Family of four, five weeks in Europe

Oct 29th, 2006, 06:23 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,000

First off, cferrb, you have written a clear statement of your plans and asked pointed questions. I wish that everyone who inquires on Fodor's would be as succinct.

Your plans are rather ambitious but easy to do. Just budget your time in each place. Sure, probably all of us would be happy to spend a month in France (I've done it) but then if you want to scoot around and do it all then go for it.

You mention Eurail so I assume you mean EurailPasses. For the real estate you are covering a EurailPass will probably save you a bundle. You should also consider taking night trains. A family of four can snug up in a T4 and have complete privacy. Take a look at this recent post on Fodor's for more information: Call the BETS people and tell them what you have in mind.

A daughter who doesn't like museums? I have traveled a lot with mine since birth to her teens. In one museum that I thought she would find a bore I challenged her and her friend to find their favorite painting. Then I took her picture in front of it (no flash). Worked like a charm. Great picture.

If you want to spend time in Holland I can answer your question #6. I lived there and know it well.

Barcelona has a long beach but it faces the Mediterranean. The water is rather flat. Biarritz is far better with Atlantic waves. You could combine that with San Sebastian, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
hopscotch is offline  
Oct 29th, 2006, 07:59 PM
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Oops. The link to the train thread is
hopscotch is offline  
Oct 29th, 2006, 09:06 PM
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Budget Europe Travel Service

I agree with Hopscotch that rail travel will let you go great distances. Often you can do that overnight, in a 4 berth couchette car or a 3 berth sleeper plus one berth for your most adventurous member to go with two strangers (and to talk with them). It looks as if Budget Europe Travel sell only rail passes (for a given number of trips), and not point-to-point tickets for single journeys. You need an agent who offers both (passes and point to point), and I list these. You can email a detailed plan to three of them to get their quotation. You can email now, to fund the best offer, and return to them with correct detail later.

Many trips of 500 to 100 kilometers have a sleeping car train, Examples are
Paris to Madrid, Barcelona, Nice, Florence, Rome, Venice, Munich, Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin, or Hamburg
Milan to Barcelona, Cologne, Dortmund, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Vienna, Lecce, Palermo, or Naples.
Berlin to Warsaw, Lublin, Vienna, Budapest, Munich, Salzburg, Zurich, Brussels (and with a change there London)
and so on. From an atlas you can have an idea of distances you can cover in bed. I keep a note on getting the best from night trains, and shall be glad to send you a copy if you email me.


For international tickets, berths and seats. Trains Europe say they are ten percent cheaper than German Rail UK or Ffestiniog Travel. For domestic Italian trains they are cheaper again. German Rail UK are cheaper than Trainseurope or Ffestiniog Travel for domestic trains within Germany and Austria and may be competitive with them for international trips with a big proportion of miles in Germany.

In North America RailEurope offer cheapest costs where the ticketing system is adminstered by SNCF: France, Thalys trains, Eurostar, TGV's into Switzerland and Italy. For Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Eastern Europe, the ticket prices on RailEurope are often 50-80% over the prices taken by other agents. Also, RailEurope ignores many train routes (even important ones like the Brenner corridor from Munich via Innsbruck to Italy) and many local trains. Before you buy from RailEurope please check out the local rail companies so you know what prices other agents, and national rail systems, charge.

Budget Europe Travel Service, phone 800-441-9413 or 800-441-2387, site

Euraide of Florida, E-mail [email protected], phone
at the Florida office 941/480-1555, site

Trains Europe of Cambridgeshire E-mail [email protected], phone 00 44 900 195 0101, site -

Ffestiniog Travel of Wales, E-mail [email protected], phone
00 44 176 651 2400, site,

Inside France (Canterbury). E-mail [email protected], phone
00 44 122 745 0088, site

German Rail UK in Surbiton. E-mail: [email protected], phone
00 44 870 243 5363, site,

Railwise Ltd in London. E-mail: [email protected], phone
00 44 207 242 1490, site

Ben Haines
[email protected]

ben_haines is offline  
Oct 30th, 2006, 06:11 AM
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We too have had trouble finding hotels for 4 with kids who want their own beds. What I discovered, is that most hotels do not mention quads or family rooms on their sites or on the booking sights. You should email any hotels that interest you directly (even if there is no mention of quads on their websites or in books) and ask how they can accommodate a family of 4. Also ask about the bed configuration. We have had everything from 1 large room, to 2 connected rooms, to a suite. All had a queen and 2 twin beds.
MFNYC is offline  
Oct 30th, 2006, 07:17 AM
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I have taken the overnight train from Madrid to Paris and was told by a fellow passenger who rides the same route frequently that this was one of the very few times the train arrived within several hours of its posted time. So I must have been lucky. For whatever reason, she told me, the Spanish "trenhotel" is notoriously late.

One other thing about the Trenhotel, at least in Spain. It's sex-segregated, which is very nice for single people (I can't tell you what a difference it makes to be a woman in a berth car with three other women), but would mean your family would have to split up. Not a problem since you are two and two, but for other families it might be a problem.
lreynold1 is offline  
Oct 30th, 2006, 07:18 AM
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I think that the night trains also have cabines for families.
hopscotch is offline  
Oct 30th, 2006, 07:51 AM
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Just a clarification.....BETS will sell point-to-point as I used their services for that this past summer. They also helped me figure out which Swiss Pass was better for that portion of the trip while arranging point-to-point for Italy.

fun4all4 is offline  
Oct 30th, 2006, 08:09 PM
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Thanks again to all who have given me such thoughtful responses. I think we are going to stick to the original plan to go to England, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy. I am heeding the advice about time spent on trains by thinking about flying from Paris to Lisbon, rather than taking the train. My son and I added up the time on the trains and figured out that we would be spending about 82 hours total on trains. On the one hand, that's a chance to snooze, on the other it's time spent trapped with antsy kids!

I am curious about the catacombs in Paris. I was told by someone that they are really, really creepy. Any thoughts?

Does anyone have any recommendations for tour groups in Spain and Portugal? It's the one area that I feel we might do well having someone else doing the driving, hotel reservations etc, because there is just so much I want to see, and it seems so spread out.

Again, thank you to you all for supportive advice and constructive criticism.
cferrb is offline  
Oct 31st, 2006, 02:26 PM
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"Does anyone have any recommendations for tour groups in Spain and Portugal?"

Iberia is not the jungle. You don't need a guide. Study the Michelin Green Guides and do it on your own. Spain is somewhat lacking in English speaking people but they are plentiful in Portugal.

hopscotch is offline  
Nov 1st, 2006, 08:44 AM
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Hi- The catacombs in Paris ARE CREEPY! Creepy... but cool. We are glad we visited. There are lots of winding stairs you have to travel up & down to get there, but I would think the kids would enjoy seeing it. Make sure you check the hours it is open though (we were there in March & remember it only being open something like 2:30-4:30.)
googie is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2006, 07:25 PM
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Actually, I am a fluent Spanish speaker, so the language is not a question for me. I just think that at that point in our trip I might be happy to let someone else do the planning, driving and decision-making. That is why I am interested in good tour groups for Portugal and Spain.
cferrb is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2006, 08:54 PM
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I raveled by train and it allows flexibility. Along the way you will find that you may like one place more then another and when you have a Rail pass its easy to spend an extra day which you cant do if you are flying because undoubtably you'll fall in love with one place and want to stay an extra day.

I'm from Australia (it sounds like you are from the US) but i made an effort to visit some of the famous WW1 battlefields where Australia earnt it reputation (the Somme, Viller Bretenoux)you may really get a kick out of visiting some of the famous US battlefields like Normandy which is only a couple of hours by train from Paris. Your son and husband would probalby love it and it makes you pround of your countries history.

As a young guy not much older then your son who also loves roman history make sure you do a combined tour of the Colleseum and Forum it was one of the best i did over an entire 2 months.

If you are going to spain do not miss Barcelona. When you are there do a side trip to Mont Serret where you get to see some real spanish mountain ranges and do a bit of a hike. Its only an hour or so by train from Barcelona and is definetly worth the trip.

Madrid is definetly worth a few days.

Have a great trip
tegger84 is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2006, 08:10 AM
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Just wanted to add that Mont Serrat is a great day excurion from Barcelona. easy train ride from the city and beautiful views/sights.

As for Madrid, I've never been there, but my parents and friend said that it has wonderful museums, but they wouldn't put the city on the top of their list of cities to see. Might consider skipping it since Barcelona is amazing and Seville/Cordabo are supposed to be beautiful. But, my comments on Madrid are second hand.
cd75 is offline  
Dec 17th, 2006, 08:24 PM
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Greetings all,

I just reviewed this posting after not looking at it for a few weeks, and realized what an amazing amount of information I had gethered from all of you. Thank you all so very much.
cferrb is offline  
Dec 17th, 2006, 11:15 PM
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No time to write much now but check out:
Caerleon near cardiff Wales for Roman museum sites and other stuff.
And Travelodge or Travelinn all have family rooms where 4 can sleep comfortably and cheaply.
Good luck

Mucky is offline  
Dec 18th, 2006, 04:13 AM
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It sounds like you've decided on Portugal. We have been twice with our 3 young children and will probably go again soon. I would recommend spending some time in Lagos. It provided the perfect opportunity for relaxing on the beautiful beaches in the morning and exploring the hill towns in the afternoon. The town itself is very nice as well. We stayed in a wonderful hostel there that had 2 connecting double rooms with a bathroom in each room and balconies. They serve a terrific breakfast and provide free internet service. The only drawback is that it can get loud on the weekends when students fron Spain come over on the weekends.

We also stayed in a fantastic posada in Setubal over looking the estuary. It is an old castle converted into a hotel. My kids got a kick out of sleeping in the dungeon and exploring on the roof of the castle.

We also did the car leasing/buy back option and saved alot of money.

Enjoy your trip.
prhirsch is offline  
Dec 18th, 2006, 06:36 AM
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You should contact hotels directly (usually by email is good enough) about rooms for 4. Many hotels that do have them don't have them listed on booking sites like Venere or even their own websites.

Over the years we found quads/family rooms in Venice (Hotel Flora - 1 large room), Florence (Hotel Casci - 1 large room), Rome (Santa CHiara - 2 room suite), Paris (Grand Hotel St. michel, although this was a very cramped 2 room suite), Madrid (BEst Western Carlos V - 1 large room) and London (Cranley Gardens, 2 connected rooms). In all cases my kids had their own twin bed.
MFNYC is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 02:05 PM
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I posted the initial query. This is a brief wrap-up of how our trip went.

My daughter and I started in Vienna and went to Salzburg and Interlaken (Switzerland) before meeting up with my husband and son in Rome. We had a week on our own using the train to travel. We found the train to be a relaxing way to travel and cost-effective for the two of us. Our hostel in Vienna was great, the one in Salzburg not so great.

We then spent a bit more than five weeks in Italy, with almost a week in Rome, three nights in Naples (Capri and Pompeii), two nights in Florence and two nights in Venice. We loved Rome and Florence. We hated Naples, but it was convenient for Capri and Pompeii, although if were to go back I would spring for Sorrento as a base for those two trips instead. We were glad that we saw Venice, but I don't think it inspired any of us as much as other places in Italy.

We leased a car as we left Rome and had it for the next three weeks. Although having the car was wonderful for getting from place to place, it was a difficulty once were at our destinations because parking was hard to find and parking lots were very small. We had leased a Renault station wagon, and I don't know how many times I held my breath as my husband pulled in or out of tiny European parking spots. However, great driver that he is, we made it without a single ding! I am glad that we did not try to do this trip using the trains, as we would have been tied to train schedules, which would have reduced the flexibility to stick around a town for a few more hours in the morning because we hadn't been able to see something that we closed the previous day.

From Venice we drove to Aix en Provence. This was a very long day's drive, but it had the benefit of taking us up through the Alps. (We probably should have taken the coastal route). After a night in Aix we spent two nights in Avignon. This area's draw was Roman ruins and the Palais du Papes in Avignon. Avignon was having a theater festival when we were there, which was fun to be around.

We then had three nights in Barcelona, drove down to Alicante for a night and then had five nights in Andalucia (Cordoba, Granada and Sevilla). Andalucia was wonderful, but extremely hot. Between the heat and siesta time, it was difficult to see everything that we wanted to see. However, I am so glad to have seen the Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita in Cordoba and the cathedral in Sevilla.

We then drove to Lisbon where we spent a couple of days before turning in our car and flying to London. Lisbon was lovely, and very easy to negotiate.

London was four full days, then a ferry to Cherbourg, to drive through Normandy and into Paris, where we had another four full days.

We rented apartments in Rome, London and Paris. We used for most of the hotel reservations in the other cities. We were able to find quad rooms or connecting double rooms, almost always for about 130 Euros, and sometimes less per night in July and August. Email me for specific hotels if you are interested.

My children are used to being in the car from road trips here in the U.S. so they did not have difficulty with that. I think that we all have places where we would have liked to spend more time, and we all have places that we could just have easily skipped. But I don't think there is anywhere that we all would have skipped -- everywhere we went had something for at least someone in the family. If you know your family and you believe that your family can handle a trip that involves as much driving and location changing as we had, I say go for it. When we look at our photos now we simply cannot believe how many places we visited and the amazing art and history that we saw.

If you are flying on British Airways and are going through Heathrow, be sure to give yourself plenty of time. In both directions we had to change terminals, which according to Heathrow Authorities takes 75 minutes. There is a very long security line and there can also be a line for the shuttle to get from one terminal to the other. Before you make your reservation, as whether you will have to change terminals, and if you do, I would recommend three hours to make the transfer, to give yourself time to deal with a delayed flight and not be frantic and stressed-out.

Finally, I would like to again thank the posters on this board who answered my original question and my follow-up questions with constructive advice and information. I tried using several other travel bulletin boards in planning for this trip and found Fodors' users to the most knowledgeable by far.

Happy trails to all.

cferrb is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 03:08 PM
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Thanks for reporting back and letting us know how great your trip went. Sounds like you had a wonderful time and were really able to see and experience a lot. Welcome back!
jgg is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 03:19 PM
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Thank you so much for reporting back about how your trip went!

So often people ask for advice and we never hear from them again to know how it all worked out!

I'm glad you enjoyed your trip. You sure packed in a lot. It would have been too much for me and my family, but it sounds like it worked for you.

Thanks again for reporting.
marcy_ is offline  

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