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10 countries in 30 days

Benson Ang on 16 Nov 2015

The Straits Times


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Keukenhof flower garden near Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Time is precious and so is money.


To save both, I went on a solo trip to 10 European countries in 30 days in April and May this year.


Sounds crazy? It is. I spent only a few days in each location. After taking all my annual leave of 21 days, I could be away from work for only a month.


In that time, however, I travelled to the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Denmark.


I could have travelled to just one or two countries, but I decided on 10 because travelling between places close by is cheaper and faster than going on another holiday, or holidays, in the future.


Imagine flying to each European country from Singapore. If one return flight costs $800 and lasts 26 hours, 10 such flights will cost $8,000 and last 260 hours.


Travelling between locations cost me $2,939 and took 87 hours. The way I see it, I saved more than $5,000 and 170 hours - seven whole days.


The downside is that my trip was jam-packed. The longest I stayed in one country was four nights, the shortest two nights. My days often started at 9am and ended at midnight.


Meals usually consisted of packed sandwiches and fruit or a hotdog or pizza slice bought from a stall, eaten on the go.


And did I have a full experience of each location? To an extent.


I usually need only two to three days to feel satisfied that I have covered a location. So here is how I visited 10 countries in a month.


First, half a year before my trip, I contemplated where I wanted to go if I wanted to jump quickly between countries.


I decided on Europe. The whole continent is practically connected by trains and several train companies there let you travel to many countries on a single ticket.


Next, I proclaimed myself a city kid who would generally visit only capital cities - Amsterdam (the Netherlands), London (Britain), Lisbon (Portugal), Budapest (Hungary), Vienna (Austria), Prague (Czech Republic) and Copenhagen (Denmark).


For Spain, which has a few cities each with its own flavour, I made three stops - in Barcelona, Madrid and Seville.


In Belgium, my main stop was in Brussels, but I made a detour to Bruges because it is billed as one of the most romantic cities in the world.


And in Germany, my main stop was Berlin, but I made a detour to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. It is among the most famous castles in the world. It is also the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle and Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou took his wedding photos there when he married model Hannah Quinlivan earlier this year.


Next, for each city, I shortlisted 10 sites to visit, researching travel guides and websites.


For each site, I asked: What is there to see? Is it worth my time? And how much time?


Top-tier attractions obviously made the cut. For example, near Amsterdam is the Keukenhof flower garden, which is billed as the most beautiful spring garden in the world.


At 32ha, it is also one of the largest flower gardens, with more than seven million flower bulbs blooming there this year, including daffodils, hyacinths and 800 varieties of tulips. It is definitely a must-see.


In Copenhagen, the famous Little Mermaid statue has become an icon of the city and nobody can claim to have visited Copenhagen without seeing it.


The 1.25m bronze statue, based on the fairy tale of the same name by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, looks longingly towards the shore from a rock by the waterside. Although small and perpetually surrounded by tourists, the statue is pretty and a wonderful photo opportunity. Into the itinerary it went.


And in Budapest, one of its most recognisable icons is the Hungarian Parliament Building, which is also among the city's tallest buildings and the country's largest. This majestic neo-Gothic building has 10 courtyards, almost 700 rooms and is home of the Hungarian crown jewels.


It is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, both inside and out, with plush red carpets on its staircases and frescoes on the ceilings - and definitely worth a visit.


When shortlisting sites to visit, I also included places I felt a personal connection to, even if they were not popular attractions.


For example, in Vienna, I made it a point to visit the Sigmund Freud Museum, the former residence of the famous psychoanalyst.


I studied many of Freud's theories in university and could not pass up the chance to see the place where he lived for 47 years, seeing patients and writing many of his psychoanalytic works. Looking at his hat, walking cane, suitcase and many first editions of his works brought back fond memories of studying his work.


As for the other attractions, each had something special to offer to justify a visit. For example, despite Europe having many aquariums and zoos, I went to only a handful.


In Barcelona, I visited the Aquarium Barcelona primarily because it kept an ocean sunfish. Also known as mola mola, this species of fish is difficult to keep in captivity and can be found only in a handful of aquariums worldwide. It is the heaviest known bony fish in the world, with adults measuring 2m to 3m in height and weighing between 250kg and 1,000kg.


Harmless and slow-moving, it looks cute from some angles and I had to see one up close.


Fitting all these activities into a month was tough, but I realised having limited time in one place forced me to prioritise the most important sites to visit first.


The less important sites were left towards the end of my stay, so I could skip them if I had no time.


Even then, I constantly felt strapped for time. Occasionally, I gave up parts of my itinerary because I got up late or felt too tired. But in the end, I finished at least 80 per cent of my itinerary and was very happy because covering 80 sites in a month is, well, a lot. In all, I spent close to $7,000.


I think I covered the locations well enough. If I missed out on something, I could always re-visit those sites on another trip - a more leisurely one perhaps?


Well, assuming I get more annual leave next time.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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