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Our Hurry Up and Go Vacation: how inexperienced travelers booked a 3-week trip to London, Paris, Rome, and Venice for 2 adults and 2 teenagers starting only 2 ½ weeks before departure…

Our Hurry Up and Go Vacation: how inexperienced travelers booked a 3-week trip to London, Paris, Rome, and Venice for 2 adults and 2 teenagers starting only 2 ½ weeks before departure…

Jul 28th, 2006, 11:02 AM
  #1  
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Our Hurry Up and Go Vacation: how inexperienced travelers booked a 3-week trip to London, Paris, Rome, and Venice for 2 adults and 2 teenagers starting only 2 ½ weeks before departure…

Rule # 1: Take deep breath. Utter, with conviction, the mantra �Don�t let �the best� be the enemy of �the good�. Don�t let � �. Repeat early and often.

Rule # 2: When forced to confront inescapable unpleasant financial choices, say �It�s only money.� Repeat till husband threatens to put divorce lawyer on speed-dial.

Rule # 3: When in doubt, consult the Board (this one). It has the Answers.

The Prologue: We - my husband (DH), 20-year-old boy (DS), 18-year-old girl (DD), and myself � had been talking off-and-on for the past 3 summers about a trip to Italy. I had been to Europe only once before, 30 years ago in college, but never to Italy. DH, DS, and DD had never been to Europe at all. DH is Italian, a generation or two removed. DS is studying Roman history at UC Berkeley. DD has been taking Italian for several years at local JC while she is in high school. So interest in Italy was high. But DH is a university professor and the kids in college/high school, so summer is unfortunately only practicable time for travel, in spite of heat, crowds, expense, and other disadvantages to high-season travel. Every summer many conflicting commitments, summer jobs, other travel plans, etc. prevented us from ever actually finding a reasonable window when we could all travel together to Italy. So talk was all we did. Then this year, towards the end of June, due to various other plans coalescing in slightly unexpected ways, we realized that we would have a window from July 10 to around July 30 when we could make a trip! But geez could we really pull off all the planning, reserving, and unending details in 2 � weeks?? Especially since we didn�t know what we were doing, we are not seasoned European travelers, we had a limited budget, and all the good flights/hotels must already be full? And my husband was in a crunch at his lab, DS was in Hawaii with girlfriend�s family, DD was away, and I had to essentially do all the planning by myself, while working too. With all the info on Fodor�s Europe Board coming to our rescue, it happened! We truly couldn�t have done it without the information provided by you all. (While I never actually posted any questions of my own prior to the trip, I read everybody�s great advice on everything from neighborhoods of Rome and Paris, to currency changing, to European cell phones.) We got back yesterday from a truly wonderful trip and want to pass along our experiences in the hope they might help someone else in a similar situation.

To be continued ...
NorCalif is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 11:10 AM
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Chapter 1: Where are we going anyway? And how will we get there?: how our trip to Italy turned into a trip with slight detours to London and Paris.
We originally planned to go only to Italy – Rome, Venice and somewhere in Tuscany or the Cinque Terre. I am a firm believer in the slow travel approach and wanted to spend a longer time in fewer places. But we immediately ran into a major snag. Given the short timeframe we were working with, the only airfares from San Francisco to Rome we could find were prohibitively expensive. So I began looking for fares to anywhere in Europe (using OAG.com, which I found on this Board), figuring we could then get to Rome either by Ryanair or train once we were on the continent. The cheapest (I use the term loosely: while this story has a happy ending it is not a fairy tale) fare we could find turned out to be to London. OK, that could work. And since we were going to be in London anyway, might as well spend a couple of days there. There’d still be plenty of time for Italy. Then I got distracted by a discussion on the Board on the Channel tunnel train. Wow, Paris was only a little over 2 ½ hours from London by train. Hmm… it seemed silly to go all the way to Europe and have to get from London to Rome and not see Paris when it was, like, on the way. (I have since realized that planning a one-or-two-destination trip to Europe is like planning a “small” wedding – it’s practically impossible for mere mortals.) And since we were going right by Paris, it only made sense to spend a couple of days there too. Anybody notice a slippery slope here? More Board reading. Hey there’s a sleeper train from Paris to Venice – perfect! I love trains, we’d see some French and Italian countryside, get a “free” night’s sleep and wake up in Venice! On to Railsaver.com (another Board find) to find that it made sense for us to get a France-Italy railpass. We would take the tunnel train from London-Paris. Sleeper train Paris-Venice. Train again Venice-Rome. Sleeper train back from Rome-Paris. Tunnel train back to London and then home. (I know, I know, retracing our steps was “wasting” valuable time on such a short trip, but airfare costs and availability of reservations made it the least-bad option. Remember, “Don’t let the best be the enemy of …”).

OK, major destination and transportation decisions made and booked. Onward…

But first, serendipity strikes: One of my sisters, her husband, and their five college-and high-school-aged kids are going on trip to Turkey and Greece this summer. When I tell her we will be going through London, she says so are they. It turns out we will overlap there one day and night! And one of her kids just spent a year at the London School of Economics so will be a built-in London tour guide. Hurray – our first night of the trip will be a family reunion!!

To be continued ….

NorCalif is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 11:25 AM
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I'm breathlessly waiting for the next installment!
samsmom1127 is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 11:29 AM
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Off to a great start.

TRSW is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 11:33 AM
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Hi NorCalif ~

In the summer no less! I am breathless with anticipation, please continue...
Tiff is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 11:33 AM
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I love this! Keep it coming . . .
LCBoniti is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 11:46 AM
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Chapter 2: Lodging: My lord, have you seen those London hotel prices?

OK, where to lay our sure-to-be weary heads? Start looking at London hotels. Rush to get blood pressure medication. This can’t be right. Does the Queen know about this? And rooms with two double beds are unheard of. OK a few exist but are of course already booked. So multiply unbelievable price X 2 for two rooms. The one thing I won’t compromise on is air conditioning. At my stage of life I do not need externally-caused hot flashes to add to the ones I generate all by myself. Implement Rule # 2 above. Shut eyes, and make reservations at same hotel, Melia White House, where sister and family (much higher socio-economic level than we are) are booked. The fact that they booked a year ago means they got somewhat better rate. Ignore this fact.

Now Paris. Consult Board. The Marais is the place. Quite reasonable prices compared to London. Book two rooms at Hotel Ecole Centrale.

Venice. The Board speaks: La Calcina is it. Hesitate to even write them as fear I will hear their laugh all the way from Italy at the effrontery of someone requesting a reservation a mere few weeks ahead of time. Risk it anyway. Joy!! One of their apartments (includes hotel breakfast and all hotel facilities) is available. Requires Rule # 2 again. Book their Giglio apartment.

Rome. Since we will be there a week, want to get an apartment. Of course all the good/inexpensive ones must have been booked for months. Consult Board. Find Slow Travel website. Look at apartment reviews. Decide to work with Sleep In Italy agency. Call them up and say in my best Italian (i.e. the one phrase DD has taught me) that I’m sorry I don’t speak Italian. They start laughing and pass me on to someone who speaks English. I tell DD I must have funny accent. She suspiciously queries me about exactly what I said. She then informs me that I have called these people up at their desks in Rome and told them that I was sorry THEY don’t speak Italian. Hmm. Well I’m sure they needed a good laugh. Find apartment on via dei Falegnami near Campo dei Fiori. Looks good. Price quite reasonable.

Serendipity strikes again: We knew that some friends from San Francisco (they have a girl who is good friend of DD) were going to be in Rome at same time. Talk to them about getting an apartment too. We find them a Sleep in Italy apartment in Trastevere about 10 minutes walk from our apartment. They decide to take it. Yay – we’ll have friends in the neighborhood! DD is happy her friend will be there.

London again: Will be spending 2 nights in London again on way back. If had known about cost of London hotels would maybe have made different plans, but booked transportation first and tickets are non-refundable. Worry that cost of London stay wipes out advantage of cheap airfare to London. Consult Board. Look for suitable place with AC. All booked. Look some more. And some more. Absolutely everything booked. Give up. Decide to look again when in Rome, hoping that cancellations will have opened something up. As I’m sure is obvious, this is a dumb decision – but will have unexpected outcome.

OK, all hotel/apartment reservations made (except for last 2 days in London). On to all those niggling travel details.

NorCalif is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 11:54 AM
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More please! I am loving your writing style!
BlueSwimmer is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:04 PM
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Wonderful(!) so far - and this is just the planning part. Can''t wait for the trip to begin.
janisj is online now  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:08 PM
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Sitting here in absolute awe of the task you took on, norcalif. Can't wait to hear about your final two nights in London!
kswl is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:08 PM
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Arrghhh, I know I should always wait until the trip reports are finalized - now I am left hanging.....keep it coming and fast please.
palette is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:12 PM
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I'm in awe that you were able to find what I assume is an air conditioned flat in Rome on such short notice. We needed ours for late May and by early March, almost all with A/C were gone. I went with a VRBO also by the Campo dei Fiori and endured inconvenient and expensive payment requirements [deposit by Western Union] for the sake of A/C. It turned out to be very chilly when we were there and we never tried out the A/C.
missypie is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:13 PM
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lvk
 
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Fun report, so far! I hope it is complete before we leave for our Planned-a-year-in-advance (so we could score BC seats with our FF miles) family vacation to Germany & Italy next week.
lvk is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:28 PM
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Hurry up and get back here. I'm loving this travelogue.
Barbara_in_CT is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:35 PM
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Outstanding Norcalif ~ And quite the inspiration.

From a group of HUGE planners, your experience is an excellent reminder that it can and more often should be done on the fly!

More, more, more!

p.s. LOVE your writing style.
Tiff is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:38 PM
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Wow, and I thought planning a week long trip to London with a month's notice was last minute! My children are the same age as yours; I'll be interested in reading about your family experiences.
noe847 is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:43 PM
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This is wonderful! The Fodor's board trip reports are my newest addiction...travel writing at its best, as far as I'm concerned. Please keep writing...

...Belinda
lovemyhorses is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:44 PM
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This is down-right exciting! I can't wait for more!
saltymuffin is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:51 PM
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Book marking.
beelady is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 12:59 PM
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NorCalif. Loving your journey, one thing _please_ ... use paragraphs, they make it so much easier to read.

Thanks,

Nina
Nina66 is offline  

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