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Best of Europe Report

In case anyone is interested, here are some observations from my just-completed BOE 14-day tour…

The tour started in Paris on a Sunday, but my wife and I flew to Amsterdam two days before that to see the sights and get acclimated. Amsterdam was wonderful and we did all of the “standard” things. We took the high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris the morning our tour started.

I’ll let others here tell you about the all of the sights and meals. What I’d like to tell you about are what my expectations were, what actually happened, and a few other tidbits.

I am not a group person. I was concerned that either I would be the problem or someone else would be. I was so wrong. Everyone was completely wonderful and I am so thrilled we all had such a great time together. The tour was better because it was a group tour.

The tour guide knew exactly when and where we should go to the restrooms pretty much the whole time.

I did not spend even one cent of US currency anywhere (even though I brought some).

I was used to the money belt after about 15 minutes and never noticed it after that. It was a non-issue.

I did not lock anything in any hotel safe the whole tour.

I was approached by a pickpocket at the train station in Paris, but another concerned Parisian shooed her away and warned me. I had nothing in my pockets to pick except things that were in zippered pockets.

Make sure you have a few Swiss Francs (coins!) for the pay toilets for the journey from Switzerland to Germany.

I was worried about the bus rides being too long. The scenery for almost the whole tour was great so the bus rides were perfect. They were also a great chance to recover physically. We stopped almost every two hours and every rest area had either a good or great restaurant. Most had free bathrooms (except Switzerland!).

When RS indicates the tours are active, he isn’t joking. I am not an “active” person per se, but I did walk several times a week to prepare for the tour. I walked over 110 miles during the tour. I walked over 14 miles in Lauterbrunnen alone. You could certainly walk less than I did, but I decided before the tour started, I was going to do as much as I could. And I did.

The weather was spectacular the whole trip. My wife and prayed for good weather and it was perfect. The ONLY rain was the morning of the first day of the tour in Paris. I brought an umbrella and used it once. I brought a poncho (from the dollar store) and did not use it. The only real heat was in Rome. It was 95° + massive humidity. It was really the only time it was uncomfortably hot.

I think the three best places to do laundry were Paris, Lauterbrunnen, and Florence.

There are apparently some folks on planet earth who squat when they go potty, and rather than lift the seat up and stand on the rim of the toilet, they rip the seat off and stand on the rim of the toilet. Most of the public restrooms we used had this issue.

Every hotel had a bidet. It took up a lot of room in the bathroom.

All of the hotels had enough soap/shampoo in the showers.

Most of the hotels had no shelf in the shower.

Most of the hotels had very few flat surfaces to put stuff on.

Every hotel that needed air conditioning had it except for Munich. Apparently, a few weeks before our tour, Rick was there himself in Munich during the heat wave, and ended up buying fans for everyone on the tour. We used one of them and needed to.

There was no ice to be had anywhere. I actually went to a McDonald’s just so I could have a Coke with ice in it. I had extra ice in every drink I was served on the flights home.

Every hotel had a grocery store and a pharmacy close by it.

I was not mentally prepared to learn as much about European history as I did. Our guide was very knowledgeable and I feel like I learned a ton. He made me want to learn more about Europe and the Roman Empire.
End of Part 1

Posted by
7 posts

Begin Part 2...

I used my phone the whole time (I have AT&T) and being able to use Google Maps made getting around on our own very easy.

There are ATMs everywhere. Do not let the machine choose the exchange rate. Same thing with credit card transactions. You could choose Euros or dollars. Always choose Euros. That way your bank chooses the rate and not the ATM or credit card reader.

Several places had a €30 minimum before they would let you use a credit card.

I found the prices to be very reasonable everywhere except Switzerland.

The wine in Italy was better and less expensive than the wine in France.

The artwork everywhere (including Amsterdam) was awesome. I cannot believe some of the things I got to see with my own two eyes.

You MUST take a gondola ride in Venice at night and pay extra to have someone sing. All 23 of us rented 5 gondolas (the tour guide set it all up). We had 4 people who had birthdays so he also set up the singer and guitar player. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done and even though the singer wasn’t in our boat, we could hear him perfectly well. Please do not miss out on this.

Every meal was either great or spectacular.

Everyone who waited on us spoke English well enough to have reasonable conversations.

I had the best pepperoni (“spiced meat”) pizza I have ever eaten in my life in Italy. I felt like crying when I finished it. My mouth is watering as I type this. I’m afraid of what my body is going to do to me the next time I have pizza here at home. I’ll probably burst into flames or something.

I had zero stomach issues the whole trip. Others on the tour who had food sensitivities did not have them. Especially the folks who had issues with bread and diary—they were able to eat pretty much whatever they wanted to without issue. (Disclaimer: that isn’t medical advice; I’m not a doctor)

I think several folks on the tour ended up with colds near the very end of tour because of some of the allergens in Italy. Myself included.

Reading about all of the stuff I was going to see and do was no substitute for actually seeing it and doing it. I was not prepared for how much I truly enjoyed the whole thing.

Lastly, I am unable to praise our guide enough. He was perfectly suited for what he was doing. His name was Marijan Krišković. If you get him as your guide you are in for a real treat. My life has been enriched by him and for that I am truly thankful.

I think that’s it. If you are on the fence about going on this tour, go. And go while you can be physically active. Don’t wait too long.

Posted by
1833 posts

I always love reading tour reports and yours is one of the best I've read in a long time. I really like that you took the time to relate in a fair and objective way exactly what your expectations and actual experiences on this tour were. Who doesn't love an open mind? You covered lots of the "nuts and bolts" of a Rick Steves tour. You were so, so lucky to have had such accommodating weather, especially through Switzerland. I love your take on being prepared for the walking. Most tours are like this and the best part is that you met the (reasonable) goals you set for yourself. I agree with you about Italian food and personally think it's some of the best, if not the best in Europe. I have a hard time convincing myself to go out for Italian food here at home. I also agree with you about the Italian wines but I am certainly not a wine connoisseur. I DO know what I enjoy, though, and I very much enjoy Italian wines-in Italy. I am so glad this was such an overall wonderful experience for you and your wife. I have heard wonderful things about Marijan Krišković; my son had him as a guide for Eastern Europe and raved about him. Thank you for taking the time to post your insights and observations.

Posted by
913 posts

Thank you Jo for a great trip report. I’m so glad your tour exceeded your expectations. I took my first Rick Steve’s tour, South of Italy, in May and it was superb. I can’t wait for my next tour; planning for 2021.

Posted by
1371 posts

I had the best pepperoni (“spiced meat”) pizza I have ever eaten in my life in Italy.
This made me remember my first pizza in Italy. I still think it is the best pizza I have ever eaten in my life!

Thank you for your trip report and may you make many more wonderful food memories in your travels!

Posted by
64 posts

Thank you for the lovely report. We can read the itineraries, so tidbits like yours are most useful and fun. Just got my new RS catalog and am looking at trips. I was worried BOE would be too rushed but you have made me want to go!

Posted by
848 posts

Great trip report! Very useful information.
Thanks for taking the time to post.

Posted by
11 posts

Loved reading about your trip since we will be following in your footsteps in just a few weeks!!

Posted by
432 posts

Thank you for the great report. I’m headed for BOE21 in October, 2020. I see you’re in Meridian. There’s a loosely organized travel group that meets in Boise. Maybe you would join us. Watch the forum for travel groups.

Posted by
81 posts

What an excellent report, and what excellent tips. Makes the next trip easier to plan knowing much of what you stated. Thanks so much!

Posted by
7606 posts

Thanks so much for taking the time to do a Trip Report!

I loved what you wrote here:

"Reading about all of the stuff I was going to see and do was no substitute for actually seeing it and doing it. I was not prepared for how much I truly enjoyed the whole thing."

and here:

"I was not mentally prepared to learn as much about European history as I did. Our guide was very knowledgeable and I feel like I learned a ton. He made me want to learn more about Europe and the Roman Empire."

And finally, I am so glad you loved the tour! To me there is a difference in RS tours - you are expected to be an active participant either with seeing things or learning things. SO much fun!

Have you decided on your next tour, lol!!

Posted by
28 posts

We are going on the BOE21 May 2020 so I appreciated you summarizing your observations. Thank you.

Posted by
175 posts

Your trip report made me smile the whole way through - I feel exactly the way you do about the RS tours. Many thanks for taking the time to write this!

Posted by
945 posts

That was a lovely trip report and I enjoyed reading it very much.
I’ve taken 6 RS tours (my 7th will be Sicily in April) and have loved them all.
Marian was the guide for my Best of the Adriatic and he was indeed excellent.
Happy trails!
SharYn

Posted by
679 posts

Thank you for your report. I so enjoyed reading your insights and how you enjoyed the tour.

Posted by
1036 posts

I am curious, what city and country did you like the best? If you had your choice, would you go on another tour (which one) or would you try and do it on your own?

Posted by
49 posts

Thanks for a great trip report. Totally agree about the pizza in Italy - took us a while to eat it here again!

Posted by
1532 posts

I am laughing out loud at your comments about the spicy pizza in Italy and how you might burst into flames upon eating a pizza in the States!
Such an entertaining trip report, thanks for sharing. So glad you enjoyed your first RS tour. I’m about to leave on my 7th tour in November. So you know I like them.
Do you plan to go on another one?

Posted by
7 posts

I appreciate all of the feedback. I have no idea which place I liked "best". It was all wonderful. I suppose I have no desire to go back to Paris again. It was maybe a little too big and too much, but I'm having to really stretch to come up with something negative. I do not plan on going on another RS tour any time soon that I know of. Every place we went (except for Paris) was the first time we have ever been there and it will be difficult to repeat the wonder of that. I would probably not consider touring on my own merely because all of the little details that make a fun visit more like an amusement park visit (like waiting in line) were eliminated because we were part of a group AND I would hate missing out on all of the knowledge a tour guide can provide. Also, I still cannot believe how good that pizza in Venice was. Now I'm hungry, dang it...

Posted by
29 posts

We just completed the same tour. I agree with all of what you wrote. We walked 11.5 miles on our second day in Paris. Our’s was the last tour of the season and the Oct. weather was FANTASTIC. We saw and learned so much. I can’t believe how much RS can put in a 14 day tour - wonderful logistics. Our guide, Yorick Harker, was a gem. He was very knowledgeable on history, culture and especially linguistics with a dry sense of humor to boot. My favorite memory is the hike we did in the Alps. We are 71 and 73 years young and were able to keep up with Yorick but anyone considering this tour should be prepared to walk 5 to 8 miles when not traveling. We have memories for a lifetime.

Posted by
1 posts

My daughter and I are doing this tour July 2020. We are so excited! Thank you for your report.
We are also considering flying into Amsterdam for a pre-tour trip. What tips do you have for planning that?

Posted by
7 posts

We went to the Anne Frank Haus and did the backstage tour. You have to buy tickets online 60 days before you want to go. They will sell out if you wait. We did that the first day we got to AMS. We landed in the morning, checked in to the hotel early (wahoo!), took a short nap, and then headed to the Anne Frank Haus. Just outside of the Haus was Flagship Amsterdam (the river tour folks). We were supposed to tour the following morning but there was rain in the forecast and they let us go right then. We had tickets for the Van Gogh Museum (which we also bought online 60 days prior) the following afternoon. We headed to the Rijksmuseum before the Van Gogh Museum. (Note: You'll see Sunflowers at the Van Gogh Museum and at a museum in Munich if you choose). Bought tickets online for the Rijksmuseum the day of to save a few bucks. They were digitizing Rembrandt's Night Watch so that was a bit weird. We also visited Begijnhof. Very cool. My wife found it in one of RS books. We took the train into town and then walked everywhere. All of it was wonderful. Make sure you eat bitterballen. You'll have no trouble finding meat for dinner if you want--restaurants everywhere had it. Liked every meal we ate. French fries with mayonnaise was strange but not gross. Hope this helps...