Goal is independent travel, but......

Jan 31st, 2001, 07:53 PM
  #1  
Gwen
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Goal is independent travel, but......

Our goal is to travel independently for our first trip to Europe. We want to see Paris, Italy and Switzerland, and plan on about a 14-18 day trip. Can we use the trains easily? Should we make all our hotel reservations from here? I'm nervous, but can't find a tour that seems to fit our style. Thanks for any ideas. I'm overwhelmed!!
Gwen
 
Jan 31st, 2001, 08:04 PM
  #2  
Patrick
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Welcome to the club. You sound like many of us here. I hope one of the reasons the tours don't appeal is because they try to cover too much in too little time. I'd suggest you concentrate on 5 to 6 stays at most, so you can stay 2 or 3 nights each place, and hopefully 4 or even 5 in Paris. If you want to mainly concentrate on the cities, then trains will suit you well. (They will also suit you well in Switzerland)
When are you going? That will govern whether you should prebook your hotels, but I would normally suggest that you do, so that you won't be spending time on arrival at each place looking for somewhere to stay. As a first timer, that will add too much pressure and confusion to the trip. Have you focused on exact spots you want to visit? Have you made a start on plane reservations or know where you are flying in and out of? I would suggest you try for a flight into one city and out of another--Paris and Rome for example as that would simplify your travel. Relax, you will get all the help you need here. Post again soon with more details and desires.
 
Jan 31st, 2001, 08:13 PM
  #3  
Tony
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Between Paris, Switzerland and Northern Italy down to Rome, trains are extremely easy to use, running approx. once per hour in most directions, often more frequently. For your type of trip I would suggest you consider a Europass, as this removes the biggest worry for first timers, which is the booking of tickets at various stations.
On some trains you HAVE to book a seat, cost about $6, but on the vast majority of trains you certainly turn up, board and go where you like with your pass.
You will find the inter connections between trains in Switzerland to be nothing short of amazing. You can also use your pass on most lake steamers, well worth doing for sightseeing, and dining too.
Hotel reservations depend on when you are travelling. I usually travel in the shoulder seasons of June and September and have no trouble finding vacancies, except at such places as Venice. I always book my first hotel in advance so I have somewhere to go for a shower etc. after the long flights, and often my last hotel near the departure airport. For the rest I just wing it, In July and August this may be slightly risky, otherwise, no problems.
 
Jan 31st, 2001, 08:23 PM
  #4  
gwen
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Thanks for the advice! We're planning on going over the end of June and early July. I have thought about the flying in and departing from different cities. Am in the process of reading Rick Steve's books for guidance as well. Wondering if it makes sense to start in Paris, then go to Switzerland (not sure where yet, any suggestions?) and then to Italy to see some major cities.
Gwen
 
Feb 1st, 2001, 02:30 AM
  #5  
Tony
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Some suggestions you asked for in Switzerland.
From Paris train to Montreux on Lake Geneva, changing trains at Geneva en route. Montreux is a quietish lakeside town with good opportunities to take a cruise on the lake across to Evian les Bains in France - also a good place for lakeside walks, with very attractive scenery, and train rides - funiculars etc up into the hills.
From Montreux you can take the Crystal Panoramic Express at 9 a.m. to Interlaken for 2/3 days in the Jungrau mountain region, staying either in Interlaken, or part way up the mountains - again plenty of trains to do this, plus gondolars, and rack railways.
From Interlaken the Brunig Panoramic Express will take you to Lucerne for more of the same, except a bit more nightlife (but not Manhatten!). The lake cruise here is a must.
There are regular trains from Lucerne over the Gothard Pass (spectacular) through Lugano to Lake Como for your first night in Italy.
There is a lot more, but these are possibly the highlights.
 
Feb 1st, 2001, 06:37 AM
  #6  
Beth
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We're doing Paris, Switzerland, and Venice this June for 2 weeks. We're focusing on Paris, the Berner Oberland, and then Venice, so that we have a few days to focus on each place. We'll be taking trains to and from each destination. I have found this board to be incredibly helpful, and also Rick Steve's web site and books.
 
Feb 1st, 2001, 08:14 AM
  #7  
Deb
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Gwen, I did my first travel to Europe alone last year and with the exception of a couple of minor frustrations (learning experiences)it was a piece of cake. I am planning now for doing it again this year in late June. Here are some things to think about. It is good to pick up some phrases in French and Italian, it goes along way in helping out with attitudes if nothing else. Most people in the big cities speak some English so that part will be quite easy.
Use this forum to gather websites for hotels, there are literally hundreds of posts on hotel websites. Once in them figure out what kind of hotel you want and can afford and then just start narrowing it down(do they have hair dryers, is it close to all the sites etc). This is the most fun part of planning to me. You should probably try to reserve rooms pretty early because it will be crowded when you are there.
Finally resist the urge to take to much luggage, we probably all did it on our first trip to Europe because we thought we needed 6 pairs of shoes but when you are on lugging it through a train station you will be regretting it. Let me know if you have other questions.
 
Feb 1st, 2001, 09:03 AM
  #8  
Fred Melnick
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For larger cities, trains work well. Also for many larger towns. For the little towns don't count on them. But there are local buses for many. For train information go to:
http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/fa...ules/index.htm
also: http://www.eurorailways.com/
also: http://voyages.sncf.fr/hs_reservatio...tion&langue=GB
For more go to: www.anamericaninparis.com
[email protected]
 
Feb 1st, 2001, 09:34 AM
  #9  
elvira
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I agree with Tony: look into a eurail saverpass, which covers 3 adjoining countries of your choice. You don't have to buy point-to-point tickets, you can change your mind about when and where to travel without having to exchange tickets, and it usually turns out to be cheaper (overnight couchettes/sleepers and seat reservations - mandatory on the TGV - cost extra as Tony noted).

As Patrick suggested, try to stay in one place for a few days, rather than changing locations every other day. The scenery of Switzerland is so fantastic that your train trip through it will be half the thrill! In Italy, you might stick with the northern part, like Lake Como, Padua, Verona and Venice; or the Mediterranean side like Milan to Florence. Don't try to visit Venice, Bologna, Florence, Roma and Naples - pick one "big city" for a 3-4 day stay, with maybe a 1/2 day stopover at a smaller city on the way to it.

And if you can get an open-jaw ticket (i.e., into Paris, out of Florence) you'll save a lot of travel time.

As for reservations: I am paranoid, and assume every hotel will be booked when I walk through the door. So far, my paranoia has been reality. I make reservations months before my trips - peace of mind vs spontaneity.

To make planning easier and less overwhelming, think about what interests you. If art leaves you cold, but archaeology makes your heart pound, then skip the Musee d'Orsay and head for the Louvre's Greek, Roman and Egyptian galleries. If you're acrophobic but love water, skip treks up into the Alps and spend your days around Lake Lucerne and Lake Como. You get the idea....
 
Feb 1st, 2001, 09:35 AM
  #10  
Thyra
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Gwen we are here for you! You've gotten some great train advice. Regarding flying into one city (say, Paris) and departing from another (Switzerland for example) is something I have done several times to avoid back tracking and long trainrides, there are two ways to do it you can book your Round Trip tickets into one city and out of another, but be careful, sometimes they charge substantially more, but a couple of times I have been charged about $80.00 per ticket to arrive and depart from different cities. Sometimes, if you find a dynamite fare RT to Paris, it will pay book that, then call your carrier and ask if they can give you a one way flight from Switzerland back to Paris at the end of your flight. Just shop around and look for the best deal.

Regarding reservations, there are two different schools of thought on that, some people love having the freedom to change their plans at the last minute, and wait until they arrive to book their hotels. I have done it both ways and honestly IMO it's WAY better to book in advance (and half the fun as well) especially if you are going during June or July. Use a good guide book, Fodor's (I have one I love called Hotels of Character and Charm in Paris that has lovely colored photos of the hotels and has never let me down) Frommer's Rick Steves etc. Decide what is important to you, (I like to be near a park for a morning run, centrally located and I am usually on a pretty tight budget) then go online and this forum and start researching and contacting the hotels you pick via email or fax. (Keep a copy of your faxed or email confirmations and take them ON THE TRIP WITH YOU)
When faxing to Europe remember they put their months and days in reverse order
July 11, 2001 will be 11/7/01 instead of 7/11/01.
I think you will find it easy and fun to go on your own. If you are polite and friendly, in general Europeans are helpful and you will have a wonderful time going at your own pace and lingering where you feel the need. Just remember to pack LIGHTLY and keep an open mind!
 
Feb 1st, 2001, 09:37 AM
  #11  
Thyra
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Shame on me should have checked that before posting, In first paragraph, I meant to say "Call your carrier and ask if they can give you a deal on one way tickets at the end of your TRIP". Also in first paragraph... I know that Switzerland is a country, not a city..
 
Feb 1st, 2001, 10:14 AM
  #12  
greg
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Regarding the sequence of visit, look at the flight schedule and the temperature of the destinations. The flight out of Italy back to US (I am assuming) tends to be very very early in the morning while the ones from Paris are around noon, if this make any difference to you. Also the usual places in Italy people visit are hot when you'll be going, I would be inclined to go there before the middle of the summer. Some summer activitie, such as Sons-et-Lumieres in France, do not start until July so you'll have to sequence your trip to hit the things you want.

I found finding a room in Paris, even 5 months ahead for the summer, to be always difficult, especially if you want the ones with A/C. One way to gauge the difficulty in finding the room without reservation is try finding vacancies now. If it is already booked up where you are going, it is probably prudent to book a room now. With internet, you can find more about the hotels beforehand and reduce the odd of planned disappointments.

Finally regarding the trains, unless you have done it previously, I do not call it intuitively easy. After reading guided such as Rick Steves on how to use the trains and making few mistakes waiting for a train on a wrong platform, I now have a better sense of how things work at Europeran train stations.

Learning how to read the train schedule is essential. Studying how to read before you go using an online resources such as at

http://bahn.hafas.de/bin/query.exe/en

will reduce last minutes stress by knowing that you can grab a schedule at last minutes.

While I concur that the train connections in Switzerland are efficient (read: ~8 minutes), I found it quite stressful to change the train with luggages at stations we had never been to, especially trying to figure out the next platform number on the departure sheet, sometimes with a revision sheet next to it. The train changes in France were more pedastrian (read: you wait ~30min). I would say I like Swizerland schedule better when I get used to them, but for the first time, I like the French schedules better.
 
Feb 2nd, 2001, 05:43 PM
  #13  
Rosemary
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Gwen,
Eurail have a new pass this year, EURAIL SELECTPASS check it out. Not 1st class like the saver but much less expensive.
France, Italy and Switzerland. WOW! We love all three in this household. Have a ball. If you feel like writing feel free.
Rosemary
 
Feb 3rd, 2001, 07:07 AM
  #14  
Marsha
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Dear Gwen: If you are uncomfortable about making your own hotel reservations, you might try Northwest Airlines package vacations (I make mine through AAA). They will set up hotel reservations from your choice of hotels in major European cities. They also have various day-trip add-ons (bus tours) in each city. I make my Paris reservations through them and have never been disappointed. And if something happens, I have someone to complain to!
The key to train travel is very little luggage. We keep our stuff with us at all times and travel light (one pair of shoes, three pairs of pants, etc.) I pull pertinent pages out of guidebooks, rather than lug them across the ocean. I photocopy other informational items.
 
Feb 3rd, 2001, 05:54 PM
  #15  
gwen
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I am so thankful for all the great ideas. I am really thinking we can do this by ourselves. We're still nervous, but I think we would be happier than on a tour. The thing that draws us to a tour is the transporation! They get you from one destination to another with no worries. But we really don't want a rush feel to our first European experience! This is what we have decided so far, I'm going to call our travel agent and make flight reservations, flying into Paris, and out of Rome. Now, for hotel reservations. I'm using Rick Steve's book. How many of you would agree with his recommendations? Do we need AC in Paris in late June early July? Any hotel ideas for Interlachen, Rome, and we're thinking Tuscanny? We're still thinking of using Eurorail, though we have tossed about the idea of renting a car. My husband says he thinks he could drive there, (not me!) All words of wisdom have been documented. We appreciate anyone taking the time to help us novices plan our first Europe vacation.
Regards,
Gwen
ps. packing light will be difficult, anyone give me good ideas for shoes, dress clothes, shorts okay? jeans okay? etc.
 
Feb 3rd, 2001, 05:57 PM
  #16  
gwen
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oops, sorry for misspelling Interlaken, meant to check before sending, and forgot!!!
 

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