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Road Trip: Looking for pointers, advice, stops etc...!

A lot of threads I’m seeing here say screw the car, take the train in so many words; for me car is happening, as I’m pre-paying for a Renault Eurodrive lease and taking a 28 day drive around Europe in February of 2018.
EDIT: I changed my trip idea so the legs below, are pretty much different.
EDIT: For all you anti-car folks; 1) Yes, gas/diesel is expensive 2) Tolls suck 3) Many people don’t like driving in the first place, so par for the course there... and finally 4)Driving IS enjoyable for some people! It is not unheard of! Please stop hating the car, some prefer to be their own schedule and not rely on train schedules.

I am, looking for people’s actual road-trip/driving experience driving the following routes. I’m an American Truck Driver (18 wheelers) so driving is no big deal for me. Even driving in the Winter, I’m fairly decent (I drive mostly the Pacific Northwest here in the states) But I’m trying to contemplate where to stop, and any particular interests I shouldn’t miss.

Leg 1- Paris, France to Basel, Switzerland
Leg 2- Basel, Switzerland to Milan,Italy
Leg 3- Milan, Italy to Rome, Italy
Leg 4- Rome, Italy to Vienna, Austria (We possibly will skip Vienna and do Munich instead, not sure yet)
Leg 5- Vienna, Austria to Prague, Czechia
Leg 6- Prague, Czechia to Berlin,Germany
-Leg 7 Berlin, Germany to Amsterdam, Netherlands
Leg 8- Amsterdam,Netherlands to London, England (Not staying in London, Brighton,England more so)
Leg 9- London, England back to Paris, France

Any genuine advice and/or input would be greatly appreciated!!!

Posted by
16165 posts

Just some heads-ups.

You will need to purchase vignettes (toll stickers) as you enter Switzerland, Austria, and Czechia.
http://www.dalnicni-znamky.com/en/

You will need to get an International Drivers Permit. Easy to get at AAA.

You may need an "Umweltplakatte" (environmental sticker) to drive in many large German cities like Berlin. A German rental car will have one. Don't know about cars rented/leased in France. Check it out with the lease company. Vienna may also need an Austrian version.
https://www.german-way.com/travel-and-tourism/driving-in-europe/driving/driving-in-germany-green-zones/

Posted by
2990 posts

Will the car that you are leasing have winter tires? Because you'll need them for some areas. All seasons just won't cut it. And you will have short daylight hours, so stick to the main highways wherever possible. Secondary roads can be scenic, but can be their own kind of tricky at night in the winter.

Will you have a GPS with the latest map updates? You'll need it if you are planning (shudder) on staying in the center of some of these cities. Don't count on hotels having their own parking spaces. Most don't, and the nearest parking could be blocks away. Parking garages in the city are expensive, too. You may find it more practical to stay on the outskirts and use public transport to sightsee in the historic areas.

Are you really planning on taking the car back and forth on the channel ferry instead of taking the train? Have you checked out the costs?

Posted by
7725 posts

Winter tires aren’t just needed, theyare the law in some of the countries. You can check on Google. Be sure a car you lease in France is lawfully equiped inyour other destinations.

Posted by
21 posts

Will most likely be choosing spots outside of major cities in order to find AirBnB’s that have parking. As in Paris, I won’t be picking up the car until I’m done with that trip.

As far as winter tires go, I’m told that all Renaults come with all-weather tires, so I plan on grabbing a set of chains and calling it a day. I drive professionally here in the states, so I’m experienced in winter driving.

Posted by
21 posts

If anyone has actually driven these routes, I’m really looking for where to stop and what to do/see along the way.

Posted by
7725 posts

All-weather tires are legal as long as they have the M+S designation. It’s not a question of skill, which certainly you have, but legality. They must be on the car whenever there is a possibility of ice or snow, which means from fall to spring. They don’t replace chains. Your chains may still be needed if you go over passes from Rome to Vienna or Munich, get caught in a storm, etc.

You are covering a lot of ground and there is so much of interest everywhere, that it’s difficult to narrow down. Paris to Basel is a short trip, but there is all of eastern France (Reims, Metz, Nancy, Strasbourg) down to Dijon and Tournus before crossing the border.

Posted by
19211 posts

I haven't done a road trip in Europe, but you've included a number of large cities where a typical traveler would want to spend at least 4 nights (to have 3 days of sightseeing time). Between that and the distances you plan to cover, I'm not sure you're going to have much time for sightseeing along the way. If you don't care that much for the big cities, you could bypass one or two of them in order to free up time for smaller places.

Does your 28 days include time in Brighton? Paris?

Let us know what your interests are, and folks can suggest places along your path that might be especially good stops. Do you want to indulge in some winter sports?

Via Michelin highlights especially scenic roads in green, though you'll probably have to zoom in to see the color.

Posted by
21 posts

I really would like to name my Europe trip “A little taste of everything tour”. I’m painfully aware that I’m trying to fit a lot into a little bit of time. We LOVE food. Both of us We will want to explore affordable culinary delights, LOCAL ones in each region we go and want to include as much food stops along the way as humanly possible. Yet as a trip to Europe, we have to see some of the more “important” historical and famous sights. Here’s a more detailed run down of my crazy and crammed trip (She’s only here 20 days [Feb 2nd to February 21st, flying out on the 22nd], I’m here a week more, so I’m trying to fit more in for her, and finish my trip later)

-For Paris,we are spending 2 days and we’re going to see The Louvre, Notre Dame and The Eiffel Tower.
-Milan, we are going to reserve in advance a trip to the Last Supper and see the main square with it’s majestic cathedral and kick rocks on down to Pisa, see the Leaning Tower snap a pic, and head to our Air BnB outside Rome
-For Rome, we are spending 3 days, and we’re going to hire a guide for the Vatican City, and one to see the most popular historical ruins (such as the Colosseum)
-On our drive up to Vienna, we’ll stop and park outside Venice and take the train onto the island to take a bath (lol), then continue our drive up to Vienna where we’re hoping to tour the Opera House, and see just a few things.
-Then we’ll head up to Prague where we’ll take three days to enjoy it’s sights, foods and red district
-After Prague, our next true destination is Amsterdam with a detour up to Berlin to see a select few sights.
-In Amsterdam we’ll have 3 free days where (I was just looking this up when I got the Rick Steve’s Forums email) we were going to take the ferry from Amsterdam to England and drive through London down to Brighton or somewhere along the southeast English coast to an Air BnB we haven’t chosen yet.
-In England, we’ll spend 3 or so days and we’ll see London, and pretty much take the Tube and buses around to see the common sights.

Finally towards the end of my friends journey we’ll hop on the Chunnel Train and drive back to Paris for her to catch her flight on February 22nd, 2018. After she does that, I have 7 days until my flight out of Frankfurt and I have no clue what to do after that.

Posted by
16165 posts

Next heads-up for Italy.

ZTL: Zona traffico limitato. You cannot drive into central Milan or Rome (or virtually any other Italian city) without getting a whole pile of tickets when you return home. If you have a credit card on file with the leasing company, they will ding you 35 to 50 EUR for each violation, and that is not the ticket charge, that is the fee they charge you for looking up your info and transmitting it to the police for each and every ticket. The actual ticket will arrive much later in the mail. So it is a very good idea to find lodging outside of these cities and commute into town on buses, trains, or trams.

Speeding Tickets: They use robo cams to track your speed and photograph your license plates and send you tickets (after getting the info from the leasing company as above). There is very little wiggle room on the speeds, not the 5 to 10 mph like in the States. So even if people are passing you like you're standing still, keep to the speed limit. Those other people are either locals who know exactly where the cameras are located, or other clueless tourists. This is not just in Italy, but all over Europe. Italy is just the most prevalent.

Posted by
4412 posts

I'm assuming you're taking the Hook of Holland to Harwich ferry as it is the one that takes you the closest to London. I'm not sure why you would want to drive through London at this stage prior to reaching Brighton particularly if you're planning on visiting London at a later date. Harwich to Brighton is likely to take 3+ hours and as it includes a significant portion of the M25 it could take considerably longer. To try and accommodate driving through central London is madness, it is extremely busy, easy to take a wrong direction and get lost, is the worst place for a driver to get used to driving on the left (even more so with a left handed car!), parking is extremely difficult and expensive and you'll have to deal with the congestion charge. I know that you've stated that you're an experienced driver, I would regard myself as one too however I abhor driving in London and will avoid doing so unless absolutely necessary.

My advice is to drive straight to Brighton (or wherever you're staying on the South Coast) and return to London via train.

Posted by
6570 posts

My advice? Put the trip off until the first of April. It would be much more enjoyable after the weather has changed.

Posted by
21 posts

Taking the ferry and driving through London is more of a personal crazy challenge. I learned how to drive 31 years ago in NYC and even drive a 53' tractor-trailer through Brooklyn and the Bronx so I'm certain Ill manage, however the price of parking is a valid point so I might even try to find parking for 3 days over in Hook of Holland and just go via boat. My kind isn't completely made up.

And to Mr. Alabama, winter is my favorite season. I live in the Pacific Northwest because I love winter. I want to see Europe in the snow.

Posted by
1111 posts

You are planning to cross the Alps, so winter tires (not just all-weather tires) are a must, IMO. Don't underestimate the weather conditions you may encounter in February. We are talking about a continental climate here which can be much more harsh than the Pacific Northwest climate. All-weather tires may be o.k. for milder temperature zones like Northern Germany or the Netherlands or Great Britain, but I wouldn't want to try it in the Alps.

Better check the legal situation of all countries you will be touching. Your insurance may actually refuse to pay if something happens while you were driving with inappropriate tires. As Bets correctly states, this is not a matter of your individual driving skills.

Chains may be necessary in some areas, but they cannot be a substitute for proper winter tires. And be aware of special speed limits that apply when driving with chains.

Sams information on speeding tickets also is important. Germany's Autobahn is famous for "no speed limits" but that is true only - well, when there's no speed limit. It's pretty easy to overlook a sign when you are going fast - faster than you are used to - , and you will most definitely not see the radar trap before it has taken a nice picture of you. And even if you were to see it, it's too late to hit the brakes safely then. Don't rely on feeling safe because others are going faster than you are. They are not going to pay for your speeding tickets.

Will most likely be choosing spots outside of major cities in order to
find AirBnB’s that have parking.

It might be a good idea to try and find places that have good public transportation access if you actually want to go downtown to do a minimum of sightseeing. Try and find places where you don't have to switch buses three times or walk two miles to the next tram station.

I want to see Europe in the snow

For your other questions, like what you could see in that very limited time you give yourself at each stop, it would help to know what exactly you are interested in. If it's just "the general highlights", well, even the smallest guide book or Wikivoyage will list those, so it's really a no-brainer to find those and tick them off on your list. And there is really no point in telling you our personal favorites or special recommendations if you're not going to have time for them anyway.

If snow is your top priority, you may want to be aware that large portions of your trip will take you through regions where snow is by no means guaranteed. And I am not speaking of the obvious ones like France and Italy, but of everything after Prague.

Editing to add:
While the International Driver's Permit may be mandatory in some countries (Austria for instance, to the best of my knowledge), it is valid only in conjunction with your national license, so absolutely take that along too. Learned that the hard way. :-)

Posted by
8889 posts

Free Spirit, Winter tyres are a legal requirement in Switzerland. Normally "von O bis O" (Oktober - Ostern (Easter)).
Snow chains are totally different, only needed if driving on roads with packed snow, and all main roads are kept snow-free. You are not allowed to use snow chains on a snow-free road, as they rip up the road surface.

While I love your plan, sounds like the trip I took in my 20's when I got my first car that was reliable enough to risk it, I think you need more than 28 days. 9 legs = 10 locations. 28 ÷ 10 = 2-3 nights per location, i.e. 1-2 days as the arrival and departure day will be pure travelling.

As others have said, you are visiting cities, and with a car you will need to stay in the suburbs, somewhere with parking and public transport access, and commute in and out (time+cost). This trip would make a lot more sense if you picked rural places to visit, and added more time. For example, Cotswolds, Salisbury (instead of London), Brugge, Alsace, Italian lakes (instead of Milan), Tuscany, Austrian Alps, Romantic road (Bavaria), etc.. Needs research.

As for the ferry, Hook of Holland - Harwich is good, you can take an overnight ferry and sleep in a cabin. Getting from the souh coast (Brighton) to France, take the Channel Tunnel, 30 minutes car-on-train, bit over 1 hour including loading and unloading. Website: https://www.eurotunnel.com/uk/home/

Posted by
36 posts

Have you checked that it is ok to bring the car into England and across boarders in main land Europe?

Also don’t be too confident in driving on unfamiliar roads and on the opposite side (especially if you are driving a left hand car on a left hand road) no matter how good a driver you are at home. There are country roads I use everyday of the week to get to work in the summer months but won’t go near in the winter when it’s dark and/or icy.

Posted by
745 posts

I sincerely hope you keep a daily journal of this enterprising adventure and publish it, here, when you return.
This is a journey I would never undertake, but I applaud your spirit and determination. Bravo!
Have a wonderful and safe trip.

Posted by
14415 posts

Did you note the comment about the congestion charge you have to pay to drive into central London?

I'm trying to work out how long you are going to have in each place. From what I understand, your 9 legs are all during the 20 days your friend is with you. That's about 2 days per city including driving time between towns. So why are you asking for places to see en route?

Just sayin' . . .

Posted by
4412 posts

I learned how to drive 31 years ago in NYC and even drive a 53' tractor-trailer through Brooklyn and the Bronx so I'm certain Ill manage,

Driving in NYC is relatively easy, it's pretty much one huge grid. London is a completely different experience entirely. Narrow roads, roundabouts, one way systems, hidden entrances, bus lanes where you can incur a fine for driving within them, likewise stopping inside box junctions, mopeds and cyclists everywhere and throngs of pedestrians many of whom are too busy looking at their phone to watch the road when crossing. You'll be driving past landmark after landmark and distracted by many of them. You've grown up driving in NYC so you're experienced in it, you've never driven in London so it's a completely different experience and not an enjoyable challenge in my opinion. It isn't about personal driving ability but rather all the things outside of your control.

Posted by
19211 posts

Yes, this strikes me as a scenery-viewing trip, primarily, but one peppered with the annoyance of trying to get into major cities for sightseeing. I'd prefer to take full advantage of the car by planning a trip through areas that cannot be quickly covered by train/bus.

Posted by
16869 posts

It should be no problem to take the "leased" car to England and across all borders. You technically own it during this period and the insurance provided is also pretty comprehensive. I did this in the past, but on a longer trip where my average daily driving distance was shorter. While you are used to the long-haul driving, will your partner want to spend that much time on the road?

There are many smaller towns of interest between these big cities that would not necessarily add miles to the route. Rick suggests many of these in his single-country guidebooks and you can find summaries here under Explore Europe. For instance, along a direct route between Paris and Basel, he covers Reims in the Champagne region and Colmar with neighboring parts of the Alsace. Between Basel and Italy, he covers at least a dozen Swiss towns that are smaller and closer to the Alps than is Basel itself. You might have a specific reason for visiting England, but it would be easy to cut and save the cost of ferry tickets or [Eurotunnel](www.eurotunnel.com) fares while reallocating that time.

Winter is a great time for visiting the big cities, since more indoor attractions are open year-round, but those big cities also have the faster train service and less parking, as you have acknowledged, with your plan to stay in outskirts. The further out of town your hotel, the more time and cost for local sightseeing transport. Ideally, we prefer a hotel in the center, where at least some sightseeing is on your doorstep. The real benefit of a car is for exploring more rural areas and small towns that have slower, more circuitous, or no train service.

If you were going to do this city-focused itinerary by train, then I'd look at a Eurail Global Pass for the period that the two of you are together, since that's 15% cheaper than separate passes. (If you have extra days left, you can still keep the pass and use it when she's gone, but you both paid the same price.) There's also a 20% overall discount available at the moment. So you might pay $669 per person for 22 consecutive days of first-class travel (everywhere except within Britain) or $611 for 10 travel days spread over up to two months. Paid seat reservations would be required on at least half your train rides. But a train would get you from Paris to Basel in 3 hours, versus 5.5 hours by car on the highway/autoroute with tolls.

Posted by
1111 posts

Reduce the cities, increase the towns and the roads that are actually
fun to drive.

That is an excellent point, and I also agree with what acraven said earlier:

I'd prefer to take full advantage of the car by planning a trip
through areas that cannot be quickly covered by train/bus.

With that schedule, if you are going to do any sightseeing at all, it means you'll pretty much have to take the freeway/Autobahn type road all the way through. While you may be looking forward to the fast driving experience, these are uniformly the most boring roads of all in terms of scenery.

Another thing you need to be aware of is possible delays. Weather conditions, beginnings or ends of vacation, construction zones etc. can all work together to get you stuck on the road for hours on end. with traffic not moving an inch. It's not "stop and go" then like you may know from American freeway traffic, it's "stop" only. For that case, keep some warm blankets handy. And reconsider your schedule which is so tight that a delay of this sort might get your itinerary seriously mixed up.

Posted by
21 posts

I am definitely getting a lot of feedback here, much of which is striking a cord with me. Primarily our trip will be about the food, while the sights for us are merely compulsory, if you must. Since my friend is only going to be there for 20 of the actual 26 days I’m going to be there, not including travel time, I was hoping to get some key sights in.

With that said, however, all your advice brings me to a rather interesting juncture. I could do my trip in reverse and pick my Renault up after we get to Prague (because I really do want to take an excursion of the Czechia countryside). When we’re done in Prague we could drive to Italy and stay somewhere in Rural Rome where it’s convienent and not too terribly pricey to get into Rome for a few days. I’m thinking that doing my Paris>London>Amsterdam>Berlin>Prague via the train would turn out to be roughly the same if not cheaper than using the car. Then use the car in Prague for the 3 days I’ll be there, then drive Prague>Vienna (or Munich)>Venice (or Innsbruck)>Greater Rome.

You guys have given me a lot to think about, and a lot of day planning to do. I really appreciate all the advice. Trust it is going somewhere!

Posted by
21 posts

I would like to add as a side note, that driving for me is a very relaxing activity. Over the years I’ve learned to not let the nuances of traffic get to me. Driving, for me, is a very important part of traveling. I’ve driven the US 10 times over both personally and professionally. Really hard to explain the emotion that comes with driving a car, except that it provides the same peace and tranquility as someone going fishing or golfing! (Don’t laugh! It’s truly like that for me!)

I drive just to drive. My friend, not so much. SO I have to think about her too!

Posted by
8293 posts

Anna’s post above about the possibility of being stuck on a highway for hours is relevant. It wasn’t in winter but we were stuck for 10 hours on the autostrada on our way from Innsbruck to Italy one fine summer’s day. We eventually broke through a barrier to get to the other side of the highway, and went back to Innsbruck. Took us 30minutes.

Posted by
21 posts

Just a point on “Leased Cars”:

I will be issued a Temporary Transit Registration. This is a guise/scheme which allows French car manufacturers to sell a “sold back” car as a Used Vehicle to avoid the New Vehicle Tax. In lamen terms this means I technically own the car. I can hand them the rest of the money for it at the end of my lease and it’s mine. You can’t do that with a car rental.

I’m sure there are special caveats, however, the car is registered in France, in my name. Myself and RenaultUSA (“financier, so-to-speak) are the named insured. Rules are simply governing the “Finance Contract” from what I understand.

Posted by
19211 posts

Wouldn't picking the car up in Prague take you way, way under the minimum number of days required for a lease? If you have to switch to a standard rental, I'm afraid you'll find dropping a Czech car in Italy or some other country to be cost-prohibitive. Always worth checking (no pun intended), of course.

Posted by
12400 posts

I suggest skip the car option, or be prepared to pay for gas by the liter, which adds up quickly, ie as an unneeded expense.

On leg # 8...make a stop in Minden an der Weser, see the Prussian History Museum, the Mittellandkanal, the half timber houses, and a lovely town (the Zentrum) not inundated by Americans or international tourists, ie totally off their tourist radar.

Or, go to Munster/Westf. to get you nearer to Amsterdam, historical and university town,

For leg #5...stop in Brno, a province capital

About half these routes I have done by train, no way would I pay for gas by the liter.

Posted by
1111 posts

I would like to add as a side note, that driving for me is a very
relaxing activity.

No kidding. Never would've thought, from what you wrote so far. ;-)

I drive just to drive. My friend, not so much.

Whew. Sounds to me like you're in for some trouble if you go through with that original plan of yours.

Over the years I’ve learned to not let the nuances of traffic get to
me.

Good for you. Because once you're stuck in that traffic jam, you're going to have a lot of time to ponder those nuances. ;-)

Primarily our trip will be about the food

I don't get this now. I thought primarily it was about the driving. Where do you expect to find good food alongside your itinerary?

With your schedule, you are going to get the worst food you possibly can. Roadside restaurants are notorious for being overpriced and serving mediocre quality food.

I’m thinking that doing my Paris>London>Amsterdam>Berlin>Prague via
the train would turn out to be roughly the same if not cheaper than
using the car.

What!? Is that you writing? Or has some tree hugger hacked your account?

Or, go to Munster/Westf. to get you nearer to Amsterdam, historical
and university town

Now why on earth would you recommend Germany's bicycle capital to such a car freak? ;-)

We eventually broke through a barrier to get to the other side of the
highway

This is not a maneuver to be recommended on the Autobahn. Backing up or turning around in any way... well, have your license ready because they'll want it so much they'll keep it for a long time.

pay for gas by the liter

Now I do wonder... Why would it make any difference to pay for gas by the liter instead of by the gallon? It's just the metric system... Gas doesn't get more expensive because you're driving km instead of miles either. ;-)

I get what you mean of course. :-) Gas is a lot more expensive in Europe than in the United States, so you have to keep that in mind when planning your budget.

And there is one thing I'd like to add: With this trip as planned, you can hardly avoid using mostly gas stations along the Autobahn. Those can be depended on to be the most expensive gas stations you can find anywhere. So add at least 10% to any estimates you may find about average gas prices.

Posted by
21 posts

This is a ROAD TRIP people!!! Stop hating on a road trip. I came to these forums for advice on where to stop, stay eat see. The flipping car IS happening. Sorry I ever posted on this board.

Posted by
19211 posts

Here's the thing: As originally described, your itinerary didn't give many of us a good feeling when you said you wanted a road trip. Some of us have focused on where you said you wanted to go and suggested that you use a different mode of transportation. Others of us have focused on your desire to drive and suggested that you include different destinations. We're also trying to be sure you don't head out with major gaps in your background knowledge, thus the discussions of winter tires, highway vignettes, etc.

The purpose of a discussion forum like this is to share opinions and get information from a bunch of different people. If you don't find those opinions and information useful, just ignore them. If you don't want input from a bunch of different people, quite likely with different views, you've come to the wrong place and should instead head to a library or book store and choose a guide book to Europe. You should definitely do that, anyway, because you need information on road signs and other topics that are too detailed to get into here.

Posted by
4412 posts

This is a ROAD TRIP people!!! Stop hating on a road trip.

No-one is hating on a road trip, what a ludicrous accusation to make, however I suspect your expectation of a road trip in Europe is quite different to that in the US.

I've driven vast distances in the US, 9 hours in one go was the longest and it was easy if not boring. Interstate driving is straightforward, the roads outside the major metropolitan areas are reasonably light on traffic and for the most part the routes are straight and destinations are easy to get to.

Drive 9 hours through Europe and it's a completely different experience. What is your European driving experience?

As for your suggestion that the trip is also a food trip then this contradicts the idea of it being a road trip, at least by European standards. Take London for example, it has some of the best restaurants I've ever eaten in and is a food lovers heaven with every cuisine under the sun catered for. Would I drive to experience the food scene? Absolutely not, public transport is far and away the best method of travelling throughout London. Likewise Paris, Rome, Berlin etc. I wouldn't even consider combining a US road trip with a US foodie trip unless my idea of good eating experiences are roadside diners, Taco Bell and KFC.

That's not to suggest that good food cannot be found outside of the major cities. You can find some excellent pubs throughout the British countryside that are perfect for combining scenic driving with good food. The choice you have to make is do you want to have an enjoyable driving experience and sample some good food or do you want to visit the major cities, see the sights and sample some good/excellent food.

Unless your idea of a road trip is to drive along fast, soulless motorways and then hit masses of slow moving traffic before finding yourself frustratingly lost before settling on some prohibitive parking space miles from where you want to be then fine, do it. Personally my idea of a road trip is anything but.

You've asked for and been provided with some very good advice, all of it intended to better equip you with an understanding of any procedures, experiences etc that you may not be aware of. Many contributors have direct experience of driving in the areas you have highlighted, particularly in the winter and none of their responses were intended to deride or ridicule you, quite the opposite. I'm not entirely sure what your expectations were when you asked for advice but to finalise your contribution to this thread in such a petulant manner was unnecessary.

Posted by
14415 posts

I love to drive. I have driven in Spain, Italy, and France as well as many many miles in the US and Israel. I've driven in Los Angeles, Chicago, NYC, and San Francisco. They are easy-peasy compared with European cities. Very narrow streets, one-way streets, no-entry areas, and sharp blind corners are just some of the challenges. Just trying to find a sign with the name of the street is often difficult. Cars are smaller, that means that parking places are smaller (in parking lots, for instance), so a large car can be really really hard to drive and park. Keep in mind that the cities are hundreds of years old and streets were built just wide enough for carts and donkeys. Driving can be enjoyable in the countryside, not so much in towns, even small ones.

You mention food, but not beer/wine. If you like to have a glass or two with your food, it's good to know that the blood alcohol limits in at least some countries is lower than the US - France is 0.05%. Also, in France for one, you are expected to know the rules of the road. For instance, speed limits are set by law, depending on the type of road and whether it's residential or not. On many roads, speed limits are not posted.

Posted by
5367 posts

I know you are not looking for criticism, but if you were to propose this itinerary using any form of transportation, my advice would be the same, you are doing too much, travelling too long of distances between stops. Some of the distances, whether by Train, Bus, Car, or donkey cart mean driving directly to the next destination to get there, leaving no actual time for stops, Lunch, or to see anything.

Also, many of the stops are major cities, complicating parking and driving.

There is nothing wrong with a road trip, I would just consider the following:

  • Reduce the overall geographic area of the trip to reduce the need for long drives. A focus on NE France, Western Germany, and the Benelux countries for example. Southern France and Northern Italy would be another option.
  • Plan overnight stops no more than 4 hours of direct driving apart. In a full day, that allows you to take your time, get off the expressways, explore the backroads, have lunch, see some sights, and most of all enjoy yourself. You're not in your big rig, you do not need to get in as many miles as possible in your hour limit.
  • Plan at most driving every other day, enjoying at least a full day in the stop you came to see.
  • As stops, plan smaller towns where a car is handy, to see a city, stay nearby and take public transport into the city, you do not want a car in Rome, Milan, Paris, Amsterdam, London, or most of the stops you mentioned.
  • As others have mentioned, bone up on traffic laws, requirements for driving (IDP, Permits for specific countries, safety equipment required, etc) Be aware of rigid enforcement for Speed, Access, and Parking through Cameras and ZTL or restricted zones, even for what you would consider minor infractions (assuming going "just" over the speed limit is "OK" will get you hundreds of euros of fines in many places).
Posted by
18024 posts

some prefer to be their own schedule

So you must be driving to Europe rather than have to abide by those airline schedules.

Posted by
6733 posts

Lee, ha!!

I love to drive, too (heck I grew up in Oklahoma where Grandpa had me driving out on the oil lease land when I was 12 or whatever), but this trip sounds like a nightmare.

This from JC sounds perfectly apt:

Unless your idea of a road trip is to drive along fast, soulless motorways and then hit masses of slow moving traffic before finding yourself frustratingly lost before settling on some prohibitive parking space miles from where you want to be then fine, do it. Personally my idea of a road trip is anything but.

Not to mention this:

To try and accommodate driving through central London is madness, it is extremely busy, easy to take a wrong direction and get lost, is the worst place for a driver to get used to driving on the left (even more so with a left handed car!), parking is extremely difficult and expensive and you'll have to deal with the congestion charge.

Posted by
7635 posts

OP

While many of the posts had 'cautions' about using a car, it was not due to 'hating cars', but to alert you to the many differences there is between driving in the USA and much of Europe.
I believe the responses were meant to be helpful, to make your trip enjoyable and not a nightmare of being stuck in city driving, which can incur multiple expensive infractions, committed in innocent ignorance. Signage is different. I found many areas in Italy where the barrier walls along the Autostrada were so high it was like driving in a lidless tunnel. (There was no view of the countryside).

Most folks on this forum know public transport works very well in Europe and use cars to access remote areas, not as the primary means to go from place to place.

You have made it clear you enjoy driving and will not do otherwise.

I hope your trip works out for you. You have been alerted to the potential pitfalls of your type of trip, so use it to prepare yourself to have the kind of trip you expect.
Good luck!

Posted by
2246 posts

11-21, 12:10 pm PST:

"You guys have given me a lot to think about, and a lot of day planning to do. I really appreciate all the advice. "

11-21, 7:33 pm PST:

"This is a ROAD TRIP people!!! Stop hating on a road trip. I came to these forums for advice on where to stop, stay eat see. The flipping car IS happening. Sorry I ever posted on this board."

Posted by
26079 posts

Many AirBnB owners much prefer longer stays and don't allow stays less than three nights. Have you checked that the locations you are counting on allow such short stays as you are planning?

The Eurotunnel is far cheaper well in advance, perhaps as low as £60 for a single journey (changes and refunds limited) several months ahead but as high as well over £100 for a reservation at the last minute. It is difficult to just turn up and go because you have to have submitted the personal information in advance so that British and French border agencies can check against no-travel lists and immigration lists.

The time for the Eurotunnel crossing - I have done it dozens of times - mentioned earlier is optimistic. You absolutely must be checked in 30 minutes in advance of the crossing, queueing for security clearance of the car, British Border checks, dog and swab tests, French Border checks, and possible French customs inspection starts around 25 minutes prior, with boarding starting around 20 minutes prior to departure. Crossing is 35 minutes if no delays, and unloading is 5 or 10 minutes. Clocks go ahead one hour heading to France.

If you have red number plates you will likely have the car's papers checked.

I have special privileges as a Frequent Traveller on Eurotunnel so I can turn up right at 30 minutes but I never do. I would never be later than 45 minutes ahead. Special enforcement takes place on the M20.

Posted by
2990 posts

EDIT: For all you anti-car folks; 1) Yes, gas/diesel is expensive 2)
Tolls suck 3) Many people don’t like driving in the first place, so
par for the course there... and finally 4)Driving IS enjoyable for
some people! It is not unheard of! Please stop hating the car, some
prefer to be their own schedule and not rely on train schedules.

Whoa, steady there big fella. We're not hating the car. No one is denying that a car trip can be enjoyable. Many of us have had multiple driving trips in Europe that were great. Or have/are actually living in Europe and drive every day. But there are pitfalls to the type of trip that you have planned, and those of us with experience are just trying to point out things that may well be problematic. Or would you rather just find out these things for yourself if or when they happen? Sorry if the replies have pulled off the rose coloured glasses through which you were viewing your trip, but we're just trying to point out the practicalities. We all want you to have the best trip possible.

Posted by
19211 posts

Feb 10: A day-trip to Dublin by train isn't possible. A ferry would also be required. You might be able to fly. I think perhaps you mean Edinburgh, which at least doesn't require a ferry. But it's not really practical, either, since it requires about a 9-hour round-trip. And that's just the time you spend sitting on the train.

Feb 20 and Feb 21: Day-trips to Vienna and Berlin from Prague aren't really feasible due to the length of the train trip. Again, it takes also takes time to move between your hotel and the train station, as well as between train station and sights at the destination. Unless you decide to make other day-trips, you'll have more time than you need in Prague, which has fewer big sights than London, Paris and Rome.

Use the Deutsche Bahn website to check the schedules and durations of every train trip you're planning to take, to be sure it is actually practical.

I haven't vetted the driving legs. If you haven't checked those, you should do so on ViaMichelin.

Posted by
21 posts

How about flying discount airlines from, say London to Dublin; and Prague to Vienna?

Posted by
19211 posts

Use skyscanner.com to see what you come up with, but I think your selection of day-trips is very misguided. I'm pretty sure you'll find budget-airline flights fights from London to Dublin, not as sure about out of Prague, but you can easily check.

London: No way I'd go to Ireland for a day. Remember how far in advance you need to be at the airport these days. Even a 1-hour flight from London is probably going to cost a minimum of 4-1/2 to 5 hours. Why spend 9 or 10 hours round-trip to go somewhere for 3 or 4 hours? I can't imagine what you could accomplish in that amount of time in Dublin that's more interesting than the things you'll be leaving undone in London (where you'd have the whole day).

Prague: Flying will probably not be faster than the train by the time you deal with airports on both ends of the trip.

Don't forget that flying comes with the ever-present possibility of delays. That's much less likely with trains.

Posted by
21 posts

So long day trips and extensive road trips are ill-advised...Gotcha

I really appreciate the advice. It’s still a bummer to have all my original plans stripped, criticized and when realizing the criticizm is correct backing down from the original plans and revising them. Hopefully I didn’t rise to many people’s blood pressure with my “road-trip” question

Posted by
14415 posts

I'll throw out a different suggestion. Skip the big cities. You can get really good meals in very small towns throughout Europe. The small towns and villages are often very charming and you can spend a good bit of a day enjoying each one. You can visit castles, Roman ruins, quirky museums and see beautiful scenery while driving through the countryside.

Posted by
19211 posts

Many, many people's first-trip want lists look sort of like yours (though not that many plan to drive if they're covering more than two contiguous countries). But you just can't see everything on one trip, and the farther apart your targets are, the less you'll actually see, because you'll spend more time sitting inside a car/bus/train/plane.

Believe me, the major cities you've chosen have lots more sights than you've allowed time for. I suspect you haven't looked at any guide books yet, right? You've got plenty to see if you never take a day-trip. If you really must see additional places, I suggest you consider nearby spots that will mean less time in transit. They'll also save you money, which is rarely a bad thing.

The Netherlands, for example, has lots of very picturesque towns, and distances are short enough that many make good day-trips from Amsterdam. Another example: Many of us are very fond of Orvieto as a side-trip from Rome (or even for an overnight stay).

The possibilities are numerous. A guide book will help. A general guide book to Europe (Rick has a good one) will suggest day-trips outside the core cities and give you an idea of sights and activities in each place.

I'm afraid you're going to have difficulty with Les Miz, assuming you haven't bought your tickets. I don't think there's anything available on the official website for February 8-11. If so, you'll need to go to ticket brokers, which may really drive up the price you pay--and it's not an inexpensive show to begin with. Perhaps it's worth it to you.

There are other high-demand sights/activities that need to be booked in advance, some of which you'll probably want to see: Eiffel Tower (if you want to ascend it via elevator--sometimes sells out well in advance) and Catacombs in Paris; I think the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; and the Colosseum (especially if you want to take the Underground tour), Borghese Gallery, and Domus Aurea in Rome. There may be other things that need to be arranged in advance that I'm not thinking of. I'm not sure it's prudent, even in February, to just show up in Rome and expect to find a private guide for a couple of days. That's also a very expensive proposition, incidentally.

Your Lucerne-Pisa-Rome day involves 9-1/2 hours of driving, according to the optimistic ViaMichelin. That's with no stops (no toilets, no food, no gas), no traffic- or weather-related delays, no looking for parking in Pisa, no time for getting to the Tower (on foot or by bus/taxi) and seeing it.

I believe your trip would be a lot more fun, and probably quite a bit cheaper, if you planned to hit about half your listed destinations this year and the rest on another trip. You could, for example, see London/Amsterdam/Brussels/Paris and have time to see some lovely places within that geographic area. Your second trip could include Italy/Austria (beautiful mountains and much less expensive than Switzerland)/Prague.

Edited to add: Chani's suggestion is a good one. She has actually driven in Europe and knows whereof she speaks.

Posted by
7635 posts

Good to see you have given further thought to your original plan.

Still looks very busy. I agree with acraven that splitting all your destinations into two trips may make for 2 enjoyable trips, rather than one " I did it" trip. ( Given the amount of driving you are planning on, I suspect you are young enough to have an opportunity for a subsequent trip(s) , and with the activities you plan, you are financially stable, so a second trip seems reasonable to plan for)

Or Chani's idea for a skip the cities do the countryside tour. Its your trip so you need to decide what your priorities are.

Posted by
26079 posts

free,

I don't click through to personal sites and don't facebook, so could you please cut and paste your new itinerary here too?

I'd love to see it.

Happy Thanksgiving

Posted by
16165 posts

Nigel, for your benefit:

Fri, Feb 2nd- We both arrive into Paris and get settled in.
Sat, Feb 3rd- First day of Sightseeing. We plan on seeing the Louvre and Eiffel Tower on this day.
Sun, Feb 4th- Second day of Sightseeing. We plan on seeing the Catacombs and Notre Dame
Mon Feb 5th- Departure Day! We will pick up a Renault Eurodrive car from the airport and drive to Amsterdam!
Mon, Feb 5th- This is our travel day! This gives us an entire day to get to Amsterdam from Paris!
Tue, Feb 6th- First day of Sightseeing and free time
Wed, Feb 7th- Second day of Sightseeing and free time
Thu, Feb 8th- Travel day, and first time on Eurostar! We depart the Venice of the North for London England!
A special note here, is that we will be parking our Renault Leased Car in Brussells and catching the Eurostar up into London, our next destination!
Thu, Feb 8th- We will arrive to London and get settled in! We will have time to get the lay of the land figured out, eat dinner and get ready for a busy two days!
Fri, Feb 9th- Sightseeing by day, and in the evening we have planned to go see Les Miserables at the Queens Theater in the West End!
Sat, Feb 10th- Our second full day in The Old Smoke, we could possibly take a train excursion up to Dublin, or hit the cobblestones and do some more sightseeing!
Sun, Feb 11th- Our last full day in London! I have in mind window-shopping, and doing more sightseeing! There is always more to see in London! The possiblity of a second West End play is definitely on the table!
Mon, Feb 12th- Sadly, our time in London comes to an end and we will return to Brussels via Eurostar, collect our car from the car park and enjoy a 2 day drive to Rome!
Mon, Feb 12th- This is a big driving day! We will be heading south out of Brussels aiming for Lucerne, Switzerland where we will spend the night!
Tue, Feb 13th- This is the second big driving day! We’ll wake up early, and tackle a drive to Pisa, Italy where we will see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, then continue our journey to the outskirts of Rome, find our accomodations and get settled in!
Wed, Feb 14th- We will hire a guide, and do a full-day walking/transit tour of Rome
Thu, Feb 15th- Our guide will return the next day to give us a detailed tour of the Vatican, and then it’s on to free time and sleep for our big drive to Prague!
Fri, Feb 16th- Travel Day! Leaving for Prague!
Fri, Feb 16th- Travel Day 1: This day will be filled with driving, with a possible stop in Munich along the way if the parking isn’t too unreasonably expensive.
Sat, Feb 17th- Travel Day 2: This is the day we plan to arrive in Prague, get checked into our accomodations, and get accoustomed to the immediate area where we’re staying!
Sun, Feb 18th- Sightseeing and Food
Mon, Feb 19th- Sightseeing and Food
Tues, Feb 20th- Possible day trip to Berlin by train
Wed, Feb 21st- Possible day trip by train to Vienna
Thu, Feb 22nd- Jodi Flies from Prague to Paris, France to catch her flight back to the states!

Posted by
7725 posts

The problem with Chani's small towns or villages in February is that a lot is closed unless it's a ski vacation area. Not everything, but enough that you have to check on everything ahead of time. We've learned from experience.
My in-law's lived in Burgundy where I spent many winters, and drove around.

Love that you are open to reflection, freespirit!

Posted by
4412 posts

Train up to Dublin? Not sure if that's a typo or a genuine misunderstanding of travel logistics. There is no train to Dublin from London, travelling to Dublin via train involves such a convoluted series of train, ferry, car that it really is not worth doing. Even flying for a day trip is not worthwhile. I'd simply forget Dublin on this occasion.

Posted by
3559 posts

There's been a mention or two of the weather you may encounter in February on your trip. For detailed averages try going to Weather in Europe. You can click on the specific locations and get averages for amount of daylight or sunshine, daily sunrise and sunset times, daily temperatures, typical rain and more. Any of these weather variables can affect your trip. The obvious caveat is that they are averages, so it could be much worse or much better.

I get the attraction of a road trip. My husband loves to drive and I'm the navigator. We've driven in Iceland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy on 4 different trips. I lived in Nuremberg for 3 years in the early 1980's and even that long ago, I experienced all the traffic situations already described. I was glad to see all the people who live in Europe and the UK responding here.

Your new itinerary looks much more realistic. One other thing I'd add is that you will need make time to just chill and to do laundry. If you're in a place long enough, you can do laundry in the room and it will have time to dry, especially if there are heated towel racks in the bathroom. For me a more efficient way is to go to a laundromat and do it myself or have it done for me. Both my husband and I oddly find that a good way to take a break from the massive sensory input we get on our trips.

I'd also say that it may take you much longer to drive in Europe than you expect. Google Maps and Via Michelin have already been listed for driving time estimates. Another option is Rome2rio which compares the time and costs for the usual ways to get from one place to another. It's not perfect, but well worth a look.

Finally, be sure to stop at a travel center somewhere on the highway in Belgium and get a Cécémel Dark for each of you. Absolutely decadent.

Posted by
21 posts

A couple clarifications about my individual and personal travel style:

I am the type of person that sees something and moves on from it. I’m not making love with the sights I’m going to see; I simply and honestly want to Pop in and see 4-6 sights in Paris, Amsterdam and London each, and drive to Rome with a quick stop in a city or two. In Rome, we plan on actually hiring a guide I found here on the Rick Steves’ site (Cristina Giannicchi), so we can get a decent look at Rome’s important attractions. Sure, that’s not cheap, but it helps move us along and not miss anything due to the short visit.
This all is a huge undertaking, but what most may not realize is that being a Truck Driver, I have a whole different mentality on driving. I live my whole life chasing appointments, and being in cities for short periods of time and being able to accomplish a lot in a short time. I have done lots of city excursions from a truck stop with a taxi or uber or car rental.

And yes, everyone here is saying Europe is completely different from the US in regards to driving. I am NOT naieve to the differences driving in Europe as opposed to America as explained to me here in this thread. But this is EUROPE. Not Mexico, or an under-developed continental African country with a subpar infastructure, or the lovely amazingly maintained roads of Russia, so it can’t be as horrible as people make it out to be. I will be applying the same principles I apply to getting a “hot” load of meat from Portland, Oregon to Florida in 4 days, with hours of service requirements and 1 driver. Here, I have to licensed drivers, no hours of service requirements and a great desire to get stuff done.

With all that said, the streamlining of my trip came from the advice in this forum to not do so much, so I thinned it down. Everyone here has such strong advice, which is appreciated, it really is even though it brought me to feel like one of those kids running into daddy’s room saying “Look what I planned for summer break! I’m going to 46 cities and 3355 museums in Russia in January”

I got this, I really would like to know some food gems or sightseeing gems on my travel routes. I’d really appreciate that.

Posted by
19211 posts

Between Paris and Amsterdam you have Ghent and Antwerp in Belgium, Utrecht in the Netherlands. I feel as if you'd be better off choosing smaller towns, but I can't help you there.

Between Amsterdam and Brussels you could take the slightly longer westerly route option offered by ViaMichelin, and see either Haarlem or Den Haag. You'll also pass Ghent again.

The leg between Brussels and Lucerne takes you past or very near Luxembourg City and (better) a string of small Alsatian towns (Selestat, Ribeauville and Riquewihr) plus the small city of Colmar. Colmar would be my first choice. It is gorgeous. This part of France has a heavy German influence.

On the day you drive from Lucerne to Pisa and on to Rome, I don't think you have time to stop anywhere else.

There's also no time for stops on the drive from Rome to Munich. You should get some nice scenery north of Verona as you pass Trento, Bolzano, Bressanone and Innsbruck if the weather is clear. ViaMichelin highlights much of that stretch in green to indicate that it is scenic.

The leg from Munich to Prague gives you a chance to see Regensburg.

It's hard to recommend restaurants in such huge cities. With your compressed schedule, you'll probably want to eat either near your last sightseeing stop or near your hotel. You'll find that meals in Europe tend to be leisurely affairs. Even eating alone, I have trouble getting in and out of restaurants in less than 1-1/2 or 1-3/4 hours. I wouldn't want also to spend 30 minutes (or more) traveling to and from the restaurant.

When you get your lodgings set up, it may be easier to get recommendations. On your travel days, we have no way of knowing where you'll be at lunchtime. On a couple of those days, I think you're going to have to settle for fast food.

Guide books like Rick's include restaurant suggestions.

Posted by
16165 posts

Two Restaurant recs
1. Paris: Albion at 80 Rue du Faubourg Poissonniere. Very very good, reasonable price, especially for wine, since it doubles as a wine shop and charges wine-shop prices. It is only open Monday-Friday, so it is your 1st night or not at all. Easy to get to, at the Poissonniere stop on the Metro line No 7. Walk downhill one block, on the left. Call for a reservation. Language not a big problem as one of the owners is a Kiwi.
http://www.restaurantalbion.fr/
2. Amsterdam: Loetje Centraal. Easy to find as it is downstairs of the Tourist office in front of Centraal train station. It is on the water, but February you'll be inside. Try the Balinese steak. Even your waiter will tell you, "If you want fries, just one order will serve two people". They're huge. No reservations, just wait in the bar until a table opens up. Its popular, but shouldn't be too long for a table.
https://centraal.loetje.com/?lang=en

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you Acraven and Sam!

Acraven the leg from Brussels to Rome is definitely tight as heck, as such im thinking of pulling a prague day and adding it to that drive, because im certain there's gotta be more cuisine to experience driving down the Italian west coast. Not to mention Ive been giving a great deal of thought into snagging a reservation and popping into the Lords Supper in Milan.

Posted by
19211 posts

I think that would be a good plan.

Check right away on the Last Supper. I'm not sure how far in advance the tickets go on sale, but it has been reported here that they sell out rapidly. I think there are some city tours that include the Last Supper, but that's more time and money. The Duomo in Milan is magnificent, too.

Posted by
3559 posts

Some sight-seeing advice. As you solidify your selections for sights to see, be aware of the need to research the logistics of "popping in" to see them. You may find that there will be some for which spontaneity works and some that will need more planning -- even in February. Don't discount the amount of time it may take to get to what you want to see, how long you may have to wait in line, how long it may take to go through security at some places or how much time is needed to actually see what you want to see. Be sure to have some alternatives in mind if it turns out that you can't or don't really have the time to see what you want to see when you want to see it.

About getting a lot done in a short period of time. This was my MO in the past, but I soon learned that things start blurring together when moving that fast. It's partly due to the fast pace, but mostly due to so much sensory input, especially visual. Take. A. Breath. Sit in a cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and watch people. Europeans sit outside in anything but the worst of weather. Bundle up and join them.

About the driving. You may have this handled already.
Make sure both drivers have IDPs (International Driving Permits). Both of you will probably need to be listed as drivers of the car, which might cost more. Both of you need to learn the rules of the road for Europe and the specific countries where you will be driving. Learning the international signs is mandatory. And don't speed. Two speeding tickets in France and one in Switzerland taught us that lesson. Fortunately, we managed to successfully avoid the ZTLs in Italy.

Posted by
11613 posts

Just want to add, do a bit of research beforehand on where to find parking if you go to larger cities.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
4412 posts

But this is EUROPE. Not Mexico, or an under-developed continental African country with a subpar infastructure, or the lovely amazingly maintained roads of Russia, so it can’t be as horrible as people make it out to be.

Nobody has made reference to the road infrastructure in Europe compared to that in the US. What people have made reference to are rules, requirements, advice etc. Yes, for the most part the roads in most of Europe are better maintained than those in the US but do you know what the legal requirements for what you MUST carry in your car in France or Germany or the Netherlands for example? Do you know what countries you require a vignette to drive on the motorways/autobahns etc? Do you know what the drink drive limit is in each country? Do you know the different speed limits? These are all points of advice that people are trying to give you, they're not telling you that the roads are poor, that you'll struggle to deal with heavy traffic etc but rather what you NEED to know before you get here.

Posted by
971 posts

The differences between driving in Europe and the US that you don’t seem to take into account is the density of culture and history in Europe. In the US you can drive for 100s of kms without pasning much of notable interest, if you drive 100 km in Europe you Will likely pass a bunch of interesting sights that are worth a visit. I Think you need to limit yourself to a smaller geographical area. With the plan you have proposed you Will spend most of your time on the motorways, while passing 100s of sights that could be worth your time.
My last driving holiday was one month in eastern and southern France and i still feel that there was more i wanted to see.

Posted by
26079 posts

What would be suggested for dinner in Lucerne?

I don't know what would appeal to you. The places I go aren't uniquely Swiss nor are they very expensive because I can't afford a sit-down restaurant in Switzerland. A regular visitor I usually eat at supermarkets like Coop or Migros, and at department stores of Manora.

In the station in Luzern (local spelling, it is a German speaking area) there is a Titbits which is a reasonably - by Swiss standards - priced vegetarian buffet where you pay by the gram.

Nearby the station is a Manora restaurant attached to the Manor department store.

We often stay at the Holiday Inn Express at the last rest area before arriving in Luzern from the northwest, on the A2. The Raststätte Luzern-Neuenkirch not only has that HIE, but it also has the Mövenpick Marché open plan fresh food restaurant. Information about the Marché is at http://www.luzerner-raststaette.ch/en/restaurant/marche-restaurant/

Posted by
8889 posts

Nigel's post has reminded me about another bit of advice to first time drivers in Europe.
You need to know the local name for places, because that is what will be on signs and road maps. For example:

  • Italy: Firenze, Roma, Milano, Venezia
  • Austria: Wien (Vienna)
  • Czech Republic: Praha
  • Germany: München, Köln (Cologne)
  • Switzerland; Luzern, Genève
  • Belgium: Bruxelles, Brugge, Antwerpen

Belgium is particularly problematical as it has two languages (French and Flemish), and signposts are in the language of the location of the sign, not of the town. So you are in French speaking Belgium following signs for "Anvers", and you suddenly cross the language border, and without warning the signs change to "Antwerpen".
This can also happen in other border areas. see this road sign in Germany, showing the turn-off to Prague, shown in both German and Czech, but not in English: http://www.autobahn-bilder.de/images/A17%20Ri%20Prag/IMG_0589.JPG

And, of course for every country you need to check the road rules, laws and road signs before entering that country. Not understanding a sign will not stop you getting fined.

Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
19211 posts

Sightseeing attractions in the US tend to be open continuously with no mid-day break. That is not necessarily going to be the case in Europe. Closing days can vary, with Monday being a rather popular day for museums to close in some places. This varies by city as well as by sight. You need a guide book!

Traveling in February means that the hours of some sights (especially secondary ones) may be more limited than in the summer, but that may not be well-covered in every book. Checking the websites of your must-see sights is important. And don't forget that you will probably miss some sights if you do not buy tickets in advance.

Posted by
470 posts

Lots of good advice in this thread, but I would like to echo Morten's and Chani's comments regarding the density of sights in Europe. Consider limiting yourself to smaller regions and explore the countryside with its smaller towns and scenic points, that is what I usually do when going on trips by car. There truly is an impressive castle, beautiful medieval town or scenic natural area every twenty miles (sometimes even less) and that is where having a car becomes a real asset. In addition to the major tourist sights in an area, you can also visit places that see few international tourists and these will usually be covered in a more detailed country or region-level guidebook, such as those by Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. Paper maps of Europe also often indicate scenic roads, towns and interesting sights. I've had good experience with maps by Michelin, Marco Polo and Freytag & Berndt.

While it is true that many of these secondary sights might have limited opening times in February, medieval villages will still be there, mountain backdrops will not disappear, etc. Perhaps you could focus more of your time on the Alps and the surrounding regions, where the smaller towns are used to accommodating tourists in the winter or do a multi-region trip with a mini road trip in each region and fly/take the train between them.

I know others have already mentioned this, but do check some of the more general driving rules and customs in Europe as well as the peculiarities for each country you'll be driving in. Fines in Europe can quickly go into the hundreds of euros, but these can also be easily avoided by investing some time into getting familiar with the rules before setting off.

Posted by
21 posts

Well, it’s pretty much official; as of today I booked the Renault Grand Kangoo. Good sized vehicle not meant for inner-city travel (not that driving is recommended inner-city anyhow). Good thing about having a larger vehicle, is we’ll be able to set up the back with a mattress topper, and be able to sleep while enroute to places as we alternately drive. I’ll get a brand new one; I’m kinda hoping I can convince the RenaultUSA people to put M+S tires on the thing, otherwise I will have to find used ones, or roll the dice and say a few prayers and hope that I’m not inspected by the law.

Posted by
4412 posts

I’m kinda hoping I can convince the RenaultUSA people to put M+S tires on the thing, otherwise I will have to find used ones, or roll the dice and say a few prayers and hope that I’m not inspected by the law.

I doubt your fellow road users will be so happy about your cavalier attitude to tyres. Winter tyres are a requirement in many areas for a very good reason.

Posted by
21 posts

ME

I’m kinda hoping I can convince the RenaultUSA people to put M+S
tires on the thing, otherwise I will have to find used ones, or roll
the dice and say a few prayers and hope that I’m not inspected by the
law.

JC

I doubt your fellow road users will be so happy about your cavalier
attitude to tyres. Winter tyres are a requirement in many areas for a
very good reason.

Cavalier or not, chances are the ticket will be cheaper than purchasing new tires, IF I’m inspected. Could have gone for a smaller Dacia Duster 4x2 with M+S tires, but we need the room. People in Colorado are required to have snow tires or carry snow chains from September onward. That guy visiting knows this or doesn’t care. He’ll get a ticket if caught. Is it right? Heck no. I’m not comitting murder here, I’m skirting a regulation.

Posted by
26079 posts

I’m not comitting murder here, I’m skirting a regulation

Is that how you drive the semi-?

Posted by
7635 posts

If you ask them to change the tires, it seems you should be asking for 'winter' tires, not 'all season' ( M+S) tires.

As you are picking the car up in France, it will have their plates, so once you leave France you will be more conspicuous and may have a greater chance for a 'random inspection', especially in those countries that have strict tire regulations. With the number of countries you are going through, you have a lot of research to do.
Good luck and safe travels

Posted by
3559 posts

I've been really enjoying this thread about your trip. Is this the van you're getting and organization you used for the leasing?

Yes, it is big for most city and town driving. Pay attention to the height and be aware that you might need to fold the mirrors in to get through some places.
Our daughter knocked off the passenger side mirror and did some significant damage to that side of her Ford Escape going through an archway in Cefalù Sicily. It was plenty wide at street level, but it got narrower as it got higher. She was focusing on the driver side and allowing enough space there without checking the passenger side.

We asked for a smaller vehicle, but the car we got in Reims for our 3 weeks of driving in France was a Renault Megane. It worked fine in most places, but was difficult to turn in some situations and almost too long for some parking spots.

Where are you going to get the mattress topper for the back?

Posted by
26079 posts

I just had a look at photos of that Grand Kangoo and I noticed windows all around and no apparent way to cover or conceal luggage.

I'm sure that you have this covered, just to say that exposed luggage is an invitation for breakins, even in Europe.

Posted by
4412 posts

I’m not comitting murder here, I’m skirting a regulation.

So the family you wipe out in a head on collision because you were driving with inappropriate tyres and in contravention of the law simply because you wanted to skirt a 'regulation' is worth that extra saving?

All season tyres are not a suitable alternative to winter tyres in some of the places you intend on driving in. I suggest you undertake a bit of research into the differences before you endanger the lives of others with your irresponsible attitude.

Posted by
7725 posts

In France, where people use all-season tires, traffic comes to a halt with the lightest snow on even lowest incline because everything goes slipping and sliding. We see it in the countryside, in the city, on the autoroutes. The years it snows, the news shows back ups of trucks on the autoroute, overnight, waiting for the snow plow and salt, while other cars and trucks have slid off. We went sliding on the autoroute one December when it started to snow lightly. My SIL in Vienna thinks we're nuts in France for not changing the tires. She might have a point.

We used a Kangaroo to haul our luggage when we had the whole family in France for a year. It's just a small utility vehicle, not sexy but does the job.
Bolzano--it would be a shame to pass it without stopping to see the Iceman in his museum.

Posted by
21 posts

All the responses here are passionate. What ever the point that one makes, it’s never a dull momment. I’ve gotten a ton of advice here, much of which I’ve taken with seriousness.

As far as the driving and winter thing: I am not lacksidasical or irresponsible when it comes to driving, even when it comes to winter tires. I’m actually quite attuned to winter driving conditions living in the pacific northwest. Ice and snow in Switzerland is no different than ice and snow in Oregon, USA. Regulations or not, common sense plays a big role in driving in incliment weather, and incliment weather is no different regardless whether you’re in Alaska or Iceland, Oregon or Switzerland, New York City or London. I am no dummie. Let me make that extremely clear to all you here posting that may think otherwise with respects to winter driving.

Lastly, this post foremost was asking about locations to stop, possible things to see, yet it’s seems it’s turned into an “oh my, you don’t know what to expect, you need this and that” or “Careful on this, beware of that” thread. Not what I intended. I’ve come here for advice about sights and food and stops along the way and yet am met with “you’re doing this wrong” “have you though of this, if not you’ll have a gorilla eat your newborn child”. Seriously folks we all have opinions. We all have experiences and comfort levels. Also, time and time again I have mentioned that I am a Professional Truck Driver, which strikes a chord with no one apparently (no one has a clue what truck drivers go through out here). I’ve had my share of chaining on mountain passes (this involves 4 tires chained, two on the drives and two on either side of the trailer axles) in the pacific northwest. I’ve had to recouver a skid on black ice. I make safety decisions daily. I’m driving professionally for 6 years, and 22 years personally.

I wish I had entittled my post: Places to Stop along my routes, but I still would have gotten the unnecessary comments about everything that is wrong about MY trip. Really, I was hoping to find OTHER PEOPLE’S EXPERIENCES on these journies! I will blog my journey. I will video blog it as well. Doing this, I hopefully can answer other people’s questions on this topic (aka: Driving a certain route, say Milan to Italy “Oh, on your way down, you must stop at this delectable winery, they have tastings, but the olives are to die for” instead of “Parking sucks in Rome, you might want to think about that before you decide on a car”) Everyone can’t be that much of a fearmonger and downright a-hole!

Oh, and apparently Fasnacht (Carnival) will be in Lucerne on the 13th of February. This intrigues me. Has anyone ever gone?

Sincerly,
Your Original Poster (OP)
Not a naieve, dummie. (Can’t prove it here apparently, but i’m not!)

Posted by
3559 posts

I think what people are trying to do is help you make your driving as pleasant and efficient as it can be considering the distances, places and time of year you are driving.

Again it's not about your driving skill, it's about alerting you to the differences between driving in the USA and Europe and among the countries in which you will be driving. I think that's relevant to this part of your posting: "I am, looking for people’s actual road-trip/driving experience driving the following routes."

All the advice people are giving you is based on their driving experiences in Europe. The vehicle driving part is the easy part. The learning curve is the stuff all around driving.

Your revised itinerary is much better, but it's hard to give advice about where to eat or stop along the routes when we don't know what routes you plan to take. There are fast roads, slower roads and really slow roads that you can take between the cities you've listed.

Planning a trip like this is an iterative process. Once we know the roads you'd like to take, we can make better suggestions about where to stop and see or eat something along the way.

One thing I can tell you is do not eat at the roadside restaurants in France that have an Amercan West theme. The food is awful.

We have had better food at the large travel stops on the highways. We also have had good luck simply pulling off the road into a small town and taking our chances at the restaurants there. The travel stops will probably have food any time of day. The small town restaurants are likely to close between lunch and dinner.

Posted by
12400 posts

Being stuck in a traffic jam means in Germany you're sitting in a two lane freeway, the Autobahn, bumper to bumper, wasting time, going no where and little chance of it. In southern Calif that could mean bumper to bumper in a 5 or 6 lane freeway, such as on the 405 or the 605 but still a chance, however small, of moving along.

Posted by
21 posts

I am just about 3 weeks into my trip, have been driving my beautiful least Renault Grand Scenic. It has been nothing short of amazing. All the fears and concerns and craziness is forum has intensley offered has been unfounded.

-Picked up car in Paris after 2 amazing days of sightseeing. Included the Lovre and Catecombs.
- Drove to Amsterdam where we parked in a park and ride for a mere €1/Day and stayed in a wonderful hostel close to everything.
-Committed the cardinal sin and drove into Central London. We took the Ferry from Dunkirk, France arriving Dover about 3am. Did this early in the AM as to avoid congestion charge. Parking was only £20/day
- After London we left late at night (again to avoid the congestion charge) to catch the midnight ferry to Dunkirk
-We changed plans and decided to leave Italy to another trip and ended up staying with a friend in Germany for three days and going to see Buchenwald Concentration Camp!
-And currently I am in Prague and have a great parking spot and am staying in an amazing AirBnB.

Posted by
8889 posts

Congratulations. I am glad you are enjoying your trip. I hope some of the advice helped (at least you knew there was a congestion charge in London to be avoided).
Please keep us posted.

Posted by
21 posts

A lot of the advice was very well received. Thankfully it snowed once on the way to Großhering and haven't seen much since. My friend left today, so I'm on my own for one more week.

I'm at the border of Czech Republic and Germany right this second, and it's 30 degrees F. So watching for ice is necessary. I braised a deer today in the Czech countryside but no damage to car. Deer are a hazard anywhere.

I am going to Berlin to see all the WW2/Nazi/Holocaust history, the most likely will do an Encore in Amsterdam then return the car I. Frankfurt on the 2nd to give me more time. Really want to do England one more time but I don't believe I'll have enough time.

Posted by
8889 posts

mjfreespirit, a weather warning. They are forecasting cold weather for next week (starting Saturday night) for most of Western Europe, Including Germany, Britain and here in Switzerland. It is going to be a series of "Frosttage" (days when it doesn't go above freezing), with approx -1°C by day and -8/9°C at night (sorry, I don't do °F).

See here: https://www.bbc.com/weather/2950159

You have been warned!