Help Planning European Girl Scout Trip (July 2015)

Hi, I am in the beginning stages of planning a trip for my girl scout troop and am hoping to get suggestions on our planned itinerary. I've read Rick's Europe through the Back Door and all of the posts helping Felicia's troop last year which were enormously helpful and now want to firm up our itinerary so we can get down to planning specific places to stay / visit / eat. We are a troop of 14 girls and 6 adults from rural New Jersey and the girls will be 16 the summer we go. Our plan is to be in Europe for the 2nd and 3rd weeks of July but that is somewhat flexible as long as they are back by the end of July since fall sports begin then and we can't leave until July 1st as all of the adults going are teachers and can't commit to travel until the school year is definetely over. I'll post our itinerary in the next post. Jennifer

Posted by Jennifer
Great Meadows, NJ - New J, United States
9 posts

So with that background our tentative plan is: Day 0: Fly from Newark, NJ to London on a late night flight Day 1: Arrive London, check into Pax Lodge (the Girl Scout World Centre) and tour London Day 2: London Day 3: Tour London / late afternoon train to Paris / Tour Paris in evening Day 4: Paris Day 5: Day trip to D-day Beaches in Normandy Day 6: Paris / Night Train to Switzerland (Not sure where?) Day 7: Switzerland (again not sure where but thinking they'd like to hike the alps / enjoy the outdoors) Day 8: Switzerland Day 9: early train to Venice / Tour Venice Day 10: Venice Day 11: early train to Rome / tour Rome Day 12: Rome Day 13: Rome Day 14: flight home to New Jersey Of the above the only must do's are London / Paris / Venice / Rome with a request from the girls to have some time outside of a major city to enjoy the countryside so that's where the Swiss alps come in but other ideas would be great. The day trip to Normandy would be great but not sure if it's practical so I'm open to suggestions and I'd love input on the amount of time we're spending in each place. Thanks in advance,
Jennifer

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10882 posts

Drop the d-day beaches. Too far for a convenient day trip.

Posted by Jennifer
Great Meadows, NJ - New J, United States
9 posts

That's what i was afraid of. :( I read some guidebooks that suggested it and I have a few history buffs who would really like to get there but I don't want to hotel hop more than neccesary. The book that suggested it listed a few tour companies that would pick you up at your hotel in paris and take you to Normany to tour the American Cemetaries and more for the day. If anyone thinks it's doable or has done it themselves I'd love to know that but otherwise it may have to be scratched off the list.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17776 posts

Jennifer, Day tours of a few of the D-Day sights are offered from Paris by Pariscityvision and others, but they tend to be expensive. Also, due to the travel times back and forth, they're only able to cover a few sites. That may be enough for the "history buffs"? The best method is to spend at least one night in Bayeux, and take one of the excellent local all-day tours. With a group that size, pre-booking well in advance would be essential. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Jennifer
Great Meadows, NJ - New J, United States
9 posts

Thanks so much for the feedback - based on everyone's input I'm going to drop the day trip to the D-Day beaches and suggest the Invalid Museum to the girls and we'll have no trouble finding a way to use that day in and around Paris. As far as Switzerland goes, I actually had a chance to speak with Felicia who was enormously helpful and then spoke to my girls about choices they needed to make and they decided to visit Pax Lodge in London (which is one of the other Girl SCout World Centre's) and skip Our Chalet because Our Chalet is difficult to get to and would eat up at least 3 days of their trip. So we defintely don't need to go to Switzerland at all and while I know my girls would love to see the Alps I am totally ok with telling them it's impractical and throwing out other choices such as exploring other parts of France or Italy. Any suggestions on areas in France or Italy to explore that will be outdoorsy and reduce the museum overload? Also, any input on the number of days we're spending in London / Paris / Venice / Rome would be greatly appreciated. I know we'll never get to do it all but I want to make sure we have enough time to see each place that we don't end up feeling like we toured train stations.
Thanks again

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

As Ken ( and most agree) the best way to do the D Day beaches is as an overnight, but frankly, you do not appear to have the time for that, you are already moving at a brisk pace. You can do D Day beaches as a daytrip from Paris on a bus tour, absolutely, there are two well known and reputable companies that do them, but at this date ( and who knows what it will be in 2 years ) its 172 EUROS each and a 14 hour day.
www.pariscityvision.com/ is one company and there is another company is Francetourism , they are cheaper at 110 Euros per person, and 12 hours, a long day also, you will have to compare the products. www.francetourism.fr/ Both companies are reputable and have been around for years, Pariscityvisions used to be two companys that have now merged. I have taken tours on both, but not the D Day tours.

Posted by Jennifer
Great Meadows, NJ - New J, United States
9 posts

I was reading over the replies some more and had a question - Kathy mentioned only having a day in London as the first day will be spent settling in. I'm wondering if I'm missing something as the flights have us arriving by around 8 am and our plan was to spend the entire first day sightseeing and have an early dinner and then go to bed at a decent hour so we can be up and rested early the next morning. Then we would tour for a full second day and catch an evening play and then the third day I thinking of taking a 4 pm train to London which should give us the morning and then eat lunch before heading to the train station. It's possible I'm being overly ambitious with this although the girls are definetely energetic and we've traveled together (albeit only to Cape Cod for 4 days and other shorter trips) and they've been great about moving quickly and covering alot of ground. I am figuring that by about the 5th day or so they're going to need to sleep in to catch up but am hoping that they will be raring to go in London. Please feel free to tell me if you think I'm insane !

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

I would skip doing the D Day beaches, just for cost alone, but also it will be such a long day. Instead may I suggest for history buffs, especially regarding the WWs then you really need to include a visit to Invalids Army Museum, I have taken my kids ( my daughter was 11 my son 13 , my other son 14) and they all enjoyed it. It starts with medival weapons, armour, etc, and goes right through both WWs.. its never crowded too, its really an overlooked museum.Do look it up. I personally think you are trying to cram quite a lot in, but the girls are young and likely won't mind all the moving. Do keep in mind every move makes the trip a bit more expensive, and often you use up minimally 1/2 a day moving.. you don't want your trip to be a tour of train stations right? If you had more time in base cities you could build in some countryside exploring, a train to Vernon , then renting bikes for a lovely ride to Monets Gardens would be ideal. Stop in the small town for lunch supplies, a picnic by the river, then a nice easy ride on an old decommisioned rail line that has been converted to a pedestrian and bike path along the river.

Posted by Suz
Denver, USA
223 posts

I'm wondering why you'd need to go all the way to Switzerland instead of spending time in the countryside in France or Italy. I realize the Swiss scenery can be amazing, but at that point in your itinerary you'll be hitting the week mark, and it might be better to build in a relaxation day. I know, Switzerland can be breathtaking, but just jamming it into a day or two (including travel) seems inadequate and arbitrary. Also tiring and expensive. There are the options Pat suggested, i.e., exploring the area around Paris. If you want to move on from Paris, I'm sure there are some interesting bits of countryside where you could stop for a night or two between Paris and Venice, and explore the outdoors. Just my two cents, of course.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7682 posts

As Girl Scouts, they are probably going to Our Chalet in Switzerland, just as Felicia's group did. It is usually part of the reason Girl Scouts go to Europe.

Posted by Suz
Denver, USA
223 posts

Well, that makes sense then. I vaguely recall joining the Brownies when I was 6 or 7. I think I must have flunked out, or been thrown out. Or something. All I know about Girl Scouts, I read on a box of Thin Mints.

Posted by Kathy
Germany, Germany
800 posts

I've been all over Europe with various aged girl scouts. You want to contact Our Chalet today to get a reservation. If they're already full, try the boy scout lodge in Kandersteg, just the next valley over, then get a tour of Our Chalet instead of staying there. You should skip Rome, leave from Venice, and add a day each to London and Venice. You really only have one day in London. It's a great city the girls will love, it's a shame to fly all that way and only spend one day there. The day you fly in will be spent getting settled, you may get a play in that evening though. Not doing Normandy will free up a day for Paris, so you're good there. Then spend a few full days in Venice. Have fun!

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

I too immediately thought of Felicia and her Girl Scouts going to Our Chalet near Adelboden last summer. This is right on the way between France and Italy (Milan) so it makes sense for them to go there (or Kandersteg) to enjoy the alps. If Our Chalet is already booked, you can stay in the dorm at the mountain lodge at Oeschinensee, just out of Kandersteg. They are used to accommodating youth groups there. It is beautiful and there is fantastic hiking around that area. www.oeschinensee.ch Kathy has given you some great suggestions on your itinerary. I would agree on skipping Rome and adding time to Switzerland. You could also spend a night in Verona on the way to Venice, and maybe see an opera in the Roman amphitheater. Verona is a lovely city and there is much more to it than the Romeo and Juliet story.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

The Scouting Center in Kandersteg is not just for Boy Scouts, it is the International Scouting Center and lots of girls are there too: http://www.kisc.ch/

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Awwww, don't give up on Switzerland so easily. You don't have to take the girls to Our Chalet; there are other places to go that are literally right on your way between Paris and Venice (or Rome if you go there first). Note that Felicia had trouble getting to Our Chalet becuse some of her group flew separately on miles tickets; one plane was delayed and they had trouble getting everyone together. Plus there is a bus section to get to Our Chalet that made it a bit tougher to schedule. Kandersteg, on the other hand, is smack on the way. It is 5 hours 18 minutes from Paris by train, with very easy train changes at Basel and Bern. You can get deeply discounted tickets from Paris to Basel on the TGV. Then Kandersteg to Venice is 6 hours with either a single change at Brig, or maybe 2 at Brig and Milan. Total just over 11 hours. If you went directly from Paris to Venice by train, by the "direct" route via Turin (avoiding Switzerland), it still takes 11 hours. So, unless you want to fly from Paris to Italy (something I would not want to tackle with a group of 20), you go right through Switzerland, and can easily stop for a bit of hiking and scenic splendor. You could arrive early afternoon the first day and have 5-6 hours that day, plus all the next, before moving on toward Italy. It would make a perfect break in the trip, with cities and museums on either side. You could check with Hotel Oeschinensee about a group rate. And wake up to the sound of cowbells each morning.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2899 posts

I was reading over the replies some more and had a question - Kathy mentioned only having a day in London as the first day will be spent settling in. I'm wondering if I'm missing something as the flights have us arriving by around 8 am and our plan was to spend the entire first day sightseeing It can take an hour to get through immigration at Heathrow (particularly if you are coming in during morning when many international flights arrive) and it will take more than an hour to get to your accommodation in Hampstead. But, the real issue is that you all will be jet lagged. I think most people find that they don't get as much as they hoped done on their first day because of the transit time and lack of sleep on the overnight flight. Just recognize that and prioritize accordingly ...

Posted by Carol
Atlanta, GA, USA
679 posts

You are not going to like this, but..... As a Lifelong Girl Scout who has taken groups to Europe and elsewhere, you need to take a giant step back "I am totally OK with telling girls"..... At 16 they should be telling YOU. So what are they saying they want to do? Also, you are too ambitious on the first day in London. It was lunch time before we got to Victoria Station and then we still had to get to Hampstead and everyone was exhausted. The only reason we got much done at all was I had to arrive a day early as I had moved and no longer lived in the same city so I was prepared and not as exhausted You also need to reserve Pax lodge ASAP.

Posted by Jennifer
Great Meadows, NJ - New J, United States
9 posts

Carol- Thanks for the reccomendation to reserve Pax Lodge. I will contact them today but I had read on their website that they only take reservations 1 year in advance and we are still over 2 years out on this trip but I will double check in case. Also, I totally agree that the girls need to plan this trip and they have but I still retain veto power when the things they want to do are outsie of my comfort zone and that of my co-leaders. They understand that there are 14 of them and that all of their requests may not be able to be accomadated in one trip. Some of them were hoping to add Ireland and Greece to our trip and I've had to say that we can't do that and also London, Paris, Italy and stay within our 14 day maximum. The great part about this troop is I've been with these girls since Daisy's and they are actively involved in everything they do include reading the Rick Steve's travel guides and this forum so that they understand the rationalle behind some of the decisions that need to be made. So please continue to share any thoughts - while I am responding the girls are enjoying reading the answers they get and are amazed that so many people are willing to share their expertise to help them have a memorable trip!

Posted by Jennifer
Great Meadows, NJ - New J, United States
9 posts

Lola - thank you so much for the international scout centre reccomendation! It looks amazing and I think the girls will fall in love with it. It may be just the thing to help them chill out in the middle of the trip and recharge. Thanks again!

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

You are welcome! If the International Scouting Center doesn't work out for some reason (minimum stays, program doesn't fir your group's needs, etc.), then you and the girls should check out Hotel Oeschinensee up at the lake. I gave you the website; check the photos. The rustic inn sits on the shore of a stunningly beautiful lake. They have private rooms and also a Matratzenlager (dormitory) with about 40 beds. We have taken teens there and they absolutely loved it. The Wandfluh family has farmed in the area for about 500 years; their cows graze the lawn in the morning and evening, and they serve produce from their garden at meals (the food is terrific, and our kids got a kick out of their ice-cream specialties). Cost per person in the dorm is around 38-40 CHF including breakfast. You ride a gondola to get there. If you want to experience the Swiss alps, this is a great place to do so.

Posted by Sylvia
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
331 posts

Jennifer, all I can tell you as a mom of 2 teenaged girls , the girls will be Very tired and Very cranky the first day. You might want to budget for a 2 hour nap mid-day, a good cup of tea with a snack then some sightseeing in the evening. If at all possible extend your London visit by one more day.

Posted by Jennifer
Great Meadows, NJ - New J, United States
9 posts

OK - based on everyones feedback I talked to the girls and we have made some revisions to our still tentative plan: We will stay in London for one more night which will give us a second full day to tour so if they are jet lagged on arrival day we can go with the flow, got rid of the day trip to the D-Day beaches giving us an additional day in Paris and the big change is that we will go to the International Scouting Centre in Kandersteg, Switzerland which the girls all looked at and fell in love with (with a backup of the gorgeous hotel near there that Lola reccomended). Rome is one of their must do's so as much as it would be simpler to skip and go to Florence or Verona or other parts of Italy I have to make that part of the trip work for them. So here it is - it's still a work in progress so if anyone has any suggestions they are much appreciated. Day 0: Evening flight from EWR to London Day 1: Arrive London early morning,Tour London ; check into Pax Lodge Day 2: London Day 3: London Day 4:Take EuroRail to Paris. Arrive 6 pm. Tour Paris Day 5:Tour Paris Day 6: Paris all day, Night Train to Kandersteg, Switzerland Day 7: Arrive Kandersteg early morning, International Scouting Centre Day 8: Kandersteg, Switzerland Day 9: Early morning train to Venice, Explore Venice Day 10: Explore Venice Day 11: Early morning train to Rome, Explore Rome Day 12: Explore Rome Day 13: Explore Rome
Day 14: Flight home

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2501 posts

Jennifer, glad you stayed with Rome. I understand this trip to be educational as well as fun for the girls, and I can't imagine leaving Rome out. It will
be hot, so keep hydrated and take sunblock! Also chek the Ron in Rome site for great practical advice.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8755 posts

Jennifer, comments about the revisions - looks like an exciting journey for all the girls and all the ladies, pleasant memories come to me of felecia from Tulsa, last year. Day 4 The name of the train is Eurostar. There is a minimum 30 minute check in time and perhaps with a group of 20 a few minutes earlier would be good. The 1431 arrives in Paris Gare du Nord at 1747 6 days a week. It doesn't run on Saturdays though. Day 6 (night into Day 7) I'm afraid I have bad news. There isn't a suitable overnight connection between Paris and Kandersteg. They all have horrible long connections in the middle of the night when there aren't trains. I think the girls will always remember not only staying at Our Chalet but also Pax Lodge too. Makes selling all those cookies worth it doesn't it? The first, Paris Gare de Lyon 1911 to Geneva, 14 minute connection to the train to Brig, arriving Brig 01:02, the train to Kandersteg doesn't leave for over 4 hours at 5:16, arriving Kandersteg at 5:53. That might be just a bit early for hiking up the hill. There is very very little in or immediately near the Brig station. The second takes 90 minutes longer and involves Mulhouse for 5 and a half hours. Not what I would want to do. The third involves 6 hours in Strasbourg and three quarters of an hour in Bern. - = - or you could take the short journey in one day. You could leave Paris Gare de Lyon at 16:23 and arrive at Kandersteg at 21:41, with a 5 minute connection just across the platform at Basel and 10 minutes at Spiez, jst down the road from Kandersteg. or in the morning, turf them out of bed for a 6:15 departure on the same route with the same 5 minutes from platform 9 to platform 10 on the same island in Basel, and 12 minutes at Bern to cross the island from 3 to 4. You would be at Kandersteg 11:41, just in time to get up the hill and have lunch. sorry.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

Trip is still too complicated.
You don't count time for boring stuff.. like storing luggage on days you are travelling. Many places will store luggage, but maybe not 20 bags,, you need to precheck they are willing or able to do that( many places just put luggage behind desk or in a small closet) . If not you will have to transport luggage to storage lockers in train stations before you can do any touring that day,, think about it. Your trip would work ok for a couple or group of 4, but moving a group of 20 everything takes so much longer. Bathroom breaks in Paris may take 1/2 hour, I have waited 15 minutes for loos in many places, can't imagine having to wait for 20 people to get in and out of washrooms..

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8755 posts

For travel on the Eurostar to Paris consider using their group sales facility at
http://www.eurostar.com/dynamic/_SvBoGroupCriteriaTerm?_DLG=SvBoAvailabilityTravelCriteriaTerm&rfrr=UK%3AUK%3AexpressBook_body_groupbookings sorry couldn't make it a hot link - it is too long. Note that you can book with them 10 months ahead and they will do all sorts of things for you, and give you 10 percent below normal discount tickets - nonrefundable of course.

Posted by felicia
tulsa
192 posts

Jennifer,
You're doing a great job and planning plenty far in advance. Don't give up on Switzerland. We loved our stay and experience at Our Chalet but I'm sure Lola's other recommendations are great also. You've got some great folks helping you on this post. I think between Lola and Nigel they can help you get the train and Switzerland worked out. Nigel also has the ideal place to stay in Venice when you get ready to book accommodations. I think it was called Don Orione.(did I send you my itinerary? it might be listed on there). It is perfect for groups. You're arrival/jet lag day will be rough. Everyone will be tired and hungry. Many unexpecteds can happen. One checked luggage did not arrive with the flight and it took over an hour to file out the paper work for that. It does take awhile to get everyone thru the bathroom. I'm very thankful all my questions and posts are helping another girl scout troop with their plans. It does change their lives and broadens their possibilities in so many ways.

Posted by Jennifer
Great Meadows, NJ - New J, United States
9 posts

Nigel - thank you so much for the train info. I think your suggestion of a late afternoon trip arriving 21:41 makes the most sense with teenagers (they don't seem to like waking up real early and I figure just under halfway through the trip they may be getting a little tired). It may work out better than a night train would have since you never know who won't be able to sleep on a trian anyway. Felicia - thanks for the words of encouragement! It makes it seem so much less overwhelming knowing that you did it and having been able to talk to you about it. I know the girls are already incredibly excited about the trip and I'm trying to get as much planned as possible early on but it seems the airfare and trains can't be booked yet which makes it much harder to come up with a final cost but I'm figuring it will still be in the same ballpark and I'll have to happy with that for now.

Posted by Deb
Sioux Falls, SD
98 posts

Maybe instead of Switzerland, look into the Torino area of Italy (the Italian alps). You may remember the winter Olympics were held in Torino a few years back. Hiking available around the area. Just a thought

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
1010 posts

SKIP Switzerland this trip! Spend an extra 2 days in France and take the Girl Scouts to Normandy for the D-Day beaches and the history there! This IS the Girl Scouts, for Heaven's sake! You are trying to do too many countries and two few days on the ground. Every time move to another country you waste almost an ENTIRE day in traveling. God Bless you for taking these girls on this trip -- but try to eliminate some of the cities, it's too much!!

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
1010 posts

SKIP Switzerland this trip! Spend an extra 2 days in France and take the Girl Scouts to Normandy for the D-Day beaches and the history there! This IS the Girl Scouts, for Heaven's sake! You are trying to do too many countries and two few days on the ground. Every time move to another country you waste almost an ENTIRE day in traveling. God Bless you for taking these girls on this trip -- but try to eliminate some of the cities, it's too much!!

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

Skip Switzerland and add Normandy???? Too many stops??? Switzerland is right on the way from Paris to Italy. Normandy is not. These girls are teens. If they have an interest in WWii history, they can return later. It is out of their way for this trip, and the girls have not wxpressed an interest, at least as far as we have heard. Their parents would have been too young to have fought there, so it can have little personal connection for them.