We're finally going to Europe this summer, and it's pretty much all I've been thinking about lately. Well, I've been thinking about it for more than a decade, but now that it's finally going to happen, it's something I'm pretty excited about. It's not without some minor frustrations, but overall I expect it to be amazing.
Diana and I have been talking about it since Simon was born. You may not realize it, but she was pregnant about two years after we met, so we did not have a lot of time together without being parents. That's the nature of getting married in your late 30's. Early on, there is of course a natural hesitancy to be away from your kid for very long, but I'd say that we got over that pretty quickly. It was easier at least when he was a baby in Seattle, for us to do a quick getaway for a weekend while he stayed with his cousins. By the time we got to Florida, it was harder to do even a weekend, let alone something like two weeks. So we kept saying, "When he's older." He's older, and we think he's ready to go with us now.
Travel can be a little challenging with him, partly because he's impatient and doesn't adapt well to uncomfortable situations, but mostly because of food. And look, I'm not going to be critical of him, because exhausting as it is, I know it's not a personality flaw. I was that way too, and I'm bitter that I was always made out to be some kind of asshole because of my food pickiness. That's autism, and I'm still that way. It's not as simple as just saying, "Get over it and eat that other thing."
As I've said before, that's why cruising is so easy for us. We know that no matter where the boat goes, he's going to have food that he'll eat, and that's less stress for us. Cruising in places that are not in the tropics also means that you get to sample a lot of places without all of that time in airports and train stations. Since it's my first time going, and most of the ports are places that Diana hasn't been either, it made sense to book a cruise to Northern Europe. We'll start in England, with stops in France, three in Iceland, Norway and ending in Denmark (Russia got voted off the island, for obvious reasons). If Simon wants mac-n-cheese or a burger every night, so be it. And if that weren't enough, my train obsessed boy gets to see a number of trains that he's familiar with up close, including the tube in London, the Southwestern Railway to Southampton, then in Copenhagen, the Metro.
The start and end cities are certainly the biggest we'll visit, and we could probably spend several days at both. Since we're pushing two weeks, and I'm not comfortable taking more off than that for work (though I technically could), we'll only do a day at each end. In London I suspect we'll be mostly jetlagged, flying in overnight, but we'll be staying two blocks from the Thames, within walking distance to many of the things (Big Ben, London Eye). In Copenhagen, nothing will be open yet when they kick us off the ship, but with one card we can get on unlimited trains and busses, and see Tivoli Gardens and Christiansborg Palace or other architectural things.
I am a little frustrated with some of the port offerings in Iceland, because the official ones were all crazy expensive, and their direct counterparts are generally booked as well. Don't get me wrong, just being in those towns will be amazing, and I'm sure we'll enjoy walking around and finding stuff. The views in the photos that I've seen appear extraordinary, and with sunset at 11, and sunrise less than five hours later, I hope that we sail relatively close to shore.
Cherbourg, France (which is only 90 miles from Southampton) had few official offerings, but the thing I would have liked to have seen, Omaha and Normandy Beaches, involve bus rides two hours each way and little time to actually stop given the 4 o'clock onboard time. Fortunately, there's a bunch of stuff in the area around the port, including an aquarium, a Titanic museum, as the second to last port it sailed from, and a cold war-era nuclear submarine (they cut the reactor out and removed the missiles, obvs). I'm pretty excited about that. That's the kind of stuff that I like to see anywhere. As long as there's a reasonably authentic pastry shop nearby, I'm good. I am, however, deeply ashamed that I recall no French despite six years of it from middle school to college.
I haven't looked that much into Ålesund, Norway yet. Cruise line offerings are a bunch of random tours mostly, and not that expensive, but I suspect we do a lot of that on foot. It's not a huge city, but definitely bigger than the two smaller towns in Iceland, but smaller than Reykjavik.
There are also two days at sea before Iceland, one after, then one more after Ålesund. That'll be good to recharge, though the seas up there can be, uh, robust sometimes, though less so in summer. Watching a movie might be weird (and I imagine they'll have Indiana Jones!). Fortunately it's on the Dream, the ship we've been on the most because it spent the previous decade doing the loop from Canaveral to the Bahamas. That's a bigger ship, and we know it very well.
With all of these teasers in the north, missing Ireland, unfortunately, I imagine I'll want to go back. I wish we could do the very next cruise, which ends in Oslo, and visits Sweden and Germany. I'd like to also sample the Mediterranean in a similar manner, stopping in Turkey, Italy, Greece, France and Spain. Maybe even more intriguing is the river cruises that go through France, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and others, depending on the itinerary. The reviews I've read suggest that you see more of the "real" Europe, where there's less tourism, not to mention a lot more exclusivity on those small boats. Granted, that's a couple cruise. Regardless, after seeing all of these places, I think it sets up some longer subsequent trips to specific places. And yikes, that isn't even considering Asia or Australia yet.
Can't wait. Iceland seemed unusual until a number of friends went and loved it.