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julie Apr 2nd, 2002 06:58 PM

I think I've seen to many churches. Ideas for other ways to see Europe than the standard ways
I hate to sound jaded about Europe, but we have started to feel that we don't want to do the usual tourist thing. We have always planned our own trips and after the first few trips really narrowed down the area so we could have a more in depth visit. But the highlights that remain in our minds seem to be the church services we've attended, the concerts in churches, the bike rides, the day long boat trips, the people we've talked to, the regional markets we've visited etc. We've also decidied that we like smaller towns rather than large cities. Our most fantastic memory of all was a visit to Romania where we did a home stay in a remote village. I guess we are sick of being just tourists. Does anyone have any comments on other ways to visit? Do you know anything about agrotourism, independent bike trips, barge rental, home stays, gite or home rentals, volunteer visits or anything else? We'd love to hear some suggestions to really become more involved in a country. One big problem though, we are budget travelers so pricey options won't help us out.

julie Apr 2nd, 2002 07:00 PM

Grammar police--please don't jump on me. Just saw my post and realized that the second o in the "too" in the title didn't register.

Leslie Apr 2nd, 2002 07:06 PM

Julie, have you considered booking through Untours. Similar to a homestay, but not usually in a "tourist" area. Everyone I knows that has booked through Untours swears by them.

david west Apr 3rd, 2002 04:58 AM

TRy this lot:<BR><BR><BR><BR>they have a good selection of different holidays in Europe. I can recommend them (and I have no interest in them).<BR><BR>and for something very difrerent try these:<BR><BR><BR><BR>conservation holidays. I assume that other countries have similar

Suzanne Apr 3rd, 2002 05:29 AM

When I visit another country, one thing I like to do is walk around the city and observe everyday life. It is amazing what you see and what you stumble upon. Also, I know some on this board "dis" shopping but going into grocery stores and places where the locals frequent are facinating. I have met some wonderful people that way and I plan on doing this in Europe. Sometimes having no plan is the best plan of all.<BR><BR>So perhaps go to a small town and simply experience the place. That is the least expensive way to do it.

honey Apr 3rd, 2002 05:32 AM

How about hiking in the Swiss Alps or Madeira?

Rex Apr 3rd, 2002 06:12 AM

One interesting and different twist on Europe is to decide which century to focus on - - why not try the 21st?<BR><BR>Futuroscope in Poitiers<BR><BR>Porsche factory in Stuttgart<BR><BR>Fashions in Milan<BR><BR>What other examples can we think of?<BR><BR>Best wishes,<BR><BR>Rex<BR>

Mr. Go Apr 3rd, 2002 06:25 AM

How 'bout a self-guided bike tour in the Loire Valley? You could stay near Chinon (for example), and take daytrip rides to Azay-le-Rideau, the Abbey at Fontvraud, Chateau d'Usse, and countless old villages and vineyards.

Marsha Apr 3rd, 2002 06:39 AM

On our next trip to France, my goal is to take some "walks" using the public footpaths. I am going to start with Frank Booth's "The Independent Walker's Guide." I even want to do his "suburban" walks near Paris - especially to see what is really at the end of the RER! And, like Suzanne, I want to spend a couple of weeks in a hill town above Nice, doing my shopping at the local grocery, and maybe sitting at a cafe watching the people go by.

a--z Apr 3rd, 2002 07:47 AM

Julie -<BR><BR>Go to They have a variety of volunteer programs all over the world (you do have to pay for your room & board)--- these 'work' projects are definitely a different way to experience Europe. When I was in Costa Rica in November, there were volunteers w/Earth Watch program conducting a study on leatherback turtles. I'd never realized there were these kinds of opportunities. I'm still investigating and giving serious consideration to try a 'working vacation'.<BR><BR>

ttt Apr 3rd, 2002 09:08 AM


rita Apr 3rd, 2002 09:27 AM

Julie, if you like independent travel you may want to look at Randonnee Tours. They do self-guided (which means no group) biking, walking, multi-sport, and drive + stroll trips. I was on their biking trip in the Dordogne Valley last fall and it was wonderful. Their route descriptions kept me on the quiet back roads and introduced me to allot of "hidden suprises" while their area manager transfered my luggage from inn to inn. Overall it was a great way to really experience a region and blend in. The website is <BR><BR><BR><BR>Also, if you do a search for the company you will come up with a few threads that I have mentioned them on.

Christina Apr 3rd, 2002 09:48 AM

There are several good web sites on volunteer vacations -- I think one is There are other organizations like Earthwatch I've heard of -- that one may be too pricey for you, though, as the fee is partly a subsidy of the research, not just for room and board (you are kind of paying them to volunteer)--costs seem to be over $100 a day (I looked into that once as I was interested). Another similar organization, but with more diverse programs (social science, medicine, journalism study trips) is People to People Ambassadors program (<BR><BR>There are various kinds of educational vacations which is what I'd recommend unless you don't want to do any kind of planned activity. I've studied languages and there are tons of those (very cheap); cooking stays are often more expensive but I know a few in Italy and France that are not. Some URLs for learning vacations are:,,<BR><BR>If you don't really want an activity (which does take away from sightseeing) like taking classes or volunteering, I agree something like Untours or renting a house or apt is the way to go. There are lots of web sites on villa/apt rentals. I personally think you'd get the most out of that if you knew the language, or at least were part of a program like Untours.

Leslie Apr 3rd, 2002 09:48 AM

I, too, would recommend you look at the Earthwatch website at I have a teacher friend who does one of these trips for two weeks every summer. This year she is going to Kenya for two weeks on a study of the "maneless" Lions of Tsalvo, featured in this months issue of National Geographic. She's done similar trips involving studies of the kangaroo in Australia's outback, green sea turtles on the beaches of Costa Rica, and a human archeological dig in Mallorca. Admittedly, these have mostly been non-European locales, but you'll even find studies going on such topics as the Volcanos of Italy or Maternal and Child Health in India.<BR><BR>Also, the organization SERVAS International runs a very interesting program for short (one - two night) home stays with host families around the world. You may have worked through them for your Romania trip.<BR><BR>One trip that appeals to me (can't remember the company sponsor) is a bicycle tour of the Loire Valley. Also, I think renting a villa in Italy or a gite in France for an extended period would be fun.<BR><BR>

ttt-ttt Apr 3rd, 2002 12:48 PM

up again -

John Apr 3rd, 2002 01:05 PM

I think volunteer visits and homestays are great and affordable ways to break out of tourist behaviors. Home exchange is another - see Also you might consider any professional or social connections and investigate possible linkages there. Combine a house exchange with some personal interests or passions - antique collecting, or photography, or birdwatching...whatever, to personalize your experience and create an agenda beyond "seeing" a place.

Ellen Apr 3rd, 2002 01:13 PM

John, I absolutely agree that a home exchange is a fresh way to look at things. <BR><BR>We did a 3-week exchange with a London family last summer, and it was such a rich cultural experience! Looking at churches and museums tells you what the people were like a century ago, but a home exchange tells you what the people are like right NOW. We used their car, listened to their preset radio stations and CDs, watched British TV in a British sitting room (not in a hotel room), saw their books and hobbies and collections and school awards and bulletin board notices, met their neighbors, had breakfast in their back garden, used exotic kitchen appliances and even their toothpaste. We surely felt more in touch with the essence of being British than anyone possibly could by staying in a hotel or even a cozy B&B! <BR><BR>I have to assume that in a country where the principal language isn't English, the immersion would be even more entrancing.

kit Apr 3rd, 2002 02:02 PM

Julie,<BR><BR>I did a language immersion program this year. I stayed for a month, but you can usually do as little as two weeks or as long as you want.<BR><BR>It's a great way to really immerse yourself in another country's daily life. I made friends from all over the world, too. The class I enrolled in had students aged 18-60, with a few couples as well. A great group...<BR><BR>All this assumes you'd enjoy brushing up on some language skills!

julie Apr 3rd, 2002 04:09 PM

Thanks so much for all the suggestions. I will start to check them out. I'm glad to hear that others want to be more than just the typical tourist. We really enjoy meeting people and talking with them about their lives and their countries and that doesn't seem to hapen when you just go from your hotel to the typical tourist sites. Each trip we take the area we cover seems to get smaller and smaller so it probably is time to focus in and stay one place for a week or longer. We are active so the idea of biking also appeals to us. Just before I posted I actually contacted Servas and we are going to join both as hosts and travellers. We figure that we can also enrich our lives right here at home by hosting foreign visitors.

elvira Apr 3rd, 2002 04:38 PM

We've rented homes, which is a great way to find out how everyday life happens - buying groceries and then trying to fit them in the fridge, figuring out how the washing machine works, watching kids on their way to school...<BR><BR>We've stayed in B&Bs that were rooms in people's houses - the host/hostesses serve great breakfasts (and many will pack a lunch for you if you ask), know all the cool places to go, will give you a brief peek at their lives...<BR><BR>We've rented a boat and cruised the Venice lagoon - experience cooking in a galley, going to sleep to the sounds of water lapping and foghorns, traveling distances without having to pack up or return to a hotel, the thrill of watching how locks really work and you are part of it, the camaraderie of other boaters...<BR><BR>We've ridden camels into the Sahara and spent the night in a oasis and a night with a Berber family in the Atlas Mountains. <BR><BR>We've done "what made you go THERE?" - Malta which seems to make no sense but is understandable once you visit; northern Ireland which has incredible coastlines, extraordinary glens, enormous history in its weathered castles and folk parks/museums.<BR><BR>We've taken overnight ferries across the Channel, overnight trains in France and Great Britain, prop planes to a Greek island, driven to the top of the Pyrenees and Naxos on the narrowest winding roads in existence...<BR><BR>Find a part of a country that's not got a big section in a guidebook, and go there. The Abruzzi area of Italy comes to mind...hardly anything in the guidebooks about it, you have to scour the internet for info and write to the tourist bureau for more.<BR><BR>Pick a theme - like Roman sites in England, then find the obscure ones and map out an itinerary; or an artist and go find where he lived, got his inspiration, the scenes that s/he painted; follow in somebody's footsteps like St James... <BR><BR>Or find the small town in big cities - I'll use Paris as an example: the St Lambert area in the 15eme, the "villas" in the 20eme, Chinatown in the 13eme. Or pick a theme - like finding Oliver Twist's London or d'Artagnan's Paris or James Joyce's Dublin.<BR><BR>And, yes, the churches begin to blend together after a while, but instead of going to St Paul's or St Mark's or Notre Dame, get a list of ALL the churches (the local diocese has it) and go visit the ones that don't show up on the "must-see" tourist guidebook list.

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