First Time Visit

Old Oct 18th, 1999, 07:52 AM
Anne Griffith
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First Time Visit

My husband and I are planning a trip to Europe in the spring of 2000. We have never been and have no idea where to start. Are there any suggestions as to books, magazines, etc. to help us do the research. We are debating about the length of stay (from 3 to 6 weeks) and plan to rent a car and do our own thing. How much time is good? Is there any publication similar to AAA tour guide books that we can purchase. Thanks for your help.
Old Oct 18th, 1999, 08:13 AM
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Anne, First, decide where you want to tour, the UK, Continent or both. 6 weeks is good, the more time the better. Publications are many, from Rick Steves to Michelin Green Guides. Spring '00 will be here before you know it, and you've a lot of work to do.
Old Oct 18th, 1999, 09:03 AM
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For starters, get a good map of Europe (Michelin, whatever) and get an idea of distances and what comes in between (i.e., France to Holland - Belgium is in between). Then, make a list of things that grab your attention (does your heart beat faster anytime you see a picture of the Swiss Alps? Have you always wanted to see flamenco dancers?). Now consider your stamina (emotional, physical and mental - 10 countries in 6 weeks might fry you out, or it might be not enough. If you're hauling luggage, moving every couple of days will be exhausting, so staying in 2 or 3 places and doing day trips might be better - unless you travel very light. See how this gets more and more intricate?). Then there's the weather - northerly countries (like Sweden) will still be pretty chilly in the spring; southern countries (like Spain) will be much warmer.
Oh yeah don't get discouraged about the monumental task - when I start planning a trip, I feel as if I'm in swirling fog with nothing of substance - and then forms begin to appear in the fog. At that point, I know it'll all come together (either that, or the drugs have finally kicked in).
Old Oct 18th, 1999, 09:38 AM
dan woodlief
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I would buy or browse a few guidebooks on Europe as a whole. Examples would be Rick Steves "Europe Through the Back Door" and Frommers "Europe on $50 a Day." Try to pick places that give you some variety - different cultures, cities, mountains, coast?, villages. Try to stay 2-3 nights minimum in most locations (eg., Paris, London, Rome, Interlaken area) - 4 or 5 nights would be best. Some places are good as daytrips (eg., Chartres or Versailles from Paris). I would try to limit it to no more than one country per week. My own suggestions for variety and interesting places to see (based on five weeks) would be France, Italy, Germany, Prague (Czech Republic), and either Switzerland (hard to beat for natural beauty) or the UK. These, of course, are based on my own preferences, but I think they give you good variety and will allow you to hit many of the best sites in Europe.
Old Oct 18th, 1999, 09:51 AM
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Glad to hear you want to plan your trip yourself. That's a great start to a great vacation!

A good book to start with is Rick Steves' "Europe Through the Back Door". Not specifically a 'guide book' as such, it's an excellent introduction to visiting Europe. You'll get a good general overview of what Europe has to offer and suggestions on _how_ to visit Europe. Also many suggestions on 'off the beaten track' destinations.

Once you have that overview of what you _can_ see, you've got to make some decisions about what's most important to you. That's when a tour guide starts to come in handy as you begin to budget your time and money.

One of the very best travel book series is Fodor's, at the risk of being patronizing to our host.

You'll find some excellent, I think, ideas on how to go about planning your trip at You'll find suggestions on how to go about the planning, and the books we've found most helpful in our 80+ visits to Europe.

You'll also find helpful a listing of some of the most useful Internet resources for trip planning at

You'll also find links there to our extensive information on our favorite destinations, Rome and Switzerland.

Let us know if we can help you work out a plan.
Old Oct 18th, 1999, 11:11 AM
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Anne: You said you're planning on renting a car, but I hope you'll give a thought to doing at least part of the trip by train. I know lots of Fodorites are devotees of renting cars in Europe. I personally am of the railpass variety, for several reasons. First, if it's your first trip, I'm guessing that you may want to hit some of the biggies -- London, Paris, Rome, etc. Having a car in any of these cities is not only unnecessary, it is a burden. Most major cities in Europe have great public transportation and parking is difficult to impossible, and driving can be too. Second, if there are only one or two of you, a railpass can be a better value than car rental by the time you add in insurance, gas (very costly in Europe), etc. Third, rail travel in Europe is a great way to meet other travellers from all over the world, which is one of the best things about travelling anyway! By contrast, in your car you're not interacting with anyone. Fourth, taking the train is (to me) much more relaxing than driving -- you can both enjoy the scenery, write postcards, eat your lunch, read your guidebooks, write in your travel journal, hold hands and gaze into each others' eyes, talk to your fellow travellers, or whatever, without worrying about maps, strange driving customs, foreign signage, directions, etc. Fifth, train travel in Europe is very fast, dependable, comfortable, and efficient (especially compared with train travel in the U.S.) -- it is often much faster to travel by train between cities than it is to drive. Sixth, railpasses get you passage or discounts on other things you may want to do like boat trips, ferries, etc.

You will have to be your own judge about how long to go for. I have been twice, for 6 weeks each time, and found myself getting a bit homesick around the 5-week mark each time. If you're not the homesick type, go for as long as possible and see as much as you can!

In addition to the guidebooks others have mentioned (I like Frommers books, myself -- and their website -- but their forums can't hold a candle to Fodor's), try to catch the TV show "Travels in Europe" (with Rick Steves) on your local PBS affiliate(s), if you can. It airs at different times in different places, but is a great way to see a particular region of Europe in a half-hour and get a feel for whether you have any interest in going to that particular place or not. Plus he has good travel tips.

My personal rule of thumb: try to allot at least 5 full days in each major city you want to experience (e.g. London, Paris, Rome) and at least 3 full days in each medium-sized city (e.g. Amsterdam, Venice, Florence). These are minimums. Then there is a separate category for a couple of places that have things you may want to see, but you should really do it as quickly as possible and then move on because they're just not delightful enough to merit too much of your precious time (Milan, Athens). Also, I think it's good to mix up your trip so part of it is in medium-to-large cities with lots to see and do, and at least a little bit of it is in smaller towns or rural areas (Greek isles, Swiss Alps, etc.) so you have time to relax and take things at a somewhat slower pace.

You may want to consider doing the major cities with day trips to other places close by. E.g. a week in London, with a daytrips to Bath, a week in Paris, with a daytrip to the Loire Valley.

Personally, on a first trip to Europe, I think the absolute must-sees are London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice.

Planning your trip is at least half the fun -- enjoy it!
Old Oct 18th, 1999, 01:06 PM
wes fowler
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To begin, visit your library or large chain book store and pore over travel guides until you find two or three that you're comfortable with. Don't depend upon just one guide as a resource. Some of those you should check are Fodor's, Frommer's, Rick Steves', the "Insight Guides" to cities and countries, the "Lets Go" guides (which while written primarily for budget minded students have a wealth of valuable information for travelers of any age or budget, Baedeker's and Michelin's Green Guides. Invest in a large foldout map of Europe - something that will end up decorating your kitchen table til the day before you leave! Use it to do your prelimary planning. Once you broadly decide where you want to go, Italy rather than Bulgaria for example, contact the national tourist office (all have websites; most travel guides list mailing addresses and phone numbers). Ask for information on things of interest to you and for info on accommodations. Most national tourist information brochures will also list contacts and addresses for regional and local tourist information offices. Contact them as well. Prioritize based on your interests then map a tentative itinerary. There are hundreds of resources on the internet from train schedules to auto route planning to forums such as this. Do a text search here by country or city for current opinions and suggestions. Do a text search here for "How do you plan your European trip";you'll get a wealth of valuable information and guidance. Feel free to pose your questions here at Fodors; you'll invariably get knowledgeable, practical advice and suggestions in a timely manner.

Do seriously consider picking convenient spots where you can settle in for 4 or 5 days and from which you can take day trips, either by car or by train; think of a spot in Bavaria for example from which you can visit Salzburg and Munich without having to pack up and move.

Do consider shortening the length of your trip to a maximum of 21 to 23 days. Anything longer than that can be draining and conducive to homesickness. Remember there's always the "next time" for what you miss and don't see "this time".
Old Oct 18th, 1999, 01:34 PM
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Anne, You have gotten some very good advise so far---especially from Wes.
I would add this. Europe can be divided
into 5 basic geographic areas and it
would take about 3 weeks to do justice
to any of the 5. Pick one this time and
try to do it well. They are[my opinion]:
The UK
Northern Europe
Eastern Europe
The Alps and the Med
My favorite is the latter, but all have
their own charms. My point is to not try
to do it all on one trip. We have been
15 times and still have not done 2 of the above. The latter 2 are your best
choices for that time of year.We did 8 weeks this past spring and followed the
spring flowers and white asparagus from
the Spanish coast to Austria. If you decide on 3 weeks then fit the trip to your time and the season. Let me know if you want some details on our off-the
path spring itinerary. First thing is
to buy a good map.
Old Oct 18th, 1999, 01:58 PM
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I envy Bob the Nav in his pursuit of "spargel"..Two years ago my bike broke down and the nearest town for repairs was Heilbronn. We stayed overnight and had a wonderful dinner, featuring spargel of course this being early May. After dinner the cook came out and asked if we'd like to have spargel schnapps with our coffee. Out it came, in a beautiful triangular frosted bottle, a sip and "whoa Nelly", it tasted like it could be used as JP40 jet fuel.
Old Oct 19th, 1999, 07:33 AM
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Richard, We enjoyed spargel in four
destinations, and it was wonderful. The first was in Les Baux in Provence for lunch and then again in Asolo in Veneto.
Two weeks later it was featured again in Melk Austria and finally in Donawurth on the Romantic Road. What amazed my wife was the various ways it was prepared. Maybe we have discovered a new theme for a tour group--" Follow the Spargel Route" or perhaps " Spargel
Plenty". What do you think ?
Old Oct 20th, 1999, 10:50 AM
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Here are some (many) travel websites
You can skip over the ones that don't interest you. I've been compiling this list for about a year, and have received
many suggestions from others on this forum, especially Ben Haines in London.
If you decide to go to Paris, London,
Venice and Florence and would like some of my trip notes, feel free to email me.
Good luck, planning is half the fun! What time is it in...? Bed and Breakfast properties, US and world-wide on-line version of the the guidebook series translations and language instruction, useful phrases universal currency converter currency converter
200 links to many travel sites US foreign exchange (currency) rates

http://www.babelfish.altavista.digit...bin/translate? this is a free service that will translate websites to or from English
index/html published by USís CIA facts on each country publisher of very useful maps of major cities has travel articles plugs and converters around the world Autopilot develops customized itineraries for driving trips The UKís Foreign and Consular office, useful for all for women who travel: tips, suggestions, q&a provides lowest fares, can subscribe clearinghouse for airfare discounts you design your trip, travel agents bid on your trip has weekend discounts available on the Monday before. European train schedules charming inns and b&bs in several countries


Hotel Ter Duinen, Brugges website

Germany selected museums and galleries Munich

Greece (type ďfira oneĒ) personal pages

provides links to info on many countries and cities, including websites for accommodations

Please be aware that hotelsí website rates and rates quoted by staff at toll-free numbers are not always the lowest. Call or fax the hotel directly when itís daytime in that location so that you reach someone who has access to all booking information and who is more likely to speak English. I think itís best to fax because when they respond you will have a hard copy confirmation to bring with you.
Old Oct 20th, 1999, 12:20 PM
Bob Brown
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Hi Anne. You are getting advice from some of the most experienced posters on the European forum. I lived in Europe for 10 months and have been back a few times since then. I know from experience myself that these folks know of what they speak.

There are so many books on Europe that it is hard to know what to recommend. For my most recent trip, I had 5 books on Paris alone, plus many pages copied from this Forum and various web sites.

I like the Lets Go xx series myself, where xx is some destination like Paris. The Fodors series us good also. But a trip to Borders or Barnes and Noble or other "big" bookstore near where you live should give you good browsing opportunities to sample the books before buying. But you well end up with more than a dozen books before you go.
I strongly second the idea that you should get a good map or two or three of Europe.

The question on time is a hard question to answer because people vary. My wife, for example, is ready to come come home after about 14 days. My day; who was a veteran wanderer, liked to be gone about a 20 - 30 days before he wanted his own bed.
The idea of a car is good, except that I am not sure what one does with a car in places like Paris and Rome. Parking adds to the expense in those cities, and I am not sure I want to drive in Paris anyhow. I watched the traffic, rode in taxis and shuttle vans, and decided that I did not know the rules of their game, nor the gestures nor the profanity!!

I think you have two key decisions to make at the outset: 1. Where would you like to go in Europe? 2. Do you want a sampler type of trip where you see a lot on a scout-it-out basis or do you want to see a small area in depth?
Let me give you two personal examples.
Last year we spent two weeks in Switzerland because our goal was to see the Swiss Alps. We were highly successful, but we left a lot for this year, and the next. This year we tried to split time between Paris and the Alps.
I learned quickly that 5 days is not nearly enough to do Paris justice. Although we enjoyed our trip greatly, I left with the feeling of "I want to come back, soon." Earlier in our travels we spent 8 days in London with a day trip to Salisbury and one day occupied with a family visit. That left
us with 5 full days to see London itself after getting over jet lag. We went long and hard each day, and found that 5 days was not enough for London either, despite the fact that we left the hotel around 7:30 AM and rarely gave up until after 10 PM. Even on the day trip, we came dashing back for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall and a 10 PM supper at some place that was still open.
So of if you start now, and read something on the subject frequently, and USE THE WEB, you will be ready, just in time to go.
I am sure you will be asking many more questions as your preparation progresses. And this forum is a good place to do it.
Old Oct 24th, 1999, 08:12 AM
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Glad to see the question of "homesickness" addressed here. I've felt like a travel wimp to discover that 3 weeks is almost too long for me -- much as I want to see/discover/experience those faraway places, home calls! And it may be hard for you, Anne, to know how long is too long, until you're underway. But this will no doubt help: Give yourself a day of rest here or there. The zeal to keep going and take it all in can leave you more tired than you realize, and suddenly things aren't fun any more. (I intend to take my own advice next time!)
Old Oct 24th, 1999, 09:33 AM
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What a wonderful trip you have to look forward to!!! The advise you have gotten has all been very good. My thought would be not to do "too much". Really,while 3-6 weeks sounds like a lot of time you will find that there is so much to see that time passes quickly and you won't get to see everything if you "over plan", which is a mistake (and an understandable one) first timers make. Whether you use a car or rail travel between places takes time, sometimes more so then others depending on where you are going, the weather, ec.
Spring is great in Europe, we nearly always go over in late April.

Start off with a good map, decide what you want to see based on your interests (museums, castle, cathedrals, countryside,cities, etc.) and plot out a tentative route. Borrow books from the library and/or buy a few and read up on everything and anything that interests you. Make a list. Once you have the list done you will probably realize that you could never see all those places so you start narrowing it down. (this all gives you a reason to go back again!).

For a first timer I'd allow a minimum of 5 days in major cities (and that is no where enough to see everything by any means - we've been to London and Paris over a dozen times and still find things to see). You can also stay longer in a city and go day trips by train which is really good for first timers as you don't have the pack and unpack hassle (which gets old real fast). Maybe my husband and I are lazy but we always stay a minimum of 3/4 days even in the countryside at any one spot. It's so nice to have a place to come back to at night and just do day trips. We were in London for 8 days and Paris 7 this past spring and are going back again next yr.

Basically I'd say prioritize - if you have some special place/thing you want to see and have dreamed about it forever and ever then do it! Plan around the special places and the entire trip will be more fun. Don't go anyplace you really don't think you'd enjoy. While I love museums my husband can only handle about 2/3 hrs at a time in one .. so we have seem the major ones in London/Paris/Madrid in 2/3 hour spots. Just plan like that.

Also, do allow time to do nothing or just wander off down a street or country lane. We've done that and had amazingly great moments, in fact those kinds of things can be a lot more fun then a hour at some crowded tourist site with hundreds of other folks all trying to get pictures of whatever it is.

Keep posting questions on this forum and you will really helpful answers. No question is too off-beat for this gang!
Old Oct 24th, 1999, 11:18 AM
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Glad to see the question of "homesickness" addressed here. I've felt like a travel wimp to discover that 3 weeks is almost too long for me -- much as I want to see/discover/experience those faraway places, home calls! And it may be hard for you, Anne, to know how long is too long, until you're underway. But this will no doubt help: Give yourself a day of rest here or there. The zeal to keep going and take it all in can leave you more tired than you realize, and suddenly things aren't fun any more. (I intend to take my own advice next time!) Oh - and keep a journal!!!

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