Two month train tour recommendations

Jan 17th, 2011, 04:31 PM
  #1  
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Two month train tour recommendations

My son will graduate from college in May and is planning a two month trip by himself to Europe to celebrate and grow up. He speaks American (Minnesotan specifically) and a bit of Spanish. He is very personable though, so I think he'll be fine with an e-translator.

Here is the reason for my post, though. He doesn't have a clue about where he should go. He knows he wants to go to Paris (has a friend there), and Milan (super-models...he is 22!), as well as Germany, Spain, Belgium and maybe Croatia.

He is beginning the trip in Amsterdam. He won't have a car...train travel only. I would appreciate any itinerary/partial itinerary you might be able to suggest. He would like to spend some time in big cities, but I think he would also like some small town exploration.

Final piece of information about him: he likes to try interesting food; loves tasting beer and wine; and have I mentioned an interest in super-models?!
mrsfutz is offline  
Jan 17th, 2011, 06:48 PM
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You should aim him at the Student Let's Go Guide as well as the Rough Guide series. This will give him the info he needs for HIM to plan that trip. If he hasn;t done all the work before he goes he won;t have a lot of confidence when he gets there.

And there are super models in every major city - they're in the incredibly expensive trendy nightclubs looking for sophisticated guys with ferraris who can take them to 4* restaurants.

(My younger stepdaughter - 19 - and a couple of friends went for 6 weeks last summer. She told us they were going - but asked for info only a couple of times - the address of a store she had loved in paris when she was 15 - but lost - and the name of a place in the Riviera her elder sister had sent us a postcard of.)
nytraveler is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 03:43 AM
  #3  
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Thank you, nytraveler. I will suggest the two guide series to him. Yes, he will definitely be planning and paying for this himself, so I want to be able to suggest viable options for him.
mrsfutz is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 05:50 AM
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Back in 1994-1995 I backpacked by myself for 2 months on a Eurail Pass that was good for unlimited travel in 17 European countries. Before departing on my adventure I had done absolutely no research on where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see. I bought a Let's Go Europe book and a one-way plane ticket to Amsterdam. My entire plan consisted of landing in Amsterdam and then seeing what would happen next. Of course I had taken humanities/history courses in high school and college so I had good layman's knowledge of European culture and history. My usual routine was to spend time somewhere and when I felt I had seen enough I would show up at the train station and hop on the next train that seemed to be going to an interesting destination. I stayed in hostels and met lots of other travelers and we always exchanged ideas about places to go and not to go. But most importantly I tried to meet locals and European natives wherever I went in hopes they would put me up at their house (free food and accommodation and great cultural exchange). This got me at least 2 weeks worth of free food and lodging in various countries.

I must admit to not being up on the present cost of these passes and I'm sure there must be new supplements now for certain types of trains (i.e. TGV's, night trains etc.) that didn't exist back in 1994-1995. However, if you don't mind overpaying for the Eurail Pass (vs. planning a route and buying tickets for each trip), having the flexibility to go where you want to go at any time may well be worth the extra cost. As I said, you will pay a lot for this type of pass but doing what your son will be doing is an experience most people will only get to have once in a lifetime and it can really be a life transforming experience.

Looking back on my experience I would not change a thing, from the lack of planning and preparation to perhaps overpaying for a Eurail pass (I believe it was $1,500 at the time). If it helps give your son ideas I'll list in order (from what I can remember) the places I saw. Amsterdam, Dresden, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Arhus, Berlin, Munich, Krakow, Prague, Budapest, Zagreb, Salzburg, Vienna, Innsbruck, Interlakken (as a base to get into the Alps), Barcelona, Mallorca, Seville, Paris, Dublin and Galway. I skipped Italy while traveling as after my journey I ended up living there for 6 months so I explored it later. I'm sure I can't recall a few cities but I think you get the idea.

As far as only speaking English, that is not a problem at all. He should just learn the courtesy words in each country he visits (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, you're welcome, yes, no). And as for the super-models, well, maybe he might glimpse one but I guarantee they're not interested in back-packers. I never booked my hostels ahead of time but just showed up in a city and walked-in based on what other travelers had recommended or what I had found in my Let's Go book. With internet and cell phone resources available now perhaps he may want to phone ahead to make reservations if he knows where he is going.

The best part of a trip like the one your son is planning is not about visiting places and arriving at a destination but it really and truly is about the journey and the people you meet and experiences you have along the way. Tell him not to get too worked up and overplan things. I did it by the seat of my pants with almost zero preparation and he can too.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 06:01 AM
  #5  
 
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www.seat61.com

www.backpackeurope.com

www.mije.com Paris best hostel around

on regional trains from there usually best cheapest.

www.eurocheapo.com

www.ricksteves.com

good sites for him to review

Pass is generally Bad Value...

Folks usually can never train enough to get

thier mony's worth many surcharges.

Happy Journey,
qwovadis is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 07:46 AM
  #6  
 
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Great story, FMT!! Very cool.

I'd just add that of course technology has changed quite a bit since 94/95 (or my student travel days in the late 80's!). Lots of social-networking sites related to travel, student travel, etc. If he doesn't know about it already, the OP's son should check out www.couchsurfing.org.

Also, on these forums look for the Fodorite artsnletters trip report sagas on her son's backpacking adventures, "The Scruffman Chronicles" from this past year. (I think he wasn't nicknamed "the Scruffman" on the first post, but do a search on her username and you'll find them.)
ggreen is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 08:11 AM
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I just posted this on another thread but it seems even more appropriate here . . . Your son might look into joining SERVAS, an organization that promotes friendship and world peace through understanding. Travelers join SERVAS and receive lists of hosts in the countries they will visit. The hosts might offer a free place to stay, a meal, a simple meeting and stroll around their town, whatever. The idea is for interaction between the host and traveler--not just a place to crash. The lists provide information about the host and the host's preference for advanced notice. Yes, this is a way to save a bit of money, but more valuable are the interactions and knowledge gained about different cultures.

http://www.usservas.org/

FMT gave some very good info about going with the flow. Here are some points gleaned from my niece who did the after-college two-month trip about five years ago. In retrospect, she said her trip could have been improved two ways.

Because she was traveling on a train pass, she ran from country to country, trying to visit as many places as possible to get the best value. After about four weeks of that, things began to blur together. She said she should have allowed for a few longer stays and downtime in between checking off countries.

Her other change was that she did virtually no research before arriving in a city. Therefore, a few times after she left a place she discovered she missed seeing something she would have liked to see. So her suggestion was not to overplan every minute, but do at least some research so you know the possibilities.
ellenem is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 08:17 AM
  #8  
 
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If he is under 26 years old then he can buy the IMO bargain - for his wide-ranging plans of two months - some kind of Eurail Youthpass - the 2-month straight could be a great deal if he moves around a lot as many younger travelers are want to do - he can even sleep on overnight trains and save on accommodations cost as I did long ago on my first rail trips using the Youthpass. For planning such an extravaganza have him check out these fab IMO info-laden web sites: www.budgeteuropetravel.com - download their free and superb IMO European Planning & Rail Guide with lots of sample itineraries; www.seat61.com - the site with the most details I have seen on the trains themselves - like what to expect on overnight trains; www.ricksteves.com and for schedules the Wunderbar German Rail site with scheduled for all of Europe - www.bahn.de.

And if my first trip long ago as a college kid is any template he will learn more in those two months abroad than he ever did in college!
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 08:59 AM
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Let me just add a couple of points. I had to buy a plane ticket for Mallorca but I went there since someone I had met on my travels lived there and invited me to stay (more free food, lodging and new friends). And Zagreb is not a particularly interesting city. I only went because I met some girls from there on my travels and they invited me to come visit. Plus, there was an on-going war between Croatia and Serbia at that time which made it strangely attractive to me. If you'd like to hear more strange and fascinating tales about how I met locals and got free food and lodging I'd be happy to share them.

To reiterate about the Eurail pass, PalenQ makes some good points about discounts being offered to those under age 25 (or maybe age 26). Even if it turns out, in retrospect, to cost more than it would have to purchase point to point tickets for each journey the amount of stress that it will afford in terms not having to stick to a rigid schedule, book train tickets ahead of time and take away from spontaneity could likely be well worth it for the type of traveling your son is planning.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 11:32 AM
  #10  
 
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I heartily agree about keeping spontaneity in any young college age kid's trip as, again my first trip as a template, he will probably, especially if traveling solo, meet other youths when in hostels or on trains that he may want to join up with. On my first trip I did just that several times - the last time with a tasty young Dutch gal.... and having a railpass valid all over Europe helps in that spontaneity IME!
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 01:09 PM
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If your son is seeking info about rail passes I was actually just on the phone with a Eurail Pass service provider and I have some relevant info to share with you. At present a person aged 26 years or younger can get a Eurail Pass good for 2 months of unlimited travel in 20 European countries for $1,063.00. Of course there are sometimes supplements to pay and for certain trains you will need a seat reservation. For example, you need a reservation on TGV trains. I was told that the supplemental fee in most European countries to reserve a seat for the TGV train is between 3 euros and 5 euros. Italy can be up to 10 euros.

Now understand that buying individual train tickets for each journey is probably going to be cheaper than the Eurail Pass in all likelihood. However, even if the cost was say $500 more than the cost of individual tickets I say for the young traveler who is out to see the world and who is going to move around a lot the freedom that this type of pass allows and the hassle it saves you from having to schedule your journey is worth the extra cost.

I'd like to mention the name and company of the gentleman I spoke with. It was actually PalenQ who provided me with his contact info. His name is Byron and he works for a company called BETS (?Best Europe Travel Services?) and his phone number is 800-441-2387. He seemed extremely knowledgeable and very helpful.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 01:33 PM
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ggreen - I almost forgot to thank you for saying "Very Cool", so, thank you.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 02:09 PM
  #13  
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Wow!!! You guys are awesome. I have printed off everything submitted thus far to give him some things to think about. Either he or I will continue monitoring this forum for further info, or to ask questions as they come up. I cannot thank you all enough. He'll have an amazing time.
mrsfutz is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 02:34 PM
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FMT, de rien! That was kind of you to comment just to say so!

My own student travels were so modest in scope (taking place as they did between my JYA studies instead of a longer amount of time just for travel). We used the Eurail Youth Passes - which at the time didn't allow travel to the East. I wanted to go to Greece so badly, but Yugoslavia was out, so the only way was to go by slow ferry from southern Italy. Not enough time or money, and in hindsight not enough throwing caution to the wind... Tant pis! (Which isn't to say I would trade my own experiences for anything, of course!)

FMT, this is more than a little conjecture on my part - but beyond your escapades themselves, I love this story of you fifteen years ago heading off to Europe without a plan and here you are now, living in Paris!
ggreen is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 02:47 PM
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If your son is seeking some inspiration before he departs on his adventure some tried and true books to read are "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert M. Pirsig and "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac. Perhaps I'm showing my age by referencing such old material but the inspiration these books provide never goes out of date.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 03:16 PM
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ggreen - I posted at the same time as you and didn't catch your last response before posting. Heading to Europe without a plan was the easy part, getting to live in Paris was a bit harder. To do that I had to marry Mrs. FMT. Marrying a French girl has its benefits, and living in Paris is just one of them, especially when she owns a condo and you don't have to pay rent! And she owns a car, and pays for the groceries, and pays the bills, and gives me spending money. Come to think of it, I really don't pay for anything and do nothing except ride my bike. Now that I think about it, I wonder why she married me? It must me because I am incredibly charming. But she is quite adorable and really likes when I do mime impersonations for her, like peeling a banana, being stuck inside an invisible box and especially when I do the choo-choo train. She laughs really hard when I do the choo-choo train.

P.S. - She cooks for me too!
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Jan 18th, 2011, 09:57 PM
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FMT, I guess I was looking at it in a more meta way. But sure, besides all the other perks, having a wife as a way to live in Paris - pas mal! For my séjour back when, I had to go to classes. And sit in stuffy auditoriums when I'd rather have been in a café. And live off Knorr soups and baguettes to save a few sous. But hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do - even if it means being stuck inside an invisible box!
ggreen is offline  
Jan 19th, 2011, 05:34 AM
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For a reading list that shows its age, I think Henry Miller's "The Air Conditioned Nightmare" might mean more to an American traveling abroad than Keruoac. I haven't read "Eat Pray Love" but that might work too. Or Lost Hearts in Italy.

I think your son might quickly get over his fascination with super-models when he sees a real one -- especially side by side with all those other proudly curvy Italian women who don't practice not smiling for a living.
zeppole is offline  
Jan 19th, 2011, 05:53 AM
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mrsfutz, I have travelled on Eurail pass 4 times earlier. Unlimited travel passes often work out very convenient and economical. Out of Germany, Spain, Belgium-
My opinion is

Germany offers you the best deals for train travel. It has theme routes. Don't miss "Romantic strasse" You can also add "Burg Strasse" (Heidelberg)"Wine Strasse" "Alpine strasse", Rhine cruise, Black forest.
My favourites-
Bavaria-Munich,Fussen, Berchtesgaden, Mittenwald
Mainz-Koblenz
Heidelberg
Rothenburg,
Dresden, Berlin.. and so on.

SPAIN- This is not ideal for Eural travel, as you need a supplement for almost all the journeys. For Mdrid_Segovia and Madrid-Toledo sector- a return ticket is cheaper than the supplement you pay. The queues are endless and one needs advance planning and booking.
My favourites
Seville, Granada,
Madrid, Segovia, Toledo
Barcelona

Belgium is too small. Brugge is good if you are not visiting Venice in the same trip. You can add Netherlands and Switzerland.

I wish him good luck. These will surely be the best two months of his life.
Paragkash is offline  
Jan 19th, 2011, 10:55 AM
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Belgium is too small. Brugge is good if you are not visiting Venice in the same trip>

Ah yeh Bruges, the 'Venice of the North' as it calls itself, for good reason IMO to me is one of the most if not the most romantic city north of the Alps and if can only go one place in Belgium I'd go here.

Bruges once, fueled by being one of the world's largest ports, was in medieval times one of the world's largest and most important cities - that is until its port silted up, leaving Bruges high and dry and well inland as the hectic port activity moved to nearby Antwerp, still one of the world's busiest commercial ports.

so as the city slumbered along in greatly diminished stature its raft of old Flemish-styled warehouses lining quays were left also to slumber along, and survive intact until today - unlike in cities like Antwerp where modernization took a toll I suspect.

Anyway in today's Bruges you have humpbacked drawbridges and lots of lovely old Flemish architecture as well as one of Europe's classic town squares, dominated by a soaring belfry you can climb to get a bird's eye look at the medieval city swirling around it.

And there is old Flemish art like its famous tapestries in its museums and cathedral and churches - much of it woven from wool brought here from England's Cotswolds wool towns - again until the industrial revolution came to England and that trade also dried up.

And for a young traveler Bruges has some really peachy keen youth hotels and non-HI youth hostels - Bohemian places in a way but inexpensiv and a great place to meet others. Let's Go Europe, the 'Bible of American backpackers' gives rundowns on them all - and if my son were doing such a trip I would give him the current copy of Let's Go Europe as a bon voyage present (or actually now so he can help plan with it, etc.)

Anyway Bruges is exceptional ven though in high season of July and August it can perhaps draw too many tourists, for good reason.
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