EUROTRIP 2015: Mid-Vacation Report

Travel Hat 1This trip so far has been a bit of a mixed bag. Which is really frustrating, because when you spend months anticipating a vacation, tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of much-devalued rubles to pay for it, and settle on your two favorite countries as destinations, you want and expect more than just an “ok” experience.

Where did it go wrong?Bavarian Alps 2

Signs of trouble could be spotted before the trip even begun – with anxiety that now feels more like a premonition of things not going as smoothly as I would have liked them to. Various new issues crept up along the way. And no, I don’t think it is a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as much as of ignoring the signs, or being too overwhelmed to preemptively address them.Bavarian Alps 1

First of all, I over-packed. And it’s all my mother’s fault. I pride myself on my ability to travel for 10+ days with just carry-on luggage, assuming it’s summer. A few pairs of shorts, tops and bikinis fit perfectly well into an overhead bin. Instead, my mother insisted that I must have at least 3 outfit changes per day. I don’t know who it was supposed to impress (or who was supposed to document them, as the first part of the trip was spent with the photo-averse German and the second – solo), but, as a result, I got saddled with a 40-lbs suitcase stuffed with silk blouses and statement necklaces, which I won’t wear even once. I was too tired and stressed to think rationally or argue, I guess.

To be fair, a quarter of the suitcase is being taken up by my riding helmet and boots. Normally, I wouldn’t take issue with this, as these items are a necessity for when I ride horses, because I tend to fall — except I might not go horseback riding even once during this whole vacation. More on this later.

And now, the issues with the trip itself, in chronological order:

  1. I got to Germany in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave. During my first day in the country the temperatures reached 42C (108F) in our area – and nowhere was there air conditioning to be found. You could wring out my clothes after 15 minutes outside.Rothenburg
  2. THE BUGS. All sorts of mosquitoes and horse flies are out in full force, eating me alive day and night. There isn’t a part of my body that’s not covered with painfully itchy red bumps.
  3. Despite my love of meat and potatoes, German food might not be my thing after all. It’s just kind of….big and basic.German Food
  4. I had epic dining plans for Frankfurt, courtesy of ReloKate. These were a bust. The French/Japanese buffet place where I wanted to have breakfast only served said buffet starting at lunch. The African restaurant where I planned on having lunch was only open for dinner. I learned those things after walking across town from one place to the other.
  5. The overnight trip from Munich to Bologna was HELL. The train was NOT AT ALL what I looked up before booking it. Imagine spending 9 hours in the middle of the night (after an exhausting, packed day) stuffed in a stiff narrow seat – that does not even recline!!! – in an unventilated compartment where it is 30+C inside.
  6. Disappointingly, Bologna is not my kind of town. It’s just so… harsh. If Bologna were a man, the Russians would call him “brootahlny muzh-cheena” – a brutal, rough man. It’s all brown, red and orange stone, narrow passages, nary a green leaf in sight. Heavy, oppressive. In spots in feels – to me, I know this is hugely subjective – like an outdoor prison.Bologna
  7. The food in Emilia Romagna is ok, this far (it’s my 3rd day here). I am yet to have a game-changing gastronomic experience. Yes, I know all about the dangers of having inflated expectations (I’m looking at you, four months in Paris), but come on! I am in the culinary heart of Italy, for crying out loud! I don’t want to be sitting in one of the best regional trattorias, eating pasta in the place that pretty much invented and defined it, and thinking, “eh, I had better in Rhode Island.”
  8. Places like grocery stores and restaurants are closed at the most random times, like middle of the day, for HOURS. Not to mention on Sundays! I don’t care how ignorant it sounds, but it’s stupid, and 24-hour (or even normal business hours!) convenience is the reason America and Russia are superpowers.
  9. Italian countryside has to be explored with a car. Which, ok, seems logical, as it IS countryside. The problem is, I hate driving. And I am not a good driver. I like traveling solo, but I cannot be in a car by myself in a new place – I need a co-pilot. Without a car, I am restricted not just in sightseeing, particularly of the beautiful landscapes all around me (I think I will have to forgo the balsamic-making tour of Modena and cheese-making tour of Parma too), but in basic activities like getting lunch or even a bottle of water at a store. I have to either walk to take a bike – which I haven’t done in like 15 years, and yeah, you CAN forget how to do it – in sweltering heat, over crazy hills.

     

  10. Which brings me to my final frustration of EuroTrip 2015: horseback riding, or lack thereof. The nearest riding place is 12 km away, over a giant hill. I’m not even sure I would make it there on foot or by bike, considering it is always at least +35C (100F) and outside, with blistering sun. There is no Uber. And if I were to call a cab, the cost of a single outing would run me well over 100 Euros. That’s 4 lessons in Moscow, or 8 !!! 3-hour treks through the picture-perfect hills of Crimea. Horseback riding in the countryside is my greatest, most favorite escape, and it might be quite literally out of reach this whole vacation.

There you have it. TravelBitchFest 2015.

Obviously it’s far from all bad. The German was endlessly patient, driving me hundreds of kilometers per day to see all the places on my Germany to-do list. The Rhine Valley and Rothenburg were just as beautiful as I had imagined. The Bavarian Alps and the castles nestled in them surpassed all expectations and took my breath away (I have since added the Alps to my Travel Wish List). I met up with fellow travel blogger Allane in Munich – and she was an absolute delight. I fell in love with Apfelwein and Weinschorle in Germany – they agreed with me much better than German beer (once a Bud girl, always a Bud girl, I guess).Rhine Valley

My Agriturismo farm/villa just outside of Bologna is picture-perfect, with vineyards and a refreshing pool surrounded by rose bushes, and the view of those insurmountable rolling hills outside the window of my perfect, comfy room. Oh, and it’s owned and run by Federico, the most welcoming and attentive man, who goes out of his way to find solutions for all my #TravelProblems.Il Cavicchio 1

So, while I am not holding my breath, I am still somewhat hoping that the best of this vacation is still to come.

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36 thoughts on “EUROTRIP 2015: Mid-Vacation Report

  1. Yikes….

    That food doesn’t look bad. It really, really doesn’t. Then again, I’m not eating it every meal, every day. Bologna also sort of looks like Madrid, so I dunno if I’d hate it. I think a bike, with some practice might help, and you can definitely see the rest of the sights for your last few days, or at least eat some more delicious Italian!

    • Sadly no horses materialized, but a fairy… something took me for a fun night out on my last evening in Bologna, complete with dancing outside!

  2. You’re in the centre of Italy and in my favourite Italian city overall! I love Bologna and its 7 secrets, and I’ve recently been there with my Latvian boyfriend who loved it as well 🙂
    For food I can suggest you a place “Il Saraceno” very central, good prices, great meat-dishes and good fish-dishes. You’re in the countryside and don’t want to drive yourself: no buses or trains to the city centre?

    Plus if you don’t like staying in Bologna, you can just take a train and you’ll be in Venice or Padua in one hour, Florence or Rome or Milan in some more time…Or San Marino! Just, everything would be much easier by car… and after all you’re in the area where Ferrari and Lamborghini were born… 🙂 Don’t let yourself down and don’t spend the rest of your italian holiday in the swimming pool of your agriturismo!!!!

    • It’s funny, I first heard about the 7 secrets from you and then the next day I had someone take me around to see them! My favorite is that passage where you can whisper in opposite corners and hear each other speak! (my last night in Bologna was by far my best)

  3. Aw, I know how frustrating it is not to have the trip you’ve imagined, especially since you’ve spent quite the amount of money on it. Maybe it’s just a case of high expectations? (totally justified, btw) I hope the rest of the trip will be better, can’t wait to see more pictures! 😀

  4. That German food looks fantastic – what is wrong with you!? Shame the trip isn’t totally living up to expectations but I’ll be waiting on tinderhooks to see what else happens 😉 (See what I did there?) 😉

  5. I’m so sorry to hear you didn’t have a great time on your trip..you were so excited for visiting Germany. Did you like Munich by the way? And you met Allane!!That is fantastic! And yes, the heat was so bad..even in Switzerland..I was waking up,drenched in sweat.Reminded me of India..just worse,because fans and air conditioners are not all that common here:(

    • My friends just got back from India where it was 30C to my Eurotrip’s 40C throughout – even when I popped into Vienna on my way back to Moscow!
      Munich was great – I got to see everyone come out for the Friday night at a biergarten in their leiderhosen!

  6. hahaha OMG, I didn’t know sooo many things went wrong in your vacation, sorry to know that!!
    Though I am very happy that I am included among the positive things, even though I made you walk Km and Km under Munich’s heat hahaha 😀 I had a great time with you! And guess what? The next Friday I did basically the same thing with other 2 Brazilian friends who came for a visit 😀
    I hope you enjoyed that pool, because that looks awesome… and that view is worth all the vacation!!

    • Thanks for telling me on which side of the bus to seat on the way to the mountains – it was PERFECT! I took 1400 photos in one day – pretty sure that’s a world record 😛

      And I had an AMAZING time with you – who can complain about drinking beer under the shade of trees and ogling hot surfers all day long?

    • Actually that is a really good advice, I was just too slow to catch up to the schedule. And then, when I’d get up, I would want to lounge by the pool and by the time I have gotten dressed/my act together and properly hungry (and wanting to escape the mid-day heat), lunch was over and everything was closed. So yeah, I was a disorganized, discombobulated mess 🙂

  7. On dear. That’s quite…. eventful. I’m getting on a flight to Germany is less than three hours and well, let me tell you that I will NOT be having much German food during the month I’m spending there.

  8. Just a quick note:
    – Bologna is not the heart of Italian cuisine (each region has its own cuisine- there is not such thing called culinary heart);
    – Yes, it does sound ignorant. French, Spanish, Italian etc. province don’t have 24h supermarkets and they don’t need it. It is part of their culture and introducing it won’t make them superpowers. I see the point in Moscow not in smaller towns. I lived in a Russian town for years and I bet the “producty” in front of my house only sold beer in plastic bottles between 1pm and 4pm on hot Saturday afternoons: I really doubt this is what makes Russia a superpower. I would have preferred a better customer service instead of a 24h opening. But I guess this is a cultural difference and I am starting to sound ignorant too.

    • FC,
      – you will hear no argument from me on the state of Russian customer service. While many Moscow and St Pete’s hotels and restaurants have gotten the memo, the vast majority of the establishments have not (btw, the 24-hr thing was clearly in jest, it’s definitely not what makes Russia and US superpowers (it’s the nukes 😉 ). Your criticism of it isnt ignorant, it’s totally legitimate.

      – I will make a lot of allowanced for local “culture”, however, in recent years Emilia-Romagna has been ostensibly quite serious about courting international tourism (and tourism money), sponsoring numerous and expensive press trips and so forth (which is how I “discovered” the region for myself and decided to go). But a successful tourist appeal requires infrastructure adjustments as well – I am the first person to call out Moscow in that respect (I regularly write to Moscow museums that could improve their English-language services, for example, and rail against generic overpriced restaurants that phone it in).

      In case of Bologna, I wasn’t exactly veering far off the beaten path in the middle of the Amazonian jungle, yet I could hardly buy a bottle of water mid-day in 40C heat in the middle of a cosmopolitan city with a population of 400k. OR, when I tried to take a bus in from just outside of town, I had to wait 45 min when it was supposed to come every 15, and I had to have a pre-purchased ticket that’s usually sold at a grocery store or tabaccio, except mid-day all of them were closed for 3 hours straight and there was literally no way to do it (I essentially had to cry my way onto a bus, on the verge of collapsing). So, while any place is free to preserve as much cultural authenticity as it desires, if it wants (and in my case – gets) a share of the profitable tourism pie, at least some accommodations should be made (you want to be closed for a siesta? fine, but how about some automatic ticket machines at bus stops or on the bus?).

      – I didn’t come up with the whole ‘Bologna as the heart of Italian cuisine’ thing by myself. This was the thesis of pretty much every piece of travel and culinary lit on the country and region, all of which I voraciously consumed before finalizing my travel plans. Is the label wrong? Maybe – it’s surely not for me to judge. I do know that every region has their specialty (Napoli pizza being perhaps most famous). But Emilia-Romagna IS the birthplace of many iconic Italian pastas, plus Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, Mortadella, Modena balsamic vinegar etc etc etc, and with La Gorda as one of its “slogans”, the expectations of the culinary experience in E-R were pretty high with good reason – and the reality, unfortunately, didn’t live up to them. I would have loved nothing more than to not think or write those things, first and foremost because I spent considerable time and money, all my own, on this trip, and secondly because I try very hard to be a champion of every place I go, focusing on the good sides of the experience.

  9. Sounds like your travel grievances would have been more “bearable” if you hadn’t be struck with a major heatwave during your Euro trip. As for over packing, I am guilty of that all the time! I always overestimate how much clothes I really need for a trip and, like most people, I have my favourite t-shirts and shorts that I love wearing and can’t not bring along with me. You know what I mean? 😉

    • Oh god, yes, the heatwave was THE WORST. I could have seen and done more, and biked everywhere, and just felt better physically. This summer is a bit easier to bear 🙂

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