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21 Day Best of Europe 8/26/14

I debated about whether to post in Trip Reports or here and opted for here based on the info inviting tour members to share their candid tour experiences. I've got several parts to this report, so will post the remainder as comments.

Best of Europe 8/26/14
Overall: This was a wonderful, wonderful tour. I loved every day. An RS tour guide for another country said he went on this tour as an assistant one time and that it was his favorite tour as you saw blockbuster sights every day. He was so right! I had such a terrific time on this tour! The itinerary was varied with both cities and countryside, Dimitri the guide was just awesome, informative and entertaining, the group was interesting and fun to be with and the sights were amazing. I loved every minute.

Group: I guess RS tour members kind of self-select themselves when they sign up for Rick’s tours. Most know what his philosophy is and it seems like everyone has watched his PBS show. This group was so varied and interesting and FUN! I enjoyed talking with everyone, touring with everyone and sharing experiences with everyone. I am pretty much a height chicken but I was determined to go up to the Schilthorn. I made it with the help from Dimitri AND the group. They were all so supportive even when I was a baby and had my eyes shut on the way up. Meals were very entertaining as were the bus rides.

Activity level: I’ve done 5 RS tours and this one is very strenuous. Travel over 20 days by bus is hard but you have to keep moving to see everything. The hardest touring days were Amsterdam and Rome. In Amsterdam, we took the train from Haarlem in to Amsterdam, tram to Anne Frank’s house, did a walking tour led by Dimitri thru town to the Begijnhof, lunch in the Flower Market area, then walked on to the Rijks Museum, toured the museum with local guides (divided in to 2 groups), walked to a canal boat dock, canal cruise, de-boated (??) and walked to the Niewmarkt area, the Red Light district and back to near the Central Station. At that point it was around 6PM and we had the evening free. Some opted to stay in AMS for dinner and to continue to sightsee, many of us returned to Haarlem for dinner and an early night. The long day in Rome was bus from Florence to Rome arriving at around noon. Checked into hotel, had a quick lunch on our own and then a Rome metro lesson (yes one of our group found a hand in his pocket first thing!) going to Vatican Museum. Tour thru the Museum and Sistine, short time in St Peter’s as there was a service and it was closing for the day, then walk to bus stop, bus to Campo de Fiori for a short break, walking tour to near the Pantheon for dinner, continued walking tour after dinner back to our hotel near Piazza della Repubblica with a gelato stop. Both very long days but really to see everything you have to put some time in on the pavement.

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Fitness level: I was interested in the fitness thread on the forum while I was gone. I did train for this vacation and was up to walking 4 miles 3 or so days a week and with one long walk once a week of 10 miles before I left. I believe that really helped my fitness level. I had also done some balance training and ankle strengthening on the BOSU a couple of times a week which I think helped on the cobbles. What I did NOT do and regretted was doing some stair or hill work and not doing much upper body strengthening. I was fine when I had my RS convertible on my back, but I needed more grip and lifting strength as the trip wore on and my bag got heavier. I am 65. The age ranges on the tour were from 30 to perhaps 75 or 76, not sure how old the oldest person was. Everyone kept up altho several had some knee issues and opted out of stairs at times. I think most did not realize how many stairs were involved in, say, a place like Rome. The best tip is if you feel you are falling behind, stay right up with the guide. His/her pace is usually good, but the people at the back of the group wind up scrambling a bit more to keep up. According to the guide, in the hotels in older buildings in Rome the ceilings are very high, so you have 2 runs of stairs for each floor, so the 4th floor is actually 8 sets of stairs. This was true in our RS hotel in Rome and in retrospect true for both other hotels I’ve stayed in in Rome.

Packing/Clothes/Wash: I was actually gone for a total of 8 weeks and with the frequent moves in this tour, packing cubes were essential for keeping myself organized and allowing me to find things in my suitcase without unpacking at each stop. It helped me get everything back together quickly on our departure mornings. I used the Eagle Creek sil-nylon cubes which are very, very light. I had one large one for shirts and sweaters and 2 small ones, plus an assortment of ziplock bagged items. I wore everything in my suitcase. I did take a polarfleece vest and gloves for the day in Switzerland and yes, I needed it for the trip up the Schilthorn. Including what I wore on the plane, I had 1 pr jeans, 2 pr LLBean essential pants, 1 pr crop pants, 3 cardigans, 5 SS Lands End modal Tees, 1 LS Lands End modal tee, 4 underwear, 3 bras, 4 pr Smartwool micro crew socks, 1 nightgown, 1 Marmot Precip waterproof jacket, 2 pr Altra athletic shoes. Every shirt went with every sweater and pr of pants. Next time I would cut the jeans, 1 of the cardigans, 2 of the SS Tees, the LS Tee, 1 of the unders, 1 pr socks and 1 of the bras. At the last minute I purchased 3 Ex Officio underwear and 2 bras, but I took a back up as I was not sure how comfortable they would be. They were fine. I would not do with just 2 underwear and 1 bra as altho most times they dried overnight a time or 2 they still felt cool or damp in the AM. I hand washed for the whole 8 weeks and yes, things did come clean. I had a re-inforced 2 gal ziplock bag, a plastic clothes hanger and 2 clothes pins which worked well. I also had a tall kitchen garbage bag in case things did not dry and I needed to isolate the damp clothes from the rest of the stuff.

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Guide: Dimitri was my guide and was excellent. He is Belgian, proficient in many languages and altho this was his 7th tour this summer, was enthusiastic, energetic and entertaining. He is able to give a European perspective on culture, history and customs and was a pleasure to travel with. He has the talent for managing a large group of strangers without them feeling managed. I am not sure how he did it, but our group jelled immediately. Most all the local guides were excellent. There were a couple that I thought were just OK, but mostly they were awesome…in love with their topic whether it was a place or a museum and wanting us to enjoy it as much as they do. The lead guide and the local guides alone are why I will keep signing on for Rick’s tours. Peter, the bus driver from the Heidebloem company, was a very skillful driver as well. We enjoyed his company and admired his ability to navigate those roads!

Hotels: The hotels ranged from fine to really good. All except two were located centrally. The one in Reutte was a mile or so away from the city center and set in a residential area. In our case it didn’t matter as it was pouring rain for our 2 nights but if there had been any free time it would not have been conveniently located. The hotel in the Lauterbrunnen Valley was in Stechelberg, which is literally at the end of the road. It was a beautiful setting and quite near the Schilthorn cable car station and there were many hiking trails nearby. Both evening meals were in the hotel restaurant as there were no other places. This also was the hotel with a shared bath. On my floor 5 rooms were occupied by tour members, the 2 of us who had single rooms plus 3 couples shared one ladies toilet, one men’s toilet and one shower. There was never a wait but I did choose to shower in the evening just in case. Each room had a sink.

On being vegan: After our meetup the first night, I spoke with Dimitri to let him know I am vegan and mostly to ask him to let me know if there were any of the group meal restaurants that would not be able to accommodate. He looked me straight in the eye and said “Do not worry about this. I will take care of you. It is my job.” I don’t easily give myself over to the care of others, but he was pretty convincing. He did take care of my food the whole time. EVERY group meal for 3 weeks I had a vegan meal and EVERY group meal for 3 weeks he walked over to see if I had been served a vegan dish and how I liked it. He never forgot and with 25 others he had a lot on his mind!

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On Traveling Solo: I had done 2 other Rick Steves’ tours with my brother and SIL and had done 2 Road Scholar tours on my own so I was familiar with how RS tours run and also good with solo tour travel. This experience was wonderful. The group was amazing. There was one other woman traveling solo and 2 sets of women traveling together, so 6 single women altogether. I spent time with the other women, but also with many of the couples. Everyone was open to mixing with others. My suggestions for solo travel on a tour are: -At breakfast or other group meals, head for the largest table. Don’t sit at a table for 2. –Don’t be the last one to meals (except for breakfast and then it doesn’t really matter). If you are last you don’t have a choice of seats. If you are one of the first, you can fill in by others. –Make it a point to learn everyone’s name ASAP and call them by name. –Make it a point to sit with different people at meals so you get to know everyone. Even if there are people you particularly like, walk and talk with others at meals, stops, on the bus and while sightseeing. –Be a good group member by being on time, managing your own belongings and taking responsibility for knowing what you would like to see in your free time. –Don’t wait for people to invite you to do something. If you hear someone talking about an activity/museum/event you would like to do, ask if you could go along (unless it’s a romantic picnic dinner or something like that! In Venice I heard a tour member talking about going to a Vivaldi concert and asked if I could go along. 4 of us wound up going to dinner and then the concert and had a wonderful evening!) –Conversely, if there is something you want to do ask if anyone wants to go with you. If not, go on your own. (Went solo to a Vivaldi concert at St Chapelle and oh my was it wonderful! Also I took folks from our tour to the San Lorenzo leather market in Florence where I had been before. It was only a couple of blocks from our hotel, but I knew the way and was happy to get others to the bargain scarves, lol.)

Misc: Bring a small travel pillow (bright pillow case) for your back on the long bus rides. Bring a bus tote where you can have water, snacks, kindle, guidebooks, journal, rain jacket, umbrella etc at hand during the transfer days. I used a LeSportSac Medium Tote and it worked just great. The bus driver generally has water as well as perhaps soda, beer and wine available in a cooler. Usually it’s 1 euro for the water which is cheaper than most places. I started out with one water, kept refilling out of the hotel sinks daily and did fine. On bus days they are very good about stopping every 1.5-2 hours. On the highways they stop at an AutoGrille. Usually there is a charge for bathrooms, so start hoarding your Euro coins. I got some small ziplock bags at Michaels which I used for coins so I could keep track of them. If your guide offers optional activities (Schilthorn, gondola ride, extra optional meals) DO IT!

What I would have liked to have known ahead of time: There were 2 hotels, Bacharach and Stechelberg that had large signs saying no sink washing. I had planned to wash in Stechelberg as the previous 2 nights were in Cinque Terre where it is so humid it is hard for things to dry. I did surreptitiously wash underwear, but saved a more comprehensive wash until we got to Paris.

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WOW moment: The day in Switzerland! Oh. My. Word. We had good weather so Dimitri arranged for an optional excursion up to the Schilthorn on one of the first cable car rides of the day (cheaper). The view from up there of the Eiger, Munch and Jungfrau were stunning (and this from a gal that lives near the mountains!). We came down, were met by the bus, went down to Lauterbrunnen and took the cog train/gondola up the other side of the valley where we hiked from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg which was equally as amazing. We cog trained back down, met the bus, went to Truemmelbach Falls (so-so…did not like the slick steps) and then back to the bus. The option then was to bus back to the hotel or walk the paved/gravel path back. I chose the walk which was wonderful. It was quiet and peaceful in the valley alongside the small cow pastures and homes. Paragliders were sailing overhead. I got the stew scared out of me when I heard a loud whump and it was one of those guys in the flying squirrel suits deploying his parachute right over me. If I hadn’t been pooped out from a full day I would have run back to watch him land. There were many waterfalls pouring off the cliffs and the last bit was by the roaring river. Really, it was heaven.

I'm happy to answer any questions on the BOE!

Posted by
556 posts

Wow Pam! Now that's a tour review!!!

I often consider the 21 BOE but haven't done that one yet. I'll definitely put it on my list for next year!! Thanks!!!!

Posted by
527 posts

I loved your trip report! ! And I totally loved hearing about Dimitri! We took the BOE tour in May of 2003, and Dimitri was our bus driver. He was awesome then and I'm thrilled to hear he is a great guide (and has been for some years)!

Posted by
177 posts

Pam thanks for the very informative review. We are going on this tour in April 2015. We cannot wait. By any chance do you remember what hotel you stay in Paris? We are going to stay a few extra nights so wondering where the tour stays to see if it will be convenient for our additiona days.

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8265 posts

Gretchen, this was the best tour! Do plan to go!

Hille, I am sure Dimitri was as much fun as a driver as a guide. Such a big personality and yet with concern about each tour member.

Carole, I am sure they stay different places, but we stayed at Hotel Beaugency right off Rue Cler. I liked this location a lot and that neighborhood (as much as some people scoff at it) was such fun. I felt really safe walking around there alone at night. You will get your first and last hotels much earlier than you will get the rest of your hotels so that will give you a chance to make reservations for days after if you want to stay at the same place.

Posted by
885 posts

Thanks for the great report and information. Wow, now I really want to take this tour!

Posted by
4361 posts

Wow, Pam - I just wish you could have given us some pertinent details ;-)

Now if that review doesn't sell some tours, I don't know what will!

I'm thrilled you had such a great time.

Posted by
8265 posts

And of course I remembered a lot more pertinent details when I woke up during the night, lol!!

One thing I neglected to mention was that Dimitri gave us a wonderful opportunity for closure. Traveling together for 3 weeks really does create a group bond as you have been with people thru their best and sometimes worst (eg Me - cable cars, lol). After the farewell dinner we moved to a wonderful upper outdoor terrace area. In the darkening Paris evening with the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the distance we each quickly related a high point. My career was as a social worker so I have done more groups than I would ever want to recall and actually usually find group work tedious and trite, but this was awesome! I don't know if all BOE groups do closure or if it is just Dimitri, but it was awesome. Yep there were some tears, lots of laughs and a general warm glow of accomplishing a wonderful goal with lots of great memories.

Morning Start times: Generally we left at 8 or 815. A few days we needed to leave at 745 (usually long bus day or to beat crowds to the Colosseum in Rome). It seems as if one day was an 830 start. The day in Switzerland with optional planned activities, we left the hotel at 715 to get the cheaper gondola ride and catch the clear weather. I am a morning person so this was fine with me. The window for breakfast was usually 45 minutes. I tried to go down when they first opened which gave me a chance to go back to my room for a few minutes before departure.

Bathrooms: Sometimes bathrooms are few and far between in Europe. Go when you can. One of my best mental pictures of Dimitri was at each AutoGrille he would be off the bus first, then be just inside the entrance directing us to the bathroom area!

Bus sleep: Before the trip I was sure that I was not going to nap on the bus...too much to see! Well, I did take naps on the bus and really you need it to recharge your batteries. There were always times, usually after lunch, when Dimitri would stop our language/culture/history lessons for an hour or 2. Then he would sing Wakey, wakey and we would be up and ready to go on to the next adventure.

Posted by
23 posts

Thank you Pam for a truly informative report! We are doing this tour next fall and your report was very helpful! I see you did your laundry in the sink for the entire trip, were there ever days when the guide told you about a nearby laundry or if you could pay to have it done at a hotel?

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8265 posts

Hey Lynny, yes there were a couple of times you could give it to the hotel and have it done. I believe one was Reutte and one was the hotel in Monterosso. He did point out laundry facilities in other areas as well. Some people were not really happy with the wash quality at Reutte, one gal's had pink spots all over it so she wound up re-washing by hand anyway.

I know you all will have a wonderful time!

Posted by
697 posts

Omg, Pam.....thank you for the trip report! I cannot wait for our trip next April!! I will have to mull through your report at length! I'm sure I will have questions!

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8265 posts

Let me know Kathy! I'd be happy to answer anything. I can't shut up talking about this trip...so sorry, lol.

Posted by
527 posts

Hey, Pam! I know just what you mean about talking about the trip. We had such a great time, too, and we still talk about stuff from the trip, 11 years later! And we still exchange Christmas cards with a number of our fellow tour members.

We did a similar "closing" thing the final night....we shared champagne and a special aspect of the trip in the park near the Eiffel Tower. Good memories. :)

Posted by
7908 posts

Pam, you could give lessons on how to write a Trip Report. This is the best one I have ever read and Rick ought to give you some sort of kick-back for it.

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8265 posts

Thanks Ms Jo! I started out doing a report for myself so I could fill out my RS evaluation, then expanded it and decided to post.

Posted by
500 posts

Pam, thanks for the very informative trip report. Oh my goodness- it sounds amazing and glad you had a wonderful time.
As a solo RS traveler I apply many of your suggested tips and you truly gave a clear understanding of us "solos" easily fit
into a group tour.

I have thought of doing this tour after I've done a few more country tours. I'll be 60 soon and thought the 21 day tour would be
a great 65th birthday gift to myself. My thinking is it can provide me a sure way of re visiting many places and be able to cover
a lot of geography during one travel. Also, fine-tuning how to be a simple, fit, light traveler will help me deal with the strenuous pace of this tour. Those two days you describe sound like boot camp marches to me!

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8265 posts

Diane, my 65th birthday was the week before I left! I would actually do it sooner rather than later...life is unpredictable.

Well, some of the group were referring to the Rome day as the death march but there were plenty of taxis around and if anyone wanted to opt out it would have been easy to jump in a taxi and head home. I think the attitude of most people on the tour is that no one wanted to miss a minute of anything! I would say we all slept well that night!

Posted by
32 posts

Pam, what a wonderful report. I've been lurking for a while, planning on the same tour for the fall of next year and your report drew me out into the open. Thank you so much for the wonderful information.

Regina

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4361 posts

Welcome, 'Regina starburst'! Hope to see you around...

And Diane, I'm thinking the 21-day tour should be your 60th b-day present! It would be a great overview of the countries you haven't yet visited - unless you've already visited all of those countries LOL!

What I'm really thinking is that RS should sponsor Pam and My Own Self on a tour; then we could write a review of what it is like to travel with a companion.

Just sayin'.

Posted by
23 posts

Pam,
Thank you for answering my laundry question! I have to agree with the other posters, you did a fantastic job reporting and touching on aspects of the trip that many of us are wondering about!

Posted by
2 posts

Pam, Thanks for your report! I'll be 55 in January, a single female, and have been dreaming about/kicking around the 21 day Best Europe trip for next fall. Your report has solidified my decision that this RS tour is exactly where I want to start my European travels. I've never traveled in Europe, and feel this would benefit me at gaining knowledge of such travel, and visiting areas that I might like to revisit for longer stays in the future. The others were correct in that RS should give you a kick back because you have certainly sold me!!! Again, many thanks, Kelly

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8265 posts

Kelly, I neglected to say that one of the benefits was that the guide (And Rick Steves tours) emphasizes teaching you how to navigate on your own. That started at the Haarlem train station when he showed us how to figure out the train/ticket purchase/platform, then the trams in Amsterdam and ended in Paris with lessons on Metro use! That's probably not a big deal for someone from a larger city who is used to public transportation, but it was important for me. I've never lived where there was public transportation and it had been years since I had traveled much in Europe so I really appreciated it. He also made sure we each understood how to do it. Including Pam, do you get that? and OK Pam's going to lead so I know she knows what she is doing lol!! (I must have had a blank look on my face!)

Thanks for the kind words. I guess part of my thoughts on this are that I want everyone who is a solo traveler to have as much fun as I had. Heck, I want everyone to have as much fun as I did!

Posted by
697 posts

! I don't know if all BOE groups do closure or if it is just Dimitri, but it was awesome. Yep there were some tears, lots of laughs and a general warm glow of accomplishing a wonderful goal with lots of great memories.

Um.....I'm in big trouble because I teared up just thinking about our last day......and we have 6 months before our trip even starts!

Posted by
15 posts

Pam:

Thanks so much for all the terrific info. My husband and I have signed up for the 21 day tour in April. This will be our first Rick Steve's tour. (We figured why not start with the longest tour and get an overview.) Sounds like we made a good choice. As for the Schilthorn... I'll probably have my eyes shut on the way up AND the way down.

Pat

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8265 posts

Laughing at Kathy...

Pat, it was not as bad as some of the ski gondolas I've been on as there were seemingly no huge chasms and the runs were fairly short. There are 4 segments from the station near Stechelberg to the Schilthorn and I was less chicken on the way down and actually managed to take a picture or 2! You will have a wonderful time on this trip and it's a great way to get a sampler and decide where you want to spend more time next trip. Plus the cars are huge. My suggestion is to be one of the first on and head for one of the few benches along the edge.

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697 posts

<<>>

@Pat, are you going on the first tour in April (April 19-May 9)? If so, we will be on the same tour and you. I know Carole is also on this tour.....she's posted on the boards too.

Posted by
938 posts

Pam - I have been lurking and hoping for such a detailed review of the 21 day tour! I'm sooo glad you decided to share this review with the forum. Husband and I are planning to take this tour next fall and reading of your trip has me ready to pack my bags right now! Ooooh, I can't wait! Gosh, how am I going to contain my excitement for a whole year???

Posted by
8265 posts

Kathy, that is so neat that you know some folks who will be on the tour. In my experience on all of my RS tours, no one was familiar with the Forums!

Nance, no time like the present to start obsessing....you can run trials on how much shampoo/conditioner/toothpaste you use on 21+ days, you can do trial washes and time how long things take to dry, you can practice washing in your 2 gal reinforced ziplock bag...Lots of stuff to keep you entertained for the next year, lol!

Thanks to all who found my review helpful.

Posted by
31294 posts

Pam,

In my experience on all of my RS tours, no one was familiar with the Forums!

I've found the same thing. I've mentioned the RS Forums to numerous tour members during my eight tours, and usually just get a blank look.

Posted by
15 posts

@Kathy Yes, my husband and I are booked on the April 9th tour. It's nice to know other intrepid folks are traveling early in the year, too. I was a little hesitant, thinking it might still be pretty cold. But truthfully, if I have to choose between too cold or too hot, I'll opt for cold. Hopefully that statement won't bring a blizzard down on our heads. ;)

Posted by
177 posts

Pat welcome to the group of BOE 21 tour #1. This will be our first out of the country trip and we are so excited. Now this FLoria girl would appreciate a little cold and some snow in the Alps. I definitely want to have it cooler the Florida hot weather will be here when I return.

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15 posts

@ Carole and Kathy

Nice to meet you both! And oops on my previous post --- I meant an April 19th departure. Still BOE #1. Yes to snow, Carole. Just not a blizzard.

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8265 posts

@ Ken...interesting you have had the same experience with folks on your tours regarding forums. I will amend my statement because there was a RS staffer on the BOE and he, of course, was familiar with the forums but is not one of the ones assigned to post.

I think this is very cool to have 3 sets of people on the first tour! I can already tell this is going to be a great group.

For warmth, I recommend a waterproof/wind layer (mine is a Marmot Precip jacket but there are ~many~ out there with the same function), over a polarfleece vest (something like a Land's End 100 weight), over some kind of cardigan or long sleeved jacket. Have light gloves (polarfleece ones from somewhere like Target are fine) as well. This will be a good time of year for a Florida gal to pick up some wintery type clothes! Your body will not know what to do when it gets back to the heat and humidity of a Florida May! (BTDT!)

Posted by
15 posts

@Pam Thanks so much for the warm welcome to the Travel Forum. Your information is extremely helpful, and your enthusiasm for the RS trips is contagious. I second the idea that RS should give you a kickback. A deeply discounted trip, perhaps?

Posted by
8265 posts

@plhudson, wouldn't that be a great job? Spend your time doing Rick's tours and writing up trip reports. Sweet!

IME, there are always folks on the tours that have traveled previously with Rick Steves, often 6, 7 or more trips. I think it is a testament to his organization, quality of guides and attention to detail that keeps people coming back. They pretty much sell themselves, so really no need for a mystery shopper!

Posted by
8 posts

Pam - I enjoyed your trip report and I was on the trip with you! I'm still going through my photos and reflecting on the wonderful time we had. To those who are considering a RS trip and this one in particular - go for it!

Words and photos can't express what it's like to actually be in Venice, stand inside the Colosseum and see Michelangelo's David.

Posted by
8265 posts

Mark!!! Hey!! We had such fun didn't we? Feel free to add any likes/dislikes/should haves as well. Hope to see you and Kathy at the Reunion in January if the weather is fair enough for me to get over the Pass.

Posted by
4361 posts

Hey, my only trip plans are a week in Texas over the Christmas holiday.

So, enough about the BOE 21-Day Tour!!! Stop it already ;-)

I AM enjoying living vicariously through all of you, both post- and pre-tour! At least until I remember that I'M not going :,-(

Sniffle.

Posted by
8265 posts

Well, Eileen, I know you would be an asset to the group, but I doubt if Uncle Rick will spring for a free trip in spite of the great advice you give and the pivotal role you play in the Sacramento RS Meet-up! Perhaps you can start hocking all that limoncello you make them bring you for admission and stash that $$ in a secret travel account.

Posted by
1 posts

Pam,
I thoroughly enjoyed your posts and will use them as my daughter and I plan for our 21 day tour next Sept. You detailed the clothes you packed but didn't mention what shoes you took. We both hike but I'm sure taking hiking shoes will take too much room. Did you wear athletic shoes during the day and were they sufficient for trails? I was thinking of bringing running or trail running shoes for the days - would they work as the all purpose shoe?

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8265 posts

After vacation 2013 I had a bad bout with plantar fasciitis/fasciosis so I wanted to be very careful of my feet to they would hold up to the strenuous days. I have been wearing Altra Zero Drop athletic shoes with orthotics since last Dec. so that is what I took. They are very dorky looking but extremely comfortable. I took 2 pair, one a regular running shoe, the other their Lone Peak Trail Running shoe which has more traction but both were mainly black with bright trim. They did really well as did my feet! One pair got soaked the day we were at Dachau as it was raining buckets with lots of puddles to get thru. They did not dry overnight so I was glad I had an extra pair. Neither pair is waterproof but I did not really need that for the small amount of rainy days we had.

The hike we did in Switzerland, Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg, was mostly level along a wide well trodden trail with very little elevation gain/loss. I wore the trail shoes that day but really did not need anything more than a basic athletic shoe. The only thing that was weird with these trail shoes is that they felt ~very~ slick when I got on wet, sloped pavement or cobblestones in a city setting. Not sure if it was the surface or the shoes! They also felt slick on the wet steps at Truemmelbach falls in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. If you and your daughter enjoy hiking, I would definitely recommend walking back to the hotel from Truemmelbach if you stay in Stechelberg. There are also some way more strenuous hikes than the one we did. If you are in Stechelberg, there looked to be some nice trails out the back of the hotel as you continue up the valley. Would have loved more time here to head up the valley, but...!

Bottom line, for me hiking boots would have been overkill. I have hiking boots so I do take them here in the US whenever I think I might have a hiking opportunity, but would not have wanted to haul the extra weight around for this trip. They would have been useful on the Dachau day as they are waterproof but it was so hot in Italy I would not have been able to tolerate them around the cities there. I did not hike in CT where many people do wear hiking boots. The people on my tour that hiked CT wore athletic shoes. It seems like a couple of the men wore something like Keens or Merrells low cut hiker type shoe for their main shoe. Bottom line is to wear something that will feel comfortable for a 10-mile-in-the-city day!

I know you and your daughter will have a wonderful time!

Posted by
697 posts

Regarding hiking shoes......I have a pair of Merrell lightweight hiking boots/shoes......they are, in fact, lighter than my New Balance tennis shoes! Hubby also has a new pair of Timberland hiking boots that are lightweight as well. He loves those shoes. We plan to WEAR those and pack a second pair of shoes. I am a little worried about slick surfaces because we will be there in early May when there could be snow in Switzerland :::gasp:::

Posted by
15 posts

@Kathy I'm wearing lightweight hiking boots as well. Like Pam, I've had trouble with plantar fasciitis and I need the support. I figure since the temperatures are in the 40 - 60 degree range, a little heavier shoe won't be a bad thing. I won't be particularly stylish, but I'll opt for comfort any day.

As for my second (dressier) pair of shoes --- I'm not sure yet. They will still have to be extremely comfortable because if I have to do much (really any) walking in them, they'll need to be supportive. I so envy folks who can wear footwear from ballet flats to heels and not suffer the consequences!

Posted by
339 posts

Just a note about shoes. We just returned from a month in Italy/Sicily on our own. Lots of walking and I have plantar fascitis as well. I took a pair of waterproof Keens laceups for walking but the shoes I wore the most were SAS T strap shoes, Roemer, I think. Not necessarily dressy but not too dorky. I walked miles in them and they were the best.

Posted by
8265 posts

@Kathy and plhudson, I think the hikers will work fine for both of you especially since it will be a bit cooler that time of year. Not sure if you are interested but my Costco has had some great merino wool socks lately. They are 80% merino, plus some stretchy stuff and I don't remember what else. Have not done a trial on hand washing these puppies so don't know the dry time on them.

@Clair, glad the SAS worked for you. The Keen's tend to be to narrow for my foot now, so I am totally in to dorky, foot-shaped shoes.

Part of the people-watching that was interesting was seeing what other tourists wore on their feet! Yikes.

As far as the PF, besides the Altras and orthotics I took the M.E.L.T. system balls from Sue Hitzman that I used to roll my feet at night. When I met up with a friend in Paris she was having foot pain so she tried them as well. I believe they helped my keep my feet in good shape while I traveled. (Not sure I buy her premise, but wow does it work!) I am now trying out a different system instead of the orthotics called Correct Toes which say they will help strengthen your feet so you don't need orthotics. I would not try this right before a trip, but it will probably be months before I have another big trip, so have time to experiment. Still use the MELT system on days when I do cardio.

Posted by
177 posts

Pam I have those merino socks from Costco on now. I like them not sure what they are made of because of no tag. Will look when I go to Costco today. However I think I would like the men's socks better. My husband has been using them and he loves them. I will stick to the women's since I now have bought about 10 pairs of socks to figure out what to use. I have enough for the trip. As for second pair of shoes still figuring that out. I am not a sandal person (even though I live in Florida). One day in sandals and my feet are a disaster. Looking at Mary Jane's (Ecco or Clark's) but have to figure out what to wear on my feet with them. No way the costco socks I would definitely stick out as a tourist.

Posted by
8265 posts

Carole, don't worry about looking like a tourist. Anyone with comfortable shoes is going to be a tourist! Glad you like those Costco socks as well.

Posted by
697 posts

Carole, these are the Merrell shoes I have for hiking.....I don't think they look too terrible......
http://www.onlineshoes.com/womens-merrell-moab-mid-waterproof-grey-periwinkle-p_id226645

They are 20% off right now......and considerably cheaper than what i paid for mine. :)

I'll for sure bring the shoes listed above......but then I have 2 other pair of Clarks that I will have to decide between........

  1. Clark's brown leather shoes in the Unstructured line........ for every day use but I need them stretched.......I have had plantar fasciitis issues in the past and need supportive shoes too........gone is the day when I could spend $20 on shoes!

or

  1. http://www.clarksusa.com/eng/product/hedge_tipi/26067624 These shoes are very comfortable and very lightweight.....but they resemble tennis shoes and I was hoping to avoid that look.......
Posted by
8265 posts

@Kathy, I think those Clarks tennis-type shoes would be great. I would not go with having shoes stretched unless you do it now and find they are comfortable over the winter. You will see people all over Europe in the Clarks type tennies in dark or very bright (think neon) colors. What you don't see a lot of are big white ones.

Posted by
206 posts

Pam, for years, I have been reading many of the trip reports on several of the RS tours and usually enjoy them all. It is amazing that some take a tour and have so many negative comments about the tour. Those people could not have been pleased, even if the tour had been free. Your report is just amazing, and I can't count the times I have read the itinerary of the BOE21 tour and wanting to take the tour. The only one I have managed to take is GAS five years ago, so I know how much you must have enjoyed 21 days. I just turned 70 and health is great and pray I can manage to take BOE 21. Costs and time may make me have to scale down to BOE14, but maybe things will work out for the 21 days. Just wanted to thank you for your wonderful post. If anyone is considering a RS tour, your post should be a must read. I have already told 4 couples they need to read your post. You covered it all and made it sound like I was there walking along with you.
Thanks again from Tony in Nashville.

Posted by
8265 posts

Tony, thanks for the kind words. If you can possibly do the 21 day, do it! I think one thing that contributed to the fun was the group and after 3 weeks we were pretty bonded. That just added to the enjoyment of the sights and experiences.

Posted by
697 posts

I have to agree that your review is one of the best I've read too.......it is so reassuring to have some inside information on the daily happenings of a tour you are signed up for. I appreciate how helpful you have been to me personally, too......

Posted by
8265 posts

Kathy, I'll be waiting for your Trip Report next spring!

Posted by
23 posts

Pam,
When you are having free time in a city like Paris or Rome do you have to pay for transportation on the metro or do you get an all day pass?
Thanks again for your helpful info!

Posted by
8265 posts

Hmmm, I am not sure I remember 100%.

In Rome I believe we were given 4 Metro tickets. We used one together the first day to get to the Vatican, then another to take a tram from St Peter's to Campo di Fiori, then continued walking and dinner, then walked home as a group. The next day we walked to the Colosseum as a group stopping briefly at San Pietro in Vincoli before we met our local guide for the Colosseum and Forum. We did those together, then continued the walking tour to the Pantheon where we started our free time. I walked to another museum and then back to the hotel, but I ~think~ I had a couple of left over tickets. When I got back to the hotel a number of others were headed out for dinner and I believe I passed my tickets on to someone else to use.

In Paris, I do remember clearly that we were given 4 metro tickets. We used one as a group to get to the Louvre for our tour, then used another one to get back home. The next day we used one as a group to get to St Chapelle, then did a walking tour and had time on our own. I walked back to the hotel along the Seine and had one left over. A number of others wound up with extra tickets as they passed them on to me since I was staying.

In Venice we did not have vaporetto tickets. The guide paid for our vaporetto transportation in and out of town. There were a few people on our free afternoon who bought vaporetto passes to go to Murano, Burano and/or Lido altho I did not. I just enjoyed walking thru the streets and taking it all in.

Tickets in both Rome and Paris were inexpensive if you wind up needing more. The guide will explain how and where to buy tickets when they do the city transportation orientation lesson. It seems like the one day vaporetto pass in Venice was maybe 18 or 20€ but each one way ride on the vaporetto was 7€ (I think) so you were ahead of the game if you did 3 rides. Paris Metro tickets were 1,70€ each, cheaper if you buy a carnet or packet of 10.

Posted by
23 posts

Thank you for another detailed and helpful response, you are a great source of information and I appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge with us!

Posted by
26 posts

Hi Pam, it's Carol. I just saw this topic on the forum! Wow. What a review. For those of you that have read this forum, we were on the same RS BOE 21 day tour. And Hi Mark!
I wish I would have had such a comprehensive and detailed review before I went. I would add to those of you that are thinking about doing this tour-do it and do it now. This was my first time to Europe and I couldn't think of a better tour to go on for that first time experience. And follow Pam's advice about everything.
A few things to add: we had laundry available at Hotel California :>) in Florence but it was very expensive. Some folks went to a laundromat there instead and had a interesting and entertaining time with a man with the last name Corleone!
Shoes-I cannot express what the right pair or wrong pair of shoes will do for your trip. I did not have good shoes and paid for it. It's one thing to walk around in your shoes at home and quite another to be on your feet most of the day especially Dimitri's death march in Rome!!!!! Just kidding Dimitri!
Also, I, along with some of the other women on the trip, ended up buying a purse that would go over the shoulder and hang diagonally across the front of the body. My RS Civita Day Pack was a pain to sling over one shoulder, try to get something out and be aware of pick-pockets. Maybe the Shoulder bag would have worked better. I also spent some of my Euros on a better souvenir bag to keep on the bus with all my treasures. I had all this stuff had home and could have saved my Euros for more important things like the Venetian glass jewelry!
One other thing regarding the flight reservations. We started our tour on a Tuesday so we flew on Sunday landing in Amsterdam on Monday morning to allow for time to recover from jet lag. Being new to traveling like this, my friend and I found that flying out on a Sunday was $300.00 more than flying out on Monday. So next time and there will be a next time on an RS tour, I will make sure that I pick a tour that starts later in the week so I can fly out on a week day. My friend and I also had made flight reservations through the travel agency that RS uses. At first, I wasn't too happy about the extra $100.00 charge for that but was very relieved that when Air France was threatening to go on strike the day we were flying home that the travel agency not only contacted us by email but RS tours and our guide. The travel agency ended up changing our flight home and all we had to do was give the OK.
I could go on and on about what a wonderful tour this was but I think that one of my tour mates posted a comment on FB ( yes, some of us are friends on FB now) that she and her husband were 'vacation' sick, the opposite of home sick. We all missed being in Europe and with each other. I can't think of a better way to describe how we loved the tour and bonded with each other.
Love you Pam!

Posted by
8265 posts

Laughing and waving hello Carol! What fun we had. And yes about a dozen or so of us are FB friends now. Such fun to see others' pictures and when someone's name pops up it just extends the memories. We have some inside jokes that I still just giggle at. (When I posted pictures of the gardens at Versailles, did you see where Dave commented that that was where Phyllis learned to mow yards!)

Gosh, I had forgotten all about the laundramat Corleone! So funny. I had also forgotten the issues you had with your shoes. Yes you must walk long distances in your travel shoes before you go!

When I went back to Venice to meet up with my brother I looked high and low for a bracelet like the exquisite one you picked up there. I hope you enjoy wearing it.

I didn't realize you and Val had booked your airline thru the TA. That turned out to be a great decision and very nice that they contacted RS and Dimitri. I did not realize that. I decided I really need to have a phone set up next time I am in Europe for that reason.

Also extremely good advice about booking your tour based on the cheaper travel days. I also think I would try to avoid a tour that is an add-on...meaning it was not one of the original dates published but was added after others started selling out. I think having both Rome and Paris land on Sundays was not optimal for our sightseeing. However, if it booking an add on tour was the difference in going or not going, I would certainly choose it! The guides are very adept at flexing schedules as much as they can and frankly there is so much to see that you never get everything done anyway.

Love you back!