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Trip report: London, Paris, Oberwesel, Rothenburg, Munich, Venice, and Rome

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Aug 25th, 2003, 01:57 PM
  #1
hla
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Trip report: London, Paris, Oberwesel, Rothenburg, Munich, Venice, and Rome

Like so many before, I want to thank everyone for the helpful information on this board. I'll try to limit details to what hopefully may be helpful to other novices.

LONDON: Arranged for airport pick up through london-transfers. No problems, the driver was right where the email confirmation said he would be. He helped us with our bags to the garage and drove us to our hotel in a mini van. The drive took over an hour, so I think the set price, coupled with the convenience, was worthwhile.

Stayed at the Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel (2 double beds, 114 pounds including breakfast, govt rate). Very nice hotel, good a/c, right next to a tube stop, near the British Museum and some of the theatres.

We got to Westminster Abbey just after 3 pm, too late to get a guided tour or even an audioguide. We felt as if we didn't do the place justice on our own. We did, however, catch the last guided tour of Parliament. (Apparently available only in August.) They took us into both the House of Commons and the House of Lords as well as other beautiful and interesting rooms. They explained their system of government and its history. Definitely worthwhile.

Got to the Tower of London 15 minutes before it opened. Virtually no lines at all to get tickets. Went directly to the crown jewels and had the place to ourselves. Then we went back to the entrance and joined a beefeater's tour. Worked out really well.

Found the Museum of London to NOT be worthwhile.

Visited Hampton Court Palace on the hottest day in recorded UK's history and therefore did not get to enjoy its grounds much. Train is very easy; the station is right over a short bridge from the palace. Got the audioguide but wished we took the guided tour instead. The audioguide tended to get confusing as we skipped from section to section of the palace.

Took the tube everywhere. Very hot but easy to use and gets you to within walking distance of almost every tourist site. If you have any questions regarding buying tickets, you can always go to the manned ticket windows.

Took the Eurostar to Paris. Bought our tickets from home off its website. 77 pounds per person, second class, round trip, which was cheaper than one-way. Picked up the tickets at Waterloo station at time of departure, no problem. Seats are 2 across, facing one direction, with the exception of a few that face each other. Had I known, I might have reserved by telephone and requested these seats for my family of 4, but no big deal. Second class was comfortable for the 3 hour trip, and the a/c was fine. Next stop, Paris.
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Aug 25th, 2003, 02:02 PM
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Looking forward to more hla!
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Aug 25th, 2003, 02:54 PM
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hla
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PARIS: Stayed at Le Meridien Montparnasse (2 double beds, 187 euros Le Meridien special, stay 4 nights, get one free.) During the heat wave, our room's a/c could not keep up with the afternoon sun. We requested a change in rooms and got moved to the other side of the building with the morning sun (and a view of Invalides and Notre Dame.) What a difference! Had read where some of the hotel's rooms were unrenovated. (Both of) ours were fine. Not super luxurious, but comfortable by American standards.

Walking around Paris, we saw other districts that were of course more charming and closer to tourist sites than Montparnasse. But Montparnasse did have a lot of inexpensive brasseries and creperies, which were just a short walk from the hotel in the heat.

We used the metro a lot. No problems or pickpockets. Again, if you have any questions, just ask the people in the information or ticket booths.

Got to Notre Dame shortly after opening. A line was just starting outside to walk up to the bell tower. The cathedral itself was almost empty and therefore that much more beautiful. The atmosphere changed as the crowds began to arrive.

On another day, we got to the Eiffel Tower a few minutes before it opened. The line for the elevator was relatively short, and once it opened, it moved quickly. Pretty spectacular. Afterwards, we walked to the open market on Rue Cler and got some lunch. A great way to spend a day.

We saw most of the other sites in Paris but don't have any words of wisdom on how best to visit them. Except for the D'Orsay in the late afternoon being relatively empty, the rest were crowded and hot as expected.

At the end of our stay in Paris, we rented a car from Hertz right next to the Le Meridien and drove to Germany. We had printed out directions from Mapquest, Maporama, and Michelin. We found Mapquest to be the most accurate and easiest to follow. The road signs were just as stated on the directions. Maporama was definitely the worst, confusing and sometimes out and out wrong. Except for getting on the peripherique going in the wrong direction (thanks to Maporama), driving out of Paris was not difficult. We easily turned ourselves around and were off.

Next stop, Oberwesel.
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Aug 25th, 2003, 03:00 PM
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hla
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One correction, our Eurostar tickets cost 77 euros per person, not pounds.
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Aug 25th, 2003, 03:20 PM
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hla
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OBERWESEL: Stayed at the Castle Shoenburg (240 euros including breakfast). Got room 13, which had a four poster bed (its dark red canopy scared the kids a little), a day bed, and a rollaway. The room had 2 lead paned windows with window seats (very castle-like). Best of all, it had a good size balcony overlooking the Rhine river. The balcony is attached to one of the castle's turrets, with a table and chairs for 4, and 2 chaise lounge chairs. Some of the other balconies I could see from the outside looked small (standing room only). My family sat and had drinks on the balcony before dinner. What a gorgeous view.

Dinner at the castle was as good as everyone says; and the setting was magical. I had read a post about the noise from the trains at this hotel. It's definitely noticeable, but either the trains stop running around 11 pm, or we all fell asleep despite the noise. Although the day started out hot, during dinner, it cooled down considerably, and at night, it was down right chilly.

The towns along the Rhine are adorable, and it was fun to spot the castles as we drove along the Rhine. We ferried our car across the river, which was easy and inexpensive. The ferry virtually turns itself around, and you're on the other side. We took a tour of the Marksburg castle, which was very interesting. English tours were readily available.

Next stop, Rothenburg.
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Aug 26th, 2003, 09:43 AM
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hla
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ROTHENBURG: Stayed at the Burg Hotel (190 euros including breakfast). Stayed in room 2, the blue suite pictured on the website. It's on the first floor, so there are no views, except for the city walls. But you are facing the valley, if you go outside and look over the wall. It was large, with a separate living room that included a piano. Very friendly owners. The only problem (and not the hotel's fault of course) was the heat. I don't know if this is true of all summers in Rothenburg, but it was very buggy. Bees and flies swarmed around you if you were eating or drinking anything. The bugs came into the room as well, including a good size spider, a large cricket, and several moths and flies. It never cooled down, even at night. We decided to return to Rothenburg only in cold weather.

We ate dinner at Reichs Kuchenmeister (forgive any spelling errors). The food was very good. As everyone else, we can recommend the Nightwatchman's tour, the criminal museum, and shopping at the Christmas stores. The town is probably the cutest I've ever seen, and I've love to go back (in better weather).

During our trip, we drove the Romantic Road from Rothenburg to Neuschwanstein. Except for having to overtake a few slow trucks, the traffic was fine. The best (and worthwhile?) scenery was going south from Peiting, which is pretty far south on the road. Once you get into view of the Alps, however, it's gorgeous.

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Aug 26th, 2003, 09:54 AM
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Keep it coming, hla.
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Aug 26th, 2003, 10:50 AM
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hla
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MUNICH: Stayed at the Munich Marriott (87 euros including breakfast, Marriott website special, 2 double beds, good a/c). Typical Marriott room, but this was somewhat welcomed after our stay in small towns (with no a/c). We knew this was not in the center of Munich, but the metro is close by, and the rides are very short. The Munich metro looks new, it's clean, easy to use and on the honor system. No place to slip in your tickets. Amazing.

I can highly recommend the tour to Dachau that meets at the train station. I believe it's called Munich Walks? Your guide escorts you on the train and then the bus to the memorial. Then he proceeds to give an amazing tour. It's absolutely true that you won't get an accurate feel for the camp just looking on your own. It is a memorial after all. By the end of the tour, when you're reading the words "Never Again," your emotions are high, to say the least.

On another note, we sort of ate our way through Munich. I know they're touristy, but I can recommend the Ratskeller, Seehaus beer garden, and the other beer garden in the Englischer Garden that looks like a Chinese pagoda. Seehaus was our favorite, as it borders a picturesque lake, and the food was better and cheaper than the other beer garden.

Just a note for those driving into Munich, we had trouble the two times we did. Just make sure you get detailed directions, and rush hour traffic is as brutal as in other cities.

After our stay in Munich, we trained to Venice. Although most people suggest buying your tickets in Europe, in this case, we tried to purchase our tickets 3 days in advance, and first class non-smoking was sold out. That left second class on an EC train. The seats were comprised of 6 in an enclosed compartment, 3 facing each other. It was hot, dirty, and crowded. I don't know how much better first class was, but I would have been willing to pay the difference to find out. The only luggage storage was on racks above the seats. Because the other 2 in our compartment got there first, there wasn't enough room for our 4 suitcases. FYI, the racks held our 26" suitcase, the rest of our suitcases were 22", but I could not have lifted them if my husband hadn't been there. It was a somewhat uncomfortable 7 hours, but live and learn.

Next stop, Venice.

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Aug 27th, 2003, 07:29 AM
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I am surprised that more people do not use the Munich Marriott. They often offer these super rates and it is a very nice hotel in a quiet area. As you said, not in center of city, but easy access to all. Did you visit the good little bakery just down the street on the corner by the U-Bahn station? They have the best pastries for breakfast.
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Aug 27th, 2003, 12:57 PM
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hla
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Curt-We too enjoyed the Munich Marriott very much, especially at the price. We passed that bakery everyday on the way to the metro, but since breakfast was included at the hotel, we were never hungry in the mornings. Then, by the time we returned in the afternoons, the bakery was always closed. Shucks!

VENICE: Stayed at the Palazzo Schiavoni (Castello district, 2 bedroom apt., 185 euros). This was a delightful hotel. It consists of hotel rooms and apts. The apts. are cleaned daily and given new towels just like a hotel. They include kitchens stocked with orange juice, milk, coffee you make yourself, and fresh rolls and pastries are left at your door every morning. Seems pretty new. The a/c was strong in all of the rooms, but couldn't quite reach the second bedroom well enough. My kids didn't seem to mind. Each bedroom had a queen size bed. The living room contained only a dining table and 4 chairs. The bathroom was large (except a small shower stall), and was modern and clean. All in all, a great deal. The hotel was about a 15 minute walk to St. Mark's Square and 5 minutes to Riva Schiavoni. The walk from the vaparetto stop, however, with luggage, requires going over a couple of bridges.

My only complaint was when I had made my room reservation several weeks before our arrival, I had asked the hotel to make a reservation for the English speaking Secret Itinerary tour of the Doge's Palace. They e-mailed back saying no problem. But when we arrived, they had failed to do so. By then, the Secret Itinerary tour was sold out for the duration of our stay, and no regular English tours were being offered either. We had to do the Doge's Palace with just an audioguide. It was so hot inside, my children wanted to skip a few rooms, but the audioguide doesn't accommodate stopping and moving forward to a different location in the palace.

The hotel is in a quiet neighborhood, and our front-facing room looked over a canal. As we walked between St. Marks and the Rialto, I decided that I was glad we were staying in a hotel away from this area.

Venice was very hot and crowded, but the canals did not smell. I had been to Venice before in cooler weather, and I have to say, the heat did detract a bit from the city's ambience. Nevertheless, it's still a great city.

Next stop, Rome.
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Aug 28th, 2003, 05:08 AM
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Still enjoying your report, hla. Sounds like you got a great deal on your apartment in Venice.
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Aug 28th, 2003, 06:32 AM
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ira
 
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Hi hla,

Great report. Did you have any of the family sized pretzels at the beer gardens in Munich?

Other than being cramped, crowded and hot, what did you think of the train ride over the mountains to Venice?
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Aug 28th, 2003, 10:16 AM
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hla
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Ira-Those pretzels and beer were great on a cool Munich evening. Somehow I must have missed the best part of the scenery training from Munich to Venice. The 2 other people in our compartment had the window seats, and I felt a little inhibited about staring in their direction out the window the entire trip. Silly.

One more tip for Venice. I had read here to get on the Vaparetto going left from the train station to go down the grand canal. I forgot, and a worker there told us to get on No. 82 going right to get to San Zaccaria. (Actually, you can get any number of Vaporetto to get St. Marks/San Zaccaria, but I guess nos. 1 or 82 are the ones to take you on the grand canal.) Anyway, we missed the grand and scenic entrance into Venice. So just remember, go left.

ROME: Stayed at the Residence Barberini (230 euros, including breakfast for 2, one queen bed, one double sofabed, one rollaway). Right off the Piazza Barberini, with a metro and taxi stand. The sofabeds are uncomfortable, even for children. Consisted of a bedroom, separate living room with the extra beds, a very nice modern bathroom (great water pressure in the shower), and a small kitchen. If breakfast had not been included, it would not have been worth the supposed extra 15 euro. The suite also had a computer in it, and Internet access cost just 21 cents everytime you logged on, regardless of how long you stayed on. Local calls also cost just 21 cents.

Again, the first suite's a/c just wasn't cooling the room off well enough. They moved us to another suite, where the a/c worked fine. In fact, they showed us 2 other suites and gave us our choice. Just goes to show you, no harm in asking.

Visited the Cappuchin Crypt, which is just steps away from the hotel on Via Veneto. I found it difficult to look at, but my family was amused.

Went on 2 walking tours with Enjoyrome. The ancient Rome tour covers a lot of area in 3 hours--Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona. Consequently, it's a bit cursory, but this was actually a perfect introduction for our kids, who had never been to Rome before. You hit the highlights with a guide and could go back on your own later. The Vatican tour was with an excellent guide who was very knowledgeable in art history. Very worthwhile. The Vatican tour starts at noon, and the guide says this is because there are no lines to get into the Vatican in the afternoon. She was right. No lines whatsoever getting tickets, going through security, etc.

On another day, we went back to the Colosseum to go inside, because the Enjoyrome tour does not take you inside. Expensive (10 euros per person) but worth it, especially with our Enjoyrome's guide's information. Then a short walk to the Domus Aurea (Nero's Golden House). Here you must go on a timed tour. We had our hotel reserve a time in advance, but I saw people walk up and get in on the next tour. The escort just stays with you to keep your group together and moving. You must pay extra for a guide or audioguide, which is necessary because the place is just empty rooms. You need help in imagining what the place was like.

Also took the metro and then a public bus to the San Callixtus Catacombs. We chose this one only because it was where the bus dropped us. Since I returned, I've read about the Archeobus (sp?) that you can hop on and hop off that takes you to the Catacombs. This sounds must easier. The San Callixtus Catacombs, however, was fascinating, and we had a great guide (guided tours were mandatory). It was too hot to figure out how to find another bus back, so we took a taxi from the parking lot.

After dinner one night, we walked over to the Piazza Navona. A lot of people here have talked about this area, but it was new to us. What a fun piazza at night. All the bordering restaurants pull their tables and chairs into the piazza, the vendors are out. Fun place to eat and walk around at night.

Although we metroed some, taxis were inexpensive and convenient.

All in all, a great trip. We expected August to be hot (and it was, apparently hotter than usual). It slowed our sightseeing down a bit, but if you allot yourself enough days in each city depending on what sites you want to get in, it's doable. I would try for another time of year next time, but with kids' school schedules, you don't have much choice. Traveling even at the worst time of year is better than not at all. My kids are now hooked on foreign travel and are willing to give up the theme parks, etc., to save up for overseas.
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Aug 28th, 2003, 10:43 AM
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hla
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Sorry, just wanted to add one more thing, because this was important to us. All of our hotel rooms were quad, non-smoking, and quiet (except for the train noise at the Castle Schoenburg, but don't let that stop you from staying there).
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