The view over Salzburg, Austria
So far this year I haven’t had time to cover them, but I’ve been on a few weekend trips both in the Netherlands and abroad. One of the main reasons I wanted to move to Europe back in the day was the allure of the weekend trip- I knew I wanted to do my astronomy PhD which is definitely more than a full time job if you look at the hours (or how often one posts to her blog), but I also wanted to spend a decent fraction of my weekends exploring and that is a lot easier to do here. It’s part the scale of things- it was a 2.5 hour drive from Cleveland to Pittsburgh with nothing in between, here that amount of time puts you in Cologne or Brussels- and part the infrastructure of public transport and budget flights is so much better. And gee, having to pick a weekend in London versus Barcelona is much more interesting than Columbus or Buffalo!
Valkenburg Castle- the only castle built on a hill in the Netherlands (pretty much on the border in the south with Belgium and Germany)
That said, I have a slight reputation now amongst my friends on my weekend trip planning, so I promised to write down a few tips. Mind, a lot of these points and websites work outside of Europe too, but how well really varies depending where you are- one nice thing in Europe for example is I have never had to think about transportation at a given destination (as I have yet to be proven wrong in my assumption that there will be excellent public transportation), but you certainly can’t always make that assumption in much of the USA.
Climbing the city walls in gorgeous York, England
1) Planning ahead. I have many hobbies, and I like to joke that one of them is planning trips I might not necessarily take because I can only be in once place at a time. And this is in many ways true, because unlike the many reasons people travel if you’re just going for a weekend you likely don’t care where you are going specifically on a particular weekend. Sure, I have my list of places to visit, but I don’t usually care if I visit a particular place in a particular month within reason.
Maastricht, Netherlands- about as far south as you can get and still be in the country, with definite French influences!
To take advantage of this I know of two good websites to see what’s good on a given weekend. The first is Google Flights, where you enter your given dates, starting airport, and all parameters you want (time, price, connections), and it generates a map of all the flights that meet your criteria and the prices that match. The second is Zap Travel, a site where you enter your details from a starting destination (“weekend skiing in March” or “long weekend Germany 3 star hotels” or what have you- you can do longer trips as well) and it returns to you a list of places that fit your criteria with flights and hotels. Both are quite useful but in different ways.
Beer Hall in Salzburg- you grabbed a stein off the shelf, washed it and then got beer poured straight from the barrel!
2) Try to get in by dinner on Friday night if at all possible, even if it’s a late dinner. This is because a weekend is a really short time- you often barely show up before it’s time to leave again- but somehow psychologically there is a world of difference between showing up near midnight and collapsing into bed and waking up early Saturday and briefly going out and trying a local dish (and then collapsing into bed). It just somehow makes the entire weekend seem that much longer.
Ruins of St. Mary’s Monastery in York- once the wealthiest monastery in northern England, it was shuttered by Henry VIII during his dissolution of the monasteries.
3) Don’t take the Monday morning flight. I think everyone learns this the hard way- when you first start the weekend trips you see that 6am Monday morning flight home, and think how much nicer two full days in a location would be instead of rushing to the airport on Sunday. But it’s a trap! A 6am flight means you have to be at the airport at 5am, meaning in many cities you have to leave where you’re staying at 4am, meaning you’re not enjoying your Sunday night cause you’re trying to sleep so you can pay for an outrageously expensive taxi cause public transport isn’t running that early. (Plus, honestly, even if you stay up Sunday night is rarely interesting anywhere if you’ve just lived through Friday and Saturday nights.) You still get into work on time- heck often earlier than anyone else if you’re an astronomer like me and no one shows up before 10am anyway- but heaven help you if your job requires thinking and you woke up at 4am that day.
This isn’t to say I don’t take Monday morning flights still- I will if visiting a place with friends or family for example, as time with loved once is precious, or if there is an absurd price difference that is over the cost of an extra night. But if I’m just going on my own I now get home by Sunday.
“Are you telling me that my children have been running around Salzburg dressed in nothing but some old DRAPES?!”
4) In a city, stay at a place near the train station. Or metro line that brought you from the airport, or wherever. I normally wouldn’t, as train stations are rarely located in super interesting areas in themselves, but they are central and a big place requires navigating public transport instead of walking anyway. Much better to dump your bag and hop onto one of many options from the station to see something you want to see then spend an a long time getting somewhere with your bag just to dump it… and then do the same thing Sunday in reverse.
The Bridges of Valkenburg in the southern Netherlands
5) Beware the budget airport. Now this depends how much disposable income you have to devote to your traveling habit, and often going is better than not going at all even if you are spending an extra two hours traveling each direction, but things that are worth schlepping out for a week away make rapidly less sense when we’re just talking about a few days.
Hellbrunn Castle near Salzburg, Austria
Ok, that’s all I’ve got for now… and I will now post this before I have even more weekend trips’ pictures to post! But don’t worry, I’m jetting off yet again tomorrow on a bit of an adventure that I’m sure to post many things about.