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Route Advice

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I am planning a 12 day vacation with my mom and a friend to Europe. They would like to see France, Switzerland, and Italy. On the wish list is typical tourist spots, scenic nature, and the culture of the people.

We would like to travel inexpensively, maybe staying on hostels, rented houses, staying with families

Some sights on the wish list:
France: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph, Louvre, Versaille, Beaches of Normandy, Blois region to see Chateau du Chambord and maybe other castles. We may have to leave off Normandy?

Switzerland: Alps, railway or tram to Mountain tops, maybe the Jungfrau region, Bern, Geneva

Italy: Probably Venice, Florence, Tuscany region

My Questions:
(1) What is best way to navigate between countries? Railway, planes, combo of each?
(2) Advice on best route between, start in Paris, Switzerland, and leave from Florence?
3) suggestions on best inexpensive way to meet locals, absorb culture and not just the tourist areas?
(4) Best time to book travel? Go thru a travel agent, book railway tickets in advance?
We are leaving in Sept 2016

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