Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Let's see what's out there

Long story short: I'm getting laid off this summer and while I don't have a new job lined up yet, I have the luxury of a year's worth of salary to fall back on. So I figured that without a job to worry about, I have a unique opportunity to travel and not have to worry about taking time off work or what I'm going to have to deal with when I get back.

I started by looking at a map and figuring out where I want to go, and I've decided to do as many cities as I can rather than pick a few and spend more time there. I want to go and be a tourist and do and see all the things that tourists do and see, cliches or not. I want to see the important stuff, whether it's a museum, a monument, a castle, a marketplace, a pub, whatever.

For years I've wanted to travel Europe by rail, so my plan (at least for now) is to fly into one city, spend a couple days there, then hop the train (or bus/plane/ferry as appropriate based on time and cost) to the next place, overnight if possible on longer trips so that I'm ready to go in the morning. I'm thinking no more than 3 days/2 nights in any city, with some places just passing through. I'd probably leave in early September because that's the earliest I can use my frequent flier miles to get there and back, though I'm not sure how bad the weather would be as the month goes on.

This is my rough itinerary, stopping at all the places on my list - though I probably have too many places now, so if you've been there and have some advice about how long to stay (or even whether to go), or someplace else I should go, please chime in. I've only been to is Europe twice, London in 1984 and Paris in 1988. If I go to every place on my list, this looks like 4-6 weeks easy. One reason for the order of these cities is that I'd rather end up in southern Europe come late September.

I have not yet looked at travel agencies or prepackaged tours to see who's got what. I do fine as an independent traveller (previous long trips have been Australia in 2002 and China/Korea in 2009) but would be happy to be part of a group at times. I'd also welcome anyone who wants to join me on various legs.

In order, the trip would take me to the following places: 
  1. London, England. Fly here from the US
  2. Paris, France
  3. Luxembourg
  4. Brussels, Belgium
    • route from Brussels passes through Antwerp, Belgium
    • nearby: Brugges
  5. Amsterdam, Netherlands
    • route from Amsterdam passes through Bremen & Hamburg, Germany
  6. Copenhagen, Denmark
    • Malmo, Sweden (across the bay from Copenhagen)
  7. Berlin, Germany
  8. Prague, Czech Republic
    • route from Prague passes through Bratislava, Slovakia
  9. Budapest, Hungary
  10. Salzburg, Austria
    • route from Salzburg passes through Wien, Austria
  11. Munich, Germany
    • route from Munich passes through Liechtenstein and Zurich
  12. Bern & Interlaken, Switzerland 
    • route from Bern passes through Lucerne, Switzerland; & Milan, Italy
  13. Venice, Italy
    • route from Venice passes through Bologna & Florence
  14. Rome, Italy 
    • route from Rome passes along the Mediterranean coast, including Genoa, Italy
  15. Monte Carlo, Monaco 
    • route from Monte Carlo passes through Nice, Marseilles, & Cannes, France
  16. Andorra
  17. Barcelona, Spain
  18. Madrid, Spain
  19. Gibraltar (just because why not, plus I can cross over the Strait into Africa)
  20. Lisbon, Portugal. Fly back to US
This currently does not include Iceland, the rest of the UK, the rest of Eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, or Scandinavia. Doesn't mean that it won't, though.


    1. Do it Mike! You will love it. Having been at almost all your listed locations, you will find lots of great things to do. Of course, I will say this - try to spend some time in Switzerland. It is the most diverse and probably one of the most cultural places within a very small area. Zurich is certainly your big hip city. Bern is pretty and a few steps slower than Zurich. if you are in Bern, you should go to Gruyer and visit not only the cheese factory, but also the castle.

      And if you are in the Lichtenstein area, you should venture into the state of Graubuenden. The largest canton in Switzerland. The true Swiss alps. St. Moritz is worth a visit, so is Davos, Arosa and Chur (the oldest city in Switzerland - dating back to the Romans).

      Lucerne is a must. If you are in that area, there is so much beauty to see and enjoy and some very interesting cultural experiences.

      London - no question! YES!
      Paris - well... ;-)
      Amsterdam - oh yes! Great place and yes to Hamburg and Bremen as well. Also to Berlin. Such a vibrant City now.
      You will love to spend time in Prague. So much history there.
      And in Austria you will enjoy the people and buildings. Both Salzburg and Wien will be just a delight.
      I cannot say enough great things about Munich. Fun city.
      Venice - well, you have to see it. But that's about it. Don't go when it's too hot.
      Rome - plan enough time. It would be nice to go even further down in Italy. Calabria for example. Wow, talking about the most amazing food ever!
      Gibraltar is lovely!

      I think you would have a fantastic time. There are places I can certainly help you with what to see, where to go and don't know if you want to meet people and even consider staying with some. If so, just let me know!

    2. You're adding MORE places for me to go? At this rate I'll be spending a couple months there. Are you trying to make me into one of Kate's #spacenomads?

    3. I agree with Romeo about Switzerland, so many things there. Zurich is tons of fun. Luzern is a beautiful city, see the tower bridge. On your way to Italy, stop in Lugano and ride the Funicular to the top of Mont Bre, beautiful views of Lake Lugano. Also, visit Belinzona and see castles from the 13th, 14th and 15th century. Ive only been to Spain once, Alicante on the east coast, in September and it was pretty hot.
      Bon Voyage!

    4. Looks like you've got the major bases covered. Un/fortunatley there is so much to see that you are bound to miss out some amazing places.

      Heres my pics

      Amalfi coast, Pompeii and Vesuvius.
      Croatian islands and Dubrovnik (bit out of your way I know).
      Steer clear of Genoa its a bit of a dirty port town and try Cinque Terra instead.
      Berlin, Prague and Budapest a must. When I went bottled beer was cheaper than bottled water in Czech.
      Only use Nice to visit Monaco, much cheaper to stay :D.
      Porto is more chilled than Lisbon and the port distilleries smell so good.
      Have a good few days in the eternal city

      How are you planning on getting around? You can get eurail passes that allow quite a lot of journeys but mostly on the slow trains. You have to pay a supplement on the quicker routes. http://www.eurail.com/eurail-passes/select-pass

      You can also get euro passes for buses but these are a lot slower and not really good for meeting people and you get acosted by little old ladies at the bus station wanting to put you up.

      Places in Italy are really busy in August, everyone seems to be travelling there, especially Florence but it is a great place to go.

      In the major places try and book ahead at hostels and the like because you can spend a lot of time trying to find a bunk for the night. Rome was bad for this. I have a habit of thinking it'll be alright then had to pay more for a place that was above my needs.

      If you have other Q's fire away, I've been to 75% of you list.

    5. Check out the Millau Viaduc in the south of France.

      Also, you HAVE to spend at least a couple days here: http://t.co/zOme1W2 Many videos: http://t.co/uFXDUrA. I've watched a bunch of the videos, and want to make a trip to Europe just for the thing.

    6. If you go to Italy, 24 hours in Venice is enough. You could do it as a day trip, but Venice at night is amazing - all of the daytrippers are gone, and it is definately a city that looks better in low light to hide some of the flaws. Go there, walk around, get lost (you can't get THAT lost, it's a small island) take some pictures, and move on.

      If you can, stop in Modena on your way to or from from Rome. It's a fantastic area for food and cars, and a great way to spend a day on the way south (or as a day trip from Milan) I used Modenatur to do a day trip that included visiting producers of Parmeseano Reggiano, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, the Ferrari Gallery, and a tour of the area. (You can't get into the Ferrari factory without proving you own one, but their museum is AMAZING)

    7. What an itinerary! Here are my comments for London -
      do the Ceremony of the Keys - it's free but you have to get tickets for it. You have to do this via snail mail you can't do it on the internet. Only thing is you need to have a set date in mind to go http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/WhatsOn/ceremonyofthekeys.aspx
      don't do it your 1st night, although if you're a night owl you could. Other cool thing is when you get off the metro there is the last remaining piece of wall from it being a walled city. Best thing for transport in & around London is the Oyster card, you can get one at the airport & load it up with 20quid & use it all day for the buses & metros https://oyster.tfl.gov.uk/oyster/entry.do
      I don't know how long you plan on staying there but here are some other stop ideas:
      British museum - on their website they have a couple lists of 'must sees' depending on how long you're going to be there. We still talk about the olded hand tool - the boys are like - it's a rock. http://www.britishmuseum.org/ Tim found a podcast about the museum which he wishes he had listened to before we left.
      The Tower bridge is cool & so is Westminster abbey - Tim wanted to drop stuff on Newton's grave & see if gravity worked there. If you have the time I would go to Stonehenge. We did a whirlwind 1 day tour of Windsor Castle, Bath & Stonehenge with this group http://www.evanevanstours.co.uk/ agian depending on your timing & if you decide to do the Eurail pass & end up in Dover to get to the continent then see if you can stop in Cantebury (it's the rail stop before Dover) & if you have time in Dover then stop at the Castle. As much as he annoys me I got a lot of good info from Rick Steve's book on London.
      I know this is totally disjointed, but I second the Eurail pass - we did that when we went years ago & it really works out nicely.

    8. In Brussels you HAVE to see the piss boy - oh I mean manekin pis they make such a big deal out of this statue - you just have to see it http://www.visitbelgium.com/index.php/our-cities/brussels/brussels-highlights
      I have to look & see if I can find the beer places we went when we were there. It's a haven for beer. You try the gueze & every single bar guy will tell you a different way to pronounce it - gurz, curz, gurtza, we finally decided they were messing with us Americans

    9. Copenhagne - kind of a funky city. Tim has a friend who lives there & we've visited twice now. Most recently this summer - of course it was only a day on our cruise. We basically just walked around & he gave us some city info. & took us to building with cool elevators & we got a great view of the city from the roof. A lot of people do Tivoli gardens - Walt Disney got his idea for disneyland there. Also you can see the little mermaid (I think, she was in China when we were there so there was a screen with live webcam of her & people were taking pix in front of it) There's also the Carlsberg brewery there you can visit.

    10. If you're going to be in Interlaken, definitely allow at least a day to get up into the mountains, since you'll be right there. (I was just in the area for the first time on a ski trip.)