4 countries. 8 cities. 31 days. A once in a lifetime holiday.
When I decided to take a break from working full time a few months ago, I knew that now was the time to travel. It would be years before I could take a holiday like this- devoid of worry, responsibility and guilt. And so one day I took out a map of Europe and asked myself ‘where do you want to go?’ and thats how I built my itinerary. (at the risk of making this sound less dreamy and more practical- I also had rome2rio.com accessible at all times to see how easy/difficult it was to get from place to place). I visited 4 countries over a span of 31 days- Spain (Madrid, Barcelona), France (Paris and Nice), Italy (Florence and Rome) and finally Croatia (Split and Dubrovnik) Below I cover the first half of my Europe one month itinerary, my overall budget, the highlights of the first four cities, links to accommodation, and some tips to stick within the budget. (Part 2 with the second half of my month will be out soon and I’m also working on detailed posts for each country with highlights and attractions, so please be patient :P)
1. Tickets : Since I was starting with Madrid and ending with Croatia I needed to fly an airline that had decent connectivity out of Dubrovnik. I flew Lufthansa ( Bangalore-Frankfurt-Madrid and for my return Dubrovnik Frankfurt-Bangalore) which were about INR 60,000. My flights also had really short layovers (3-4 hours max)
2. Stay : My budget for stay was INR 3500 per person per night. Some places were cheaper (the hostel I stayed at in Nice was cheaper) and some places were more expensive (the hotel at Dubrovnik was waaaaaay out of budget but totally worth it) So it balanced out in the end.
3. Per day spending : I restricted by per day expenditure to 70 euros a day (this included tickets to attraction and meals) Most places had breakfast included, and I used to try and eat one meal a day from the grocery store- just a simple salad and sandwich, which would come upto about 10 euros a person. The attractions and museums are expensive, so make sure you read a little about the kinds of places you’re going to. The Uffizi in Florence is famous for the Birth of Venus (which is beautiful) but because this was after I had seen so much art across the holiday, it became a bit of an overdose for me (and tickets were expensive, so in hindsight I would’ve skipped it)
4. Shopping : I kept a separate budget for my designer purchases (Florence has a great outlet mall where I bought a Gucci bag and a pair of Tom Ford sunglasses) My non designer shopping was about 300 euro over the entire trip (out of which 100 euro was from a single trip to Sephora gah). Let’s just keep my designer shopping expenses out of this haha.
5. Internal travel : Flights and trains are priced about the same- appx INR 8000-10,000 depending on which city etc, but I’d recommend choosing train within the same country. You only have to get to the station 20 minutes before departure (before that platform details aren’t even displayed) and the trains are really comfortable and the views are spectacular. If you’re travelling with a lot of luggage you won’t have to worry about being over the limit, but get to the train early because luggage racks are taken quickly. If you’ve to switch multiple trains , which may happen when you’re travelling across countries, flights are more convenient. Before you fly, make sure you weigh your baggage and buy extra baggage in case you’re over the limit (buying extra baggage at the check in counter is three times the price)
MADRID – THREE DAYS
1. Where I stayed : Airbnb room in host’s house
(great place, inclusive of breakfast, centrally located, non intrusive airbnb host, only con- no en suite bathroom and not much space in the room, but for the price it was AMAZING)
2. Highlights : Being led through the multiple Plazas by Rick Steves and his truly enjoyable audio guides, Goya’s famous Black Paintings at the Museo Del Prado (which has free entry every evening between 6 and 8. The lines are long to enter, so get there early), Churros at San Gines, shopping at the Gran Via.
3. Sticking to a budget : Find out if there is free entry at any of the main attractions like Museo Del Prado and the Palace. Some places have fixed lunch menus inclusive of beer/wine so check those out.
BARCELONA- FIVE DAYS
1. Where I stayed : Casa Gracia Hostel
Easily one of the most favourite places I stayed at- the hostel itself is BEAUTIFUL and is more of a boutique hotel than a hostel. Breakfast is included and is DELICIOUS, the staff is super helpful and the bar in the hostel is great. Location is super convenient and a two minute walk from the nearest metro station.
2. Highlights : Walking tour through the Gothic quarter, anything and everything Gaudi and OF COURSE THE SAGRADA FAMILA, a ridiculously fun night of visiting local pubs and dancing till 5 am in a club with a local pub crawl, and a day trip to the beautiful costa brava complete with snorkelling and jumping off a rock into the beautiful mediterranean.
3. Sticking to a budget : Look for the free walking tours- lots of companies offer them and you pay a tip at the end of the tour depending on how much you enjoyed the walk ( I went with the company ‘Runner Bean Tours’ for the Gaudi walking tour and ‘Excursions Barcelona’ for the Gothic Quarter walking tour).
PARIS- FOUR DAYS
1. Where I stayed : Hotel Avalon via airbnb
I have mixed feeling for Hotel Avalon- the area was a bit iffy- when I first got there I did contemplate moving to a different place, but a friend in Paris reassured me that if you mind your own business and don’t bother anyone the area is safe. The room didn’t have air conditioning and barely any ventilation, lucky for me Paris got a bit chilly when I was there, otherwise the room would’ve been a bit hot. Service and breakfast were meh. I’d look for another option if I were you.
2. Highlights : I LOVED my time in Paris because of a friend- Sanjyot Telang who is a photographer based out of Paris. We sat on the steps of the Sacre Cour and drank wine in the Parisian sunshine, went to a photography exhibition, ate the most delicious beef bourguignon, visited secret cocktail bars reminiscent of Gatsby and ran in the rain to an underground party while attempting to chug down, you guessed it, more wine. She took us into her world for those 4 days, which was a delightful break from the otherwise tourist-esque checklist we were following in Paris (Eiffel tower, Notre Dam, The Louvre, Palace of Versailles etc)
3. Sticking to a budget : This one is HARD because Paris is expensive. To save on food I would pack a snack from the breakfast buffet like a ham and cheese sandwich and some yogurt so I wouldn’t have to spend more on food. One afternoon we picked up sandwiched and salads from the grocery store and some dessert from a local boulangerie and ate lunch by the Seine. It was one of my favourite afternoons in Paris and was SUPER CHEAP.
NICE- FIVE DAYS
1. Where I stayed : Villa Saint Exupery Beach
So the hostel I stayed at in Nice was super cheap and the staff was AMAZING when it came to recommendations on what to do and where to go. But the room was dilapidated and not well maintained. But for the price it was ok. It was very conveniently located. But the crowd is full of 21 year olds looking to party and hook up in Europe. If thats what you’re looking for its great, but it got a little annoying for me (the pub crawl we went on through the hostel was literally the WORST night of the trip- It felt like I was stuck with a bunch of horny teenagers who were incapable of having a conversation with you if you didn’t want to sleep with them. UGH) BUT the recommendations the hostel staff gave us on what to do and where to go made up for the crowd.
2. Highlights- Nice was a great base to make day trips to beaches in the Cote D’Azur. Also, I was lucky enough to be there while the Cannes film festival was going on. Day trips to Cap-d’Ail and Villefranche are must dos! Pack a lunch, a bottle of wine, some beach mats and you’ve got a perfect day ahead of you!
3. Sticking to a budget : A good meal in Nice was nothing short of 25 euros a head, and after Paris I was looking at cutting down on expenses for at least a few days. We found a great Chinese fast food joint where we got a full meal complete with a pot of green tea for 10 euros a head so we ended up eating there a LOT. For all the day trips around Nice- to Cannes and surrounding beaches we packed sandwiches, salads and dessert, picked up beach mats from the hostel and ate on the beach.
Thats it for now- stay tuned for the details for Florence, Rome, Split and Dubrovnik!