advice

I am going to Europe for 34 days with my cousin. My plan is to stay in one city for 1 week in France, 1 city for one week in Spain and 1 city for one week in Italy and do day trips to different cities within the country. For the final part of my trip I was thinking about renting a car and driving from Italy and go through Austria, Germany and Belgium. Nothing planned just get in a car and see where we end up. Just don't know if it's crazy to rent a car there or not? Thoughts on base cities within France, Spain and Italy would also be appreciated.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1358 posts

hi, out of the countries you list, ive only been to France and Calais and Paris specifically. If the train system in all of the other countries you list are like Frances and the UK, which ive been to also, I would rather take the train and or plane if its long distances. then get a car in some lodging base where ever i stay if at all possible. But i will say that i dont like to drive, so im biased. but from what ive experienced in my travels so far, they make it easy to hangup the car keys and let them do the driving. as far as using a car, if it was me, i would be doing some research into what i want to do/see in each country that way i could find my "base" to stay hopefully central to all of the things i want to/do see. then determine if a car was needed. happy trails.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

You're making a smart movestaying in one place and really getting to know the people and society. What's going to be hard is picking the towns to do day trips out of. I also like that you're going to ramble through Austria and Germany. Get into Amsterdam, and you might not want to move on to Belgium. It's just so lively. I'm not a Francophile, so someone else can tell you what's a great place to stay. I've not been to Spain, either.
But for Italy, I would suggest staying just south of Florence in the Chianti region or around San Gimignano. Tuscany and northern Italy is best seen with a rental car, too.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

It's not "crazy" to rent a car, but there are some issues to be aware of. One potential problem with your plan is that a rental car picked up in one country and returned in another usually incurs a high surcharge (someone just posted €600). You would have to weight this extra charge against the hassle of picking up different cars in each country and using buses or trains to connect countries (which also has expense), or of a loop trip back to your original country (with 34 days, this is not unreasonable). Cars returned in the same country they were picked up (even if it's a different city) usually have not surcharge. Another problem is that cars rented in Italy have all kinds of mandatory insurance that raises the price. If you're only driving in Italy, that's fine, but if you're planning to be in other places where a rental car may be less expensive, it may pay to take a train to, say, Austria and rent there. You will have to account for the cost of gas, tolls, and parking (all potentially much more expensive than you are used to). For Austria you will need a vignette (toll sticker). For Italy (and maybe some of your other countries - not sure), you will need to get an International Driver's Permit and carry it along with your Canadian driver's license. And for Italy, you will need to learn about ZTL's and how to avoid them, or you'll get a nasty and expensive surprise months after your trip is over. Again, none of this is meant as discouragement, but to make you aware now, so you don't have trouble later.

Posted by Jeff
Bend, OR, United States
1145 posts

Without knowing what you interests are it is hard to give a meaningful answer. You should go to places that interest you, not places that interest some total stranger.

Posted by Sylvia
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
331 posts

Tanya, I think a trip with your cousin sounds terrific (I'm doing the same thing this summer) and think that under those circumstances the train may be your best friend. All those countries have good train systems and not having to worry about whose turn it is to navigate, or who has to abstain from a few drinks because they're the designated driver, will make the trip that much more fun. My suggestion is to get a good guide book (Ricks Europe Through the Back door is my Fav) and see which places sound exciting to you both.
We did just over a week in each of these countries : Holland (Amsterdam,Haarlem, Apeldoorn & Heemskerk) France (Paris, Aillac) and Italy (Cinque Terre + La Sera) with 2 teens taking the train Everywhere and loved it. We did day trips, we hung around and enjoyed the cities and towns we stayed in and we couldn't have had a better time. There was a fair bit of waiting for trains involved, but relatively speaking the train schedules are pretty regular. Some of the places we saw were based more on "okay, we are here now, where shall we go" rather than being destination places we had chosen in advance.

Posted by Tanya
North Bay, Ontario, Canada
5 posts

Thanks everyone for the comments. I just ordered a few of the Rick Steves books so that should help too.

Posted by Tanya
North Bay, Ontario, Canada
5 posts

So if I travelled just by train, this is my itinerary - thoughts?? paris 4 nights June 29,30 July 1,2 overnight train 1 night travel Madrid 5 nights July 4,5,6,7,8 overnight train 1 night travel Nice 2 nights July 10,11 0.5 day travel florence 7 nights July 12,13,14,15,16,17,18 0.25 day travel Bern 2 nights July 19,20 0.25 day travel Frankfurt spend the day 1 day train (18 hrs)1 night travel Berlin 2 nights July 22,23 0.5 day travel amsterdam 2 nights July 24,25 0.25 day travel brussells 4 nights July 26,27,28,29 0.25 day travel paris 1 night July 31 leave for home on August 1st
34 days total

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

In addition to agreeing with Elle (I found Brussels distinctly underwhelming, but you can see almost all of Belgium as daytrips from there), I question your Frankfurt to Berlin timeline. You wrote it as an 18 hour day and overnight trip, but it's a 4 hour high speed train ride.

Posted by Nancy
London, UK
159 posts

I would pretty much skip Brussels. I would take the train from Brussels and spend 2 nights in Brugge and add more nights to Amsterdam.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

Lots of good advice so far, I'll add mine... 1. When exactly are you planning to go? This is really important, since it could have a big impact on where to go (and in what order). Avoid the hot southern areas in July & August if you can. Most of us prefer the "shoulder" seasons for these places - better weather and not a badly crowded. 2. You should try to plan this stuff well in advance (so I hope you're not shooting for a May or June departure) and it sounds to me like you need to resist starting to nail down a specific itinerary and do more research and more thinking about what's important to you - without that, you will probably not be able to make an itinerary that meets your goals. 3. Your overall plan (which I'd summarize as 1 week each in France, Spain and Italy, plus another week spread across Belgium/Germany/Austria) is somewhat reasonable, with the following caveats: A). You won't "see" any of these countries in a week, but you can get a taste of each. Even once you accept that, you will be faced with difficult choices - each of these countries has several "five star" cities/regions you could base yourself in (OK, Paris is the obvious choice for France, but the others are more complicated).
B) A week spread across Belgium/Germany/Austria will not be the leisurely road trip you might expect - that's a lot of ground to cover in a week. Adding a car into the mix might actually slow you down. I'd suggest cutting one of the sections of your trip (France, Spain, Italy, or combined Belgium/Germany/Austria). You could squeeze in a short visit to Amsterdam and/or Bruges, but I would save Germany/Austria for another trip.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

one more... Beware of the "night train" gambit. Rick loves to present this as a clever trick that allows you to save the cost of a hotel and arrive in a new place, fresh and ready to go, but unless you know you will be able to sleep well on a train (many people don't sleep at all) you may well be a zombie the next 2-3 days after you suffer a completely sleepless night on that train. If you can sleep in anything, regardless of the noise level, vibrations, constant motion, flashing lights and other disturbances (some people can), then it can work out great. But for many people, its a recipe for a night of misery followed by several days of discomfort as you try to recover from the effects. It just depends how you're built. Hope that helps.

Posted by Tanya
North Bay, Ontario, Canada
5 posts

I have family on Belgium (mind you I have never met them) and thought I would look them up or do some digging on family history. I read Amsterdam has beautiful architecture... I also know that people enjoy going there for their more "free spirited" laws - which by the way is not my thing ;)
Is it still that great a place to spend more time in if you're not going for their "free spirit"

Posted by Sylvia
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
331 posts

I love Holland and would highly recommend staying longer if you can. Amsterdam is an exciting city even if you are not into the Free Spirit thing (I'm not). It's a great city to use as a hub for day trips to beautiful towns like Haarlem ,one of my personal favourite places. If it were my trip (and it's not) I would probably skip Brussels.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3586 posts

I didn't see where you had already purchased airline tickets. Try to fly into Madrid, then continue on with your itinerary and end in Paris. As mentioned already...no multi-country trips with a car - drop-off fees! I think you have to at least see Grand Place in Brussels; leave luggage in a train station locker, if necessary. OR, see Brussels as a day trip from Bruges (or some other town). I happen to like Brussels, but...some don't. You may need to do family research there...Are you planning on meeting any of your family?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17792 posts

Tanya, Where are you getting your travel times? From Nice to Florence will likely be more than half a day, and from Florence to Bern will be more than a quarter of a day (if I'm reading your chart correctly?). As the others have mentioned, renting a car and meandering across Europe has a few "issues" to be aware of and the first is the huge drop-off fee. You'll also have to be concerned about high CDW costs, fuel costs, tolls, highway tax vignettes, parking, possible fines and the fact that EACH driver will require the compulsory I.D.P. for driving in Italy. That's not a method I'd suggest for the trip you're contemplating. Cheers!

Posted by Tanya
North Bay, Ontario, Canada
5 posts

I haven't booked my flight yet so nothing is in stone (waiting for a good deal - so I can fly on and out of anywhere). I plan to leave out of Toronto on June 28 at night and leaving back home on August 1. I figure this is my one shot to go to Europe - I'm newly single again and before I settle down again I want to travel. I'm not afraid of moving at a fast pace, if I can say that I've "been there and seen that" the. I'll be happy. Not crazy on museums but would want to go see something famous like the Mona Lisa, I appreciate architecture... I want to go and have a place to stay when I first get there and then would "like" to have an idea of where I want to go but the freedom to change my plans if I want. I got my train times from the eurail site but I obviously goofed on a couple of them... :). The cities on my itinerary are based on major cities I saw on eurail. Again not set in stone.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

I plan to leave out of Toronto on June 28 at night and leaving back home on August 1... Of what year - 2013? There's one problem. You're trying to go at the very worst time of the year (in terms of prices, crowds, and other demand-driven issues). Spain, Italy and other southern destinations can be brutally hot and humid at that time of year. Maybe this is really the only time you can go (or when you choose to go), but good luck "waiting for a good deal" on flights at this point, so late in the game. If you are planning this for July of 2014, then you're in good shape, you have time to look for a good deal on flights, and most of all you have some time to educate yourself, figure out what your priorities are and taylor the trip to those. If you mean this year, then you are late to be starting (since you seem to only have a vague notion of what you want and what's realistic). Check your calendar. It's half-past April, and you're trying to nail down a trip to Europe at the most popular time of the year, leaving just a couple months from now. Doing a trip on short notice with little planning is not impossible (some people like that) but combine that with inexperience + non-optimal choices and you can easily have a trip that leaves your disappointed. I figure this is my one shot to go to Europe Only if you choose to handicap yourself by concluding that. Many here would urge you to reconsider, as this "must do it all, now" mindset can cause you to make very, very poor choices which can turn your "trip of a lifetime" into an expensive, wasteful train wreck. Honestly, I would be careful with some of your fundamental assumptions, and suggest it would be wise to take a step back, and listen to the advice of many helpful folks here. Good luck.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2612 posts

I assume you are going this year, so although some people think this is last minute...you still have time to pull off a great trip. I would look at airline ticket asap... try Iceland Air as I think there are some good rates from Canada. As far as itinerary, you are definitely doing a lot, but if you can handle it I say go for it. Itinerary... I would look at flying into Spain (possibly the south) maybe Malaga or Sevilla as home base. Make your way to France...definitely Paris as your home base, on to Italy where you can rent a car and explore Tuscany. Stay in a village and do a day trip to Florence and explore villages and hill towns. Return the car and go to Frankfurt in Germany, get another car and do a road trip through southern Germany and Austria (including Salzburg)maybe Lake of Constance... return car to Frankfurt and fly home from there. I can't seem to figure in Belgium, its a bit of driving to include it. Maybe skip it this trip? Or give up something else.
A week in each of these places will just give you a taste...but it's better than nothing. I would probably make a few hotel reservations in big cities, but it is quite easy to 'wing it' when you have a car. If everything is booked in one town, just drive to the next. Lots of people do it all the time (just not a lot of people on this board) but if you want to travel spontaneously its all part of the journey. I have found some wonderful places this way and I love having the freedom to move about as I please. There are some times when this is too stressful for me, but for the most part its a bonus. Have a great time... and none of us ever know if we will return... we only hope we will, so travel with no regrets.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17792 posts

Tanya, Just a suggestion..... DON'T use the Eurail website to research train times. The best website for travel throughout Europe is the bahn.de website (German Rail). For travel at the beginning of July, your plan to use the "spontaneous" approach to finding accommodations may not be the best idea. That's PEAK travel time in Europe and it will likely be hot and crowded! You could be lucky, but you could also find that it takes some time to find a place to sleep when you arrive in each new city, and you may have to accept something that's above your price level, in a less desirable part of town or perhaps even a bit "dodgy". IMO, spending time looking for a place to bunk is a waste of valuable holiday time. I'll try and have a closer look at your route later tonight, when I have more time and try to offer some suggestions. Cheers!