Four Months - Tricky Itinerary

I am being laid off this summer, and am planning what I call a Severance Vacation :). I've allotted up to four months for this trip (Sep-Dec) with the places on my list below. This planning has been ongoing, and I am frustrated with the itinerary, especially in the starred locations. Since I've been to Europe before I omitted some locations. Can anyone provide recommendations? I figure new eyes would help. Am a history and literature buff but would like to include some outdoor activities as well. Start either in Scandanavia or Russia and head to Poland. Want to see Netherlands* Brussels* Germany: Berlin, Munich, Dresden (Hamburg would be dreamy for this Beatles fan) Vienna Prague Switzerland: Luzern (family ties) Italy: Venice, Florence, Rome Greece: Athens* Istanbul* Egypt* Spain: Madrid, Barcelona
Thought I could end with Egypt and Spain but open. The difficulty is plotting out non-rail pass trips (which is why I thought Russia/Poland first), avoiding backtracking (herein lies the difficulty with Greece & Turkey, and up in the north figuring out a plan for getting from the east to the west (i.e. Poland/Austria to Netherlands/Brussels). Any advice would be appreciated.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

Because you can only spend 90 days in the area bound by the Schengen Agreement, you need to make sure you are out of the zone for any time over that. You can leave and re-enter but you can only be in the zone for 90 days out of any 180.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

In other words, 30 of your 120 days will have to be in Russia, Turkey, and Egypt, as all of the other countries are in the Schengen zone and you are limited to 90 days total there. Or just shorten your trip to 3 1/2 months and spend 2 weeks of that in Russia, Egypt and Turkey.

Posted by Lara
Oakland, CA, USA
6 posts

Thanks both. Do you have any suggestions on the itinerary issues?

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

Lara: You're wanting to see everything, and few people are capable of holding up to such a demanding schedule physically or fiscally. Hopefully you'll have internet access to process your unemployment continuation every week. Money's money, and you'll need plenty. You need to group your itinerary into segments to places that are in the same general vicinity. Like Finland-Estonia-Stockholm-Oslo-Bergen. Then fly to Amsterdam for a rest. Train to Poland, Prague, Vienna, Budapestthen fly to Rome. Take a cruise around to Greece and Istanbul out of Rome for a change. Then, rest in Rome before taking a train to Florence and Venice and Switzerland. From Switzerland, take a train to Munich for a rest. Fly over to Barcelona and take a train to Madrid. If you're in an especially interesting place, rent a car for day trips outside cities. Cars don't belong in many larger European cities, however. Forget the very quiet Brussels and the dangerous Egypt. Only go to Russia if you can get on a cruise into St. Petersburg. I was talking to my Lebanese doctor last week, and he was telling me Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean is too hot to visit this year. And have a great time.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

Russia will require a costly visa that has to be applied for in advance, so that might be another reason to exclude it from this itinerary. Oh, and you won't be legally able to collect unemployment while you are gone, since you won't be actively looking or available for work.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4768 posts

No reason to forget "very quiet Brussels". This is just one persons opinion. There is a thread over on "To the West" with all of the great sites in Brussels to visit. Plus, you are near to Antwerp, Ghent and Brugges. I would have no qualms about visiting Egypt. You will get good deals on probably everything, from hotels, cruises, etc. The tourist industry there is suffering from lack of tourists. Vienna and Switzerland are your most expensive stops. My only suggestion is to start in the North, where the weather is pleasant in Sept. with lots of wine festivals, either making sure you are in Munich in time for the Oktoberfest or making sure you aren't there, depending on your interests. Follow the weather South. Do you have a budget set aside for this?

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

I don't know why anyone would mention unemployment benefits since you didn't say you would be relying on that. But the caution about Russia is relevant: you do need to apply for a visa and it is not automatic or easy for independent travelers. No big deal if you have to omit that one country. I wish I could be more helpful with the whole itinerary but have never had the opportunity to plan such an epic journey. You do need to keepin mind the 90-day rule, but beyond that it would help to start north and move south, weather-wise, and if you are thinking of a rail pass you need to consider the extra charges for reservations where required. If I were doing this, with a similar interest in history, I would look at apartment rentals for a week at a time in 12 places (84 days), plus 2-3 days each in two more to fill the 90 days. And then add Turkey and Egypt after.

Posted by Lara
Oakland, CA, USA
6 posts

Thanks Sasha & Jo: quite right re: unemployment. My OP included the nickname Severance Vacation. Others: I have travelled before for a couple of months in Asia. It's true this is a long trip, but I've been looking forward to it for quite a while and believe it or not this is half the trip I originally planned (was planning to head east after 2 months). Not sure I want to give up Russia even despite the visa requirements I've read about. Nor Egypt though I think I'll leave it for the end as previously thought and suggested here in case the situation forces me to omit it.
The recommendation to group countries is precisely what I was hoping to hear more of. If I do Russia then Poland what are your suggestions from there? Should I travel west then south? Definitely want to move southerly to take advantage of the weather. Ideas about how to fit Istanbul & Eastern Europe in? How about Transport between Turkey & Greece? Thanks for all the input!

Posted by Danni
Everywhere
41 posts

I wouldn't give up Russia if that's where you want to go. Just remember that if you went from say Moscow to Warsaw on the train you pass through Belarus and you need a transit visa for that country. Otherwise you could go down to Kiev and over to Poland from there (Ukraine is not part of Schengen either).

Posted by Darcy
Lewiston, Idaho, USA
1202 posts

Lara, Have you thought about including a Rick Steves Tour? ETBD has a 9-day "St Petersburg, Tallinn & Helsinki" tour that you could easily fit into your intinerary.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

This is fun; it is a chance to dream about an amazing vacation on someone else's dime. If you are going to start in Russan and go to Poland next, then consider a Baltic circumnavigation by ferry to hit Scandinavian ports. It should still be nice in September. End in Copenhagen and then work your way south through the Netherlands and Germany, then to Vienna and Switzerland. After that it gets complicated because Italy, Greece, Turkey are in one direction and Spain in the other. But you could always fly between Madrid or Barcelona and your base in Greece or maybe even Istanbul. Would you consider Morocco instead of Egypt?

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3511 posts

Sounds like lots of fun. Definitely start in the north. I would not pass up St. Petersburg (4-5 days at least if you can), but I would skip Moscow, as the much-less attractive of the two. It's also a long way from St. P. From there, it's a short trip to Tallinn and well worth it (2 days). There are some long distances in some cases, so cheap flights may be a better option than long train rides. Check out the budget airlines (Easy Jet, Ryan Air) and see where they fly to. To get the cheapest tickets, you will have to purchase well in advance and lock into a (partial, at least) itinerary. That will also free you from the dreaded back-tracking syndrome. seat61.com has lots of info and advice on train travel in Europe, it's a good idea to spend a little time there which should also help you work out your puzzle. I haven't been to Greece, but I have been told that there's not a great deal to see in Athens, but much to explore in the islands. It may not be worthwhile to travel there if you are only planning on a few days in Athens itself. Turkey is a great idea, especially since it's not Schengen. There is a lot to see outside Istanbul and getting around seems to be pretty easy. While I wouldn't rule out Egypt, I would not make any non-cancellable arrangements. Also, in Cairo, you'd probably be wise to hire a guide, rather than wander alone. I think Morocco is a great substitution - there are cheap flights from Spain and it should still be pretty nice weather in December. Lastly, look into flying into Reykjavik as a starting point. Sometimes flights there can be cheaper and Iceland is a terrific destination.

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
683 posts

I would avoid Sinai, but I would have no concern about the rest of Egypt, beyond the usual concern that it will be very hot and Cairo is grim.

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
916 posts

If Greece and Turkey are important to you, I might suggest starting in your trip in Istanbul. You could then travel to Selcuk to the must-see site of Ephesus. Then to Kusadasi and ferry to the Greek island of Samos, or go a little further south to Bodrum and ferry to the Greek island of Kos. From either of these islands, you could make your way by ferry back to Athens, stopping at other islands along the way if you'd like. Ferries are relatively inexpensive and do not require advance reservations. But Greek islands start to "close down" in mid-October and ferries become less frequent (and less fun, in the cold). From Athens, you could fly to Rome or ??

Posted by Lara
Oakland, CA, USA
6 posts

Great suggestions! @Sasha: you're a genius! Based on your suggestion, below is a new draft itinerary (no durations yet). Please weigh in! Fly from SFO to Poland, train to Moscow then St. Petersburg Train to Helsinki then ferry in Scandinavia (Stockholm, Copenhagen) Netherlands/Brussels Train through Germany (Berlin, Dresden, Munich) with stops east in Prague/Vienna Train to Luzern via Zurich Train thru Italy (Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples) Boat to Greece (Athens) Train/bus to Istanbul Fly to Cairo for a tour of Luxor Fly to Barcelona Train to Madrid
Fly home thru Paris (possible stop)

Posted by Lara
Oakland, CA, USA
6 posts

Great suggestions! @Sasha: you're a genius! Based on your suggestion, below is a new draft itinerary (no durations yet). Please weigh in! Fly from SFO to Poland, train to Moscow then St. Petersburg Train to Helsinki then ferry in Scandinavia (Stockholm, Copenhagen) Netherlands/Brussels Train through Germany (Berlin, Dresden, Munich) with stops east in Prague/Vienna Train to Luzern via Zurich Train thru Italy (Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples) Boat to Greece (Athens) Train/bus to Istanbul Fly to Cairo for a tour of Luxor Fly to Barcelona Train to Madrid
Fly home thru Paris (possible stop)

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
916 posts

The boat from Italy to Athens will be tricky. You could take a bus or train from Naples or Rome to Ancona, Bari or Brindisi, then ferry to Igoumenitsa or Patras, (or the island of Corfu, which would require another ferry to mainland Greece), then a bus to Athens. This trip would likely take at least 24 hours. And in the late fall, ferries may not run every day. Or you could fly, in two hours, from Rome or Milan to Athens. And it would probably be less expensive. From Athens to Istanbul, I don't think there are any buses or trains. You could take a ferry from Athens to some Greek island near Turkey (Samos, Kos, Rhodes), ferry to Turkey, bus to Istanbul. This would give you the advantage of seeing some islands and other Turkish cities, although this late in your trip is not an optimal time for Greek islands. Or, again, you could fly, in about an hour, from Athens to Istanbul. The question is, do you want to see just Athens (and perhaps other sights on the mainland) and Istanbul, or are you interested in seeing more of Greece and/or Turkey?

Posted by Lara
Oakland, CA, USA
6 posts

Re: Budget, I'm typically a budget traveller and figure I can get my air and ground transport for under $5K US. Where it makes sense I'll use hostels, otherwise just budget hotels (or better friend's couches in a couple of cities) and definitely a handful of organized tours in appropriate places (russia, poland, egypt, etc.). I figure $3500 US for accommodations and another $5K US for sightseeing, food, etc. I'm not set on a budget (just doing some estimates) but i think up to $20K +/- but this can change. It's a lot of $ but it's why I chose to do this while I'm on severance. I've been looking at the connections b/t Italy & Greece and Greece & Istanbul. Doesn't seem so bad from Bari (especially if I can get there via naples from rome - side tripping:) by boat then train. From Athens its train then bus to Istanbul, which I don't mind either. Weather and schedule will be the battles. For this trip, I'm focused on Athens. The islands will likely have to wait for another trip. I'm having more difficulty with a flight from Cairo to Spain (either Madrid or Barcelona) as the only fare I can find in Egypt Air at $300+ one way. Does anyone have any ideas for this? Anyone with suggestions on the Scandinavian bit? I'm not too familiar with this area.
Thanks again.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2900 posts

Are you only going to St Petersburg in Russia? If so, you might look at the St Peter Line which lets you visit visa-free (up to 72 hours) to St.Petersburg. They run a cruise that connects Stockholm-Tallinn-St Petersburg-Helsinki Here is link: St Peter Line What particular suggestions are you looking for regarding the "Scandinavian bit"? Did you want to get in Norway, or were you just focusing on Stockholm and Copenhagen?

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
683 posts

This is what we did for two weeks in Scandinavia last year. I am not sure how it fits into your overall plans but hopefully gives some idea of possible transport options, you can also add in a Helsinki to St P. leg. Copenhagen, overnight DFDS ferry to Oslo, train/boat to Bergen, SAS flight to Stockholm, overnight Silja ferry to Tallinn, quick ferry across to Helsinki. We had day trips from Stockholm and Helsinki. With careful budgeting we could do it fairly reasonably - but that meant some pretty low grade hotels in Oslo and Stockholm.

Posted by Darcy
Lewiston, Idaho, USA
1202 posts

Lara, the other thing to consider is actually flying from the US to the more challenging to reach locations and changing the order of where you visit. For example, I tried SFO into Cairo ($1319 on itasoftware.com & 11 hour layover in AMS) and then CAI to ROM, MAD or BCN on skyscanner.net. It seems the CAI to wherever always seems to run $350+ so you'll probably just have to plan for it.
Our daughter and I flew FCO-CAI rountrip in 1998 on Alitalia; I remember that I was surprised at the fare (amount forgotten) but figured we might never get the chance again.