For the last two years or so, Mr. Q and I have been saving up for a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands. We were planning the trip with my sister and another couple for this fall. As it turns out, the friends decided they can’t afford a trip this year, and my sister decided to buy a house instead, leaving her with no budget for travel either. So, there we were. A healthy travel fund saved up, plenty of vacation time on the books, and no idea what we wanted to do (we are saving the Belgium trip for another time when my sister can join us).
For a little while we entertained the idea of spending some money and time on home improvements instead of travel. We got a quote for refinishing our wood floors. It was over $6,000. And on top of the price, we discovered that you basically have to move out of your house, furniture and all. Most people rent one of those Pod things, put it in the driveway and move all of their furniture into it for the duration and then stay with friends or in a hotel.
Um, no thank you.
And you know what? Ten years from now are we going to be glad we spent the money on refinished floors? Or would we rather have some amazing memories of some fabulous adventures? In the end, we realized we’d rather spend the money on travel after all.
So, I started researching some new ideas for a trip this year. It took a couple of months to find just the right thing, but we finally found it! Mr. Q and I are going on a cruise that starts in Copenhagen, Denmark and then goes to five ports in Norway, followed by three stops in Scotland, one in the Shetland Islands and a final stop in England.
Now if you are a travel snob, you might be turning your nose up at a cruise. But did you know that even Rick Steves believes there is value in taking a cruise in Europe? There is a great lecture by Cameron Hewitt on the Rick Steves YouTube channel about cruising in Europe and Cameron points out that it is one of the most efficient ways to travel to multiple destinations. After all, you get on your ship, unpack your stuff, and then every night while you sleep you are transported to a new spot to explore. No living out of a suitcase and lugging it onto trains or ferries. It’s also one of the most cost effective ways to see Northern Europe specifically. The Scandinavian countries are very expensive places. With a cruise, your room and meals are already paid for. And as Cameron points out, Northern Europe is one of the few places where it is actually cheaper to buy a drink on your ship rather than on land.
But we aren’t going into this blindly. We know that there is also a trade-off. You don’t have the same opportunity to become fully immersed in the culture, and you also don’t have a chance to experience the nightlife since your ship will usually be leaving port by 6 p.m. or so. In addition, you have to be very careful to not get sucked into incredibly over-priced ship sponsored shore excursions with 500 other people. In other words, you have to do your research. So that is what I have been focused on lately.
Here’s a good example. One of our stops is in Flam, Norway. A popular tourist activity there is to take a train up to the top of the mountains for beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and the fjord.
The ship offers this excursion for $149.95 per person. But guess what? The spot where you get on the train is about a five minute walk from the ship’s dock. And you can buy tickets for the train online ahead of time for about $50 per person, thus cutting out the middle man. Granted, the ship’s excursion includes a cup of coffee and a waffle at the café on top of the mountain, but do you think that is worth the extra $99.95? You might find the markup on this shocking, but it’s not unusual for ship sponsored excursions to be ridiculously overpriced.
But actually, Mr. Q and I aren’t going to take that train at all. I’ve discovered that there are also several really lovely walking/biking trails in Flam, and doing those on our own is free. And this, by the way, is what Flam, Norway looks like …
So we are going to hope that most of the people on our ship get on that train and leave the rest of Flam to us. We like nothing better than just wandering around exploring a place on our own. See that path along the river? That’s the way we’ll be headed when we disembark our ship in Flam.
Anyway, since there are 10 ports of call on our cruise plus we’re spending a couple of days in Copenhagen before we sail, I have been spending all of my free time researching all of our destinations. And when I’m not doing that, I’m going to look at houses with my sister. She had a fantastic 1894 farmhouse picked out last week and for the 2nd time she was outbid by another buyer. We’re heading out again tomorrow to see some more potential houses, so keep your fingers crossed.
Unfortunately for you, dear reader, this doesn’t leave much time for painting furniture or for blogging about it. My mind is just not on painting furniture at the moment.
But I will return to it soon. I just brought home this buffet and plan to start work on it tonight.