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Europe in two weeks...possible?

I am currently planning a grad school graduation present to myself. Two weeks in Western Europe. I am having trouble with decided places to see and what would be the best route to go about it all. As you can probably tell I am a first timer solo traveler. I have been to England 3 separate times as I my extended family lives there. So I am content with England being omitted from the travel plans. I would like to visit at least 2 countries and would like to be realistic with the maximum countries I visit. The only restriction I can say I have is that Germany will have to be a place I visit as I plan on seeing a friend who attends school in the Bremenhaven area. I am also on limited budget. I have so many Ideas as to where to go but they are all over the place. I want to visit Ireland, but that seems like a lot of money on transportation if I want to visit Germany? I am so lost planning wise. I would sincerely appreciate some suggestions and/or guidance. Cheers,
First-time-solo-traveler

Posted by
258 posts

I think 2 weeks is fine for a trip to Europe....but I would not "over-do" it and try to cram in a bunch of countries. With 2 weeks, why not focus on 1 country (say, France), and visit multiple destinations in that country so that you feel like you really get to "know" it. OR, group together cities in diff countries that are close together. For ex, Munich, Southern Bavaria, Salzburg, & maybe Bernese Oberland in Switzerland (Jungfrau region). Or, from Salzburg, take train further east to Vienna, so that you will have gotten a flavor of E. Europe (around 3 hr train trip) and will get to experience 1 of Europe's great cities. This way, you will have been to several countries, but don't have to do THAT much travel, relatively speaking, in between them (i.e.- Munich to Salzburg, Austria, is around 2.5 hrs) In France, there is so much to see that you could spend 2 weeks & visit, say, Paris (w/ side trip to Versailles), Normandy, Loire Valley, Chamonix (for alpine/mountain experience), Provence and maybe South of France (Cannes, Nice, etc.) and Monaco. Bottom line, as Rick always points out, Don't try to be overly ambitious and do TOO much in 1 trip; assume you WILL return! Another helpful tip for relatively short trips is to make a list of desired destinations, and eliminate potential redundencies (i.e. choose ONE Alpine/mtn region, ONE or TWO main large cities, etc.). Good luck....& enjoy the planning process. It's half the fun!

Posted by
403 posts

Bisi: Well, as you already suspect, Ireland might be better left for another trip. With only two weeks, you want to minimize travel by seeing places that are close together. Of course, everyone will have different ideas, but I'll offer mine. (First, though, go out to a bookstore and pick up Rick's Best of Europe 2011 and start reading! It will help in planning). Fly "open jaw", which means into one European city and home out of another one. This cuts out backtracking and is no more expensive than a straight round trip. Suppose you fly into Berlin and stay three days. (Days 1, 2, 3 of 14). Then train to Bremerhaven, which is about a six hour ride with some changes. I have no idea how long you want to stay with your friend, but let's say Days 4 and 5. On Day 6 you could train to Amsterdam (again, about 5.5 to 6 hrs). Stay in Amsterdam Days 6,7,8. Day 9 Travel to Paris with a mid-day stopover in Brussels. Days 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 in Paris. Day 14 fly home from Paris.
This, of course, is only one of hundreds of possible itineraries, but it may give you some ideas. Keep checking back to see what other posters suggest.

Posted by
1986 posts

My high choices for Europe would be Paris and the Loire chateux; Germany- Rhine, Bavaria/Munich to the Alps (garmish, Mittenwald, Oberamergau. Also Swiss Junfraujoch and Lucerne- but thats expensive. however in your situation I would possibly do Paris for 3 days (because its there) and then talk to your friend about his suggestions for Germany. He will probably have some great places to recommend and things to do that we tourists may not know about. take the opportunity to get the benefit of his knowledge

Posted by
1021 posts

The trip that logically presents itself to me is to fly into Hamburg which is an interesting place. Much destroyed in WWII, it was rebuilt into a pleasant city with a split personality. One part is nice shops, hotels, parks and restaurants. The other side is the Reeperbahn which in keeping with the family friendly nature of this forum I merely suggest you google. Depending upon your interests, you may want your friend to join you in Hamburg. From Hamburg, go to Bremerhaven, then on to Amsterdam for 2-3 nights. From there, the Brussels Grand Place is worth a stop on the way to Paris where you should spend 3-4 days before flying home. The route is about 1100 kilometers, easily doable in two weeks using the trains. To research trains, use http://www.bahn.de/i/view/GBR/en/index.shtml

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you all for the helpful suggestions. You all basically suggested I stay in the France, Netherlands, Germany area which makes the most sense to me. Ireland can wait. I would also like to give you more information about this trip. I plan on going alone; at least I am planning it as if I will be alone. I have never really done anything like this before. I would like to spend the last two weeks of September on this trip. Will that be an ideal time for the countries I visit? What are your suggestions for Hostels...should I stay away or should I look for someone to come on the trip with me to save on Hotels? I have gotten mixed opinions on flying "open jaw". It sounds ideal to me. What would be a realistic cost for a trip such as this. I would like to eat out once in a while, but I am content with and used to eating like a college student. I hope all of these questions are not overwhelming. Cheers

Posted by
1035 posts

"I would like to spend the last two weeks of September on this trip. Will that be an ideal time for the countries I visit?" Yes. Weather should be cool but pleasant and crowds much lower than the peak months. Classic shoulder season. Little cheaper too. "What are your suggestions for Hostels...should I stay away or should I look for someone to come on the trip with me to save on Hotels?" Hostels are particularly great if you are solo. It is way, way easier to get to know some peeps than if you are staying in a hotel. The savings with a second person in a hotel will be less than in the US. Euro hotels, unlike USA, charge by the person. Dont get me wrong, it will save you some money, but it may not be as great as you think. "I have gotten mixed opinions on flying "open jaw". It sounds ideal to me." One of the few things nearly everyone on this board will agree upon is that open jaws is a good idea. "What would be a realistic cost for a trip such as this. I would like to eat out once in a while, but I am content with and used to eating like a college student." If you are looking a variable expense to lower your budget, food is it. Others will have a better estimate, but I'd say this trip, including transportation will cost $2300 at the lowest end and $3k comfortably.

Posted by
403 posts

The only thing about September is that it is also convention time in Paris, and perhaps other cities. If you are going to stay in hostels, no problem, but hotels...make sure you have reservations. Also remember that...although you give up flexibility...buying train tickets early (like 45 to 90 days) will save a ton of money...but if you miss the train you are ticketed on, you are out of luck. To me, the huge savings is well worth a little pre-planning and inflexibility.

Posted by
6735 posts

"I would like to spend the last two weeks of September on this trip. Will that be an ideal time for the countries I visit?" "What are your suggestions for Hostels...should I stay away or should I look for someone to come on the trip with me to save on Hotels?" Great time for weather and for festivals. In Germany there's Oktoberfest (which is nuts and expensive) but there are some others, including the Wine and Sausage Market in Bad Dürkheim on 9/9-13 and 9/16-19 and be a wine festival on the last two weekends in September in the Rhine River valley in the town of Boppard (including fireworks.) These smaller regional fests are a LOT of fun, and the Rhine villages of Bacharach, Boppard, St. Goar and Braubach very worthwhile, especially Braubach for its Marksburg Castle: www.marksburg.de The Middle Rhine valley is dotted with hostels: St. Goar's is well located and the cheapest, with rates at 15 Euros/night including breakfast; other hostels can be found in nearby Bingen, Kaub, and Bacharach (castle hostel.) Be sure to take your earplugs for hostels. German hostels are popular with pre-teen school groups on week-long outings. The Rhine Valley villages and other vacation destinations in Germany typically have B&B accommodations available for around 20-30 Euros per night; check out Ben's pages for Bacharach, for example: www.bensbauernhof.com/accommodationsrhinemosel.html From the Rhine Valley, it's easy to get to/from Amsterdam and Paris. Paris: check out the cheap hotels (Etap, Formule 1) in the Bagnolet area, an easy Metro ride into central Paris. I liked this place near the Est train station too, but it's pricier: http://www.hotelkuntz.com/

Posted by
1986 posts

I've also chanced upon wine festivals at other towns and villages along the Rhine and Mosel during my travels. There must be a list somewhere ion the web, otherwise just keep your eyes and ears open

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you all for again for the suggestions. I have used a lot of them to guide my planning and have been doing a lot of research. One thing that comes to mind is whether or not to skip France. I honestly don't believe I have a good opinion of the place and I don't think that I would get along too well in there. I don't speak a word of French and I don't think it will be easy for me to get around due to the nature of the citizens. I see that a lot of comments from the helpline boosts Paris. What makes it so special? Not to sound rude, I'm just curious. I would love to hear more of your opinions? Your relations with the people? and any other useful information. Thanks in advance. Cheers.

Posted by
2388 posts

We have been there several times. Do not speak any french. We encountered only 2 rude people who would not wait on us, one bakery shop worker said "Americans, get out". A metro worker wouldn't help us either. That said we met so very many people who went out of their way to help us. Friend left her purse with passport, etc. at restaurant and waiter chased us down the street to return it. Another waiter who spoke no English at all acted out the dishes we pointed to so we could decide between beef (Moo), duck (quack), etc. When we arrived off metro on arrival exhausted couldn't find our hotel. A lovely woman who spoke no English went store to store with us in hand to find us the right directions and did it all with hand gestures for us. I would go back in heart beat. You can find rude people anywhere and I think the french have gotten a bad rap. Hope you will reconsider your plans.

Posted by
56 posts

And where in Europe are you going where you do speak the language? If that is your criteria for including a country on your list, you will be limited to the U.K. Except for the fact you have a friend there, do you really expect Germany to be more friendly than France?

Posted by
33123 posts

If you have an unreasonable concern about something the best way to conquer it is to face it. I speak with a North American accent and have traveled extensively in western Europe - have never seen or experienced any of the problems you refer to, or what Gail spoke of. France and Paris are magic. Maybe not now, but truly, Bisi, you owe it to yourself one day. You say you don't speak French from which I infer you speak at least some German. A caution - if you rely on school German the regional accents in the north, central, and southeast Germany are really quite different. I remember the first time I heard "zwo" when I expected "zwei".

Posted by
10 posts

With all due respect, the nature of my question was not to put down France, I simply asked out of curiosity what made it so special for anyone that has gone. Beyond the art, food, and architecture, which are my main interests for the country. I have no ties with France, it's just that with more research I do on the country there are more cautions about getting along with the people there. I don't want to spend however many days in a country that I will have significant trouble getting around because a native will refuse to help me because I am an African American. I understand that there are rude people everywhere. I've had my share. Everyone encounters it everyday. My questions were to inquire the personal accounts of others. Where to go? What to see? What made it special for you? What was difficult? I am also slightly directionally challenged and a reminder I am traveling alone.

Posted by
1035 posts

I am going to respond to your questions focused on Paris rather than all of France, as that would require too comprehensive of an answer than there is space for here. I think there are things about the French and Americans that make us clash some of it is a commonality we have. The French are very proud of their culture and language. They are a passionate people who have strong opinions they are unafraid of sharing (if provoked). On modes of social interaction the French are quite different. They are reserved, private and way more formal than Americans. Mix all these factors together and you can see where there are sometimes misunderstandings. That all said, just the smallest amount of time taken to understand the cultural differences and you'll never have a problem. If you can perfect a couple dozen words or phrases, you will be met with complete respect in nearly all situations. This is a good rule of thumb for anywhere you visit! Paris itself is an amazingly diverse city on a par with few US cities other than NYC. There is a huge population of people of African descent. I think the diversity surprises many first time visitors. more....

Posted by
1035 posts

.... continued Why Paris? You mentioned art, food and architecture and it is important to you. You will find an abundance unlike nearly anywhere else in the world (sorry Rome). Paris is a place of history. I make the argument that over the past 225 years, there is no place in the world that has been more in the center of world history. My favorite thing about Paris is just setting off without a plan and exploring. Hop on the metro (which is an amazing example of public art) and just head to a random station. Go above ground and spend the day wandering, sampling, exploring. Hard to get too lost and if you do there is always a bus or metro waiting to ferry you back to the familiar. Final point: people watching. Grab a cafe, they are everywhere, order your favorite beverage, and watch Paris, the "moveable feast" unfold.

Posted by
515 posts

My parents and I took our first trip to Europe in March for 2 weeks and saw 6 countries. We went to Rome, Venice, Florence, Vatican City, Munich, Salzburg, Zurich, Triberg, Oberammergau and London. It was a great trip, but since you are limited on the money I say stick to Germany and maybe Switzerland.

Posted by
258 posts

Re: France -I don't speak any French (except for a few VERY BASIC words/expressions, etc.) and on 3 seperate trips there, I have rarely experienced rudeness from the people. In general, regardless of where you are, I think a basic rule of thumb is to act polite yourself, and then most people will reciprocate. For example, in Europe, I have very often observed Americans walk right up to European locals and proceed to ask them questions in English. In those instances, I am not surprised if they receive a rude responce! In Europe, I always like to think of myself as an "Amabassador" of U.S. culture/customs/manners, etc. and, therefore, it is my responsibility to ask basic questions in the local language. I don't speak any European languages fluently, but in each of Rick's Guidebooks, you always find basic words/expressions, spelled out in English ("Do you speak English," "Please," "Thank you," "Excuse Me," "Where is the........"). In countries such as France, Germany, Austria, The Czech Republic, etc., the locals seemed to appreciate the effort, and typically responded in kind. France offers infinite possibilities for the 1st time traveler to Europe (history, art, museums, cathedrals, food!!, some of Europe's most memorable sights/attractions, rather central location, etc.), so I would not advise skipping it due to preconceived perceptions of the French themselves.

Posted by
164 posts

My husband and I have done a few two-week trips - here are some tips we've learned (feel free to ignore:) 1. For us, four places in two weeks is perfect - any more and we get cranky:) 3/4 nights per place is great. We like to schedule a small town or rural stop in the middle to rest and recharge our batteries. 2. Spend money on experiences rather than food/lodging. We look for simple (1 or 2 star) b&b's which include breakfast. 3. Grocery stores and food carts are a great source for inexpensive lunches - we get nice premade salads or sandwiches, fruit and yogurt for just a few euros and find a fun spot to picnic (museum steps, park benches, etc) 4. We book way ahead to get the cheap train fares and flights - just booked easy jet from Prague to Paris in April for $32 each. As for where to go - since you're on a limited budget, keep in mind the ease and expense of getting from one place to another. Check train fares and low cost airlines to link places together. You're smart to save Ireland for another time. Berlin and Prague would be easy to connect with Bremerhaven and I've heard wonderful things about both. Munich is one of my fave cities in Germany and Salzburg is an easy train ride so those might also be fun for you. Berchtesgaden is very close to Munich and Salzburg and has some lovely hiking in September. There are many lovely choices so you'll still have plenty of options if you choose to skip France this trip. Good luck and have fun planning!

Posted by
132 posts

On the languages. Granted we've only been to europe 3 times. But IMHO. Language isn't a big problem. Many Europeans take English in school. But, just as I'm reluctant because of my insecurities speaking french, and also speak English instinctively; many Europeans are that way. But I'd say the majority of Europeans I delt with spoke at least some English. It seems, if two Europeans who don't know a common language need to talk, English seems to be the default language. Was there some rudeness. Sure? But less in Paris than I had expected. Most Parisians seemed friendly and tried to be helpful. And I honestly can't say we experienced more rudeness in Paris or anywhere else in Europe, than many American Cities. My personal favorites are Paris, Venice, Florence, then Rome. And Germany is nice and a pretty country too. But only you can decide what draws you.

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you all for helpful advice. I have so many options. I think that has been my difficulty with this planning. I am easy to please as far as what these countries offer. It truly has been a lot of fun finding out more about these countries and deciding what I love. Your suggestions have been great resources. I appreciate them all. Here is what I have planned now. Days are flexible and I have an on going list of things I would like to see in these places. I have decided that France and Ireland will have to be left for another trip. Amsterdam, Holland (2 days); Bremen, Germany (2 days); Hamburg, Germany (1 day); Kiel, Germany (1 day); Berlin, Germany (1 day); Prague, Czech Republic (2 days); Salzburg, Austria (2 day); Munich, Germany (2 days)=>Home. Please feel free to interject if anything seems screwy from personal experiences or places that must be seen! Thank you all!

Posted by
132 posts

Bisi, It's going to likely take you at least half a day to check out the hotel. Get to the train/bus station, get to the next city and check in to the next hotel. Plus another half day to get oriented to that new city. I'd be concerned I won't have a lot of time to see the things I wanted to see. Much less find a cafe, prop my feet up, and enjoy enjoy a beer and the people. Not to mention the occasional house keeping tasks.

Posted by
1498 posts

"Amsterdam, Holland (2 days); Bremen, Germany (2 days); Hamburg, Germany (1 day); Kiel, Germany (1 day); Berlin, Germany (1 day); Prague, Czech Republic (2 days); Salzburg, Austria (2 day); Munich, Germany (2 days)=>Home." Too many short stops in large cities. I could not see Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, etc. in a day or two each? Plus you are spending hours on the train. Train schedules: http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en As you are starting in Amsterdam and Bermen is a personal stop, I would make a trip to the west-northwest corner of Europe. The "Low Countries" and Germany have a lifetime worth of sights to see. Read a comprehensive guide book like Michelin Green Guide and pick a few places not too far apart.

Posted by
204 posts

You are trying to do far, far too much. For two weeks narrow your interest to perhaps 4 places and better than that, to one country or two at most. I am sure you will pay no attention to this advice THIS TIIME, but you will learn better for your next trip.

Posted by
8994 posts

I think you will want to spend more time in Northern Germany, Hamburg and Berlin need far more time than 1 day. That is impossible. Why not save Bavaria for another trip? You might squeeze in the Netherlands from here, but that will be it. There are small, medieval towns full of charm up in the North, like Lübeck or Quedlinburg that you can also visit. Germany is going to be kind to your budget too, especially Berlin, where food prices are the lowest of all and there are plenty of hostels there too. Here is a website with a very comprehensive list of fests in every Land in Germany. This page is just the wine festivals. http://www.weinfeste-in-deutschland.de/

Posted by
258 posts

Agree strongly that Berlin in 1 day is very difficult.....if not impossible! It's a very large city, and many of the tourist sights are scattered (study your map well!). So to really get to see the main attractions, I would give it at least 2 full days. And if you do go, a helpful tip to get a solid overview of the city is to take the Berlin Walks Discover Berlin Walking Tour (http://www.berlinwalks.com) on your 1st day educational and very informative! A terrific company offeriing excellent, guided walking tours.

Posted by
10 posts

Would ending the trip in Berlin suffice? That way I can better divide the days for transport and longer stay in cities such as Berlin ;) That seems to make more sense to me. Thank you all.

Posted by
171 posts

Hi, I wanted to post a reply as I skipped going to France for 8 years because I heard we Americans are not very popular there. I decided to go to France this past spring. I was in Provence and all along the coast up to Menton. I loved it. The people were very nice to me. I travel alone each time I travel to Europe and because of my wonderful time, I hope to going back next year.
Also..my ex husband and his wife went to Paris and they both had a wonderful time. She said she would definitely go back. She said it was beautiful and she could have spent more than a week in Paris alone

Posted by
159 posts

Re: France - have been to Paris twice and was warned both times about how rude Parisians were...never experienced it...everyone was wonderful...I did, however, try to speak the language, after which they would kindly speak English for me. Re: Berlin - you must spend more time there! I only had two full days there and I was enchanted...I can't wait to return. Ich liebe Berlin!