Family of four, five weeks in Europe

Oct 15th, 2006, 05:12 PM
  #1  
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Family of four, five weeks in Europe

It's so nice to have such a group of experts to turn to.

My husband and I plan to take our 16 year old son and 11 year old daughter to Europe next summer. We will have most of five weeks there, and a decent sized budget, not extravagant, but not backpack level either.

We plan to be in England (perhaps Wales), France, Portugal (hubby's ancestry), Spain and Italy (hubby's other ancestry) with perhaps a trip into either Switzerland or Austria. We will travel with Eurail most of the time.

My husband and son are Roman history buffs. I want to see many historical sights in Spain, and my daughter has limited patience for museums.

I need some help with the following ideas:

1. I am having real trouble finding hotels that accommodate four people, especially since the kids cannot share a bed. I want to know about the following options in the different countries that we will be visiting: hostels with family rooms, bed and breakfasts, taking two adjoining rooms in hotels and renting apartments.

2. What recommendations do you have for "excursions" from Paris and Rome. Are there day trips other than to Versailles that would take us to worthwhile historical places? Are they bus or train excursions?

3. WHat should be our priority visits in Spain? We have Barcelona, Granada, Seville and Toledo on our tentative list. Is Madrid worth a couple of days?

4. What about places to just hang out for a day? Where would we find good beaches to let the kids run around and be free?

5. We plan to fly into England (possibly Manchester) and out of Rome. Flying into England is non-negotiable, since my daughter and I will be traveling a week early, and I want to spend some time visiting places from my childhood. Does flying home from Rome make sense?

6. Does anyone have any recommendations of places that they have taken their children that turned out to be just amazing? I am looking especially for recommendations for the 11 year old who is a little bit of a reluctant traveler.

Thanks to anyone who has any recommendations.
cferrb is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 05:25 PM
  #2  
 
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Just outside of Paris, near CDG airport is the chateau of Chantilly. It has the MOST amazing stables and horses... Your daughter might be in a horse phase, and if so she would really find it interesting. You can get to it via the RER system in Paris.
We always take the hop on hop off bus tours and in Paris they are really quite good. Kids might like that too, since they don't have to listen to the tape if they don't want to, and can just look at things from the top of the bus. Maybe you can rent some movies with European settings that your kids can watch before you go, and they might then find things less strange. Your son will certainly want to see Pompeii, and its really fantastic.. I think I read a posting on this site about finding apartments in Paris. That might be your best bet in the cities you visit. Good luck.
kleroux is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 05:37 PM
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For families is is usually easier to rent an apartment than two hotel rooms. Quads are easier to find in some cities than others - but European hotel rooms generally are much smaller than what we are used to Stateside.

But first of all you do need to think seriously about how much you can squeeze in. Five weeks sounds liek a lot - but it really isn't. And you said "most of 5 weeks so we are probably looking at 4.5 weeks. And you mention EIGHT countries. Now 3 of them are either/or's (Wales/Switzerland/Austria) But even just your basic list is five countries from England to Portugal to Italy.

Simply not enought time for that much travel. You'd need a good 2 or 4 months to cover all you want to see.

Concentrate on Portugat/Spain/Italy. Those would not be my choices but since Port./Italy seem like musts, so Spain is the logical mate.

I personally would do London 5-7 days, a couple of add'l days outside of the city, Paris 5-7 days, and the rest in Italy. You'd only have 2 weeks for italy - but at least you have time to see more than the insides of trains.

If you try to hit 5-7 countries in less than 5 weeks you will pass through a lot of places and see none of them . . . . .
janisj is online now  
Oct 15th, 2006, 05:43 PM
  #4  
 
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Hello,

1) for Italy, try venere.com. They offer all types of lodging choices including apartments and B&B's.

2) From Rome, Pompeii is an easy day trip. You take the train to Naples, about 2 hours, then change to the Circumversuviana commuter train, about a half hour. The commuter train drops you off about 300 feet from the front of the ruins.
Also, you could go to Ostia Antica right outside of Rome. It is about a half hour by bus.

3)Don't know about Spain, sorry.

4)There is a beach at Ostia, but I would suggest the Borghese park and zoo in Rome. The park is beautiful and the zoo is interesting.

5)Flying home from Rome makes sense if that is the end of your trip. It does have a large international airport.

6) My 11 year old loved Rome. There was nothing about it that she didn't like. She liked doing all the quirkey little things like the "mouth of truth", the church of the Capucchin monks with all the skulls and bones, the Knights of Malta Keyhole with the surprise view, the gelato shops and the crazy cab drivers. She enjoyed most of the museums, and really enjoyed the big stuff like the coloseum, pantheon and forum. One of her favorite things to do was to get a large gelato and go sit at the trevi fountain. She liked watching the people throw the coins in and have their pictures taken.

There are so many great things to see in Rome that it is a "not to miss" city, IMO.

Hope this helps, Donna
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monorailgold is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 05:43 PM
  #5  
jgg
 
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We are a family of four who recently have travelled to Italy (Rome, Venice, Florence, Piedmont, Lerici, Tuscany), London and Paris. Here are links to my trip reports that you may find helpful in planning your trip.

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34599242
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34786762
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34830020

You have listed a lot of places you are going. Before anyone can give you specifics on places to stay I think you need to narrow them down and then ask specific questions for each city. I will say, we have stayed in hotels, B&Bs and apts. and only once have had to have the kids share a bed, so it can be easily done.

We did a daytrip to Normandy from Paris and I must say it was the highlight of our trip. It was a long day but worth it, and very educational for the kids.

I agree with the other poster about having both your kids watch movies that take place in the places you will be going. Particularly, for your daughter the Mary Kate and Ashley movies are great. There are ones that take place in London, Paris and Rome. Also, the Lizzie Maguire Movie, Only You and Roman Holiday are movies she might enjoy. I also had the kids watch Gladiator and Saving Private Ryan so they would know what they were seeing when we went to the Colesseum and Normandy. They are both quite graphic, so you need to decide what your kids can handle.

My only other recommendation is that while 5 weeks sounds like a lot of time, you have listed several countries to see. (We spent 3 weeks just in Italy this past June). I think the family ancestry part is very important (that is part of what we did on our trip this summer) which makes Portugal and Italy must sees. Spend some time researching the different countries you have named and determine which ones hold the most interest to you. We find our kids don't like to move around too much. They love getting a real feel for a place, where they start to know their way around.

We will be in Barcelona this March so hopefully can give more tips on that after we return!
jgg is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 06:18 PM
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With 5 weeks I would pick 4 contigious conutries and rent a van on the French buy back program. You could pick up in Madrid and drop it in Milan or Rome. The UK does not fit your scenario.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 06:23 PM
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What is the French buy-back program? Do we really want to have a vehicle in busy cities like Rome and Paris?
cferrb is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 06:38 PM
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No, you don't need a van in Rome or Paris, but with your itinerary, you will be spending a lot of time on the road. You've got a lot of country to cover in only five weeks, several thousand kms in fact. From the looks of it, you'll be spending at least 25% of your time in train stations, or traveling by rail.

You do realize that with Eurorail you still need to have reservations and pay additional fees.

Have you considered picking a few less destinations and trying to enjoy a few weeks of vacation with a minimum amount of travel? There really is a lot to see and do at all of the places you mentioned, but with your current itinerary, you will only be able to skim the surface. I hate to see you waist such an opportunity.
Robert2533 is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 06:40 PM
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The program is a long story but is much cheaper than rentals for terms of more than 17 days. You really need to set your itinerary first. I do not see Paris in the mix, and you drop it at Rome. Where in Portugal? A van will give you so much more freedom. Rail travel is limiting--you end up in cities all the time. With 35 days in Europe I would plan on 12 destinations with the next one no longer than 4 hours from the previous one--a real challenge.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 06:45 PM
  #10  
 
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Our family of 4 did 4 weeks in Europe this past June/July - sorry but I have not had time to do a trip report yet. We visited England (Bath/Salisbury) for 2 days, Lake Como in Italy for 5 days, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland for a week (definately the highlight for all!!), Paris for 6 days and London for 5 days. We found staying in self catering apartments much more convenient than hotels. More space at the end of a long day out, and great options to save some money preparing breakfasts and lunches yourself. Also, easy to get some washing done. We booked all our accomodation on the web - simply google your location with for example "Lauterbrunnen holiday apartments" and plenty will come up. All our accomodation was FANTASTIC except London (awful). London is definately much more expensive than the other places we stayed at - there remember you get what you pay for. We did move to a hotel in London (abandoned the awful digs), and that included breakfast so it all worked out OK. The only tip with apartments is we found that in summer period you often need to take an apartment for a week and most places had Saturday as the changeover day. We worked around that and found it very successful - find a base for a week and then travelling out from there. We hired a car as we found that was probably cheaper with 4 of us than trains and gave us greater flexibility.
PRLCH is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 06:57 PM
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cferrb: Before you reduce the number of places (which you really should do) you need to think about the total number of days.

"most of 5 weeks' - so let's use 33 days just for discussion . . . .

1 day for transtlantic overnight flight

1 day of REALLY low key sightseeing to get over the jet lag

1 day for flying home

and about 1/2 a day travel every time you move from one city to the next (no matter if you fly, take trains or drive, count on 1/2 day or more lost w/ ever new desrtination)

So w/ just 7 cities (not 7 countries - just 7 cities) - Say Paris, Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Venice. Again just for discussion - using any 7 cities would work out about the same.

33 -3 days for transit/jetlag -3 days transit between cities = about 27 days free to see things. Or only about 3.5 days per city.
janisj is online now  
Oct 15th, 2006, 07:30 PM
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janisj, I have to disagree with you. Traveling to seven different destinations amounts to seven days of traveling, seven lost days to enjoy and explore your destination. This is hardly what Id consider an enjoyable vacation, but typically American, rushed. I could easily spend one week in a city, London, Lisbon, Madrid, Rome, etc., and barely break the surface.
Robert2533 is offline  
Oct 15th, 2006, 08:09 PM
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First off, be aware that if only one of you is traveling with a minor, you need to have a letter signed by the other parent giving you authorization to take the child to X country at X date, and I believe it needs notarized. The State Department's website should have details.

On to your itinerary: If I understand correctly, the week with your daughter in England is actually a sixth week?

Is it necessary that your husband and son go to England too? I understand there are several very cheap airlines for within Europe, such as Ryan Air. Perhaps your husband and son could fly directly into Lisbon and you and your daughter could fly there from London?

Or, perhaps you really want them to see London or Paris too. You could all fly to Portugal together.

From Portugal on: I am too ignorant about the size of Spain, the roads etc, whether it would be better to take the train through Spain and France to Italy or a van. I would lean toward driving to see part of Spain and the French Riviera on the way, but honestly I have not studied this region.

Unless your husband's family is from southern Italy, I would make my southernmost stop, Rome.

We went at Christmastime, our kids were a little younger but my report may help you with Rome: http://fodors.com/forums/threadselec...2&tid=34732907

I do believe Bracciano would be fun in the summer time (a lake I mention near Rome).

Accommodations: The standard methods may not work for apartments unless you are staying at least a week in a place. There are some exceptions but you will need to do a lot of searching on this board and elsewhere.

Books: Fodor's own line includes Around Paris with Kids, London with Kids. The Rome with Kids is no longer listed perhaps because it's being updated (from 2001). Still very useful if you can find it used. I did not find the Italy with Children (Open Road) to be a useful book.





5alive is online now  
Oct 15th, 2006, 08:17 PM
  #14  
mjs
 
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I have to agree with janisj here. My experience is that it takes at least a half a day to make a move in Europe and sometimes more. The most optimal (within reason) way of travel tends to combine rail, air and taxi's to move. Using Eurail to get from England (not used there) to France, Spain, Portugal and Italy makes the probable moves much longer than a half day. Overnight trains might be helpful. As others have pointed out, you cannot really do all you have asked about in a reasonable manner with the time you have.
Renting a van for your trip is a reasonable option but if you want to spend alot of time in cities it is not the easiest option and the planning takes a different turn to more complexity unless you wing it which sometimes can be fun.
We too are a family of four and you are correct that it is not easy to find hotel rooms that will fit four.
Hotels do sometimes have quads but you often have to ask for them. Apartments work well but often require a week, weekend to weekend. Easiest thing to find are two doubles but at a higher cost than quads. University dormitories are often rented out during the summer and are often quite decent.
What may work best for you depends on where you are going and what your budget is. I have not a clue what a decent sized budget is to you.
I see no problem flying into England and flying out of Rome if the flights suit you and your final itinerary fits.
I would not worry too much about your 11 yo and travel. Children tend to be quite adaptable.
Mine have been traveling overseas twice a year since the youngest was 7 and over 8 years they have always found something to interest them everywhere.
I am sure that you will have a good trip next summer. My best advice is to say that less is often more when it comes to travel.
mjs is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 02:27 AM
  #15  
 
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I see this journey as do-able, but think of it as a set of distinct bases rather than meandering all over the continent. For example, cut down your ambitious plans for Spain - far better to spend three or four days getting to explore Barcelona than desperately trying to tick off numerous cities.

Italy is perhaps the one section where travelling by train will prove useful, because you could start in Venice, and with two or three trips spread across 7-10 days you could take in several places before arriving in Rome. And with this, it'll probably be easiest to book individual tickets as you decide when you want to travel.
owain is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 07:24 AM
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How fortunate for you to have the opportunity to spend 5 weeks in Europe with your family! I agree with the other posters that you may need to pare down the number of places visited to get the most out of what you do see and do.


There are a number of us on this board who have traveled with kids of similar ages. Some that come to mind, in addition to jgg who has already posted, are kswl, dina4 travelgirl2, the go family,anamaria, and missypie for starters.

Here are the links to our 2 reports of traveling to Europe with 2 kids of similar ages. I recommend you start looking at guidebooks, the Destinations section of this website and read through a bunch of the trip reports to start to get a feel for your priorities and what you most want to see and do.

London over Christmas week:
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34730329

Switzerland and Northern Italy in June:
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34831749

As far as accommodations, you may want to consider apartments, especially for places you plan to spend a longer amount of time (like a week-long base). There are quads, or "family rooms" at many hotels, but you usually have to ask directly by email as opposed to being able to make reservations on line. We occassionally get a quad, but prefer the extra bath, space and privacy of two rooms. The rooms in Europe are small and we all appreciate a little space, especially when we are spending so much time together on vacation.

I hope this is helpful in getting you started. Once you begin to narrow down the specifics of the itinerary, it will be easier to recommend particular activities, daytrips, etc....
fun4all4 is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 08:45 AM
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Robert2533: What are you talking about??

Did you even read my response? It seems we are saying exactly the same thing. You use 1 day for each transfer, while I say 1/2 day or more. But other than that we totally agree - that they do not want to travel so much and see so little.

(I was merely using 7 cities to show them an example of how little time 4.5+ weeks really gives them)
janisj is online now  
Oct 16th, 2006, 08:58 AM
  #18  
 
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Aged 19 & 15, my kids still prefer to stay still rather than travel around. OK, yours may be different, but I would go for a max of four main destinations, perhaps with a couple of days travellling in between.
Assuming that you have a week in london, plus the 5 weeks, I suggest the following:
Leave london by the eurostar train for Paris. book apartment for at least 5 nights, preferably 7.
Pick up hire car, take two days to drive to Provence. STay a week somewhere like Arles. [apartment or 2 rooms in hotel]
Drive to Lake Garda or similar - stay another week at Riva so kids can go windsurfing, etc.
Drive to Rome [2-3 days, through Tuscany. give back car. Rent apartment for rest of time.
THat more of less fills your 5 weeks. You will have a combination of history, sceneery and action. You will hopefully not forget whether you are in Italy or Spain. Spain will wait. [as will Wales, which is not part of england, but another country of the UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, Greece, etc etc. ] Less is more!
annhig is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 10:54 AM
  #19  
 
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We always took two rooms when we traveled with out step-daughters - to give all of us some privacy and alone time - not to speak of a separate bathroom for them. I realize kids of different genders are slightly more of a problem - but we were never had any problem getting them a room with twin beds.

An apartment is also a good idea if you're staying long enough in one place. Just a couple of things to look out for. Many apartments for 4 have only one bath - not two- and frequently they have only one real bedroom - with the other sleeping facility either a sofa bed (no good for you) or some sort of sleeping loft (IMHO no good for anyone).

There are a bunch of day trips from Paris. For 4 people I would check costs before deciding on train (fine for Versailles) versus car. You can do Chartres, a day trip to the Loire, Giverney, Bayeux etc.

For Spain - as long as you're seeing Seville and Granda you MUST do Cordoba. IMHO Madrid is less interesting than any of the others. You can do a day trip to the coast near Marbella for beach - and check out the marina at Puerto Banus for some incredible yachts.

For 11 year olds - it's very tricky. I started to travel with my stepdaughters when they were 11 and 14 - but they were 11 and 14 going on 21 and were interested in mostly the same things we were - except lots of shopping and checking out the local teenage boys. But I know some 11 year olds are still kids rather than young women - and can;t help with that part.

nytraveler is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 01:08 PM
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I hope that you have not purchased anything yet. Consider cheap flights rather than train travel. We flew from Stansted to Porto for $92 for three, using Ryanair. They have similar flights to Lisbon, or other discount airlines do. You might want to rent a car for sourthern Spain, but then fly to Barcelona. From Barcelona, fly to Italy. From Italy, fly to Paris, and then return home. In other words, do not think that the farthest geographical point from London is necessarily the most logical return point home.

If you were to drop Italy and do only France, Spain and Portugal, I would recommend that you lease a car from Bordeaux (there are discount flights to Bordeaux from England) and do a round-trip through the Iberian peninsula before returning the car in France (there are steep pick up and drop off charges on leased cars outside France).

For cheap flights, check out: http://www.whichbudget.com/

For car leases, check out: http://www.renaultusa.com/ and http://www.auto-europe.co.uk/

Michael is online now  

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