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1st Trip to Europe

My husband and I are planning our first trip to Europe this April/May. We will be in TX this spring and found a transatlantic cruise from TX to Barcelona for the price of one way airfare so we thought we'd go for it and also spend some time after exploring Spain, France, Switzerland, and Germany (we originally wanted to also do Italy and Greece but I think 4 countries as is is gonna be tight. right?)

I think we’re going to stay for 3 weeks, give or take a couple of days. Here’s our rough itinerary:
Our cruise will take us for one day each to Malaga, Cartagena, and drop us in Barcelona so we’d like to do go to Madrid and then maybe back to Barcelona for a couple of days. Train from Barcelona to Narbonne and then maybe to Nice, Toulouse, Bordeux, and/or Paris. Spend some time in Paris and make our way to Zurich, then Frankfurt, and end in Dusseldorf (cheapest airfare back to LA).

I’ve been viciously scanning travel forums and this helpline and I know it might be too early to request any itinerary advice but any thoughts you have on adding or cutting out places of interest would be greatly appreciated! THX

Posted by
21709 posts

Back tracking to Barcelona doesn't make a sense in time and money. I would head on to France from Madrid. You are trying to cover a lot of physical territory which means a lot of lost time to traveling and seeing the inside of train stations or airports. You think about just Spain, France and Germany. Save Switzerland and Italy for the next trip. My personal opinion is less travel makes for a more meaningful trip.

Remember this is your fist trip -- And contrary to all of the advice on this board you will take too much luggage simply because traveling light is learned behavior. You will do much better with luggage on your next trip. Always assume there will be a next trip so that it makes planning for this trip easier.

Posted by
12875 posts

Jessica,

That's true...always assume you will want to go back and will do so indeed. Made my first trip when I was 21, solo and a senior in college, on a charter flight for twelve full weeks, and I have been going back ever since. Hopefully you will catch this travel bug to Europe too.

As for cutting out some place on your list, I would cut out Zurich. Spend the extra time in Paris or Dusseldorf, which is well connected with the U-Bahn and S-Bahn.

Posted by
9110 posts

Bordeaux -- Nice -- Narbonne -- Toulouse is a shotgun at France with not much to recommend them for a first-time trip.

Malaga and Cartegena are not the primo spots in Spain, they're more just places that happen to have a port.

Frank has the right idea, see what you want in Barcelona for a couple or three days and then head for Madrid. From there go to either Paris or southern France (not sure why you picked Bordeaux, but if that's you fancy, jump from there to Nimes and enjoy the Rhone area (Avignon, Pont du Gard, Arles, Orange) with a trip to Antibes if you want a glimpse of the riviera).

Like Fred, I'd skip Switzerland this time and head for Germany next since you are fast running out of time.

Posted by
359 posts

Jessica; I'm with the other posters and, as well, might suggest Bayonne rather than Bordeaux. From Bayonne homebase you can explore a bit of coastal/Pyrenees Basque country in both Spain(San Sebastian)and France(Biarritz, Hendaye)relying on public transport over a couple of days. From Bayonne it's a quick, 4+ hour trip to Paris, Montparnasse, on the fast train to continue your journey.

Posted by
4125 posts

I'd suggest either Provence or Perigord as a stopover on the way to Paris, as opposed to either Toulouse, Bordeaux, or Nice.

Provence is logistically simpler, Perigord needs a car (and Provence could use one) to explore the area.

Use trains to get from region to region.

Posted by
61 posts

Thanks so much for everyone's responses! We are completely open to visiting any places within our range of days. I had mentioned Nice, Toulouse, and Bordeux randomly - not because we had to see them. Honestly, we know nothing about them and wouldn't know if we missed anything. We were hoping to somehow end up in Dusseldorf as the airfare is about 700 cheaper than any airport in France (atleast that I could find to LAX).

Posted by
21709 posts

You also really need to buy a good guide book or two and do some reading. Second, go to your public library and check out on travel DVDs and get some idea about what YOU would like to see, not what someone or everyone on this board thinks you should see. You have to do some of your own homework. And April and May are pretty close.

Posted by
263 posts

Jessica, you might also want to check your local PBS station. Between Rick Steves, Rudy Maxa, Burt Wolf and others, you could probably get some ideas of what you want to see. I think everyone who has gone over has their own favorites. Some good travel books along with the videos could go a long way to helping you plan out what you want to see. Three weeks sounds like a long time, but when you are traveling it isn't. I would avoid backtracking....once you leave Barcelona, for example, don't go back ... only onward.
Enjoy the trip

Posted by
43 posts

Hey Jessica, I want to know about the transatlantic cruise you're talking about! What cruise line and how long is it? Does it go out of the Houston or Galveston port?

Posted by
21709 posts

Nearly all cruises line and especially those that are heavy in the winter Caribbean have "re-position" cruises which move their ships from the Caribbean to the summer European cruise schedule. Maybe a couple of port calls on this side, then a five day crossing, with three or four port calls on the other side. Often a very good value. And the reverse is true in the Fall.

Posted by
61 posts

It is a Royal Caribbean cruise 14 days out of Galveston. Does day stops in Bahamas, Azores, Malaga, Cartagena, and ends in Barcelona. We saw it on AA.com so we can earn some miles.

Posted by
19 posts

Jessica you will have a great time ! I suggest that you buy (or borrow) Rick's DVD's and guide books for each country you will visit. The time and money spent researching your trip will be enjoyable and give you ideas on what you want to see. Then plan your trip. My wife and I spent many hours planning our trip through Germany and it was well worth it. Don't skimp on travel guides, DVD's,maps,etc. for such an expensive trip.

Posted by
9110 posts

Go for 7 in Paris since side trips involved.

Munich sounds like always leaving at dawn and getting back late at night due to many side trips; the Germany experts will have a better grasp, however. Even with three side trips, six days in Munich seems a bit long.

Florence for 4 nights might be an overkill.

Somebody else needs to comment on Florence - Pisa - CT by train in one day.

This sure looks better. Your first one sorta looked like a kid trying to hit an pinata......but he was in the wrong back yard.

Posted by
61 posts

Thank you again to all who responded for your advice. We just loaded up on about 7 guidebooks and have decided to tweek our itinerary to fit Italy in. Here's our current thought:
Cruise drops us in Barcelona (stay 2 nights)
Fly/Train, whichever cheaper, to Paris (stay 5-7 nights, side trip to Versailles and one overnight trip to London)
Fly/Train to Munich (stay 4-6 nights, side trips to Fussen, Salzburg, or Rottenburg, what do you think?)
Train to Venice (stay 2-3 nights)
Train to Florence (Stay 2-3 nights, maybe 4, interested in Best of Tuscany tour for one day)
Train to Cinque Terre (can't quite nail down how to get there from Florence AND see Pisa for a couple of hours, stay 1-2 nights)
Train to Milan (stay one night)
Fly to LAX
I got that at about 17 to 25 nights and I know there will be a night train or two (we are not fixed on a day out but I think at 25 nights, money is gonna be an issue :) ).

The cheapest flight we could find around that time to LAX was out of Dusseldorf but that doesn't really fit anymore. Milan wasnt terrible for prices, maybe a couple hundred more.

I wish we could fit in Rome but as the philosophy goes, next trip.

What do we think now?

Posted by
263 posts

I agree with Ed...7 days in Paris might be better for side trips..the first day or two you may be to tired to do much. And one day in London may be more trouble and expense than it is worth. I would skip Pisa. I loved Venice, our three days there seemed too short, but wasn't quite as enamored of Florence. I loved CT during the five nights we spent there. Granted, I don't move as fast as I used to, so spending more time in a place is almost a requirement for a guy my age. You have a lot on your schedule in the Italy leg. Think that you'll go back someday...maybe the next trip would be time to spend in CT and Florence. Remember, it should be a pleasure to travel, not a frenzy. Leave time for wine and good food.