Trip-planning as a couple

As September gets closer, I’m putting final touches on my planned holiday with my boyfriend. This isn’t our first vacation together, but it’s the first one that requires international travel for both of us, and the first one to require substantial planning and booking ahead of time. With our previous trip to Manchester and the Lake District, we showed up at hotels where we’d booked, ate where we wanted and went to whatever museums we wanted. It was generally unhurried and relaxed. This year, though, the planning is more intensive.

I booked my flight for September back in March, and at about that same time, booked tickets to see “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Globe Theatre in London. This was for a play six months away and seats were still mostly sold out or unavailable. This past weekend, I managed to secure tickets for a Yo-Yo Ma solo performance at Royal Albert Hall, part of the BBC Proms concert series. The tickets sold out the same day they became available and I was lucky to get them.

Still ahead for booking: our return flight to Prague, Gatwick Express return tickets, tickets to visit the Sky Garden in London, ghost tour tickets in Prague, the Prague Card combination museum/transit pass, seven of our eight nights in hotels, some restaurants (including the Michelin-starred Alcron in Prague) and Thorpe Park tickets. Some things we’re doing were my idea, some were his idea and some came from both of us. It’s compromise, and it’s wonderful.

Just thinking about the sheer amount of stuff we’re fitting into this week is taxing. But that also makes it unique and amazing, the second in what I hope will be an extensive series of holidays, both long and short, for us as partners.

I’ve heard before that if you and your partner can travel successfully together, you’ll be OK. While we didn’t travel too extensively last time, we were able to catch trains and find hotels smoothly. I’d say we passed the initial hurdle. We didn’t fight or get frustrated with each other. This coming trip will require a little more coordination and put us more to the test, but I can’t wait. I love talking about it with my boyfriend and I love the two of us working together to create an experience that’s ours.

The Solo Traveler

It was after 11 p.m. Saturday by the time I was finally able to sleep. I had been awake for almost 24 continuous hours, barring some bad sleep on a plane. My trip back to D.C. had involved a long-distance ICE train, two planes, an airport shuttle, a bus, a subway and a taxi. I was exhausted and sore and still I’d rarely felt more personally satisfied.

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I’d spent the last week away, first in New York City for a day visiting a friend, then in Germany over Thanksgiving. It was the first time I had traveled abroad on my own, without going (back) to school or doing something for work. I’d done a European circuit in college with my best friend and had just gone to Sweden with that same friend. But this was different. It felt riskier — apart from simply wanting to go, I had no good “reason” to, no justification. It felt empowering.

I planned and booked the entire thing myself, asking some advice from friends who’d been to the cities I was visiting. I ditched my normally strict tendency to plan every day to the detail, and just did what felt right, whatever I wanted to at any given time. One day this involved eating a plate-sized Schnitzel with fried potatoes and a Frankfurt-style green herb sauce, washing it down with half a liter of beer (that was somehow the smallest glass available). I ended up visiting a modern art museum, wandering around Frankfurt’s Dom before the sun had risen, strolling through a giant food hall. 

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I went to Bonn for a day and wandered around its Münsterplatz, which was packed with stalls for the annual Christmas market. I found a present for my mother, ate sweets from the stalls and just took in the atmosphere.

Thanksgiving morning, I sat alone in an empty first-class train compartment as we zipped through early-morning fog. I saw glimpses of little villages along the river, buildings that looked ancient and sleepy. I wondered, sleepy myself, what it might be like to chuck it all in and settle down in some little burg.

When the train arrived in Cologne, my last stop, the first place I went after dropping off my luggage was to the Dom. More than any other cathedral I’ve seen apart from perhaps York’s minster, it evokes the phrase “pillar of the Earth.” Photos of it, though I took several, do it no justice. It is simply mind-boggling in its enormity and it amazes me that the people living in Cologne must just get used to it, like a stone Godzilla just sitting there.

Cologne’s Christmas market seemed to go on forever; it actually has several of them and they just bleed into each other. I had mulled wine and hot potato cakes covered in apple sauce. Everywhere there are sausages, sandwiches, cookies, cakes, pretzels, wine, hot chocolate and arts and crafts. At night, with the strung-up lights illuminating the sky and the Dom in the background, it’s downright ethereal.

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I perused Cologne’s Greco-Roman Museum in the afternoon, admiring the mosaics, jewelry and pottery on display. Later that night, I went on a date and ended up drinking Kölsch in a Brauhaus and sipping hot mulled wine in the Christmas market, snuggling up to stay warm. Thanksgiving indeed.

I’m in that buzzkill-ish period right after a trip, when it’s over and done and you just think, “Well now what?” But going on this trip, short though it was and to a place I’d been before where I more or less knew the language, gave me a lot of confidence. It might be the introvert in me, but I really believe that you have to be able to manage on your own before you can manage with anyone else. So for that reason I enjoyed my taste of solo travel (although I still plan to travel with friends, obviously), and I feel brave enough to do it again. It was also exhilarating to go somewhere just to go, because I could, without it being for school or anything else or anyone else but me. 

I think I owed myself that.

Just a little bit of wanderlust

It’s been about a week and a half since I was in Stockholm, and traveling again — especially traveling abroad again — just made me want to do it more. Rather than sate my need to move, it just spurred me on.

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Stockholm, while beautiful and full of friendly people and gifted with perfect weather, just didn’t “grab” me the way cities like London, Paris and Florence did. I might not be being fair there; London and Paris are the twin jewels of the continent, and Florence has perhaps the best art collection in the world. Still though, I left Stockholm with a niggling feeling, like I was missing something.

I recently decided that in lieu of spending Thanksgiving in the U.S., I was going to make use of the two paid holidays and take a week-long trip back to Europe. But not to the U.K. — I’m going to Germany. It’s been about two and a half years since I’ve been there, and that was a rushed visit to Berlin to sit the Foreign Service Exam. I’ve only ever been to Berlin and Munich.

This time, I’m taking an early morning train up to New York City, spending a day with friends there, and then flying on a red-eye flight to Frankfurt. I’ll spend two days there, two in Bonn and then two in Cologne. I’ll hopefully see a combination of old and new friends, browse the Christmas markets, practice my (very rusty …) Deutsch and see the Dom in Cologne.

This won’t be my first (or my last) Thanksgiving spent overseas, and I’m excited to see some friends, see parts of Germany I haven’t seen before, and just, in general, escape for a few days. I think that’s what appeals the most to me about travel, especially now that I’m working full time: It’s the chance to fall off the map for a while and to just be accountable to yourself.

See you in a few months, Deutschland.

Going to Stockholm

I haven’t “been” anywhere lately. There was England — which was for school — and D.C. — which I visited for my interview and where I live now — and Boston — where I’ve been before a few times so visiting friends there felt pretty routine.

But this summer, I wanted someplace new. Someplace I hadn’t been before. I settled on Stockholm and sweet-talked Cheryl — my best friend since forever and travel buddy — into coming with me.

I swooned at photos of the islands and the outdoor cafes and the boat tours. I winced at the food prices but admitted the restaurants look amazing. We swore up and down we would eat cheap street food to save money for dinner; we’ll see if we can stick to it.

As is my wont, I’m researching restaurants, cafes, museums and galleries to make the most out of the week-long adventure in July. It’s exhilarating to have something to “plan” again.

Can’t wait.