2 Chicks Planning a Trip – Part 1

For my 40th birthday, I chose to celebrate with travel, and went to Cambodia to explore the Angkor Wat temples.  So now that my good friend is about to turn 40, I thought she should do the same.  But unlike me she hasn’t traveled beyond North America, so I started thinking of places she really ought to see. Then I thought I’d share the process with all of you! So here are the first few steps: imagining the ideal, researching the costs, and finding a way (financially).
STEP 1 – IMAGINING THE IDEAL
For her, I chose these, from the most ideal to the extremely acceptable:
  
• Europe – There was a time when all well-bred and educated young people took a trip to “the Continent” –especially France and Italy. It was known as “the grand tour”.  While I did the tour just after graduating from college when I was 23 (part of my 2nd trip around the world, thanks to travel-loving parents), I think it might be time she completes her education. 

 • England – Both of us being Jane Austen fans with a general appreciation for literary history, we could do a tour of locations from Jane Austen novels and films and also visit King Arthur’s Tintagel. She also shares my love for the modern day romantic comedies of Richard Curtis—Love Actually, Bridget Jones Diary, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. We could do a tour of those locations. 
 
• New York – We’re both fans of musical theater, and quite a bit of America’s literary, film and social history has taken place there.  It’s one of the world’s greatest cities and everyone should visit at least once. Plus we both have When Harry Met Sally memorized, (she orders food like Sally does too!) so we might need to pretend we’re in it.
 
• New Orleans – This city is a beautiful, living piece of Spanish and French colonial history, as well as some of the more colorful parts of America’s backstory—Pirates, Riverboats, Plantations, Swamps, and Ghosts!  (I fell in love with it because I’m an Anne Rice fan.)

STEP 2 – RESEARCHING THE COSTS

Airfare– it’s the biggest piece of the cost of travel, followed closely by accommodation.  But you gotta get there before you need a place to stay. 

• Online Searching – I used to be able to get significantly cheaper airfare from Lowestravel.com, but now they have pretty much the same airfare options as Expedia, Travelocity, Cheap Flights, or Orbitz.  Searching through TripAdvisor.com lets you compare, and is a good way to keep track of your searches for hotel as well.

• Choosing Dates – Keep in mind that travel costs will vary depending on the season and the day you want to travel.  Her birthday is actually in the first week of June, but I found if I used a date at the middle to end of May, the airfare dropped by about $300.  Also, fares tend to be cheaper when they’re on a weekday. It is supply and demand in action – more people want to fly on weekends, so they can charge more for the privilege.

Other Transportation –  
 
• If we were going to travel around England, I would rent a car, or maybe get a BritRail Pass. 
• If we’re going to Europe, we’d need to get across the channel from the UK, and around Paris and Rome.
So I did some basic research on all the options. 
• Car rental/Britrail Pass – A search for “car rental in London” brought up familiar U.S. chains Hertz and Enterprise.  It looks like $200-$250 for a week. A Britrail pass costs $249 for a week.  So the cost is about the same, we’d have to weigh the pros and cons of carrying our luggage and walking from train stations.  We’d probably rent a car.  We’re American after all – and born & bred Los Angelenos at that.  We love our cars!

• Ferry/Eurail – To cross the channel via ferry from Dover to Calais is actually less expensive if you have a car for some reason.  We could rent a car in England and drive to Paris.  It’s £39 with a car and £59 without. I usually just double that to estimate the cost in dollars.  But to be specific, I go to xe.com’s universal currency converter— £39 = $63, £59 is $95.

I’ll have to check how long it would take to drive to Paris from London.  I’ve driven in both England and France before, and I’m used to driving on the other side of the car and other side of the road (from the US perspective) from living in Sri Lanka. 

A Eurail pass for 2 countries within 4 to 10 days is advertised as “from $169” – but upon closer inspection, for adults 26 or older, a 2nd class saver ticket for France and Italy is $275 per person.

STEP 3 – FINDING THE WAY (FINANCIALLY)
 
It has been my experience that once I know how much money I need to create the trip I want, the rest sort of falls into place somehow.  So I never wait until I have enough money saved up.  I start planning the trip first, and then find ways to make it happen.  This is how The Law of Attraction works!  (Check out my articles on The Power of Thoughts & Goal Setting.)

So many people put off doing the things they want to do in life until they have enough money, but the money always gets spent somehow until they’re too old to enjoy it when they’ve got it. 

Within days, she and I had found the money.  Hers came from a bunch of people who love her. They all chipped in to give her a great 40th birthday present when I suggested my plan.  Mine will come from a creative use of available discounts, frequent flier miles, and accumulated credit card points.  Neither of us will need to go into debt to pay for this trip! 

So it’s been decided, she can take a week off of work without negatively impacting her budget. We’ll meet in London (she’s flying from LAX, I’m flying from Sri Lanka), and do 2 days in London, 2 days in Paris and 2 days in Rome.  
Next time we’ll get into the serious planning!

All images from http://www.zazzle.com/vintage+postcards — buy them as prints, t-shirts, mugs, etc!

Cornwall & Tintagel Castle – Living Legends

Modern Cornwall is beautiful with its ancient beginnings.

Lanyon Quoit Henge in Cornwall, and an old tin mine in the background.

Before I get into how much I loved Cornwall and all there is to see there, let me first explain why I was absolutely driven to go: Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, which begins with The Crystal Cave. I re-read this every couple of years –just because it’s a damn good piece of fiction.

For those of you not familiar with this series, it’s the story of Myrrdn Emrys (Merlin) growing from socially awkward boy to powerful man-magician. And a key part of the saga occurs when Merlin orchestrates the conception of King Arthur, at Tintagel Castle.

I should probably note, this series is actually a quintet, but the magic of the story dwindles and ends in the third book…many people refer to the series as a trilogy.

But back to Cornwall, as it exists today…

Magic Rediscovered in Modern Cornwall

Lamorna Cove, Cornwall

Lamorna Cove in Cornwall

Driving southwest from Somerset and Devon, you’ll feel like you’re entering a different world. The Cornish roads are so narrow there’s only room for one vehicle at a time. If you encounter any oncoming traffic, one of the drivers will have to back up until s/he reaches a turn out to let the other car pass. (Usually, it’s the smaller vehicle that does this…)

Not only are the roads narrow though, they’re also lined with very high hedges. You’ll feel like you’re traveling through a maze sometimes.

But once you get into the more settled areas along the coast, the hedgerows disappear and the terrain becomes a lot more open. You’ll see old tin mines dotting the landscaping, and run across a henge or two.

The coastline itself is dramatic (thus the poetic “Land’s End”), with it’s bluer than blue water. Apparently there’s a high copper content in the sediment, which gives the coastal waters the blue-green hue.

Tintagel Castle Ruins: Not-so-easy Access

Expect to go for a bit of a hike to get to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. This is the view of the mainland from Tintagel’s ruins.

And finally, there’s Tintagel Castle, where Merlin supposedly orchestrated the conception of King Arthur.

Tintagel Revisited

Now according to legend, Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, hid his wife Ygraine in Tintagel castle, to keep her safe from King Uther. Tintagel Castle is right on the coast, by the way. Merlin disguised Uther and led him up a narrow, treacherous path along the cliff face to gain entrance to the fortress. According to Mary Stewart, it was a dark and stormy night. Of course.

In real life, Tintagel Castle ruins lie on a small island-like land mass jutting out from the mainland and you’ll have to walk a narrow path and cross a bridge of stairs to get to them. Thankfully, the bridge is in good order and it’s a much safer trek than the one Uther supposedly made in the fifth or sixth century.

Challenging Stairs at Tintagel

It’s a rough climb up to Tintagel. But the handrails are sturdy!

Still, this is not a hike for the faint of heart. It’s a long walk, and the stairs from the bridge up to the top of the peninsular mountain where the ruins lie, are fairly steep.

Of course, the stairs aren’t comfortable to climb either, because the originals weren’t cut in ergonomic times. The newer ones are fine, but some of the older ones really challenge your sense of balance. They’re roughly hewn and dangerous.

Bridging the mainland to Tintagel Castle.

Why does this bridge remind me of a Monty Python movie?

Most people in average condition won’t have a problem, but if long walks and steep stairs really aren’t your thing, you might want to wait in the car. Go explore Tintagel Parish instead – it’s very picturesque.

Once you arrive though, the views of the Cornish coastline are well worth it. And what’s left of the castle is worth the walk too, with interesting stone structures and a few walls still standing.

The castle courtyard is probably the most interesting with its arched entryways and tiny peephole windows. You’ll also get to see a tunnel leading to a food storage area, a well, medieval graffiti, and gun fort for the latter days, among other things.

Tintagel Castle Courtyard Wall - Cornwall

Few walls still stand at Tintagel Castle. This archway is the main entrance into the courtyard.

Archaeologists date the site to 3rd or 4th century AD, and they believe the land belonged to a Celtic monastery or prince of the region. However, they’re still digging up buildings, and learning that the site was used as an ancient Mediterranean trading post as well.

TIP #1: Restrooms and snacks are available on the mainland. Be sure to take care of your bodily needs before you cross the bridge to the ruins.

TIP #2: Please DO be careful on those treacherous stairs!

Coastline around Tintagel in Cornwall.

View of Cornwall coast line from the ruins at Tintagel.