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Trip Report Italy (and Paris) for Beginners

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Having just returned from a two week "on our own" trip to Rome, Florence, Venice and Paris, I can truthfully say I will never take another tour to Europe. It was SO much more relaxing than the daily grind of getting up early and getting on the bus...we never once set an alarm clock for the entire two weeks, yet managed to see everything on our agenda without feeling rushed.

That said, I will admit to having booked a "package" through Costco travel that included airport transfers, hotels and train tickets. But now I don't think I'd even need to do that (although the hotels through Costco were all 4 and 5 star; not sure I could have gotten such great deals on my own). But Costco's range of packages are fairly limited and seem only to include the UK, Spain, France and Italy.

A great deal of pre-trip research was necessary, but if I can do it, anyone can. For Rome, I pre-booked our Vatican entry time, the Scavi tour, and our Colosseum/Forum tickets, and it was great to breeze to the head of the line in all of those places. It was so great to wander through the Vatican Museums on our own: we paced ourselves so that we were always in the empty space between herds of tour groups. Transport within the city was easy with a three-day bus/metro pass available through our hotel.

In Florence, I pre-booked our Accademia entry (and would have pre-booked the Uffizi but we bypassed it this trip.) I also pre-booked a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano throug Viator tours -- would have taken the bus from Florence for this but it was a Sunday and not many were running. We were pleased with this tour, which gave us plenty of free time and had very good local guides.

For Venice, I pre-booked St. Mark's entry and the Secret Itinerary Doge's Palace tour. We bought vaporetto passes on the spot to cover our trip to Murano and Burano, as well as the trips between our hotel and the train station. Again, easily done.

For Paris, I purchased a 4-day Paris Museum Pass at the Arc de Triomphe on our first morning. Used the Paris Museum Pass for skip-the-line entries to St. Chappelle, Conciergerie, Orangerie, Musee D'Orsay, Louvre, and Versailles. It definitely paid for itself. The Eiffel Tower is not included on the Museum Pass, but I pre-booked a "Behind the Scenes" tour through Cultival so no waiting in line there either. For in-city transport, I bought a "carnet" of ten tickets at the CDG-Etoile Metro station, which was 5 minutes from our hotel.

I was a bit intimidated at first about being confused in Italian train stations, but again, this could not have been simpler and it was gratifying to find our how clean, comfortable and on-time the trains really are. We "trained" from Rome to Florence, from Florence to Venice, and from Venice (via Milan) to Paris.

This was my sister's first-ever trip to Europe so we concentrated on doing the things first-timers do. I probably won't write a trip report with daily entries as most folks here are well beyond the "beginner tourist" stage. But I just wanted newbies to European travel to know that it's possible, and wonderful, to do it on your own.

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