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  #1  
Old 06-17-2009, 07:07 PM
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EuroBill EuroBill is offline
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Default Went to Europe Last Year...

After 2 business trips to learn my way, I took my wife and 8 yr old daughter to Europe last summer.

We spent 6 days in Switzerland, 2 1/2 days in Venice, 6 days in Paris, and 1 day in Stuttgart Germany. We flew in and out of Zurich and traveled everywhere by train (and a few taxis.)

I involved my family extensively in planning, and we managed 2 1/2 weeks at the lowest possible costs (despite terrible exchange rates that summer!)

Questions welcome!
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Old 06-22-2009, 06:28 PM
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Hi EuroBill,

As someone who has visited all of the same places you mentioned, and while having a very good friend living near Stuttgart, I'm wondering why you didn't go to Munich instead? Way more fun and lots to see. Was it the allure of the car companies?

We here at Family Vacation Critic LOVE to hear about fellow traveler's trips so it would be GREAT to hear about how your time in Paris, Venice and Switzerland was!!

Paris for me is like home.......I miss it and haven't been for awhile but my heart is always there. Venice - I couldn't stand being in the vicinity of the Grand Canal, though it was nice to be at the water's edge near St Marks & the bridge of sighs, I really enjoyed going further BACK deeper into Venice for a "real" taste of Venetian life. Wish I had bought this mask I saw - it was Spectacular. Switzerland was wonderful but SOOO romantic and thus hard to be there alone!! I spent time in German zone and Italian/Ticino area. Loved it all. Lugano almost made me forget I was in Switzerland, except there were the Alps! I was glad I spoke Italian, which helped even in Rapperswil (small village on south end of Lake Zurich) a charming village with a little castle - so pretty! The Swiss speak all the languages so I could use Italian even when I was in the German part of Switzerland. I did once try to learn German on my own, but it just didn't work for me. French I have, but I couldn't get the German. Reading it - somewhat possible.

Anyway, would LOVE to hear about your trip EuroBill! It might help some of our fellow travelers with thoughts and ideas of what to do on their upcoming trips! And I personally would love to hear where you went, did, saw, etc in the places where I have already been!!

Hope you post back.
Thanks!!!!

HostColleen
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Old 06-23-2009, 12:26 PM
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Happy to tell more of the story of my visit. I'll do it in multiple parts over a few days.

(Answer on why Stuttgart? Because (a) my company has a site there and thus some people who we could visit with, and (b) because we needed to be in Zurich that evening and Munich added another few hours of train travel that we wanted to avoid. Having visited Stuttgart on business before, I knew the landscape, and how to maximize our enjoyment in a single day's visit.... right down to the important details like where is Starbucks and the luggage storage!)

I'll start with more about why chose the destinations we did. First, I had prior experience with Switzerland and Paris - which makes it less stressful on the family when I know where we are going, where we are, how long a walk, etc.

I am in love with Switzerland and Paris. I have always wanted to see the Swiss Alps and see if Swizterland really is as pretty as it is in pictures (it is!)
I love the insanely built out train system and I love mouintains, and the Swiss have both perfectly... I love train travel and although I made mistakes along the way I have mastered how to use the trains across much of Europe now.

I love Paris for the same and different reasons... it is also as pretty as its pictures, and I love the renaissance era, which is preserved so well. I could spend days in the Louvre, or all afternoon crusing up and down the Seine in a tour boat.

So I planned a vacation that would be a week in Switzerland and a week in Paris. Planning started more than a year ahead. As I said above, I involved my wife and 8 year old daughter often (what now? not again!) and along the way it was my daughter who made two requests:
1) Can we visit Venice? She had just read a Magic Tree House book set in Venice. This must be kharma. I harbored a secret deep wish to visit Venice also but did not want to stress everyone out with an itinerary too packed. I cautiously answered that it was possible to squeeze it in the middle as a 2 1/2 day stop, reducing Switzerland and Paris to 6 days. Turns out my wife could not figure out what we would do for 6 days in each place (ha ha ha ha ha!) and so Venice was added.
2) Almost near the end of the planning, again my daughter asked.. Can we visit Germany? She was learning that we have a large amount of German heritage and who knows why else. I nearly said no, but realized I could convert my last night in Paris to an overnight train, spend the day in Stuttgart, then zip to Zurich that evening to overnight before our plane home. Easily sold!

So that's the plan: USAirways Rochester NY to Philadelphia to Zurich. 6 days Switzerland. Day train to Venice (8am to 2pm). Next 2 days in Venice. Night train to Paris. 6 days Paris. Night train to Stuttgart, 1 day there, train to Zurich, 1 night there before flying USAirways through Frankfort, Philadelphia, and back to Rochester.
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Old 06-23-2009, 12:59 PM
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Default Trains, Planes, and Hotels

With destinations chosen, the hard work begins.

We watched air costs for months. We were planning to travel end of June into July, to get in at the end of shoulder season and as summer season was beginning. It never came down below $800 per person... and we kept options open for several airports. We even considered driving to New York City to get greater choice of carriers. But we ended up paying $900 a person. rats.
So air set, in and out of Zurich (a great, easy airport... much better than, say, Charles de Gaulle in Paris).

Rail passes are an easy decision when you are traveling as many days as we were (if only a few train trips, price out each leg and compare to pass. Even if close, a pass gives you flexibility and ease of use.) Did I say easy? Some passes come with benefits. A Swiss Pass is way better than a Europass for daily use inside Switzerland. So we chose a 4 day Swisspass (2 adults, children free), plus a Euro-saver flexipass. WHAT? OK, all Europe rail passes for US visitors come in a dizzying array of choices. Here is the drill:
A) # of countries - for us it's Swizerland, Italy, France, and Germany - 4 countries (make sure no train routes pass through other countries...)
B) # of days of travel, contiguous or not? If not contiguous, then get the "flexi-" variation.
C) solo travel or family travel? Families can chose the "saver" variant to lower costs as long as you all travel together.
So we got three 4 country 6 day saver flexi europasses. I think Dr. Seuss runs the rail pass business.

Now we have enough days of travel - 4 days in Switzerland on Swisspass, 1 day off the Europass in Switzerland, 1 day to Venice, 1 day from Venice to Paris (An overnight train that starts after 6pm counts as one day only), one day Paris to Stuttgart and on to Zurich. Two days still open if we want, including possible use to get to the airport the morning of our last day, and an extra day if we decide to go riding into the countryside in Paris, which is a contingency in case of a rainy day.

Next, I researched train schedules until I was seeing them in my sleep.

Why trains? I want to relax and see Europe, not drive through it stressed by signs in foreign languages and traffic controls I don't understand. And did I mention I love trains? Also, trains go from downtown to downtown, saving you time and taxi costs. And it's much more fun to step off a train to the sights of the Grand Canal rather than stepping off a plane to the sights of customs and baggage claim.

Hotels. This is where you can run into a lot of trouble. Hotels in Europe are expensive! So it seems. But it's not true... what is true is all the hotels you will find in the big booking web sites and at travel agencies are expensive. And the closer to downtown the more expensive they get. So how do you do it? Use the Internet. Find hotel guides that are focused on Europe cities, and use web sites with hotel reviews. For Paris and Venice, I targeted neighjborhoods close to the train stations so we could walk and save the cost of taxis. (Ha! no taxis in Venice, and we saw a LOT of cranky people trying to negotiation the crowded water buses with luggage!) I used TripAdvisor and VirtualTourist... soon we will all be using Family Vacation Critic too! I found numerous small hotels that had terrific reviews and prices under $200 a night. Some well under. Decide if air conditioning is needed or not... we said no in Switzerland (wished we had it!) but got rooms with A/C in Venice and Paris. I will review each one later. Two were done through booking sites that are specialized in Europe hotels. The Swiss hotel was booked by email with the owners. I chose hotels that were reported to have friendly english speaking staff.
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Old 06-23-2009, 01:58 PM
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A few more words about train travel.

Learn and use the 24 hour clock. I once had to buy train tickets through my travel agent at work, and asked for the 8pm train. The reservation and tickets came, for my train at 08:00. oops. That should be 20:00. The train was empty and it was no problem at 8pm, but it could have been a problem on a packed train.

Learn and know first class vs. second class train travel. Many train passes are 1CL only, and we enjoy the nicer cars on some trains. But 2CL travel is just fine and many trains have only 2CL. Don't be embarrased by sitting in 1CL with a 2CL ticket!

Many trains require no reservation. If you have a rail pass, show up in time and get on.

Some allow reservations but are not required. You can purchase seat reservations for these at a low cost per person (around $10 each from the US, lower once you arrive at a local train station.) Some trains require reservations, and some have an uplift charge for pass holders.

You can buy train passes form many reputable sources. You can buy specific tifkets and seat reservations through a Europe-experienced travel agent, or with raileurope.com. (They are an agency also, and will charge a few to consult by phone, but no fee if all done by web site.)

For my trip, in addition to my passes, I needed to buy:
* Seat reservations, Brig to Venice (I did not buy reservations for the short hop from our home in Switzerland to Brig, only for the long distance train.)
* Sleeper reservation, Venice to Paris, at an uplift cost of $100 per person
* Sleeper reservation, Paris to Stuttgart, at an uplift cost of $230 total

For schedules, I used Swiss rail (for all Europe) most often.
http://www.sbb.ch/en/

When I find routes I like, I an check prices with or without rail passes, at
www.railusa.com

It can be frustrating, sometimes schedules aren't the same. One thing that was difficult was the sleeper from Paris to Stuttgart. Pricing for passholders was in a few tiers, but all suggested your railpass needed to be valid for Benelux as well as France and Germany. (Benelux - Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, treated as if once country for rail pass purposes.)

Having traveled the route before, and looking carefully on maps, I knew this train should not need to go into those countries. I was able to get RailUsa to confirm I could book the passholder rate with our railpass. I held my breath when we checked in wondering if they would object... but no problem.

When you plan trips from one place to another, you may get 2 or 3 connecting trains. When you write down your plan, record the track numbers. Some connect times are only 5 to 10 minutes, and you must know what track you will head to (quickly.) In Switzerland you may see a connect time that is even shorter. That usually means the trains are stopped on opposite sides of the same platform, and everyone gets off one and gets on the other. That's becuase there are separate track systems and many private railroads all linked up with coordinated schedules.

Some of the private railroads are covered by passes, some are not, some offer discounts. Pay attention to this in the mountain & tourist areas. In Switzerland all public transport is in their schedule - buses, trams, trains, cable cars! A connection may even say walk 10 minutes to the cable car station. Amazing and fun!
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Old 06-23-2009, 02:17 PM
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Great, planning is all done?

Nope.

Finish your list of places to visit. There are so many places online you can research and read. I should mention that web sites for places in Europe almost always have multiple language versions. Look for small selectors showing flags or words like "en fr es" - that's English, Francais, and Espanol.
If flags, you are looking for the British one, not the US one!

If you run across a site that does not have english, do not despair, copy some text and run it through Google's language translator. You may learn what you need to know! Hours of operation, admission costs, much will be revealed.

Speaking of language. Get compact traveler's phrase books or a combined one with the languages you need. STUDY in advance, at least a handful of important phrases. If you make an effort people will warm up and help. Say please, thank you, how much, I would like, etc. in the local language.

Money. Switzerland uses the swiss franc, Britain the pound sterling, most everyone else uses the Euro. For our trip we needed to manage 3 currencies (US, Swiss, Euro). We get changes purses or envelopes and get out the right money as we change borders. We buy a few hundred dollars of each currency for ready money, and use ATMs for the rest. You can buy currency at your bank or with several online providers. I shopped for best price (be sure to include any shipping cost) and went with it. We had one bad experience: An ATM in Venice did not give us money or a receipt, it gave a "system error." When we tried at a different place later it said we had exceed our daily withdrawal limit. And it was Sunday, banks not open, and we were leaving Italy that night. uh oh. Sure enough we had to file a dispute. This is where having a phone was important, I was able to discuss with my bank and learn what to do. We filed a dispute and it was credited back to our account after we returned. We called our credit card companies and they asked for the exact dates of travel and countries and posted them with our accounts.

Packing. We took a 16 day trip. We used a rolling suitcase each (checked) plus a backpack, and we were still too heavy. We planned to do laundry mid way but I was not sure when or how. I realized after the trip I should have emailed each hotel to ask about nearby laundry. It turns out that both Venice and Paris had great nearby laundries. We could have packed less clothes and kept it to about 6 days worth. Other packing advice: Good tested walking sneakers and a backup (sandals or something) in case they get wet. Hats, sunscreen, snacks. Bring books to read but leave behind, freeing up room for things to bring home. Shampoo, snacks, sunscreen all can be used and/or discarded to make room for coming home. If you are likely to buy clothes then pack a few less and wear those you buy.

Cellphone: it's a good idea to have one that works, but use it sparingly. If you have a GSM phone then your provider may be able to enable roaming. If not, rent a phone that works for your trip (many sources, none tried.) I was even luckier that I have a Global Blackberry so I had data service too. I could look up language translations, phone numbers, maps, train schedules, you name it. I needed to call for help to get it working in Italy, but elsewhere it worked with no trouble.
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Old 06-23-2009, 04:09 PM
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Are we finally ready to go? Yes!

It was kind of cool, we left the very day after school ended. Our travel to Europe was really uneventful. The Philadephia airport's international flights concourse is wonderful. Uncrowded, good food choices. I allowed 3 hours for our connection to prevent routine delays leaving Rochester from hurting our schedule. It was an overnight flight, arriving about 8am in Zurich, which is 2AM by body clock... yawn.

They fed us on the plane so we did not need to stop for breakfast. We headed down to the train station window. You must validate your train passes at a station window before first use. Make sure you are in agreement with the clerk about the first day of use for your pass and look at it before you leave. On a flexipass you will write in the date of each day used, do so before you board the train. A regular pass is simply valid for its number of days from the date of validation.

In Zurich, trains run nearly every 5 minutes from the airport to the main station (airport = flughafen, main station = hauptbahnhof, see, you needed to study ahead!) We hopped a train and were in the main station 10 minutes after that.

Zurich has a wonderful central train station. Right in the center of the old city, lots of shops, food and services. There is an attended bathroom a level down along with tons of lockers. We took turns to change, wash up, brush our teeth, and feel human, then we lockered up and took our day packs with our valuables and passports with us. Treat your passport like your wallet. You do NOT want to lose it.

We then hopped trains for the morning and early afternoon, and despite being tired, we ran all around. We went to Rapperswil, a lakeside picturesque town with a great old town walking district. Then a series of trains toward Shaffhausen... but just before we got there, we got off at the Rhinefalls station, which isn't a station, just a bench and shelter and a trail entrance. We walked down the trains to the side of the biggest waterfall in Europe (I think) and even though we live near Niagara Falls this place is great! After pictures and a short stay we went back up to the platform and board the next train (about every hour). A short ride to Shaffhausen and there we found a picturesque town with a great old town walking district. Yes, they all have the same description but each one has unique charm.

We walked a bit and peeked inside a Europe McDonald's for fun (okay I admit we ate something but it was mostly for my daughter's sake. It's the last time it will happen, I promise.)

Back to Zurich, retrieve our luggage, and onto the next train to...

Spiez
I picked this location for its amazing lake/mountain scenery, and for being a major crossroad for rail travel that gets us easily to all the places we want to go. (Last time I visited I was in Zurich, and that added 1-2 hours travel time to everywhere.) We stayed at the Seegarten Hotel & Marina. Great people, great setting, a castle view out our window. Only two issue - it was a lot hotter than we expected in June, and we had to open our balcony door and inside door and try to get air to flow before we could sleep at night. Second, the hotel is about a half mile walk from the train station, all down hill. Which means uphill back. We paid for a taxi ride a few times, and we found a more direct walkway up the hill. Switzerland has public walkways EVERYWHERE. Loook for the little signposts.

We had a fridge so we could buy drinks and a small amount of food. We had wine and cheese parties each evening, and Julia was thrilled that in Europe it is okay for a child to have a sip of wine. Wine is CHEAP everywhere in Europe. What a thrill to try many kinds and buy a bottle, some cheese and a loaf of bread each day just like the locals do.

Food at restaurants was expensive everywhere, further aggravated by the terrible US dollar exchange rate that summer. We tried to buy food at grocery stores in train stations, and find local places when we could. We tried to do a sit down meal only once per day, typically spending $80-100 for the 3 of us for that one meal.

So what did we choose to do in Switzerland, other than the first day?

1) We tooks this circle: Train to Murten (via Bern), a picturesque village with an old town walking district... no really, it is the best preserved small walled town in Switzerland, maybe all Europe, truly fun! Then we took a short hop to Avenches, the roman capital of Europe. It was hot, too much walking, should have skipped it. In the late afternoon we went into Interlaken, the closest big town to Spiez, where we got some groceries, and then took the last lake boat back to Speiz, where the dock is close to our hotel (boats and buses all included on Swisspass!)

2) Oops, I forgot to tell you about another train reservation. This one I made direct on their web site. it's the Golden Pass scenic train, and again it's included on all rail passes but reservations are recommended. Bonus: For a few extra dollars, there are seats in front. Really, in front of the train. The driver sits in a cab up top of you, and there are two rows of seats facing forward. This was really cool. The train is actually in several segments and runs right through Spiez so I booked it Speiz to one end in Montreux. You go through the mountains and down steep hills to the pictueresque lakeside village of, well you get the idea. From Montreux we boarded a local train a short distance up to the Chateau de Chillon, a magnificent lakeside castle which is undergoing rennovation.. I could have spent all day here but held back to a few hours. We took that local train the other way back to Montreux then boarded a Cisalpino (Cheese-al-peeno) luxury train to begin a circle route back toward Spiez, via Brig and the mountain pass/tunnels. While on the Cheese-al-peeno, an entertaining vendor came by selling drinks and snacks. He had an amusing banter with everyone and sold a lot more that way... we caved in and treated ourselves. This train is fast and smooth! We took a local with great mountain canyon views from Brig to Spiez, bypassing the high speed brand-spanking-new express tunnel under the mountains.


(continued)
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Old 06-23-2009, 04:10 PM
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Default Switzerland Continued

3) We took a train to Luzern (aka Lucerne). Switzerland speaks German in the north, French in the west, Italian in the south, and Romansch in the southeast. Some cities have multiple names. Don't let it bother you! Luzern is a picturesque lakeside town with a great preserved old town walking district. (You will NOT get tired if them in person, I assure you.) We toured in the morning, and my daughter and I walked the old city wall while my wife shopped. We met back up and had a Starbucks and lunch at a tourist trap (but yummy all the same.) Then we took a bus to the tram station for Mt. Pilatus, one of many mountaintop resort/tourist attractions in central Switzerland. There was a long scenic cable car, that ends at a recreation area where we did an apline slide (wheeee). The we boarded a steep/large cable car that lifted us into the clouds.. and the mountain top. This is a fun place with amazing views, short and long walks, and a back door. We came up the cable car, and went down on the cog train the other side! Swisspass gives you 50% off the roundtrip transport, use either side or both for your trip. At the bottom, we boarded a regular train to Luzern again, then a train back to Spiez (by coincidence, a Goldenpass scenic train).

4) Another day we headed to Meiringen. A short walk to a shuttle train (must pay for this one) which took us to the entrance to the Aareschlucht. This is low cost and lovely. It's a series of catwalks and caves that follow a glacial cut in the mountain. You can't imagine how lovely the glacial water is! Lots of waterfalls and scenic areas. At the other end you can take that train back to the start. This does take some walking and some up/down hill.
After that we walked (getting tired of walking now) to a waterfall that is the place that Dr. Moriarity supposedly met his end..a funicular gets you 2/3 of the way to the top then there is a steep walk to the very top. This town is a fabled locaiton of Sherlock Holmes stories and they are right proud of it, with English pubs and statues to prove it!

5) We watched the sky in the morning and picked a day that the high mountains looked clear... then headed up for the tourists' Mecca known as Jungfraujoch. Yes, it's expensive, yes there are tour buses and trainloads heading there. But it is oh, so worth it. Take the train to Interlaken Ost, and QUICK get in line and buy your tickets to the top... 50% off the rail up to Grindelwald or Wengen, then 25% off the rest... only here do they know how to do it, the stationmaster in Spiez could not figure it out. now RUN back to the departing train platform - you had 15 minutes - did you make it? We did... just.

The train from Interlaken splits in two, and half heads to Grindelwald and half to Lauterbrunnen. Most people go up one way and down the other. We chose to up via Lauterbrunnen so we could take time to walk around Grindelwald on the way down. At Lauterbrunnen you get off, cross the platform and board a connecting train which heads up steep mountainsides. The trains are electric and quiet. Shhh. Listen. Cowbells! You arrive at Kleine Scheidegg, which obviously is a ski resort in Winter. and Spring. You can see snow here in June sometimes! The high peaks of the Alps loom straight up. Look up on the saddle, do you see that little building with a short tower? Remember it.

But wait, there's more. One last train (don't lose that ticket!) takes you up a shoulder and into the mountain. You ride for 30 minutes INSIDE THE MOUNTAIN. in a tunnel. You stop twice for a short look out some viewing windows. At the top you arrive at a train station, inside the tunnel. No kidding. By the way, check your cellphone. Great service here. In the tunnel.

From here there are several places to go. Up to that building - it's actually a BIG building with a tower and outside catwalk (metal grate, my family would not follow me out there!) A door out onto a narrow ice covered rock shoulder. You are on the glacier here, and walking on the snow you notice just how far down it is from that slippery edge guarded by a couple strands of thin rope. I grasp my daughter's coat a little more firmly. She makes snowmen, we take pictures by the swiss flag, with Italy in the background. We picked a clear day becuase you can see 50 miles. It is often in the clouds, and it this is true, you can see 50 centimeters.

There is an ice cave - paths and scultpures inside the frozen ice of the glacier. And there is a door out to a broad expanse of glacier, with a snow park and many activities you do can for a small or large fee. Some days you need a coat. Bring one, and a hat and gloves. That day it was amazingly warm and we took our jackets off.

I love this place. I don't care how much I spent that day.
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Old 06-23-2009, 04:45 PM
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Default Venice - Italy

Our train ride to italy was smooth and uneventful, except that Europe scenery out a train window is always an event for me.

We passed through the Italian part of Switzerland, through Lugano and into Italy through Como, then through Milan. We saw a marble quarry, quite a site!

The flat land from Milan to Venice was unremarkable, and the trains air conditioning seemed to fail, so it got uncomfortable. Maybe they were just getting us ready... Across the causeway you can see the sight so familiar in pictures.. Venice. Into the train station, and when you walk out the front door, there is the Grand Canal and all Venice. Glorious.

Our hotel is Ca'Dogaressa, a very small place with terrific reviews. It takes about 15 minutes to walk, and you cross only one easy to handle bridge. It is on the side of a canal (so is everything) at the NW part of the Cannareggio district.

Here are a few things to know about Venice:
1. Figure out how to use the Vaporetto, the boat that is a bus. There are passes, or you can pay by the trip. Passes are purchased cash only at a window, then validated at machines before every ride. Many stops are two docks - one heads one way, the other heads the other way. Get a map and understand the route numbers, ask for help.
2. That wonderful thing you see for sale? It's sold everywhere. There are some crafstpeople who make the things they sell, find them, usually not on a main street.
3. Wander and get lost. It's okay. Watch for signs that point the way toward major landmarks. Carry a map so you know the names of the places and mark your hotel's location if you have any doubts!
4. There are a lot of overpriced tourist restaurants. Study menus, resist sales pitches, make your own choice. Find a lower priced place out of the way. If locals are eating it is probably better food. Many will say that all the places in the tourist areas serve food that is not good enough. If was all way better than any Italian food I ever had outside Italy.

It was so hot in Venice. Sweltering, and no shelter. So we went out in the morning and evening and did laundry during the hot part.

We visited the Doge's Palace, reserving ahead and taking the secret itineraries tour in English. We had a gelato snack. We toured churches with incredible architecture and still more incredible artwork and treasures inside. We had gelato. We walked, ate and shopped. We had more gelato. We bought a LOT of drinks... found a place near us that sold them for 1euro ($1.60), as opposed to tourist prices of 3 euros (that's nearly $5 for a bottled soft drinK!)

Our hotel was a gem. Venice is beautiful outside, but when you get close you see the damage caused by the weather, floods and humidity. Inside, they decorate like nobody's business. Our room had marble, terrazo floors, luxury linens and curtains.

A word about occupancy. Small hotels in Europe have small rooms. They are not often equipped for families. One double bed is the norm, you must carefully search for rooms with two beds. We often found a double bed plus a single bed, which would work for us. A bigger family will have trouble. For this room, the booking said said we could book for 3, and request a rollaway. We emailed the hotel to be sure of this after booking.

Alas, our time was short and it was time to go. Small hotels do not have big luggage storage areas. This one is the open area next to the stairs, but the lobby is always attended and you must simply learn to trust. Keep your valuables with you.

Trouble was bewing on the railways of Italy. A strike was ordered. Luckily our train is a long distance train and they intended to disrupt local travel, not long distance travel. We had dinner at the train station, taking turns while guarding luggage. About 30 minutes before departure a check in booth appeared for the night train. Just a formality to demonstrate you could board. Your ticket tells you which coach # to board... look at the signs by the train doors and hop on, then look for your compartment or seat. For sleeper trains we booked 3 person compartments. Because we book the whole compartment it is ours. If you don't, you will be rooming with members of the same sex. There are two water closets (toilet, sink) at one end of each coach. A light breakfast is typically included. Set an alarm and wake up early enough to receive or you will run out of time to wash, dress, repack, and eat. The compartment is tight. You stow luggage on racks, a shelf, or on the floor. We had a lot of luggage and the 3 of us and little room to move. But you settle down and sleep soon. It was hot again. We left our window open which made it noisy... until about 3am and it was cool enough I closed it.

By the way, when we arrived in Italy there was no border check, other than a brief walkthrough by border police. No passport checks or inspections. When you cross borders on a night train, you are expected to surrender your passport for the evening while they "register" you as they do at a hotel (they take down your passport info at all hotels.) it may be returned later in the evening or else in the morning. Your entries to the countries are not recorded across the European Union, but your hotel stays are.

Sleeping on a train in a compartment can be fun if you can get comfortable. The rocking motion can make you sleep very soundly. I wish I could have seen the scenery but I fell asleep. I figured out that we went back through Switzerland. I had a GPS with us and I liked to use it to track our location on the trains and see how fast we go. The fastest trains went 280 mph! The night train doesn't go that fast or it would arrive too quickly. It lumbers along at about 45-50.
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Old 06-23-2009, 07:03 PM
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EuroBill EuroBill is offline
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Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Upstate New York near Rochester
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Default Paris

We arrived Paris de Bercy station, which is a couple of blocks from Gare de Lyon. The walk to our hotel was about a half mile but it was a quiet Sunday morning and an easy walk.

Our hotel is Hotel des Trois Gares. It's 2 blocks west of Gare dy Lyon and 2 blocks south of the Bastille (Square? Circle?) The Bastille is a great neighborhood for food and evening outings. 3 Paris Metro stations are each 2 blocks away. The Canal St. Martin is outside our window and very scenic. There is a park and playground across the street too! And Bonus, our room is ready this morning. We have a corner room on the 3rd floor and it's HUGE with a double bed, single bed, fridge and lots of room. Two huge windows can be opened for air or leave closed with A/C. There's a good size bathroom too. This is an unusually large room for an old Paris hotel. Breakfast is not included here like it was the last 2 places, so we have to go out to the Patisserie/Boulangerie to get pastries and bread for breakfasts. No, no, don't feel sorry for us, we managed just fine with a feast for breakfast every day costing about, oh, $10 for all 3 of us.

So what did we do?

We visited the Rodan museum and sculpture gardens (free one Sunday a month, arrive early!)

We bought a museum pass, for 2 adults for 2 days (children free.)

We visited the Louvre (I could have spent a week here.)
We visited the Orangerie, with its amazing long Monets.
We went up to the top of the Tour Eiffel, on a cold rainy day (it was still great)
We spent a day with a former co-worker and his family out at Versailles (fabulous!) with lunch at a cafe in town and dinner at their house. His wife spoke as much English as we spoke French... I worked hard to communicate and it was fun.
We spent an evening with a current co-worker and his family, they have a daughter near our daughter's age, and though they did not speak each other's languages they had a ball (Our daughter says this was her favorite time.) He took us on a Paris by Night drive which was spectacular.
We got on a L'Open Tour Bus so we could rest our weary legs and see more of the city that we would not have otherwise seen.
We shopped to fill the meager space available in our bags.
Our daughter wanted a beret and a back to school outfit from Paris, took care of that!
Found a few Starbucks (Can't find a cup of coffee I like in Europe!)
We took a touristy boat ride on the Seine (I LOVE these)
We toured Notre Dame (line for the towers was too long)
We found a restaurant in a pedestrian only area where we were the only customers and the host spoke no English. It was an adventure and fun!
We got ice cream at Bertillon's on Ile St. Louis (near Notre Dame)
We found the old elevated railway turned into a park... and walked a bit.
We took the RER to Disneyland Paris and spent a day with Mickey and friends (We are regulars at Disneyworld in Florida.)

A note about the Paris Metro and RER. It's a great subway system but passes are a tricky thing. Instead we bought a carnet of tickets - 10 at a time that is. Cheap and easy, about $.90 per ride that way. The RER is covered within the city by a metro ticket, but outside you must have a ticket for the right number of zones. American credit cards don't work in vending machines in France (or many other machines) so go to a window and buy the tickets needed. Railpasses are not valid for the RER rail, but they are if you take a SNCF train from a train station to the countryside.

On our last day we stored our luggage and they had a nice bathroom for getting cleaned up before we headed to the train station. We called for a taxi to get us to Gare de L'Est where our night train to Stuttgart departs at 9pm. Again, we had dinner at the station while waiting for boarding time.

With regular train tickets, you often need to validate, or stamp your ticket in a machine before boarding. With a railpass this is not needed, another reason we like the pass.
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