10 days before my first trip to Europe: Last minute thoughts?

I can't wait for the trip. I am just worried about last minute things. Here is my itinerary:

Paris 5 days
Milan 1 days
Florence 2 days
Rome 3 days

The hotels and reservations are made for Uffizi. Should I wait until Europe to get these:
Paris Museum Pass
Versailles Pass
Roma Pass
Vatican Tickets?

Any advice for me as a first-time Europe traveler? I have spent weeks on research, but I am worried that I am forgetting something or am overlooking some great sight in Europe.

Thanks for all your help. Rick Steves helpline has been a huge help.

Posted by David
Portland, OR, USA
805 posts

Yes on should you wait.

As for suggestions, accept the differences as they are and don't compare Europe to the US. Do things differently and you'll find it fun.

Posted by Jaclyn
San Diego, CA, USA
36 posts

I just came back from my first trip. I will (again... still) say I loved my pac-safe metro 200. It was great and just the right size.

I bought my paris pass at Notre Dame. I started the day there and followed the Historic Paris walk. It is a great way to start into Paris and also that walk leads into another walk.

My best advice.
1. Do not cram it in. See what you see well. You will one day come back. You do not need the memories to be a tangle.

  1. Use your eyes more than your camera. I became annoyed with people who took a picture of something and walked away without looking at what they were there to see. You can buy a picture.

3.Just sit at a cafe and order. DO not be afraid.... the waiters are impatient but understand and are not rude. They will bring you the check or just ask for it.

4.Buy a bottle of water and then refill teh bottle in bathroom, waterfountains etc. The water out of the fountains in Rome is the best anywhere. You will save A TON of money and you will stay hydrated.

  1. Be prepared to use taxis in Rome. The subway is okay but does not get everywhere. Just get in a taxi.

  2. REST... do not kill yourself in the first week. Take a break/nap midday and rest for a 2-4 hours. Rome esp is open late and you will not miss much.

  3. EAT EAT EAT EAT.. do not worry about weight, calories or ANYTHING. I lost 5 pounds and ate my little heart out. You are walking 6-8 hours a day.

Posted by Jenufa
London, UK
283 posts

You were wise to book ahead for the Uffizi! The Paris passes can wait. If you are traveling via the airport you can get it there or else plan where and when is the best way to pick up a pass before you go... the Louvre at 10am is not the queue you want to be in! Instead pick a smaller museum if you have to pick it up the morning of your visit.

Have a great time!

Posted by Darcy
Lewiston, Idaho, USA
1202 posts

Hi RD--When you made your reservations for the Uffizi, did you also make reservations for "David" at the Accademia?
Have a fabulous time!

Posted by RD
Lawrenceville, GA, USA
79 posts

Thanks for the tips everyone. I need to make my reservations for the Accademia. Any advice on the Vatican?

David, I don't understand your comment.

Posted by Tom
Orlando
191 posts

I now have my first trip under my belt and spent my first five days in Paris this past May: Buy your Paris Museum Pass at a TI at CDG. We bought four day Museum passes and spent the first day overcoming jet lag and getting oriented. I am not sure your reasons for purchasing a Versailles pass, I know it includes an audio guide. If I were to go again to Versailles I would immediately head for the grounds. We enjoyed the Grand Trianon, Petite Trianon, etc. so much more than the Palace tour. Go to the palace in the afternoon after touring the grounds. Crowds might be smaller and there is one line you cannot avoid and that is the bag check line that snakes through the entry court yard. Our wait time in that line was one hour. If I had to characterize restaurant experience, the waiters are much more professional than anything we have here. They are unobtrusive and keep their eyes on their tables at all times. Learn the phrase for "Please bring me the check" A little motion of the hand is all that is required to get their attention. If you enjoy your trip as much as I did mine, you will be planning your next venture as soon as you get home.

Posted by dale
charlottesville, va
46 posts

My only regret from my first trip to Europe was I didn't take enough pictures of the little things that happen and the things that are different from home (the dog that shared my lunch, etc). Some people will ask what was different in Europe. A picture can help. Relax and have fun and have no regrets!

Posted by David
Portland, OR, USA
805 posts

You don't need to book the Paris or Rome museums ahead, except for the Borghese in Rome.

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
2013 posts

I'll add this: Be a traveler not a tourist. In other words truly appreciate the differences of the other cultures. Dogs in cafes in Paris, not a Starbucks to be found in Rome, buildings older than the 1700's, and excellent train travel.

Also, don't try to squeeze everything in. You'll exhaust yourself. See what you can and don't be disappointed if you don't see everything you wanted. You'll go back I promise.

GREAT itinerary! If the timing is right on your first day in Paris, walk toward the Effiel Tower near dusk. Sit on a park bench and just watch the people. As the sun sets the tower will light up. Should bring a big smile to your face. You are IN Paris.

Tres bon.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by Jesse
Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
171 posts

Just enjoy everything around you. Don't know about the other two but Paris and Rome are wonderful. The food is excellent, don't be afraid to try something different.

Posted by Mike
Los Angeles, CA, USA
1447 posts

One thing I really enjoyed in Paris was visiting the area around the Pompidou center. I was originally planning on just spending about 30 minutes in the area but enjoyed it so much I spent a few hours there. During the summer there are street artists in the area in front of the museum, and several of the streets are blocked off to traffic around the center. On the weekend when I visited the area was filled with French locals out strolling around. It sounds strange, but it was enjoyable to be in an area where everyone around was speaking French; in many of the other tourist areas I visited I heard as much English as French, or so it seemed.

Also, if you're not sure how you do with jetlag I recommend asking your doctor for sleeping pills such as Ambien CR (controlled release). I had a lot of trouble getting used to the time difference, but other people seem to be over it quickly.

Lastly, you write "I am worried that I am forgetting something or am overlooking some great sight in Europe". Let me set your mind at ease. It is virtually certain that you ARE. You just can't see all of a city in 5 days or 5 weeks. Furthermore any guidebook author is making choices about what to include, what to leave out. I've never traveled without later discovering "Oh, I didn't know THAT was there". Rather than worry about what you might miss, look forward to all the great things to see you've already discovered!

Posted by Susan
Atlanta, Ga, USA
1463 posts

You are going to have a wonderful time! You can buy your Paris Museum pass at the first museum you visit. We were recently in Paris and bought a 4 day pass and it was too much--we were overdosed on art even though it had been 10 years since we were at the major museums. Do not hesitate to fill your water bottle in Rome--or anywhere in Italy unless there is a sign that it is not suited for drinking. Take it slow, people watch, eat gelato,visit lots of churches, etc. Have a great trip!

Posted by Lise
St. Louis, MO (formerly, Windermere, FL)
339 posts

You have received some great advice. I was reading through the posts and agree that these 3 comments are very important: keep hydrated, take some photos but don't see the whole trip through the "viewfinder", and don't worry about not seeing everything. The best memories will often be of the things you didn't expect to see or happen. A few things I would add:

Can't stress enough the importance of wearing comfortable shoes and clothing.

If there are any medications that you think you might need, be sure to pack them, or at least the label from the package to show a pharmacist the ingredients. Some are difficult to find. (sounds emabarassing but, try asking a shop keeper/pharmacist who only speaks Italian for something like preparationH or laxatives!)

When touring Versailles, good advice see the Gardens first. Plan an entire day there, at least. We spent a day touring the gardens then stayed the night in the city of Versailles and were able to get up and be among the first in line for tickets to the chateau. That second day we saw the chateau and the fountains, then headed to our next destination that afternoon. We took the tram tour of the gardens which included the Hammeau and Petite Triannon and was well worth it! Also, the paths there, and at many other Paris parks, are are a crushed stone that is very dusty. My black shoes and capris looked terrible within an hour. You can dress for Versailles like you would for a US national park or monument. Next time I will dress for biking, boating and serious walking. Versailles was, unexpectedly, one of our favorite places.

Postcards are inexpensive, easy to pack, and are often better photos than you can take (good examples: the Pieta at the Vatican, Mona Lisa, arial views of anything) Spend a few minutes getting postcards in each city and fewer minutes behind the camera.

Savour each moment and have a wonderful time!

Posted by Janice
Newport, Minnesota, USA
91 posts

I remember fondly my first day in Paris. I walked around most of the day thinking to myself "I can't believe I'm really in Paris". My best advice is slow down and stop to smell the roses. You will enjoy your trip so much more than trying to cram too much in.

Also, on our last trip we brought a small journal with us and every day wrote a page or two about what we did, what we saw, who we met, what we enjoyed, any funny misadventures etc. It was a great reminder months afterward when everything started to blur together and you can't remember what city that great little restaurant was in. It was also a nice way to wind down each day. We also noted favorite shops, restaurants, etc. in the event we wanted to recommend them to someone or visit again someday.

Happy trails to you :)

Posted by Shannon
Chicago, Illinois, USA
131 posts

RD,
I hope you have a great trip! Just remember you'll never see everything - especially with only 2 days in Florence and just 3 in Rome. It's a great start.
Plan to come back. Take time to just chill out and people watch. Sometimes I've taken the best pictures just by doing that! Paris, Florence, and Rome are all incredible cities (haven't been to Milan). Have fun!

Posted by Teresa
Seattle
464 posts

Take along an envelope, a piece of lined paper, and (if possible) a small calculator. Use the envelope to put all your receipts in, and keep a tally on the piece of paper. It'll make it a little easier when you have to fill out the Customs form on the plane coming home.

Posted by RD
Lawrenceville, GA, USA
79 posts

Hi Theresa. The Customs forms on the plane are one thing, but what about the VAT tax refunds? Worth the trouble?

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

Frankly, I've never bothered with the VAT refunds...too much hassle. Each EU country seems to have its own regulations....in France, for example, you have to spend 175 Euro on one day in one store. in the Netherlands, it's 50 Euro in the same store on the same day. In Italy, it has to be more than 155 Euro at one store on the same day. Any VAT on services is ineligible.

Posted by Marie
Wilmington, DE, USA
683 posts

You have had lots of great advice. Now go and enjoy, but remember to use a money belt.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

RD, lots of great advice so far. A few thoughts to add:

  • I find it useful to pack a few of Rick's Guidebooks (for the places I'll be spending the most time). Although I have sightseeing items on my Itinerary, the books are useful for checking details if plans change.

  • Be sure to wear your Money Belt! Don't access this where others can see (keep some "working cash" in a pocket). Don't fall for the "hard luck stories" from the street beggars.

  • Again as mentioned, a bottle of water is a good idea. I also tend to refill this from the tap (outdoor water supplies in Italy will state "non potabile" if the water is NOT suitable for drinking).

  • It's a "different world" in Europe to some extent, so try to accept the differences and just try to "live like a local". I think that's what David was referring to in the first post? You won't be getting free coffee refills, and if you ask for "coffee" in Italy, you'll get Espresso (ask for "Cafe Americano" instead). Sitting at a table costs more than sitting at the Bar.

  • If you haven't already, be sure to read the "Rail Skills" chapter in Rick's ETBD so that you're "up to speed" on how the trains operate.

  • I'd probably wait until you're in Europe to get the Paris Museum Pass. I don't usually bother with the Roma Pass.

  • If you're visiting the Colosseum, be sure to read Rick's suggestion for buying tickets on Palatine Hill, in order to avoid the queue's.

  • Finally, try to use a few of the greetings in the local language (Bonjour, Buon Giorno, Merci, Grazie, etc.) as much as possible. Rick's 3-in-1 Phrasebook is a good accessory for the countries you'll be visiting.

I'm sure that travelling in Europe will be an incredible experience for you as it has been for me. I can hardly wait to get back! I often think of one of Rick's "travel rules" when travelling around Europe - "if something's not to your liking, then change your liking".

Happy travels!

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7211 posts

When you take photos, vary them. As well as the bigger pictures of Notre Dame or Eiffel Tower, look for interesting small items like a gargoyle or an interesting window. Garden paths, cafes, alley ways all make good subjects. Also take lots of pictures of people, include yourself in at least some of the pictures. Take two or three pictures of the same subject, then keep the best one(s). Take lots of memory with you so you don't have to debate whether you should take a picture, you can always sort it out later.

Posted by Rose
Indianapolis, Indiana, usa
355 posts

To go along with Brad's photo suggestions, you can get some great pictures of the Eiffel tower from some of the side streets where you'll see maybe just one leg of the tower but it's up close. Try rue de Universitie or any streets south of it.

I'm going to echo the others - relax, don't expect to see everything but see the things you do see well enough to remember them. My first trip was a tour to England. I came home with a lot of pictures but could name only half of them. I went back the next year by myself & revisited at my speed.

Here's hoping you have a really great trip - the first of many.

Posted by Lauren
Seattle, WA
296 posts

I think the advice about taking pictures of the little things (not just the blockbuster sights) is great. We've taken "non-scenic" pictures of unusual things or people that we saw or experienced that have become our favorites. A few pictures of the big sights are great; but down the road, it's the candid shots that refresh your memory.

(That's not to say that we didn't snap plenty of the big sights in order to be able to choose the keepers.)

Have an awesome time -- our first trip was still the best because of the wonder of discovery.

Posted by Marie
Mankato
32 posts

RD,
Don't worry that you're overlooking something, just go with what you've found so far. Once you get there, you'll likely hear about some other things that are happening in the area where you at that time. Don't overschedule yourself! Don't be glued to an itinerary! Its tepmting to shedule yourself tightly, but don't be afraid to leave something by the wayside to do something else that springs up! Be spontaneous! Spend time just BEING in the city, not necessarily SEEING the city, give yourself some time to just walk the streets of Paris and interact! (I would HIGHLY recomend picnics by the Eiffel Tower) Have fun, let yourself relax if you're tired, do what you feel like doing! It will be an amazing trip with lots of fun memories! Good Luck!

P.S. Do the "greatest hits" of the Louvre, don't get stuck there, its easy to do! You'll have much more fun at other sights! Be sure to check out the Orsay Museum! Have fun!

Posted by Pat
North Shore, MA, USA
59 posts

Bring a washcloth, the concept has not caught on there. Everything else is fun. Enjoy

Posted by Susan
Tulsa, OK, USA
126 posts

Amen on the washcloth! If you are a bar soap person like I am, take a small hotel size, one for each of the places you will be staying, or bring a small ziploc and carry to the next place. Most places I have stayed use liquid soap. I always take 3-4, qt size ziplocs, 5-6 sandwich size, small package of wet wipes person, and the last little bit of a paper towel roll and smash it flat. I can't tell you what you will use them for, but you will, especially if you do picnic lunches. A journal is a must, nothing expensive or fancy. If you keep it faithfully, and reread what you have written on about day 4 or 5, you will be saying to yourself, "I forgot I did that". We always write down funny things that happen, or tourist blunders we make. We put in our journal all kinds of things, like business cards from places we eat and stay, a gelato spoon, tickets from museums, or flattened flowers. We also cut-out pictures from brochures of places we visit and then write about them. Take a small roll of scotch tape or glue stick and blunt end scissors. Sometimes we make it through security with the scissors and sometimes we don't. Just buy inexpensive grade school type, that you can afford to have confisgated. At the front of our book we always put a copy of our airline ticket itinerary. My favorite journal book is the Mead 5 star that measures about 6"x9" and has a plastic divider with pockets inside the front cover and half-way through the book that comes in handy. If you buy one like this besure to get the one that has the nylon cover over the coil binder, and it will keep the coil from snagging your things (they have these at Target, Wal-Mart did have them, but didn't the last trip). One last suggestion, Santa Croce church in Florence. I have been to Florence a number of times and had never been to this church before. It is where Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo are buriend. It is huge. Have a great time, appreciate the differences!