Advice for first time in Europe


Mar 28th, 2016, 03:46 PM
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Advice for first time in Europe

We are a couple in our 60's. I have sadly never been to Europe. My husband, after his army years, lived and traveled there in the late 60s, early 70s. We want to visit and enjoy Europe while we are reasonably physically fit to do so. I survived cancer, lymphoma, twice in the past seven years and I don't want to put off dreams anymore. I have been reading these forums for a while and love that everyone is so friendly and helpful. We would like to take 3 weeks (please consider we will have to be quite budget minded) and would love to visit England where we would be visiting friends; Maastricht, where husband lived 40+ years ago; and Italy where I have always dreamed of visiting (northern Italy, maybe Venice or Lake Como) Husband also suggested Bavaria. Which country should we fly to and from? Best order of countries and means of travel? We are open for new experiences and prefer to find local gems rather than "touristy" spots. We like seeing the countryside, museums and good authentic-to-the-region food. We would prefer to stay in smaller accommodations rather than large hotels. I appreciate all advice and experience you can share and I thank you all in advance.
Liz19401 is offline  
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Mar 28th, 2016, 04:15 PM
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Fly into your first country, out of the last. Where in England are your friends? Will you be staying with them? Are there other things in England you would like to see?

I'd go from there to Maastricht - how much time does your husband need there? Is this just a drive-by or ? Bavaria would be fine, then take the rain to Italy and fly home from there.

Look carefully at what you want to see/do in each place. And remember that it takes time to get from place to place. So if you want three full days in a place, you'll need to spend four nights. When in doubt, cut a destination. Fewer destinations means more time in each place and means you don't waste a lot of time - and money - getting from place to place.

Have a lovely trip!
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Mar 28th, 2016, 05:34 PM
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Look at getting high-speed intercity train tickets far in advance. Typically if you buy then 90 to 120 days out you can get tickets with deep discounts. (This doesn't work for local or regional trains, for which you can usually get tickets just a day or two out)

Agree it is important to fly into the first city and home from the last to avoid wasting a day back tracking. On search web sites this is usually called multi-destination - and is usually 1/2 the round trip cost for each city - so no more expensive.

I would start with a couple of good guide books (we esp like the Michelin green guides since they not only rank sights by * and give a complete description they also give you an idea of how long a visit will take (that is - 1 hour or 2 or 3 - based on the amount to see).

If you tell us where your friends live in the Uk and time needed for Maastrict people can make recos for the rest of the itinerary.
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Mar 28th, 2016, 05:34 PM
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Congratulations on beating cancer multiple times!

Flying into London and out of Milan may make sense for you.

If you are budget-minded, traveling in the off-season (Oct - Dec) will save you money on flights and lodging and you will run into smaller crowds.

A bed & breakfast will be cheaper than a hotel. Better yet, renting an apartment for a week is even cheaper per day and gives you access to a kitchen to cook your own meals.

Since you're a first-timer to Europe, consider reading Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. It has lots of useful advice on managing the logistics of travel.
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Mar 28th, 2016, 07:15 PM
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My trip report from a 2011 trip to Italy is five years old at this point, but might give you some ideas and a feel for the northern Italy piece (we stayed three nights in Venice and three in Bellagio, plus one in Milan before flying home). There are tons of other trip reports here as well; they're all marked with a yellow globe by the name of the thread.

Agree that it would be helpful to know where in England your friends are. Do you have any interest in seeing London (assuming they live elsewhere)?

I love your attitude - I hope you all have an amazing time!
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Mar 28th, 2016, 07:15 PM
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The answers to some of your questions -- like which country to fly into, which order of places should you visit -- depends on the availability of your friends in the UK to host you, to which destinations in Europe the airports closest to you have non-stop or affordable flights, and which 3 weeks of the year you would be traveling.

It might make a lot of sense for you to fly first to Venice, then make your way up through Bavaria, etc etc and end the trip in London. Depending on where your friends in the UK live, you might find a good cheap flight from inside Europe to visit them. Or depending on where you live, maybe it is easiest to fly to Amsterdam at the beginning, and then make a different loop, endling elsewhere.

So I would look first at the things you can't change: when your friends are available, what routes to Europe your nearest airports offer...
sandralist is offline  
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Mar 29th, 2016, 01:15 AM
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Good advice above, in terms of good rates you may find that avoiding the high season of July and August maybe just as reasonable as coming in the colder and setter super low season.

Given the biggest cost is the international airfare use the usual airfare hunting apps for May/June and catch a cheap flight double jawed.

Second biggest price is accomodation. If you can stay with people that helps but also look at in the UK (I know it says youth in the title but there are no rules about paper-age in the organisation) and the old days of the bunk rooms are long gone. In the netherlands you will find that the B&B is a great cheap place to stay. So sites like are often good deals. I hesitate to suggest airbnb as I don't have the experience of it, but certainly appartments for a week might also be good value

Similarly in italy the appartment may be a good way to go or the Agroturismo

Third biggest cost is food, so move to eat and drink as the locals do or make sure your rooms have cooking facilities. In Italy for instance most towns will have a bar with a hidden door (upstairs etc) where the E14 three course meals are offered (designed for the local business man or worker) often with wine this makes a good deal for M-Friday.

Good luck and go for it!
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Mar 29th, 2016, 04:32 AM
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Agree with all said above and topping this to keep it visible.

Where are you flying FROM?

Do you need help using European railroad sites to buy tickets for high-speed timings?

Are you willing to save your England portion until the end?

Would you have time to see Venice, Lake Como, the spectacular scenery of Switzerland and then into Bavaria? It can be DONE, by rail, and easily if you plan ahead.

There are SO many possibilities and please remember that "depth" is not the only reason to go somewhere; a taste may be better than nothing at all (but it can also be frustrating).

You have to think this: you are going to go again!!!!
Dukey1 is offline  
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Mar 29th, 2016, 04:43 AM
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Maybe the OP's name includes her zip code (which is in Pennsylvania).

As someone who lives in Italy and gladly welcomes many friends from abroad each year for visits, there are nonetheless multiple weeks during the year when I am traveling myself and thus can't have visitors. Also, since I like to go places in Italy, I have sometimes arranged to meet up in other cities with friends who are making a tour of Italy that doesn't include my neck of the boot. I don't mind at all friends privately making plans to visit Italy and then figuring out later if we can get together, but for the ones who are coming to Italy counting on seeing me, it's best when they get in touch early about their trip plan.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 04:56 AM
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Your whole trip can comfortably done by train. Trains goes from centre to centre, sparing you getting to and from airports, and those checking-in procedures. And the journey itself is nicer as well. This gives you the schedules for all the trains you'll have to use. (Advance buying of the high speed trains must be done at the national rail companies, like Trenitalia or Deutsche Bahn.)
The more I travel through Europe, the more I get to appreciate provincial cities which are outside the usual tourist itineraries. They have more local flavour than the big cities and capitals, which are getting more or less interchangeable.
With your wish list, you could very well fly into Milan, take the train to Padova, from where you can visit Venice on very frequent - and cheap - trains.
From Venice you can take the train to Innsbruck or maybe continu to Salzburg. From there you have easy access to Bavaria. I found cities like Regensburg and Würzburg much nicer and interesting than Munich, the capital. Continuing to Maastricht and the UK is no problem, with a lot of posisbile routes and worthwhile stops in between.
Good luck with planning!
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Mar 29th, 2016, 05:12 AM
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3 weeks... budget minded... England... Maastricht, northern Italy, maybe Venice... Husband also suggested Bavaria... local gems rather than "touristy" spots...

Venice prices may really surprise you. Keep it short there if you do go. Germany is still reasonable on the whole. You will have to dodge a lot of tourist magnets (especially Rothenburg and Neuschwanstein) if you pick Bavaria. Keep in mind that the more ground you try to cover, the greater your costs.

In a few weeks, DW and I (we're boomers too) will be traveling in Germany, the Netherlands (including Maastricht,) Denmark, Austria and the Czech Republic. We'll be using a German Rail pass for much of this trip; I mention this pass because it now includes many foreign routes - including the route across the Alps to VENICE. It does not cover Maastricht - but Maastricht is only a few minutes from the German border. And the German Rail Pass now covers LONDON as well on the new German Rail IC buses.

So if you were to average 3 nights in each place you visit, a 7-days-in-one-month German Rail twin pass, for example, might cover all or most of your major travel legs.
It's a good deal IMO at €204/person:

In between Maastricht and Bavaria, I'd recommend a 3-4-night stop in the Rhine/Mosel regions - lots of variety there - ancient Roman settlements, medieval castles, WW II sights, natural beauty:

Note that Hahn airport is a Ryanair base (on the site of a former US military airport) and that Ryanair offers low-cost flights to Italy, London-Stansted and other places.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 05:43 AM
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I like sandralist's suggestion of flying into Venice and doing the trip in reverse (sort of). Venice is a magical destination, but flying from there back to the US in one day is an incredible pain because of early departures to transfer in Frankfurt, Paris, London, etc. I don't know about Milan. It may have more direct US flights.

I also think it is a great deal more enjoyable to look out train windows whenever possible than to fight sometimes epic traffic behind the wheel. If you need a car to explore locally, you can always rent one.

Other advice depends on where your friends live and where you will fly from in the US.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 08:44 AM
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Look: you beat cancer twice and you're in your 60s, there's no need to make life more difficult than it needs to be. This means (if you can) travel to your furthest destination in Europe first and travel home from London.

Why? One word: headwinds. If it takes 7 hours from where you are to fly to London, it takes 8 to get home because the headwinds blow east. This makes the trip longer and you'll be in steerage like 85% of the other passengers.

Also, if you have the physical capacity to sleep on a plane, you're more likely to do so going to Europe because the flights are overnight but the flights coming back are not (example: a 10 am flight from Heathrow to Dallas arrives in Dallas at 2:30 pm Central or so; an 8 pm flight from Dallas to Heathrow would land late morning in London).

Minimize the trip home.
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Mar 29th, 2016, 09:05 AM
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I would base this on doing some research on flights. Where you can get the best price and routing from your home airport.

"Open jaws" (meaning in to one airport and out of a different one) can sometimes work well. Say into London then out of Milan or Venice at the end of the trip. Or sometimes because of lower prices it may be worth returning to your arrival airport (in and out of Heathrow both ways).
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Mar 29th, 2016, 09:52 AM
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You can fly Non-stop from Venice to the USA on certain carriers but I would still recommend flying INTO Venice and out of London if for no other reason than to preserve the geographical direction (which could be done in reverse if you'd like to fly back home from Marco Polo on American to Philadelphia, for example).

Venice then westbound by rail to Lake Como or from Venice north (through Verona perhaps and Austria) to Munich and from there to Maastricht and onwards to London (through Brussels) via Eurostar.

So many possibilities and routes available.
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Mar 31st, 2016, 07:49 PM
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I am the OP. Thank you everyone for your quick and very helpful replies! We are flying from Philadelphia, PA and the friends we are visiting live in a small town,
Barnsley in South Yorkshire. Summer would be ideal for us to travel because I work for a school, but I would be willing to take time off. Thanks, Liz
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Mar 31st, 2016, 08:08 PM
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To add to the above: We plan on staying with friends in England and both definitely prefer train travel over flying.
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Apr 1st, 2016, 12:19 AM
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In 2000 there was a move to see Barnsley as a town on a Tuscan Hillside. It failed. Locally the town (home of the miners union) is thought of as a little odd. You'll do fine
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Apr 1st, 2016, 01:51 AM
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Most of the places you want to go are nicest in summer weather, and a couple of them are really not major tourist destinations, so you don't save much by going 'off-season". Venice will be crowded, but it is almost always crowded except in the worst weather months -- which is a miserable time to go to South Yorkshire or Maastricht. If I had your wish list of places to see, I would try to go in June.
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