1st time to Europe, need help w/ itinerary and travel details

My husband and I are planning our 1st trip to Europe in mid may of this year. We live in Hawaii and are thinking of using one of Rick's suggested itineraries. 14 days: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rhineland, Swiss Alps, Rome and Venice. We were thinking of flying into London then taking the chunnel (unless there is another less claustrophobic way) to Paris. I think this is a decent start unless someone can suggest otherwise.
But this is where things get hairy.... here are my questions:
1. How exactly to we get from Paris to all of the other destinations. The Eurail? If so, which passes would you suggest and how do you get these so called "2nd class fares." What should I be expecting to pay for these passes? 2. Would you take the Eurail at night to save time or is this a bad idea? 3. We were thinking of getting a multi-city airline ticket to save money and fly from Honolulu to London then from Rome back to London and then to Honolulu. Can anyone think of a better way to do this? One way tickets seemed to cost more. 4. How many days in each city would you suggest? 5. Does our itinerary seem okay or should it be modified. We are in our mid 30's and have never been to Europe and don't get to travel too often b/c of our jobs. We figure this could be our "sampler" starter Europe trip and we can return for more in depth trips later.
Thanks for your help!

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11274 posts

I have to agree with the other, you are trying to do too much. Seven venues in 14 days, effectively 13 days if day 1 is arrival and day 14 departure. Plus, if you go to Italy, you will have most of a day used up getting there.

If it were I, I would probably do London, Amsterdam, the Rhein, Swiss Alps, the fly back from Paris. Or, maybe fly into Amsterdam, do the Rheinland, Swiss Alps, Paris, then take the train to London. That might even be a little too much. If you jump all over the continent, you will spend more time and money traveling and less time seeing things, and never want to go back. "Slow down and smell the roses". That way you will want to return.

And, Jo is right; Eurail is a subsidiary of the European railroad, set up primarily to package and market railpasses. Don't go looking for Eurail trains, there aren't any.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4764 posts

Read a bit more on this website to get a better feel for what you are planning. It seems way too much for 14 days.

Eurail is a ticket company and not the name of any railroads going through any countries. Deutsche Bahn is Germany's railroad, Thalys is France's, and so on.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Traci,

As this is your first trip to Europe, one other method you might consider would be to take a tour. The ETBD Best of Europe 14-day tour would be a good fit for the time you have available. That would give you a good introduction to travelling in Europe, and a good foundation for future trips.

You could certainly travel on your own as well. I'll have a closer look at the cities you listed and try to offer further suggestions tomorrow. However, even though it's Rick's suggested Itinerary I suspect that trying to fit seven cities into a 14-day trip is going to be a bit "challenging" to say the least, as that doesn't provide much allowance for travel times. If you're going to travel on your own, you'll probably have to drop a couple of cities from your list.

Using open jaw flights would absolutely be the best practise, especially for such a short trip. I don't know what flights are available from Hawaii so can't offer any suggestions. I do know that it's going to be a LONG flight for you, so if you can possibly get a few extra days on your vacation time, it would probably be a good idea.

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Frank II
USA
4377 posts

Flights--Open jaw. To book these online, you would use the "multi-city" option on the airline's websites. Your best bet would be Honolulu-London and Rome-Honolulu.

The time in the channel tunnel is a whopping 15 minutes. If you can't handle that then fly. If you can handle a flight from Honolulu to London then you can handle the chunnel.

A Eurail Pass might be the best bet fare wise but you can't get one at your age in second class. Compare the cost of the pass with the cost of point-to-point tickets which you can get in second class.

Your itinerary is extremely difficult to do in only 14 days. Remember you leave Honolulu on Day 1 but arrive on day 2. Take a close look at travel times between cities. And traveling by train only at night is a bad idea as many people have trouble sleeping on trains. A couple of nights without sleep and your trip will be wasted.

My suggestion is to hit the big three London-Paris-Rome and then throw in a couple of other places which is strictly personal choice. (Amsterdam would be the first thing I dropped--not because it's not a great place, but because it's sort of out of the way.) Personally, I would add Switzerland and Venice. So the trip would be..London-Paris-Switzerland-Venice-Rome. A good sample of Europe and its different cultures, and a nice appetizer for future travels.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4764 posts

Just out of curiosity, which way do you fly to get to Europe? Over Asia and Russia or over America and Canada? I have never had a chance to ask anyone. Thanks!

Posted by Kristen
Phoenix, AZ
199 posts

Jo, interesting question. I was just talking to my son about this the other day. From what I remember flying to Germany in 1989 was that we flew north over Greenland(?). If you were looking at a globe, its up over the top and back down the other side to Europe. That is the way I always believed, probably wrong though :))

Posted by Traci
Mililani, HI, United States
32 posts

Thanks so much for all of the great suggestions!

To answer your question about which way we would fly, we would go over N. America. It would take about 5 hrs from Hawaii to LA and 10 hrs from LA to London. Crazy flight, I know!

How about if we skip London? I'd really love it if we could get Italy in there. Any suggestions on a basically 12 day trip (due to the 2 days worth of travel one day there and one day back) that would include Italy and also somehow Germany, Amsterdam and some others? Or area we asking way too much? My wish would be to see Rome my husband's wish is to see Amsterdam and Germany. I wonder though if we can both get what we want during this trip?

Thanks : )

Posted by Traci
Mililani, HI, United States
32 posts

Frank, thanks for the input about the chunnel. We had heard so many varying stories that it was 4 hrs long, then another that said it was 2 hrs. But to know that the time spent underwater is only 15 min... I definitely can handle that one.

Also, that's a good point about the overnight train travel. My husband was also against it but I just thought it would save time but you're right, it will probably be worse.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11274 posts

The trouble with Italy is it is a long trip, will really take a day out of your travel time. If you go by day train, it will take all day. If you fly, with time getting retrieve luggage and find ground transportation, and time into town, if usually take most of a day and that is usually right out of prime sightseeing time.

I would opt for the night train, but, then, I have never had trouble sleeping on a train.

How about fly into Frankfurt, see the Rheinland, go to Paris, then Switzerland, then Rome and Venice. That's still five places in 12 days with a long day of travel thrown in.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Traci,

Referring to my previous post, you didn't indicate whether you might be able to squeeze an extra day or two out of your vacation time? That would compensate for the travel days, and allow you to spend a full 14-days touring in Europe.

I'm assuming from your last post that the idea of a tour doesn't appeal to you? One other question - have you booked any flights yet? Also you indicated that Germany was important to your Husband - where in Germany is he most interested in? Perhaps you could post a list of the cities that are most important to both of you, in order of priority. You should be able to visit 3-5 cities in the time you have available. With that information, I'm sure the group here would be able to provide some good suggestions.

Given your location I'd suggest pacing your touring for the first couple of days. Your flights are basically going to be a full day and you'll be tired. There will be the two hour check-in on departure, loading times, layover in L.A., more loading times, flight to Europe, collect luggage and travel into your first city, etc. You'll probably be "on the go" for at least 20 hours. I spoke with a group from Sicily last year in Honolulu, and their flights to Hawaii were 23-hours!

As this is your first experience with European rail systems, I'd highly recommend reading the "Rail Skills" chapter in Europe Through The Back Door or the similar section on this website.

Cheers!

Posted by Traci
Mililani, HI, United States
32 posts

Ken, I will definitely read the "rail skills" chapter in Rick's book. I have it and I am still at the beginning.

We still haven't purchased our tickets yet. I'm trying to work on my hubbie to get him to extend our trip at least 2 days. I think it may be do-able. I did notice your comment on the 24 hour travel time so I will have to keep that in mind. It does make sense and I believe you are probably correct.

I will sit down w/ my husband and we will come up w/ a priorities list. We are also thinking perhaps we could just do an Italian trip or else an Italy and Greece trip.

We are not interested in a tour, I don't think. They seem like they would be a little restrictive. Any comments about this?

Thanks so much for your help everyone! This graffiti wall RULES!

Posted by Frank II
USA
4377 posts

Let's look at your answer. You want to see Rome, he wants to see Germany and Amsterdam.

Then do that.

Fly into Rome, fly home from Amsterdam. Skip London, Skip Paris.

How's this...Rome to Swiss Alps up the Rhine Valley and north into Amsterdam.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Traci,

Some answers to the questions in your last post.....

After my last reply, it occurred to me that another option you might consider for flights would be to travel from Honolulu to Vancouver and then Vancouver to your first European city. I haven't checked, but I doubt this would save you any time. However, you might be able to save some money by using Air Transat (depending on which city you choose in Europe and what time of the year you will be travelling).

My preference would be to forget Greece this time. It's somewhat "distant" from your other destinations, and would be better visited in future when you have more time. Most feel that Athens is only worth a couple of days, and if you're going to be visiting several of the islands as well, this will add to your travel times quite considerably.

Whether a tour would be "restrictive" probably depends on which tour company it is? I've taken several of Rick's tours and don't find these "restrictive" at all. They're actually a lot of fun, and lots of free time is provided so you're not always with the group. The Guides are enormously helpful in providing information on day touring and it's a real benefit to have someone along that can explain the significance of the various sites. I've found that the RS tours are a really efficient way to see a specific area in a limited time frame. I normally combine a tour with an equal period of self-guided travel, and this is has been a great combination for me (I've just booked another tour for this year).

Of the places you listed, you might consider Paris, Germany (?) and Italy (2 cities) for this trip. Fly open jaw into Paris and home from Rome. That's one possibility, but there are others. It will be easier to figure out once you've posted a list of which cities are most important, and checked your flight options (you might want to speak with a Travel Agent?).

Cheers!

Posted by Audrey
Keizer, Oregon, USA
577 posts

Traci, you posted another question under travel clothes and where to buy. If you are going in mid May just take the clothes you wear in Hawaii plus a rain jacket and good walking shoes. You are going to have major jet lag and you will probably need to take it pretty easy the first two days. I think you are trying to do too much in 14 days. As someone mentioned, leave out France and England. You can spend 14 days in Italy or in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Posted by Traci
Mililani, HI, United States
32 posts

We are now thinking that maybe we should just stick to Italy. Fly into Venice and out of Rome. Lv Honolulu on May 12 return May 29th? Or would another method be better. That way we could spread our time between Venice, Florence and Rome. How does this sound? Or would anyone recommend a different approach or adding different cities?

Posted by Audrey
Keizer, Oregon, USA
577 posts

I would add Cinque Terre to the Venice, Rome, Florence and leave it at that.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Traci,

Limiting your trip to Italy is certainly one option. It appears that you might have added a couple of days to your original Itinerary?

With the extra time you have available, it might be possible to get at least a day or two in Germany (that was important to your Husband), but this would depend somewhat on what flights you could get.

I'll wait for your reply before commenting further.

Cheers!

Posted by Traci
Mililani, HI, United States
32 posts

After all of our brainstorming we have decided to stick to Italy only. My husband would rather leave Germany for a different trip. We have 2 trips on hold flying from HNL to Venice May 10 and returning from Venice on the 26th. But I want to be sure we know approximately where we'd like to travel to w/ in Italy 1st before I book my reservations. We just finished watching a dvd called "Italy to the Max" where they showed footage and a tour around several Italian cities. Neither of us are very "cultured" when it comes to art so I wonder if we will be overwhelmed in Florence and Venice? The Italian Alps and Lake Como looked gorgeous but I wonder if it is too out of the way. We enjoy eating food (but aren't really into fine dining - we appreciate little mom and pop restaurants, trying new foods, pizza and less expensive but yummy wines and beers). We aren't very fashionable so I don't think we would enjoy cruising around all of those Gucci stores all day (perhaps just a quick peak). Neat farmers markets would be neat to see. An occasional museum, but not all day long.

So, w/ that in mind, would this flight still be a good idea or should I modify it somehow? Also, do you think it would still be enjoyable for us to hit Florence if we are not total "art enthusiasts?"

Thanks!

Posted by Mike
Poplar Grove, IL, USA
8 posts

Before committing to a Eurail or Britpass you should consider flights between the major points of your itinerary. Most of the big cities have hourly flights to the other big cities and right now you can find fares that are really good compared to the trains. My wife and I always take the trains for short hops between places like Paris and Lyon, etc., but between capital cities you save a lot of time and probably money by looking for the cheap airfares.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Traci,

Your trip is starting to shape up nicely. In this case I'd suggest using open jaw flights, inbound to Venice and outbound from Rome (or vice versa). You'll be able to fit a number of stops in between those two points and using open jaw will be more efficient as that avoids the time & cost of returning to your starting point. I'd lean towards starting in Rome as this is your first trip and also the transport from the airport is a bit easier (you'll be TIRED!).

It would be easier to make further suggestions if you could list the cities you're thinking of visiting. Lago di Como (recommend Varenna) should be easy to fit into a 14-day Itinerary. With such a short trip, I would probably leave the Alps for a future visit (as Rick says "assume you will return").

Also, if you were planning to visit south of Rome on this trip I'd suggest leaving that for next time. The culture gets more "intense" in the south and for the first trip there is plenty to see in the north in 14-days.

In addition to the DVD you watched, have you seen any of Rick's Italy shows on PBS?

Once you've chosen a list of cities, check the Italy Guidebook to determine which places appeal to you in each location. If you'd prefer not to see the "cultured" sites, that's your choice (however it would be a shame not to see at least one of the Musuems in Florence or Rome). Places you might consider are:

  • Venice
  • Lago di Como
  • Florence
  • Cinque Terre
  • Siena
  • Orvieto
  • Rome

Pick 4 or 5 from the list. Don't try to fit too many cities into such a short trip. The larger places (Venice/Florence/Rome) need more time. Rome especially needs at least four days, Venice and Florence perhaps 2-3 days.

For dining & lodging suggestions, the Italy Guidebook would be a good reference as there are lots of listings, including smaller "Mom & Pop" places (I always pack the book along). As far as "Gucci stores", I don't stop at those either.

Cheers!

Posted by Adam
Boston
2633 posts

Ken's suggestion to fly open jaws is spot on. Personally I'd rather de-jetlag in dreamy Venice than in Rome, but you could make the case either way. And I think you could fit in a few days in the Dolomites, which are spectacular and not far north of Venice, depending on your other priorities.

Florence is a great great place, but you know what? Give yourself permission to give it short shrift or even to skip it entirely if it doesn't appeal to you. It's your trip, and I get the sense that you are drawn more to beautiful places, charm, and the countryside as opposed to great art. You might like a city like Sienna, or a few days touring the hilltowns in a car.

But if you think a little of that art might broaden your experience, Florence's Uffizi and Michaelangelo's sculptures at the Accademia are the very finest. Reserve tickets in advance if you go.

May is just a wonderful time for a trip like this.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Adam,

I agree that Venice would probably be a bit better to adjust to Italy and recover from jet lag, but due to the circumstances I felt a different approach would be better in this case.

I suggested Rome as it will be a bit easier to get from the airport to the Hotel, as the Leonardo Express is a more straightforward method than the trip in Venice using a Vaporetto or Water Taxi (which is a bit pricey).

I felt the easiest and most direct approach would be better in this case, considering they will have been travelling for about 20-hours (severe jet lag!) and this is their first trip.

Posted by Traci
Mililani, HI, United States
32 posts

Thanks for that info. We are indeed using an open-jaw ticket (currently flying into Venice and out of Rome) but may consider flying into Rome and out of Venice due to Ken's point about the possible difficulty of getting to our hotel after our exhausting 1st flight to Europe.

My husband has just informed me (why only now?) that he took an entire year of art history in high school and will be interested in seeing pieces he has learned about. This makes me more excited about going to the museums. Perhaps he will be able to explain the significance of the artwork to me... or at least I know he will be enjoying himself even if I am lost.

I will research the towns you have suggested. Thanks for that! So would everyone agree that flying between each of the three major cities is a must (Venice, Florence, Rome)?

Ken- in your suggestion of Venice - Lago di Como - Florence - Cinque Terre - Siena - Orvieto - Rome would you think it unwise to replace one of the smaller cities w/ Tuscany?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Traci,

IMHO, flying to Rome and home from Venice would be the best method, given the circumstances that I mentioned in my previous post. Hopefully someone else here will add some comments on that point.

"So would everyone agree that flying between each of the three major cities is a must (Venice, Florence, Rome)?"

The short answer is no! Your best bet is to fly into Rome and from there use the excellent rail system to get to Florence, Venice or whatever cities you choose, and then fly home from Venice.

"would you think it unwise to replace one of the smaller cities w/ Tuscany?"

Tuscany is a region rather than a city. Siena and Florence are both within Tuscany (called Toscana in Italian). The Cinque Terre is in Liguria, while Orvieto is in Umbria. Once you've decided on a somewhat "firm" list of cities, the group here can help fill out the details.

Given your husband's newly revealed "background" with art history, I'm assuming there will now be more emphasis on visiting perhaps the Borghese Gallery in Rome and the Uffizi and Accademia in Florence? Note that reservations are mandatory at the Borghese Gallery and highly recommended at the locations in Florence. On the next trip you can visit Paris and see not only the Louvre but also the Musee d'Orsay with it's incredible collection of impressonist art.

Do you have any of Rick's Guidebooks to use during your planning process? I'd highly recommend packing the Italy book on the trip as it's excellent reference! I wanted to strongly emphasize that point, as I've found that having Guidebooks on a trip is enormously helpful!

Also, if you haven't checked already I'd highly recommended reviewing information on Euro rail systems and how these work. Download the free rail guide - www.ricksteves.com/rail/railpdf.htm (again, the HelpLine group will be able to fill in the details later in the planning process).

Cheers!

Posted by BG
Albany, CA, USA
1410 posts

For the first time and wanting to see a lot, I'd do one of the Rick Steves' multi country tours. This will give you all the travel skills you ned for your future trips to Europe. If booking on your own, I would keep it simple and do in this order -- London, Paris, Venice (or Rome). Take the chunnel from London to Paris, fly from Paris to Venice or Rome.

Posted by Traci
Mililani, HI, United States
32 posts

Okay, we did finalize our flight into Venice and out of Rome. So we will arrive in Venice at 6:45pm on May 11th. We leave out of Rome on May 26th at 1:05pm

We wanted to stay in Venice, go to Milan just for a quick stop to see the Last Supper on our way to lake Como. Then we wanted to go to Florence for a few nights then to Cinque Terre for 2 nights. We then wanted to go to Pisa on our way to Siena where we would stay for 2 nights and then go to Rome and also to Herculaneum and possibly view the Amalfi Coast.

Okay, I realize that this is just way too much so we decided perhaps we could drop Milan and Como all together (unless you think it is a must). And also leave out the Amalfi coast (since I get very car sick and I am freaked out about heights... I completely stopped driving when we drove up Pikes Peak and had to have someone else take over b/c I thought I was going to drive us over the edge. Also, I got super sick even as the driver on the road to Haleakala in Maui). Is the Amalfi Coast as hardcore as either of those places??? I also get sick on boats but I think I could take some dramamine if the waves weren't too crazy, perhaps there is some sort of boat tour of the Amalfi coast? I'd really love to see it, it looks beautiful in pictures but would it be very similar to the Cinque Terre?

Any input on this itinerary? And Yes, we do have the Rick Steves 2009 Italy book as well as his 2009 Europe through the back door.

Posted by Iain
Edmonton, AB, Canada
668 posts

Traci

Less is definitely more! Seeing the Amalfi coast and the Cinque Terre is overkill on a short trip. Chose one or the other. I would say the CT, but that is just my opinion.

I had to chuckle at one of your comments - you live on an island and you get seasick?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Traci,

Thanks for the additional details on your trip. Once again I have some comments and suggestions.

As your inbound flight will be to Venice, the RS Guidebook has all the details on the best travel methods from the airport to the city (Water Taxi, etc.).

As this is your first trip and you only have 14-days, you might consider something along these lines:

May 11 - 18:45: arrive Venezia Marco Polo (your choice on how to get to Venice - you probably won't get to your Hotel until about 21:00)

May 12: tour Venice

May 13: tour Venice

May 14: Train to Milan (?) and Lago di Como (were you planning to stay in Varenna?) If you're set on seeing The Last Supper, you'll need to reserve perhaps 2 months in advance, and I believe visitors are limited to only a short time in the Museum. My preference would be to leave that until the next visit.

May 15: tour Varenna, Bellagio or other points

May 16: Train to the Cinque Terre (which village were you planning to stay in? ) I'd drop Pisa this trip, as the time would be better spent in the CT.

May 17: tour CT

May 18: Train to Florence. Buy tickets / reservations for Siena/Rome rail trip while you're at the station.

May 19: tour Florence

May 20: BUS to Siena (Coach station is right next door to Firenze SMN rail station).

May 21: tour Siena

May 22: Train to Rome (take a Taxi to the station - you could always do a bit more touring in Siena in the morning and leave for Rome in the early afternoon?)

May 23: tour Rome (I'm not sure you have time to go to Herculaneum or the Amalfi coast, so you might consider a day trip to Ostia Antica instead).

May 24: Rome (plan your touring carefully as there's a LOT to see - be sure to wear your Money Belts!)

May 25: Rome

May 26: Leonardo Express to Rome / FCO for the flight home. Be sure to allow enough time for the trip to the airport. I'd probably leave Rome at about 09:30.