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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… (https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/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-weeks-before-departure-634756/)

NorCalif Jul 28th, 2006 02:03 PM

Thank you all so much for your encouragement - it really means a lot to me. I have to take a break (and a nap) but I'll plan to continue the saga soon - tonight or tomorrow morning ...

NorCalif Jul 28th, 2006 02:07 PM

(note to Nina) - I do use paragraphs. And it shows up in paragraphs for me. Maybe browser differences or something? Anyway thanks for your interest and let me know if you know what the problem is.)

annhig Jul 28th, 2006 02:18 PM

I was just posting a reply when my son logged on his computer, causing me to lose my connection [yes, I know there are ways round this, but I'm quite fond of him].
Your report is a real antidote to the year in advance "micro-planners" and I love your phrase "don't let the best be the enemy of the good" - should be the motto of the slow traveller.
Longing to read where you spen your last night in London - Hyde Park?

noe847 Jul 28th, 2006 02:29 PM

NorCalif, your "Chapter 2" is paragraphed just fine. I guess Nina66's comment was about earlier posts that had the longer paragraphs. Anyway, you can use the "preview my reply" function and scroll down on the left and see exactly how your reply will look as posted.

LoveItaly Jul 28th, 2006 03:05 PM

Hello neighbor! Loving your quick planned trip to Europe (I usually do that too) and your writing style. I can hardly wait for your next installment.

SandyBrit Jul 28th, 2006 03:16 PM

NorCalif - I am hooked. Keep it coming please.

Sandy

NorCalif Jul 28th, 2006 05:30 PM

Chapter 3: Details, details: currency issues, travel insurance, cell phones, luggage, pet sitter, how to get around in cities, what the heck to see once we get there, what have we forgotten?

Suddenly panic about, well, everything. Feel completely overwhelmed with all decisions that need to be made and info we need to get in just the week or so left. Sort of thrash for a while – pursue all the above topics at once and don’t finish with any of them. Feel like maybe I’ve made a big mistake and am going to be responsible for unhappy, expensive, clueless wandering around in Europe. Whole family will hate trip, hate Europe, and hate me. Wonder if should just forget the whole thing and stay home and mow the lawn. Fantasize about faking excuses to get out of non-refundable tickets. Decide to just go to bed and pull covers over my head. Wake up next day slightly more composed - try to get a grip and tackle one thing at a time.

Currency: Glad for the existence of the Euro – won’t have as many money-changing issues to think about. Then suddenly remember the UK isn’t on the Euro. 30 years ago I used travelers checks - do they still exist? Help!! How does it all work now? Once more the Board knows all. I read about using ATM’s and credit cards. How to check which credit cards have extra conversion fees. How we should notify our bank and credit card companies that we’re traveling and increase our daily cash withdrawal limit. I begin to feel like I sort of know what to expect and can avoid some pitfalls.

Travel insurance: Get very nervous about thousands of dollars in non-refundable tickets and non-cancelable apartment reservations. DS broke his hand just a week ago playing touch football. What if it had been his leg and we had to cancel the trip? I know absolutely nothing about travel insurance. Consult the Board. Find out about insuremytrip.com. Compare policies; choose cheapest one. Heave sigh of relief.

Cell phones: Have visions of DH, DS, and DD and myself running around Rome and Paris. We go our separate ways for a while, supposed to meet on some street corner, but get signals crossed. Nobody knows where anybody is. DD doesn’t even remember what hotel name is (she’s a lovely person, but inclined at times to a certain lack of attention to detail). We are condemned to wander streets of foreign city plaintively calling each others’ names. OK, must have cell phones. Find out ours don’t work in Europe. Don’t know how to find ones that do. But I do know one thing – how to search the Board. Find tutorial on cell phones. Board mentions mobalphone.com. Should work for our needs. Order 2 phones at $49 each. No service fees or monthly charges. Just charged per call, which should be few. We will have same number no matter what country we’re in.

Luggage: Three of us do not even have appropriate luggage for the trip. Have to rush out and buy some. Board sternly advises: limit luggage. Issue edict to family – one carry-on sized bag and one day-pack per person. Brook no opposition. DD still manages to cram half her entire wardrobe into her carry-on, which just means hers weighs more than the rest of ours put together. It must be a relative of Mary Poppins’ bag. Oh well, she’ll learn.

Pets: We have one horse, one dog, two cats, and many plants. Call pet sitters we have used before for US trips. Partial good news – they can cover first two weeks. Scrounge for somebody to cover last week. One of DS’s friends can do it. Hope he remembers. Only thing we didn’t have to consult Board about!

In-city transport: How do we get from various airports/train stations to hotels in the four cities? Assign DH task of figuring all that out as I just can’t do it all. He consults the Board, finds all kinds of tips on metros, buses, boats, taxis, private cars, etc. for each city.

What the heck to see once we get there: Read trip reports and recommendations on prioritizing sights and restaurants. Develop some ideas of our own “must sees”.

What have we forgotten?: Well it’s too late now. Time to go!


To be continued ....

LCBoniti Jul 28th, 2006 05:41 PM

Wow! I am also in awe and a little breathless after reading your last two posts.

I can hardly wait to read how it all turns out!

rfbk50 Jul 28th, 2006 09:00 PM

Love reading your posts, but get anxious just reading about all of the stress. While I plan all of my own trips, I wonder if a travel agent at this point could have helped you in any way. Did you ever talk to one? Just curious.

NorCalif Jul 28th, 2006 10:21 PM

Chapter 4: The trip begins with London …

DS returned home from Kauai at 1:00 AM. At 1:00 PM we left the house for SFO. DD noticed very attractive young Italian man on shuttle to terminal (accompanied by equally attractive young Italian woman - unfortunately, from DD’s point of view). DD began talking to the young man and was totally thrilled when he complimented her on her Italian. The trip was off to a good start as far as she was concerned, and we were all suitably impressed with her language skills. We will have a translator in Italy! So maybe I won’t have to tell any more Romans that I’m sorry THEY don’t speak Italian.

We evidently had quite a tailwind on the trip and arrived in London a little more than an hour early, mid-morning. DH had found a shuttle service called justairports on the Board and had arranged for a car to meet the four of us. Airport was very hot, as was everywhere else in London. Will prove to be the theme of the entire trip: Europe as a tropical destination.

Our hotel, Melia White House, was in Marylebone area of London, next to Regents Park. The hotel was nicely furnished and our rooms (we were upgraded for some reason) were quite nice. I saw one of my sister’s rooms and it looked very cramped. I can’t say I thought the hotel was worth the price, and the location, while convenient, would not be my favorite in London. We left our bags there and went to find some lunch in the neighborhood. Were extremely grateful for signs painted on the street surface at every corner telling you which direction to look for oncoming traffic. We enjoyed walking around Regents Park and the nearby area.

We met my sister and her family for dinner. My niece wanted to show us all where she lived when she was at the London School of Economics, so she took us all to Chelsea to walk around her old neighborhood and eat dinner there. That’s my favorite way to see a city – having some non-touristy reason to walk around normal neighborhoods. We ate at a very pleasant Italian restaurant (sorry, don’t remember name). Most of the customers were speaking Italian, as was the staff, so DD was able to show off in front of her cousins by chatting away in Italian to various people. My sister noticed a young woman at a nearby table wearing a t-shirt that said William and Mary Swim Team. She pointed it out because I went to William and Mary as an undergrad. So I felt compelled to go over to discuss the old alma mater with a presumed fellow alum, but the young woman said confusedly, in heavily Italian-accented English, that she didn’t even know where William and Mary was; she had bought the t-shirt at the Portobello Road Market! We lingered quite late and had a wonderful evening extended-family bonding.

My sister and family left early the next morning for Istanbul, so we were on our own. We checked out and took our luggage via the metro to Waterloo Station, where we were due to catch the tunnel train about 4:00 PM. We planned to leave the luggage at the station while we touristed about. Geez, the charge for “left luggage” turned out to be 6 pounds per piece! So it was $45 just to leave our 4 carry-on suitcases for a few hours. We said we’d take our daypacks with us rather than pay another $45 to leave them too, but the attendant very kindly took pity on our obvious surprise at the cost and said he wouldn’t charge us for them. So we walked around the Waterloo Station area, by the Millennium Eye and across the Thames to Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben. It was sweltering and the crowds were immense, but we enjoyed it all. DH liked the fact that we passed by places that figure in Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey and Maturin novels.


To be continued …

NorCalif Jul 28th, 2006 10:25 PM

Chapter 5: on to Paris –

Enjoyed seeing a little of the English and French countryside on the train to Paris; the tunnel part is only 20 minutes long. We arrived at Gare du Nord and took the metro to Hotel Ecole Centrale in the Marais. We liked the hotel a lot and would definitely stay there again and recommend it to others. We paid 90 Euros a night per room. The rooms were decent-sized, had comfortable beds and new bathrooms, were air conditioned (thank Heaven, as Paris, like London, was boiling), very clean and quiet and had a small refrigerator in each room. The staff was efficient, kind, and very helpful. Valerie, who I believe is the owner with her husband, is a delight. It is on a little non-descript street that is just a block or so long but is in a perfect location in terms of proximity to many things. We could walk to absolutely everything we wanted to see: the Seine, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Pompidou Centre, etc. etc. Walking around the Marais was a joy itself and most cafes and brasseries we went in seemed to be filled with local people.

The first night we ate at a brasserie just down the street from the hotel, I think it was called Leopard. The food was actually fairly good and one waiter was quite friendly and attentive, but one of the others had a stereotypical attitude with a capital A. It actually struck us as funny rather than insulting; we felt like we were in some Monty Python skit, with someone playing an over-the-top version of a snotty waiter.

I actually speak French, although not tremendously well in terms of pronunciation. I can read it pretty well since I am a result of the old-style American way of teaching languages: back in my day we read Camus in French but rarely practiced French conversation. Anyway, I dusted off my French vocabulary and was able to conduct most transactions in my pathetically-pronounced French and was able to serve as translator for the family. DS and DD found it disconcerting to be somewhere where they understood not one word of the language (remember we hadn’t originally intended to go to France, so they hadn’t even brushed up on travelers’ phrases). They’ve only been in English or Spanish-speaking places before and they both know some Spanish. Anyway, I was glad for them to have the experience of being outside the language barrier – it’s good for them! I lived in Tokyo as a teen-ager (Air Force brat) so I know whereof I speak. Or don’t speak, as the case may be.

We spent the next 2 days seeing some of the typical tourist sites, but also just wandering around the Marais. DH woke up very early and went off for long walks, loved being just about the only person on the street as the shopkeepers were opening up. We also loved that it stayed light so late. One night we took the 11:00 PM Pont Neuf boat on the Seine and saw the sparkling Eiffel Tower and all the illuminated buildings and monuments. Live bands were playing along the Seine – we passed groups of people dancing. Ballroom dancing in one group, rock in the next, folk dancing in the next. It was lovely. We took the batobus up to the Eiffel Tower one afternoon, although decided not to wait in the lines to go up in the tower. Walked around St. Germain de Pres a little bit, but didn’t like it. The part we were on was just one big crowded mass of people.

We had seen an always-crowded Moroccan restaurant in our neighborhood, so went there for dinner one night. Omar’s I believe. We thought food was actually a llittle disappointing – not horrible, just bland and nothing special. But we enjoyed the ambience anyway.

Our last day in Paris was Bastille Day. Planes flying overhead, parades, and a general holiday feel. We checked out but left our luggage at the hotel until it was time to take the metro to Gare du Bercy to catch the sleeper train to Venice at 8:30 PM. We all loved Paris - DH and DD said they wanted to move there.

To be continued …

moxie Jul 28th, 2006 10:43 PM

Great report!

KathrynT Jul 28th, 2006 11:06 PM

Oh, this is wonderful. I can't wait to read more!

NorCalif Jul 28th, 2006 11:09 PM

Chapter 6: on to Venice –

We had the budget T6 accommodations on the sleeper train, so were somewhat apprehensive about what they would be like. The T6’s sleep 6 people in a compartment – total strangers, not segregated by gender. In addition we were split up, two of us in one “couchette” and two of us in another one a few doors down. DD and I were extremely fortunate in our couchette companions: 3 young girls from Bogota, Colombia – 16, 14, and 14 years old. Their families were in the couchette next door. They spoke English well and were bright, articulate, completely charming young women. We also had a young Italian man from Florence who had just finished university. DD sat in the couchette having heart-to-heart teenage girl talks for hours with the kids from Bogota, about politics in their respective countries, dating ditto, etc. while the young man from Florence and I lounged in the corridor discussing philosophy (his major) and the meaning of life. We watched the Bastille Day fireworks as we went through Dijon and other towns along the route. A really memorable evening.

DH and DS were not quite as fortunate in their companions. They had 4 very large, very loud sleeping companions. So DS and DH spent most of the evening also lounging in the corridor having great conversations with 6 French university kids in the next compartment. Again the kids spent a lot of time discussing politics and DS enjoyed correcting some misimpressions of American attitudes (although how representative a Berkeley student is of general American attitudes might be open to debate). We finally all went to bed, but DH and DS were again a little unfortunate in that their sleeping companions got in some sort of trouble with the passport control people at the Italian border in the middle of the night and created a huge ruckus. It was actually pretty funny, since it all turned out OK, and DH and DS had great fun for the next day or two imitating the wild shouting in several different languages and gesticulating that went on during the passport brouhaha.

Arrived in Venice in unbelievable heat. But the vision of Venice almost took our mind off it. Got on a waterbus to take us to La Calcina. Waterbus “conductor” told all of us to move to the inside. Oops, then we couldn’t fight our way through the crowds to get off at our stop. So had to get off waterbus at next stop and take one back the other way again. Ah well, it all worked out and the La Calcina’s Giglio apartment is the most perfect place to stay that we could imagine in Venice. It is around the corner from La Calcina, down a tiny passageway that then turns into a little courtyard. My description really can’t do it justice. Inside it was quite lovely, quiet and air-conditioned, with a little balcony you can sit out on, and, since it is on second floor, some views over the rooftops. I really can’t tell you how highly we recommend it. I haven’t seen the rooms in La Calcina itself, but I can’t believe they can be as nice as the apartment was. It was 260 Euros a night, but since it slept all 4 of us it wasn’t unbelievably exorbitant. The guest book there is filled with page after page of praise for it and I agree with every word the other residents have written. We also loved eating breakfasts out on La Calcina’s terrace on the Giudeca Canal.

We spent a couple of days in Venice just wandering around, awe-struck by the sights. I much preferred the Dorsoduro area to San Marco, so we stayed away from the crowds as much as possible. The last night we were there was the festival of Redentore – a big church on the Giudeca side of the canal, across from La Calcina. They had a big fireworks display on Saturday night which was beautiful. It was fun to hear the different responses of the crowd when a particularly stunning firework went off: the French said “oh la la”, the Americans said “Wow”, and the Italians said, … well I can’t remember exactly what they said, but it was representative. It is a tradition to build a “bridge” across the canal to the church, by linking a bunch of boats together so you can walk across them. In modern times it seems that some pontoon-type structures fill in for actual boats, but they only leave the bridge up 2 days as it effectively shuts the large Giudeca canal down to most boat traffic. Anyway on Sunday morning we got up and walked across the bridge and around that island. I think I enjoyed that the most of my stay in Venice, because real life seemed to be going on over there. Venetian families out for Sunday morning strolls, high school boys having some sort of crew meet, etc. I loved Venice for its stunning visual beauty, but in a way it seemed very artificial. Like Colonial Williamsburg – basically a monument to a no longer living past. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. DS said he wants to move to Venice. I detect a pattern here…

To be continued …

Scarlett Jul 28th, 2006 11:22 PM

What a wonderful report!!
It has all the ingredients of a good travel story..tension, cliff hanging paragraphs, I am looking forward to the rest..You really did a good job with that last minute planning..
Thanks so much!
Scarlett

jmw44 Jul 29th, 2006 05:55 AM

NorCalif! Your report is like a breath of fresh air! The energy, enthusiasm, and adventuresome spirit that you and your family demonstrate is a joy to behold.

I love your Rule number 1. That sums up your mind set, and it's that positive mind set that made your trip so wonderful. It seems that the simplest experiences of each place delighted you and your children. (They are to be complimented, too, and you and your DH for instilling in them that willingness to embrace new things!) I have not read a single discouraging word or whimper! You're a lesson for us all.

The spontaneity of your 2 1/2 trip prep is very encouraging. Grabbing serendipity by its coat-tails and letting it fly is marvelous to behold.

And one more thing: Like many fodors folks, I now fall into the category of those who like to settle in to one or two small places for extended stays in a single country. It was in 1970 when I last went on a trip like yours (with two friends, sleeping on night trains to save money) from one major European city to another. Your report is reminding me of just how exciting that trip was! You have absolutely tranformed your "good" into one of the "best". Your experience proves that even these short visits to magnificent places can be treasured. Thank you so much for writing. J.

marshacarlin Jul 29th, 2006 06:06 AM

Thanks so much, an inspiration, and reminds me of a trip I planned this Spring to Paris in 2 weeks with the help of the wonderful folks who inhabit this board.


NorCalif Jul 29th, 2006 06:36 AM

Chapter 7: Rome is next …

Took the train for about 4 hours from Venice to Rome. Sat next to a wonderful Roman woman and her 7-year-old boy. She didn’t speak much English, but DD was able to translate for us all, so we held one of those, “What did she say?”, “Ask her this …” four-way conversations. One of the joys of the trip for me was seeing DD thrive in the role of Italian language expert. As the baby of the family, she often feels overshadowed by her older brother but the tables were sure turned in Italy. She was the only one of us who always understood what was going on, and she was a kind and patient language instructor. Although as she launched into an explication of the Italian use of the subjunctive case one morning, I found myself somewhat brusquely saying, “Yeah. Very interesting. But I really just want to know how to tell what flavors the gelati are!”

Arrived in Rome (which was, surprise, about 5000 degrees) planning to take a taxi to the apartment. Walk confidently out to taxi stand to see … no taxis. Hmm. Pretty unusual for there to be no taxis at a city’s major train terminal. Send DD to inquire where the taxis are. Find out there has been an ongoing taxi strike for the past 4 days and there is, as we speak, a big strike demonstration of some sort going on in the neighborhood of our apartment and the roads are closed in the neighborhood. Well we came to see the real Italy.

Fortunately, the rental agency had included public transportation directions. So we set off to find the appropriate bus, which, in the best of all worlds, will lead us to the appropriate trolley which will lead us to our apartment. We find the bus with no trouble, although are less successful in finding a bus ticket. Figure, in our naivete, that we’ll just get on the bus and see what happens – surely we can purchase our ticket on board. Actually nothing happenes except that we got a free bus ride, although we later found out that we were inadvertently running the risk of a hefty fine.

The trouble with bus travel in a strange city is that you have no way of knowing which stop is the one you’re looking for, hence where to get off the bus. We know the name of the stop, but not what it looks like, what stop is before it, etc. DD has her first encounter with that worldwide phenomenon – the rude bus driver (I still remember my first such encounter back in Washington, DC when I was about her age). Oh well, it’s a necessary rite of passage. She is a fetching young thing and never lacks for appreciative male attention and has been somewhat spoiled therefore by the extra mile that gallant males are usually willing to go for her. She approaches the burly middle-aged bus driver and asks prettily for him to tell her when we get to such-and-such a place. Well in the guy’s defense he spends his life in 5000 degree insane traffic listening to inane questions, so I can understand his being, um, grumpy. He totally ignores her other than to begin swearing under his breath, which, unfortunately, she understands every word of. I of course don’t know what is being said but the body language on both sides makes it clear the encounter is not going well. DD turns red in the face and gets that mulish look that only a mother recognizes. As you may have inferred from her gregariousness in talking to every Italian person she meets, she is not the retiring-violet sort. I fear we have an international incident in the making, as I can tell she is about to let loose with a few chosen words herself and am praying she doesn’t remember the extremely colorful Italian swear words DH once told her about his grandfather using. I quickly distract her, explain that rude bus drivers are a force of nature, and suggest she appeal to a fellow passenger. She does and all goes well after that. For a while.

We get off the bus at the right place and even find the right trolley. We get off the trolley at the right place and start walking, following the directions that are supposed to lead us to our apartment. But the right street name never appears. Wander disconsolately back and forth, pulling our little suitcases behind us, accosting passers-by and appealing for help. They are invariably kind and willing to stand and discuss the situation for half an hour, but are able to provide little in the way of actual directions. Finally turn down a side street by accident, and what should we see but the very welcome faces of our friends from San Francisco, who were supposed to meet us at our apartment! We’re there at last.

A nice young man from the rental agency is there and explains how everything works to us. I am at first put off by the appearance of the street we’re on – graffiti here and there, and the hallway to building is dark and very dirty. I think, “Uh oh. What have we done?” But we go upstairs to the second floor and the apartment itself is just fine. Spacious, light-filled, decorated in cheerful manner. It has a complete kitchen, a dishwasher, a washing machine, an air conditioner, nice sized bathroom and two bedrooms. We settle down for a long travel-story session with our friends, who have been in Berlin and Prague.

To be continued …

betsys Jul 29th, 2006 07:46 AM

NorCalif: You are proving that whoever posted on this site that they didn't like long travelogues is SO wrong. I feel as though I'm taking this trip with you, and at the same time I want to go back to all the places where you were, and I've been. You bring it all back, in such a well-written way. AND you are proving the value of this forum. Molto bene y mille grazie.

HappyCheesehead Jul 29th, 2006 07:48 AM

NorCalif:

Wow - seriously - WOW!

Great Report - I am enjoying every sentence of it, and thank you for your time and effort writing it. You are a terrific writer and funny too -is it your profession?

I usually fly to Europe on frequent flyer tix (two trips this year - France in April and Croatia/Italy in September) and because I get them 330 days in advance I spend WAYYYYY too much time planning the rest of the trip and it almost gets to be a weird chore/bore.

I LOVE that you made a decison, took care of the big details, packed your bags and WENT!

Looking forward to the rest, but now I have to go find some good walking sandals for Croatia, still 5 weeks away and practically the last thing I have to do, LOL. I already have most of my clothes for the trip and toiletries arranged in one of our spare bedrooms.


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