I had a great journey through Europe last year—spending over a couple of months and visiting 11 countries. I knew I had time to travel; it was how to see and do as much as possible. I had an opportunity and problem in how to travel—complexity builds in quickly. How do I get to each place efficiently? I thought of Leonhard Euler’s Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem – the problem statement is how to cross these bridges once without having to go over one a second time. This “problem” helped to lay foundation for Graph Theory in the discipline of Topology. Basically through the aide of Graph Theory there is no way to not cross a bridge twice in Königsberg (city is now named Kaliningrad).
Yes, you guessed it a math and science nerd here.
I looked at my travel wish list and it was chock full of places I had never been to or had never spent enough time in. I will describe the problem that I came across…. It was more of a mathematical problem than a difficult or hard problem to overcome. I did well but I could have done better.
The problem came from a crossroads issue. While in Bologna I thought and stood with my decision to go north to Venezia (Venice) and Padova (Padua) because they were closer. It was just not a closeness decision point—it came from an airport one. I thought from Italy my journey would take me next to Vienna. I thought taking a flight would make the most sense—while taking a train would have worked I would have most likely been on an overnight.
I looked at flight from Venezia and there were fewer options and much more expensive. I thought that even though the last Italian city I would see is Torino I could still take a train to one of Milano’s airports for maximum possibilities. The problem kept compounding on this option because I would have to go to the Milano Centrale and then a train to either Linate or Malpensa the time lag was getting longer and fewer options (this option would have meant waking up extra early too). Timing was too long and surprising the options were not as numerous as I would have liked. So my choice was to fly out of Torino. While I was looking at Torino the options started to decrease. Originally there was a Turkish air option—rather inexpensive via Istanbul. As I was ready to buy my ticket the flight day I selected this was no longer an option. I decided to try Air France and when I was ready to make purchase—I could not select seat even if I paid for a seat assignment as this was not an option. Oddly, I then went to Air France partner KLM Royal Dutch and found a similar flight where I could select seat. I finally went with this flight from Torino to Vienna.
What I wish I would have done with take a train from Bologna to my furthest westward point in Italy to Torino and then went east to Milano, Verona, Trento and then Padova and Venezia.
I then could have gone eastward to Ljubljana, Slovenia and the to Zagreb, Croatia and then to Budapest and finally to Vienna. I could have saved a bit more time and taken the train but my calculations showed I would have to shave a day off for my Vienna adventure but would have see two more countries.
You can never always predict as well is how you will like or love a place. I thought I would love Torino. Capital of Italian chocolate, beautiful backdrop of Italian mountains and the Mole Antonelliana would make for an outstanding experience. I should have taken warning when a friend from Southern Italy who said to me “Why… are you going to Torino?” Though he didn’t “warn” me not to go he was just questioning if I should go to Torino. While the alps were scenic it was not as compelling of a city to visit than I had hoped for.
Travel tips—you might get especially with familiar and larger cities:.
“I love Paris”
“You have to go once…”
“So much to do….”
You get the idea…. Smaller cities don’t always have a register in our social circle. Sometimes you are a pioneer when it comes to travel. Sometimes you will never get an absolute from people around and sometimes people won’t give their opinions or at least the opinions that you need. Reading and researching online only gets you so far. Rick Steves is not someone I hang my hat on… I think people fall in love with his rhetoric but his highlights I find limiting and not always insightful. I think he became popular in the US because American’s fear travel (they want to travel but fear going as well). He makes it comfortable. I would say for me what was a turn off about Rick Steves in general is that I feel he has a negative feel even though he may not say it on his well edited featured travels. In an on line lecture I saw I thought he was negative… I remember he was talking about what you might experience in Europe and he mentioned that you will probably be around people who will smell bad…… I immediately stopped watching because I was turned off by his tone—it was this and it was just his general tone seemed so negative. I didn’t need to watch and listen anymore. I have not experienced this myself and I have traveled to Europe often from top to bottom and side to side (meaning eastern, western, northern and southern Europe).
While I do know people who travel to wide and far and all continents and yet I know that if I want challenge I don’t need to go necessarily remote. I find my love of history and adventure is still Europe and yes I will travel to other places. On my 2016 journey to Europe, I found people who didn’t speak English and I had to find my way around perhaps they were speaking Slovak or Hungarian I would lean on perhaps another language such as German, French or Italian—which was not always successful. But there was the challenge and even excitement with how to I get around or find out information. This is the only time in my life that I spoke so little English.
My mobile phone worked most everywhere and thank goodness for an outstanding data plan I used it everywhere I went.
Here is what I downloaded prior to visiting each city:
- map of the area I was going to be (especially train station area in great detail)
- the city
- the areas you will be visiting
- the metro or tram lines
- a phrase sheet on basics of the country you are visiting
I download this prior to my visit just in case my network is operating slowly.
I think it is my responsibility to fit in terms of being as local as possible. I don’t want to be conspicuous traveler. I try to be sensitive to my surrounding and make it a great journey for myself. I was so fascinating in how people perceive me. Here in San Francisco I am asked “what am I”? And that happens to me in Europe as well. In Poland, I was mistaken for being Italian and in Berlin I was mistaken for being Polish. I am fascinating in how perception of affiliation or background is what guides ourselves and people around. I think when I was in Italy speaking Italian as much as possible and I know that I work on using the accent of the language I am speaking. I have wondered if I am speaking in Italian does someone wonder whether I am Italian or even make that something they think about. Treading lightly is the utmost of importance.
I think what I learned about this long trek is to fear less, embrace more often the uncertainty that travel will always holds out for you. I have been rewarded more than punished. I love travel and I love adventure.
I think the Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem is more likely to be a feature of your travel if you are visiting a lot of cities on your journey. Also, when you combine several cities and trying to either map out a potential trajectory the issue of not just if it is possible comes into play but how many options do you truly have (train, car, bus, plane)? Europe is a place that tempts you with always pushing forward to go to “one more city.” It is also to look at travel in terms of how to reduce your hotel / air BNB check-ins but that some feature of movement requires the necessary step of going to where you will be staying.
I had never gone through so many inter-country train journey’s as I did on this trip. I was not certain what that would be like. I know that I would lean on finding a place you are going to visit and perhaps there is a Deutsche Bahn option. I was surprised to take an in county trip from Verona to Trento on DB. I suggest that you look seat map options on how to get you and your luggage to your desire location. I have looked at business or first class options to make my journey more comfortable and less stressful. For me it was worth the extra money to not worry where I would sit or where I would place my luggage.
When you think of your many stops in Europe—think about your ground transport options. I would also share your journey with one of your friends for their comments and suggestions. I would also look not just at air options but keep a train option in mind—look at your routing and question it if you can be more efficient.
I would redo travel for 2016 if I have the knowledge that I have today. I know that I might have missed a city but it was through the experience of visiting that city that I new I would not want to visit again.
May your travel be amazing and filled with great experiences, food and may you connect with good people.
Wishing you a great new year!
James the Wine Guy
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
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