If I ever write a tour guide about traveling in Europe, I will probably stress the importance of planning versus doing things on the fly. I'm kind of an on-the-fly kind of guy, and that can make things a bit dicey when deciding, at the beginning of August, to go to Rome, Siena, Florence and Trieste in Italy, Lake Bled Slovenia, Zagreb Croatia, and then race three events over three days in Budapest Hungary (at Lake Velence, about 35-40 minutes southwest of Budapest by car). With a departure date of August 30th.
The race - the infamous "World Masters Regatta" - was easy; I made that decision at the end of July, just in time for the entry deadline at month-end. But the details of the rest of the trip were still vague notions to me in late July.
I knew I wanted a long trip overseas, and I got "permission" from my employer, a big financial company in New York (which allows me to work from home, thank you God). My work schedule allowed for two and a half weeks, which seemed like forever since I had never taken more than a week off at a time in the five-plus years I've worked there. But this past year was one of some pretty major life changes and challenges, and I felt a strong need to go on a travel-bender (not the other kind...).
Initially I wanted to go to Paris, Rome and Florence. I took some art history classes in college, one of which focused on the Renaissance, and I was a history major. Plus I love to hang out in cafes. So I felt those cities would pretty well cover a lot of the bases. But looking at a map of Europe, Paris seemed a bit out of the way, because I knew I would need to end the trip in Budapest. I decided to scrap Paris—it's always going to be there anyway, and perhaps I can go there on Bastille Day to celebrate my birthday some year if the anarchists haven't completely taken over the city. So that helped.
Nothing gets done until cappuccino and tiramisu are consumed
I booked round-trip air tickets to Rome, non-stop each way, got a hotel and rental car in Budapest, and booked a quick flight back to Rome from Budapest. The key details in place, I figured I could relax. "I'll turn this into a rowing road trip, international-style, just like 2012!" I thought. How fun is that? Well, unlike that amazing trip, I wouldn't be traveling by car, and I'd be in foreign countries (although some of the places I went in 2012 were like foreign countries).
Looking at a map, I thought I could start in Rome, work my way up through Siena (where a good friend lives), then Florence, then somehow make it to Lake Bled, for obvious rowing reasons, then maybe go to Zagreb, Croatia and see if I can hunt down the Sinkovic brothers—rock stars of rowing—then make my way to Budapest. Everything looked so close together on the map. How hard could it be? Oh, and unlike 2012, when I was a "freelance writer" (i.e., unemployed), this time I had a job to come back to. Which is great for financial security, but not so much for traveling in Europe. One could easily take a year to travel in Europe.
To make a long story a little less long, I got myself all set for Rome, Siena, Florence and Trieste prior to leaving. I figured that the rest of the trip would take care of itself. No problem!
The Medicis live right down the street
Not so much. I spent a couple of rather stressful hours in my palace of a room in Florence (literally, my hotel was a former palatial villa just down the street from the Medici fortress) booking transportation between Trieste and Bled, Bled to Zagreb, and Zagreb to Budapest. And the hotels. The upshot? Hotels are easy to book. Transportation sells out in advance (evidently) - wayyyy in advance - because the entire world likes to travel around Europe.
Life is all about teachable moments, and I have definitely learned a few things about advance planning. But it all got done, and all is right with the world. I will make it to Budapest in time to race, and I'll check all my boxes along the way.
Stay tuned for 'Rowing on the Tiber'