Big and little towns of Europe

Jan 29th, 2015, 10:26 AM
  #1  
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Big and little towns of Europe

My husband and I would like your input on our “Big/little” trip planning. We fell in love with the intimacy and architecture on a past trip to Bruges and Brussels in winter and would like to recreate the experience in Italy/Austria/Czech Republic. We’ve got two weeks and our preference is to travel by rail or bus. We’re thinking food, art, beer, wine and walking, oh and lots of pictures of course!

Flights aren’t booked yet, but we’d like to go in February. (We don’t mind the cold.) We’ve never visited any of these countries before, but will most likely return at a later date and different time of year to hit the mega cities.

Here’s how it looks so far:

Day 1-2 > Florence
Day 3-4 > Bologna
Day 6-7 > Verona
Day 8-9 > Innsbruck (Hall in Tirol)
Day 9-10 > Salzburg
Day 10-11> Cesky Krumlov
Day 12-14 >Prague

Do you think this is too much territory in too little time? Would you change the order or add/subtract anything?

Many thanks in advance!
MaeB2C is offline  
Jan 29th, 2015, 10:42 AM
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As you already know it is a very fast pace, especially for a place as rich in sights as Florence. If you want to stick to all these destinations, I would try not to go to Florence first because you will be jet lagged.

While the historic center of Bologna is compact and can feel intimate, if you really would like a contrast to Florence, I would suggest Mantova (and keep Verona). Not only is Mantova more intimate (Bologna has 90,000 students, and that is just for starters), Mantova has some of the most fascinating and unique food in all of Italy.

To get to Mantova from Florence, you will need to suck it up a bit for a slightly more complicated day of travel, because you will need to change trains twice. However, you can make it more interesting by taking the fast train from Florence to Bologna, and then stowing your luggage in the Bologna train station while you do a bit of sightseeing and have a great lunch. Then fetch your luggage and get back on the train to Modena -- 20 minutes -- and switch in the train station for a train to Mantova (1 hour). (Or you can do this going the other way, but you need an earlier start to get to Bologna in time to enjoy the markets.)

In February, you are likely to experience incredible fog around the Bologna, Verona and Mantova areas. It can be fantastically atmospheric -- but it does add considerably to the cold and of course you will want to stick to trains solely.
sandralist is offline  
Jan 29th, 2015, 11:33 AM
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Sandralist you rock!

Thanks for the quick response. I hadn't even considered jet lag, let alone Mantova. What a great suggestion. Do you think we'd be better off skipping Bologna and Verona altogether and spending more time in Florence and Modena/Mantova?

It seems we've bitten off more than we can chew. Perhaps it's time to consider cutting this trip in two. Either Italy or Czech/Austria, but not both?
MaeB2C is offline  
Jan 29th, 2015, 12:06 PM
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For part of your itinerary, you're double-counting the days:

Day 8-9 > Innsbruck (Hall in Tirol)
Day 9-10 > Salzburg
Day 10-11> Cesky Krumlov

That's one night in each place, and not even a whole day to see anything there, because you'll be arriving one day and leaving the next.
bvlenci is offline  
Jan 29th, 2015, 12:16 PM
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Given some of the distances you would need to travel to keep your present itinerary, you in some cases effectively end up with only 1 day to sightsee in your chosen towns. I've not been to the non-Italian destinations you've listed, so I really don't know if spending one day there is pleasantly fun or an exercise in frustration. Certainly many people day trip Mantova, or Modena, or Bologna and have a satisfying experience. But Florence, much less so. It has a lot of very famous sights.

You also run into the problem, at some point, that your one day somewhere is a day when the sights you came to see are closed. So that is one of the difficulties of moving rapidly in winter through a variety of cities, big or small. Indoor sights need to be open.

As for where to spend your time, Mantova vs Verona vs Florence, it really is the best thing to look carefully at guidebooks or information about these destinations on line to get a sense of how many attractions interest you. As for cutting the trip in two, I really doubt you would feel bored or cheated doing that, whether you go to Italy this time or elsewhere, but having never been to Innsbruck, etc, I can't give any advice about which half would be the better one to keep.
sandralist is offline  
Jan 29th, 2015, 12:19 PM
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bvlenci, good catch...at this rate I'll be lucky if I don't get laughed off the forum. I'm cringing now, but it sure seemed like a good idea at the time!
MaeB2C is offline  
Jan 29th, 2015, 01:15 PM
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Do yourself a favor and pick 4 of these destinations in that short time in the winter.
bobthenavigator is online now  
Jan 29th, 2015, 03:22 PM
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I would agree, you should cut out some destinations to be able to spend more time in the remaining locations.

I have never been to Mantova, so I cannot speak to its attractions. But I have been to Bologna several times - I think I lived there in a past life. Bologna, to me, feels smaller, and is very walkable (despite all of the students). Look at what each of Bologna, Mantova and Verona has to see and do, and what appeals to you most. Any of them, I think, would work as a little place.

Prague didn't feel huge to me, either, so I don't know which category you're placing Prague (big or little).
Lexma90 is offline  
Jan 30th, 2015, 01:28 PM
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Thank you all for your great suggestions. This was just the wake up call we needed. We’re scaling back.

Though tough to choose, I do think you’ve hit upon what we’re after when we travel. It’s less about trying to fit it all in, and more about actually trying to fit in.

Amazing that you knew what I wanted before I did!

Thanks again!
MaeB2C is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2015, 11:32 AM
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Alright folks, we've revised our itinerary considerably. We're focusing on a small chunk of northern Italy. (what a change) We'd appreciate your input especially regarding our "small town" choices:

Florence - (big) 4 days

Ferrara - (small) 3 days

Verona - (big) 4 days

Venice - (small) 3 days

We're really debating on Verona. We could do Padua, Ravenna, Vincenza as all look wonderful and are not too big. We'd like to keep the small towns accessible by train or bus and with enough sights/restaurants to keep us occupied if we decide not to day trip out of town (like Bruges/Toledo/San Luis Potosi) Are we still asking too much?
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Feb 2nd, 2015, 12:14 PM
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It's possible that some people would agree with you that Verona is big and Venice is small, but Venice -- while it might be geographically smaller overall -- has perhaps 20 or 30 times the number of tourist atttractions as Verona. Many people would book more days in Venice, and perhaps 3 or less in Verona. Because Verona has a contemporary commercial life, its city limits are bigger. But the historic core of Verona is fairly small.

But if you are basically trying to minimize the time you spend in cities with motor traffic in favor of ones without, then Venice and Ferrara have much less motor traffic than most places in the modern world.

As to whether you might prefer Padova or Ravenna or Vicenza, they are very, very different places with completely different attractions and reasons for going, and are quite different feeling from Verona.. Also realize that Verona, Vicenza and Padova are all on the same train line as Venice, so it is quite easy to see all of them if you enjoy day trips.
sandralist is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2015, 12:40 PM
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I would say that Venice feels small (and is small, geographically), but I agree with Sandralist that it has a much bigger set of attractions than Verona or Ferrara. I would also say, based on one day trip to Verona and two nights in Ferrara, that Verona doesn't feel big either. Ferrara is definitely not as touristy, and we saw far more of the people who actually live there; we stayed in Ferrara because we wanted to experience a less touristy city. Verona is more touristy, if that matters to you, due to the whole Romeo and Juliet association.

So I would switch Venice and Verona, in terms of time spent, and devote 4 nights to Venice and 3 nights in Verona.
Lexma90 is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2015, 01:10 PM
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Just to note to say that I've visited Verona 3 times and never seen any of the stuff associated with Romeo and Juliet. I've no doubt it is touristy, and I consider the piazza delll'Erbe and the area around the Roman arena in Verona touristy as well, but it is very easy to walk away from the touristy parts of Verona if you aren't on a day trip and if you skip the Romeo & Juliet stuff. Verona has a vibrant economic life that is completely independent of tourism, and steps away from the daytrippers, one definitely is more surrounded by residents of Verona in Verona than even happens in Venice these days.
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Feb 2nd, 2015, 02:05 PM
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Thank you sandralist and Lexma90

It helps to hear from folks who’ve been there. Until this point I was hesitant to say that that I wasn’t inclined to visit Juliette’s balcony (or the blarney stone). To each his own. ☺

It was hard to tell from the pics of Verona, whether it would fall into the big or small category. But it sounds like we’d still be getting a chance to get away from the crowds if we switch Verona and add a day to Venice. So will do.

Appreciate the insight and if I could ask one more thing that just occurred to me…is there anything we shouldn’t do? (Where not to eat/stay/wander alone)

Thanks
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Feb 3rd, 2015, 01:35 AM
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You are certainly safe everywhere you go in all the cities you have mentioned. Florence probably has more of the sticky-fingered pickpocket crowd, but while it is not an enormous problem, you do need to take precautions around big-name tourist areas against people interested in snitching your wallet.

If you are looking for a tranquil experience of Venice, it is best not to stay in the San Marco area. For Florence, if you don't mind just a few more steps of walking, try either the Santa Croce area or the Oltrarno. I guess it goes without saying you don't want a hotel in Verona with a view of Juliet's balcony!

With the exception of Ferrara, all the places you are going have an overload of tourist trap restaurants, in all price categories, so doing some research for where to eat pays off.

You biggest challenge, I think, is finding a travel route that doesn't involve too much back tracking on trains. Just logistically, flying into Milan and heading first to Verona, then Venice, then Ferrara and finally flying out of Florence or Pisa (or even Rome) might be the most efficient, but you might be able to find good flights in or out Verona itself or Bologna (which is an easy shot to Ferrara) so that is worth looking into.
sandralist is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2015, 12:29 PM
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sandralist , you've been a great help.

We hadn't considered flying into Milan as we planned to hit it at a later date, but now it does look to make a lot of sense.

We've been so lucky in traveling to avoid the horror stories that our friends have told. (i.e. Glasgow turned out to be one of the friendliest places despite it's #1 ranking in muggings

Really, thanks so much
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Feb 3rd, 2015, 12:34 PM
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For what it's worth, I found it convenient to escape the crowds of Venice during the day and took one day trip to Verona, which I really liked. It did not feel "big" to me at all, perhaps about the same as Bruges (whether it's really bigger or smaller - that's how it felt to me wandering around the center). I think Venice is best at night or in the morning, when there are fewer day trip tourists, but I wouldn't mind spending a night in Verona someday as well.
Andrew is online now  
Feb 4th, 2015, 07:55 AM
  #18  
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Thanks Andrew.

Good to know that if we miss a city while in Verona, that we shouldn't write off Padua (for example) once we hit Venice. I know Bruges is a rarity for size and sights, but am at a loss for why it's been so difficult to find much info about the smaller towns in Italy, even when the tours make stops there. Looking forward to some great days finding out what the mystery is.
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Feb 4th, 2015, 09:02 AM
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Very often if you do a simple google search for "visit xxxx" -- meaning, "visit Padova" or "visit Verona", you will come up with quite a number of excellent English-langage websites detailing the sights. Another useful way to search is with the words "secret" and "hidden gems" + the town name. Yet a third really useful resource is the British newspapers, maybe particularly the Guardian UK, but also the Telegraph and the Independent. All the cities you are going to or may want to go to are popular cheap flight "weekend breaks" for people living in the UK.

From my own bookmarked collection

http://www.veronissima.com

http://www.theguardian.com/travel/20...nvents-holiday

http://www.padovanet.it/dettaglio.jsp?id=10662

http://www.theguardian.com/travel/20...hitecture-food
sandralist is offline  
Feb 5th, 2015, 07:00 AM
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sandralist, great resources yet again, thanks

The links you sent and info about the UK press were just the ticket. When we added ".uk" to the web searches we'd been doing, it turned up blogs, videos, articles etc. Super informative and even a little surprising, (who would've thought Ferrara would have a manhole cover museum?) can't wait to start exploring.

Thanks
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