I’ll answer that one. Yes. Yes, it’s a terrible idea. Especially if you’re traveling without a spouse and with two tween girls, one of which has a cold.
It started well enough. We succeeded, after much deliberation, in packing everything we thought we might need for a year into one small suitcase and one backpack each. Let me remind you that three of us are female, and like to wear cute clothes and shoes. This was not easy. But we did it. Here’s the proof:
You might notice that two of the three suitcases are already extended to their maximum girth. This does not bode well.
My mom drove us to the airport (thanks, Mom!) and after a few tears at the drop-off, everything was better with one last trip to Five Guys and some free wi-fi (both of which helped to make Dulles our favorite airport of the trip so far). A few hours later, we bid farewell to country #1.
We arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland at the crack of dawn, and found the bus to our hostel waiting for us. Iceland really is the most tourist-friendly place I’ve ever seen. And friendliest, period. We went to our hostel, but weren’t able to check in until 2 pm. They were nice enough to let us wait in the lobby, which was furnished with comfy and stylish vintage furniture, had free wifi, and felt much more like the Ace Hotel in New York than any hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Then again, it cost as much as the Ace Hotel, but that’s the price of being in Iceland. It’s expensive!
The girls were exhausted, and Magnolia seemed to be coming down with a cold, so they quickly fell asleep in the comfy chairs. I felt a little guilty for not going out to see the sights, since we only had a day and a half to spend in Iceland, but we needed to rest for our afternoon tour. We had booked a tour through Viator for the Golden Circle Tour, where we’d see Þingvellir, a huge rift in the earth where the North American and Eurasian plates meet, Gullfoss, an immense double waterfall, and Geysir, the eponymous waterspout. The tour was fantastic, our tour guide an encyclopedia of knowledge, but the weather was awful. Cold, grey, rainy, miserable. They may look happy here, but that is only because we had just had a hot bowl of lamb stew at the cafeteria next to the Gullfoss stop.
The next day was our reward for the hours of being cold and wet on an unheated bus: the Blue Lagoon Spa, where we could be warm and wet and covered with silica mud to make our skin glow with youthful joy. I had made arrangements with Visit Iceland to write about the spa, so they picked up the tab for our transportation from the hostel to the Spa, the admission fee, and the bus to the airport from there. Nice! See how happy Magno is?
We had so much fun, we missed our bus! And though it seemed like we would have plenty of time to make our flight if we took the next one, everyone we talked to seemed to think that we’d better take a cab. Instead of the free bus? Yes, they assured us. You must take a cab now. So we did. And 15 minutes and 60 euros later, we were there. 3 hours early for our flight. No one in line for security. The passport control for our flight didn’t even open until an hour before our flight. So for the entire flight to London I was kicking myself for busting our budget on our second day. At least the cab driver was lovely. When I asked him why things were so expensive in Iceland, he pointed to the hood ornament on his car and replied, “Like the cabs? So that we can drive Range Rovers!”
So on to country #3, briefly. We flew to London (Heathrow), arrived on time, retrieved our bags, hopped on a bus, and arrived at our Holiday Inn Express Stansted at 11:30, so we could get up at 6 to get a shuttle to the airport for our 9 am flight to Portugal (country #4). Done.
In Porto, I was attending the Travel Bloggers Unite conference for the weekend, so we stayed in the conference hotel: the Sheraton Porto (five stars). I assured the girls that this would probably be the nicest hotel we stay in for the entire trip. The girls enjoyed the tv, the wifi, and the enormous bathroom. From the tub, you could open the bathroom blinds to watch tv, and adjust the volume on the bathroom speaker to your liking. They did not seem to mind hanging out there while I went to the conference.
On Saturday night we did a bit of walking around, and took a ride on the teleferico – an air gondola ride up one of the many hills in Porto. Seriously, this city rivals San Francisco in its steep streets. And in its lingering sunsets.
I tried the truly awful local favorite sandwich, the francesinha, pictured below. It’s made with steak and several kinds of sausage, covered with melted cheese, and served with a tomato and beer sauce, and always served with fries. The three of us could not finish it.
We walked across this bridge, on the top level, mind you.
Here, I’ll prove it.
OK, that doesn’t really capture the height of this bridge or the extent of the vertigo we experienced, but it was seriously scary. Especially when the tram went by.
The next day, after the conference, we met up with a CouchSurfer who had offered to show us around a bit. She and her daughter walked with us to the Casa da Musica, designed by Rem Koolhaas, to watch the skateboarders on the inclines, and around the monument celebrating the Portuguese victory over Napoleon.
We enjoyed seeing the surfers on the metro, but we never managed to get to the seaside of Porto.
Not at all satisfied that we had seen all there was to see in Porto, we nonetheless had to get up at 5 the next morning to get our 6:30 am Ryanair flight to Madrid. This one was totally my fault. I had meant to book the late morning flight, but the website timed out while I was reserving it and when I went to buy it, it automatically booked me on the earliest one. Which I didn’t notice until after I had already checked in for the flight, which meant it was too late to change it. Nice work, mom. Here no one told us to get there early. They assured us that if we left by 5:15 we’d be there in plenty of time. And yet… the airport was packed with people trying to get the earliest flights out. The security line took forever. Hundreds of people in line. And who had not had her coffee? Yep. Cranky old mom.
We made it to country #5 early enough that caffeine withdrawal had not kicked in by the time we sat for a cup of coffee in the airport. We took a cab to the home of our Couchsurf hosts, which was quite a bit longer and more expensive than we expected, but we arrived to find our very cheerful and chatty hostess, Carmen, and a few hours later, her three adorable kids home from their first day of school. Carmen does not speak much English, and I do not speak much Spanish, but we managed to get through the day until her husband Antonio came home and could be our translator. In the meantime, she taught me how to make a Spanish tortilla!
When Antonio came home, we went to the town of Alcalá de Henares, birthplace of Cervantes and home to a lovely old university (and an ice cream shop, conveniently enough! – note the chocolate on little Andres’ shirt).
Had our first taste of tapas and began to understand the Spanish schedule. Lunch is normally at 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and is the largest meal of the day. Siesta is a serious thing, especially in the hotter parts of Spain, and many shops close from 2 til 4:30 or 5. From 5 to 8, people walk around, meet their friends, maybe have a drink and a snack, and then head home and start making dinner, which happens around 10 or 11. All but the smallest kids are up until 11 or 12, and up for school at 9. Unless your names are Calla and Magnolia, in which case you sleep until 11.
So why do I say that 5 countries in 6 days is too much? We did have fun, and we saw and did a lot, but do you know what happened on Tuesday? Magnolia could not get out of bed. We had run her ragged, and her cold had become a hacking cough. So on day 7 of our trip we decided to just take the day off and make the whole day a siesta.