The last 12 months has been crazy. We have been fortunate enough to visit the six inhabitable continents, including 1 week in Peru, 2 weeks in India, 5 weeks among New Zealand, Australia, and Asia, 2 months among Europe, Egypt, and Israel, and 2 road trips across the United States. This is a total of about 5 months of travel! I told you it was crazy.
A big part of the reason I started this blog is so we could remember what we did without blending it all together. The kids love looking back and reminiscing. My hope is that we will all look back on our crazy year with fondness.
The two month, 3 continent (Africa, Asia, Europe) portion of our trip included Egypt, Israel, Italy, Austria, Ukraine, Liechtenstein, Germany, and Switzerland. This was bookended on both sides by cross country United States road trips that I will ignore for the rest of this post.
- Days 1-5: Egypt
- Day 1: Evening arrival in Cairo.
- Day 2: Giza Pyramids, Memphis, Saaqara
- Day 3: Alexandria
- Day 4: Cairo: Egyptian Museum, Coptic Cairo, Islamic Cairo
- Day 5: Cairo: Citadel of Saladin, Flight and overnight in Athens
- Days 6-:14: Israel
- Day 6: Arrival in Jerusalem: Old City, Mount of Olives, Kidron Valley
- Day 7: Day 2 in Jerusalem: Holy City Tour
- Day 8: Day 3 in Jerusalem: Walk on City Walls, explore Old City, Bible Lands Museum
- Day 9: Day 4 in Jerusalem with day trip to Bethlehem: Bethlehem, Rachel’s Tomb, Israel Museum
- Day 10: Pick up rental car, Masada and the Dead Sea
- Day 11: The Sea of Galilee and Banias Nature Reserve
- Day 12: Nazareth and Mount Tabor
- Day 13: Acre and Tel Aviv
- Day 14: Flight from Tel Aviv to Rome, train from Rome to Sorrento.
- Days 14-22: Italy
- Day 15: Day trip to the Amalfi Coast
- Day 16: Sorrento
- Day 17: Day trip to Pompeii and Sorento Cooking Class
- Day 18: Sorrento
- Day 19: Train from Sorrento to Varenna on Lake Como
- Day 20: Varenna
- Day 21: Day trip to Bellagio
- Day 22: Train to Milan, full day Milan, night train to Vienna
- Days 23-26: Austria
- Days 27-34: Ukraine
- Day 27: Lviv: National Museum, Armory Museum, Latin Cathedral
- Day 28: Lviv: St. George’s Cathedral, Ivan Franko Park, Armenian Cathedral, Transfiguration Church, Dormition Church, National History Museum
- Day 29: Lviv: Prison on Lontskogo: National Museum & Memorial to the Victims of Occupation, Museum of Religious History, Castle Hill, John the Baptist Church
- Day 30: Kyiv (Kiev): Train to Kyiv
- Day 31: Kyiv: Maydan Nezalezhnosti, Lonely Planet Walking Tour, St. Michael’s Monastery, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Zoloti Vorota, St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, Shevchenko Park
- Day 32: Kyiv: Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra, Spivoche Pole, National Museum of History of Ukraine in the Second World War
- Day 33: Kyiv: State Aviation Museum, Ukrainian National Chornobyl (Chernobyl) Museum
- Day 34: Kyiv: Pirogovo Open-Air Museum, Toilet Museum
- Days 35-40: Germany
- Day 35: Flight from Kyiv to Köln (Cologne), pick up car, Cologne Cathedral, Rick Steves walking tour
- Day 36: Drive from Köln to Bacharach, cruise to St. Goar
- Day 37: Drive from Bacharach to Baden-Baden, stopping in Heidelberg, Caracalla Spa Thermal Baths
- Day 38: Drive from Baden-Baden to Lake Constance, drive through the Black Forest, Triberg Waterfalls, detour to Rhine Falls in Switzerland
- Day 39: Full day in Konstanz (Constance): “Rock Park” and playground
- Day 40: Drive from Konstanz to Oberammergau, stop in Liechtenstein, Arlberg Tunnel, Lake Plansee, walk through Oberammergau
- Days 41-44: Austria (again)
- Day 41: Drive from Oberammergau to Kitzbühel, stop at Linderhof Palace in Germany and Innsbruck in Austria, Cathedral of St. James
- Day 42: Kitzbühel: Balance KitzTrail hike
- Day 43: Kitzbühel: Streif-live KitzTrail hike
- Day 44: Kitzbühel: Rainy Days KitzTrail hike
- Days 45-52: Germany (again)
- Day 45: Drive from Kitzbühel to Erfurt, Rick Steves walking tour of Erfurt, stopping at many Martin Luther sites
- Day 46: Drive from Erfurt to Leipzig, Augustusplatz, St. Nicholas Church, St. Thomas Church, Stasi Museum, Contemporary History Forum, Bach Museum
- Day 47: Drive from Leipzig to Soltau, stopping in Wittenberg, Wittenberg Castle Church, Town Church of St. Mary, Luther House Museum
- Day 48: Soltau: Heide Park
- Day 49: Drive from Soltau to Berlin with a stop in Hamburg, St. Pauli Landungsbrücken Pier in Hamburg. In Berlin, drop off car. Walk by Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s Bunker, Unter den Linden, Humboldt University, Neue Wache, Berlin Cathedral, and Alexanderplatz
- Day 50: Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie, Wall Museum, German History Museum
- Day 51: Berlin: Jeremy and boys took a bike ride through Tiergarten, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, then met some friends and me at Winterfeldplatz. They continued on to Potzdamerplatz, East Side Gallery, and Alexanderplatz. I went to the Old National Gallery.
- Day 52: Berlin: Berlin Wall Memorial, Potsdamerplatz, Brandenberg Gate, St. Mary’s Church, Hackesher Markt
- Day 52 (morning): TV Tower, Alexanderplatz
- Days 52-53: Switzerland
- Day 52 (afternoon): Flight from Germany to Boston stranded us in Zürich overnight, evening stroll in Zürich
- Day 53: New flight from Zürich to Boston
Wow! We saw a lot! I loved almost every destination, but am particularly glad that we made it to Egypt, Israel, and Ukraine. These were all new countries for me, and all of them surprised me. If you ask Jeremy, he will tell you that I was quite resistive to all three places when he first suggested them. I like the familiar. When he suggested the Austrian Alps, this felt so close to my all time favorite city of Wengen, Switzerland, that I readily agreed. The good news is that all of these “scary locations” now feel familiar, so he will have a lot easier time talking me into being adventurous in the future.
Here are a few of my most memorable moments:
Lemons in Sorento:
Sausage vending machine in Oberammergau:
Hiking in Kitzbühel:
The pyramids in Egypt:
The stone Jesus was laid on after his death:
What would I change?
The big question is, what would I change? Honestly, it was a very good trip and there is little I would change other than eliminating minor stomach problems that we encountered and reducing the temperature in a few locations. Jeremy did an amazing job picking both locations and duration of our time there.
The stomach issues were fairly trivial in the grand scheme of things. When traveling in places where you can’t drink the tap water, brush your teeth with it, get it in your mouth when you shower, or eat uncooked foods that have been washed with it, you are going to have stomach problems. To avoid brushing our teeth with it, when we walk into our hotel room or apartment, we always place a hand towel over the faucet. It triggers your brain to think twice. Of course the hotel staff will remove it each day, so you have to remember to replace it, or you will likely make a mistake at some point in time. Even if it is there, I have slipped up once or twice. Our general philosophy where water is concerned, is to do our best and carry lots of Pepto Bismol, Imodium, and airsick bags from whatever airline we came in on.
Traveling in May or September could have fixed the extreme heat issues, but our time constraints were such that this was not possible. When the choice is to suck up the heat or not travel, we usually choose to go ahead and travel. Many places frowned upon shorts, but to different degrees – e.g. in Jerusalem where the churches didn’t allow them, we didn’t let the boys wear them. But in many other places, we let our boys wear them. If you are a woman, long, airy skirts are a good choice. Many people like wearing lightweight hiking pants or other lightweight synthetic pants.
Going into the trip, I was very nervous about both Egypt and Israel. We could have easily extended Egypt to a week, but when booking the trip, 4 days seemed like if we liked it there we could enjoy the basics, and if the opposite was true it really wouldn’t be all that long to suck it up until our flight left. Fortunately, the first was true and we loved it! It is a country that I highly recommend visiting (assuming you have looked into current safety issues) and a country that I would consider going back to for a more in depth visit.
Jeremy and James had been to Israel before and they loved it so much that they wanted to take John and me there. With some of the “interesting” news reports, I was a bit terrified, but I went along with it since the history really is incredibly fascinating. Jeremy decided that 8 days would be enough to show me his favorite places, although this trip could have easily been extended to 2 weeks or more. He was right! I never felt unsafe for a moment, I learned and experienced a ton, and I came away with a much fuller sense of Bible stories (e.g. yes, the path from Jerusalem to Jericho is real, and the parable of the Good Samaritan makes so much more sense after seeing the landscape.) and what Jesus life and death may have been like (e.g. touching the stone where they think Jesus body was laid after his death was a huge emotional experience for me.)
From a budget perspective, Egypt and Ukraine were winners. We did hire a guide in Egypt to mitigate uncertainty about safety, but since the lodging and food costs were fairly low, we still spent less money per day than some of the other countries we visited. Ukraine was also very inexpensive. Nice 2-bedroom apartments in a central location were easy to find for very reasonable prices. Food was inexpensive, so we ate in a lot of restaurants and got the boys lots of treats.
Israel, Italy, Germany, and Austria were more expensive. Israel, in particular, was surprisingly so – the food costs in particular added up quickly. Switzerland also has the reputation of being expensive, so for a trip of this length we decided to focus on similar but less expensive Austria and Germany instead.
Depending on your budget, you need to figure out whether time or money is more important to you and pick both your location and the duration of your stay with that in mind. There really are tons of options for almost any budget. For example, you could stay a very long time in Bali for a fraction of the cost that a week in Switzerland could run. Staying an even week in each city could have reduced our lodging costs (1 week rentals from Saturday to Saturday are common in Europe), but we decided that time was more valuable, and that if we wanted to go everywhere we wanted, we would need to either get the more expensive shorter term rentals or stay in hotels.
When eating out, countries like Egypt and Italy ended up being good for my waistline, but Germany and Austria were not. When doing long term travel, watching the amount of calories that you consume becomes much more important than if you are taking a 1 week trip. Eating 1-2 meals in an apartment is much better for both the waistline and the wallet, than staying in a hotel and 3 meals per day in restaurants. If you only eat in one restaurant per day, lunch is the best option. If apartment cooking or a picnic is not an option, seriously consider dropping down to two meals per day, with a light snack for a third meal.
With a trip of this length, we also had to spend more effort monitoring the boys calcium intake. Unless you are intentional about getting milk, yogurt, and cheese, it can be difficult to get the proper amount. In Italy the pizza and gelato helped boost this number, but given that the boys had a hard time with the higher fat milk (fat free milk, which the usually drink at home, is usually next to impossible to find), most countries were trickier.
In conclusion, we were very happy with our summer and wish we could do this every summer, but alas, at some point we need to rejoin the real world.
Keep reading our travel blog for more itineraries around the world!
Here are some more posts from our Gap Year: