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30-Days Europe Itinerary

After about 2-3 weeks of on and off reading and planning I've finally arrived at what I think will be a survivable itinerary for us in Europe for 29.5 usable days. I've left out the detailed itinerary for each stop since, if you're reading this post, you probably know what there is to see and do at each stop;)

-Aug. 30: Arrive Paris 8 AM, 4 nights, 4.5 days

-Night train Chamonix

-Chamonix: 2 nights, 1.5 days

-Berner Oberland: 3 nights, 2 days

-Rothenburg ob der Tauber: 2 nights, 1 day

-Bacharach (and Rhine): 3 nights, 2.5 days

-Night train to Dresden

-Dresden: 2 nights, 2.3 days

-Prague: 2 nights, 2 days

-Night train to Chur

-Bernina Express to Tirano then on to Venice (including the night train, 25 hour train marathon…)

-Venice: 3 nights, 2 days

-Cinque Terre (Vernazza): 2 nights, 1 day

-Pisa: A few hours on the way to Rome

-Rome: 4 nights, 3 days, depart FCO morning of 4th day

I've verified (but not booked) all of the rail connections. There is one connection that I wish I could streamline, though. The Chamonix to Berner Oberland rail connection via Martigny appears to be unavailable beginning Sept. 6th so instead of 3.75 hours journey it's about 6 hrs (Via Geneva).

Does anyone know of a website where I can find bus schedules between Chamonix and Martigny? If we can get to Martigny on a morning bus then we might be able to shave off 2.5 hours to Berner Oberland by bussing to Martigny then transferring to a train from there.

It's a busy schedule but managed to avoid any 1-night stands. Within the next few days (assuming you all don't totally shred my plan;) I'll contact Euraide.com and see about getting the necessary sleeper car reservations made (as well as any other reservations they might suggest). Should I wait until I've gotten the rail passes and reservations completed before I begin booking hotels or wait?

Posted by
12040 posts

Before we comment, one big question... what time of year?

Posted by
3101 posts

If it were me, I'd be exhausted the end of the 29 days. Anyway you could eliminate something (Chamonix?, Prague? Dresden?) to have more 3-4 night stays and avoid long trips in between destinations? Just a thought...

Posted by
36 posts

First off, I'm going to be a little stubborn since I worked so hard on this plan;) Please read my comments as playful banter, I'm not sitting here with a scowl on my face:)

Thanks again for your comments.

Tom,

The trips starts August 30th in Paris. I booked airline tickets well before working out the itinerary on the assumption that we should go from north to south as the late summer/early fall weather progressed.

Sharon,

Thanks for the comments and I don't disagree with the notion and I'm looking over it all, once again. One thing I really worked on was trying to match our time in a location with what I think we'd enjoy with time to see the sights that would most interest us while not overstaying our attention spans. We typically enjoy being on the go and I'm not very worried about getting burned out, but of course, I reserve the right to feel burned out, when that moment arrives. ;)

Please, oh please, don't ask me to drop Chamonix! ;) In 2003, I did a day trip to Chamonix and wouldn't miss another visit to Helbronner for the world. In my earlier visit I didn't have the time to hike from Plan de Aiguille to the Mer de Glace and I really regretted that. The good thing is that the night train from Paris allows us to get there on nearly free time (assuming I can sleep on a moving train).

Dresden sightseeing is actually 1.5 days and then the extra day there will be a good day of hiking in Swiss Saxony (wanted to but didn't have time on a previous work visit to Dresden). I day-tripped Prague from that Dresden visit so I missed a lot. If we were to skip either Prague or Dresden then that would result in skipping the other, also. For me, the mental anguish of knowing that a place your really want to visit is just 2.5 hours away would be a lingering regret and I'd drop the other to avoid that anguish. It would free up a lot of time, maybe too much;). If there were to be a destination elimination, it would be these.

Posted by
12040 posts

Looks OK to me, if a bit busier than I would personally prefer.

Chamonix followed immediately by the Berner Oberland is a bit redundant. You may want to consider choosing one over the other to maximize your chances for good weather (always iffy in the Alps). On the other hand, the Berner Oberland is a decent choice for a halfway point between Chamonix and Rothenberg.

You will be pretty tired after the month is over, that I can nearly guarantee.

Also, don't overdo it with night trains. A lucky few can get a decent amount of sleep on them, most of us get little to none. Although it sounds like a great time-saver to free up time for sightseeing, many people (myself included) report needing a nap after arriving at the destination.

Finally, if you haven't done it yet... make sure you compare the cost of point-to-point tickets on the national rail company websites (DON'T use third party vendors like RailEurope or Euraide for ticket price estimates) to the cost of a rail pass, including checking for advanced purchase discounts. Rail passes used to be an automatic no-brainer for saving money. Nowadays, it's pretty rare for them to save you any money.

Posted by
3101 posts

Hi Randy,

It was fun to read your comments...I can see that you've put a lot of thought into your plan! Go for it! If it gets too tiresome you can modify along the way or make a more relaxed plan for your next trip!!!

Best,
Sharon

Posted by
8100 posts

Why are you taking a night train to Dresden from the Rhine area. Trains from Frankfurt to Dresden only take about 5 hours. Don't you want to see the scenery?

Posted by
36 posts

Sharon, after my first reply I went to prepare lunch and starting thinking about your comment regarding Prague/Dresden and my response. You've got me seriously considering dropping the both of them to allow additional time at some stops as well as addition of 1 more stop along the remainder of the route (Florence?). The reason I want to include as much as we can is that it's very likely that we won't go back to anywhere we visit on this trip within the next decade. My wife isn't the "let's go back, again" type but rather "where else haven't we been" type and so future years trips will be to other countries/regions and still no shortage of places to see here at home. Though, if we don't go to eastern Germany at all on this trip then a future trip to the area is a possibility:)

Tom, I know what you mean about sleeping on the train. I've done it in the reclining seats on Amtrak and if all else fails, I've always got my Ambien:) My wife sleeps soundly and should be fine. We would definitely reserve 2-bed sleeper berths for peace of mind (helps with the sleep part). I don't really see Chamonix and Berner Oberland as redundant. While certainly similar, they have their own highlights and charms. Though, if we drop Prague/Dresden then we don't have to go to Chamonix from Paris and could go there and back from Berner Oberland (would still need to get back to Chur for the Bernina Express). As for being tired, I'm sure you're a 100% correct. Of course, I'm tired from work every day so I think I'll enjoy being tired from not working;) We get home on a Wednesday and I'll take the rest of that week off to recover. The real worry is that after a month off, will I want to go back to work!:)

Thanks again. I'll work on what it might look like without Prague/Dresden and post it up in a day or two.

Posted by
4125 posts

Randy, this is a pretty thoughtful itinerary and I think it works (with possible exception of that 25-hour train ride to which you seem to be looking forward).

I do think the train ride is a weakness, and the pacing, and the back-to-back Chamonix - Berner Oberland thing. But I guess those are trade-offs to achieve things that are important to you. (I admit, saving either Chamonix or the BO for the next trip would be a no-brainer for me.)

The pacing issue is as follows. First, a 30-day trip is not like two 15-day trips. If you just pile it on things will inevitably start to blur together.

I think you answer this somewhat with variety--the Alps and the Cinque Terre will provide needed contrast--but its very helpful to regroup and catch your breath with a longer stay someplace wonderful about 2/3 of the way through your trip.

I give you full marks for avoiding one-nighters, but the above criticism still stands.

Second, a longer trip gives you an opportunity to slow down and smell the dolce fare niente in a way that you just can't do on a short tour. You are squandering the chance to do this. Okay, I am sure you think the trade-off is worth it, but you won't get many chances like this in life.

Unless this is high season, I'd go largely without reservations to be free to modify things on the fly.

Have a wonderful time.

Posted by
36 posts

Adam, thanks for your critcisms. While it's no fun to hear about weaknesses in a plan, it's all part of working towards an even better plan. I'm 100% sure we would survive and thoroughly enjoy my original itinerary but that doesn't mean there's not a version of it that we would enjoy more:)

No matter when we do the alps, I think that BO and Chamonix will need to be back to back due to their physical locations. The odds that we'll ever be back in the alps after this trip are slim to none, so I really don't want to skip Chamonix. If we skip Prague/Dresden then there's no overnight train trip into Chur so then it'd be the Bernina Express and the continuation into Venice. There's always the possibility to spend the night in Milan, on the way, but Milan isn't on the list of places to see and I'm the "let's tough it out and get where we're going" type;) and we would be able to unwind in Venice. If not there, where else...oh...um...Amsterdammmmm!:) Maybe there from Paris...but not sure if my wife would approve of the pleasures of Amsterdam:) (a whole other story...)

For the original itinerary, I worked out approximate costs and 2nd class PtP would be somewhere around $975 each while saver passes would be less than that. After including reservation fees, the costs would probably be very similar but if that's the case, we'd take the 1st class. Also, sleeper compartment costs not included in either estimate.

Posted by
3101 posts

You have a great attitude Randy--the process of planning is lots of fun and no matter what you decide you're going to have a fabulous trip! Just be careful about adding destinations. You might want to include some "flex" time for places that others recommend along the way while you're traveling or places that you'd like more time in.

Posted by
36 posts

Sharon, I know what you mean. Eliminating Prague/Dresden frees up more time than I think I'd like to add elsewhere..,but we can leave it at that until I've actually reworked the schedule. The good part is that in the building of the original itinerary, I created a speadsheet of every train trip that I looked up on DB and now it's relatively painless to reengineer the existing order and sequence of stops.

For the moment, it's been fun hearing from you all and I'll stop replying until I've got a revised itinerary. Thanks again, everyone!

Posted by
279 posts

Randy:

To answer your intial question about trains from Chamonix to Martigny, try www.sbb.ch/en

I found that your are only adding an hour by taking the train via Geneve on Monday, 6 September, 5:50 vs. the last train on Sunday, 5 September, 4:43. These are the times going from Chamonix to Interlaken Ost.

I hope this helps.
Kevin

Posted by
263 posts

Randy - for the past 2 months I've been planning our own 36 night trip, which includes many of the places you are visiting (except that my trip is even more aggressive). I decided to drop Prague off my itinerary because it was the most out-of-way locale, and I'd begun to read many comments that it was uber-touristy.

From my previous trip, I will say that I wasn't all that impressed with Rothenburg. It's neat, but didn't feel like the best use of my time in Europe. I'm probably a naysayer here, since many people love it, but figured I'd give you my $.02 on it.

If you want to discuss more, send me a message. I don't want to hijack your thread with too many details of mine - but I'll list the countries (UK, Benelux, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain).

Posted by
12040 posts

"I'm probably a naysayer here, since many people love it, but figured I'd give you my $.02 on it." You're not the only one. Take away the wall and all the tourists carrying the Blue Book, and you have a town that although quite pretty, isn't exactly unique. I wouldn't say don't go... just don't go too far out of your way to visit

Posted by
12875 posts

Hi,

Where are you catching the night train to Dresden? I couldn't tell from what you listed. Is it a straight shot? Yes, you do need a reservation for a night train even just in Germany and even if you decide to sleep upright in a Sitzwagen (which is what I do) as well as for a couchette or a sleeper, both of which I avoid.

Good trip plan!!

Posted by
36 posts

I know I'm going back on my word here (don't have a modified itinerary yet) but I hate to leave people hanging for what could be a couple of days.

Tom, I hear you. That's why I was planning 2 nights but only 1 full day at Rothenburg. However, since we will being going to the middle Rhine and also Chur (Bernina Express) and/or Berner Oberland, Rothenburg is more or less between those and is a logical fit (at least it is on my "let's see it all" plan).

Marshall, feel free, I wouldn't be offended at all. If our trips overlap enough then you'll be giving people the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone in their comments ;)

Fred, night train leaving Bacharach at 19:38, single transfer at Koln at 22:01 then direct to Dresden, arriving 7:07.

Regarding relaxation time: for me that's a secondary benefit of day trains. As much as train schedules allow, I tried to not start too early or arrive too late, taking the stress out of moving to a new location. If it's just 2-3 hours travel then I tried to schedule departure no earlier than 9 AM or arrival no later than around 6 PM. If the travel is longer than about 4 hours then I tried to park it right in the middle of the day to satisfy both rules (if possible).

Posted by
12875 posts

Good, keep your present schedule with 4.5 days set aside for Paris and also the two full days for Prague and Dresden. I figured you would be boarding the night train from either Koblenz or Cologne. Straight shot from Cologne to Dresden is good and arriving at 0700 to have 2 full days at your disposal.

Posted by
12040 posts

The older parts of Prague probably have more souvenir shops per capita than any other destination in Europe, but don't let that discourage you from going.

Posted by
263 posts

the primary reason i dropped Prague was how far way it was from my other destinations (i.e., how long the train rides were). It's "touristy" nature was secondary, although influential.

I'm sure I will miss some great things there.

Posted by
521 posts

Though I think your itinerary is ambitious - it seems doable. You get my vote for not having any one-night-stays.

But if I may chime in on Prague...that city was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I am glad I went and there were some really great things there - but if I knew then what I know now, I am not sure it would have made the cut. It is a beautiful city, food was good, beer was okay, all the history of the country seems to be PACKED into the cathedral - so don't miss that and take your time there, the history of communism is so tangible there it really smacks you in the face and leaves a lasting impression.

But for the not-so-great....that city was more packed than any city I have ever been. It was a SLOW moving shuffle to walk from the Old Town Square to across the bridge to the other side of Prague. People with maps and tour books and certainly more cheesy tourist shops than I have ever seen in my life. Imagine shuffeling thru the vatican museum only throughout a whole city. I don't think Paris or Rome or Munich or Vienna were nearly this packed.

The people were stand-offish (probably burned out with tourists). You definitely had that feeling of keeping your purse/wallet clutched tight to your body. The city seems to be roasting meat in every building and every shop...which normally would smell amazing - but after 4 days in Prague - I couldn't get the smell of roasted pig out of my hair!

It is certainly an experience, just be mentally prepared and you will be fine. And that holds true for your whole itinerary. Mental preperation is half the battle. Enjoy!!!

Posted by
143 posts

We just completed 2 weeks in Germany: Berlin, Dresden (day trip), Nuremberg, Rothenburg (day trip), Fussen, Zugspitze (day trip) and Munich. We did it all by train. It was wonderful. We stayed in Frankfurt 1 night, Berlin 3 nights, Nuremberg 3 nights, Fussen 4 nights and Munich 2 nights.

My wife and I are 63 so staying at least 3 nights in one place definitely helped us a lot. We could feel at home and explore the city or countryside more leisurely.

I commend you for choosing to stay 3 or more nights in several places and you might even want to add 1 or 2 more places where you do that.

Posted by
36 posts

I was going to post a modified itinerary but the more comments I read, the more changes I think I should consider. As I mentioned earlier, I day-tripped Prague from a work-visit to Dresden. I had forgotten how crowded it was until Amy reminded me...yes, even in 2002 it was elbow to elbow. I don't recall the meat but I do recall all the tourist shops (almost as many as Amsterdam). I'm thinking of either cutting Prague to 1 day or just day trip from Dresden. I wouldn't mind visiting Berlin again, anyway (cut it out since architecture is similar to Dresden but very spread out).

The other problem I'm having now is that when I rearranged the stops in Germany, Rothenburg became the odd man out and I'm on the verge of nixing it, also (don't really want to do that). Will have to re-rearrange to see if I can make it a little more convenient.

Time to rework the plan, again. Anyway, it's all good. Like I said before, it'll all result in a better itinerary in the end. That, or after we get back we'll wish we had stuck with the original plan in which case I'll be PO'd that I let the mob at Rick Steve's website hijack our vacation...;)

Posted by
3101 posts

If it were a choice between Prague and Berlin--I'd pick Berlin--especially since you've already been to Prague.

Posted by
36 posts

I've already been to Berlin, too... but just a day trip, same as Prague. But Berlin is so spread that basically I only saw the Brandenberg Gate, Reichstagg, old section of the wall, and the Hard Rock Cafe.

Posted by
12875 posts

Keep in mind that since you are going to be in Dresden, you are more or less, plus or minus 10 mins, equal distant from Prague and Berlin, and if you only saw last time just the Brandenburg Gate, Pariser Platz, the Hard Rock cafe, etc., I would say it's time for you see Berlin more comprehensively this time and skip Prague.

Posted by
36 posts

After a week of rethinking my original itinerary, we are going to more or less stick with it. We understand it's a relatively aggressive schedule but it fits our usual style , though this will certainly be a long trip. I did drop Chamonix and replaced it with equal time in Amsterdam and Berner Oberland will be 3.5 days instead of 2.5 days. I also did a little rearranging of the northern half so that the shorter stays alternate with the longer stays as a means of giving ourselves a break after a few faster-paced days.

What I need some insight on now is how to allow more room for schedule adjustments, should we either wish or need (due to some unanticipated schedule malfunction).

Night trains (CNL) will be Sept. 5, 9, and 12). We'd like to get a 2-person berth by paying a supplement on our Global Passes. I'm assuming that we need to make those reservations ASAP, correct?

Also, if we were to get lucky and have great weather at BO, and do and see what we'd like then we might decide then to leave a day early and use that day at one of the Italy stops. For a mid-September weekend trip on the Bernina Express (1st class observation car), how likely is it that seats might be unavailable if we were to show up without a reservation?

Again, thanks for all prior comments and any current advice. You can try to talk us out of the busy schedule but I don't think it'll work;) After playing with slower schedules with fewer stops, just felt they were too slow for us and would we'd be passing right by stops that we really want to see (rather be tired than regretful). No, we won't really be able to become temporary locals at the shorter stops but an extra day wouldn't make that significantly more likely), either.

Thanks again and wish us luck:)

Posted by
3101 posts

Hi Randy,

You've really given this itinerary a lot of thought and have made very informed choices. For flexibility, be sure to book hotels that you can cancel within a day or so of your arrival--just in case something changes. Not sure about the rail questions...

Have a great trip! Hope you'll let us know how it went when you return!

Posted by
36 posts

Thanks Sharon!

The only part that stifles the flexibility are the overnight trains. I'm guessing that without reservation weeks in advance then there would be no 2-person berths available but in a pinch, we could probably get bunks in a larger couchette.

Randy

Posted by
6 posts

You will completely regret scheduling only 1 day in Cinque Terre. We spent three days & nights there and felt it was barely sufficient.

Posted by
36 posts

Hi Shannon, thanks for the input and I'm pretty sure that 1-day/2-nights will be enough (edit- enough for us, that is). Another day would be nice but of course, we'd have to give up time somewhere I think we'd enjoy more..different strokes for different folks. In the end, might end up there 2 days anyway since the 2nd day in Venice is a floater...if we've seen enough of Venice after 2 nights and a full day (I've heard no shortage of people saying that's more than enough) then we'll head to Cinque Terre a day earlier.

Posted by
263 posts

Randy - I went to Europe 5 years ago and spent 2 nights/1 day in CT and then 2 nights/1 day in Venice.

On this go 'round (this time with a spouse), I'm planning 3 nights/2 full days in the CT and only 1 night in Venice.

I'm planning it this way to have a day to hike and a day to lounge on Monterosso's beach. or hike both mornings and lounge both afternoons.

It's my "vacation" from my vacation.

The sight to see in Venice is Venice. After that, you can linger or move on.

Posted by
36 posts

Hi Marshall,

I could lounge around but that's just not my wife's style... So after hiking around the villages, we probably won't spend too much time on the beach. Though renting a 2-person ocean kayak would certainly be a non-lounge activity for a second day. I used Euraide.com and just finished making all mandatory reservations and night train reservations to get us from the the start of our trip through to Venice. I am leaving the post-venice itinerary unreserved for the moment so that we can try and play our last week by ear. Of course, that all depends upon how booked things might be in Cingue Terre (if rooms are scarce then I'll have to make a set booking) ahead of time.

Anyone out there have much experience with the scarcity or surplus of accommodations in Cinque Terre in the middle of the week in late September? What places would be the best bet for an unreserved (or reserved a day before) stay? Hopefully, quiet at night.

Thanks.

Marshall, btw, how is your 36-day plan coming along?

Posted by
263 posts

Randy,
We are staying in the CT September 12 through 15. Many places were already fully booked. But, I would imagine that there are always rooms available, and the difference between the worst room and the best room can't be that great, since the best rooms aren't very nice (relative to other cities in Europe).

I've finished the 37 day plan - booked all the rooms and have the 3 night trains booked. Like you I'm leaving certain parts of the trip more "open" by not making any train reservations. Most of my hotels have 48-24 hours cancel policies.

Posted by
1913 posts

Can you fly from Prague to Venice? That would give you an entire day to add somewhere within your itinerary (CinqueTerra?) and would be much more pleasant than 25 hours on a train.

Posted by
36 posts

Here is what we've come up with as our final itinerary. It's very similar to the original other than a couple of destination swaps and rearrangements. All night trains are reserved and all stays reserved except for Berner Oberland and Cinque Terre. Some will complain about backtracking (we will pass through the middle-Rhine region 3 times) but it doesn't bother me at all as two of the passes will be on night trains. The added night train gave us an extra usable day. The schedule is still aggressive but for our style and tastes, I think it's a good fit. Really bummed to miss southern France but just found out a friend is getting married there a year from now so it will be the perfect excuse to go back for a short trip in the region.

-Aug. 30: Arrive Paris 8 AM, 5 nights, 4.5 days

-Amsterdam, 1 night/1.5 days

-(Night train to Augsburg, transfers in the morning to arrive in Rothenbur ob der Tauber)
-Rothenburg, 1 night and 1.25 days

-Bacharach/Rhine River, 3 nights, 3 days

-(Night train from Koln to Prague)
-Prague, 1 night/1.75 days

-Dresden, 2 nights/2 days

-(Night train to Basel SBB, transfers in the morning to Berner Oberland)
-Berner Oberland, 3 nights/2.75 days (no reservations in case of bad weather in which case we'll either try for either Zermatt or Chamonix or else head into Italy early and add Florence)

-Chur, 1 night with late afternoon/evening only

-Bernina Express to Tirano then on to Venice

-Venice: 3 nights, 2 days (1 of the days/nights is a floater and may opt to move on to CT a day early)

-Cinque Terre (Vernazza): 2 nights, 1.3 days (no advance reservation)

-Pisa: A few hours on the way to Rome

-Rome: 4 nights, 3 days, depart FCO morning of 4th day

Posted by
152 posts

Just got back on to Rick Steve. Hope I'm not to late to add a few comments. I've lived in Germany many years ago and been to most of the places you have listed.
Once we were in Cinque Terre the last week of August. It was miserable. So hot. No A/C. All you could do was ride the train through the 5 towns. We found the trains in Italy to be unreliable. Could throw your schedule off. We went from Milan to Interlaken. The train was 2 1/2 hours late. We had to stand in the hot sun all that time. We had planned to go through the lake area and into the mountains at sunset. It was dark. No view.
Rothenburg-three times. Loved it until the last trip when it rained for three days. We were soggy messes. No night walk for us. It did have the best Chinese food as per Rick Steve's book. After a few weeks we were ready for something different.
Interlaken, Our favorite place. We are going in 2011 for 3 weeks. Still many things we haven't done. We usually stay in a time share but last time we stayed in Lauterbrunnen at Hotel Staubach. We loved it and found train connections better there than Murren and Wengen.
Chomnix-Would go back, but it isn't in our path for more trips. Stayed at a wonderful place a walk out of town. Great people. Cooked us a special dinner for a birthday. Sent us an email after 9-11. Let me know if interested in hotel name.
Bacharach-stayed in place by the railroad track as per Rick. Loved the place, BUT my girls couldn't sleep for rail noise even with earplugs. Loved the food and owner. Had a wonderful conversation with non English speaking customers. We don't speak German, but chatted away.
Hope you will be in touch.
Our two favorite places we have been: Berner Oberland and Greek Islands.
Sept. in Switzerland was cold. Take a look at the web cams.

Posted by
16 posts

I would not do so many night trains. We only did one during our 30 day visit. It was a fun experience, but you will not get a very good night's sleep. Also, I would add one more night to Cinque Terre (and one less in Rome). I booked the hotels first, then my husband did the rail passes.

Posted by
36 posts

Hi Mary Joe,

Thanks for sharing your experiences and I hope we don't get rained out anywhere but I know it's going to happen, somewhere. All reservations are made through Venice but not including the Berner Oberland. I inquired and the hotel you mentioned has a 7-9 day cancellation policy which wouldn't leave us with any bad weather contingency. We'll have to just make a reservation within a couple of days of arrival there once the weather forecast is known, unless I can find a decent place in Lauterbrunnen that has a 48-hour cancellation policy. We'll be at Pension Lettie in Bacharach.

Randy