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Itinerary help - place to go Paris/Florence solo creative trip

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Hi - I'm in my mid-twenties and will be flying into Paris for a duration of 3 weeks in April by myself (my flight also leaves from Paris, though I want to travel elsewhere during that time). This was a last minute booked trip and it's my first visit to Europe and I am a little overwhelmed with all the planning. What places would you recommend as a first time visitor.

I am an illustrator and painter who is interested in seeing museums but also I want to enjoy the culture/ and nature as well. This is a creative discovery trip for me - so if you know of any must see places, please so share with me. Or any destinations with a beautiful view, I plan to do some plein air painting. I like the idea of being to be able to sit at a café and sketch, do you have any safe,non touristy locations you've encountered? I've chose Florence as a secondary (possibly week long) destination as it seems there is a lot of art and culture there. Any recommendations there as well? Has anyone had any experience taking painting workshops there? Does anyone recommend staying in the country side?

Also, as a travelling solo female travelling to these places - any recommended travelling tips on how not to get mugged/ pick pocked? (links/responses are welcomed)

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    First of all, if it is possible, I'd change the flight so you leave from your last place (say Florence) rather than back-tracking to Paris.

    Paris is very walkable and of course, museums and galleries abound there. If you like Monet then the Orangerie is lovely. Also a trip out to Giverny to his house might be nice in April. (it is not far from Paris) Delicious food in Paris. And beautiful window shopping, kind of a banquet for the senses.

    Florence is kind of a whole city full of art and is quite a compact city for walking in. Can get quite congested with other tourists there, so try to get up and out early, although April shouldn't be too too crowded yet. You might do some painting in the Boboli Gardens.

    There are many beautiful villages in the Tuscan countryside, my advice would be to look at some guidebooks and see what strikes you and how accessible it would be from Florence using public transit.
    Hopefully there will be other painters here who can make suggestions for your plein air painting.

    Any place will be safe (using the usual big city-smarts of course), however be on your guard for pickpockets (especially in the Paris metro and the train station in Florence) You won't get mugged but you may get tricked or have your wallet stolen if you aren't paying attention. Don't leave your phone on the table at the lovely cafe for example, or leave your purse hanging over the chair. In Paris there are Roma (gypsies, they are in Florence too) who may try to engage you in conversation outside the Louvre for example by thrusting postcards at you and asking if you speak English, also there is the gold ring trick, where they pretend to have found a ring on the ground in front of you, they offer it to you and then demand 10 euro. If you go to Sacre Couer be aware of the African guys with those woven bracelets, sometimes they come up behind you and tie one on your wrist and demand money. Not to scare you, it's more annoying than anything but just be aware and don't make eye contact or engage at all. (but feel free to loudly tell them to get lost if they persist)

    You may see none of those or all of the above. lol. Just pay attention.

    In Florence in particular you will probably be flirted with all over the place by cute Italian boys, just enjoy and don't take it seriously.

    Have a wonderful time, you are going to two of my favourite places.

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    Marcha-- I dearly love Italy but it has become infested with ne'er-do-wells, and Paris has befallen the same fate. That being said, if you take some simple precautions they're at least as safe as any US city, on average at least. Less prone to bodily injury, but perhaps a lot more prone to theft. My 17-year-old daughter walked around Rome and Sorrento and Venice like she owned them, but she's a circus performer with a shelf full of karate trophies. Still, don't let my advice put you off.

    One of my rules is to be as ready as possible for anything and then don't worry when it happens. I had my wallet stolen on the train from Naples to Pompeii, but I had my back-up systems in place and it didn't mess me up too much. Those back-up systems included other credit cards and money stashed in other places, and a very close relationship with the home-town credit union that the credit card was issued by. The card was shut off immediately and all I lost was a few euros.

    Make it a point to make the acquaintance of other Americans, especially those "little old ladies in tennis shoes." They tend to be helpful and protective.

    In terms of security, do NOT separate yourself from your bags, especially on a train. One woman I read about put her luggage on the luggage rack near the door to the train car and then went to sit in her seat and started working on her computer. She saw a man poised to take her luggage, seeming to be waiting for the doors to start to close before he ran off with it. When she went to save her luggage, her computer was stolen by another thief, which was what the well-coordinated crooks wanted in the first place.

    When you are out and about with your luggage, keep it locked at all times. Crooks will work on you when you are distracted, and if you aren't distracted naturally they'll make up a distraction. If someone approaches you, KEEP WALKING. My daughter worked out a quick little step that enabled her to get behind anyone who approached her. It threw off any other thief that was coming up from behind her to steal stuff out of her bag or backpack.

    Do NOT let anyone try to "give" you something on the street, if you touch it they will demand an big payment for it. Do NOT take pictures of the men dressed up as Roman soldiers, as they will then demand payment. If someone drops something in front of you, get away from them as fast as possible.

    My wife and my daughter swear by the Pacsafe purses, and I swear by their camera strap (www.pacsafe.com). The camera strap has metal wire running through it, and when I got back to the hotel after touring Pompeii, there were two slashes where thieves had tried to cut through it.

    Get a wallet that goes under your clothes, and carry credit cards and cash and passport in that. As a man, I carry a wallet with that hooks onto my belt with a loop and then gets stuffed inside my pants.

    To avoid the motor-scooter-mounted thieves, try not to walk too close to the street and keep your purse on the other side of you. The one problem with the Pacsafe purses is that if a thief on a motor-scooter grabs the strap to try to rip it off you, the strap will NOT break, and you could be dragged down the street. Also do not wear expensive necklaces, as they are adept at ripping those off of necks at over 50 kph.

    Other than that, apply common sense. Stay in places where you can be seen. Never allow yourself to be surrounded by a group of young males. Personally, if I were a woman I would not set up an easel in a public place and start painting or drawing, as it invites approaches by very charming individuals with motives that are less than honorable. You will probably be OK in a cafe, as the management can help chase off any unwanted attention.

    Do not drink to excess, and if you have survived into your mid-20s as a female I'm sure you know how to practice good "drink safety," as far as keeping someone from putting something into your drink that doesn't belong there.

    In my opinion, Paris has more vistas than quaint little architectural "moments," but there are still a few of those there. I believe you will like Florence, but for your purposes you'd probably like anywhere in Italy. Frankly, though, I think there's a possibility that you'd probably like Rome better than Paris.

    www.roninrome.com has some outstanding information on what it's like for an American to live in Italy. It's geared more towards Rome, but Florence is not that far away.

    Again, don't let all this advice regarding security make you worried. If you keep your wits about you and refrain from getting drunk, you'll probably end up OK. Have a great trip.

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    No worries about traveling solo -- lots of us have done so and some of us (including quite a few women) are fully committed to traveling solo! Just keep your wits about you and don't be stupid. ;-) For some inspiration,
    http://www.fodors.com/community/travel-tips-trip-ideas/goin-solonothing-like-it-a-trip-report-collection.cfm

    Given your interests, I think a week in Paris and a week in Florence sound perfect. :-)

    As for what to see in between, WAY too many options! I recommend that you go to your local library and browse travel guides. For the purpose of picking a place, I recommend those with high quality photographs -- Eyewitness, Insight Guides, or National Geographic. (Once you pick your places, switch to the Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, and/or Michelin Green Guides.)

    As already mentioned, switch your flights to open jaw if you can. If not, then (a) try to put ALL of your time in Paris at the end so you can eliminate one hotel stay. (You'll be tired if you move on, but you'll be tired and dealing with jet lag in any case!) And (b) select your other destination or two in light of what makes sense given your plan to visit both Paris and Florence.

    FWIW, given your interests, I'd give some thought to Rome (which could also easily take a week) or Venice. Or both, if you subtract a bit of time from your other destinations (e.g., 5 full days each in Paris, Florence, and Rome; 3 full days in Venice; part days here and there on travel days).

    Enjoy!

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    If I had an extra week to paint, I would take the fast train from Paris to Provence and set up shop in Aix, home of Cezanne. Visit his studio while you are there and go to Arles where Van Gogh lived for awhile. This would be my dream place to paint and you would probably meet other artists from the US doing the same.

    Venice would be my next choice, but it is cityscape and water, not landscape. Florence would be lovely also, and of course Florence has great museums and architecture, and the river.

    As an artist, I would not be afraid to set up an easel anywhere there are people about. Honestly, I doubt you will be bothered. You won't have fancy stuff with you. You will be simply another painter, working, nothing new there. You will be part of the place, kind of a nice feeling.

    Sometimes they can't fully do justice to a place, and sometimes one picture makes a simple place look amazing, but if you google images of different places, it might help you decide.

    This is just the way I see it. Florence was built by architects and artists who were already inspired to create and build. Provence is a place that has been a huge inspiration to artists.

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    Many of us travel solo all over Europe (Italy most often for me) without encountering all (any) the problems listed above. While you need to pay attention to your surroundings and belongings in crowded places, you don't need to travel in constant fear as has been suggested.

    I imagine it's too costly to change your flight now, but if you decide to visit Venice a few days, you can book a flight back to Paris on Easy Jet at decent prices (they use Paris Orly and CDG with Orly closer into the city). Plan on staying in Paris area the night before your departure flight home.

    >>>Also, as a travelling solo female travelling to these places - any recommended travelling tips on how not to get mugged/ pick pocked? (links/responses are welcomed)<<<

    I use a crossbody bag with flap turned in towards me (it zips underneath). It has quite a few pockets that zip or velcro. I travel with two different ATM cards (different banks) and two different credit cards. I store them separately so if one were lost or stolen, I have backups. When I know I will to pay in a crowded, touristy place, I take money out of my purse in advance (before I leave my room for the day or in a restroom) to have handy (so any pickpockets wouldn't see where I was storing a wallet). A lot of people use a money belt to keep their cash and credit cards. I have them, but seem to never use them.

    >>>Does anyone recommend staying in the country side?<<<

    It's not easy to stay in the countryside without a car in Tuscany. You can use the bus system and get to a few towns fairly easily. Siena is about 70 minutes by rapid bus (bus station next to the Florence train station). You can also catch buses to Greve and a few other towns in Chianti (same bus station). While Siena has daily bus service, other small towns won't have any service on Sunday.You can hop a train to Pisa (about an hour) or Lucca (about the same).

    It's not entirely impossible to take a bus to somewhere in the countryside for a few days if you wanted to stay a couple of nights and paint (Montalcino, Pienza, Montepulciano). Here's a bus map for the area. If you take a bus for a day, buy a return ticket and make sure of the return times (and pick up location) so you don't miss the last bus.

    http://www.sienamobilita.it/mappe/Mappa_EXT.pdf

    I've rented an apartment in the Oltrano in Florence. It might be a bit more off the tourist path than a first time solo traveler would want (about a 15-20 minute walk from the train station and similar walk to the historic center). Here's the link if you are interested.

    http://www.residenzailcarmine.com/

    This link is for a list of trip reports of solo travelers (mostly or perhaps all female) on this board.

    http://www.fodors.com/community/travel-tips-trip-ideas/goin-solonothing-like-it-a-trip-report-collection.cfm

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