The Next Great Adventure
My first trip abroad in 1997, pictured above, began with a stop in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was 16 in that photo. On that trip, I also visited London and Paris. All connections in Europe were made via train and it was a trip I will never forget because I was so young and fresh and had been dreaming about traveling internationally for years.
Fast forward to 2015 and I’ve planned and purchased all of the essential elements for my trip in May. The focus of this trip is Latvia and Lithuania. I depart the United States on May 11, in the evening, and return in the evening on May 22. It will be the longest trip I’ve been on since my self-funded, graduation trip to Europe in 2003. It will also be the second solo international trip I’ve ever taken.
My first city is Warsaw, Poland. I fly from Chicago to London Heathrow and then on to Warsaw. When I began planning this trip, I originally was planning to fly into Stockholm, Helsinki, or Copenhagen. Then I started reading The Girl from Krakow and Poland interested me. So I will spend two days in Warsaw before departing for Riga on an early morning. It is a very brief stay, but I am considering this a taste of Poland that will make me want to return. Highlights that I plan on seeing in Warsaw are the Poster Museum, the Chopin Museum, and the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
Once in Riga, I am there for 3.5 days. I am running the Riga marathon and that will be my main “sightseeing” of the city. I am planning to visit Jurmala, a resort town on the coast of the Baltic Sea that is a short train ride from Riga. To me, going to Jurmala and visiting one of their spas sounds like a great thing to do right after the marathon. I also am looking into a day trip to the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania from Riga but I might just enjoy my time in Riga and Jurmala so that I can really get to know the city. I depart Riga for Vilnius on a Tuesday.
Once in Vilnius, I am there for 3.5 days that I fully intend to pack with sightseeing and museum visiting. I am very interested in seeing what is informally known as the KGB museum and the Vilnius Old Town neighborhood. I have not investigated beyond those too but I expect to have a lot more on my must-see list as May gets closer.
The architecture of Vilnius and Riga are supposed to be unique and charming and that is part of the appeal of visiting this region for me. The other draw of the Baltics and Poland is the turmoil and history they’ve been through between WWII and Soviet rule. I’m going with only what I consider a tiny bit of knowledge about the region and hope to come away much more educated.
I depart Vilnius on a Friday morning for Paris - which holds a special place in my heart and even more so after recent events. But first, a layover in Kiev! I booked a flight on Ukrainian Airlines because it was the cheapest and I’m including this detail to let you know that Americans do not need a Visa for Ukraine for a stay of 90 days or less. I had a moment of panicked internet research after purchasing, believe me. I also fully expect this to be an interesting experience. While I will not get a passport stamp (I don’t think) and I don’t consider the airport a full-fledged country visit - I purposely booked my flight through Kiev. If 2 days in Warsaw is an appetizer then a layover in Kiev is an amuse-bouche. Ukraine looks beautiful and is a country I’d like to visit someday as well.
I arrive in Paris on a Friday midday to visit friends, ease back into another time zone to prep for the inevitable jet lag, and because why not? C’est Paris!! My first night I will either stay with my friends or book an airbnb and my second evening there I’m staying at a hotel in Roissy, near Charles de Gaulle airport for an early morning Sunday flight. In Paris I am looking forward to leisure time with my friends, enjoying a Saturday with them like a local which involves a leisurely patio lunch with wine and perhaps hitting a touristy spot (my fave is La Basilique du Sacre-Coeur and its views) and eating a Nutella banana crepe or two.
Back home after Paris? No. I booked my flight home on Icelandair -so naturally, I have to fly through Reyjavik’s airport, Keflavik. I purposely booked the flights that have a 7.5 hour layover (arrive at 9:20 am local time, depart at 4:45 pm that day) so that I could go into Reykjavik for leisurely sightseeing and lunch, go to the Blue Lagoon, or something else. What I have inquired about, and it hasn’t been booked yet but it is my first choice right now, is a running tour at the blue lagoon’s lava fields and then a soak in the blue lagoon after that. Its perfect, if you ask me. I get to stretch my legs, adjust to the time zone, get a spa experience, then shower and head back to the airport in time to pick up some more Floki whiskey and Birkir birch schnapps at the duty-free store.
- Warsaw - shared Airbnb, I’m renting a room in someone’s private apartment while he is there
- Riga - private apartment rented through Airbnb, I have the entire place to myself
- Vilnius - Radisson Blu Astorija Vilnius (treat yourself on occasion, is my motto here)
- Paris - possibly an airbnb room or with my friends, then a hotel by CDG because the city center is far from CDG for an 8 am flight
- Iceland - no accommodations necessary
Break down of flights
- Chicago to London Heathrow to Warsaw - booked with miles and paid just under $100 in fees (ABSOLUTE STEAL)
- Warsaw to Riga - Airbaltic, less than $35
- Riga to Vilnius - Airbaltic, less than $35
- Vilnius to Kiev to Paris - Ukrainian Air $90
- Paris to Reykjavik to Chicago - $573
Total spent on flights: approximately $850. This would obviously be so much more if I had to pay for my first flight, but I’ve included this breakdown to show how it can be done with patience and loyalty to an airline.