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Planning a 4 week student backpacking trip in Europe, previous travel experience LIMITED

Planning a 4 week student backpacking trip in Europe, previous travel experience LIMITED

Jan 16th, 2007, 09:47 PM
  #1  
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Planning a 4 week student backpacking trip in Europe, previous travel experience LIMITED

Basically, this thread is what the title suggests: we are three 18 year olds looking for some guidance on our first backpacking trip through Europe. We took a look through these forums, and it seems very active with numerous extremely knowledgeable travelers who are willing to lend a hand to anyone in search of advice.

Just for a bit of context as to just how lost we are (sorry, this may be a lengthy post. You can skip paragraph, as it is simply a recap of our laughable inability to narrow our list of destinations. But it might be humorous to some of you how crazy our initial ideas were...) At first, we simply whipped out a map of Europe and tried to piece together a trip with every destination we found mildly intriguing. London, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Venice, Valencia, Prague, Florence, Salzburg, Monaco, Amsterdam, Avignon, Barcelona, Geneva, Sevilla....that might be a not even complete list of what we were thinking of seeing. We were flying from London to Amsterdam to Vienna, seeing Salzburg then flying out of Prague to Madrid, seeing our Spainish cities (I believe there was major support for a 4 day foray into Morocco at one point) then taking an overnight train to Paris, working our way into the south of France and dropping into Switzerland before hitting all of our Italian cities. The funny part is we thought we had a shot of doing all of that (numerous ventures into the countryside have been omitted from the list posted here), and more, in about 4-6 weeks. Or some of us did anyways. One member of our group was the voice of reason, made us read a bit in this forum, and now we have changed our ways... (Oh wait, I forgot to mention Portugal was mixed in somewhere after part of Spain and before Morocco)...

When we made all of those mistakes, we were a group of 8 with 5 people who had no sense of what was realistic. They have dropped out so it is just three of us, so now I like to think the trip has taken on a more realistic scope and scale. We now want this to be a 4 week France and Italy trip, with the potential addition of Amsterdam after Paris to end our trip. We are entirely unconcerned with tickets since one of our fathers is a platinum AA member with miles to burn, so we can get decent access into and out of Rome and Paris, Amsterdam. Our itinerary therefore hinges simply on the fact that we have about 4 weeks starting June 25th.

This is what we are envisioning at the moment, and please do not hesitate to make any suggestions! We know certain legs of this journey need to the help!


Rome (4 days not counting that jetlagged half day you have when you first there)

Siena (Afternoon the day before the Palio, see the Palio July 2nd. We have tickets, we are not under the illusion that it is some free event with easy access to tickets!)

Colle di Val D'Elsa (4 days with day trips to the countryside) - the reason for this stop is a villa rented by people we know who are willing to let us stay with them. A big deal when on a budget, we think.

Florence (2 full days plus most of the day we travel from Val D'Elsa)

Venice (2 fulls days plus a half day when we take the train from Florence)

***overnight train to Monaco***

Monaco (most of a day)

Nice (1 day)

TBD coastal towns on the Cote D'Azur (1-2)

Aix en Provence (1-2)

Avignon (1-2)

Paris (3 full plus part of day traveling from Avignon)

Amsterdam (?)


We think our Italian itinerary is solid, we have a person in our group who knows the four cities well so we will get acquainted with everything quickly under his guidance.

Our French itinerary we think needs work. We want to see the countryside and small towns of Provence. We would base day trips out of Aix or Avignon to see them, what does everyone suggest? Also, What small towns along the southern coast would you recommend. We will be traveling by train (is a Eurail pass of some sort advisable?) so anything along the coast with train access (or a shortish bus ride from a train station) is preferable. We are on a budget, so anything that requires costly modes of transportation are beyond our wherewithal.

I guess for now, could you just critique the flawed plan we have labored to come up with? It would be an amazing service to us, we feel a bit overwhelmed. Just recommended destinations and lengths of stays would be tremendous at this point, perhaps you can help us with the millions of other questions we will inevitably have after we lay that foundation at a later date.

Bless anybody who read this entire post, or even those who skipped the story about our ridiculous planning misadventures!
UNCBB113 is offline  
Jan 16th, 2007, 10:23 PM
  #2  
 
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First thing you need to do if you are using miles book the tickets now. Its usualy harder to get flights using mileage especially as June is a high travel season.

Ok, now I'll read the rest of your post
Kealoha is offline  
Jan 16th, 2007, 10:30 PM
  #3  
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Thank you for the warning about the miles. We have tickets tentatively booked (I think they are being held for us? I am not sure of the details, all I know is we have a flight that meets our current schedule but that it can be changed with no cost to us, the traveling students, if need be. We were, however, warned we did not have TOTAL flexibility of dates when/if we make and change and that a day here and there would be unavailable for departure or return.)
UNCBB113 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 06:37 AM
  #4  
ira
 
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Hi UNC,

Very good planning so far.

I suggest adding a night to Venice and taking it from Monaco.

You can fly cheaply from Venice VCE to Nice. See www.whichbudget.com

Will you have access to a car while at Colle di Val D'Elsa?

Enjoy your visit.

ira is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 07:41 AM
  #5  
 
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Dear UNC,

Just a few thoughts which I hope will be helpful. I started travelling as a backpacker at your age about 30 years ago.

Loosen your itinerary. You have time and youth on your side. If you don't have a tight schedule, you don't have to worry about rushing off to the next place. If your staying in youth hostels or pensions you will meet some pretty interesting people that have been to many of the places you may want to visit or may introduce you to new ideas. you may open yourself up to some new experiences by making a list of places that are "must sees", structuring your trip around those destinations and then have list of "maybes". Also if the weather is lousy, you may want to linger in larger cities with lots of museums, or if your sick of travelling and want to chill on the beach you have that option.

Thse are just some thoughts based on early mistakes I made. On our first trip my friend and I had an itinerary that would put a senior citizen to shame. We were staying in nice hotels and had wonderful days PLANNED. Needless to say after the first 2 weeks, we abandoned our itinerary and started staying in youth hostels(with other kids our age), met some great people and had an amazing trip.

Have a great trip.

Last thought...better book ff tickets soon.
prhirsch is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 07:53 AM
  #6  
sjj
 
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Your trip sounds great, but I think you're going to too many places. You're going to spend a lot of time travelling that you could be spending in better ways.
Here are other suggestions: 1) check out the cell phone situation before you go. A good place to start is http://www.prepaidgsm.net/forum/; 2) check out the credit card situation, and try to find cards that don't hit you with extra charges when you pay bills in Euros; 3) be sure you have some method of getting cash when you need it; and 4) have medical insurance for your trip. Good luck!
sjj is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 08:03 AM
  #7  
 
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Sigh... Why does this sound so familiar? We started off with 8 people, eventually a few dropped off, opting for a 'less hectic, more enjoyable' plan. I like you, you sound so much like meself. Click on this thread and discover about my initiary, 6 countries, 17 days, 15 cities, 3 backpackers (sounds like some add on the amazing race).

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34929868

For the last couple of weeks I suppose you could take some tips from my trip, except lengthening it at some places (Berlin, Rome, Venice, Florence all deserves a few more days).

That leaves the first 1 week or so with the rest, Madrid or Barcelona and London and Paris. To me, Paris needs at least 3 days. We spent those 3 days in Paris really meaningfully, here was what my initiary sounded like

1. Morning in Louvre, we practically ran from one end to the other looking for important works like Mona Lisa, a few Mummies, Code of Hammurabi, etc etc. The afternoon we spent just strolling down the city. Evening, took the metro to see the infamous Moulin Rouge (didn't step in, it was too expensive!), the whole area is practically a red-light district, ladden with Red neon lights screaming sex this sex that! We quickly (there were ladies amongst us) took another metro to the arch of triumph.
Let me just say... my gosh, what a sight to behold! Then we spent the rest of the night walking down Champs D'Elysees, all the way back to the Opera House (it was 1-2 hours walk, but so worth it!)

2nd day morning was spent in Versailles, which is beautiful of course, but I felt redundant comparing to the Louvre before, so if old palaces aren't your thing, drop it.
The afternoon at Sacrecer, evening at NotreDame, night at Eiffel Tower (which you can visit at night as well, but we opted to watch the shining shimmering splendid Eiffel Tower in all its glory at night). Then a really memorable night cruise along the River Sen.
3rd day- Had the time of my life in Disneyland. Too bad it closes at 6!

Anyway, back to your initiary- best buy a railpass like we did this time, to allow travel within countries. Some far-reached places you can find really cheap budget flights (our flight from Geneva to Rome costs 30euro a piece, inclusive of tax). The rest, leave room for some sponteneity, and you'll have lots of fun.

I am just about to embark my journey in around a week's time. Going to wnjoy myself immensely, hope you have a splendid time too!
Aleckii is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 08:08 AM
  #8  
 
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Wait, in case you get confused- This year's trip involves 6 countries, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Austria. What I mentioned about Paris was in my last year's trip, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, France.
Aleckii is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 08:10 AM
  #9  
 
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I can see you sort of ran out of inspiration after the Italy leg. I'm not a south of France expert (but there are many on here so hopefully they will see your thread.)

My initial reactions are 1) Why Monaco? I would skip it entirely and add the day to either Venice or Paris (or Amsterdam). And 2) If it were me (just me personally) in France I'd concentrate on Provence, Avignon and Paris. This would let you spend a bit more time w/ less schlepping around.
janisj is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 08:13 AM
  #10  
 
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You have a pretty good plan. You can compare the cost of point-to-point train tickets vs. a pass at www.ricksteves.com or www.railsavers.com.

About the French leg of your trip. Little Provencal towns are hard to visit without a car. Aix is good; it's a university town and a great Provencal experience. Avignon I'm not so fond of -- but it is reachable by train, and has a TGV to Paris, as does Aix.

I'd add a little time to Nice, basing there because it's a good transportation center. One way of getting back into the hinterlands is to take the Train des Pignes north from Nice into the mountains. Make a day trip, stopping at Entrevaux, maybe.

Anyway you've got the bones of a very good trip. Have fun.
Mimar is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 08:38 AM
  #11  
 
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I know parts of France fairly well and have been to Provence several times, so will tell you my opnion of that. I think your itinerary now is okay and you only have a few days there, anyway. I just don't think trying to see small Provencal villages really fits into this kind of trip and you don't have much time for that, anyway. You do need a car to do that well, although you can book some bus tours from the larger cities (Avignon and Aix). YOu can take the bus to some of these places (rail won't go to the small ones), but it can eat up a lot of time doing that due to schedules.

I guess if you insist on that, you could take the bus from Avignon to St Remy, for example. I've done that, but it will pretty much eat up one whole day due to infrequent bus schedules.

I like both Aix and Avignon a lot and you can easily have fun for a couple days in both of those, so you don't have a lot of extra time. As for coastal towns -- I guess Antibes is one obvious place right on the rail line from Nice.
Christina is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 08:51 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
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Good start, guys, including cutting the group to just 3!!

Now let's try to summ up where we at:

ROME (4 days)
Siena- (3 days)
Colle di Val D'Elsa (4 days)
Florence (3 days)
Venice (3 days)
Monaco- Cote D'Azur Area (train and home base in Nice) (4 days)
Train to Aix-en Provence (explore Provence)- (4 days)
Train to Paris (4 days)
Train to Amsterdam (2 days)

TOTAL: 31 days.

Now, you certainly can write a post, but I did not read any indicators of what/why are you choosing the destinations you chose. It seems to me one of those "being there, done that" kind of trip. That's OK for your age and time in life, but you may want to give a more critical thought to the actual destinations you have chosen, i.e where is Colle di Val D'Elsa? can you daytrip from there and cut the days stays either on Florence or Venice?

I suggest you home base in Nice to explore the Cote D'Azur region. Three 18-yr. old young guys will find Nice a paradise in many way; topless sunbathing of gorgeous European girls being only one of them Seriously. Nice is such a great town with gorgeous beach areas, spend more time there.

As far as Monaco, great place to visit for a day, but you have to know where to go; the Jacques Cousteau Oceonagraphy museum is very interesting as well as the area around the Royal Palace. A good compromise with Monaco is this: spend a morning, go if good weather only.

Since you are on a budget you need to go immediately to your library and check the resources there, including the most recent copy of "Let's Go Europe" a guidebook compiled by Harvard University Students Association and the "bible" of traveling in Europe on a budget. Do not forget to bring your student' ID!

I like the fact that your "serious" sightseeing is front-loaded with the beach portion towards the end.

Best of luck, guys. This is the kind of trip that will change your mind and your life forever!! God Bless!



Viajero2 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 10:05 AM
  #13  
 
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If you are going to the south of France, check out the nude city called Cap D'Agde near the town of Agde. The TGV stops there.

Pack really light. Two pants, two shorts, six shirts, 2 shoes, 1 rubber flip flips. And a thin towel.
wally34949 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 11:14 AM
  #14  
 
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UNCBB113,
You three are going to have a great time! (Better three than eight, I can tell you that - FAR fewer arguments.) You have been doing your research (a lot more than a lot of 18-year-olds, let me tell you) and I think you are in good shape.

I spent a semester in Montpellier in college and did a lot of train/backpack travel in southern France. I would recommend taking the train to Arles (awesome Roman amphitheater!!) and then a day trip via bus to Les Baux, a spectacular hilltop village.

Have a GREAT trip!!
hausfrau is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 11:49 AM
  #15  
 
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I did my first backpacking trip when I was 18 with my best friend. Our path was similar to yours, but we had far fewer destinations. We had 5 weeks, but the last was a week in Ireland, so the timeline is similar to yours as well.

Here is what we did:
Rome - 1 week (originally planned 5 days, but extended as we loved it)
Florence - 2 days
Venice - 2 days (night train to Nice)
Nice - 5 days (vacation in a vacation - then night train to Paris)
Paris - 8 days
Ireland - 7 days
London - 4 days

Looking back, we spent too much time in Nice, but it was a nice break from all the museums/sites of the other cities.

This was one of my best trips. I loved the freedom and flexibility to change my schedule because I wanted to stay longer somewhere. When we got to Nice, many people were coming from/going to Switzerland. We were thinking of joining them, but we wanted so much time in Paris. I'm only mentioning this because you may be influenced by other travelers while you are there.

I think you should have an idea of the path you will take, book your first nights and last nights room ahead of time and play the rest by ear. You can book your next stay from your current stay so you don't need to search when you get to the new city.

We found the Youth Eurorail 3 countries 5 days to be a great deal for the travels we did. I think if you do a few long trains, it will work out in your benefit too, but verify that before you buy!

You're going to have so much fun!
christieCA is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 12:04 PM
  #16  
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Wow, everyone, thanks for the very meaningful and precise feedback! You have touched upon so many things I either had not thought of or had forgotten to mention in my post... I guess i will break this into two posts by category so the ppl trying to help with different topics don't have to read a gigantic post if they do not want to. THIS POST WILL BE ABOUT CRITERIA FOR OUR DESTINATIONS AND GAGING HOW MUCH TIME TO SPEND AT EACH DESTINATION.

CHOOSING DESTINATIONS:
Viajero2 made an excellent point that I failed to include our rationale of planning the trip the way we did, so here it goes:
We know that out of all of Europe, Italy is the country that we find most intriguing for our first visit, seems very much like a can't miss kind of experience. France became choice #2 because we have all spent about 4 days in Paris on our own and loved the experience and want to go back for more, and all three of us study French. The Italian member of our group is fluent in Italian, knows Rome, Florence, and Venice pretty well, so that also helps make Italy an easier place for us to travel through. We heard many warnings about overextending ourselves with too many destinations, so we chose 2 countries we wanted to see in greater depth and made sure that train transport was very efficient in each so we could minimize train travel. (we are aware Italian trains in general may not fit under the umbrella of "efficient" in the south especially, but our destinations it does just fine.

What we are hoping to see, our criteria: This maybe surprising, given we are teenagers, but we are pretty big on the art and history. We all have overlapping interests in the arts (2 of us love Renaissance work, 2 of us cubism, 2 of us impressionism, 2 of us baroque such as carvaggio...etc.) so we are going to hit a lot of museums. I personally am a total Papal history buff, so Vatican and Avignon are a must for me, and my fellow travelers share that interest and are into ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy. So really, in terms of our activities, that will really dominate the landscape for a lot of the trip while we are in cities. However, we are also into seeing the natural beauty of the countryside and seeing quaint small towns that have little more to offer than beauty and small historical intrigue. We love cycling, so we would love the chance to launch any long bike rides into the heart of Tuscany or Provence, if possible, but it is not a priority. So as much as want to it the cities and see the art, we like to break it up with the countryside too. I'd think we might like to do something like 2:1 city:country?

Despite our love of culture rich citiew, we also wanted a "break" so to speak, which was the reason for the Colle di Val D'elsa and southern France stops. As someone mentioned, this was actually intentionally a way to try and pace the trip, give us some rest. Some one else asked where Colle di Val D'elsa is and questioned why we are staying there: it is 15-20 minutes north of siena, 10 minutes southeast of san gimignano. Our reason for staying there is a family friend has rented a villa there, and we though it would be both a great way to take a few days to rest by their pool between Italian cities (which are going to be tremendously high paced days, or so we imagine) while also getting a taste of the countryside in Italy, not just the cities. We will have access to cars there (though we cannot rent since we are under 25, the villa renters will have them and are willing to let us use them) and we will probably have low key day trips to san gigminano and a vineyard mixed into those four days.

LENGTH OF STAY AT DESTINATIONS:
Many of you brought up the crucial question of time spent at our destinations. Obviously we need to think about this carefully, as we do not want to over extend ourselves.
Let me start by saying this: we are not going to be the "sleep in late and lose half a morning teenagers" on this trip. We may be out at night, but not excessively and not to the point where it will affect our ability to experience the cit he following morning. We enjoy siteseeing/exploring the city from 7am-10pm, and I think we are pretty darn efficient, too.

FRANCE:
That being said, let me adress the issues with the France leg of trip since I have less conviction in our planning for that part. I am hearing from some of you that abbreviating the Cote D'Azur in favor of the cities seems like a good use of time. For us, the Coted'azur was a way to take the pace of the trip a notch down, see s nice couple of beach towns between cities. Here is what I need all of you to weigh in on - compared to the other parts of this trip, is the Cote d'azur worth minimizing for the sake of other places, say Paris and Amsterdam? The reason we chose Monaco is we thought it might be a visually remarkable destination. We were expecting that in a relaxed pace day, we could see it, get a feel, and simply admire its beauty. But, is it not remarkable enough to merit a day on this trip?
Another note: When I said Monaco, maybe St Tropez, (or Antibes as one person here mentioned) I was envisioning them as day trips based out of Nice.
In Cassis, we thought it might be a nice stop to see a cute fishing village representative of those found along the southern French coast with the added benefit of the Calanques, since we do like outdoors activities even though we are not seasoned rock climbers. But again, this is just us speculating, and we have never been to these places. If you think any of these reasons are misguided or that any of these places are not as special as we are supposing them to be, let us know, and we will change it.

NOTE ON NUDE SUNBATHERS: We are 2 guys and one girl... but who knows, maybe we should ask her if she minds? hahaha

ITALY:
I have yet to receive any notes on Rome being overly rushed, 1 note about Florence being too quick and a few about Venice meriting an extra day. I think the best way to really do this is to break down what we plan to do in each city in another post and then receive feedback on that, so here we go....

And thank you to everyone! keep your advise coming, I'll address everyone's critique and advice eventually! I value all of it!
UNCBB113 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 12:13 PM
  #17  
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SPECIFIC RESPONSE TO christieCA:

It's great to hear from someone with such a closely matching schedule.

We have been warned about being influenced by other travelers, and we will take that into account. We will heed your suggestion to book the front and back of the trip and then leave flexibility in between. We will also adopt your suggestion to book from the previous destination - we do not want to spend our time in Europe hunting for a room if we can help it, haha.

I am curious as to how you spent the week in Rome, in terms of how much you saw each day - we were considering adding a day.

We also would add more time in Paris, but we have all seen it before, and we are really hoping to get around to new stuff. We were thinking of redoing our highlights from the first time we went there - any thoughts on attempting that versus trying to resee the entire city? We were a bit torn about this...

And finally, do you think 4 days along the cote d'azur would be too long? you thought was to long - what number would you have preferred? s much as we are a fan of the vacation in a vacation idea,too, we'd like to know if the actual experience of it is worthwhile or if you feel as though the time would be better spent heading to the next big city. Thanks for your guidance, we're lucky to have someone with such a similar experience to the one we have planned!
UNCBB113 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 12:23 PM
  #18  
 
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Re note on nude sunbathers. I remember a few years ago when I was getting ready to move to the UK for a sabbatical with my boyfriend and we were planning a trip to southern France for some R&R. I said to him and the Belgian professors to whom he's just rented his house, "I'm worried about having to wear a bathing suit in public." (i.e. I didn't feel comfortable with so little clothing on - I'm not a teenager anymore). The Belgian guy said, drily (and with deliberate misunderstanding, I think), "Oh, you won't have to worry about that." (Great, now I feel much better).
Kate_W is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 12:27 PM
  #19  
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THIS POST IS A BREAKDOWN OF HOW WE PLAN TO ALLOT OUR TIME IN FLORENCE AND VENICE IN AN ATTEMPT TO EVALUATE WHETHER WE NEED TO MODIFY THE PLANNED LENGTH OF STAY:

Uffizi Gallery/Academia (we will reserve tickets in advance) the rest of that day will probably be spent walking around the city, just stopping at whatever minor things strike our fancy. We thought maybe the afternoon could fit in Santa Croce and the Duomo, if not that gets pushed back to the last day.
Last day, we are thinking of seeing whatever major churches we have not seen yet, possibly seeing the Borgetto museum, and then just exploring whatever little alcoves of the city we happen to find will strolling the city.
Are we wrong in thinking this will be a moderately paced view of the city (besides the art intense segment in the museums)?


VENICE:
Things we know we want to see:
Rialto markets EARLY in the morning
San Marco piazza
Doge's palace
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Academia del Arte
Guggenheim

The rest we think might be spent just wandering the city, admiring how unique it is. Undoubtedly while we explore we will find some churches that will strike our interest.

We though one day we could catch the Rialto market really early, see San Rocco as we meander down towards Dorsoduro, then see the Academia and Guggenheim back to back with lunch somewhere in the mix. Rest of the day wold probably be spent exploring the area back to Rialto only by an alternate route, since we will be based near Rialto.
The next day will be San Marco, the church and the palace there, and then exploration of that side of the grand canal for the rest of the day.
We then have another half day to just walk around the city.
Please tell me if we are missing some really great experiences here, as this is the Italian city we do not know as well. Are the day trips to Burano/Murano really worth it? and please tell us why if you think so - we don't have the faintest idea (besides maybe glass blowing in Murano??)

Any help on the time needed (or attractions to add) for these two places will be immensely appreciated!)
UNCBB113 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2007, 12:42 PM
  #20  
 
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IMHO Burano/Murano aren't worth it for a short trip - unless you have a special interest in glass or lace, I suppose. I'd sugest you go to Torcello in preference as you like churches - that has the original cathedral.

I hope you have a wonderful trip.
Nonconformist is offline  

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