Trip Report - September 2010

Oct 10th, 2010, 06:03 PM
  #1  
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Trip Report - September 2010

I wanted to post a short report on my trip, as so many posts on this board were so helpful to me in the planning process. My mother, mid-50s, and I, 31, took a long dreamed about trip to Europe last month. We had 17 days, including travel days. We flew from Raleigh Durham to Edinburgh, Scotland, then traveled to London, Paris, and Rome. We returned home from Rome.

Edinburgh:

We arrived on a Friday around noon, and stayed through the following Saturday (about 2.5 days). Hotel was the Holiday Inn Express - Royal Mile. This was an excellent hotel - basic, but included breakfast and free wi-fi and had a great location (albeit downhill from the Mile a block). I would stay here again in a heartbeat

While in Edinburgh, we went to Edinburgh Castle, Tartan Weaving Mill (skip it), Gladstone's Land, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Museum of Scotland. We also took a local bus to Leith for the Royal Yacht Britannia and for the Asda store (mom's a Walmart employee, and took all sorts of pictures here! For the curious, Asda's do not even come close to the American Walmart Supercenters).

We took a sleeper train from Edinburgh to London. Planning wise it was great, but Mom didn't sleep.

London

Arrived on a Monday morning and left the following Saturday morning. Stayed at the Millennium Baileys Kensington - my favorite hotel by far. It was right on the tube station, with groceries and food nearby. Loved it.

London was mostly tourist stuff - Abbey Road, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, British Museum, St. Paul's. We did the Buckingham Palace after hours tour with champagne - a treat, and not too expensive. I purchased a 7 day travelcard for us to use - and it was great! We jumped from bus to tube as necessary, especially during the Tube strike day. I had tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys, but we were too exhausted to stay up that late. Perhaps another trip.

We also took a daytrip to the Cotwolds. Honestly - this was a minor disaster! I had no map, no idea where we were going in albeit small towns - but the towns had poorly marked bus stops and were not really tourist friendly. It was nice to see the countryside via bus, but I discovered in the Cotswolds that I LIKE having specific things to do, and was lost without my to-do list. We like exploring when we know where we are going, but are not comfortable going off the main path when we don't know what's around the corner!

Paris:

Eurostar to Paris on a Saturday morning; we flew Easyjet to Rome the following Tuesday morning. Eurostar was a breeze, but Gare du Nord was a nightmare. It was not well signed or marked for tourists. First I had to find the Information booth to purchase Paris Museum passes - but people were asking long, drawn out questions, so that took 30 minutes at least. Then we went to the Metro - but the machines did not take my debit OR credit card. The guard directed me to ATM machines, but I didn't follow him when he gave directions - and it took me a while to find them next to the money exchange booths (which I usually avoid). THEN I found that the Metro machines did not take bills, just change. Seriously? I asked a couple of stores, but ended up at the mercy of the lady making change to use the restrooms. Only after finally purchasing our tickets did we notice a Metro Information booth with a long line - not sure why the guard did not point us there, nor if they actually could have helped, but needless to say, I was done with that train station.

Hotel was the HOtel Bonaparte. This hotel was okay - all our hotels had great service - but worn is a good word for this one. I had a towel in the room the first day with holes, and there was no shower curtain. Also, there was no grocery or fast food near by - and that was a big deal for us. Lots of shopping in the area, but that was not what we wanted to do at the end of the day. Would skip this hotel next time.

We did the typical tourist things in Paris as well - Notre Dame, St. Chappelle, Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Sacre Cour, Louvre (quickly, for the Mona Lisa only), Arc du Triomphe. Versailles needs preserving - the difference between the English preservation of Buckingham Palace and Holyrood and Versailles was like night and day. We also found these awesome self-cleaning bathrooms here - every city should have those!

Overall, though, Paris was my least favorite city. Everyone seemed so annoyed. The lady at the Eiffel tower selling tickets - annoyed. How can you work at the Eiffel tower and be annoyed with tourists? We also had a not nice encounter with a waitress at the Hard Rock Cafe. While I recognize that America has certain customer service, and Europe has a different style, I NEVER expect to wait an hour and a half for my food, and then be snapped at when I ask if 'a few minutes' means 5 or 30. My mom was ready to complain, but felt like it would do no good. No tip was requested, and none given. It just added to the superiority attitude I saw in Paris - and that turns me off. I wonder if the rest of France is the same way. I did not encounter that attitude in any of the other countries we visited.

Rome:

We flew Easyjet from Paris to Rome. It was easy as pie - well organized. Just follow the rules. Hotel in Rome was Hotel Parlamento. The hotel was oddly shaped - since it is in an existing building, I suppose - but it was a great hotel. Great location, great service. Room had just what we needed. We were in Rome from Tuesday morning until our departure the following Saturday morning.

Rome, again, typical things - Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Fountain of the Four Rivers, Vatican, Coliseum. Rome was easy to walk (every city, except Paris, was easy to walk). We did an 8 am early morning Vatican Museum tour with Italy With Us - the best thing ever! I had wanted to do the private evening tour, but could not justify the cost. The 8 am tour had us in the Sistine Chapel with maybe 30 other people. We sat on the sides, listened to the excellent guide, and looked from floor to ceiling. This tour had us seeing the Sistine Chapel without it being packed with people - my ultimate goal. We toured the rest of the museum, ending in the Chapel again, then walked back through the museum again before leaving by the back door to St. Peters.

My mom had told me that she expected some sort of 'experience' seeing all of the old monuments, artifacts, and palaces. At the Sistine Chapel, she cried, and finally got her experience. I was thrilled we ended our trip in Rome.

The people of Rome were the opposite of Paris. We really enjoyed our time here. A quick note, though, that bathrooms were hard to find - we were okay in every other city, but had to hunt for them in Rome.

Flights:

A note on our flights. We paid about $1000 for open jaw flights, Raleigh to Edinburgh, Rome to Raleigh. Our flights over were on American Airlines and British Airways, with a connection in Heathrow. Heathrow is HUGE, and it took the full 2 hours to get from one get/terminal to another.

On the way back, we flew Brussels Airlines from Rome to Brussels, where we were to connect to JFK and Raleigh. Checkin was bad - no computers, and manual check in was sllooww. The Brussels flight crew was late - I later heard because their bus was late - but we took off 30 minutes late. Our connection in Brussels was tight to begin with, but the Brussels Airlines crew assured us we were okay. We hurried through the airport - until security, where we came to a screeching halt. I would guess maybe 300 or 400 people were in line at security. The head of security told everyone to get in line - despite the fact our flight was boarding. I asked 3 or 4 different people 3 or 4 different times, only to be told to wait in line. I heard that the security checkpoint was understaffed, and they clearly waited far too long to address the problem - as the line snaked from security across the building and then back again.

American Airlines kindly told us we had missed our flight - then asked if we had told anyone that the flight was boarding. Seriously? I was boiling at this point, but trying not to be mad with the wrong people. AA looked at flights, said they couldn't rebook us until the following day, but then stopped when they said our flight was late and the connection was then illegal. We were sent to Brussels Airlines - who said the connection just was legal, and we needed to go to American Airlines.

Now, I"m trying to be calm here, but we're tired and ready to be home. I look at the lady, said AA sent us here, and they needed to talk to each other and figure it out. Bless her, she picked up the phone, talked in German (which, since I can't understand a word of it, was a good thing), and was able to rebook us for that day. We got food vouches, and my blood pressure went down some. The final trip was about 27 hours, from Rome to home, and we ended up flying Rome - Brussels - Frankfurt - Toronto - Raleigh. 5 countries in a day.

It'll be a while before I have any interest in flying to Belgium and will likely never fly Brussels Airline again. With that said, here's the lesson I learned - even on the rebooked flights, it took us 1.5 hours to make connections, and I don't think we ever had more than 10 minutes to spare. Book flights with a 2 hour connection. And I would hope that airlines would stop making these 50 minute connections legal, since security clearly does not allow passengers to make those flights.

All in all, on a scale of 1-10, the trip was a 10. The two hiccups, at Paris Nord and the flight home, were minor in the grand scheme of things. I echo the advise given to many here - focus on fewer cities. We squeezed in a lot in two and a half weeks - a perfect trip and pace for us, but if you like to stroll and take your time, or if you are determined to see everything, you will need to cut your cities down. Both my mother and I were willing to give some stuff up (like the Ceremony of the Keys) if it didn't work. We went to the Tower of London and spent the whole afternoon - took our time and enjoyed what we saw. I had left the schedule open enough so that we could move things around as needed, and that helped. We had a few core sights, but I made sure to give us time to enjoy what we were seeing.

A quick summary:

Flights - $1000 open jaw per person, Raleigh - Edinburgh, Rome - Raleigh
Edinburgh (2.5 days) - Holiday Inn Express, 3 stars (of 4 stars on the Raven Scale) and recommended.
London (5 days) - Millennium Baileys Kensington, 4 stars and recommended.
Paris (3 days) - Hotel Bonaparte, worn, but nice service, 2 stars.
Rome (4 days) - Hotel Parlamento, 4 stars and recommended.
Budget - about $4000 USD per person, including flights and food. Does not include souvenirs. Definitely doable - but you will have to book ahead and nail dates and times down in order to stay on budget.
Raven01 is offline  
Oct 10th, 2010, 06:39 PM
  #2  
pdx
 
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Definitely a 'live and learn' vacation but it sounds like you've got the right kind of travel spirit. Now that you've done the whirlwind tour you can take the next trip at a more relaxed pace. I absolutely agree with the layover of not less than 2 hours, though I will consider 1.5 hours. One hour is too much of a risk at the big airports.
pdx is offline  
Oct 10th, 2010, 08:43 PM
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Raven01- I have been fortunate to travel to Europe twice with my adult DD (32) and we had a blast each time. It is wonderful that you and your mom now have this for all time. I am very happy for you both and hope you get to travel together again some time.

Trip report was very succinct!
sarge56 is offline  
Oct 10th, 2010, 10:03 PM
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Give Paris another chance.

My experiences have been the exact opposite of yours (and I do feel bad for you). I would go back again and again. Food is fantastic, srvice was outstanding everywhere we went, hotel staff was great in all instances. So sorry your time there was not great.

I would love to travel with my daughter, I envy the memories you and your mom created. Good for you!
screen_name_taken is offline  
Oct 11th, 2010, 12:03 AM
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thanks for the feedback.

Wish I'd have stayed by the Royal Mile, as you did. We chose a b and b with the most pretentious (undeservedly so) owner imaginable. YOu chose a great location.

You make me think back to recall Parisian. experiences. I like Paris a lot, and 95% of encounters have gone well...but one of the very worst, nastiest, fake, waitresses in the world worked at that famous hot chocolate place (Angelina) and THE worst airport van pickup experience anywhere, ever. There is a certain "entitled to a big American tourist tip" attitude that we tourists there sometimes encounter.

i LOVE area around the Gloucester Road Tube by your hotel. Have stayed at serveral hotels neraby, including the more modern looking Millenium next door to your hotel, and envy you your stay at Millenium Bailey.

Glad your Mom got her WOW moments and that you and she have this trip's memories to share--even the less than perfect timew are fodder for fun recollections!
CaliNurse is offline  
Oct 11th, 2010, 12:06 AM
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p.s. Agree about gare du Nord and disorganized directions. I speak and read French with no problem and still couldnt figure out where the heck to go. Surprising in an area that receives so many foreign visitors off the Eurostar.
CaliNurse is offline  
Oct 11th, 2010, 12:44 AM
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Thanks for reporting back. Glad your mom got her "experience"!
klondike is offline  
Oct 11th, 2010, 04:44 AM
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Funny how you were disappointed with Paris and loved Rome. I had the opposite experience, despite mmy prior expectations. I wonder if your frustrations at Gare du Nord coloured your perceptions. I also found Gare du Nord frustrating on arrival but luckily a helpful person set me right, and when I came up from the Metro at St Michel and saw Notre Dame, I was hooked!
I think that was one of my WOW moments, along with San Marco in Venice
eigasuki is offline  
Oct 11th, 2010, 05:10 AM
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Paris is not like the rest of france. Paris is a small capital city with a queue of tourists waiting to come in so I guess you get the huury up message all the time. Hard Rock Cafe is a horrible franchise everywhere it's put and is designed to make money for the owners and never mind what the custome wants.

Gare du Nord is still a little untidy and disorganisedfor the unaware.

Belgium, what is it for?
bilboburgler is offline  
Oct 11th, 2010, 05:26 AM
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Just as you were able to cover a lot of ground on your trip, you were able to give us a lot of details in a succint report. Thanks for all the info.

I felt for you on your trip home! What a convoluted journey! Reminds me of a trip home from Croatia. I had a two hour window at Dulles, but it was not sufficient to deal with misplaced luggage, so missed the flight to home city. Like you I was sent from pillar to post to try to find a flight. No one seemed to be able to help until I stood my ground (and shed a few tears of frustration and exhaustion) and miraculously was found a flight late that night. Took 32 hours from hotel to bed at friend's house near city.
irishface is offline  
Oct 11th, 2010, 06:09 AM
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I'm intrigued about the mechanics of your trip to the Cotswolds.

There's no scheduled bus from London, so you must have done something else to get here. What did you do?

It rather sounds as if you thought there was something specific to see. That's really the whole point: there isn't. Walking through the countryside, looking at churches, sitting outside a pub: that's pretty much all there is.

There may be lessons for others - but the real lesson, I'm afraid sounds like researching beforehand. But I'd be interesting to hear what all these bus stops are doing to make them "tourist unfriendly"
flanneruk is offline  
Oct 11th, 2010, 06:12 AM
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Sounds like a great trip for the most part. Sorry you didn't enjoy yur time in Paris. Perhaps it is partly because you didn't spend enough time there to get to know the city. It is my favorite city in the world. It is so walkable, approachable, alive and friendly and the food is wonderful. I would caution against visiting the Hard Rock Cafe in Paris or anywhere. Hope you give Paris another chance.
mamcalice is offline  
Oct 12th, 2010, 09:56 AM
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I have had friends who have had a similar experience in Paris. Although, when I was in Paris, some were rather 'short' with me (largely on account of my overlooking to greet them) I have examples of most helpful people. I got totally lost and exasperated driving in Paris, and one Frenchman went out of his way "Follow me" in his car to lead me to where I needed to be. When I got my whole set of luggage stolen, a hotel manager went that extra mile to look after me and help me get sorted.
stevelyon is offline  
Oct 12th, 2010, 05:18 PM
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I would go back to Paris, as I have only been twice, this trip for 3 days, and previously for about 3 days. I do not think that is enough to judge a city. With that said, my first taste has been bad - but no reason not to try again.

Perhaps the difference also goes with the Hard Rock Cafe. You'll note I did not discuss food in my report. My mom and I saved money on food but sticking to the familiar fast food, and Hard Rock was our go to 'hot meal' place. We took comfort, I think, in something familiar about McDonalds. We are not quite adventurous to purchase without knowing what we were eating, and Paris shopping was a bit outside our price range - and those are 2 things I think of when I think Paris. The other cities were better suited to our travel priorities.

Cotswolds - we arrived via train from London. We left the train station and walked down the road in Moreton. We found the travel information place, discovered the bus schedule, so then went searching for the bus. That took 2 hours - it is NOT well marked. The train station operator told me he did trains. Then no one knew the bus fare (I discovered it varied). Got on the bus to Chipping Campden, ate lunch, then spent ANOTHER hour looking for the bus stop. I need to be able to navigate from A to B, and since I had no maps of the area, we didn't feel comfortable exploring too much. It was pretty, but not 26 pounds (ie, the train fare) pretty. Lots of antiques and little shops - not our thing for long periods. I needed a site, a walk, something (I guess a bit of structure). It was not a lack of planning - I heavily researched everything, down to the transfer route in Brussels Airport - but more a lesson on our travel technique. Wandering around was just not our thing.

Which leads me to my next comment. Lots of people come here for advice, and I wanted to post information they would find useful. But I was very careful to plan a trip with my Mom and me in mind. We both adapt easily, are willing to make due as long as basic necessities are met, and communicate well. We walked a lot - but I knew our limits. I specifically chose hotels with air conditioning with my Mom's hot-nature in mind. My Dad could not have handled the walking we did, while my 15 year old sister would not have enjoyed the palace and church-heavy site list. Even Mom at the end was like "1st century AD? Eh." Whereas at the beginning, she cooed at everything. This is really important - keep your audience in mind.

Finally, her WOW moment was the highlight of my trip. I'm close to my Mom, and she was close to her mother. Mom's mother died about 30 years ago from breast cancer when Mom was in her early 20s. After the Sistine Chapel, Mom prayed in St. Peter's Basilica, thanking God for the trip and for keeping us safe. Then she said, to her Mom in heaven, "Mom, I made it".

I would go to the ends of the earth for my mom. To do this with her, to give her that blessing, is indescribable. We're not rich - but this trip was worth every second and every sacrifice.
Raven01 is offline  
Oct 12th, 2010, 05:46 PM
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Your last two paragraphs said it all. I've traveled the world and enjoyed every moment, but nothing compared to the joy, success and fulfillment that you express. I hope I have a trip as meaningful someday.
suite7 is offline  
Oct 12th, 2010, 06:11 PM
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What suite7 said.
sarge56 is offline  
Oct 18th, 2010, 08:39 AM
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Raven, whenever possible give Paris another chance. Its also my favorite city in the world. Returned five days ago.

Your mother is certainly lucky to have you as a child and you are both blessed to have each other.
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