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Trip Report Germany and Prague for the Christmas Markets-12 days of heaven

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We are two active seniors who recently spent 12 days in Munich, Regensburg, Seiffen, Dresden, Germany and Prague. We had some of the most wonderful times of our lives and saw some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. Every day was a new adventure. This was not a "restful" vacation, but one jam packed with new sights and experiences.
We left St Louis on the Wed. before Thanksgiving, headed for Munich. It was with a great deal of amazement that all of our flights, connections etc went smoothly with no delays. No problem with with security lines, body scans or massive airport crowds. Woohoo--,we are on our way! We arrived at MUC around 10:00 on Thur. and purchased a day pass and took the S-Bahn to the HBF, and then walked about two blocks to the Le Meridien Hotel. Check in went quickly and by 11:30 we had been to the bank for an ATM, walked to the Hofbrau Haus and were seated and ready for lunch. The day was cold, but clear. The vendors were setting up the Christmas Market in Marienplatz, so we wandered around and then headed over to the Residence for the opening of the market there. We had dinner that evening at one of our favorites, Spatenhaus. The food was great as usual. Following dinner we walked our way back to the hotel. stopping off to watch the skaters at the outside rink not far from the hotel.
Friday morning and we were up early to head off to Regensburg. We purchased a Bavaria-Bohenia lander ticket and then headed off . Regensburg was a beautiful town, set on the banks of the Danube. We wandered about town visiting the Dom, and various Christmas markets as we came to them, Lunch was at a delightful cafe across the street from the Dom. We were able to warm up and enjoy a great lunch of pork in mushroom sauce, and strudel. Later in the day we visited the market at the Thurn and Taxis schloss. There is an entry fee for this festival, but worth it. There were items at this market that we did not see elsewhere. They also have wonderful warming fires and a palace atmosphere. Following the Thurn and Taxis we made our way back to the train station and then caught the Franz Kafka to Prague. I had purchased the tickets for the portion of Plzn to Prague online. Dinner that night was pretzels and sodas on the train. Upon arrival we were met by a driver from our hotel, Savic hotel, who took us to our new home for the next four nights. Following our late night check in we went to our room, a large room on the top floor with massive beams running through the room. A lot of character, but easy to bump your head, especially at 4 in the morning. Note to self--make a room change the next morning ,if possible. We fell into a wonderful bed and slept like logs.

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    Saturday--Our first full day in Prague. This was our first visit to Prague, and we had done our research and came loaded with recommendations for a number of restaurants and activities.
    After a great breakfast at the Savic Hotel, we requested a room change due to the beams. It was a charming, romantic room, but I hit my head so hard about 4AM that we decided that comfort trumped charm. The hotel arranged to move our bags after check out time. Armed with a map we headed out to explore--and get lost. Prague is a very easy city to get lost in, in a good way. Never the less, we followed the crowd and wound our way around to Old Town Square and arrived just in time to see the Astrnomical Clock do its thing, and the view the trumpet being blown. A few steps away was the Christmas Market and the beautiful square with its magnificent churches and public buildings. The weather was cold, but cloudy at that point, later in the day the snow would start, and just keep on coming! We spent most of the morning browsing the rows of stalls at the market and exploring the majestic churches. Just a few blocks away was the Jewish Cemetary and the Synagogues. Since this was a Saturday most places in this area were closed for the Sabbith.
    For lunch we decided to return to the Square Market to have some of the magnificent Prague ham that they were preparing on the open spits. It was probably the best ham I have ever eaten, but one order would have been plenty for two. It was served steaming hot along with wonderful rye bread, and it kept steaming throghout the meal. We ate standing up at a small table in the square. In the afternoon we wandered around a number of side streets and ended up in the Powder Tower area. Along the route we stopped in a many shops and little courtyards to view the marionettes that are sold all over the place. We knew that a marionette was going to have to accompany us back home for our grandaughter, now the next process was to find just the right one. That, we found out, would take some time since there were so many different kinds to choose from. Since we had long since put the map away, we wandered some more and found ourselves in Wensislaus Square, and another Christmas Market. By this time we were tired so we headed back to the hotel to check out our new room. It was delightful with high ceilings, a bed to die for and a really beautiful bathroom. For dinner that night we decided to stay close to the hotel and we found a small place about a block away with a rather large menu. The food was terrific and service was attentive , just what we needed. since jet lag was setting in. We retired to our hotel early to plan out our next day.
    Sunday-- our original plan was to take a walking tour of the city which I had written down as leaving the TI at 11:45--I was wrong it left at 11:00, so we went on to plan B, which was to head on over the Charles Bridge and then up to the Castle. We followed the crowd to the Bridge and enjoyed the statues and quirky vendors wares. It had been snowing all night but the bridge was walkable and it din't seem to bother the crowd. We stopped to view a number of the artists paintings and photos. The walk up to the castle was definately breathtaking--in more ways than one! At the Castle we went into St Vitus Cathedral to view the magnificent stained glass windows. Outside was a wonderful lifesize Nativity Scene made of straw. The views were amazing--all of the clay roofs were covered in snow, they looked like gingerbread houses! From up here you could really see all of the spires that Prague is so famous for. It is a shame that our pictures do not show the clarity that I would have liked, but with the snow, clouds and biting cold I guess we are lucky that we got any at all. I found that my camera batteries drained down very fast in the cold. For lunch we stopped in the museum on the castle grounds and ate at the Panaramic Cafe--absolutely the best tomato soup ever. We walked on down and back through Mala Strana before heading back across the bridge where we stopped at a vendors booth to purchase a matted photo print of the bridge covered in snow. Later that afternoon I attended an Advent Concert at St Giles Church while DH napped. Following the concert I stopped into a wonderful cafe just around the corner from the hotel for some hot chocolate and macarons. For dinner that night we went to Kogo for pizza and salad. It was time for something other than pork and sauerkraut! After dinner w walked down to the Charles Bridge to see it lit up at night and covered with fresh snow, breathtaking! A late night stop at our favorite cafe for gellato finished the evening.
    (a tip--I forget to bring a pocket calculator to help with figuring the difference between Czech crowns and other currencies. euros to dollars I can do in a flash my head, crowns to dollars left me struggling for some reason. I wasted a lot of time going store to store trying to find one, also the language barrier entered in here. I was traveling with a new international cell phone which does not seem to have this feature.)
    Monday was our last day in Prague. It was snowing hard all day but walking was no problem.We started our day by going to the top of the Town Sqaure Tower. It was quite cloudy but you could still see a lot. We were there when the clock struck 11:00 and they blew the trumpet from the platform. We went back to Wensislaus Square to shop the Christmas market and to browse thru some stores.My DH decided that the comfortable shoes that he brought just were not cutting it with all of the snow, so we started looking for boots for him. No luck. To our dismay, the photo that we bought on the bridge would not fit into our small suitcases, so we found our way to the Czech Post Office to get it mailed home-- after all of their red tape, sending us to a "paper store" for proper packaging, adn standing in at least five different lines,when we left the PO I didn't think that there was a chance in the world that it would make it to us here in the US. The Czech Post Office is a real chance to experience what it is like to live and function in a country other than your own. After that we finished up a little shopping, finally found the perfect marionette for a three year old and a great stein for a good friend. Dinner that night was at a wonderful restaurant with a jazz trio. We ended the evening with a final stop at our favorite cafe for cake and hot chocolate. Tomorrow we bid a fond farewell to Prague. We have vowed that we will return again--maybe in the sunny spring.

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    Monday--- and it is time to say goodbye to Prague and move on to the Saxony region of Germany. We met the driver provided by our hotel early to head out for our train bound for Dresden. The scenery along the route was beautiful. All along the way we followed roads that were loaded with car traffic, at a complete stop due to the snowy condiions. Upon arriving at the Dresden HBF we searched out a luggage locker and placed our two rolling bags there and continued on our journey with only an expandable tote bag containing only what we needed for the next two nights in Seiffen. Our chosen route was to take the train to Freidberg and then the bus to Seiffen. I have never seen such magnificent scenery along the way --everywhere you looked was like a Currier and Ives painting, the far off vistas of trees covered in snow, sparkling in the sun--memories that are deeply inbedded in my mind. Upon arriving in Freidberg we were looking for the bus depot to possibly store our bag, the Bahn.de said it was a 3 minute walk--hmm, we didn't see anything. We asked directions and were directed to walk into town--we sure were glad that we didn't have that luggage to drag through the snow packed sidewalks. We finally found the bus bahnof and bought tickets for the afternoon bus to Seiffen and then proceeded to the Obermarket. What a treat the Freidberg market was. It had the feel of a small local town gathering. We had lunch at a cute bakery cafe where the food was outstanding (it was a little too cold to stand outside to eat today). At this point the DH has declared that he HAS to find boots because those old suede loafers are leaking like a sieve and his feet are freezing. So using our limited German and the waitress's limited English,together we are directed to a shoe store several blocks away where he found the perfect low shaft winter boots. Yes the DH is now a happy camper and ready to attack the elements again! We head back to wander the market then walk around the wonderful town. Freidberg has such a friendly atmosphere. In late afternoon we return to the bus bahnof and gather our bag and head off to Seiffen. The drive to Seiffen will be forever one of the highlights of this trip. I can't express the beauty of the winter landscape, at dusk and after dark. The whole route took us through small villages and rural areas where every house had lighted arches in their windows to celebrate the season. The glow of the soft lights and the beauty of the snow on the trees and the ground was what I had always dreamed existed somewhere. At every turn, and I do mean there were many since we were ascending the mountains, there were truly Christmas card scenes, but all of them were very real. The busdriver let us off at the corner where our hotel sits. The charming Buntes Haus sits at the center of this small town. We arrived about 6:30 PM and were warmly welcomed. Ourcomfortable room had a courtyard view and was situated in a hall of nutcrackers, Outside each door is a snall shelf with a nutcracker attached, ours had one of the traditional Angels. THe room is furnished in an alpine flair and had one of the best flat screen tvs ever. That evening we had dinner in the hotel dining room where we feasted on sauerbraten, roasted potatoes and excellent apple steudel. The food was excellent. We followed up dinner with a walk through the town and up the hill to see the Seiffen Church lit up at night. When we arrived there was about 4 inches of snow on the ground, we would see that accumulate to 24 inches before we left on Thur morning. It made for the perfect setting in this storybook village where roofs are topped with Santas and pyramids, nutcrackers stand outside doors and every corner has a stand for gluhewien, brats, or gingerbread. The Christmas market here is spread out along the main street, instead of all in a square. The shops are numerous and each is chockablock loaded with beautiful,locally produced, high quality, wooden products. I am a nutcracker collector and a Christmas decorating professional by trade, and for many years I designed and produced a line of hand crafted Santa figures. To me--this little town of Seiffen was absolute heaven. I felt like a kid on the night before Christmas-- I couldn't wait to tomorrw!! We were up early the next morning to have breakfast at the hotel and to get out to start the day. Our first stop was up the hill at the the famous Seiffen Church, and next to the church is a small pathway that leads back to a wonderful nutcracker store. The nutcrackers are beautiful and very well executed, in a very traditional style, to my dismay I already had most styles in my personal collection. Many other items in the stores are lighted pieces and I enquired about converting them from 220/110 voltage. The saleslady and I had some language barrier issues, so she called a gentleman from their workshop who spoke with me over the phone about adapters and said that we would bring one over for me. In about 10 minutes he comes in with an adapter, but not one that will fit the item that I am interested in. I felt a little guilty when we left, but it is the early in the day and we haven't even been to the main street yet. With camera in hand, snaping photos at every turn we amble on back down to the center of town. We pass an area near the ski-lift and browse in small shops along the way. By now the busses are starting to arrive and the shops are getting more crowded. There are pyramids and schwoboggens (I am sure that I have spelled that wrong!) and smokers and nutcrackers and angels and soldiers and toys and chuch scenes and small miniatures and little choirs of angels, carved wooden items to hang from every window and door or tree--oh my--I am on Christmas decorating overload!!! Its time to come in and warm up a bit. We stop in a cafe above a shop with beautiful pyramids and have some soup and tea (kind of saving some room for a later stops at several food boothes outside) and relax for a few minutes. At this point I know that I am going to have to start making some decisions on items to take home with me. After our break we head up a hill in another direction to visit a nutcracker workshop and watch them making all of the little men. Rows and rows of heads and arms and bodies, reminds me of my Santa manufacturing days. On the way back down to town center I spot a shop with a sign in the door that states that they have voltage adapters. I speak with the lady in the shop who gives me a good lesson in what type of adapters are needed for what type of lighted products and about changing bulb wattages etc. We understand each other, it is great. I purchase the correct adapters for the window piece that I saw earlier in the day and proceed on our way to start the purchasing! I ended up with a beautiful town of Seiffen themed schwoboggin (lighted arch), a fantastic Urhlbrich Gingerbread Vendor Nutcracker, a lighted Seiffen church piece,various ornaments and an Angel candleholder. I had the perfect shopping day!! Later in the afternoon we stopped at the outside vendors for gluhwein and brats, and then trudged back up the hill for more adapters. Have I mentioned that it hasn't stopped snowing yet? Around 2PM the busses start heading out, and the pace slows down a little. I find a shop with amazing toys and buy a wooden semi truck carrying autos. It is at this point of the day that I hear two American women complaining that they can't understand anyone, it is then that I realize that those are the first voices from home that I have heard since we left Prague.I smirk a little, I know that those German lessons I took have really helped me out in this region of Germany. We wind down a bit at the hotel before we head out for dinner, having spotted several places during the day that look good. One problem, all restaurants are closed. So we go back to our hotel and have another delightful meal there, this time schnitzel and then decide that it might be a good idea to search out where we are to catch the bus the next morning. We head on up the street in another direction and come across the giant nutcracker and many more shops that we had missed. We find the bus stop and then decide to have a drink in the hotel bar and call it a night. When we stop at the desk to ask if the busses will still run on schedule, they recommend taking the train from Olbernhau instead. They said they would drive us there the next morning, but it was a good possibility that the busses would be delayed. So it is off to the hotels computer to book tickets online. The next morning the snow has finally stopped for awhile. We notice that the table at the gluhwein stand in front of the hotel had at least 12" of snow piled up,it was clear the evening before. So with a heavy heart we say goodbye to Seiffen, it has given us memories that will last a lifetime. I love this place, but doubt that I will ever return, I don't think that any other visit could ever top this. Our driver takes us across the recently plowed roads to Olbernhau to catch the 9:30 train that is waiting at the station when we arrive--onward to Dresden and our next city of true delight.

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    Its Thursday and we are moving on to Dresden from Seiffen via rail. The snow has slowed and delayed many connections, but we are lucky and ours moves along on time. We arrive in Dresen in late morning and reclaim our bags from the locker. We paid an additional fee since the bags were stored for more than 24 hours, but they were still in the locker. We are now getting loaded with bags due to my shopping spree in Seiffen, so we take a taxi to our hotel, the Westin Bellvue. The hotel is situated right on the Elbe River, and we are upgraded to a room with a phenominal view across the river to the magnificent buildings that have re-risen from the bombings of WW2. It is extremely cold but we set off on foot across the bridge to visit the many sites that await us. We stumble across our first Christmas Market on our way up the main street, the Romantic Market, it was ok, but the first that I can say that I was disappointed in, however, it is held in a courtyard so it was sheltered from the wind. We found a great place for lunch at the palace and settled in for a vegetable casserole that was to die for (could also be because we hadn't seem many veggies this trip!) and my DH had a huge portion of calves liver. Followig lunch we folowed the crowd and ended up at the Streizelmarket which is an excellent market. We strolled among the booths for awhile and then took refuge from the cold at a shopping plaza. We had a 4PM reservation at the Historic Green Vault which had magnificent items from Augustus the Strong. I had a great interest in the jewels and their settings that are very in popular today, also the amber pieces. We walked around the palace area for a bit and then decided to head on back to the hotel. About halfway across the bridge my DH suffered a wardrobe malfunction-the zipper on his coat broke--in about 10F weather. Back at the hotel we decided that finding him a new coat was on the agenda for the next day(just a side note--the coat he has been wearing was one we purchased in Munich on a previous trip-because the zipper broke on his leather jacket--somehow I sense a pattern here. Having priced zipper repairs on leather coats, I knew that it would be cheaper to buy a new coat than repair the old one). Dinner that night was in the bar of the hotel. The cold weather and duration of the trip is starting to wear us down a bit, so an evening "in" was just what we needed. The hotel had a wonderful hamburger and club sandwich. After an early evening we were ready to to roll the next morning. Our first order of business was to find out about using the trams and to find a little breakfast We walked over to the Newstadt area and found a nice bakery before visiting the inside market. We then took a tram to the Transparent Factory for a tour of the VW Phaeton plant. We had made our appointment well in advance to make sure that we could get an English tour. This was a real treat for the DH who has been very nice about visiting all of the markets, etc. The factory is amazing-- extremely clean, bright and quiet. The car produced is beautiful--truly a piece of German engineering.The factory produces only pre ordered custom picked autos; It was interesting to hear of all of the ways that they made the factory fit into the downtown area. Even to the point of having their test tracks underground the Botanical Garden, so they don't disturb the local traffic and having the parts, etc shipped in via trams. Following our tour we headed back to the Alstadt area and went on a search for a coat for the DH. We found one that appealed to him and then worked through the European size issue to find just the right one. We purchased the new coat, and then returned to the Christmas market to finish up purchasing some last items to take home. Dresden Stollen, large gingerbread hearts, and an ornament of Dresden were all purchased. The DH decided to return to the hotel for a nap while I stayed to on to take a look inside the Fraukenkirsche and to attend the afternoon advent concert at the the Krierkirsche (I know I have probably mispelled both!) Following the concert I wound my way around and found another Christmas Market on my way back to the tramstop--I actually was too tired, and too marketed out to really look around! I went back to the hotel for a rest and then later we went to find a good dinner spot in the area behind the giant ferris wheel. There was another Christmas Market there that we browsed through and bought a few more gingerbread hearts, but overall I didn't find the quality at this market. Dinner was at a great place several streets away from the market with a phenominal atmostphere. The stuffed pretzel appitizer was good, the roast pork knee was even better and the DH had a plate of chicken livers which he said were over the top. Back at the hotel we stopped at the bar for a slice of their chocolat torte (about 10 layers high) and then it was off to bed. THe next morning Sat we took the tram back to the main shopping are to buy a few last minute gifts (you would have thought that we had thought of that before now, right?). Anyway we checked out of the hotel, took a taxi to the Newstadt train station to head on to Frankfurt, and our flight back home. The trains were delayed somewhat so we arrived at FRA later than anticipated, just in time to grab a bite of dinner and then to get to bed before an early morning flight. In Chicago we were delayed for hours due to weather on the East Coast,but eventualy made it back. The only security issue was in Chicago where they made us unpack our carry on that had all of the wooded items, they wanted to see the truck with the wooden autos that was all the way on the bottom of the very carefully packed shopping bag. Everyone in the area thought the truck was cute and then passed it on thru the scanner with no further problems-why? Who knows. The next morning the mailman arrived with all of our saved mail and what was on the top? The picture we mailed from Prague. The envelope looked like it had been through a battle and opened and resealed several times, the matt was bent, but the photo was fine and it is at the frame shop now being put into a proper frame to hang in our gallery of travel photos. I know that I have forgotten many details and names of places. But this is the account of our adventures in Germany and Prague. I want to thank all of the people at Fodors and several other travel websites who helped me with the planning of this trip. They certainly gave me interesting ideas!!

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    Nice report!
    I'm interested in hearing more about what type/quality of products you found at the different markets, particularly in Prague.
    What market was your favorite and why?
    Thanks

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    Wanderfrau,
    The Prague markets were a fun addition to the trip to Prague, they featured many of the same items that we had seen in the Munich Residence Market and the Regensburg town markets. I was looking for glass tree ornaments, and found the same painted ornaments at all of these markets, pretty but nothing unique, I had purchased the same ones several years earlier in Salzburg. Also plentiful were hat/scarf/glove booths, Erzebirge wooden decoration booths,Christmas star booths and those that sold the candles with the painted scenes on them. I think that we found these at all of the markets.
    What stands out in my mind are the unique and different things from each market:
    --Munich Residence Market-opening day- an area for children with animatronic reindeer, a sleigh for photos. etc. This one had a booth for unique hand painted glass ornaments with scenes from Munich painted on them.
    ---Regensburg-several markets throughout the town, the Thurn and Taxis market had more unique items and also a wonderful atmosphere since it is held in and around the castle courtyard. Of note here was a chocolat vendor who had chocolats made into an unbelieveable variety of shapes such as tools. musical instruments, ornaments, animals, etc. Very unique, and tasty chocolat also.
    --Prague Old Town Square Market--wonderful at night with the huge Christmas tree lighted, carriage rides. Excellent variety of food, including the Prague ham. The largest market in Prague, booths were standard. Don't get me wrong, they were nice and fun to look at , but nothing particular stood out as being unique.
    --Prague Wencislaus Square market--smaller, one ornament booth stands out with hand painted ornaments with Astronomical clock motif.
    --Freiberg, Germany--very friendly small town atmosphere. Especially taken with the booth with hats, mittens and scarves for the whole family. Another had traditional German wool jackets. Ornaments were wood, I don't remember any glass here. One both with an excellent selection of nutcrackers and smokers at better prices than those found in Seiffen.
    --Seiffen--most of the market stalls are spread out along the main street. They are predominately food stalls, but also a lace stall and nutcrackers booth stand out in my mind. The shops and the workshops are the thing here. Best brats we had all trip.
    --Dresden Romantic Market--ok. Different prodcts, handknitted hats.Costumed vendors.
    --Dresden Streizelmarket--large. Excellent childrens area with train rides, cookie decorating house, puppet theater. Unique booths included one with brooms and cleaning items, lots of stollen booths, lots of Erzebirge wooden arches. Lots of gingerbread booths. Some pottery booths.
    My favorite would have to be Freidberg because of the friendly atmosphere. No buss groups, just people having a good time shopping and relaxing. Children riding the carousel, adults shopping. Just fun.
    As far as quality goes, the markets in the Erzebirge areas have beautiful items, hand made from the area. Most markets had a variety of mass manufactured things, you would see the same items market to market to market, of note here are the painted glass tree ornaments,German village scene candles and also many markets had stalls with ornate childrens sweaters and hats, these same ones had been at my neighborhood schools craft fair for the past few years. We looked at literally hundreds of booths throughout this trip, most had the same items, it is the ones with the unique things that stand out in my mind. Would I do it again? In a heart beat! We love visiting Germany at this time of year because of the festive atmosphere-the markets are a wonderful addition to the trip, but not the sole reason for traveling so far. The real draw is the German people and the wonderful cities and their architecture, the food and beer, and of course I can't leave out the shopping-- markets, small town shops and big city department stores!

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    Thanks a lot for this excellent, detailed trip report. Looks like you had a great time!

    Yep, that's how I know Seiffen and the Erzgebirge mountains :-) Seriously, this year we have exceptionally much snow. Right now about twice as much as when you left. As I said earlier, I visited Seiffen the day you travelled to Dresden - it was a winter wonderland. Like in a fairy tale.

    Ingo

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    We enjoyed the trip from Munich to Prague by train. We broke up the trip by taking a morning train to Regensburg, spent the day sightseeing and then caught the evening Franz Kafke train to Prague. It was a pleasant ride, we were in a compartment with one other person. Plenty of room for bags,etc on upper racks. There was a cart that came by for coffee,water,soda, snacks, etc. From Stuttgart you can also go thru Nurnburg, continuing to Prague on either the train or on a bus. I'm sure the cost will be far lower to go by rail than flight. Probably about 6+ hours. We took the train all over--just love having a rail system that takes you where you want to go, when you want to get there. No driving, no airport lines and long pre boarding waits, goes right to the center of town. Once on board just sit back and watch the scenery go by. Very low stress.

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    Very nice to read. I love your shopping experiences. I'm so glad I got to see one christmas market on my trip, but want to go back again and see more! Regensburg is a lovely town - I was there four years back, in January once again. And I had a magical experience in Prague also four years ago just a few days after Christmas - riding the horses around the old town square, and then the snow came down. Just great. Seiffen sounds just gorgeous and I'm ashamed to say I've never heard of the place.
    Oh, and you are so right about the camera and the batteries dying in the cold, it happened to me too !!!

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