Summer In Europe – A Running Diary

top of rysy peak highest mountain in poland

Summer In Europe : A Running Diary

This is it. Summer 2024. We’re finally doing it. The dream of road-tripping across Europe for four months. After a year of planning, excessive research, sleepless nights, and recruiting friends and family to take care of our home and beloved cats (forever grateful to you guys), the journey starts here.  

The Backstory & Planning

A little background on this trip. We’ve always said if we’re going to “do” Europe, we wanted to really devote some time to it. We’re not getting any younger, we don’t have children, and we have somewhat flexible jobs, so it felt like this was the right time to take on this adventure. 

The first hurdle: Brandon didn’t want to fly over the ocean. After a lot (a lot) of research and the help of Chelax Adventures, we found a transatlantic cruise that would take us from Miami to Barcelona – A 2 week journey. The ports of call included Funchal, Malaga, and Valencia. What a dream. 

From there, we had to figure out transportation. We knew we wanted to drive, but realized pretty quickly that not only would a rental car cost a fortune, it would definitely restrict the number of countries we could visit. We considered buying a car and selling it before we left, but ultimately what I found was that if you are not a European citizen that’s basically impossible. (If anyone knows otherwise please feel free to let me know for future reference!) Thankfully, with the help of a “Traveling in Europe” Facebook group, I found the option of leasing a car. The program was exactly what we wanted, and included almost every country we wanted to visit. It did not include Turkey, but we’ll get to that… We arranged to pick up the car in Calais, France. 

So, the itinerary started to come together. After disembarking in Barcelona and spending a few days there, I took a quick detour and flew to Norway to celebrate a friend’s birthday with a hiking and kayaking trip. Brandon wanted to check out another city in Spain, so he took a train to Seville. We met back up in London to regroup and spend some time with family there. The logistics of getting from London to Calais were some of the most challenging to figure out, but from then on we’d have our own transportation. 

After picking up the car in Calais, we’d drive right to Bruges and spend two nights there. The rest of the itinerary: 

The Itinerary

Things We Wish We Knew Before Spending A Summer In Europe

The hidden costs: When planning for a trip, we usually factor in things like hotel stay, meals, and transportation. In Europe, you also have to think about the hidden cost of just… doing things. Oh, you want to visit this museum? It’s 20€. And then you want to climb the tower in this fort? Another 10€. And then you want to visit this palace? Another 20€. Those things started to add up really quickly, so we are trying to be really selective about which extracurricular activities we chose to pay for. 

Carrying cash: Many people will tell you that you don’t need to carry cash as most places, including markets and bazaars, take credit cards. This is true – except – especially as a woman you may find yourself in need of a public restroom. In a lot of countries they charge a fee to use them. Even if it’s just $1 or less, it’s usually required in the local currency. This even happened to me in a gas station rest-stop in Hungary. You may also want to carry around some small coins/bills for tipping purposes when it can’t be added to a card. 

Packing: Always carry an umbrella. And/or a poncho, raincoat, rain boots – basically make sure you have head-to-toe coverage for rainy days. 0% chance of rain in Krakow, you say? Guess what happened that day… 


A bit about this blog post, and planning for each city: 

You don’t need me to reinvent the wheel. There are hundreds of resources and blog posts out there listing things to do in each city, what to do, where to eat, etc. (I’m a big fan of NomadicMatt, among countless others.) 

Before visiting anywhere, I usually look up the best things to do and see and add them to our travel map. Once we’re able to explore ourselves, I add things we find or that are recommended to us along the way. So in this diary as we go through each city, I’m just recapping our highlights and adding anything important that I wish I had known before going. I’m happy to share our maps – just ask!

Brugge, Belgium

brugge belgium colored houses and bridge

Walk everywhere

Seeing the architecture here is one of the best parts of visiting Bruges. You can take a river boat tour also.

brugge eating waffles with whipped cream

Eat everything

But really the best part of visiting here is eating all of the foods they are known for!

bruges belgium main square tower

Climb this

The Belfry Tower is right in the main square. The 366 steps are worth it if it’s a nice day.

In a nutshell: Brugge is super cute. It’s exactly what I pictured in my head when I thought of “Belgium.” (Hopefully the rest of the country isn’t offended by that.) It’s very quaint and quiet, despite all the beer-drinking opportunities. You’ll see a lot of walking tours around. It’s small, so it can feel busy even in the off-season. 

Nights here: 2. It was just enough. 

Where we stayed: The Hotel Fevery. Highly recommend. It was great, nice room, walkable to main square, and great breakfast. 

Highlights of what to do in Bruges, Belgium: Eat all the waffles, fries, and chocolate. And obviously drink all the beer. You can climb the Belfry tower for about $15 and get a great 360° view on a good weather day.  

How to get around: You can pretty much walk from one side of the town to the other in a day. There are river boat tours you can take, but after seeing how packed the boats were we chose not to. 

Would we recommend? Yes, definitely. Even though our 2 days there we rainy, it was still cute and exactly what I pictured Belgium to be like. 

Resources: The city’s main website is a good resource. 

Wish we knew: Always, always have an umbrella or rain gear. We’re also still unsure if it’s spelled Bruges, or Brugge (you’ll see both!)

Brussels, Belgium

manneken pis brussels belgium monarch

See it

‘Manneken Pis’ is Brussels’ most famous statue. He has different costumes throughout the year. 

mont des artes garden in brussels belgium

Walk here

Brussels has some pretty parks and gardens. This one was right behind our hotel.

The giant atom in brussels belgium

Visit this

It’s just… random. We didn’t climb it ($), but it was worth seeing since it’s such a unique structure. 

In a nutshell: Brussels was not my favorite, but maybe because I expected it to feel more like Brugge. It definitely did not. It felt more like New York City, to be honest. Lots of shopping, chain stores and restaurants. It’s incredibly diverse, not the cleanest, home to the EU, and also to the Smurfs.

Nights here: 2. It was enough for us. 

Where we stayed: The Hilton Brussels Grand Palace. Would definitely recommend.   

Highlights of what to do in Brussels, Belgium: Eat all the waffles, fries, and chocolate. And obviously drink all the beer. You can climb the Belfry tower for about $15 and get a great 360° view on a good weather day.  

How to get around: We walked (even to the Atom). Not sure I’d do it again. They also have a tram, train, taxi or bus. 

Would we recommend? It depends what you’re looking for. I’d try Ghent next time. 

Resources: The city’s main website is a good resource. 

Wish we knew: We had a bit of an issue getting in to the city. Brussels is a “low emission zone” area, meaning vehicles that pollute are not allowed to drive in the city center. So, we parked at a park & ride and had a heck of a time figuring out which train to take in to the city. After a lot of messy-ness and confusion, we were told at our hotel that it’s only “old cars” that are prohibited. Because we were driving a new vehicle, we could have driven in and parked at the hotel. 

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