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First timer RS BOE 14 days -Observations 5/2022 #1

When we contemplated whether a RS Tour was for us, I scoured blogs and forums for feedback that would be helpful to me. I made notes on items that impacted us.
1. Walking in Europe is not easy, especially with crossing streets. You hope cars stop for you. The streets are uneven. You will also be jostled in public. The concept of personal space is very different or nonexistent. We never really got used to that.
2. Hotel A/C. Hotels may have A/C but they might not be turned on when you are visiting. Per the front desk in Rome, “if you are hot, open the window. If cold, close it”. You will hear noise outside of the hotel if your room faces the street. These are old hotels.
3. Most hotels on tour just provided generic liquid soap in bathrooms. If you need other toiletries, bring it. Washcloths- invest in the quarter-sized water-activated towels found on Amazon or in travel stores. These were a lifesaver for freshening up after a long day of walking. Only one hotel offered washcloths.
4. We are tall and hotel rooms tended to be small. We requested a double. In some bathrooms, we had to sit kiddie korner on the toilet to be able to sit down. In Tuscany, we were assigned the handicapped room. When you sat on the toilet, your feet were in the frame of the shower which had accordion doors. Some members suggested that twin rooms were bigger.
5. Definitely have a to-do list in mind during free time or you can fall into a trap of spending time planning or doing nothing. We may have needed the concierge’s help with a restaurant, taxi, etc. but overall we felt we accomplished a lot in the time we had especially the pre and post tour days. Some people in the group took a pasta making class, found a place for apertivo to experience it, or explored the lesser draws such as the Baths of Diocletion and the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli to see/hear the pipe organ. Once you start wandering the side streets, you create great memories aside from the tour even if you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing. We stumbled on a pipe organ playing before Mass in a Church that was not on our must-see list which we still talk about.
6. The rip-out city maps from RS Rome and Paris books were a huge value. The font is bigger than what you will get locally, the sites are marked and the metro stops are noted in a single map. In using the same map, I asked people to place an x on other places we wanted to go. The hotel was marked with an H. It gave us a sense of direction, landmarks and how far the walk will be after a while. Rather than struggle with different maps, I used the same single map for the duration of time in that city.
7. Pharmacies- Take a picture of your medications and OTC item ingredients you bring. I brought enough for a start of treatment, for example, Tylenol cold and flu, Benadryl for bites/allergies, etc. Both of us caught a cold at the same time so I needed to restock. I went to a Pharmacy in Rome, Venice and Munich looking for the specific compounds in the product I knew worked for us. Per the pharmacist, they don’t know Brand names from the US and they don’t compound drugs in the same way. One of the drugs came in a powder to put in tea or hot water (impractical for the tour), the other came in 2 separate drugs; one to take once a day and the other to take three times a day. The directions are not in English either. I was hesitant to use drugs that I never used before. Each pharmacy visit was a half hour conversation with the pharmacist while they looked up the ingredients. Ibuprofen is not openly stocked but requires a conversation with the pharmacy staff as well. Just bring it with you.
8. Most nights, we were not back in our hotel room until 9:30-10:30. There are long, tiring days and you might still have laundry or other things to do prior to breakfast starting at 7:00am.

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Trip Report #2
9. The pace of the walking during the tour was more brisk than anticipated. You will walk at a 3 or 3.5 mile/hr. pace. One day, we stood for 5.5 hrs without a sit down break. Practice standing for hours at a time vs. just walking. As the Florence local guide told us, “if you stop, you’re lost”. It’s true as you must dodge locals and other tourists cutting into the group while the guide keeps moving. Places are crowded.
10. There is NO wifi on the bus. There is a USB charger only.
1. Our bus driver supplied water, beer and soda for 1.50 euros. You check off when you take something and pay up at the end. This was a life-saver for us as we never needed to find change or a place to buy drinks when we were tired.
12. Autostops can be hurried. For example, a 0.5 hr. stop shrinks once you use the restroom, figure out what you want, pay the cashier and then get in line for your food to be prepared. We ended up scarfing our food down in 5 minutes before the bus left. Consider buying pre-packaged food to avoid this.
13. COVID concerns seem minimal in Europe. Very few masks seen and sites/streets were crowded. The same with public transportation. We were always conscientious of the pre-departure negative covid test requirement for returning to the US. The guide was really strict about mask usage on the bus. Covid testing in Paris cost between 20 and 54 euros depending on where you got tested and what day of the week you need the result. Make sure you check your demographics. Some people had name or date of birth documentation issues on the test result. All people who needed to test upon return were negative in our group.

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Trip Report #3
14. Most of our group wore wash and wear clothes such as Eddie Bauer/Columbia trail-type pants, fishing shirts, sun shirts, etc. 6 people wore travel vests for their valuables every day. Some did laundry but the locations weren’t great (a hostel with only 2 machines or commercial laundry 20 minutes away) and it took them all afternoon on a free day. Consider laundry requirements when packing.
15. My packable microfiber camping towel worked great to squeeze out excess water when I hand washed clothes. Hotel towels were just not that generous. It was worth the space in my suitcase and was always dried by morning. Skip the clothesline and take foldable hangers. You need to be creative in drying as rooms are small. I’d leave my umbrella home though. A hooded rain jacket/windbreaker worked great.
16. Steps – plan on doing a lot of steps even in the hotels. Being assigned a 4th floor room could mean 5 flights of stairs. Our 3rd floor room required 54 steps up from the lobby. A 1st floor room was usually up 1 fight of stairs. Bathrooms in restaurants/museums tended to be up or downstairs. Two hotels had elevators and we used them. The hotel in Paris had a broken elevator while we were there.
17. We walked up to 20,000 steps per day. Less on the bus days. Multiple people wore step counters. We walked 38 miles on the tour.
18. Once you are on a tour, your time is really not your own as you think. For example, a planned 2 hour free time dwindled to 45 minutes as we pulled into town late. Group dinners were usually around 7 or 7:30pm. So, once you break for the day, you still need to go back out for dinner. The most free day was in Lauterbrunnen although people went with the guide up the Schilthorn. In Venice, we conscientiously strategized our free time to be able to go back to the room and relax.
19. Public Transportation- in Paris, 7 of us happened to take the metro back to our hotel from the Louvre at the same time. There was what we suspected was a pickpocket trying to get between 2 tour members. A super alert tour member was watching his behavior and warned us. We were able to close ranks and block him from getting closer. Conversation ensued with him and he got off on the next stop. This is one example of tour members looking out for each other on the trip. Others shared change, unused tickets, snacks, etc. You may not hang out with all of them but you do develop a camaraderie while on tour.
20. Rick Steves apps – two sites suggested using the RS app, the Louvre and St. Peter’s Bascilica. I think Rick needs to seriously update these. All tour members abandoned the app in the Louve as comments did not match the current set up.
21. If you are in Rome and planning on seeing the Pope at noon on Sunday for the Angelus/Regina Caeli, know that you must clear airport type security before entering St Peter’s Square that day. The hotel told us that we only need 10 minutes before it starts However, security took us 30 minutes to go through. Crowds are back. We would have missed him. We arrived at the square at 11:00.

Posted by
2686 posts

Thank you for your candid observations while on an RS Tour. 20,000 steps per day can take quite a toll on the knees :)

Posted by
1178 posts

Thank for these detailed, informative report!

quarter-sized water-activated towels

I didn't know these existed!

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you for posting this as we will be arriving for the June 6-June 19 BOE tour.
Very helpful information for those coming on the tour.

Posted by
46 posts

Thanks for your detailed report.

I wondered about the BOE tours - they seem to include so many places in a short time. My experience with 3 Rick Steves tours is quite different from this, but I wonder if that is because all my tours were confined to a single country: Best of Italy, Best of Sicily, and Best of South Italy.

On all of those tours, I felt like we had quite a bit of free time. I suspect that we spend a lot less time on the bus than on a BOE tour simply because there is less distance to travel.

It sounds like you might have picked one of the busiest/most jam-packed tours as your first RS tour!

I found walking in Italy (all areas) to be pretty easy - even in Rome and Naples. The streets are indeed uneven (lots of cobblestones in some cities) so that could still be an issue. But I had no problem with traffic or feeling like I might get run down. (I do remember being in London and almost getting hit because I look left when I should be looking right! Some things are hard to relearn.)

As far as hotels go, you are right: the A/C is often not yet turned on for the season, so it is worth being prepared for that so it isn't a shock.

As for maps, I find my iPhone to be sufficient; but it can run out of power by the end of the afternoon if I'm using maps a lot. I think I might invest in an extra battery add-on for it before my next trip. I know some people don't want to pay the extra charges for using their phone overseas. I decided it was worth the $100 to make my trip easier.

We were back in our hotel room most nights by 7-8; when we had a dinner out, by 9. But then again, we didn't eat out every night. We did join all the meals that were included, but on other nights we would just grab something light (slice of pizza, split a sandwich, etc.) and be back to the hotel. But we are early birds, so YMMV, so to speak.

As for laundry: we stayed 2 nights in every city on the last tour (Best of South Italy) and so on the first night at a new hotel we did laundry (edit: in the hotel sink), which gives your clothes a day and a half to dry. I brought only 1 pair of pants (besides the one I was wearing on the flight); wear them for 2 days, then wash them in the hotel sink. Easy (It's easy for me to say that since my husband did all the laundry!) We have the synthetic fabric zip-off legging pants (from REI, columbia, etc.) and they dry quickly. I tend to wear only synthetic shirts when traveling for this same reason: quick drying. Heck, I even bought quick drying underwear before this trip. I get it that laundry would be harder for women who tend to have less "utilitarian" clothes.

As for breakfast starting at 7 am - I wish! In Italy, at most places it doesn't start until 7:30. I remember on the previous tour going out in search of an espresso to tide me over until breakfast! On this tour, I generally just showed up right when it was opening.

I'm not trying to challenge or contradict anything you wrote, just giving my own perspective/experience.

Thanks again for your write up. I love reading these.

Posted by
13227 posts

This is very helpful information for first-time travelers to Europe.

I will just comment on the air conditioning—-there are laws in various cities that control when hotels can turn on the air conditioning, and maybe how long it can run each day (it may not run at night, for example). So it is possible that early May when you were in Rome was too early for it to be turned on.

Also, in response to potential energy shortages due to the war in Ukraine, Italy has passed a law setting a minimum temperature of 25-27 degrees C for cooling public public buildings. That means it will be 77 degrees or warmer in Fahrenheit. They cannot cool it more than that.

https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/heat-is-italy-plans-turn-down-air-conditioning-save-energy-2022-04-20/

Also on ibuprofen—-they sell it at pharmacies in Italy, but it is behind the counter and you must ask for it. It comes in blister-pack packages and is quite expensive. (And hard to open, in our experience). So best to bring what you anticipate you might need.

Posted by
8435 posts

Regarding AC, even if it is “on” it very often isn’t strong and the room can still be too warm. It can vary greatly.

Posted by
4622 posts

Happy to hear that everyone on your tour tested negative! Glad you had a very nice trip and thank you for these details to help others!

When you're back to a normal routine, it's fun to put together a printed book (done on-line) to relive your wonderful memories!

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5 posts

My husband and I are departing four our first Rick Steve's Tour in about 2 weeks. We are also taking the Best of Europe in 14 days. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I have been telling my husband that I wish I could have a pre-trip list of "all the things I wish had known following the trip" to mitigate frustrations. Thank you!

A few things that helped: Breakfast at 7:00am, laundry facilities inconvenient, paid drinks available on the bus, short stops, evenings end around 10:00pm, fast paced walking tours, and 38 miles walked!!! Wow! (Shoes have been a particular wardrobe concern for me)

A couple of questions: I've been very curious about the restaurants chosen for group dinners. Would you be willing to share what restaurants were included? Do you think they are frequented on most RS tours?

Second, we have added a day on the end of our tour in Paris so we can visit Versailles and the musical fountains exhibit. I am presuming this means we need to find our return Covid test the morning of our last full day. We will be staying at Hotel Tilsitt Etoile. Wondering how difficult/time consuming it is to obtain? Do you book appointments in advance? Walk-in? Etc. Anything that might be helpful to know is appreciated. I am hoping we can get our test taken care of sometime between 8-10am and then get to Versailles by 11:00am. I plan to book our palace entry for later in the afternoon to be on the safe side. Do you think this is reasonable? We fly out the next day around 11:00am.

Again, Thank you!

Posted by
42 posts

We did the first BOE14 this year. Fast paced but fantastic. Odds are you'll be at the same hotels we were in. If so, say hello to Lucca in Rome. We weren't disappointed with any group dinner. Good plan for timing your covid test. We went to one of the close by (four within two blocks of the hotel) pharmacies. No appointment necessary. Results via email within 30 minutes. The hotel will direct you if necessary.

Posted by
93 posts

The dinners on the tour were fine. The guide really did a good job of accommodating dietary preferences, e.g I don't eat fish. Some meals were not something I would order but were filling and there is always something I liked. It was easy getting a covid test in Paris. You are staying at the same hotel we did and there are 3 testing places close by. We used the one around the corner for $20 euros on a Monday. Those needing Sunday testing for a Monday flight, used a different one that was open on Sunday and paid $54 euros. That part was easy. No appt. was necessary and we had the hard copy report in hand when we left the pharmacy. Have a good trip!

Posted by
15072 posts

Thanks for the report. The note that struck me most was about Rick's audio tours. I used some of them as far back as 2008 when I took my first trip to Italy, and I don't think they were brand new back then. While new ones are added, there's no clue to when they were made and I'm sure a lot has changed since some of them were made.

Posted by
3083 posts

Excellent trip report. Thanks for all the helpful information!

Posted by
5159 posts

Very useful report; thank you.

In response to the question about restaurants: RSE tends to to use the same hotels, but the restaurants are often chosen by your guide. And there won’t be just one RS hotel, especially in the cities. We’ve stayed in four different hotels in Rome on RS tours, for example, and four in Paris.

Posted by
15 posts

Thank you so much for your valuable trip report, LuluBelle! I am also a tall person. Your candid review of the hotels on tour - and the potential challenges for a tall traveler - has given me a lot to think about as I consider booking my first RS tour.