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Nice Multi-country European tour(s) for Neophyte Traveler and Niece

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Hello all-

I would love to be a traveler (I think), but I am not that savvy due to lack of experience.*

After trying to get my immediate family to travel with me for years, I have given up and decided to take my college-age niece to Europe. We would like to hit some of the major highlights - and could do a couple of tours if it is easy. I am thinking 12-21 days, maybe May 2012 (she is taking this semester off).

Budget is not my primary concern: I like nice things and good food**, but I am also hoping for great bang for the buck. First time out I probably want to see the typical highlights (the Sistine Chapel, etc.) and get a taste for what I'd like to see more of. I would prize intellect and knowledge in a tour guide. I am moderately fit (walk 3-5 miles with my pups most days).

HELP! I am overwhelmed and underwhelmed by my choices. Thanks for any advice you can give me.

Karen

*My only non-North American travel is to Ireland (mainly County Cork staying with friends of boyfriend) for two weeks over Christmas twenty+ years ago. I barely remember this due to fatigue from dark days and having everybody buy "the Americans" drinks everywhere we went -but it was lovely nonetheless.

**I do go to New York City once or twice a year, and have eaten at Bouley, Le Bernadin, etc. I don't have to have that luxurious a meal, I'm just not a total country bumpkin either!

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