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Feb 10th, 2012, 12:18 PM
  #1
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First Trip to Europe 2 Adults 50+

Our son is stationed in Germany and we have decided to visit. We are planning to stay for 14 days. Our son may get some leave time, but there may be days when my husband and I are on our own. We would like to travel to nearby countries, but don't have any idea how much travel we can do in 14 days. Since it is our first time visiting a European country, we are seeking advice on the following: 1. when is the best time of year to visit Germany/Europe? (prefer good weather and no crowds) 2. Where are the best places to stay that are affordable and can interact with locals? 3. Which is more cost effective to travel within Europe, rental car, train, air? If this may be our only opportunity to visit, what countries/cities would be the best travel destinations from Germany? 4. Any recommendations where to get the best travel research/information?
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Feb 10th, 2012, 12:25 PM
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1. May would be nice
2. Best for what? What are your interests? My best might include churchs and musuems, yours might be castles and riesling. Unless you are moving there, interacting with locals is not really much more than pleaasantries.
I would get a guidebook on Germany, to see what might interest you.
3. Depends. A car gives you flexibility, but is not really usefull if you are spending your time in cities. City to city, train system canbe quite good. If you are travelling country to country, car less good, train still good, now you can look at discount airlines.
4. You have arrived
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Feb 10th, 2012, 12:50 PM
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Where is he? Kaiserslautern area? If so, you are ideally located for fairly short trips to the Middle Rhine Valley, Trier and the Mosel Valley, Luxembourg, Alsace (Strasbourg, Colmar France) and the Black Forest.

http://www.welterbe-mittelrheintal.de/intro.html
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Feb 10th, 2012, 12:58 PM
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The first thing you need to do in order to clear away the confusion is to get a guidebook. I suggest Rick Steves "Europe through the Back Door." Rick Steves gives lots of information about transportation, sights, hotels, dining, internet cafes, laundromats, etc. He pares down the information so that it's not overwhelming. Some other guidebooks are useful for learning about a country but may have too much information for newbies.

Travel to nearby countries may depend on the location of your son's post. Germany is in central Europe and is surrounded by numerous other countries.

I prefer traveling in Germany in September, because the weather is good and there shouldn't be big crowds. I've always enjoyed June as well, but September is my fave.

You'll find information about hotels in a guidebook. Once again, I like Rick Steves for this kind of info. His whole premise is that if you travel inexpensively, you are more likely to interact with locals.

I like to drive in Germany, but only outside of towns. Driving inside large cities like Berlin or Munich is very difficult. Parking is hard to find and often ridiculously expensive. If I'm going to be driving, I usually pick up and drop off the car at the airports, then take the train into town. The Autobahns are excellent.

Be aware that German freeways (Autobahn/Autobahnen) generally have no speed limit. You HAVE to stay out of the left lane unless you are passing. The Germans are serious about this. If you're doing 80 mph in the left lane, you will soon see headlights flashing behind you because there will be a man in a Beemer or Mercedes who wants to go 100 mph. I've experienced a lot of road construction on the Autobahns, so be aware of that possibility.

I am a 76 year old woman, and I have no hesitation about driving on the Autobahns, so don't be intimidated by anything you may have heard about them.

I am at a stage in my life where I like to take trains because the Hauptbanhof (Main train station) is in the center of town, so I don't have to worry about getting from a far-away airport into town. However, driving may get me to places where it might be more complicated to go by public transportation--small towns, etc..

German trains are comfortable and dependable, as are buses.
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Feb 10th, 2012, 01:00 PM
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Train vs car depends on what places you want to visit - if cities like Munich, Berlin, etc then trains IMO are best as big cities can be a hassle with a car - parking can be expensive, etc. And trains take you city center to city center. But if you want to slowly explore rural Bavaria or the Black Forest then obviously a car is better.

But public transportation is so so fine in Germany that you can get anywhere it seems by train - if traveling more than a few days check out the German Railpass - Twin pass for two folks always traveling together - the pass lets you hop on any train anytime - just show up - if traveling only a few times then online advance discounts from www.bahn.de - the official German Railways site may be best - but they are limited in number, can sell out weeks early at times and cannot be changed nor refunded, being train specific so your itinerary is set in stone. For for flexibility to hop any train anytime then just a few longer train rides can make the whole pass pay off.

If going to Netherlands or Belgium also then there is the Germany-Benelux Pass (also valid in Luxembourg) or the Eurail Select 3-country pass where your pass can be valid in any 3 countries you chose - like Switzerland and Austria and Germany or Germany, Switzerland and France.

For loads of great info on German trains and passes - check out these Wunderbar IMO sites - www,budgeteuropetravel.com; www.ricksteves.com and www.seat61.com.
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Feb 10th, 2012, 01:12 PM
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My husband worked in germany for several years and commuted back to the states every few weeks since our children were in high school and not keen to move. He did weekend trips to Prague, Amsterdam, Brugges, Alsace, Zermatt and munich with no difficulty. with the exception of Alsace, black forest, wine road and christmas market trips, he took the train. i would suggest concentrating on the area around your son's base and perhaps taking 2 or 3 day trips to amsterdam or brugges when he's not available. both are easy, have interesting things to see and do, etc. we love september or even early october in europe.
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Feb 10th, 2012, 01:15 PM
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Good weather generally equates with crowds.
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Feb 10th, 2012, 01:22 PM
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I have a reading problem.

Is 14 days the sum total of your trip, including visiting with your son? Or is 14 days the amount of time you have apart from visiting with your son?

Sorry for asking this if it's all crystal clear to others.
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Feb 10th, 2012, 02:02 PM
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1. What defines good weather for you. For me it's 65 degrees and sunny; some people hate leaving the house unless the temps are 80+ degrees.

Popular sights will always have crowds. You will be among tourists and people who live and work where you're visiting.

2. Perhaps in a small mountain village but you would probably need to speak German to interact with locals. Most people have their own lives and don't interact with strangers who don't speak the language.

Generally places that are not in the main stream are less expensive.

You also need to determine what affordable means to you.

3. You seem to be focused on cost. In that case I would stay in Germany and travel via public transportation which is excellent in Germany. Renting cars, especially for short terms, is usually expensive.

If you want to go to another country, choose one that is close to where you'll be staying in Germany - you don't have a lot of time.

4. I would get some guide books from your library and start reading.
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Feb 10th, 2012, 02:18 PM
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The 50+ might get inspirations from the 70+ travelers:
http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...e-our-50th.cfm
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Feb 10th, 2012, 05:28 PM
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Besides some guide books you need a map. Is sounds like you think europ is much smaller than it actually is. Day trips from Germany to other cuontries (unless you are staying right on the border) will be a whole lot of travel for very little sightseeing - unless you are willing to do trips of 3 or 4 nights each.

So - first what are your intersts?
Second - where will your base be?

For timing I would suggest May - pleasant but realy enough there are relatively few tourists. We usually do road trips - but then we value convenience and serendipity over cost. If you are going from city to city trains are probably most sensible. (Check the bahn.de web sites for train schedules for all of europe.)
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Feb 10th, 2012, 07:07 PM
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I agree, a lot depends on where your son is based. You don't have an extended period of time - 14 days will fly by. What are your interests?

Get guidebooks and maps and get serious about planning. Strangers on the internet can't make a viable plan for you until you do some really hard research on your own.
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Feb 11th, 2012, 11:12 AM
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Thanks for all the responses! alot of helpful information, especially for rookie travelers like us. The 14 days I mentioned before is the total amount of vacation time for our trip. We are weather warriors in Northern AZ, so as long as the weather is not over 90 degrees wih 90+% humidity, we can handle anything Mother Nature hands out. I have heard stories from acquaintences that traveling to Europe is very expensive, therefore, the concern about cost. My husband and I have spent so many years working hard and raising our children, we never strayed far from home. To travel to Europe is an exciting prospect for us, and is also a little scary. I like the idea of the travel guides; that may settle some of the fear factor down. As far as interests go, we enjoy being outdoors fishing, taking pictures, appreciate architecture, but are not big on hiking or extreme sports. My son is based in Weiesbaden, the Rhineland country. We both are good eaters and beer/wine drinkers, so hoping we can sample some good stuff while there.
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Feb 11th, 2012, 11:26 AM
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You might also consider flying into one country, and coming back from another if you intend visiting more than one. These ticket are called "Open Jaw" flights, and often cost no more than a flight into and out of the same airport. Mainly, it would save you having to waste time and money in back tracking.

For example, you could fly into Germany to visit your Son, then train to Paris, to explore that city. Then you would fly back home from there.

When you get that far in your planning, ask us again and someone will be happy to tell you about flights and how to book them.
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Feb 11th, 2012, 01:01 PM
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Janie, since this is your first European trip, I would like to suggest that you go to www.untours.com and see if they offer apartments in the area (or close to it) that you want to be located. I have used them previously, and was always pleased. They offer just enough planning to make you feel secure and are on hand if you need help or advice. It won't hurt for you to check them out.
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Feb 12th, 2012, 04:45 PM
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I think this sounds like a great trip. Do you have any idea how long you will be at your son's place, how much time on your own. if he will br traveling with you on day trips. Does he have a car for these day trips and would he loan it to you for the other time.

There is a lot to see and do in almost any direction from Wiesbaden. One of the most charming villages, Rothenburg is pretty close. Stuttgart has the Mercedes and Porsche museums. Amsterdam and Brussels are within striking distance. As someone else suggested you can train to Paris and fly home from there. Munich and Mad King Ludwig's castles are an easy option.
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Feb 13th, 2012, 11:01 AM
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Munich has the BMW museum, on the Olympic grounds I believe.
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Feb 13th, 2012, 11:26 AM
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Just like the USA, Europe is as expensive or inexpensive as you want to make it. You can stay in $500 a night 5-star international chain hotels, or very pleasant, clean, and safe guesthouses with private bath and breakfast for $80 a night.

You can go to Michelin-star restaurants for up to $200 a person for dinner, or a family run place for $15 a person. It's all in what you want.

You've already got some good input on car vs. public transport--we've done both (sometimes both on the same trip), it just depends on time of year, where we are going, and what we are trying to get out of a particular vacation.

Rothenburg is, indeed, pretty and worth a stop to look around and take some nice photos. But just be aware that old town Rothenburg is a total tourist enclave that caters to the mass bus tour trade. They keep the buildings real pretty, and they did a nice job of rebuilding the 30% of the old town and walls that were destroyed in WWII, but it really does have that theme-park feel about it. I had to stay the night there once (an insistent relative) and wish I hadn't, BUT millions of people visit RODT every year and many, many of them love that sort of experience. I don't, but that's just me.

That's the great thing about world travel--there's all sorts of experiences available to match everyone's personality and preferences.
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Feb 13th, 2012, 12:03 PM
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Congratulations! You will love your visit to Germany no matter what time of year you visit.

To answer some of your questions:
- Europeans are on vacation in the summer and most military members with children also try to vacation then. It may be easier for your son to get vacation time in the spring or fall. Both are great times to travel in Germany.
- Will you be staying with your son or at a local hotel? Does your son have a car? Some military installations are more difficult than others to reach by public transportation. Check with your son. This will help you decide if you need to get a car, even if for just for a portion of your trip. You may find traveling by train easier for longer distances.
- Ask your son to check with the USO at his military installation for bus trips. These trips go to many popular locations and usually are all-inclusive - transportation, hotel and some meals. They are also reasonably priced. This may be an easy way for you to travel with or without your son and not have to worry about all the arrangements.
- Most military installations have a public website with lots of information about what to see and do in the area
Have fun planning!
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Feb 13th, 2012, 12:07 PM
  #20
 
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Personally I don't like to rent cars or drive where I don't speak the language and am not familiar with things. Especially for a 1st timer to Europe. So whever you go, I would start by planning around places you can get to on the train.
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