My husband and I went on the weirdest honeymoon you’ve ever heard of last month. It was ambitious, it was elaborate, it was more than a little bit foolish. It had no thematic connecting tissue and we somehow had to figure out how to pack for a full month with only a carry-on but somehow be prepared for climates from Iceland to the Greek Isles, and formality levels from hiking a volcano to dinner at a Michelin star restaurant. It was stupid but it was fun.


We started by asking each other where we wanted to go if we’d never get to go anywhere ever again. Phil wanted to see Athens, I wanted to see the Greek Isles. Ok, good start, these things are very compatible. We decided to the Greek Isles could be a cruise because we love a cruise (more on that HERE) so we just needed to fly to Athens then fly home, no sweat.


OR… what if, rather than simply fly in and out of Athens and tolerate all that jet lag, why don’t we take advantage of the travelling itself, turn the getting to and going home into their own adventures?


I’d always wanted to take the Cunard transatlantic (honestly, this has a lot to do with the 1998 film The Parent Trap, I’m not too proud to admit it), so we booked that as our way of getting to Europe from North America. Of course, the Queen Mary 2 doesn’t sail from Toronto to Athens. So now we’ve got a weekend in New York as the kick off to our honeymoon then we’ve got to figure out how to get from Southampton to Athens once we’re over there.


Because we were now booked on to two cruises, our timeline was pretty locked in. We had a week to kill to get from the end of the Cunard in Southampton to the beginning of the Virgin Voyages in Athens. We realized pretty quickly that Greece isn’t accessible enough by rail to do something grand like take the train across the continent so we were going to have to fly into Athens no matter what. I was pretty confident I didn’t need more than a day or two in Athens before the cruise and I wasn’t much interested in killing a full week in England so we needed to add an extra step. Having taken the Eurostar from London to Paris on a family trip a few months earlier, we knew that was a pretty swift journey with lots of timing options so we decided on Paris (neither of us had ever spent any real time there, just that one afternoon crossing through the previous summer).


So, here’s where we were at:


Fly Toronto to New York- a cheap little puddle jumper we do often. Unfortunately the cheapest way to do it is on Flair Airlines who are a total nightmare and particularly brutal about upcharging. We got lucky on this particular flight but, from other experiences, the ultra discount airline has a purposefully under-sized measuring device that declares personal items that are very able to fit under the seat in front of you as full size carry-ons, forcing customers to pay an unexpected extra $80 at the gate. Then they have a policy to automatically separate parties on the same booking to force people to pay to select seats (I’m sure they wouldn’t admit this is a real policy but I’ve flown with them a lot and have literally never been assigned a seat next to my travel partner despite there being empty seats beside us). This was my honeymoon, however, and I have my own policy that there is literally never any harm is asking for what you want; the worst you can hear is no. So I approached the desk and asked if it would be possible to move us to seats together. My romantic brain thought there might be a remote chance they’d move us to first class because that’s what they do in the movies when it’s somebody’s honeymoon but it turns out the gate agents at Flair literally cannot override automatic seat assignments without processing a credit card (this is so wild; I can’t imagine there are no circumstances in which they’d need to be able to do this). But on this particular day there happened to be a man sitting behind the counter chatting with the gate agents who seemed like he must be someone important. Dressed casually and clearly off duty just being sociable, this person I assume was a Flair employee higher up than a gate agent heard my request and circumvented the system, informing the flight attendants directly that we were to be seated together in the empty exit row. It wasn’t first class (and I was very embarrassed when he had the captain congratulate us over the PA) but this small kindness on our little hourlong flight to kick off the honeymoon meant a lot to me. I still wonder sometimes who that guy was.


Then we were planning to take the Cunard from Brooklyn to Southampton, a bus from Southampton to London, the Eurostar from London to Paris, and a flight from Paris to Athens. This thing was already looking nuts and that’s before the Cunard cancelled on us just a single week out. I’ll write more about how we ended up filling that week in my article about tours and excursions but suffice to say that we had about 24 hours to lock in a new itinerary that would start in New York and end in London on the same timeline as we’d originally planned because the rest of the trip (including theatre tickets in both New York and London) had already been booked so we couldn’t just revert back to leaving from Toronto a week later than planned.


Ireland is a bit of an inside joke between my husband and I. Well, not so much inside. It’s pretty simple, really. He’s just really into Irish girls and absolutely insists that my “face looks Irish” despite my Irish ancestry being so many generations back that the culture truly feels like it has nothing to do with me. But I guess my (distant though it may be) Irishness is the whole reason he swiped right in the first place so Ireland holds a special place in our hearts, even if it’s for a stupid reason. I’d been there before and had always wanted to go back and Phil had never been (despite the really into Irish girls thing). Because of that previous trip (a theatre tour with a camp group when I was 14), I was confident I knew what regions to see and key places to visit so we were able to put together a week’s itinerary that ended in London on time without too much fuss. We flew Icelandair (more on them in a moment) out of JFK then took an assortment of unglamorous but suitable trains and buses from Dublin to Galway, to Cork, to Blarney, to Killarney, and back to Dublin.


We used the excellent FREENOW taxi app to get us around and a very efficient and affordable Air Coach transfer to take us to the airport that picked up right by our hotel. We then hopped on cheap regional airline Aer Lingus to get us over to Heathrow. Another discount airline that’s weird about carry-ons, we had to risk checking our bags despite that never feeling particularly safe on a trip where you’re moving from place to place too quickly for a lost bag to ever find you. This was particularly annoying since there were tons of empty seats on the plane (and therefore lots of overhead compartment room) but uncompromising adherence to policy is always a pet peeve of mine. Phil loves rules so he was fine with it. The service was good though and we were moved to a nicer row on the mostly empty plane and enjoyed large seats with extra long seatbelts (always a nice plus when travelling while plus size).


Once in London, it’s easy to get around on the tube and takes a bit longer but saves a lot of money heading in from the airport rather than taking the Elizabeth or Heathrow lines. The Eurostar is also a breeze though the station is in desperate need of some better food options (tip: treat the Eurostar more like an airport than a train station and make sure you arrive like two hours early for customs).


We arrived in Paris after midnight which was quite intimidating since neither of us had ever spent any time there and my French is shabby at best (Phil’s is non-existent). My anxiety wasn’t helped by Uber’s refusal to load and our having chosen a hotel in the slightly less touristy Montmartre area rather than near the station. Luckily once we realized we needed to give up on Uber, there was a good old fashioned accredited taxi line with plenty of security around the other side of the station and we were able to jump in a cab to our hotel with at least moderate confidence that we were going in the right direction. Once the sun came up, the Metro proved easy to use to get around the city and out of the city for our day visiting Versailles.


Leaving Paris to get onto our original planned itinerary, we took a Sky Express flight to Athens. Our confirmation email had the wrong terminal, the check-in line took forever after online check-in closed unexpectedly early, and there was next to no seating after security. The agents called all groups at once resulting in chaos at the gate so it was a surprise when the plane turned out to be half empty. The plane had nice wide aisles but an uncomfortably small bathroom that was luckily clean enough that the necessary acrobatics to accommodate the lack of space weren’t too gross. Sky Express is where the “oh right, we’re in Europe” really came home to roost with those tiny bathrooms and a tray table that wouldn’t come down all the way over my belly but the service was alright for a discount airline and, though most things were paid, a complimentary fruit juice and lovely olive oil cookie made the experience feel a little better than the North American discount lines.


In Athens, we used a trick I learned from my brother’s ex-girlfriend that the easiest way to get around is actually to buy a pass on the Hop on Hop Off tourist bus. It’s not great for actually learning about any of the landmarks but, as a way of getting between landmarks, it’s pretty useful. Especially in Athens, where a sprawling set of three inter-connected lines takes you all over the entire city and to the outskirts. We ended up getting the 48 hour pass (which is actually the standard 24 hour that comes with a bonus 24 hours for some reason) that starts the clock when you activate it, not at the start of the day. This loophole allowed us to ride the bus to see the major sites of Athens (on the red line) on Friday afternoon, take the green line all the way out to the beach then to the cultural centre on Saturday, then finally board the purple line out to the cruise terminal on  Sunday morning, all for the one fare.


So that takes us as far as Greece, the original honeymoon plan. But of course our goal of making adventures out of the getting there and getting home was still in place, even before we knew the Cunard would be cancelled and the getting there part would get a whole lot more adventure-y.


We’d both always been intrigued by the well-publicized Icelandair deal that allows passengers to stop over in Iceland for up to two weeks technically as a layover during their flight from Europe to North America (or, I suppose, the other way). Icelandair is often the most affordable airline flying between Europe and Toronto anyway (as evidence by us taking it to Ireland; which, again, we booked long after the rest of this was already set in stone) so we decided a three day stop in Iceland on our way home would be the perfect end to the trip and, because we weren’t paying for a second flight in order to make it happen, it was like tacking on a free trip!


Well, sort of. The catch is that Icelandair doesn’t fly out of Athens so we were going to have to pick a different European city to leave from. We looked at their list and Norway caught our eye. If we were going to have to add a leg in order to fly Icelandair, we might as well pick one in a country we’d always wanted to visit. So now we’ve got a couple days in Norway.


We flew Aegean Air from Athens to Oslo and, delicious cheese or chocolate pie free food options aside, it will easily go down as one of my least favourite flights of all time. Not only is Aegean yet another “carry-on OR personal item, not both” line (the third of our trip, I hate them so much) but the outlets didn’t work and it generally just wasn’t a comfortable flight. Most egregious, Aegean was the only airplane bathroom I’ve ever encountered (having flown a ton and been this size on pretty much every flight) in which I was literally incapable of fitting. I’ve been cramped before but never have my hips been pressed against both walls of the stall to the point where I am unable to open my legs even an inch in any position. Luckily there was an “accessible” washroom on board which, far from being actually accessible (I have no idea what people in need of a true accessible washroom are expected to do), at least it was about an inch wider on each side so I was able to at least go to the bathroom, if not comfortably. This experience made me so irreconcilably angry that I will never agree to fly Aegean again (something I won’t even say about Flair, and I really hate Flair).


In Oslo, we took a lot of boats and trains that I will talk about more in my excursions article but I really fell in love with Scandinavian efficiency when Icelandair decided day-of to move our flight up from 4:10 to 1:50. We found out at 11:25am that this was happening, already later than I would have liked to be at the airport for a 1:50pm flight. Luckily we were in a country that takes their train system seriously and Flytoget got us there on time (though just barely. What a crazy thing that should definitely not be allowed!).


Our experience with Icelandair in general was only so-so. I really love the stopover feature but the service is incredibly brusk and the Reykjavik airport is extremely haphazard (it’s also very far from the actual city so be sure to pre-book the bus transfer in both directions if you’re doing the stopover). It’s always a treat to get Icelandic soft drink Applesin on the plane and the duty free shops sell really standout chocolate but customer service is first and foremost for me and Icelandair is really lacking. A man on our flight informed us that they had apparently downgraded us from a 747 to a 737 at the last minute and didn’t tell anyone, which caused a lot of chaos and necessary reseating. When I asked (because, again, no harm in asking) if the plane was full, I was told yes even though there were two first class seats available right in front of me. I was in an extra legroom row, which actually backfired because they have a slightly different structure than other rows and the armrests are solid barriers between seats that uncomfortably hemmed me in. The screens also come up from the armrests in those chairs and these ones were particularly unfriendly to bellies (related but unrelated: make sure to bring your own wired headphones on Icelandair to tune into their odd but not bad movie selection; they won’t provide them for you).


We landed back in Toronto and were relieved to be back on familiar turf where we knew the most efficient ways to get through the airport and home to our dog. We hopped in an Uber and walked in the door at 11pm exactly one month from the day we left for the weirdest honeymoon ever.