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Nice Multi-country European tour(s) for Neophyte Traveler and Niece

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Nov 12th, 2011, 05:42 AM
  #1
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Nice Multi-country European tour(s) for Neophyte Traveler and Niece

Hello all-

I would love to be a traveler (I think), but I am not that savvy due to lack of experience.*

After trying to get my immediate family to travel with me for years, I have given up and decided to take my college-age niece to Europe. We would like to hit some of the major highlights - and could do a couple of tours if it is easy. I am thinking 12-21 days, maybe May 2012 (she is taking this semester off).

Budget is not my primary concern: I like nice things and good food**, but I am also hoping for great bang for the buck. First time out I probably want to see the typical highlights (the Sistine Chapel, etc.) and get a taste for what I'd like to see more of. I would prize intellect and knowledge in a tour guide. I am moderately fit (walk 3-5 miles with my pups most days).

HELP! I am overwhelmed and underwhelmed by my choices. Thanks for any advice you can give me.

Karen

*My only non-North American travel is to Ireland (mainly County Cork staying with friends of boyfriend) for two weeks over Christmas twenty+ years ago. I barely remember this due to fatigue from dark days and having everybody buy "the Americans" drinks everywhere we went -but it was lovely nonetheless.

**I do go to New York City once or twice a year, and have eaten at Bouley, Le Bernadin, etc. I don't have to have that luxurious a meal, I'm just not a total country bumpkin either!
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Nov 12th, 2011, 06:36 AM
  #2
 
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Many first time travelers to Europe attempt too much. I'd recommend 2
major cities for 12 day to 2 weeks and 3 cities if you stay 21 days.

Aside from Rome which you mention... it's hard to recommend anywhere else not knowing you... you will need to decide for yourself. Do some research if you don't have any firm ideas. London and Paris are the other two obvious choices... but you may have somewhere else like Vienna or Athens that pulls you...

Bottom line, it's you who has to decide but don't OD on too many places.
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Nov 12th, 2011, 07:22 AM
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Well you may want to take the train, especially if going to the biggie tourist meccas you have been dreaming about visiting all your life - Paris, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, etc as cars are liabilities in many large European cities these days - lots of areas have been pedestrianized and thus off-limits to cars, parking can be scarce and expensive when found - many hotels may not offer parking and theft from things in cars in places like Italy is not uncommon -

anyway for lots of great IMO info on planning a European rail trip - and also a railpass of some type if traveling more than a few times on the train - check out these fab IMO sites - www.budgeteuropetravel.com (download their free and superb IMO European Planning & Rail Guide for a lots of suggested rail itineraries for each country); www.seat61.com and www.ricksteves.com.

You may want to fly open jaw - into say London, take the Eurostar Chunnel train to Paris then train and railpass around the Continent and end up say in Rome and fly home from there - so you need not backtrack.
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Nov 12th, 2011, 07:39 AM
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I think you first need to decide whether you want to see alot of the major sights or whether you want to go more slowly with time to sight see AND time to linger. And how many days?? 12 - 21 is quite a spread! You could easily do a nice Italian trip, either on your own or with a tour, then head up to Paris for several nights on your won. Italy and France are obviously both GREAT food countries - it can be Michelin stars or just excellent local family run low key places (those are the kind that I like). So I think your first decision is tour or not - many people here disdain tours BUT you can maximize your time and also your niece will have to go along with the tour program - it will save you haggling about what time to head out and the schedule for the day. At the end you could go to Paris and each keep your own agenda - just a suggestion!
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Nov 12th, 2011, 08:49 AM
  #5
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Thanks for all the replies so far.

In NYC, I am all about do-it-yourself. But I know the city. I love the subways and the people, etc. In Europe, I won't speak the language, won't know the customs, and, frankly, I want to get this as right as I can - which I think means tour. I am also at that point in my life where I can afford to do things nicely and be coddled a bit.* I want to use my energy to see and absorb rather than worry about logistics. In the long run, with some knowledge, I will be the eurorail pass who shleps her own stuff around and finds the funky restaurants because that is my personality. But in the short run, I want to just relax with my niece and have people take me around to the best places and fill me up with intelligent comments and witty insights!

I am keeping my destinations open because I want to see what packages there are. But Italy is a must. Probably Paris.

Keep the suggestions coming please!

Karen

*I am also exhausted from having been in a crappy lawsuit with some real creeps - luckily that is almost done. But I have a whole new view of justice - it is very slow and not very precise! It is difficult for a judge when you are not quite sure what is going on in a complex case - so there is a tendency to split the difference just in case one side is not quite as creepy as they seem. Anyways, right now, some pampering is required!
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Nov 12th, 2011, 10:55 AM
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From what you've written, you've made the right choice of taking a tour. Also it appears that you have sufficient funds to go on a higher end tour.

What you might want to do is to look at the higher end tour companies like Abercrombie & Kent (I thought it was called "A & Fitch" for some reason):

http://www.ehow.com/way_5332684_euro...ur-groups.html

or there are many smaller, more specialized tour companies.

or look into universities which often run tours, sometimes only for their alumni but sometimes not. These may be more pointed towards education than other tours.

Ask for brochures or just visit their websites to get some idea of which cities you want to visit, how much free time you will have, and how their costs fit in with your proposed budget.

Good luck! (You sound like you need the rest! )
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Nov 12th, 2011, 11:40 AM
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Karen,
check out Idyll Untours. I have travelled with them on 4 occasions back in the 1990's.
They find you apartments in numerous towns/countries including France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland,Austria and Greece.
They can book your air for you, and usually will greet you at the airport, accompanying a small group (usually on the local train)to their destination town/apartment--there to be met by your landlord/lady. On day two, there is a regional "orientation" to learn how to use local transport. You will meet other local "Untourists" at this session and can hook up, or not. They provide tons of written info BEFORE the trip about local events during your visit and how to get to them. Thats it--the rest is up to you! So the logistics are in place for you with some support available but no mass-herding of tour members. They have mix and match one-week stays. I have stayed in similar self-catering apartments SINCE my last trip with them to Kandersteg Switzerland now ARRANGED BY MYSELF, often in less-well-known regions which they do not serve. But apartment living is great! A home to come back to each evening, a kitchen and living room to relax in, as many bedrooms as specified, and often a balcony or patio with a view. You get to "live like a local", visiting your neighborhood bakery, banks, restaurants, with a lot of extra rooms that hotels do not afford. Daytrips are up to you and your tastes.
However, if self-catering is not your thing, this is not the way to go. Their is no pampering, just support for relative newbies.
There are reps in the local towns (natives) there to help with furthe questions or problems
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Nov 12th, 2011, 11:44 AM
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PS: They also go to Prague, Budapest and Spain.
See if there are three areas that they serve which pique your interest...they will help set up dwellings based on your personal needs.
www.untours.com
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Nov 12th, 2011, 02:28 PM
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Karen, re higher end tours, you might also check out Tauck Tours and those offered by Smithsonian. There are so many to choose from. Perhaps you could tack on a few days on either end of the tour in cities of your choice to explore on your own.

You sound as if you deserve it so you go, girl...
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Nov 13th, 2011, 06:12 AM
  #10
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Thanks again for the comments. Idyll sounds wonderful for some day. I am checking out Tauck Tours,and also looked at Maupintour. Have yet to do National Geo...

Right now I am leaning toward Tauck - I like all the info they have on the website. Maybe combining A WEEK IN... LONDON AND PARIS with A WEEK IN... VENICE, FLORENCE & ROME.
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Nov 13th, 2011, 07:32 AM
  #11
 
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I think you should reconsider 'do it yourself'. If you can get around NYC you can get around western Europe.

There are so many cons to tours. On your own you set your pace not follow theirs, see what you want, don't waste huge amounts of time waiting for others, etc. If you take a a tour that basically lets you have lots of 'free time' then you might as well do it yourself and if you take one where they plan everything then you are herded around in huge groups - not at all a good way to get a sense of a place. You have to get up at a certain time, eat at a certain time (and place), etc. You might as well stay home and watch travel videos. There are numerous threads on this forum about the pros and cons of taking tours, you might want to read some of them.

There are so many resources available for planning now (as opposed to ten or twenty years ago). Booking hotels is very easy and you rarely get any nasty 'surprises' because you can see photos and read reviews - go to tripadvisor.com Same with arranging transportation - many websites for train schedules, etc. You can download maps of anywhere so you can see where things are and help organize what you want to do each day. There are a ton of self-guided walking tours - both in print and available for smart phones. Plus, once you get to a place you can always do walking tours with a guide if you think you need help in a certain place. Or day tours to get to places outside of the cities that are not easily done by public transportation. You don't have to speak the language in most Western European countries - learn the basic dozen or so words so you sound polite and like you are trying. Most people who deal with tourists speak English. I could go on but you get the idea.

And finally - once you have a rough itinerary this forum is a wealth of information to help you plan the details - from 'how to get from A to B, to where to eat and sleep, to what to see.

You just mentioned London, Paris, Venice, Florence and Rome - super easy to do all those on your own. Three weeks you could do all of them, two weeks I'd drop one.
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Nov 13th, 2011, 08:54 AM
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Ok, based on the fact you speak English I might limit myself to London, Amsterdam and Berlin. Great museums, good night life and meal and generally very ordered societies. Offers you the chance to do some great tours even take a guide around a museum can very entertaining and you will get a different "world view" (Berlin in particular has the odd bit that makes the sistine look like a little interior decoration)
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Nov 13th, 2011, 09:33 AM
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isabel, whereas those are all fine recommendations, they may not be precisely what the OP is looking for at this minute.

I am also exhausted from having been in a crappy lawsuit with some real creeps

So, my read is that at this moment the last thing she wants is to have to take care of all the little details of travel... the way detailed planning gives so much pleasure to some of the rest of us.

She just wants to go and RELAX in Europe and let someone else worry about hotels, transportation, language, etc...and she can afford it, so why not?

If she selects a good tour - and Tauck has a good reputation - the tour guide will take care of what sites to visit as well as the language issues, so she doesn't have to confine herself to English-speaking countries only.
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Nov 13th, 2011, 10:28 AM
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Tauck sounds ok until you mentioned only one week in Italy for three major cities. That just isn't enough time to see them. Could you see NYC, Chicago and LA in one week?
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Nov 13th, 2011, 04:27 PM
  #15
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OK, thanks again for all your comments. I am laughing. I am turning into an old lady before my very eyes! But easytraveler has it nailed - just figuring out the tour company is exhausting me (but as I already whined, it's been a very fatiguing year, other stuff going on too). Normally I am all about the planning, the savoring, the possibilities, so I know what you guys mean....but not now, this month at least.

Call me totally crazy (you sophisticated travelers are really going to barf on this one), but I am even thinking of this 11-day London-Paris-Geneva-Florence-Rome trip by Maupintour. http://www.maupintour.com/Packages/m...asp?PackID=176 It stopped me in my tracks for a moment when isabel mentioned lines. It is my fervent HOPE that being on a $$$ tour means NO LINES. That will be a good thing for me to check. Really, if I have to wait in line with a ton of other people, that takes a lot of the shine off the apple. Especially if I take an intensely-paced tour.
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Nov 13th, 2011, 05:16 PM
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Well you can probably tell I'm pretty anti-tour but I have to say that looks pretty bad. It covers five locations in ten days - two nights each stay and includes some pretty long train rides (Geneva to Florence is over 7 hours). Plus I don't see anything in there that isn't just as easily done on your own. There ARE some tours that, while I wouldn't do them myself, I can see the value of. For example if you don't want to drive yourself but want to see a lot of small villages not well connected by public trans. You say you don't want to do a lot of planning so probably a tour would be good but you might want to check out how many people in each group, things like that. And look carefully at the amount of time you spend on a train or bus versus seeing things. And when they say you will "see" a list of sights it means you will drive by them on a bus (read the London description). Don't want to sound so negative but I just feel so bad for those people I see being herded around in groups of 30 or 40 or 50 people (with their ear phones in so they hear the tour leader who is half a block away at the head of the group). Have you looked into Rick Steeves tours. I hear they are actually pretty good.
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Nov 14th, 2011, 04:27 AM
  #17
ira
 
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Hi Karen,

My suggestion for beginning travelers is a week in London followed by a week in Paris.

Since you express interest in Rome and are thinking of 3 weeks, you might want to visit London, Rome and Paris, in that order.

Easyjet will fly you from LGW to FCO for $80 incl tax. Veuling will take you from FCO to ORY for 30E (about $45).

Enjoy your visit.

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Nov 14th, 2011, 06:11 AM
  #18
 
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>>>I am even thinking of this 11-day London-Paris-Geneva-Florence-Rome trip by Maupintour<<<

Sounds terrible. It only gives you one day in each city. It would be very tiring with spend half of your trip on the road and changing hotels every other day.

Your niece is probably going to find she is the only young person on the tour. Tours lean towards older people. If you are looking for a travel companion, it might turn your niece of from traveling again with you if it's all old people.

Look for a tour that spends a minimum of three nights (hotel nights) each place. Don't do any shorter than two weeks (if you have the time). If you are flying that far, you need to stay a bit.
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Nov 14th, 2011, 07:38 AM
  #19
 
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Karen - one of the advantages of tours is that you almost always skip the long lines. It is posible at more and more European sites to pre-book on the internet but again, that takes planning and homework on your part which is not what you are looking for on your trip.
The 11 day trip does sound like a bit much to me as well but its YOUR vacation! We have done independent travel and also some tours and I think for maximum site seeing (getting in to the main churches, museums, etc.) a tour does maximize your time. But you do need to note if the tour says "see" or "visit".
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Nov 14th, 2011, 07:42 AM
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A warning:

Please don't think that by spending $$$ for a tour that you will avoid long lines. You will not. We did a tour of Italy ( two weeks) with Tauck and waited in line at all the major tourist sites. That kind of exclusivity just doesn't exisit with any tour company and is only feasible if you're a VIP.

Although I prefer independent travel, I have done several tours and the best and only one I'll travel with is National Geographic.

I don't think you should dismiss ira's suggestion of dividing your time between London, Paris and Rome assuming you have close to three weeks. You could easily hire local guides which would give you the comfort level you're seeking and without the 30/40 coach load of passengers. You could also travel Paris to Rome by train with a short stop somewhere on the way if more than three cities is an absolute must. I would not even begin to consider an itinerary with more than four stops in a three week period.
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