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Trip report. Germany, Belgium, France, and Italy in 2 weeks during Easter. Am I nuts?!?!?

Trip report. Germany, Belgium, France, and Italy in 2 weeks during Easter. Am I nuts?!?!?

Apr 13th, 2007, 01:38 AM
  #1  
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Trip report. Germany, Belgium, France, and Italy in 2 weeks during Easter. Am I nuts?!?!?

As it turns out, not at all. This trip was planned as my daughters graduation present. She gave me an idea of where she wanted to go, and left it up to me to make plans, as long as we were able to work those places into the mix. I was working with a total budget of $3,500, and a 15 day time frame in late March through the 11th of April.

I started out with a jam packed itinerary, but was dissuaded by the many helpful folks on Fodor's. What we actually ended up doing was a quick and dirty version of that itinerary, and it worked for us.

One of the most important lessons I learned during this trip is that you have to travel the way that is right for YOU, not the way some people believe it should be done. It is YOUR trip, do it the way you want, but listen to the seasoned travelers for invaluable advice. I made a few mistakes along the way, but with out help from you Fodorites, I never would have gotten there at all.

Another important lesson I learned is to learn to relax and adapt as you need to. I am going to admit, a total type A traveling through Europe with another type A and a type A+++ teenager was not easy. This trip report is going to open up a can of worms for people traveling with teenagers, but I really learned from this trip, and I know my daughter will remember it forever.

My goal is to post throughout the day today, going from start to finish either by day or by city. As it is 2:40 here on the west coast, I am going to post this now and get to the rest later today. I hope you can find something interesting in this report. Feel free to ask questions, I have loads of notes.

Direct flight out of PDX to Frankfurt. Tickets purchased on a one day sale direct from Lufthansa website for $464.00 each Economy seats not extremely comfortable, but we managed the 10 hr flight fairly well. FA's extremely pleasant and food and drinks acceptable.

Landed in Frankfurt around 10:30. We gathered our bags and had no trouble navigating the airport and making our way to the DB desk for train tickets.

Our agent was not exceptionally helpful, he could not find Braubach on his computer, and flat out told me that there was no such town. He pulled out a map, but refused to let me point out the place. After I told him exactly where to look, he did find it and was able to get us tickets from Frankfurt to Braubach, and from Braubach to Brussels via Koln.

The tickets to Braubach were exceptionally cheap, something like 3 EU each. The tickets from Braubach to Brussels were reasonable as well, around 36 EU, which included the ICE train Koln to Brussels.

The train ride was very nice, many castles to be seen up in the hills and along the Rhine.

We got to Braubach and the town was deserted, A bit unsettling, but we made it to our B&B, the Weinhaus Wieghardt, about a 5 minute stroll from the train station through charming streets. The owner, Ellen, is a very nice woman who showed us to our rooms, which are across the street from the restaurant. We had a double room for 58 Euro and for a single one for 35 Euro, including all taxes and a great breakfast. These rooms were in an area that was accessed through a main security door, both rooms opened on to each other from a small vestibule and were the only rooms in that vestibule. We left the doors open between the rooms. I would definitely stay here again, the rooms were very comfortable and the price was excellent.

We took a stroll through town and came upon a gentleman painting the sign outside his restaurant. He motioned us to go in. It did not appear that the restaurant was open, but his wife was happy to serve us a great lunch of sausage and salad. I have to admit that I cannot remember the name of the place, so it is all in vain that I mention this to you all. It's sad, the best salad I have ever had and I can't remember where I had it!!

The owners of the place spoke very little English, and our German was not the best, but they did understand that we would like for them to call us a taxi to take us up the hill to Marksburg Castle. We were too pooped for the uphill climb. The taxi ride was 8 Euro.

Marksburg Castle is worth the trip to the top of the hill. We took a great tour that was led in both English and German, we were in a mixed group, so the tour guide gave the tour in both languages. The day was beautiful and sunny, so we decided to attempt the walk back down into town. Very easy stroll, and the views were stunning. I took many pictures in and around Braubach, and the pictures above the town looking down along the river are some of my favorites.

We strolled around town some more, and by 4PM, there seemed to be a few more people around, but I think they were 90% locals. By 5PM, we were starved and starting to suffer the effects of jet-lag, so we went back to the B&B and ate dinner in the restaurant. The food was excellent, the place was full of locals who appeared to be having a church meeting of sorts.

We were introduced to the regions Trocken wine that night and I am addicted. It means the German word for dry We had a bit at dinner, then went across the street to the Golden Key. The sign is in German, but if you go, you will figure it out. Big giant key hanging on the outside. Had two different glasses of wine there, the Trocken by far the most impressive. I think they charged us less than 2 Euros a glass, and sent us back to our rooms with a bottle for around 8 Euros. Amazing when a glass at our local wine bar here in town is 8 bucks.

We finally succumbed to our jet-lag around 10PM and had a wonderful nights sleep. Pretty nice day for our first ever trip to Europe.
threerohdes is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 03:55 AM
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Threerohdes - I look forward to reading the rest of your trip report. We'll be spending time in Germany this October, so keep it coming... Peace, Robyn >-
artstuff is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 04:03 AM
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I am looking forward to the can of worms being opened! You've piqued my curiousity!
skatedancer is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 04:18 AM
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More and more curious about what promises to be an action-packed report.
ellenem is online now  
Apr 13th, 2007, 08:56 AM
  #5  
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Slept well our first night in Germany, excited to get on with our 2nd day and do some more exploring. We went across the street to the B&B restaurant to have our breakfast, thoughtfully prepared for us by the owners husband. He spoke no English, but was happy to help us in any way he could. My daughter seemed to have the best grasp on her German, so she did most of the talking.

The breakfast consisted of soft boiled eggs, assorted meats, cheeses and rolls with jam and honey. We had our choice of coffee or tea, fresh juice and I am sure some other stuff that I have already forgotten. It was the perfect start to our day.

We took another walk around town, stopping in stores and browsing the aisles for interesting German products. I always love doing that, call me weird.

On the corner of one of the main streets through town is a small jewelry store called Gerken. We stopped in and purchased several items, including a silver bands for my ring finger, as I had left my engagement ring at home for fear of theft. My daughter purchased a stunning necklace that she had seen in the window the night before, and I purchased my eldest daughter a ring with her birthstone in it, as I had missed both her and my youngest grandsons birthday the week before. I also purchased some charms for friends. The prices were extremely reasonable and the merchandise was very nice for the price. The owner and his wife did not speak English, but we made it through the transaction just fine. If you make an effort at their language, we found that people respond to you very warmly.

We went back to the B&B and checked out in the early afternoon so we could catch our train to Koln and then on to Brussels. For a woman who has never had the need to take public transportation, I did pretty good figuring out the train schedules, the tracks, and the transfers. Never done that before, have to admit it was fairly easy and I felt pretty proud of myself.

We grabbed some snacks at the station in Koln and waited for our ICE train to Brussels. Again the weather was incredible, we were so lucky. Our train to Brussels was very nice and comfortable. We had a light lunch from the bistro car, and enjoyed the ride.


Next up, the horror of Brussels...
threerohdes is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 09:15 AM
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hi, three-

I'm really enjoying this report. WE love german wines too [though i prefer them slightly off-dry] but have to order through a wineclub usually to get anything decent. your stay in Braubach sounds great - how did you find out about it in the first place?

looking forward to the next horrifying installment. [do i have to hide behind the sofa?]

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 09:21 AM
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The horror of Brussels? Good grief, I hope you hurry on your next installment. I'm also really impressed you did this trip for $3500--did I read that correctly?
Leely is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 09:44 AM
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Ann,

Larryincolorado suggested the B&B and he was spot on. You can get more info by looking at the website braubach.de

Leely,

yep, you got it, entire trip for $3,500. The frugality of a single parent really pays off here, and we did not feel deprived in any way.
threerohdes is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 09:55 AM
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Brussels MIDI.

Interesting... What a nightmare, we must have arrived at rush hour, as the station was packed. It was confusing compared to the relatively small stations we had experienced earlier. Needed to hit a cash machine. When we finally found one, possibly the ONLY one, it was outside the terminal in an area filled with homeless people and vagrants. And the line was 20 deep. Guess I would wait to get cash.

We had intended on taking the Metro to our hotel, as the hotel manager described the stop as being just steps to the hotel. The station was chaos, we were having a hard time navigating, so just decide to grab a cab...

That was our first mistake. We found a cab easily once we figured out where to go, and headed out into the morass. Oh my...Brussels traffic from the train station at rush hour is incredibly insane. I live in a large metro area in the Pacific Northwest, but nothing had ever prepared me for the driving done by the buses, taxis, and personal cars in this area. People make their own rules, make their own lanes, drive with their hands on the horn, and come within centimeters from hitting the cars in front of them, beside them and stopping quickly to cause the cars in back of them to hit them.

The area from MIDI station to our hotel was unlike nothing I had ever seen. All of these beautiful historic buildings, covered in trash and graffiti. I was simply appalled, I clearly had not done my research here. We noticed the area was heavily ethnic, perhaps Moroccan, but we are used to immigrants and citizens of different cultures. I was raised in an area that was 80% immigrants, some legal, some not. Just a daily part of our lives, but nothing like this.

We were quickly zipping through the traffic when our taxi driver hit a small boy. Slammed into him so hard the child lost his shoe. It was the most sickening thud I had ever heard in my life. We were looking straight at the boy, my daughter being the closest. My heart stopped, and my daughter was speechless. The boy screamed and pulled himself up and hobbled over to a man on the side of the street. He was wailing at the top of his lungs and a crowd of men quickly gathered. Our driver got out of the cab to go talk to the bystanders.

This is where it really got scary. Our taxi driver was clearly arguing with the men, and more and more men came streaming out of the surrounding restaurants and businesses. I would estimate the crowd to be around 50 or more. Strangely, there were no women around, and the one woman I did see was dressed in traditional garb and hurried across the street as fast as she could with her head down and face covered.

After what seemed like an eternity, a man from the crowd came over to talk to us. He spoke no English, but it was clear he was attempting to tell us what was going on. Meanwhile, this poor little boy is screaming, and the crowd is looking at us with expressions that I can't really place. Maybe it was just our fear, but I felt extremely uncomfortable, and my daughter was in total shock. Just white, motionless.

Our driver got back into the cab and attempted to leave, but men came to the door and argued fiercely with him as he tried to tell them he would return as soon as he took us to our hotel. We asked him to please just call us another cab. After a while, when it was clear that he would not be allowed to leave, he did call us another taxi. We transferred our belongings and went on our way to the hotel, the
Hotel A La Grande Cloche. As it turns out, this was probably another mistake, but we rolled with it the best we could

The driver took us a total of 1/2 mile, asked us to pay him what I thought it was worth. I started to take out a 1 Euro coin, then he said the cost would be 5 Euros. We just paid him and left. Normally, I would have told him where to put the 5 Euros, but my daughter was really really shook up and scared.

As far as budget hotels go, the Hotel A La Grande Cloche was okay. We paid 90 Euros for a triple room with breakfast and taxes included. The had 3 computers in the lobby, and comfortable seating if you just want a place to relax.

Our room was tiny, wasn't really enough room for us, but the bathroom was huge and could have easily functioned for a family of three, with separate areas for doing your makeup, shaving, and showering. Too bad we needed our privacy, or we could have been out of there quicker in the morning!

We ran into a Canadian gentleman in the lobby, Bruce. Bruce was a chef/restaurant owner in Mexico, and was in town for a chef meeting of sorts. I suspect it was a big deal, but really didn't care at that point. Bruce was very friendly with the hotel manager, and took us under his wing to help us adjust to the city after our shock.

He showed us a little bar, just a bit in front of the hotel where he bought us a much needed drink and proceeded to tell us most of his life story. He was entertaining and obviously was a good guy and had made many friends in the short amount of time he was in Brussels. Either that, or he was famous, and we just didn't have a clue. Hmmmmm...he did mention he had a cooking series now that I think about it.

Bruce led us to a very nice bar in an expensive hotel not far from our hotel. He introduced us to the barman, Kevin, and told him to take care of us if we came back. Then he took us to a 24 hr restaurant called Aca. Interesting place, but food was good and prices extremely fair. Turns out as Bruce left, he made arrangements with the owners to buy us dessert. Awesome dark chocolate mousse.

Stopped back at bar to talk to Kevin, had a goodnight drink and headed back to hotel around midnight. It seems that this area of town was not quite as scary as the area in front of hotel, and the area we were now in, the backside of hotel, leads to the tourist district. We never made it there, we were just wanting to get out of Brussels.

We caught our Thalys train to CDG after a very good breakfast in the hotel restaurant in the morning. We managed to score these tickets online for a mere 15 Euros apiece. What an incredible bargain!

As a side note, morning hotel manager extremely unhelpful and vague. Directed us to the Metro station "just walk over in that direction and you will see it" We did get there, but man, could have used just a little help here. Very nice local woman saw our confusion, purchased our tickets for us and directed us to the correct platform.

We were glad to get out of there. Just to be fair, I am sure had we been there under a different set of circumstances with more research on my part, we would have like Brussels better.

Next up, 4 days in Paris...
threerohdes is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 09:58 AM
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Enjoying your trip report so far. I'll be interested in reading more; I've traveled in Europe several times with my teenaged daughters (together and separately) and have definitely learned their quirks! We've had trips where we've covered some ground, but maybe not as much as you all did.
noe847 is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 10:10 AM
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I think when you were asking on Fodors earlier about Brussels hotels, you were warned by a Brussels resident (not me) that the hotel you picked was not in the best neighborhood and that you probably would be happier with a different neighborhood. Although you were not right by Midi, I would never recommend staying by that station or in parts of St. Gilles, Forest, Madou (not the Madou in the Woluwes, the other one) and a few other places.

Traffic around Midi has always been a madhouse. DH deals drives to and from there every week, it can be exciting, that's for sure. Actually, driving in several parts of Brussels offer similar "stimulation" but you do get used to it.
BTilke is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 10:14 AM
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Yep, I was warned, but just didn't listen. Definitely one of my biggest mistakes on this trip
threerohdes is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 10:14 AM
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Brussels is an amazing city -- one of the ugliest in Europe in most places, but so friendly. Also a few absolute gems to see like the Grand'Place or even the Atomium (now that it has been renovated). However, I certainly understand that everything went wrong for you there.
kerouac is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 11:20 AM
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"We caught our Thalys train to CDG after a very good breakfast in the hotel restaurant in the morning. We managed to score these tickets online for a mere 15 Euros apiece. What an incredible bargain!"

Can you give me more information on how you happened upon this incredible bargain? Thanks, Robyn >-
artstuff is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 11:21 AM
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Robyn,

It was from the Thalys website, was a limited time offer and we jumped!!
threerohdes is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 11:22 AM
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Ahhhhh, Paris in April...

Thalys ride into CDG, uneventful. Dropped friend off at Air France counter and went off to find the RoisseyBus. Found a cash machine, then found the bus with no problems. Daughter and I very excited to be in Paris! It was one of her "must sees".

Due to the encouragement of Robespierre, we decided to try public transportation instead of a cab, good thing since we had such a traumatic experience in Belgium. Bus was 8.50 Euro to Opera. Not a bad trip, but bus was very full. Daughter has never ridden public transportation before, so she is a bit weirded out with the crush. I am feeling confident, as I did research this transport option, and I thought I had a good handle on it. I was also buoyed by our train success in Germany.

We got off at the opera stop. No problem. Where is the Metro? We see the construction sites, the gorgeous buildings, but no Metro. We ask directions after standing there for a few minutes while I try to look at my map and get my bearing. We definitely stood out like lost tourists!! I asked directions from one of the many busy passers by, and she directs us to a stop down the street. Cool, I think, I can do this, it is a straight shot to the Rue Cler, my daughter will be so impressed. NOT...

We get into the station, it turns out it isn't the Opera station, it is the Auber station, and the kind gentleman behind the info counter is trying to tell us that, basically, you can't get there from here. You have to go to Richelieu, first, then get on the right line from there. This is not rocket science people, but why in the hell can't I figure this out??

I will admit, as I have been admitting this entire trip report, that my experience with buses, trains, trams and subways has been very, very limited. I can get you around the finer details of GAAP accounting, but can't find my way around a freaking subway system. Mom is getting stressed, because daughter is getting stressed. She is tired, a bit freaked out with being in a totally unfamiliar place, and she is frustrated that mom, who has taken care of her with incredible aplomb her entire almost 18 years. She simply cannot fathom that incredi-mom isn't figuring it out.

Damn, what have I gotten us into here? I bail, decide to try a taxi again, much to my daughters dismay. What else can I do? She is pissed, I am pissed at her for being pissed, and we both just want to get to our hotel.

Back out of the station, look for taxi stop. It's raining now, traffic is heavy, and daughters frustration is really getting to her. Jeeze, she needs to get a handle on herself and just GROW UP. No taxis, but we do find the taxi stand. We wait in the drizzle. Not so bad, I am sure a taxi will come along soon. We wait some more. No taxis. I ask a gentleman who is unloading a van near us if this what we do to find a taxi, he speaks no English, except to say "I Love You". I am flattered, but no time for liaisons now, I gotta find a flipping taxi!

Another couple of women ask us if this is where they can find a taxi. I tell them that the sign certainly appears to say taxi, but we have not yet seen one. I tell my daughter to wait here, and I slip around the corner to take a look at that area, maybe a busier street will have more taxis. No love, so I come back to my daughter, who is currently working herself up into a tizzy, as a taxi has just pulled up, and the two women pounce on it and are safely out of the rain. Of course, as you may already have guessed, this is my fault.

Daughter suggests we move down the street where there are a few hotels, maybe we can find a taxi there. Good idea, makes sense to me. Hike a few blocks down the street. We see TAXIS!!! Woo Hoo!! We get there, no taxis. It as though we were possibly seeing them in an alternate universe. Still raining, still getting the serious evil eye from the daughter, still no taxis. I go inside on of the very nice hotels on the street, ask if they can get me a taxi. Hotel clerk tells me that when it rains, it is very hard to find one and my chances of catching an empty one of the street is pretty much nil. Can you call one for me? I ask... Sure, he says, it will take about 10 to 15 minutes. What is your room number? I tell him I am not staying in the hotel. He sniffs and tells me he cannot help me.

I had a nice adjective for him, but kept it entirely to myself. I was pretty proud of my restraint. Finally, what do we see? A TAXI!! I practically pull the passengers out as they drive up, tell the driver to PLEASE take us to 7, rue du Champ de Mars.


Ride was a bargain at 11 Euros, I would happily have paid 4 times that to get my daughter off my back.

Hotel Champ de mars next...
threerohdes is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 11:28 AM
  #17  
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Robyn,

This was the offer

http://tinyurl.com/2p8eyu
threerohdes is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 11:34 AM
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At the moment, the SNCF site has the same sort of offer for the TGV-Est, valid all through summer but must be bought soon! 10€ for Paris-Reims, 15€ for Metz, Nancy, Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Basel, etc. 20€ for Zürich, so forth and so on. When these offers come out, you have to make up your mind very fast!
kerouac is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 11:40 AM
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Shame you had such an unpleasant experience in Brussels. It must have been pretty traumatic to be involved in an accident like that.
However, I do hope you'll return one day and give the city another try (and stay somewhere else ), as it has so many lovely areas, some great museums, wonderful restaurants, beautiful art nouveau buildings and as Kerouac says, friendly people (and yes its fair share of hideous architecture)! Not to mention the great beer, frites and chocolate
hanl is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 12:27 PM
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I better get a little work done now, but I will update a more in a bit
threerohdes is offline  

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