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George Dec 26th, 2002 07:41 PM

Leaving to Europe in 2 days -- desparate for help!!
 
I've received some tremendous help when planning our first ever trip to Europe in 99 and am hoping to find the same again from this board . . . I apologize for the short notice, but if anyone can offer some advice, my wife and I would greatly appreciate it!<BR><BR>We have a roundtrip ticket to Paris arriving in the AM on Dec 29th and departing in the AM on Jan 8th. We plan to experience Paris through Jan 2 and travel to some other Euro locations for the remainder of our time. The only ideas I have are Bruges (Brussels) and Amsterdam. We thought about exploring more of France, but we've already done the French Riveria. It seems Provence is too close to that area, so I don't know if we want to travel there again. Obviously weather and proximity (I don't want to spend forever on a train) are factors during this time as well. We considered Switzerland, but neither of us ski and feel it may be more suited for the 'active outdoors' person. Perhaps someone has different thoughts. We don't want to do London (saving that for a separate trip). Also, we've been to both Florence, Cinque Terre and Venice (these are too far anyway). Thoughts on Germany?<BR><BR>By the way, just a little background on us. My wife are in our late 20s and just enjoy the pure aspect of being in Europe and experiencing some of the culture, dining and nightlife it has to offer. <BR><BR>Any help is appreciated. Thanks in advance all Fodor contributors!<BR>

Art Dec 26th, 2002 08:03 PM

If you have not been there, I would suggest Normandy. Close, you can get there by train.

buzzee Dec 26th, 2002 10:22 PM

Go West Young Man. Or North! France has lots of cool places to explore that you can reach by train and not use up all your time in travel!<BR><BR>Everyone in Paris goes to Brittany for the holiday weekends. There has to be something there to keep them coming back? Could it be the fabulous and eerie celtic sites?<BR><BR>Of course some places are better reached by car but there are many cool towns on the train where you could stop for a night and absorb the merest essence of the place. <BR><BR>There are plenty of fab. historical sites, artisitic kinds of place etc. to visit. However, during the holidays make sure you check the opening times.<BR><BR>Good Luck.<BR><BR>Bruges is fabulous as always and should be visited. However, why not explore more of France so you can say you've done it all?<BR><BR>Buzzee

George Dec 26th, 2002 10:59 PM

thanks for the quick replies. I knew I could count on this forum. Brittany and Normandy I am now considering. Is train travel ok or is it recommended that I get an auto rental. Also # of days to explore either? Now I am thinking exploring North of West of France in addition to Bruges thanks to some of the suggestions I am getting.

Tony Dec 26th, 2002 11:31 PM

I'd drive around northern France, but drop off the car before going to Brugge. It's a nightmare to drive there. Take a train and walk. It's a beautiful, tiny town with great food and wonderful chocolate!

George Dec 26th, 2002 11:36 PM

if it is best to drive around northern france, where should i rent a car from. i don't know if it would be wise to rent in paris or another city close by. <BR>

Davidx Dec 27th, 2002 03:59 AM

At this time of year it seems odd to me to head northward. Why not further west in france than your last trip. You really are spoilt for choice. The Dordogne? Cantal? Languedoc - Roussillon? Even by the coast through Perpignan and on to Barcelona?

Ann Dec 27th, 2002 03:59 AM

Taking the train to Brugge is easy and I supposse you could do that and rent a car there and drive back into France, ending at the airport. On the other hand, since you should have a car for Normandy and Brittany it might be easier and cheaper just to rent it as you leave Paris and bring it back to the same place - that would avoid the drop charge. I didn't drive in Brugge but it certainly didn't look difficult. I did drive in Normandy and Brittany (different trip) and think you would see more with a car than trying to do that area by train - especially since you only have six days. I think I would rent the car at whichever airport you are flying home from and then return it as you leave. But you should rent NOW - before you get there as it is cheaper. Try autoeurope.<BR><BR>In Normandy and Brittany my favorite places were Mont St Michele and Honfleur. I think both would be wonderful in the winter.

George Dec 27th, 2002 06:23 AM

Everyone's responses are really helping me formulate a plan here at the last minute, which is exactly what I asked for! I'm thinking about renting a car after arriving and spending 4 nights in Paris. Then driving to Brittany and Normandy. Any suggestions on where to stay around either. I have no clue. Plus, I'm not having luck finding on the map. Sorry for my ignorance in French geography. Any ideas on approximate driving time to get to either. Also, any suggested routes (i.e. through a particular city) to drive up to Bruges, Belgium. It sounds like a don't miss and since it only about 2-3 hrs away, I don't mind the drive. Or better yet after Normandy and Brittany we can drive back to Paris drop off the car and take the train to travel to Bruges, enjoy Bruges and head back to Paris for departure. Any suggestions on days/needed and ideal time to spend in each for itinerary would be helpful -- background we arrive at noon in Paris on Sun Dec 29 and have to depart noon on Wed Jan 8. Also, this is our first time to visit Paris. We are looking forward to New Years Eve there. I'm thinking 4 nights 3-4 days is adequate. Also, we plan to stay in the Latin Quarter. Still working on booking a room for under $100 US dollars right now. No luck so far. . . Any input is appreciated! Thanks to everyone so far who has been kind enough to reply. When I don't know a friend that has traveled to teh places I am trying to visit, I can always count on my friends at Fodors!

Eye Spy Dec 27th, 2002 06:44 AM

George, if you want to drive to Brittany from Paris, the distance from Paris to Rennes (capital of Bretagne) is about 7 hours at about 110kph. So it's quite a distance. You may want to leave Paris early morning and drive to Bretagne (but don't bother staying in Rennes -- it's not that great). Rather, drive deeper into Brittany to towns outside Saint-Brieuc, to Carhaix or even to Carnac (a favorite summer destination too). Brittany is very rustic and driving along the back roads is exciting in itself. I recommend you travel near Pointe de Penmarch to visit the oldest calvary in Brittany at Notre-Dame-de-Tronoen. In the churchyard on the edge of sand dunes are episodes of the passion of Christ sculpted in granite used to teach the Gospel to illiterate people. There are so many secondary byways to drive and you'll come across small villages everywhere. You may then wish to meander and then drive through Normandy too. It all depends on what you want to visit and for how long and how much in depth. You have great options.

Eye Spy Dec 27th, 2002 07:01 AM

George, another, better time-saving option would be to purchase a Rail-n-Drive pass from Rail Europe. You could take the TGV from Paris to Rennes, Brest or Quimper (saving time) and renting a car once you are arrive at the station to go exploring. The pass includes a rail pass for 3 days unlimited train travel, and an Avis rental car for 2 days in any month. You can add more rail/car days too. The pass starts at $169. Check out www.raileurope.com or call toll free: 1 800 4-EURAIL. Quimper has the Cathedrale St-Corentin, Musee de la Faience; St-Thegonnec has distinct Breton churchyards and calvaries; Treguier: Cathedrale St-Tugdual, Granite Coast; Concarneau (old port surrounded by ramparts, drawbridge entrance to fortified Ville Close, Musee de la Peche; Carnac has megalithic monuments and Prehistoric museum; Vannes has ramparts, medieval streets, Cathedrale St-Pierre. You could also drive to Dinan, Dinard, Dol-de-Bretagne and then up to St-Malo and Mont-St-Michel/Pontorson and into Normandy. Just a thought!

Gretchen Dec 27th, 2002 07:12 AM

The NOrmandy coast will not be particularly pleasant weatherwise right now so bring warm clothes. Rent a car before you leave the US--pick up at a car rental agency at one of the points on the periqherique. Get a Michelin map of both Normandy and Brittany that will show every highway and byway. Don't spread yourself so thin by going to Brugges--just see France. Return your car the night/afternoon before, take a room at CDG and go into Paris for a final evening. <BR> An alternative would be to take the TGV to Avignon, rent a car and &quot;do&quot; Provence--it is diffeent from the Riviera. Train back to CDG for your departure--the night before. You need to sort of look at your departure/transfer times to be realistic.

BTilke Dec 27th, 2002 07:13 AM

Brugge is certainly an option and one hotel to consider is number Eleven (www.number11.be). Brugge also has some good restaurants. And I'd definitely do a side trip to Ieper for the In Flanders Field museum. <BR><BR>I wouldn't rent a car--too much hassle and can be more expensive than you planned. A couple of suggestions:<BR><BR>Switzerland: Basel and Bern. Both are great small cities with plenty to do. Basel has excellent museums, restaurants and shopping and is to get around on foot. The Basel Hotel has a terrific jazz bar. Basel is about 4 hours from Paris by train (no changes). You could spend a night or two in Basel, then take the train to Bern, spend a night there and catch a TGV back to Paris. Basel is one of those places that should get more attention than it does.<BR><BR>Angers, France: 1.5 hours from Paris by TGV. A terrific small city, very clean, very friendly. The Mercure Hotel next to the Jardin des Plantes was much nicer than we expected and we would easily stay there again (the staff are extremely helpful in planning day trips). There are some great restaurants in Angers at really good prices (4 course dinner at La Ferme for $17 per person). There is also a Maison du Vin where you can taste a variety of Loire Valley wines. <BR><BR>If I were you, I'd head to Brugge or Basel and enjoy a few days in two vibrant smaller cities with plenty to see and do--without the need of a car. <BR><BR>I wouldn't got to Germany this trip--for one thing the weather isn't very cooperative--we're supposed to get nothing but rain and clouds for the next several days. (Where's our snow???)<BR>BTilke (Brussels and Bochum, Germany)

George Dec 27th, 2002 07:53 AM

It's amazing how quickly people come thru on this forum. Teh last posting has all of a sudden has rerouted my thoughts on the itinerary. The drive to Normandy seems too much. Plus the thought of seeing another country outside of France is intriguing. Is it possible to visiti Bern and Basel and still go up north to Bruges? I love the thought of being able to do it all by train. Saves me a lot of hassle. My wife are not skiers/huge outdoors activity people and although dressing very warmly, don't have boots and gore-tex gear for this trip. . . In short, is this a mistake if we're heading to Switzerland? We would love to go and if Bern and Basel provide some quaintess/charm and nice dining and scenery, we would be fine. Just try to experience as much of Europe without overdoing it on the travel each time we go. Hope to hear some more thoughts soons. Still trying my best to book Paris hotels as I await responses. . .

lily Dec 27th, 2002 08:17 AM

Sounds like a lot of travelling for a 10 day trip. If it's your first visit to Paris, why not spend more time there as there is much to see and do. Also you could make daytrips to Chartres, Giverny, Rouen, etc. and not have to spend so much time travelling and changing hotels. Brugges is also a daytrip from Paris with the train. Just a thought.......

StCirq Dec 27th, 2002 08:25 AM

George: I personally wouldn't spend this time of year in the north of France or Belgium, and I'd opt for Switzerland only if as you say I were into outdoor activities, though admittedly some of the small cities are chock full of interesting sites. To make it easy on yourself, since you have barely any time to plan, why not just fly into CDG, hop the TGV to Avignon (3-hour trip), pick up a car there (AutoEurope is my choice - 1-800-223-5555 or www.autoeurope.com), make yourself a base in St-R&eacute;my, spend a week or less exploring the area (it's nothing like the Riviera and there are a zillion things to see and do), then hop a TGV back to Paris and spend however many days you want to spend there. It seems to me what you need is an uncomplicated trip.

George Dec 27th, 2002 09:55 AM

This is getting crazy. . . so many opinions and I'm getting turned in every direction. . .looking up city names and locations, travel times, etc., each time! However I DO appreciated the input soooo much. I feel that I'm getting closer to an exact itinerary.<BR><BR>Here are my thoughts:<BR><BR>-Time I have: 10 night itinerary with 8 full days (not including day of departure or arrival)<BR>-Since neither of us have ever been to Paris, we'll spend more time there instead of just 4 nights. <BR>-Additionally, I'd like to spend just 1 night in Bruges, since I keep hearing it is so wonderful. However, if this is a big mistake considering the time of the year please convince me so.<BR>-The remainder of the time, we're thinking about visiting some of the towns around Paris (Rouen, Chartres, Givenchy?, etc.). Don't know if a car rental is ideal for this sightseeing or train is enough. Also, are they close enough by where we'd just make camp in Paris and travel to an fro, or should we take the time to spend a night or two in each city. If so, which cities?

Vic Dec 27th, 2002 10:44 AM

I wouldn't bother with a car at all - look at this rail map -http://216.36.228.98/pdf/maps/france.html - and you'll see you can get just about anywhere by train - it's safe, easy, and you don't waste time messing around with rentals, getting lost, etc. If you're from North America, remember that gas is much more expensive than what you're used to (as in several times the cost).<BR><BR>For point-to-point tickets and schedules (take about 30% off the price as you'll be buying them at the station) see here: <BR><BR>http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/fares_schedules/index.htm<BR><BR>Best wishes, whatever you decide!

Eye Spy Dec 27th, 2002 10:56 AM

I think you are complicating the issue. Gasoline is very expensive in Europe (one litre costs roughly the same as one gallon so go figure!). When I posted earlier, I mentioned you could get a Rail-n-Drive pass but that was under the assumption the cost of gasoline would be onerous for you. I think many Fodorites will concur. DO NOT BE TURNED IN EVERY DIRECTION AND TRY TO SEE A BIT OF A FEW COUNTRIES IN ONE TRIP. You are in Paris -- that alone is enough! You could do five wonderful sightseeing days in Paris alone, really get a feel for the city and then venture off for a day trip (weather permitting) to Versailles or take the train to Chartres for the day or Rouen even Lyon. You could even take the TGV to Lyon (2 hours one way) walk around the city, eat in one its many fantastic restaurants (it's not the culinary capital of France for nothing) and take the TGV back to Paris (2 hours back) the same day. It's all about choices. I firmly believe you will get much more out of really getting to see, feel and experience Paris and its environs and make one full day trip to another city, rather than travelling so far to Switzerland or Belgium. It's your choice. But you have to remember that once you are in Paris, perhaps you may not want to leave.<BR><BR>Other day trips from Paris could be (as mentioned above:<BR><BR>-Versailles (www.chateauversailles.fr<BR>-Fontainebleau (http://www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr/<BR>- Chantilly (north of CDG-Roissy) and Senlis<BR><BR>Seems like it would be better for you to keep Paris your home base and after a few days, venture out and explore other areas around Paris and/or take a day trip to Lyon (which has a lovely city center and location (Sa&ocirc;ne and Rh&ocirc;ne rivers)) and still be back &quot;home&quot; in Paris at nightfall.<BR><BR><BR>

Kay Dec 27th, 2002 11:06 AM

I don't think Provence is anything like the French Riveria. You could take the TGV and be there in 3.5 hours. And what about the Loire Valley - 1 hr. by TGV from Paris. For hotels in Paris, try Verneuil(france-guide-hotel.com and Melleisime (mellesimehotel.com.) They are very nice budget hotels in great areas. Have a great trip! Take care, Kay


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