Nate and I love soccer. And we REALLY love European soccer. There is a tournament in Europe called the Champions league, its for the best teams in Europe and the quarter finals are now. It just so happened that there were last minute tickets available to one of the matches in Germany last week, and our schedules were clear. As you all know, I am not a last minute person. I am a planner. PERIOD. It took me all of about two seconds to decide. We should go.
So, six days before the match, we booked our airline tickets…and got really lucky. We generally use points for long distance air travel. Due to the last minute nature of this trip, using points was really the only smart way to go. Generally, airlines have their tickets available in tiers. Meaning, they have a certain number of tickets allocated at different point values. We didn’t want to use more points than necessary and we also didn’t want to get stuck with a million layovers and too much wasted time in airports. Fortunately, after a lot of searching, we were able to find tickets on American Airlines to Frankfurt with just one stop in Dallas, at a normal time of day for 60K points round trip. That really isn’t many more points than it would have cost if we would have booked our tickets months in advance.
It was official. We were going. The plan was to be gone six days. Factoring in travel time, we would only spend four nights in Europe. We planned for one night in Dortmund, Germany, two nights in Amsterdam and one night in Frankfurt.
Again, because this was last minute, planning the rest of the trip was really interesting. Usually, when I plan our trips out, I have time to thoroughly research the destination. I look at different hotels, see what activities we want to do while we’re there, and then adjust the cities and itinerary accordingly. We had so many constraints that were out of my control from the start.
1. We were very last minute.
2. We had to go to Dortmund on a specific day for the match.
3. We needed to choose one more place to go that was an easy driving distance to both Dortmund as well as Frankfurt.
Due to its proximity to Dortmund and the fact that neither Nate nor I had ever been there; we decided to spend the rest of our time in the Netherlands. Then drive back to Frankfurt through Belgium and Luxembourg.
Now that the itinerary was set, we could book our hotels. I almost always use points to pay for hotels. We are also generally very loyal to the SPG brand and have been for years. They have such a great point system, really good customer service and a lot of hotels in different price points to choose from all over the world. The problem was that they didn’t have any hotels in Dortmund and I didn’t love their hotel options in Amsterdam. They either seemed like too much of a party hotel or too sterile. But..I really wanted to stay IN Amsterdam.
Then I remembered that we had recently got the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and had amassed quite a few points on their system. As new card members, we had never redeemed points or even looked at the hotel choices that were offered. Nate decided to check it out. They had something that looked decent in Dortmund, and , added bonus; was walking distance from the stadium. PLUS…they had great choices for Amsterdam!!! We used some of our points to book the Renaissance in Dortmund and two nights at the Pulitzer Hotel in Amsterdam. The Renaissance was fine but the Pulitzer was perfect. I would stay there again, and again. It was beautiful, centrally located on a canal and very Dutch. Just what we wanted. Also, Chase’s point system was so simple and easy to use. Even considering that we were traveling during Amsterdam’s busy season and just 4 days before arriving.
With our airfare, hotels and soccer tickets booked, and just one day until we left..there were only a few more details to work out. We knew that our day in Dortmund was taken care of, that really just left Amsterdam to finalize. I knew that I really wanted to go to the Anne Frank House, take a canal cruise and maybe do some bike riding. This is where I started to feel the effects of deciding to travel last minute.
Unfortunately, many things in Amsterdam require reservations. Which if I had planned like usual, I would have known. We were going there in the height of their busy season which starts at the end of March and lasts thru mid May. It coincides with the tulips blooming. So…that just made my lack of preparedness even worse. Anne Frank tickets book out 2 months in advance. They have a standby line but it was so long that we would have wasted so much of our already limited time standing in it. The Van Gogh museum also requires reservations so we didn’t bother with that either (Nate was super happy that we missed it;)). Finally, the tulips. There is a HUGE garden called Kuekenhof which is abut 30 miles outside of Amsterdam. Reservations are recommended here as well. We had no idea that it existed or just how busy it is. It is pretty much the Disneyland of flowers. It seriously looks like a theme park at the entrance. By the time we got to Kuekenhof we had already driven down the “flower route” from Haarlem to Lisse. We had walked through a bunch of tulip fields, and decided to save Kuekenhof for another time. It really was unbelievable.
Overall our trip to Europe was unexpected, beautiful and so much fun. I was forced to be spontaneous and come up with things on fly. One evening we didn’t have a restaurant picked out so we went to the market and bought bread, cheese and deli meat and made sandwiches while driving through Belgium. It was perfect. Even though my preplanning would have allowed us to see a few more things and be a little more prepared, it really could not have gone any better. I am reminded again, of why I love to travel and how much goodness and beauty there is in the world. So, wether you are a planner like I am or super spontaneous, it is always worth it to just go.