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First Trip to Europe

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Jan 4th, 2014, 02:45 PM
  #1
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First Trip to Europe

Planning trip to celebrate our 25th anniversary in Europe this summer (June, July, August 2014 possibly). We have 2 weeks to spend traveling from Miami and are pretty flexible the time of year we go.
We would like to spend time in Paris, Germany and London but don't want to feel rushed the whole trip. If you think this is too much then Paris and Germany are top 2. I'm a little nervous, because we both only speak English and much as I would like to learn a new language in the next 6 months..not going to happen.

Our interests: history, food and wine, interacting with locals
Budget: $10k

Wondered if anyone has experience with any good tour groups for these destinations? I'm leaning towards a tour group, because of the amount of time it would take to research and plan a trip and the limited amount of free time we have.

Thank you in advance for any suggestions!
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Jan 4th, 2014, 02:47 PM
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There is no reason for you to need a tour. You will have no problem in Paris speaking English - but it is always nice to learn a few niceties in a new language to help you out. You have to do that for French and German. 6 months to plan a trip is fine. Start by doing some searches here and forget your language nervousness - it really doesnt matter nowadays!
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Jan 4th, 2014, 02:55 PM
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London, Paris and 'Germany' is too much for two weeks. Now if you meant only one city somewhere in Germany - sure you could fly into say Munich for 3 or 4 days, fly to Paris for about 5 days, train to London for 5 days, fly home from London. But if Germany/Paris is your main focus - pick two places in Germany and then finish up in Paris and fly home.

No tour would do what you want -- and would be unnecessarily expensive if one did. You will be fine anywhere in Western Europe w/ English.
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Jan 4th, 2014, 03:06 PM
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How about 5 days in London
5 days in Paris
and 4 days in say Munich or on the Rhine/Mosel rivers

Take the Eurostar train under the Channel London to Paris in about 2 hours

Then for variety take an overnight train Paris to Munich and spend the rest of your time in lovely Bavaria - one place in Germany that by using Munich as a base you can see lots of varied things - from grisly Dachau, the concentration camp to Mad Ludwig's Neschwanstein Castle - Europe's most famous castle by site by far or to nearby Salzburg, Austria only 1.5 hours each way to see that Barqoue fantasy town - one of the most physicall gorgeous cities in Europe.

Of couse spend 5 days in Paris including a day trip to either Versailles, Chartres or Reims - all easily done by train as is you whole trip - only two train trips you must book - the Eurostar train (www.eurostar.com) and the day or night train to Munich from Paris (www.voyages-sncf.com or www.capiainetrain.com - book far indvance of each to get some deep discounted tickets.

So yes London, Paris and a part of Germany can easily be done in that time frame and you can easily book your own hotels online on so so many reputable sites and it is easy to book your own train tickets too.

Once in Munich you can use the Bavarian Pass, which you buy locally, to go to any site by train without any problem.

For lots of great info on European trains check out www.seat61.com - great info on online discount tickets; www.ricksteves.com or www.budgeteuropetravel.com.

And IMO there is NOTHING wrong with taking an organized tour either - in that case you literally can see London, Paris and all of Germany and on Tuesday even a bit of Belgim - tours are usually fast-paced and can be exhasuting - early reveilles and late arrivals as tours try to advertise as many places as possible to get folks. The train could be much more relaxing and let you set you own drum to beat to.

There is no railpass of use to you no matter what you do involving London and Paris and another place so forget all about a Eurailpass or any railpass.
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Jan 4th, 2014, 03:11 PM
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Paris and London are cities that could make a nice pair to visit for 2 weeks. Germany, however, is an entire country. You could see a small portion of it, of course, and would have to make choices.

But of course you can plan this yourself. That's what guidebooks and maps and the internet are for. BTW, no tour is going to offer you any interaction with locals (though I'm never sure what people mean by that, especially without much or any language skill - but I agree, 6 months is plenty of time to learn at least some basics of any language). At any rate, thousands and thousands of people go to Europe every year without knowing any language but their own, and they manage. It's a nice gesture on your part to make an effort, though, and to learn a few basic rules of etiquette.


London, by the way, is a fairly easy daytrip from Paris in case you decide to focus on Paris and Germany. Are you interested only in visiting cities?
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Jan 5th, 2014, 12:06 PM
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Thank you all so much for your input! It appears I CAN do this on my own and no need to pay for a tour guide. I appreciate the website suggestions. Our goal is to visit Paris, London (Germany was my husband's choice and I wasn't real sure where he wanted to visit there, but now know he wants to go to the Bavaria area) We've both decided to take a language and study it for the next 6 months so we can communicate "a little" and be respectful to the locals. Point taken St.Cirq!
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Jan 5th, 2014, 12:25 PM
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If you learn the basic polite phrases - and take a menu reader with you - you won;t have any language problem in large cities and or major tourist areas (very small towns in non-tourist areas may be a little more of a challenge - but we have found it's very rare that no one understands any English - in more than 20 road trips including a lot of smaller towns).

We get by with 40 year old high school French and intuiting German from Egnlish. But the menu reader is key (with explanation of dishes - not just chicken whatever) - since you want to avoid restaurants that have menus in multiple language (usually much higher prices and not very good food).

For a first trip you I wuold do either London and Paris or Paris and a couple of places in Germany. Or you might want 7 days in Paris and then rent a car in Munich and tour Bavaria as well as the city.
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Jan 5th, 2014, 01:38 PM
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Many folks in say France and Germany will speak a more easily understandable English than some folks in England!

In decades of travel with a fair to middling knowledge of French and of course somewhat literate in English I have never ever had any problems with language - real problems - in Europe and more and more people are now speaking the world's common language - in Switzerland it seems even the Frencjh-speaking Swiss and German-speaking ones use English IME to communicate with each other.

Learn a few basic polite words as that will go a long way in making the locals think at least you are trying - too many times I see brash Americans practically screaming at locals "DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH"? as the first thing they say - better to learn a few words like in French, "Pardon madame, parlez-vous anglais" - the person will usually respond in English if they know it and just shake their heads.
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Jan 5th, 2014, 01:57 PM
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You have two weeks for three destinations - that's just perfect.

I suggest an open-jaw flight with this itinerary:

Miami by air to London by train to Paris by air to München by air to Miami (least jetlag, but you can do it the other way round).

Spend two full days in London plus a daytrip to Windsor Castle and Oxford. Oxford will give you completely different experience than London, and Windsor is special, because it is one of the few castles which are still inhabitated.

Spend two full days in Paris plus a daytrip to Versailles, which is just magnificent.

Spend two full days in München, and rent a car and spend two days in the Allgäu in order to see some most beautiful countryside, the Alps, small villages, baroque churches and splendid castles. The route would be München - Benediktbeuern (monastery) - Kochelsee - Walchensee - Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Zugspitze) - Oberammergau - Linderhof (castle) - Hohenschwangau (old castle) - Neuschwanstein (mock castle) - Wieskirche (church) and back to München.

Welcome to Europe!
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Jan 5th, 2014, 02:24 PM
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We've both decided to take a language and study it for the next 6 months so we can communicate "a little" and be respectful to the locals.

This is unnecessary. Even the French will know some English and you can easily get around Paris without knowing more than "please," "thanks," and "where's the toilet."

I'm guessing Miami is necessary? If not, see if there is ANY OTHER PLACE you can first touchdown on US soil after your trip.
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Jan 5th, 2014, 02:55 PM
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Re bigRuss' comment - I haven't arrived via Miami but have several friends ho have . . . and apparently it is an absolute zoo. Is Miami your home airport or do you have other options?
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Jan 5th, 2014, 03:13 PM
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Don't worry about the language. A smile and hello and thanks in the local language is all you need.

You'll visit places used to English speaking tourists. They'll care a lot more about you being a friendy customer than about you trying to butcher the local language to ask where you can find the bathroom.

London is a great place to visit. But in case that you're interested in a non-city destination, you might also think about the Rhine-Moselle valley instead which is between Paris and Munich. That way you could also minimize your travel time.
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Jan 5th, 2014, 03:40 PM
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If you are flexible with the time of year to go as you indicated, avoid June, July, and August if you want to avoid worst of the crowd, peak airfare and accommodation prices, and the heat. So you might say you are used to heat in Miami. The difference is that the AC in Europe is less common and even if in use, it is set to make it just more tolerable than without. In Germany especially, I found it harder to find hotels with AC outside of high-end business hotel.

In Paris, it is actually difficult to talk in French even if you have studied several years. With exception of taxi and bus drivers, most speak good English and they rather want to get done with the transactions in English. What is needed, in fact essential in France including Paris, is the salutations when entering and exiting small shops and restaurants. You MUST say Bonjour (Monsieur/Madame) upon entering and Au revoir upon exiting. What happens if you don’t say Bonjour? You will likely to be met with cold receptions. You can argue on and on whether the local custom be expected on foreign visitors. If you cannot remember how to say Bonjour, at least say it in English.

Whether English only is an issue in Germany or not depends on where you are going. The place I found need to speak German were in rural areas talking to old folks.

Researching a 2 week trip with 6 months of lead time should be within reach of most people. You do an outline of the trip, check the accommodation availability and prices, check the ground transport availability, and the flight. You book the flight and key accommodations at tight market places, then work on filling the details which should not have major roadblocks if you have done preliminary feasibility study before booking flights and accommodations. You might have limited free time now(?), but if you take group tours, you will have limited (really limited) free time once the tour starts.
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Jan 5th, 2014, 03:59 PM
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Fool that I am, I didn't read your interests before posting.

History: London offers a lot of phantastic museums. Especially the British Museum is an utterly wonderful place.

Wine: the Rhine and Moselle areas in Germany and the Alsace could be an easy stop between Paris and Munich. In my opinion there's currently a revolution happening in German wine making which is partly due to the changes in climate and partly due to the next generation of vintners who do things differently. The white wines are still the best bet in my opinion. But there are even some red wines today which I'd never have believed to come out of a German wine-yard (I still think that other countries produce better value red wines but nevertheless it's a quantum leap to maybe a decade ago).

If you go to the smaller places in the German wine making regions, you can often find very good hotels and restaurants for relatively low prices while being able to sample the local wines. And the tours of the wine-yards of the less well-known places can often be incredibly friendly and interesting, in my opinion much better than the more famous wine-yards. I wouldn't be surprised if some could offer them in English since the younger vintner generation tends to spend some years outside of Germany to learn about new ideas. It's really funny when you meet one of the guys who seem to be about as much a small-town farmer rooted in the local community as possible and then you learn that they spent a year each working in Spain, Chile and Australia.
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Jan 6th, 2014, 12:02 PM
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BigRuss on Jan 5, 14 at 5:24pm


I'm guessing Miami is necessary? If not, see if there is ANY OTHER PLACE you can first touchdown on US soil after your trip.
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janisj on Jan 5, 14 at 5:55pm

Re bigRuss' comment - I haven't arrived via Miami but have several friends ho have . . . and apparently it is an absolute zoo. Is Miami your home airport or do you have other options?

YES--unfortunately have to fly in and out of Miami, unless there's flight from Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach (will check on that now)--thank you
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Jan 6th, 2014, 12:13 PM
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greg on Jan 5, 14 at 6:40pm
"Researching a 2 week trip with 6 months of lead time should be within reach of most people. "

Greg--thank you for the Plan. I'll follow you suggestions for sure, especially about traveling in the summer months. Did not even consider they wouldn't have AC. I'm used to heat, but used to sleeping in nice air conditioning!
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Jan 6th, 2014, 04:46 PM
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I am in the "learn as much traveler's French or German as you can" camp. It makes a good impression and allows you to understand more of what you are experiencing. Many community colleges offer traveler's language courses in the evenings, or you can just get some good tapes and listen to them in the car. A phrasebook or two, like those published by Rick Steves, will come in very handy.

Also, travel light. Try to take the trip with one carry-on suitcase and one under-seat bag that holds a lot. In Europe, you will be climbing more stairs, going across more cobblestones, and getting into tiny elevators (when there is one). And if you are traveling by rail, you want to get on and off the train without getting a hernia.

Read as much as you can about where you are going so you know what to expect, and if there are key sites that you want to see, make reservations ahead of time on-line if necesssary to avoid long lines or missing out entirely.

Bon voyage!
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Jan 7th, 2014, 06:08 AM
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Yes indeedy a few words in the local language go a long way and the more the better - no need to be fluent as that is impossible in such a short time but basic phrases like you use in restaurants, train stations, ordering coffee, etc.
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Jan 7th, 2014, 06:39 AM
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Indeed, a few words in the local language is always a good idea. I would also learn the etiquette of the France as noted above, but there is more.

And it is always tricky "to get to know locals." Locals are humans too and some are open to that and others aren't. We have made friends from all over the world and that happened by chance.

MIA is probably the worst large airport in the US, especially if you have to go through customs. Just give yourself extra time for TSA on the way out and patience and on the way back.
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Jan 7th, 2014, 06:53 AM
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If you want to get to meet the locals you need to find a shared interest, so wine tastings, take a train ride (Paris to Munich) or London to Paris. We Brits don't like to chatter on the train but it is only because we are shy, just chatter away to us and we join in.

On top of wine tasting you could do join an art course or go to the local lido.

The Mosel valley is worth a look as is Alsace for wine tasting but Mosel offers more in terms of the people, the holiday mood and the architecture (lots of Art Deco)
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