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2-Week Europe trip in March, 2011

Hey y'all.
I have a few questions regarding a post-deployment trip I'm working on for next spring with my wife and step-daughter. It's meant to be a "taste of Europe tour," so we're not going to be spending a great deal of time in any one location outside of London. I have a few questions:
1. Obviously, we're going to Europe at a time when the tourists are few and the prices are a bit cheaper. However, the concern (especially in the Alps portion and Budapest/Prague) is the weather. Am I kidding myself out of a view of the Matterhorn or of the Jungfrau region in Gimmelwald? Are Budapest and Prague, being mid-continent type climate, insanely cold at this time of the year?
2. I'm planning on renting a car in Milan for the Alps/Lake Como portion of the trip. Since I've had very little experience driving a manual transmission, I'm getting an automatic. For those of you having driving experience in the Alps with automatic transmission: how was it? Any difference compared to driving in the Rockies?

Thanks in advance.

Posted by
136 posts

I don't know how difficult it will be to get an automatic. Have you considered a few lessons on a manual? I hadn't driven one in a number of years when I rented my six speed VW in Zurich. It took me some false starts (stalling it) to get out of the parking garage, but fine after that.

We did visit the Matterhorn (summertime) en route to Pisa and Rome (been to a lot of the rest of Italy by train). I drove into Pisa, but cheated and dropped the car at the Rome airport and got transport into the city.

The Matterhorn was nice, but if your time is tight, getting to it is off the beaten path and still requires parking the car and taking a train to the auto free town. The Alps driving was not real different from any mountains including the Rockies. Probably easier than Pike's Peak.

Posted by
9110 posts

General scoop and rough info:

Budapest is going to be in the mid fifties, max, and close to freezing, min.

Prague will be about the same for max, but probably not quite as cold.

Being able to see the top of either the Jungfrau or the Matterhorn is going to be iffy on any given day at best. Both areas could well be wet and soggy -- it ain't the best time of year. Zermatt might have better odds, but it will cost more to get to and is expensive, even for Switzerland.

You're not going to have any problem with the driving. Not exactly sure what your plans with the car are, but picking it up in one country and dropping it in another will cost like the devil.

Switzerland and Scandanavia are the two most expensive spots in Europe.

Posted by
3 posts

Well, we're planning on a few days in London (been there before)...then down to my ancestral hometown of Ragusa, Sicily (flying in and out of Catania, bus transfer)...then the Alps/Lake Como area (flying in and out Malpensa...where we're gonna get the car)...then Budapest...then Prague...then home.

I forgot to ask this question regarding Sicily:

I've looked up the Interbus Autolinee website and found the times for the buses from Catania Airport to Ragusa. For those of you who've traveled in and out of CTA, what are your experiences? Anything I need to know about as far as safety/security/customs?

Thanks for all your help...

Posted by
1717 posts

Hello Steve. You can have an enjoyable trip in Europe in the month March. But the month March is in the winter season in Italy. I would not go to Lake Como in March. London is likely to have miserable weather in March. But that is O.K. if you have a keen desire to be in museums and churches in London, and the Kew gardens.

Posted by
40 posts

Hello Steve, thanks for your service and welcome home. My hubby and I went to London in March, 2004 and found the weather pleasant. We took medium weight waterproof jackets and small umbrellas and did fine. We also packed with the idea of layering in mind. Some ways were rainy intermittently (but no heavy downpours); others were sunny and breezy. I think the temps were in the low to mid 50s. FYI we stayed at the Thistle Hyde Park (our travel agent got us a terrific deal) and the hotel was very charming, great food and teatime, close to the Tube, and 2 blocks from a great pub (The White Swan). Our room was very comfortable and spacious.

Posted by
3 posts

I was in England Oct and Nov of last year...I can count on one hand how many days I spent there where it DIDN'T rain.
I figured that the weather and scenery around Lake Como and the Alps aren't going to be up to the picturesque standards that we always see in peoples' vacation photos...I'm just curious as to whether or not this will completely kill the trip?

Posted by
811 posts

Hi Steve,

My husband and I usually travel to Europe for 2 weeks every year during March. This past March (left on the 8th) included Budapest and Prague, where it snowed quite a bit in Budapest but it was short-sleeve weather by the time we got to Prague (although still a little chilly in the evening). For Italy (but not Lake Como) in late March 2007 we had gorgeous weather every day. The Balkans in 2008 produced a little snow, rain, and sun, and so on.

As you can see, it's best to prepare for it all, which is why we always travel with rain shell coats that have a lightweight coat zipped in. When worn together they are warm and waterproof, but can also be worn separately as weather dictates - although sometimes I'm switching up the combination several times in one day!

As you can also see, weather can be a bit of a crapshoot in March but the lower prices and fewer crowds keep bringing us back. A website you may find useful if you haven't already seen is it the Weather Underground Trip Planner. From this link you can put in any city and a date range of up to 14 days and it will give you an idea of what the weather has done, on average, for the past 14 years.

Thank you for your service and I wish you a great trip!

Posted by
15644 posts

About the automatic transmission, friends of mine were in Austria for 2 weeks earlier this month. They reserved an automatic (she cannot drive stick and he is the better navigator) and confirmed their request. When they picked up the car in Vienna, they were told that the person who had rented the automatic that was scheduled for my friends hadn't returned it yet, and all that was available was a manual.

It seems that automatics are not that popular/available.

Posted by
109 posts

"I figured that the weather and scenery around Lake Como and the Alps aren't going to be up to the picturesque standards that we always see in peoples' vacation photos...I'm just curious as to whether or not this will completely kill the trip? "

Steve,

We've traveled in the Alps during that time of year and had a blast. It's less about the scenery and more about the great places we've gotten to explore. However, if you really want better scenery either wait for a later month to come to Europe or head to the Southern region. The scenery that time of year is hit or miss for mountains and blue skies.

Posted by
2876 posts

We were in Prague during the last week of March a couple of years ago. Highs each day were in the upper 30s/low 40's and there was some light snow almost every day. But we had a great time & walked everywhere. When we felt too cold we just ducked into a cafe or pub or store. We didn't have to deal with the summer crowds.

One tip: if you go to one of the many evening concerts in one of the old churches, those places are C-O-L-D. It had never occurred to us before that all those beautiful cathedrals across Europe had NO HEAT in the winter. Medieval worshippers must have been pretty tough.