Saturday, December 29, 2007

So exactly how does a trip come together?

In an effort to both practice my travel writing skills and to document my next trip to Europe, I thought it'd be interesting to start from the beginning, the very genesis of a trip. That point in time when I realize where I'm going and how it materializes from there.

My sister and I had been aiming for April 2008 because of her vacation from school, and we were absolutely certain that we would be hitting cities with Vermeer paintings, as we are continuing our "Quest for Vermeer", which is our attempt to see all of Vermeers paintings, in their natural homes (ie - not on tour in exhibitions). Originally we had considered the crazy idea of flying on Aer Lingus to Dublin, spending a day there to literally, see the Vermeer at Ireland's National Gallery, and then continuing on to Paris. That was all quite possible when Aer Lingus' fares were a reasonable $700 around Thanksgiving. Those fares disappeared, as did our ability to get to Dublin for a reasonable cost. So then we looked to other cities that might have a Vermeer to see that were near Paris. Since we are hoping to visit all four German cities and 3 UK/Ireland cities with Vermeers on their own separate trips, the obvious choice is then Vienna.

Now, I'd visited Vienna in 2003 and was more than happy to say I'd been there, done that. I just saw what I wanted to see (in the rain), got yelled at by a waiter for not eating the largest wienerschnitzel in the world, lost one of my favorite gloves escaping a scary homeless man on a tram, and went on to Prague, which I enjoyed so much more. However, when I toured the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Vermeer was on loan to Tokyo, so I'd missed it. And part of the "Quest for Vermeer" rules is that we, as sisters, need to see the Vermeer paintings together. So even if I had seen it in 2003, I'd need to revisit anyway.

So with these destinations and dates in mind, I started watching airfare. And at first it was not looking promising. My sister travels on a teacher's budget, so whatever we can save in airfare and hotel will give her more money to spend on the niceties of European travel. But the current US$-Euro exchange rate, at $1.50, does not help things. Finally, right before Christmas and at the end of my first week on a new job, a fare of $673 popped up for IcelandAir, which we'd traveled last year.

I scrambled to ask my new boss for the time off before the fare disappeared. Feeling slightly guilty for planning time off on Week One, I explained the time/fare situation and he understood. Phew! So we had airfare, and it was over $100 cheaper than last year!

I then turned the planning over to Dear Sister (DS). Since I have been to Paris four times previously, I only had one destination on my "to do list", and that was L'Orangerie Museum, which had managed to be closed for renovation since the late 90s. Ironically enough, it reopened in 2006, 8 days after I left Paris on my last trip there.

So it was up to DS to figure out how to split 7 1/2 days between Paris and Vienna. She needed to prioritize the sights she wanted to see and figure out what would be the best days to be in each city based on museum openings. She came up with a plan and we found very cheap airfare between Paris and Vienna (literally 10 euro plus taxes, which ended up being 75 euro total). So we were completely booked in terms of airfare. Then came hotel...

Again, sticking to a budget and being hit hard by the exchange rate, we had to rule out quite a few locations. In addition to the exchange rate, the hotel room rates had really increased since the last time I'd looked in Paris. It really is a finely-orchestrated dance trying to find hotels. DS got a taste of the insanity when she "balanced my guidebooks on my desk with Trip Advisor and Fodors open on the computer and another window open to look at the hotel's website." She was able to read how well she'd like a place by the way the rooms and lobby looked in the photo galleries as well as whether breakfast was included in the room rate and how hearty it would be. I followed these guidelines but double-checked with Fodors Travel Talk forum and Trip Advisor for solid reviews in the recent past.

After a few "no vacancy" emails from our top choices, we found a wonderful little hotel near the Pantheon for 100E a night for the first five nights and an even lovelier little hotel near the Eiffel Tower for our last 2 nights in Paris. For the one night in Vienna, we got a very well-situated and well-appointed hotel that includes breakfast for 118E.

So now all eyes turn to the guidebooks and formulating a plan to cover as much ground as we can without running out of gas or interest. It will be interesting to see Paris through my sister's eyes, since I've always been with my Mom or on my own. Thankfully, we share taste in (most) art and food, so that's half the battle. But I can't wait to show her what I love about Paris. And maybe, just maybe, it will work the other way as well. Maybe she will show me a side of Vienna I actually like.

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