The "Grand Tour" was an aristocratic tradition for wealthy young men (and occasionally women) in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The scions of noble houses would spend a season traveling through France and Italy, ostensibly to educate themselves in the arts and other classical pursuits, but more frequently traveling to enjoy themselves and socialize with other young, eligible individuals. Although it was often satirized in the contemporary press, the idea behind the Grand Tour was one of the forerunners of modern tourism, and anticipated much of same type of travel that takes place today.
I had always wanted to embark on a similar journey, my own version of the Grand Tour through the heart of Europe. Not fortunate enough to be a wealthy member of a patrician family, however, my options were somewhat more limited in this regard. As a graduate student studying history in London, I had the chance to do several side trips to different parts of the Continent, but never anything for an extended period. Afterwards, the limiting factor on travel (as always) was the combination of time and money. While working on my Ph.D., I had the time but not the money; after finishing and starting at my current job, I had the money but not the time. Fortunately, through careful husbanding of my leave hours over the course of two years, I was able to line up four weeks of vacation time in July of 2016, wherein I would have both the availability and the resources to make this dream come true. I would purchase an unlimited rail pass and ride the trains across Europe, spending nearly every day in a new destination. This would be a whirlwind tour conducted at my normal frenetic pace while traveling alone. Then for the last ten days of my trip, my girlfriend would fly out to join me as we traveled through Scandinavia together.
This was not a Grand Tour in the most traditional sense. I wasn't traveling specifically for the purpose of a classical education, and I wouldn't be visiting Rome or even Italy at all. (Technically I think I crossed the Italian border for about 20 minutes at the Matterhorn, but that didn't count.) Instead, my trip would largely end up running through the old Holy Roman Empire, spanning from the Low Countries through the Rhineland, across the Alps of Switzerland and Austria, then onto the Hungarian Plain and into Bohemia and Moravia. These were all places that I hadn't had the chance to visit previously, and I intended to stop at least briefly in all of the great cities of Central Europe. Traveling light with only a backpack for luggage and sleeping in hostels each night, this was far from the luxurious accomodations that the elites of the past had enjoyed. But the world was out there waiting to be explored, and this was the time to see it, before I had the responsibilities of a house and family to juggle. I had spent decades reading about these places - it was time to see them in person. Let the Grand Tour begin!