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50 days in Europe - some observations and recommendations

My wife and I recently returned from 7+ weeks in seven countries in Europe. Here are some general observations/recommendations that I hope may prove useful to others...keep a grain or two of salt handy.
Like Rick Steves says, travel light. We each took one carry-on sized RS bag. Mine is a few years old, and would not fit into the overhead size-check thingie at the gates for the European airlines we used. My wife's was purchased new for this trip, and advertised as fitting into the smaller European overhead compartments. It did. I took one pair of good walking shoes (Rockports). I wore them everyday. No one noticed or complained. My wife had two pairs of shoes, some sneakers and a better "going out" pair. We had a week's worth of clothing, and washed when we could and/or had to. Two small packs of soap "leafs" were plenty. A large microfiber towel is absolutely invaluable. We mailed home purchases twice, just to keep the suitcases manageable. The self-imposed one bag rule makes it so easy to get on/off trains, up/down narrow hotel stairs, etc. We saw MANY travelers with two (or more) huge suitcases each. They were suffering greatly.
We didn't have anything stolen. I didn't use a money belt, but kept my wallet in a front pants pocket. My wife had a small waist pack that locked closed with a complicated latch system. She had trouble herself getting into it sometimes. We left most of the cash and passports in the hotel room safes, or in the B&B room.
Our credit and ATM cards were chip-and-signature. They were accepted everywhere but two places: one merchant's souvenir shop (Miniature World in Hamburg), and a self-service gas station in St. Remy, France. Use bank-affiliated ATM machines, they usually have a higher withdrawal limit (based on your card, probably).
Stay at least three or four nights wherever you stop. Get to know fewer places, but get to know them well. There is always another trip, right?
If you can, plan any major train trips in advance. If you know the day and time you want to leave a particular place, you can buy the tickets online here in the US. Shoot for a 60 or 90 day advance purchase using the train company website. Huge savings are possible over buying same-day tickets. Start exploring the seat61.com website, and go from there.
Use the various RS web sites (you are already doing that!) and others like tripadvisor.com. Be smart when using on-line recommendations, even my two-cents-worth here. If enough sources say a place is good, it probably is. We had great B&Bs and hotels that I found using other people's suggestions. With that said, here are a few of mine:
Amsterdam: Leidse Square Hotel--good location near public transportation, good rates. Food: The Pantry, Mouder's (Mother's), and the restaurant on the top floor of the library (really!). Hamburg: Miniature World--mostly a guy thing, a mind-blowing collection of model cars, trains, planes, and boats, set in layouts that are hard to believe. Take cash to buy anything in the store. Bruges, Belgium: Speelmansrei B&B, and just about any church or museum. Lyon, France: get the city pass card at the TI, and add on a guided tour. Great value. Provence, France: Find and see the Pont du Gard, and the Carrieres de Lumieres, they are both breath-taking, in their own ways. Lucca, Italy: stay inside the wall, we really enjoyed B&B San Jacopo. Food: Norma's, the best dinner for the entire trip! Venice: Pensione Gueratto--great place close to everything, I see why RS takes his tour groups there.
A few final comments, if you're still reading. While RS says Vernazza is his favorite Cinque Terre town, it seriously looks run down. The whole place needs a paint job, and not because of the floods. Monterosso's old town (IMHO) is a better choice. Consider Hotel Pasquale. Eat anything with fish, or pasta and pesto.
If you can, go to Europe in the Fall. Everything related to tourist travel is better.
Thanks for reading to the end! I hope it helps!

Posted by
244 posts

Thanks for your report! Thank you for the information on the train ticket website. Did you purchase your tickets ahead of time or at the station? We are going to France in May, and I need to decide on our train travel. Thank you!

Posted by
2 posts

I've been to Europe for a few 18-22 day trips and enjoyed reading your info. I definitely couldn't find anything I would question as well as take away a few things to research for my next trip. Thanks for the info!

Posted by
2487 posts

A lot of sound practical tips!
One thing surprised me somewhat, namely the remark We didn't have anything stolen. On this and other travel sites I notice a lot of warnings for and advice against theft in Europe, especially pickpockets. Is it really the experience or expectation of American tourists that in this respect Europe is an unsafe place? Or has it become such a second nature to me to take precautions that I don't think about it anymore?
In all the decades of travelling I've only had one pickpocket experience: the almost iconical sock seller in Istanbul. It didn't work however: the wallet fell on the street.

Posted by
20631 posts

..We didn't have anything stolen. ....

Actually I am glad he posted that. I do think there is an expectation of theft perpetuated, in part, by travel web sites that are constantly discussing theft issues. We do it all the time on this site. It is a tough line between properly warning travelers and scaring people. It is good to see that someone reporting that reasonable precautions has positive results. I still would discourage the billfold in the front pocket but at least slightly better than a rear pocket. I have posted many times that we have traveled nearly a year in Europe over the past 20 with no problem but have been criticized for making light of the problem just because I haven't had any problems.

Posted by
2487 posts

... reasonable precautions has positive results
That's all. Common sense for the balance between naivety and paranoia.

Posted by
29 posts

To pfresh3,
Coincidentally, we live in the same town. Email me at darobathan@gmail.com with contact information if you want to talk about train travel in Europe (at least my experiences).

Posted by
11613 posts

Thanks so much for posting.

About train tickets in advance: each country sets its own advance date - Italy is 120 days, for example; many others are 90 days.

Posted by
20631 posts

Actually Italy is suppose to be 120 days or when they get around to the posting the schedule. It is Italy.