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2016 European Vacation

 
 
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 07:59 am
As a graduation present, we are going to go to Europe for 2 weeks on a whirlwind tour of the place. I will list my itinerary and desires of why that is so and then you guys can give feedback or suggestions and then tell me what changes have been made.

Some background, my father was military and we lived in Germany for 9 years while I was a child. He were able to take a summer off one year and we toured Europe with a Volvo towing an Alpine-Cruiser popup. Was great times.

Present day. My son is graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, he is a National Merit Semi-finalist and he is applying to all the smart people schools. One of the things we've talked about over the years was a trip to Europe if he did these things...

The Plan!
I found out that if you fly out of Canada, you can literally save thousands of dollars on four tickets to fly to Europe. So, first part is to drive to Toronto and fly out of YYZ (Rush rules!!!).
We would be flying into Rome Italy where we would spend 2 nights. Things to see: Vatican (wife and kids are Catholic), Rome historic sites. We all have different things we want to do. My wife wants Italian shoes and gold, I want authentic local cuisine.
Drive to Milan for 2 nights, one day in Milan one day in Florence/Venice. This is where we get shoes and gold... ugh. See tourist stuff.
Drive to Garmisch-Partenkirchen for 1 night through Austria. I learned to ski here and just have awesome memories of the place. Germany will be a drive a tour country. I want to see Neuschwanstein, drive up along the Rhine and do touristy stuff. Everyone loves castles and Germany has some excellent examples.
Drive towards Kaiserslautern for 1 night. Lived there a long time, want to see it again. That and a little place called Niederkirchen which I think is just north of K-town.
Drive to Amsterdam for 2 nights. See touristy stuff, eat good food. I am not sure if the Frank house is a must see or not. My son is familiar with all that took place and in discussing it with daughter, she hasn't read book yet and "doesn't want any spoilers." Kids.
Drive to Paris 2 nights. Louvre would be nice but I've heard so many bad things about lines and tourists. Notre Dame is a must and I'd love to just sit for like an hour at a sidewalk cafe sipping coffee... Also want to go to Normandy beach, Versailles, and other local touristy stuff.
Drive to Edinburgh 2 nights. Walk the royal mile, haggis ("where else in the world are we going to be able to get haggis?") and drink. I got hit in the head with a rock last time we went to Loch Ness. Maybe I'll have better luck this time. Do touristy stuff and loves me some Scotch whiskey.
Finish in London 2 nights. Do touristy stuff. Not sure about Stone Hinge or not. Never been there, but it's just a bunch of rocks in a field. Not sure real life would add to pictures.
Fly back to Toronto and drive home.

A lot to see and a lot to do. I am not planning on booking any hotels ahead of time and risking the terrible luck I know I will have. That's the risky, but fun part of this. The itinerary is not set in stone. It could be changed easily enough if we are free from any pre-planned stays. That may change, still a few months planning to do.

I am trying to get people to think light. One bag for clothes and stuff. We can launder as needed. I want to blend in best we can. Will be mailing purchases home instead of carrying them. I am planning on picking up a burner phone when we get to Europe. I guess data rates are killer on American phones. Car rental is still up in the air. Rome to Paris, train to London and get new, English car? I think I have enough German and French language skills to get by, but everyone speaks English these days, right. If not I will fall back on the old American tactic of louder and slower till they understand...

Still a ton of details, but it is coming together.

Any local Europeans or other travelers want to share their recent experiences? Please do.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 21 • Views: 17,699 • Replies: 239

 
JPB
 
  1  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:13 am
Awesome!!! Congratulations to your son. You have a wonderful trip planned. I have no advice or insight to give you, but will enjoy Europe vicariously through your updates.
engineer
 
  2  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:45 am
@McGentrix,
Congratulations to your son! I hope he gets into all those smart people schools (or at least the ones you can afford). Also, both of you should read "Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College". Very funny and fast read that puts the college search experience in perspective.

Comments where I know something:

Rome: Good plan. Remember the Vatican can be pretty crowded. Consider a tour if you aren't going to be there long. A lot of the tours have special arrangements where they can go to the front of the line.

One day in Florence/Venice: You could easily spend two or three days in each, but if you are going to do one, hit the churches in both places. Climb to the top of the Duomo in Florence and take your camera for the view. Just go walking in Venice. Venice is very small so you should be able to walk all three bridges over the Grand Canal. See St. Mark's. I would skip the gondola ride. There are no cars on Venice so be warned.

Paris: The Louvre is the Louvre, but if the crowds are scaring you off (and it is really crowded), try the Musée d'Orsay. This is where all the artwork that you actually are familiar with is. Monet, Van Gogh, etc are here. It is my favorite museum in Paris. The Notre Dame is indeed a must, but if you have time to walk around that part of town, there are several other smaller churches that also feature the Gothic design. For food and cafes, stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

Scotland: If you can make Sterling Castle, that is the one to go to. The Edinburgh Castle is nice and all, but Sterling is where the history was made. It is a real fortress that saw real battles and I don't think it was ever taken by force.
McGentrix
 
  1  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:47 am
@engineer,
Awesome tips! Thank you.
engineer
 
  1  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:56 am
@McGentrix,
Another thought: When we were in Rome and Florence, we saw they have Segway tours. I've done one of these in the US and they are great. The one I saw in Florence got to cut the line at the Duomo (and that line was an hour long). If you have limited time in the city and want to get a guided tour, that might be a great option. I would definitely do it if I were to go again. If you go this route, I would take a domestic Segway tour so everyone can familiarize themselves with the Segway. It's not hard, but everyone will have more time if they aren't stressing about learning the Segway.
0 Replies
 
Lordyaswas
 
  2  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 09:23 am
@McGentrix,
Here is a pretty good website for looking up various London bits and pieces.

https://www.londontoolkit.com


I would certainly recommend Hampton Court rather than Stonehenge, if you are on a tight timetable.
Much more to see, and much much nearer to London.

0 Replies
 
margo
 
  4  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:30 pm
Like engineer - comment where I know something.

In Florence and Milan - be aware of no-car or citizen-only zones (ZTL) in the city. Not well marked but can attract big fines if you infringe, which your car hire company will pass on, with an administrative fee. Cars are a problem in these cities (and probably in Rome - never had a car there) = look for hotels out of the city itself - but then there is the problem of getting about with limited time.

You may be able to manage without a car - say from Rome to Florence (train - about 90 minutes, I think) and then Florence to Milan by train (took a couple of hours, if I recall correctly).

Collect your car in Milan as you are leaving.

Trains are a good way to get about in Europe. See "The Man in Seat 61': www.seat61.com for advice on any train travel in Europe.

Florence sounds the best stop for shopping. However, you can't spend a day in Florence/Venice. They are 2 hours apart by train and even longer by road, so you'd effectively see nothing of either.

I presume you are talking of travelling in your summer. Travelling without bookings at this time may be problematic. Europe is hideously busy in the northern hemisphere summer. Have a look at Tripadvisor forums for the various locations to ask questions and get an idea of your options.

Have fun!

cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:37 pm
@engineer,
There's an elevator to the top of Arch de Triomph. Great views.
0 Replies
 
margo
 
  2  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:37 pm
There is a significantly less crowded entrance to the Louvre (in a shopping arcade next door, check Tripadvisor) I second the recommendation for Musee d'Orsay.

A further thought - if you wan t a car in Florence, consider staying in Fiesole, a village in the hills outside town. Cheaper accommodation, interesting Etruscan ruins right there, and an easy ride on the #7 bus into the centre of Florence.
0 Replies
 
McGentrix
 
  1  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:39 pm
@margo,
Good hints Margo, thanks!
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:42 pm
@margo,
I have found italy wonderful in late february and march, again in early april, and in early october. I drove in Tuscany, but my husband drove the tough stuff, as I can't see in tunnels. People need to read up.
ehBeth
 
  2  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:46 pm
@McGentrix,
What is the number #1 location/site for your son?
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:47 pm
@McGentrix,
Ignore anything I said already, McG. I'll reread and re think.
0 Replies
 
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 08:49 pm
@McGentrix,
Sounds grand! MILANO: However, don't rush around so quickly that you miss meeting the people. When you're in Milan at the Duomo (a must visit), go across the shopping mall to the other side. Visit the museum there where they have the memorabilia of famous composers and musicians. Don't miss Leornardo's Last Supper. I waited in the hot sun for three hours when I was there. There are many museums in Milano; be forewarned.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 7 Jan, 2016 09:05 pm
@ossobuco,
Replying again, reconsidering, I'll say that I've not experienced such a quick trip and, as me, I'd not like it. But that is me and not you or your son.

I will say, ask him what he wants..

0 Replies
 
saab
 
  2  
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2016 01:33 am
Congratulations to the graduation and the plans for a European vacation.
I would suggest too to take the train to a certain degree.
Day one you will arrive with jetleg and then drive into Rome - the traffic is not very easy. That is not a good idea.
The suggestion with train in Italy is a good one. You can relax and watch the landscape and probably often get to places faster that way,
Amsterdam to Paris is much better by train than by car. You have to plan about 5 1/2 hours by car and 3 1/2 by train.
Kaiserslautern to Amstterdam is one hour faster by car - but in the summer traffic can be hopeless. Stop and go even on the Autobahns.
When you go by train reserve seats.
Instead of trying to drive around a city to look at things - take a sightseeing bus - especially hop on hop off. That way you get to see the most important things without stress.
You want to see this and your wife that - what about the one who just graduated ? Should this trip not be for everybody?
saab
 
  2  
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2016 01:56 am
@saab,
Two nights for Milano, Firenze and Venice.
From Milano to Florens it is a 4-5 hour ride then the same to Venice where you have to expect long waiting to get in and out of the city overcrowded with tourists and then again another 4-5 hour ride to get back to Milano.
I cannot figure out how that will work out.
Walter Hinteler
 
  2  
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2016 02:14 am
@saab,
Certainly there are the more tourist-favoured castles on your plan. However, there are quite a few more (and more interesting in my opinion) ... we've got 100 around here where I live.

To add what saab said: your tour plan looks a bit like those bus tours "Europe in five days, 10 capitals, 15 countries". Wink
0 Replies
 
McGentrix
 
  2  
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2016 07:43 am
Yes I agree that it is very rushed. But, it's probably one of those "once in a lifetime" trips that we will take as a family. Everyone wants to see different things and the first thing i asked was "Do we want to go and really see one place (like Italy or England) or do we want to see everything? Everyone wanted to see everything...

I am looking into the trains. I looked and Rome to Florence then on to Milan seems like a good thing. I am also thinking that a long train ride, say Milan to Munich, could take the place of a hotel stay. Train over night and arrive next day.

One thing about the plan I have is that it is definitely fluid right now. I am absorbing everyone's advice and making changes. Like I had no idea that there were no drive zones. So, we now may train all of Italy. How is locker storage in train stations? Are there places you can stow luggage so as not to need to lug it around all day?

Please keep coming up with the ideas. I appreciate all of it. Traveling in America I am used to. Foreign travel not so much.
Walter Hinteler
 
  2  
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2016 08:15 am
@McGentrix,
I'm sure there are places to store luggage at Italian railway stations (never used them, though) like elsewhere.

There are several trains between Milan and Munich per day. The night train starts at about 21:00 h in Milan and arrives a bit past six in the morning at Munich.
0 Replies
 
 

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