were on quite late at night, which isn’t possible with a four year-old. His bedtime had already blown out as it was!

I also got a bit of cabin fever, going to the same places every day. Up and down the elevator. Pool, room, food. Pool, room, food. And everything is so expensive. A glass of wine ranged between 6 and 14 USD depending on who you asked and which bar you were at, which for an Aussie, is practically double in costs. And being bored, you feel inclined to drink (also because everyone else is drinking even though it’s only 11 am) – so costs blow out quickly. Even using the gym attracted a fee. Which of course I was happy to pay because I am so conscious of healthy living (I didn’t go once. Couldn’t even tell you where it was).

Perhaps it is just Royal Caribbean, but I also didn’t like that staff just assumed you knew the drill when it came to the ship or cruising in general. There wasn’t enough information supplied prior to the cruise or on the boat for first-time cruisers, like how to book a tender to shore for example. Plus, our toilet broke. Every. single. day.

It’s possible that cruising with a group or other families and an all-inclusive package could tempt me back to cruising, but for now I’ll stay on solid ground thanks! Or, I’ll wait until I’m 50 and do the European river cruises instead!

Top 3 locations

  • Amalfi Coast – it’s beautiful and was right up our alley in terms of lifestyle. The region also has great white wines. My only regret is not travelling up to see Ravello when I should have. D’oh!
  • Rome – Nicer and more interesting than I gave it credit for. Trastevere an obvious standout. Being the first port of call it probably didn’t get the level of appreciation it deserved at the time as I was so tired and a bit of a deer in headlights – but I’d happily go back.
  • Florence – Tuscany in general I would like to see more of. But Florence is a beautiful city and once you’re inside the old town it’s really quiet because it’s mostly pedestrians. However in the summer months I’ve heard it’s a total nightmare, so choose your timing carefully.
Chilling in Sorrento, baby

Top 3 recommendations

  • Intrepid Family‘s Italy Family Holiday was fantastic. Sure, I struck gold with the tour guide and the families on the tour, but it’s well-paced and you see a lot of great things. Plus, considering we had kids of varying ages (4-16), the tour is clearly designed to be of interest to the whole family (and it was).
  • Monsignor Della Casa – wow! If you’re looking for a place to unwind in Tuscany, this is it. The grounds are spectacular, there is a host of ‘country club’ style activities on hand to keep you busy (or not), and the staff are fantastic. And not to mention the food! Oh my goodness – easily the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life! Given there isn’t much to do in the immediate surrounds, you don’t need too much time here (3-4 nights is sufficient). But if you’re using it as a base to explore other parts of Tuscany (such as Siena and Montepulciano which are about two hours’ drive away), a longer stay is perfect.
  • Monopoli – the Bari region in Italy is underrated and small towns like Monopoli are largely unknown. Whilst I don’t recommend staying in the B&B Portorosso, Monopoli itself seems like a good, affordable base to explore what Bari has to offer. Which is a lot! Caves, beautiful old towns and beaches, and great seafood (try Porto Rosso Bar and Ristorante – particularly the squid ink ravioli!)
At a beach at dusk in Monopoli, Hulk ventures into the water, curious about what he might find!

Top 3 ‘don’ts’

  • Do not stay at the Hotel Eiffel XV even if your life depends on it. I won’t even hyperlink to it, it’s so bad! The worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in, hands down. Not only did they put us in the wrong room, they made it near impossible to change to the correct room, and are so far refusing to refund us any money for the mistake. Plus, the hotel itself is old and crap and the staff are arseholes.
  • Do not forget to pack a corkscrew and cheese knife. These things were on my mum’s epic packing list, but I ignored them as I figured most hotels would have them. Alas, they do not. Even in places where all of the wine bottles have corks! It was fun though, when I did have to use a corkscrew. It’s something we’re so unfamiliar with in Australia given all our bottles have caps. The epic corkscrew battle, getting it at the right angle, the right pressure, and PULL. And PULL. And the joyous little POP when you ultimately succeed. Loved it.
  • Don’t feel the need to plan every minute detail. I definitely did feel that need because of my Type A personality and the need to know everything at all times. I think control freak is probably a bit harsh. Sure, some things need to be booked in advance because of crowds or queues or whatever, but (and particularly when travelling with kids) I recommend making sure your itinerary has room for free time, so you can get up in the morning and just see where the day takes you.
Minimal plans in Paris meant maximum time for playgrounds

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