First trip to Europe! Paris to Italy

My husband & I with our three boys will be traveling to Europe in July 2014. We are spending 12 days in Portsmouth/London and then taking the train to Paris for 2 days. We want to travel from Paris to Italy (have 2 weeks) and want to see Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre & Rome for sure. We are thinking of taking the train but I am struggling to calculate costs and can't even find the names of these towns on the website. We fly out of Rome so that would be our final destination. Any suggestions from you experts as to the order we should visit these locations? I've picked up a few names from reading the boards but any tips would be very appreciated. We've never been overseas and it's very intimidating! Thanks!!

Posted by Marie
San Diego, CA, United States
857 posts

I'd skip Cinque Terre. It's out of the way train wise whereas Rome to Florence to Venice back to Rome is a routine tourist route. Methinks the first thing you need to do is buy Rick Steve's Europe through the Back Door. His web page also has tips on trains etc. Last time (two years ago) I tried to figure out how to get from Rome to Paris I couldn't find anything but night trains. Spent the night in Turin instead - very interesting. There are 5 of you - slow down. Less really is more when traveling. You want to minimize the stress, have a three day "home base hotel" and plan in some real down time. You try to do to much and a)it'll all be a blur, and b) you will have very cranky people amongst you (including YOU). Check out www.raileurope.com for some train route ideas, times, prices etc. Finally, as there are five of you and I am guessing you haven't won the lottery...Take some zip lock bags, knives/forks/spoons (in checked luggage), leak resistant paper plates. Buy picnic lunches (or if the children are younger bed-spread picnic dinners) at the grocery stores (often in the basement of department stores). Will save you heaps of money and if my children were any measure it'll be shower first THEN food and then lights out. I say shower first because once the food hits they might as well be on serious meds. Post again as you figure a bit more out.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

Learn to use the Deutsche Bahn website. www.bahn.com Even though you aren't going to Germany, they have all the European schedules loaded on their computer. For instance, type in Southampton going to Paris, and bang! You see all the connections. Right now you're just shopping for what's available. Suggest considering taking the Thello night train from Paris to Venice. You can get a 6 person couchette compartment exclusive to for family. At least you can compare with discount airlines. Once you are in Venice, you're on easy street. Hourly fast trains to Florence, regional trains to CT. Use Monterosso as your station as most of the trains stop there. There is also a direct train from there to Rome Ostiense station. Now go to the individual rail sites to get price estimates. Use a travel date in the first week in December. You can only get prices for trains 90 to 120 days out, and only one week for Italian regional trains. The further out you book, the lower the prices. Here are the websites: http://www.eurostar.com/us-en?gclid=CImv6q2J8rkCFeIRMwodnjgATA https://www.thello.com/?iLangID=3 http://www.trenitalia.com/trenitalia21.html
There are a few tricks of course. The trenitalia site especially. Tutti I Treni means all trains, Frecci means only fast trains. Try to navigate it in Italian, as the Tutti I Treni tab comes up as Passes in the English version. Italian City names must be used Venezia, Firenze, Roma.

Posted by Kim
Prince George, BC, Canada
13 posts

Thank you Sam & Marie. We definitely want to head to Cinque Terre... most particularly we were looking at a place in Vernazza. It looks amazing. Sam, we discovered the Thello overnight train you mentioned. Great confirmation. We planned to go from Paris to Venice overnight. From there travel to Cinque Terre, then to Florence and from there to Rome. Does that make sense?? Should we switch Florence & Chinque Terre?

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

When you look at train times on Bahn or Trenitalia, you will see that if you go Venice to Florence to Cinque Terre to Rome, you have shorter train times than if you go from Venice to the Cinque Terre (which takes about 6 hours). Here is a tutorial for the Bahn website: http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/db_tips.htm and here is one for the Trenitalia website: http://tinyurl.com/c4t693b. Note that in addition to using the Italian names, you will need to pick a specific town in the Cinque Terre to get schedules, and that for regional trains (which are most of the ones in the CT), the schedules are only shown a week ahead. So, just look at trains for a few days from now, just to get the idea of times (they haven't loaded the schedules for next summer in any case).

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

Makes more sense to go Venice to Florence then Vernazza then Rome. The reason is you have to go through Florence to get to Vernazza from Venice. And you can get from Vernazza to Rome on a direct train from Monterosso without going back through Florence. Its not that big a deal though. I'm curious if you need to book a 6th person on Thello to insure you get the 6 person compartment exclusively. It would be a bit of a nightmare if they put a 6th person in with you. For both of you! I see its 175 euro for 5 and an extra 35 euro if you book a 6th phantom person. You might contact them about that as well as the earliest you can book it. I'd nail that one down at the earliest possible date. Its a busy route. The Venice-Florence and Vernazza-Rome should not be an issue to get the supereconomy fare if you book early. The Eurostar train should be booked as early as you can as well. Florence-Vernazza is regional trains and are all unreserved with no advance purchase available (but they are dirt cheap). Good luck!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17779 posts

Kim, As you've never been abroad, my first suggestion would be to read Europe Through The Back Door. You should be able to find a copy at your local Library. It would also be a good idea to have a look at the Guidebooks for England, Paris and Italy, as there's a LOT of good information there on sightseeing, hotels, transportation, restaurants, etc. I was a bit surprised to see that you're only planning to spend 2 days in Paris. There's a LOT to see there, and at least half of your first day is going to be spent on the EuroStar trip from London. Also, why Portsmouth? Do you have two weeks total or is that for the Italy portion? Have you accounted for your two travel days? You'll arrive in Europe the day after you depart and the last day will be spent on the trip home. Rather than wasting valuable holiday time on a long train ride from Paris, you might consider a budget flight to Venice. As I recall, EasyJet operates on that route and if you book early the prices can be reasonable. The most logical order would be Venice - Florence - Cinque Terre - Rome. Use the Trenitalia website to research costs, but note that schedules for next July won't be loaded until the New Year, so just use the same day-of-the-week that you plan on travelling. You'll need to use the Italian names for stations when using the website. Also note that many cities have more than one station, so it's important to choose the correct one when planning trips or buying tickets. The stations you'll be using are: > Venezia Santa Lucia > Firenze S.M. Novella > Vernazza (or whichever C.T. town you want to stay in) > Roma Termini Especially in Italy, the Guidebook would be a good investment. The 2014 edition will be released in October. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Kim
Prince George, BC, Canada
13 posts

Wonderful info everyone. I have the book Europe Through the Back Door as well as The Best of Europe. Still need to get the book on Italy. I'm sure Paris is lovely but we just don't know too much about it. We are focusing this trip on Italy. We have 12 days in London/Portsmouth with my father-in-law because he is from there and wants to share all this with us & our boys (his grandsons). We will leave them in London and travel to Paris... just to take a quick peek and then on to Italy. Italy is something our family really wants to see so we have dedicated 2 weeks to traveling there. I'm sure it will just whet the appetite and we will have to go back but there is only so much you can afford with 3 kids. It's very expensive! Our boys are 16, 14 & 11...

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

Kim my boys were 13 and 14 when they had their visits to Paris and both LOVED their visits to the Catacombs there,, plus of course climbing the Towers of Notre Dame and we all loved the Invalids Army Museum ,, its really interesting and nice and not crowded.. medieval weapons, armour, right up thru the last century wars. I would make it easy,, London , take Eurostar to Paris, at least three days in Paris ( you will regret two days ).. then FLY to Rome or Venice ,, using Easyjet.Fast and cheap , and direct. PS most kids find Florence less then exciting.. two days there is usually enough for most teens unless they have very specific interests in art.. Venice is nice, my dd liked it, but teen boys may also find 2 days there are more then enough.. Rome is very cool, how can even the most jaded kids not love seeing the coliseum.. Haven't been to Cinque Terra but I think building in a beach type break is a great idea.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

Fly from Paris to Venice (don't bother with the train, takes too long). Then visit Venice, go down to Florence by train, visit Florence, then go to the Cinque terre by train, visit the cinque terre, then take a final train to Rome. After visiting Rome, you'll be flying back to Canada from there. My recommended minimum night stays for 14 nights in Italy: Venice 3 nights (with day trip to Murano and Burano) Florence 4 nights (with day trips to Tuscan towns and countryside) Cinque Terre 2 nights
Rome 3 nights. The total of the above is 12 nights. If you have 14 or more, you have 2+ extra days which you can add to whichever place(s) you would like to spend more time. With small kids, limit the time inside museums. They are boring to kids. But they should enjoy walking around the cities (Venice in particular) and also hiking the trails at the Cinque Terre. If you stay longer at the Cinque Terre, stay in Monterosso, rather than Vernazza. You can still visit Vernazza by train (just minutes away and there are numerous trains going back and forth), but Monterosso has a beach and kids like beaches.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

I looked at EasyJet. They are only scheduling out to June 15 now. There is quite a bit of variability in the day to day prices even that far out. As low as 40 euro pp up to 90 Euro depending on what day it is. And then there is a luggage charge of 15.50 Euro per bag (45 lb max) and seat selection fee of 5 Euro pp. So keep an eye on that. Its a 2 hour flight vs 11 1/2 on the Thello, but you'll have a cosy compartment and I'm sure everyone will love each other dearly when you alight in Venice. And as RS points out, you won't need a hotel room that night.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17779 posts

Kim, As I suggested earlier and Roberto also mentioned, using a budget flight from Paris to Venice will be the best use of your VERY limited travel time (IMHO, of course). They won't have prices listed for July yet, so you'll have to wait for a few months to get a clear idea of the costs. I generally try to avoid air travel when possible due to the hassles, but in some cases it's really the best choice. For booking your EuroStar tickets from London to Paris, you may find it helpful to have a look at the excellent seat61.com website. Note that you MUST check-in at least 30-minutes prior to departure, or you won't be riding! Due to the fact that you'll have to go through security and clear French Passport control in London, I'd suggest leaving lots of time. As you're travelling in July, Europe will be hot & crowded. You might consider Paris Museum Passes for touring there (depending on what you want to see) as that will minimize your time waiting in queues. However, with only about a day and a half for touring, you won't be able to see more than a few of the sites.

Posted by Kim
Prince George, BC, Canada
13 posts

Thank you ALL for your comments. We were already considered flying from Paris to Venice so I think we will end up doing that (because of all your encouragement). Its pretty intimidating to take the plunge and commit to going. We aren't used to planning this far out! I've been trying to get all our ducks in a row (making sure we can find accommodation & trying to understand trains & other transportation) before making the BIG purchase - Flights! So with all your comments, this is feeling less and less scary and I'm going to take the plunge today! What a great forum!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17779 posts

Kim, I've never booked flights this far in advance. You may want to speak with a Travel Agent, as they may have some advice on when you'll likely get the best prices. Are you planning to fly out of Vancouver or Edmonton / Calgary? For the budget flight from Paris to Venice, you'll have to wait a few months until the airlines publish their schedules for July 2014. If you decide to go with EasyJet and you think your checked luggage will exceed their allowable limit, it's much cheaper to pay for the excess at the time of booking. If your kit is found overweight at the gate, the charges will be higher. Also note that EasyJet has a one carry-on per passenger rule, which they do enforce. That doesn't mean "one plus a personal item such as a Purse or Laptop case", it means ONE ONLY of the approved size. Even with these rules (which are common with many budget carriers), EasyJet is my preferred airline in Europe. They appear to have flights from both ORY and CDG, with a flight time of ~1H:40M. ORY may be a bit easier for your group to navigate, as it's a smaller airport. As you'll be travelling in July, it would be a really good idea to book your hotels WELL in advance, ESPECIALLY in the Cinque Terre. One point to note about the C.T. is that many of the tourist businesses close in the winter, so those making enquiries early in the year may not get a reply right away. If the place you're looking at in Vernazza doesn't have any vacancies, you might consider staying in Monterosso as it's larger and has a greater number of hotels, restaurants, etc. (as well as the best beach). If you need any suggestions there, post another note. Cheers!