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When you give a girl a trip to Europe...

Overwhelmed, Flustered, Giddy, Excited, Stressed, Longing, Frustrated, Joyful…

Somehow, I think I’m experiencing these feelings all at once.

Background – It has been a lifelong dream of mine to travel to Europe. I came very close at the age of 20, but my best friend who I was to travel with got pregnant, and the trip never happened. Fast forward 29 years… My awesome husband is taking me there for my 50th birthday! It’s in May, but since I work in a school, we will go to Europe in mid-June, when school is out. I’m so excited (among all other emotions listed above) You see, this will more than likely be our only trip to Europe ( I know I’m not supposed to think that way, but we are blue collar middle class, and it’s just not in our budget.)

We’ve been watching Rick Steves for years- we love his travel style and everything just makes sense and matches how we think a trip to Europe should be. I bought his Italy book and his Germany book, a Michelin map of both those countries, and one of Europe. I thought I had this trip planned out, but I have changed my mind 5 times. And I know it has to change again to figure this all out. Here’s what I want to do/see most of all…

Italy – Especially Rome and the Vatican

Germany – Mainly to see where my great great grandparents came from, and I’ve wanted to go to Haufbrau Haus in Munich for years!

We have 21 days, might be able to squeeze in a few more.

The original plan:

Rome, Assisi, Padua, Venice, Munich, Liechtenstein, Bavaria, Romantic Rhine, Cologne

The 2nd plan:

Rome, Assisi, Florence, Padua, Venice, Munich, Rothenburg, Rhine Valley, Mosel River, Koblenz, Burg Eltz, Luxembourg, Cologne, Brussels, then fly out of Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt, (nixed Liechtenstein, turns out I have family in Luxembourg not Liechtenstein)

Realizing this couldn’t be done in 21 days, and feeling like there was no way to figure out all the transportation, reservations, etc. I decided to give up and go with

The 3rd plan:

Rick Steves’ best of Venice, Florence and Rome in 10 days, and try to get a Germany tour in there too…
But none of Rick’s tours in June/July coincide with the dates I need, or where I want to venture in Germany, and it doesn’t look like he has a “Germany your way tour”

When researching Germany tours, I came across Germany, Switzerland, Austria, which sounds mostly amazing, but I don’t have much interest in Austria… but it starts with Burg Eltz, and I could fly in early and do the Cologne and Romantic Rhine area ahead of the tour…. But it doesn’t coincide with an Italy tour on the other end…

I kind of feel like “When You Give a Mouse a Cookie..”

but instead it’s “When you give Stacy a trip to Europe…”

Plan 5 –

Best of Europe in 14 Days… but it doesn’t go everywhere I want

I know that if I want to go where I want to go, I need to plan it myself… but I’m so intimidated and going with a Rick Steves tour, just seems so much more hassle free…

Looking for advice, suggestions, and tips

Posted by
99 posts

Thought of another question-
If we do a Rick Steve's tour in either Germany or Italy, and are on our own in the other country, which country would be best to travel in independently, Italy (mainly Rome)? Or Germany (from Cologne to Munich)? ...as far as ease of getting around, friendliness of locals, etc.

Posted by
404 posts

Wow congrats! The BOE14 days is a great way to see a lot in a short amount of time. Start in Paris and end in Rome. Add days at the start or end. It is an amazing trip & you could never do it all on your own. Enjoy

Posted by
30149 posts

Stacy,

Since this is possibly your only trip to Europe and also your first time travelling there, I'd suggest a RS tour along with some time on your own either before or after the tour. The Best of Europe 14 Days would be a good choice! With only a very short three weeks, you may not be able to tick all the boxes on your wish list, so some compromises might be necessary.

Going with a RS tour is indeed "more hassle free" and you'll learn more and have a more rewarding trip. You'll have "front-of-the-line" access at the sights you'll be visiting so that will reduce the hassles. More importantly, you'll gain some valuable travel skills that will help you travel on your own in future.

Since you're not going until next year, my first suggestion would be to read Europe Through The Back Door as that will provide you with a lot of information on "how" to travel well in Europe. BTW, I'm also "blue collar middle class" and have managed to travel. You may find some way of "creative financing" that makes more than one trip possible.

Where did your great grandparents come from? You'll have a free afternoon and evening on Day 7 in Munich, so if it's close you may be able to get there.

You might be able to fit Luxembourg into the mix by flying inbound to Frankfurt, visit Luxembourg and then travel to Paris for the start of your tour. Which town in Luxembourg do your relatives live in?

IMO, don't bother with Mosel River, Koblenz, Burg Eltz, Cologne, Brussels or Amsterdam on this trip. You simply don't have time. Burg Eltz can be a bit of a "challenge" to get to on your own, unless you're willing to take the arduous hike through the woods from Moselkern.

If you take the RS BOE 14 Day tour, you could also spend a few days after the tour to visit Assisi, Orvieto or other historic towns. It's an easy train ride from Rome to Assisi (about two hours using a direct Regionale train). Also you can visit Padova on your free afternoon on Day 9 of the tour in Venice. It's only about an hour by train from Venezia Santa Lucia. I'd suggest using a Regionale train as it's cheaper and the about the same travel time as the high speed trains.

You'll need to do some "homework" on using trains and other public transit in Italy, as there are some potentially expensive caveats. We can cover that that detail once you have a more definite Itinerary worked out.

I can suggest an Itinerary if you'd like. Don't give up hope, with input from the group here, it will all come together.

Posted by
869 posts

What are your MUST SEE places?

I'd suggest the BOE tour myself, but what places do you want to see that it doesn't cover?

Posted by
8568 posts

Stacy this is so exciting for you! I think you are making a wise choice to go with R.S. and add on a few days on your own. Ken's advice is terrific.

Posted by
13 posts

Congrats! I can fully empathize.... It took 27 years for me to get my dream trip. I can guarantee you'll be saving to visit again :) I didn't choose a tour operator but did pick a 3rd party site that booked my hotels, flights, and connections. I wanted to have the freedom to choose the cities myself & create my own itinerary. It was a great compromise. As a 1st time traveler to continental Europe it was very helpful and well-planned. I don't have the $ or flexibilty to book with one of the tour companies, but have been watching Rick Steves since I was a teen & would trust his judgement. If it puts your mind at ease, then go that route. Even if you have a short time in each city, it's worth it...just pace yourself and prioritize what you really want to see. Try to be flexible & go with the flow. To be honest, I've thoroughly enjoyed every place I've had the opportunity to visit (even the cities I didn't think I would necessarily like). It won't be possible to hit everything in one go (more of a reason to plan for your next trip!). You'll feel overwhelmed at times, but that just lends to the excitement.

Rome is great (art & history unparalleled ). And Paris, please try to include Paris. Especially if you feel you won't have another opportunity to visit in the future. My one recommendation, especially if you have connecting flights & will be doing train/bus travel, is to fly with carry ons and not checked bags. If you start to amass more souvenirs then you can fit into your bags, you can purchase a cheap bag by one of the main train stations in the bigger cities & check that one (helpful if you purchase wine or liqueurs). I did that on my last trip. Pack light (watch Rick Steves video on packing for trip), bring layers if going to cooler climates (you won't need them in Southern Europe), and enjoy!

Posted by
416 posts

Last time I spent three weeks in Europe my itinerary was Munich, Salzburg, Prague, Nuremburg, Regensburg. That took three weeks and I've been to all of them before, multiple times.

The point is, don't plan too much. You can't see it all.

If Rick Steves has a tour that covers a lot of what you want to see, do that and then take time to go someplace on your own. I don't do tours, because I've been traveling Europe for 35 years and feel comfortable on my own and you can try that, using guides and common sense, but (again) don't try to see everything. Leave time to sit on the plaza and drink some wine.

Three years ago my brother took his wife over for the first time. In three weeks they got from Koblenz to Salzburg and had a blast. That's about the same distance as L.A. to San Jose, CA. (a 6 hour drive). They're going back this year at Christmas to do Vienna and Prague.

My suggestion is this; pick three things you HAVE to do. Plan how you're going to do them. Then look at what else is nearby and if you have time do those, or just do something that you found out about when you're there. But do those three things. If you choose (for example) the Eiffel Tower, the Hofbrauhaus, and the canals of Venice, and there's no tour that puts that all together, just go do those. You can easily plan how to get to three places in three weeks. Don't stress trying to do everything; you can't. You'll find once you have a basic plan everything else will work out.

One other thing, Europe is not that expensive. Look around while you're there and you'll probably see that you can do this again. Airfare and lodging are the two biggest expenses, and they are very dependent on when, and where, you go.

Posted by
13 posts

"If we do a Rick Steve's tour in either Germany or Italy, and are on our own in the other country, which country would be best to travel in independently, Italy (mainly Rome)? Or Germany (from Cologne to Munich)? ...as far as ease of getting around, friendliness of locals, etc."

Just wanted to add that we recently came back from a week in Rome...first time in Italy. My husband and I are very accustomed and comfortable in using public transportation and found it easy. Same goes for Paris. We used trains, buses, and trams in Rome...without issue (although the train was delayed for 3 hours on the day we were going to Orvieto for our wedding anniversary, but, that's Italy, so you just go with the flow). In fact, I think the availability and train system in Italy was pretty great. I'll be frank here (and I'm sure others will disagree), but in my experience, the French have been the most cordial and I felt most comfortable in Paris (more so than my time in Rome or Barcelona). I'm fluent in Spanish and brushed up on my Italian for our last trip and I felt that even though my interactions were fine, I didn't feel the "warmth" others have gushed about. But, that's totally fine & just an observation. I really wouldn't worry about the "friendliness" factor. Even though it seems like everyone speaks English, I'd still make an effort to say some pleasantries in the local language. You'll be able to fend for yourself just fine. If you do include Rome, a quick day trip to Orvieto (mountains) or Sperlonga (beach & coast) are totally worth it. Orvieto is lovely & caters to tourists...the cathedral is magnificent. It's a quick train ride from Rome & you're in Umbria. Sperlonga looks like a postcard Greek town & the sea is a great respite from the bustle of Rome. It seems to cater more to vacationing Romans and Italians from other regions and is great way to see how locals spend their time.

https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/orvieto-what-an-italian-hill-town-should-be

https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/travel-guide/a2937/italys-best-kept-secret-sperlonga/

Posted by
2316 posts

First let me say that there is not a “wrong” way to do this trip. You can travel independently and have a great trip and you can travel with a tour and have a great trip. It all gets down to what you value the most and what your priorities are.

Advantages of a Rick Steves tour:
1. The logistics are well planned. It isn’t just that someone does the hotels and transportation for you, but that many details beyond this are arranged as are 1/2 the dinners.
2. Time for independent choices is included.
3. Guide services. Both the tour guide and local guides give tremendous value to the tour with background information. The more you know about places you go, the better the experience.
4. An extremely congenial group of travel companions.
5. The cost is known up front and this makes budgeting easier.
6. You end up trying and doing things that you may not have done on your own.
Disadvantages of a Rick Steves tour:
1. The itinerary may not reflect your top choices for an area. They will be good choices, but it might miss the place that really mattered to you.
2. Being with a group can make you a little insulated from locals. I think RS does its best to counter this with trips to markets etc, but it is a factor.
3. You pay for the excellent guide services, etc and it can be more expensive than independent travel.

Advantages of Independent Travel
1. You choose everything. If you have strong preferences on itinerary, lodging, and types of experiences, you have the final say.
2. You operate a little more “under the radar”. You will still stand out as a tourist, but you won’t stand out as a group of tourists.
3. Budget. You have more control over the costs associated with the trip.
4, Flexibilty. You can change your plans quickly if a new opportunity presents itself.
Disadvantages of Independent Travel
1. You choose everything. You have to make all the decisions about itinerary, lodging and types of experiences without ever having been to a place. Most of the time this can work great, but I know that I have had a few “what was I thinking?” moments on every trip. Transportation choices are added into the mix.
2. You have to study hard to get the background information on the places you are going, or worse, you don’t always have that info and don’t know much about what you are seeing.
3. Budgeting can be a challenge. Sometimes good experiences are missed because they seem to cost too much.
4. There is the added pressure of keeping track of details while traveling.

As I mentioned before, both types of travel can be great. You need to stop and think about which seems the best fit for you for this trip. It may well be a combination of both!

Posted by
2761 posts

Sticking to the big three in Italy, Rome, Florence and Venice is a wise move.

For Germany, I suggest Fussen/Garmisch, Munich, day trip to Salzburg, Austria. Then take the Romantic Road that includes Rothenburg on the Tauber. Take in Heidelberg and if you have time Cologne, Trier, Luxembourg, Amsterdam (Brussels is OK, but Amsterdam is better).

Posted by
1706 posts

I'm so excited for you! I remember how excited I was when I got my first passport. Although I think you can travel cheaper on your own, you will see a lot more on a tour because your time is utilized much more efficiently on a tour, especially when it's your first time in Europe. BOE sounds good to me.

Posted by
1064 posts

So excited for you. The first time we went to Europe, we did a tour. There was so much we wanted to see and do and it was a little overwhelming The tour allowed us to see so much and not have to worry about the logistics. I think a tour is a good way to get your feet wet. We have since returned a few times and now plan our own. Either way, you will have a great time and will find a way to get back :)

Posted by
9858 posts

Congratulations on your upcoming trip, Stacy! Yep, it's all very exciting but putting together a plan can be overwhelming as well. You've already gotten much wise advice from some terrific people on this thread, and just to add to the pile:

You cannot do and see it all in 21 days. Nope. The sooner you can get your head around that, the sooner you can relax a bit! The more locations you have on a list, the more TIME and MONEY you'll spend unpacking and packing up again and getting from one place to another versus sightseeing and having fun. Trying to cram a city's worth of treasures and experiences into a couple of days can also leave one exhausted and frustrated with being smack in the middle of the densest crowds most of the time. The trade-off for trimming an itinerary can pay off in spades: quality versus quantity. :O)

We've spent 21 days JUST in Italy, just in 4 locations + 1 night in a departure city, and visited more than once: love that country. It is not a difficult one to explore independently, especially if sticking to places well served by public transit (which are many), and the trains are relatively inexpensive. Nice price breaks can be had if booking the longer, "fast train" routes in advance. As Ken said, we can cover the details if The Boot ends up in your plan. Rome, Assisi, Florence, Padua, Venice? I'd allow about two weeks for a comfortably-paced visit.

Additionally we've spent 21 days split between parts of Belgium and Germany and much preferred Belgium, although just 1 night in Brussels (arrival day) was plenty for that one. LOL, have done a 1-day Rhine cruise twice and the weather was yucky both times. Just my luck, eh? Munich was OK: glad we saw it but it wasn't nearly as interesting to us as other towns/cities we've been to. Just personal preference, and you may very well feel differently. There's no wrong choice as long as it works for YOU.

IMO, don't bother with Mosel River, Koblenz, Burg Eltz, Cologne,
Brussels or Amsterdam on this trip. You simply don't have time.

Voting with Ken on the above. In short, you won't be sanely able to cover all the like-to-do's either independently or splitting between an indy + RS tour. But don't just assume this will be your only look at Europe as travelers of modest means DO manage to make return visits if saving for doing so is a priority for them. I'm betting once you've gotten your first look, you'll be bitten by the same bug (it's catching, doggone it) and start the "Europe Fund" for next time almost as soon as you get home!

Posted by
2060 posts

For a first trip, on a tour you will see and learn a lot more than you would solo. RS tours also teach you how to travel on your own. The BOE tour does fly you quickly through the cities, but you will see more in that limited time and learn a great deal just by being on an RS tour rather than solo. This will give you the confidence to return on your own in the future and have an idea of where you might want to spend more time. You don't say from where your ancestors originated, but you could skip all RS activities that one day in Munich and head out to the area in question.

You can travel in Europe pretty inexpensively, even as compared to domestic travel, IMO. This tour might give you all the tools and confidence you need to return to Europe, and be able to do it at a lower cost.

Qualifier: I've taking one RS tour to Greece, loved it and learn a tremendous amount. My first tour to Europe was a travel study program in college, and that's when I realized I could do it just as well on my own. In between, I traveled independently. RS will also give you the tools to do it, rather than my student tour just gave examples of mistakes...it was great anyway.

Posted by
948 posts

Stacy,
Appreciate your reaching out to our community for counsel as we love to help travelers. My two cents is the following:
1) I advocate the journey commences with a RS tour as these experts will help demystify aspects all newby travelers face
2) break your trip into two segments. Example: "X" days on a RS tour and the remainder on your own
3) call RS and discuss your needs with one of their travel pros
4) take a really deep breadth and hopefully ingest the following: "Do you want to have a journey with memories of travel or take a trip filled with travel?" Please reread and focus on that sentence.
Transfering from place to place takes up time, money, creates stress and increases the propbability of encountering "glitches".

5) Next breadth..........."You will not see every place you want to see, but you can experience wonderful events." With 21 days you can boot scoot across Europe. With 21 days you can absorb several cultures.
6) Determine the RS trip to take and then get back to us on where you would like to independently craft a journey.
7) pack lite. Really lite. Do not become a luggage mule. Plan on buying some clothes while on the trip. Plan on washing some clothes on the trip.

Posted by
99 posts

Joy! Elation! Surprise, Giddiness and Excitement is what I feel as I read all of your wonderful, well-thought out responses! You are all amazing, and I treasure you taking the time to help me out. I'm on my way out the door in 5 minutes, but wanted to let you know where my relatives are from, and why I want to go to certain areas.

One of my great-great grandpas was born in Simmern, Luxembourg in 1830, and emigrated to MN in 1854. When I looked up Simmern, I noticed there is also one in Germany, and it appears the one in Luxembourg had its name changed to Septfontaines if my research is correct.

Another great-great grandpa was born in Munstermaifield, Germany in 1829. It's a very small town close to Burg Eltz, which is why I want to go there. I'm sure my ggg must've seen that castle!

I figured since I'd be in the area, I should see the Mosel and Romantic Rhine area.

I'm still waiting to hear back from another uncle on the other side of my family to give me more details about our relatives there, but I know they were from the Cologne region.

I'm loving the many suggestions and tips. I'll be back here this afternoon/evening to answer more questions.

Thanks again!

Posted by
1587 posts

My thoughts: You and your husband could travel independently and live like royalty for the cost of a Rick Steves bus tour. The places you want to visit are what I consider "easy" - good public transportation, lots of English speakers, multiple companies selling small-group tours, etc.

I use rome2rio.com to try out general itineraries; TripAdvisor to find highly ranked hotels in my price range; and loco2.com and trainline to buy train tickets. I also use TripAdvisor to find companies for day trips with a small group.

It's not brain surgery - and it's fun! Just don't buy anything from RailEurope.

Posted by
10635 posts

Congratulations on taking the plunge into European travel! I agree with the others, don't assume you won't catch the travel bug, and find ways to return.

First, if you don't already have them, get your passports now. One less thing to worry about closer to the trip, and it can take some time to gather the required documents, get an appointment at a passport acceptance center, etc.

I agree that if you want to take a Rick Steves tour, then add on time at the end to go to where your great-great-grandparents came from. If you tell us where that is, we can all help you with those logistics. the tour will give you lots of travel skills, which you can then apply to your self-guided travel. Just be sure to plan arrive a day early for your tour, to get over jet lag and allow for unforeseen delays.

As for which RS tour to take, take the one that appeals to you most, right now. As everyone else correctly said, not only can't you see everything, but in 21 days, you can only see a sliver, of a fraction, of a portion of Europe. So, see the sliver that you are most drawn to now.

I also agree that while a big minus of a tour is that it costs more than doing it on your own, a big plus is that you are getting someone else doing a lot of the difficult work for you - picking hotels, figuring out transportation, deciding what to see, etc. In effect, it solves the indecision problem; once you've picked a tour, everything else is decided, which can be a great advantage on a first trip.

Best of Europe in 14 days sounds like a good first tour. Tell us what it doesn't go to that interests you, and we'll tell you what's involved in adding those places on (including your ancestral homeland).

Posted by
1266 posts

Just a note: I was 56 when we did the hike to Burg Eltz and didn't find it "strenuous." My husband and I really loved the walk through the woods.

Posted by
2784 posts

A few thoughts:

I can't advise on whether you should do a tour or not, because a group tour would be hell for me. I have "travel control issues" as in I have to be in charge of all aspects of travel! But I can see where there's a good case to be made for taking a tour for your first time.

One thing you must try not to do is to have a "scarity mindset", i.e., "This will be our only trip." You're only 50, and air prices to Europe have gone down by 60% in the 8 years I've lived in Europe! With some careful planning and saving there's no reason you can't get to Europe again, so please don't plan your trip like this is your only chance, because you will over-extend yourself, then you'll be most of your trip in transit, checking in and out of hotels, and not taking the time to really enjoy and soak up all these amazing locations.

Seriously, I speak from experience. Despite having done a LOT of travel, our time in Europe is likely coming to a close, so on our last big trip to Spain we tried to do way too much because who knows if we'll ever get back? It was a great trip, but we would have enjoyed it much more if we'd slowed down.

Posted by
2652 posts

Ultimately, its you that needs to decide on how you care to travel. I agree a bit with Stacy. I like to be in charge of my own trip and in general do not like to be herded around behind a sign. You also will get more for your buck on your own. BUT, I have done a river cruise and enjoyed it, and I think when we do get to Italy, we may just want to go on a tour, quite possibly RS, to gain all the information you get from a guide, especially for Rome. It is your first trip and everyone has different comfort levels with planning and travel. From what I've heard, the RS tours do teach you skills that would be valuable for any future independent travel. You have 21 days. If you decide the 14 day tour, Think about adding a couple days before the tour start to adjust from jet lag before your expensive tour and to allow you to explore an area on your own, and then use the remaining days to do some independent travel at the end. At the beginning check to see what your tour is doing, and look for things not included that you would enjoy.

Though we've traveled extensively thru North America, I didn't start traveling to Europe until I turned 50. And now, I'll do anything to fund my yearly trips. We drive our cars until they literally die. We rarely eat out, and I shop Aldi and from grocery store ads. In Europe, we generally use public transportation, research the city cards and use them when it makes sense (I love the Paris Museum Pass) and stay at local, small 2 and 3 star inns. Our accommodations are usually charming with local flavor and usually quite reasonably priced. I try to find places with an included breakfast otherwise we grab bakery and possibly a yogurt from a grocery store. We do a lot of picnicking for lunches. After this trip if you find yourself with the yearning and budget to do more, do some research and find places that are a good value. Think of going off or shoulder season. Sometimes, the places can surprise you in terms of expense. I was surprised at how really inexpensive France is. We rarely pay more (even in Paris) for accommodations than we HAVE to pay at places U.S. We've stayed at charming places in Brittney, Alsace and the Loire for about 70-80 Euro. In Colmar, France, we stayed at a working winery at a clean, quirky BnB with a lovely breakfast for about 60euro!! In a month, my husband and I are going to Spain and will spend time mostly in Andalusia. Its a great time to travel because the days are cooler and the crowds lighter AND the room rates for RS recommended inns range from about 60-70 Euro, most including breakfast!

Posted by
2316 posts

To Jules M:

No herding around behind a sign on a Rick Steves Tour. One nice feature is that they use a special sound system so the guide is not talking loudly and everyone does not have be crowded up together to hear. The group can be spread out.

Posted by
99 posts

Ken-
Such great input! I just ordered Europe through the Back Door.

"Where did your great grandparents come from? You'll have a free afternoon and evening on Day 7 in Munich, so if it's close you may be able to get there."

(Answered a few posts above)

"If you take the RS BOE 14 Day tour, you could also spend a few days after the tour to visit Assisi, Orvieto or other historic towns. It's an easy train ride from Rome to Assisi (about two hours using a direct Regionale train). Also you can visit Padova on your free afternoon on Day 9 of the tour in Venice. It's only about an hour by train from Venezia Santa Lucia. I'd suggest using a Regionale train as it's cheaper and the about the same travel time as the high speed trains."

I am sooooo happy to read this. ^ ^ ^

"You'll need to do some "homework" on using trains and other public transit in Italy, as there are some potentially expensive caveats. We can cover that that detail once you have a more definite Itinerary worked out."

Thank you! really appreciate that!

"I can suggest an Itinerary if you'd like. Don't give up hope, with input from the group here, it will all come together."

Wonderful! :)

I'm sorry I haven't figured out how to use the quoted content feature.

Posted by
99 posts

Thank you, SA, aquamarinesteph, Laurel and KGC! We will most likely do the BOE in 14 days, thanks to all the great advice I've received on this thread!

Karinyc- yes! For sure on the light packing. We've already purchased and received our RS backpack/carry-ons. Thank you for the great links. Wow that cathedral in Oriveto!

Posted by
1706 posts

I think you will be very glad you took a RS tour for your first trip but make sure you're ok with the physical activity/possible lack of AC and elevators in hotels.

Posted by
99 posts

Carol- thanks for listing all the advantages and disadvantages - it really helped me clear my head and prioritize what was most important.

Thank you geovagriffith - What do you like about Fussen/Garmisch and Heidelberg?

Posted by
99 posts

Cala- thank you. Yes, I worry a bit about a/c but not enough to make it a deal-breaker. (Although I might feel that way if it happens - haha!)

Thank you Sharon & Wray - and great points, Kathy!

Posted by
99 posts

Marbleskies- You are all here helping me take my deep breaths! :)

4) Memories! For the win!

6) Working on it

7) Yes! Agreed. I packed my RS backpack/carryon "pretending" and did a trial walk. It was only 15 lbs, and started to hurt my neck after about a mile. I need to watch some videos or something, because I might be wearing it wrong. I also need to maybe buy some lighter weight clothing.

Thanks- traylaparks, Janet, Sarah & jules m

jules m - Our budgeting at home sounds a lot alike. I loved reading about your European deals!

Harold- Thanks!!!

Passports- check!

I listed where my gg grandparents were from 2 posts above yours. I already feel a huge relief in figuring out that we will most likely do BOE 14 days from the great advice and suggestions from you and others here on this thread.

I'm going to sit down now with a few maps and the itinerary for BOE14 and see what I can come up with as far as the extras that I want to do. I sincerely appreciate everyone's guidance. Keep it comin'

:)

Posted by
99 posts

We are about 90% sure that BOE14 is the way to go for us!

Thanks to Ken's suggestion, we will try to get over to Padova during our free time in Venice.

I'm thinking of adding a couple nights in Rome to make that trip to Assisi, and cover anything else we may have missed or would like to visit more in depth.

Now I just need to figure out how to get to the parts of Germany and Luxembourg that I want to see. If it makes sense, I'd like to tack it on to the end of our trip, rather than the beginning, because I feel we will be more confident travelers after our RS tour.

I'm thinking of flying from Rome to Frankfurt, and visiting my mom's origins - one of the areas is a small town my great grandpa was born in, called Bocket, near Sittard ... the rest are TBD, once I get a response from my uncle, but I'm pretty sure all in the area of Koln.

Then there's the Burg Eltz area (Munstermaifield) and Septfontaines, Luxembourg.(My dad's origin) Is it worthwhile to visit the Romantic Rhine and Mosel regions since I am so close?

Side note: I don't have to spend a ton of time in my ancestors towns, but maybe time enough for a cup of coffee and strudel, or a quick stroll through town. I just think it'd be really cool to see where my roots are.

Posted by
1706 posts

I also love Fussen. I would never have gone there if my daughter hadn't want to see Neuschweinstein Castle but it's one of my favorite places that I've been. It's picturesque, small and easily walkable and I enjoyed the local museum. For some reason, Salzburg just didn't appeal that much to me. It was ok , but not somewhere I ever think about returning to.

Posted by
10635 posts

To see the places your family is from, it seems that Duesseldorf or Cologne airports would be closer than Frankfurt airport.

To find out who flies where from a particular airport, look at that airport's Wikipedia page. Rome has two airports, Fiumicino and Ciampino, so check both for flights to various cities in Germany.

To actually find flights within Europe, use Skyscanner: https://www.skyscanner.com/

Posted by
30149 posts

stacy,

A few more comments......

" I packed my RS backpack/carryon "pretending" and did a trial walk. It was only 15 lbs, and started to hurt my neck after about a mile. I need to watch some videos or something, because I might be wearing it wrong."

You're probably not wearing it wrong. If you're using one of the RS backpacks, these have a waist belt but no provision for torso range adjustment, which is extremely important with packs. The majority of the weight should rest on the wearer's hips and not the shoulders. Packs with this capability also provide a "load balancing" feature so that the weight can be adjusted. You may find this article helpful - https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/backpacks-adjusting-fit.html . If you find the fit is not working on the packs you have, look at Eagle Creek or Osprey travel packs. Panel load models are more suitable for "travel" instead of top load models.

Just to confirm, you're planning to take this trip in mid-June 2019?

More to follow.....

Posted by
1 posts

I want to add my two cents about returning later. When I was in 6th grade, I did a report on Italy and I fell in love! I have always wanted to go there. Imagine my surprise when I met my husband to be and found out he had lived in Milan when he was young - about the time I was doing that report. Then he decided to be a missionary before we got married and served in the Rome area. Imagine my jealousy when he was walking the streets of Florence and I was home in college as an art major! That was 35 years ago. I still have not been to Italy. Last spring, two of my sisters-in-law had milestone birthdays ans wanted to go to Paris for them. They invited all the sisters and sisters-in-law to go. I figured it was my only chance to see anywhere in Europe and I was going to take the trip of a lifetime. There were 8 of us that went. I studied my brains out for about 4 months to get ready. I learned as much French as I could and then I studied all the places and artists that we were going to see. It was so much more meaningful to know what I was looking at and the history behind it. No one else in our group had taken the time to do this, but they were grateful I had and could share it with them. We arrived home at the end of March. Just a day or two after, our church made an announcement about a new building complex being opened in Rome in March 2019. My husband immediately started making plans to go. So even though I thought I would never again be able to go to Europe, I will be leaving almost exactly a year later for my next trip - and this time it's to Italy. I have no doubt, some how you will find a way back. We are definitely not wealthy.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that I don't thing I like traveling with a group as much as I do as a couple. It's much easier to decide where and when to eat and what the most important things to see are. However, I study very hard before I go anywhere now so that I know what I am seeing and the history. With a Rick Steves tour, you won't need to do that, except for the areas you see after. I love watching the RS shows and reading everything on this website. I am truly excited for you and I hope that you will make it to the most important destinations to you. I can very much understand your excitement!

Posted by
30149 posts

stacy,

Given the number of places you want to see and the time frame you have to work with, I doubt that you're going to be able to get to all the places on your list. Some compromises will be necessary. As Rick Steves often says, "assume you will return."

There are two towns named Sittard, one in Germany and one in the Netherlands. The closest to Bocket is the Netherlands town. This is some distance north of your other desired locations, so (IMO) it's going to be really hard to fit it in.

Assuming you decide to take the RS 14 Day BOE tour, this is one possible way you could arrange your trip.....

D1 - Flight to Europe / Frankfurt
D2 / N1 - Arrive FRA - after collecting luggage, go to the Fernbahnhof airport rail station (there are two rail stations at FRA), and travel to Cochem on the Mosel - the trip will be about 2.5 hours with one change in Koblenz, depending on which train you connect with - when you arrive in Cochem, this is one hotel you can have a look at - https://www.lohspeicher.de/Home .
D3 / N2 - Cochem - tour local sights, recover from jet lag.
D4 / N3 - Cochem - train to Hatzenport, Taxi or Bus to Münstermaifeld - spend an hour or two having a look at your ancestors former home, and then take the bus from there to Burg Eltz - THIS website will help you plan your journey (click on the "Timetable link for bus times from Münstermaifeld)* - after your visit to Burg Eltz, take the bus back to Hatzenport and the train back to Cochem - NOTE that the Bus service to Burg Eltz only runs on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, so you'll need to plan your visit around that. If you have a "generous budget" you can also travel to the Castle by Taxi, but the cost will be considerably higher (I can tell you that from experience)!
D5 / N1 - Take the train to Luxembourg City (travel time 1H:44M if you choose a direct train) - book hotel for two nights.
D6 / N2 - Luxembourg - take Line 255 bus to Septfontaines / Simmern (travel time ~40 minutes, I haven't checked the schedules) - have a look at the town and then return on the next bus to Luxembourg City.
D7 / N1 - Train to Paris - I'd suggest a direct high speed TGV and a departure at 10:10 will get you go Paris Est at 12:20 (travel time 2H:10M) - take a Taxi to your tour hotel - I'd suggest arriving at least the night before your tour starts, and you'll have to coordinate this with the starting date of the tour - you'll have to pay separately for the hotel night not covered by the tour.
D8 - BOE Europe 14 days
D21 / N1 - BOE tour ends - take train to Assisi and then Taxi or Bus to your hotel - travel time will be about 2 hours if you choose a direct train - there are many other departures with one change in Foligno with slightly longer travel times - check into hotel - this is one hotel you can consider - http://www.hotelideale.it/?lang=en .
D22 / N2 - tour Assisi
D23 / N1 - train to Orvieto - about 2 - 3 hours with one change, depending on which train you choose - check into hotel - this is one hotel you could look at - https://www.hotelcorso.net/en/ .
D24 / N2 - Orvieto touring - St. Patrick's Well, the impressive Duomo with the Signorelli frescoes, Orvieto underground, or just "chill" and have a Gelato.
D25 - N1 - return to Rome for one night - a hotel located close to Roma Termini will make things easier for going to the airport.
D26 - flight home from FCO - take Leonardo Express to airport (DON'T forget to validate your ticket prior to boarding).

These suggestions might not fit completely with your time frame, but will provide some details you can use to tailor the Itinerary to your preference. I left the Italy touring for the last as that provide a wonderful memory of the last night of your trip, perhaps a glass of Vino and a fine meal while you watch the sun set.

Hope this helps.

Posted by
30149 posts

One more thing.....

As you might have noticed, the RS BOE 14 Day tour does not include the Eiffel Tower in Paris. If you want to travel to the top of the tower, you'll have to reserve and pay for that separately.

Posted by
99 posts

Ken- you are a Godsend! The way you have it all broken down really helps me see what all is involved in visiting where my "roots" are. I may just have to focus on one great great grandparent's region and call it good, because I'm really seeing now that I can't do it all. Yes, I noticed that about Paris - thank you! It'd be a shame to be there and not be able to fully experience the Eiffel Tower. I like your suggestion for our last night in Rome, too. :)

Thanks for the backpack link as well!

Edited to add: Yes, we are planning one of the tours mid to late June.

Posted by
99 posts

Ken- and the hotel links! Wow. Thanks. That breakfast in Assisi included at the hotel looks heavenly.

Posted by
99 posts

UPDATE:
(And of course more questions!)
So, we did it! Today I booked the Best of Europe in 14 days! I'm super excited!!!

We meet our tour group in Paris on a Sunday at 3:00. We end our tour in Rome on a Saturday after breakfast. We will hang out in Rome the rest of the day, maybe return to the Vatican, and Sunday we will go to Assisi and stay overnight. We will go back to Rome and fly to somewhere in Germany, TBD, depending on what I find out about the rest of my ancestors, and decide where to visit. Part of our adventures will include Ken's suggestion to stay in Cochem and visit Munstermaifeld where one of my great-great grandfathers was born. It is near Burg Eltz, so we will try to fit that in as well.

My first questions are about Paris.

a) If we fly out of LAX on a Thursday evening, we should arrive in Paris Friday afternoon. This gives us approx. 48 hours before meeting our tour group. We should be well rested, have a chance to go up the Eiffel Tower, and maybe take a Seine river cruise.

b) If we fly out of LAX on a Friday Evening, we should arrive in Paris on Saturday afternoon which gives us approx. 24 hours before meeting our group. Is this enough time to rest up, tour the Eiffel Tower and take a Seine river cruise?

If we take option B, that gives us an extra day in Germany at the end of our vacation. I just want to make sure that we feel well rested. This will be our first experience with international travel. How do most people recover from jet lag? I know no one can predict what we will experience, but just trying to figure out the "norm". (If there is one)

Next question about Paris- Is there a Seine river cruise you recommend?

Posted by
1706 posts

I would stick with plan A since there are things you want to do in Paris before the tour and you may not feel like doing both of them during your first 24 hours there. If you find yourself recovering from jet lag more quickly, there are plenty of other things to do in Paris.

Posted by
2784 posts

How exciting that you've booked your trip!

However, I have some less-than-great news: Jet lag, while affecting different people differently, is generally pretty awful coming from the West Coast. I suffer very poorly from it and have yet to figure out a way to really deal with it, but some things work better than others.

If you can start to adjust your bedtimes a little bit to be more in sync with European Time, that is a good start. Once you're at the airport change your watches/phones to European time and start thinking in European time. Do whatever you can to sleep on the plane - including possibly testing out travel pillows before you go to see if they work for you. I wouldn't take anything that would make you super groggy because no matter what you won't be getting a full night's sleep, but some people find it easier to sleep with a glass of wine or an antihistamine. Just don't overindulge because again, you're not going to be able to properly sleep it off. But if you can grab a few hours during the middle of the night European time it will help.

Upon arrival, try to get as much daylight exposure as you can. Walking around the city or taking a cruise is a good idea to help your body adjust to the new time zone. Stay awake until your minimum earliest bedtime, local time. Meaning, if you never go to sleep before 10pm at home, stay up until 10pm. It will be hard but that's the most important advice I can give you.

Then just try to sleep through the night. What's most normal for people coming from the west coast is waking up at 2-4 am and being unable to return to sleep, and then crashing really hard in the mid-afternoon. But if you stick to normal bedtimes and get plenty of activity during the day you should adjust within a few days. (Or a week, if you're me. Oy!)

As for the cruises, many of them are the same, I wouldn't bother with a dinner cruise because you're going to want to be outside looking at all the incredible scenery. I would also chose more time in Paris over less because you'll probably be quite tired by the end of your travel, so the extra time to get over jet lag and explore Paris at the beginning of your trip makes the most sense to me.

Posted by
8568 posts

Give yourselves the 48 hours in Paris before the tour. You may still be a little bleary-eyed by late afternoon! We also travel from the west coast and it is Day 3 before I can give up an afternoon nap. When we arrive in Europe, we check in, unpack, shower, and go get lunch. (If the hotel is not ready for us to check in, we get lunch first.) Then we take a walk, get our SIMs, get our bearings in the neighborhood, and about 1700 I set an alarm for 60 minutes and take a nap. We eat about 2000 so as to get closer to European dining time and fall into bed about 2200. Inevitably I am wide awake at 0400 the first morning anyway. 😞 The first full day we go about our activities through lunch, then have downtime with another 60 minute nap in the afternoon, go out to do something around 1700 or 1800, and again try to eat Eurotime about 2000. By the next day I am less punchy and unlikely to need to nap.

We liked the Seine cruise that starts on the Ile la Cite, Vedettes du Pont Neuf.

Posted by
11507 posts

Hi,

In regards to the "norm" how do you know you will get jet lag upon arrival.? Is it certain you will?

Reading the last part of your post, I must say this: don't feel intimidated, no reason to. Think if others can do it, so can you, unless you think others have something over you. I think not.

"...I need to plan it myself...." My compliments on your determined attitude. I do the same myself...this planning of a trip, be 1.5 weeks to over 2 months.

Posted by
1432 posts

Congratulations on booking your dream trip, you're going to have an amazing time! I vote for your first plan to arrive in Paris 48 hours before the tour. I know it means shifting a day from Germany, but you may be surprised how exhausted you are at the end of your trip - I'd front load the fun, if it were me. My family is from Germany and I did a similar homeland visit a few years ago. I was able to visit the town and a cemetery full of dead relatives with my unusual last name. Unfortunately I didn't have time or resources to locate records or still living family members - it is very difficult if you do not read or speak German. Not to discourage you from the effort, just be pragmatic and enjoy what you can find!

Also re: jet lag, I personally don't have much of it on the way to Europe (I live in your time zone), but I always shift my sleeping schedule about three hours earlier before I go (basically get on East Coast time). That amount of sleep disruption plus the excitement of starting a trip usually is enough to push through without too much dragging. Coming home is much, much worse (for me) and I'm toast for at least three or four days. So plan a bit of down time when you come home, if you can.

Posted by
6425 posts

I'd agree with option "A" as well - 48 hours ahead in Paris.

The 14 day BOE will be a wonderful trip. It's also a fast paced trip with blockbuster sights every day so you'll thank yourself if you have time to get adjusted. Even if you don't have jet lag, you'll have travel tiredness - long flight from CA, excitement may keep you from sleeping the few nights ahead of the trip, maybe being rushed ahead of time to organize things to leave - so extra time is wonderful so you can hit the ground running with the tour.

I'd also suggest you try to get your packing done a few days ahead of time. Really! You don't have to close up your suitcase, but get everything in so you are not rushing at the last minute.

Posted by
11507 posts

Hi,

Where did your relatives come from in Germany? From which region or closest to which city?

Keep plugging away at the planning. That in and of itself is an interesting learning experience, and I repeat, there is absolutely no reason for you to feel intimidated as you are planning the trip. It's most likely true that tours don't offer what you may want in terms to places to be visited in Germany. That's why I go alone to track these desired places/sites down.

Posted by
99 posts

Thank you, Pam! Yes, we will pack ahead as much as possible.

Hi Fred - Thanks so much! I wrote many posts above the original towns of my great-greats, but have now decided to just focus on the region of one of them. He was from Munstermaifeld, near Burg Eltz.

Everybody who has responded: I've just read through all of your invaluable information given to me three months ago. I appreciate your kindness and willingness to help so much! It is truly helping me plan this vacation of a lifetime! :)

Posted by
60 posts

What did you decide?
I remember my first (and only,lol) trip eight years ago, I’ve been back twice and have my first R.S. trip to Germany this June! My favorite part is the planning, I spend hours researching it all, but I’m retired and have the time to do it. I checkout R.S. books from the library and order last years used editions online for a couple of bucks so that I can highlight the heck out of them. With that said, if you are overwhelmed and/ or pressed for time, let R.S. do the planning! But I would suggest adding days AFTER the tour when you are more comfortable navigating foreign territory.
The other reason we are doing a tour is because my husband is joining me this time, and if something went wrong with my planning I’d hear about it, if something happens on the R.S. tour, it’s not my fault,lol. He has a bit of a travel phobia, lol. I am adding 2 weeks on our own afterward so I can enjoy the planning and researching, risking his wrath 😉
I love the German rail system, so efficient and timely. I find it easier than in Italy, but I suppose everyone has their own preferences.
I’m from Portland,so a major expense is the airfare, there are no deals here! I am glad you are staying at least 21 days, I try and stay at least that long!
The bottom Line? If you give a girl a trip to Europe...she’ll be back.

I read your post and had to comment because it sounds so like me!

I am going to be the big 50 next year as well and decided to treat myself to a trip to Eastern Europe. It took a lot of prodding to get my husband to agree and I hope that he will fall in love with it and want to go on another trip to other parts of Europe But, we are middle class as well and it takes a bit of skimping and saving to come up with the money.

Since I haven't been to Europe unfortunately I cannot offer any tips or suggestions - if you already went on your trip I hope you had a wonderful time! If you haven't went yet - I hope you do have a wonderful time!

Posted by
11507 posts

@ eurostacy...You're welcome, thanks for the info where your relative came from,. Yes, you did mention it, sorry I missed it.

I haven't been to the Burg Eltz immediate area or even to that Bundesland (state) much at all either. As correctly pointed out above, the German rail system is pretty easy to work, aside from getting help in English and all that. The DB ticket machines, as an example, take US credit cards which is not the case in other countries, eg France and Holland.

Keep at it with the planning!! I use a sort of self-priority system to decide where to go if I can't make up my mind. There are those sites/places that are "top" priority, ie, I'm desperate to see the place, then so-called 2nd priority, ie important to see but not desperate enough, ie, if I can make it, good. Lastly, then the 3rd priority...the low priority sites, work them in if possible, this is the "depends" dept. such as favourable factors, geographical, weather, energy level, etc., etc.

Posted by
99 posts

kathim11 You asked what I decided. Here it is:
Land in Paris 48(ish) hours before tour begins to adjust to time (hopefully!)
BOE in 14 days, Rick Steves' tour. We will probably leave Venice one afternoon for a side trip to Padua by train on our own. The tour ends in Rome. We will stay a couple days longer, hopefully catch a glimpse of the Pope on Sunday at noon, and take a side trip to Assisi.

We will then fly from Rome to Frankfurt, and spend about 4-5 days touring the area that my great great grandfather is from. I haven't made any solid plans yet, but have been given wonderful, helpful, excellent advice and suggestions from people here. (THANK YOU!) I just need to prioritize (like Fred) and come up with a doable plan.

kathim11 Have a wonderful time in Germany in June! Where are you spending your last 2 weeks? Germany as well? I enjoyed your post :)

carribean.coconut Yes, we do sound a lot alike. My husband will need some convincing for future trips as well. He tells me he's fine going once, but if I want to go again, I need to go with a girlfriend. I'm hoping once there, he has a change of heart. But yeah...there's also that money thing. ;) haha I wish you a wonderful time too, and happy planning!

Fred I like your prioritizing system - great idea. I'm going to use that as I plan the last week of my trip. I'm a little overwhelmed with that. So the German rail system is easy to work, but not so much in getting help in English? Guess I better get busy learning more German. :)

Posted by
11507 posts

@ eurostacy...While you are in Germany, any questions you have dealing with train travel within Germany or starting in Germany and ending up in another country, say Germany to Sweden or Germany to Italy, etc, just go ask at the station's Reisezentrum, no matter how trivial or silly it might seem to you.

DB staff speak excellent English, I watch them dealing with international travelers in English, (while waiting for my number to appear) and they're helpful. They're especially used to dealing with international tourists in the big and junction stations, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg.

My compliments on your desire to "get busy learning more German."

Posted by
60 posts

My husband and I went to England and Ireland for our 25th anniversary, I drug him there kicking and screaming because he had “ no desire to go to Europe “. He had such a great time that he couldn’t stop talking about it, I got him to commit to a 30th anniversary trip to Germany on the flight home, there were witnesses! Thus, our trip to Germany this summer.
We are spending a week in Switzerland afterward and a few days in the Netherlands. I have even convinced him to go for a month! Actually I don’t think he was really paying attention to the dates, but I guess that’s his problem,lol. He tunes me out after 30 years and sometimes I can use that to my advantage!

Posted by
6544 posts

I, too, had to convince my husband to go to France (where i grew up). It took me two years, a 2nd job, and paying for all of it. He too, like kathim’s husband, saw no reason to ever leave leave the US. We were gone 6 wks and he absolutely fell in love with France. He was blown away and didn’t want to leave.

So.... you never know stacy, this may just be your first trip of many trips. Other than the cost of airfare (which can be low), i think travel in Europe is way cheaper than travel in the US.

Paris, for example, is way cheaper than SF for a tourist.

I hope you both have a fantastic time! Bon Voyage!

Posted by
11507 posts

"Paris, for example, is way cheaper than SF for a tourist." Ain't that the truth, to put it in plain English !

Posted by
2652 posts

Never mind San Francisco, sometimes I have to pay more for sad, chain hotel rooms in Iowa than I've paid for in France! France can be quite reasonable and recently for Spain, insanely reasonable.

Posted by
99 posts

Time for an update...we leave the USA for Europe in less than 3 months!!! I am beyond excited!!!

We arrive in Paris 48 hours before our RS Tour begins. I'm waiting as patiently as possible for the Eiffel Tower website to start offering tickets for June. I'm really hoping to be able to go to the top the day before our tour begins.

A couple of things about our RS Tour. I'm still feeling uncomfortable about visiting Dachau. I will most likely find something else to do to fill that time. I am just way too sensitive and I know it would affect me for days. During our free afternoon in Venice, I'd like to take a little train trip to Padova to visit St. Anthony's Basilica.

After the tour ends, we will stay a couple extra nights in Rome. I want to take the train to Assisi, to see St. Francis' Basilica and walk around the town. I'd also like to see what else there is to see around the Vatican that our tour may not cover. This is our Vatican itinerary:
"This morning we'll drive straight to the heart of Rome. After a quick lunch and transportation lesson, we'll focus on Renaissance (Catholic) Rome at the sprawling Vatican Museums. We'll visit what seems like a limitless collection of treasures as you make your way to one of the world's most famous works of art: Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. We'll then introduce you to the greatest church in Christendom, the awe-inspiring St. Peter's Basilica, home to Michelangelo's sublime Pietà. Tonight we'll celebrate la dolce vita Roman-style, with an after-dinner stroll through the floodlit heart of the city, lacing together the lively campos, classy piazzas, and the splashy Trevi Fountain. Sleep in Rome (2 nights). Bus: 4 hours. Walking: strenuous."

Is it missing anything that we should see?

From Rome we fly to Frankfurt (HHN) airport. We will rent a car and spend 4 nights on the Mosel, using 1 hotel as our home base. I've been doing more research on my ancestors, and might be able to meet a distant cousin in Luxembourg. We will also drive to Trier, Kyllburg, Bernkastle-Kues, Munstermaifeld and Limburg an der Lahn. These are all either the birth or death towns of my ancestors. I just think it would be so neat to see where some of my roots are! We will also tour the Rhine and Mosel areas, take a Rhine cruise, and visit Burg Eltz.

I would love to hear any suggestions you have to offer. Thanks for planning with me. I am so grateful!!!

Posted by
11507 posts

C'est formidable ! For the German part of the trip...Gute Reise !

Keep plugging away at the language acquisition. The more you acquire and know, the better it is.

Posted by
10635 posts

For Vatican City: no, there isn't anything major missing from the RS itinerary. Well, you can see the gardens or the necropolis under St. Peters, if you buy a separate tour for these. But Vatican city is VERY small, and there are three basic parts:

The parts anyone can go to for free - St. Peters square, the post office, St. Peters Basilica (requires security check but not tickets), etc.
The parts that require tickets - the Vatican Museums (the Sistine Chapel is inside these), the gardens, the necropolis, etc.
The parts that are off limits to general visitors - everything else.

If you are interested in Vatican garden tours, look here: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/visita-i-musei/scegli-la-visita/ville-pontificie-e-giardini/giardini-vaticani.html

For necropolis tours, look here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/institutions_connected/uffscavi/documents/rc_ic_uffscavi_doc_gen-information_20090216_en.html

Posted by
4581 posts

Being a first timer in Europe is better than being a first timer in Asia, Africa, South America. Europe is very civilized and one could say that all things (or almost all) are similar. Well, maybe not enough. I am almost sure that as a first timer you will encounter let's say minor problems. But that's the adventure of a trip. Going by train - there are significant differences. By car - also. I noticed most Americans don't recognize international traffic signs. From your options I believe the best would be your plan #3. Do Venice, Florence, Rome with Rick Steves, Germany on your own. Germany is easier than Italy to do on your own. Try to get as much information from your fellow travelers. Their advices and experiences are among others in the post ATTENTION: First Time Travelers under General Europe. If you read Rick Steves website especially Explore Europe and then Travel Tips you will get priceless information. If every questioner would read these first before asking question I think we volunteer contributors on this Forum will be jobless.

Posted by
170 posts

A thought about Dachau: I visited Auschwitz with friends, and while we were weeping left & right, one said to me, fiercely,
"Always remember, this is the anomaly. The good guys won." Something to hang on to. The viewpoint that we owe honor, recognition, and action to those who died in these camps, and all such, is compelling. Never again.

Posted by
9858 posts

After the tour ends, we will stay a couple extra nights in Rome...I'd
also like to see what else there is to see around the Vatican that our
tour may not cover.

Stacy, I'm going to advise against returning to the Vatican. While I understand it's of interest to you, the tour spends SO little time in Rome and there is SO much to see there that I'd choose some attractions the tour doesn't include instead.

I'm just making a guess here but as you're also choosing Assisi, churches may be high on your interest list? If so, Rome is simply PACKED with them, and almost all of them are free. You might, say, want to get a look at San Giovanni in Laterano? This, and not St Peter's, is the "Pope's church" as Bishop of Rome, and it's very old and interesting. We can recommend umpty others if you'd like that?

I'm not a Catholic or religious at all but I love the architecture, art and embellishments in Italian churches. Besides, dealing with the mob at the Vatican once may be enough for you! :O)

If you like art, Galleria Borghese is marvelous: we enjoyed it much more than the Vatican Museums due to its excellent crowd control and the fascinating building the collection is housed in. It's worthwhile just for the Berninis, if nothing else, and takes just 2 hours to see.

Posted by
1947 posts

Yes, the Bernini statues at the Borghese are one of the finest things to see in Rome. Unbelievably beautiful, I would not miss them.
Also, the Santa Maria Delle Vittoria church has the Ecstasy of St. Theresa by him also, another masterpiece.

Posted by
99 posts

Oui, Fred. Je suis tres heureux! Und Danke! :)

I'm finding learning German a little more difficult than French and Spanish, but every little bit helps! My husband and I found a website listing all of the German road signs and what they mean. It will be so helpful when we rent a car. :)

Harold- thanks for letting me know about the 3 parts of the Vatican and for the very helpful links! :)

Thank you Ilja - reading "ATTENTION: First Time Travelers" has been a great resource. I've been reading as much Rick Steves' as I can. :)

Kathy- thanks for the tip on San Giovanni in Laterano and Galleria Borghese. I looked them up and will add to my list. :)

BG- Wow! Santa Maria Delle Vittoria church is impressive as well!

Posted by
4581 posts

eurostacy, it is interesting - learning languages. I found it opposite than you. For me German was easier than French or Spanish. Maybe because I was learning German when I was young and tried French and Spanish when I was old.

Posted by
11507 posts

@ eurostacy...C'est formidable! Prima! I found German much easier than learning French. The one thing that is clear is I could not learn French based on the way I had Iearned and studied German, In your learning of German I would strongly recommend focusing on the verbs, concentrate your efforts there.....strong verbs, weak verbs, transitive and intransitive verbs, reflexive verbs. Dative case verbs, verb and preposition compounds. Keep plugging away at the languages.

Posted by
2898 posts

I'm still feeling uncomfortable about visiting Dachau. I will most likely find something else to do to fill that time. I am just way too sensitive and I know it would affect me for days.

Eurostacy, I'm late to this thread, but I do have a couple of comments.

About Dachau: I think you should go. If you find it overwhelming, and you might, there are shaded areas near the visitors' center where you can sit and wait for the group. Here's my thinking: Rick includes this kind of stop on his tours for a reason, and it's not to titillate; it's to educate. We as Americans have been very privileged in that except for the Civil War, we as a nation have not been seriously impacted by the horrors of war. Hence visits on RS tours to Verdun, Flanders, Auschwitz, and Dachau. They are all sobering, thought-provoking, and can be extremely emotional.

Of these that I have listed, I find Dachau to be the "easiest" to take - or perhaps I should say the least wrenching. I have been to Auschwitz - twice - and will never go back. That one will rip your heart out. I saw it over 40 years ago, and still can see some of the exhibits in my mind's eye.

Dachau was primarily a prison camp, not an extermination camp. (Yes, before others jump in, I do know people were killed there, but that was not the primary purpose of the camp, and the murders were not in the staggering numbers that occurred in the death camps.) And most of the buildings are gone - a few are left or reconstructed to give you a sense of what had been there.

A lot depends on your guide, as well. I've actually been to Dachau twice, both times on RS tours. The first time, the local guide was a young man who pretty much "phoned it in." And therefore I was not strongly affected by the atmosphere. The second time, our local guide was an older man, old enough to have been alive while the camp was operating; he was a child in the actual town of Dachau at the time. He gathered us together under a tree, and told stories. Wow. That one got me, and brought home some of the lessons there are to be learned.

It's a sobering experience, but I think it's an important one. We are forgetting those days, those horrors, those lessons.

I realize that I may be defeating my purpose here, which is to urge you to give it a try. Do go; at least to the visitors' center. There's also a museum, and you can just wander the grounds. But there's a lot to be learned there, and the lessons are invaluable.

I'm going to save my other comments for another post. Auschwitz images are pushing into my brain, and somehow I'm no longer in the mood to discuss the delights of Italy.

Peace to you and yours.

Posted by
11507 posts

"...but that was not the primary purpose." Quite true, historically accurate.

Posted by
146 posts

eurostacy Don’t assume you’ll never go back! When I first met my husband he was of the mindset that travel, especially to Europe, was something rich people did. It’s not so! We are not rich by any means. It’s all about making what you want a priority. Open a separate savings account and add a bit each month, even if it seems like a paltry amount – it will add up fast and you’ll be motivated to scrimp and save and add a bit more, and in a couple of years you can at least partially fund another trip. I think of it in terms of “the travel fund covers meals and accommodation, all we need to pay for is airfare” or something like that. There’s a ton of things you can to do to “earn” money for your travel fund: Use a cash back card for everyday purchases and add the cashback to your fund, sell on eBay, use cash back aps (we get at least $75-$100 each month from this that we put into our travel fund), eat out one less time per month and add what you would’ve spent to the travel fund, etc.

It was a joy to read this thread so late in the game from your initial post to booking and now the countdown. Congrats and bon voyage! 😊

Posted by
2898 posts

Thanks, Fred. I was afraid I would hammered for that.

But again, this is why visiting this kind of place is important. I didn't know that there were as many kinds of camps as there were. Extermination camps, prison camps, even show camps, the ones that were shown to the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups. I certainly didn't realize how many camps there were - I probably thought there were 4 or 5, the ones we hear about - the extermination camps. Actually, there were at least 1,200, and probably many more.

One of the greatest benefits of travel is learning, even when we learn things we'd rather not know about.

Posted by
146 posts

“One of the greatest benefits of travel is learning, even when we learn things we'd rather not know about.”

I agree wholeheartedly, Jane. I visited Dachau about 10 years ago and think of it as one of the worst things and best things I’ve ever done. Maybe only others that have gone know what I mean by that.

Posted by
305 posts

When you get back, please post a trip report. We(I) would love to hear about your adventures!

Posted by
11507 posts

@ Jane...You're welcome. If you are referring to the extermination camps, those set up as killing centers, there were 6, all located in Poland. The first to be liberated and revealed to the world of its horrors was Majdanek, liberated by the Soviets but they waited a week before releasing the news of the horrors encountered there.

"There were many...kinds of camps." True. One's chances of survival depended in part on who ran the place, the SS or the Luftwaffe. (Air Force). The latter ran the Stalags (German acronym) for the POWs (prisoners of war/Kriegsgefangenen) for "western" prisoners...British, US, Australian, French, Canadian, New Zealand, Belgian,

Posted by
99 posts

llja- Haha! I believe German is harder for me for the same reason French and Spanish were harder for you. My age! But I won't give up! :)

Fred- thanks- looks like strong advice

Jane- thanks for your input. I hadn't thought about what a difference a guide could make.

roubrat- thank you - We do all of the special savings things you do. Also, I grocery shop and plan my menus only by what is on sale, and our newest vehicle is a 2006! It may take a while, but hopefully you are right and we will be able to return.

Susan E - yes! I plan to keep a very descriptive journal and post here when I return. I wish this forum allowed pictures.

Posted by
11507 posts

@ eurostacy....You're welcome. My compliments on your continued determination to learn the language. Keep in mind that when I say to focus on the verbs, including the modal verbs, and in studying German, I mean constant practice not only in speaking but writing and reading as well. That's how you acquire it.

You'll see that by focusing on learning the verbs well (like inside out, up and down, at your fingertips, etc etc,) that will pay off when you get to tackling the heavy duty stuff...the subjunctive (Form 1 and 2), double infinitives, the passive voice, indirect discourse, inverted word order, the Conditional mood, and the "long adjective construction."

Two German proverbs are fitting here: Aller Anfang ist schwer. (Everything in the beginning is hard)

2) "Ûbung macht den Meister." (that corresponds to our, "practice makes perfect")

Bottom line...keep plugging away.

Posted by
99 posts

I can’t believe that this time next week we will be in Europe! It’s finally here! I want to thank all of you who helped me with my planning. I know I was a bit neurotic at times! ;) Thank you for putting my mind at ease, and for all of your wonderful suggestions and advice.
Our bags are packed except for the last minute items. A friend gave me some euros from her recent trip that will be enough to get us started. I notified our credit card company and credit union about our travels. I’ve paid up all the bills.
I think we are just about ready! Yay!!!
I’m too excited to sleep!

Posted by
9858 posts

We are so excited FOR you!

Sleep? Bah. Who needs it when Europe is waiting? You can sleep when you get home. 😴
Looking forward to the Girl-Got-A-Tour report!

Posted by
4060 posts

Have fun. You must report back on your return.

Posted by
2898 posts

Have a great time. And please let us know how it goes.

Posted by
11507 posts

And don't be shy/intimidated on using the German, ie, the more practice, the better.

Making a mistake once, should that happen, that does not mean always that mistake. A saying in German here fits, "Einmal ist keinmal" (The idea is: once/one time does not set a precedence)