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40oz

Euro Trip

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My wife and I are born and raised Americans who, unfortunately, are not very well traveled. We’ve hit a few tropical islands, and we’ve had some quick trips in Canada. As a married couple, we’re concerned we may never get to do spontaneous things after we start raising children. So between the two of us, we’ve decided to make a short bucket list of things to do before we get tied down by family life.


One of the things we decided is that we want to explore Europe. We’re currently planning a trip which involves hitting some key spots that were recommended to us:


London England

Paris France

Munich Germany

Barcelona Spain

Rome Italy


Depending on what our lives are like for the next 30 years, this may be the one and only time we ever get to do this in our lifetime. We decided we don’t want to do any touristy type stuff like guided tours, museums, and we will live without seeing the famous landmarks. We’re more interested in trying some authentic European food and pubs, meeting people, and getting kind of an intimate experience with the continent. So far we’re planning a two-week trip around the middle of August. We’re in the process of booking a flight from Philadelphia to London, then from Rome back to Philadelphia again. We still have to look into where we will be staying for overnights, and how exactly we are going to get to these individual cities.


I know some people here are pretty well traveled, keep up with the news, or live in Europe. I’m curious to know if anyone has any suggestions on what may be the most economical way to go about this, as far as having a place to sleep at night, and getting from place to place. I’d like to know of any important things you may know stupid American tourists to be unaware of when it comes to traveling in Europe. Also it may be possible to arrange a meet up if you’re willing to do a bit of the heavy lifting! Keep in mind it’s not likely that we will have a rental vehicle and it’s more likely we will be getting around with public transportation, so you’ll probably have to find us! Many, many thanks if you’re willing to show us around, or even offer a couch for us to sleep on! I’ll pay you back in maps!


Thanks in advance for any help/advice/suggestions you’re willing to provide.

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From my time on business travel in Denmark, the only recommendation I have is "don't assume that people know English".  A lot do, but not all.  Get good at pointing at things.

 

Oh, and also drink locally brewed beer whenever possible (which will be a higher percentage of the time than you're probably thinking right now...), not Carlsberg, Guinness, Heineken, or any other well-known brand. 

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For London and Paris, I'd suggest looking into Airbnb options. It depends what kind of experience you're after of course - you might want a few nights in a nice hotel, after all - but Airbnb at least tends to be a bit cheaper, and you have the advantage of more homey surroundings.

 

For London, I'd recommend finding something not too central - so, zone 2/3 - but nearby a well connected tube stop, so it will be easy to get into the center and around the city. I could suggest a few neighbourhoods to look into if you have some idea of the sort of place you'd like. The easiest way to get from Paris to London is by train - takes around 2hr15. If you book in advance then tickets are very reasonable. Paris is much smaller than London, and much easier to see on foot, so I'd recommend picking an area that sounds nice to you and worrying less about how close it is to stuff. Still, I'd recommend staying outside the center, since it's so rammed with tourists at that time of year, and again I could make a few suggestions if you have some idea of the sort of place that you'd like to stay. Having lived for extended periods in each, I have a slight preference for Paris, but they're both great cities with lots to explore. You won't need a car for either.

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Well I can tell you about London for obvious reasons - The train station " London Waterloo" is basically your gateway to anywhere in London, plenty to see and do. As for staying in London try and aim for a nice area like surburton etc I can be more detailed if required. London is however not really the best of Britain, so I would recommend hopping on to a train for 2 hours and heading to the coast if you have the time spare. 

 

1. Get ready to queue like a pro, because we don't take queue jumpers lightly.

2. Always carry change with you, as a lot of toilets in the capital you have to pay to get in, 40p to use the toilet or 80 quid fine for pissing in the street. :-)

3. Unlike Rome, the zebra crossings in the UK, cars do have to stop and let pedestrians across, if they don't you get to call them a wanker like everyone else.    

 

I went to Rome last year, amazing place.. Get a hotel near the termini train station and you are close enough to everything in rome you could want to see, Vatican, colosseum, the forums etc and the cat sanctuary ( which is based in the ruins of where Caesar died) and more really.

 

1. The roads are crazy, if the roads have stripes then just cross, the drivers have to dodge you by law.

2. If you walk everywhere, which I highly recommend, then Rome alone will be 4/5 days worth of site seeing easy. 

3. You will meet people that will ask to take you on a guided tour of the ruins etc, you will pay more however you wont need to queue.

4. At night you will get people from Africa walking up and down the high streets trying to sell you tat, 1 in 3 have "just had a child today" and more nonsense excuses to palm their crap of to you. They can get aggressive, so never take stuff from them, even if its a gift.  

 

                         

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If you're not going for frenzied monument-crawling and want to savour the atmosphere more, I'd suggest scratching off at least one city and get more intimate with the rest. I know, it may sound like you'd be missing out an entire different culture or two, but every one of those cities alone deserves a week to even start getting under its skin. If you take it slower and let yourself explore more, the experience will be richer and you'll feel more of a connection for the rest of your life than after the stereotypical rush through everything important.

 

The big question I can't really answer is which one(s), heh. Kind of a Sophie's choice.

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If you want to get the culture, then don't visit capital cities. Go for smaller cities. Of course then the issue is that it can be harder to find people who'll understand your English.

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I confess I've not read everyone elses replies, only the OP.

 

I live in UK, a 1 hour train ride / car journey away from London. While I won't be able to provide suitable accommodation, I will be happy to hop in my car and come visit you one day while you're in London! I'm pretty decent at getting about London on the Underground trains, so if you need some advice about that I guess I'll be at least good for something. :P

 

Last time some of my overseas 'online friends' came to London we ended up getting the most drunk we'd ever been and having one mental night, so there's that to look forward to if that is of interest, haha :P

 

Naturally, being a Brit I will be cynical about my own country 'because everywhere is better than this shithole', but I can be really positive instead if preferred, heh.

 

Regarding Paris, I stayed there with my ex for a week. Definitely works well as a romantic stop on your Euro trip - make sure you have some extra cash for this stop, as the food is absolutely beautiful, from the croissants & crepes to the escargot and other fancy dishes, there's a LOT of fine foods to enjoy. I'm not a wine person but I hear that France is good for it's wines, too.

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I'll have to put in a vote for Scandinavia, even though I live in the US nowadays. It'll be very nice in August. Stockholm is amazing and I can give you plenty of pointers if you're interested.  Copenhagen is very nice too, while Oslo is perhaps not as exciting. But Norway has the fucking Fjords, and a 2-day cruise up the coast there will be a memory for eternity. As much as I love my native Sweden, it has nothing on the fjords.

 

In Germany, I might pick Berlin over Munich. Cologne is super nice too, chill vibes. It's like 2 hours by train to Amsterdam from Cologne, just sayin'.

 

Barcelona is amazing, keep that in there for sure.

 

For stuff to do, depends on what you're into:

  • Weird beer? Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.
  • Fashion? Stockholm, London, Paris and (one people overlook), Berlin
  • Wine and fine dining? Tour the mediterranean, avoid major streets or any place where you have lots of tourists. For wine you will want to go on some tours outside the cities in both France and Italy.
  • Nature? I SAID FJORDS. Also the holy grail is of course Iceland, but that's quite the pricey detour. And then anything around the alps is majestic as fuck and you can choose between a ton of countries here. Austria might be a good, central choice.

Those are all pretty mainstream-y things so holler if you have specific interests. For example, if you're vegan I can tell where NOT to go unless starving is on the bucket list, and if you want to go to super decadent underground techno clubs that make UAC ULTRA look like a bouncy castle, I have some pointers too.

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^ I'd love to visit Scandinavia + Finland myself. Never been but if I were in 40oz's position I'd definitely consider it.

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8 hours ago, 40oz said:

We decided we don’t want to do any touristy type stuff like guided tours, museums, and we will live without seeing the famous landmarks.

While I appreciate your desire for ~~~authenticity~~~ I do think perhaps you're taking things a step too far in the opposite direction. Some of these things things are popular things to see for legitimate reasons, and if this is a once in a lifetime trip you might regret not seeing them later.

 

I'm talking about things like:

  • The clock tower of the Houses of Parliament ("""Big Ben"""). I used to live in Westminster a few years ago, and it's a pretty stunning piece of architecture. I never got tired of seeing it whenever I passed it.
  • The British Museum, with all the (stolen) Egyptian mummies, Greek marbles, the Rosetta Stone, etc.
  • The Louvre in Paris - forget about the Mona Lisa but there's a ton of really famous stuff in there. I remember being particularly captivated by da Vinci's St. John the Baptist, which is stunning in person.
  • Rome - The Sistine Chapel?

Up to you of course but Europe has a lot of culture and history. You might be missing out.

 

7 hours ago, Cynical said:

From my time on business travel in Denmark, the only recommendation I have is "don't assume that people know English".

A lot do, but it goes a long way if you at least make an effort to try to learn at least a few words. Particularly in France.

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People talk about speaking a language, but hearing a language is also a big skill, one that people tend to overlook. That's why it can be hard to understand someone's speech if they have a strong accent that you're not accustomed to. Now, you're in luck because as an American English speaker, a lot of people are trained to hear your language just by watching TV and movies, where the localization effort is made just on subtitles. But what about countries where pretty much everything gets dubbed? People's ears just aren't trained to hear English. They might know enough English to understand what you're saying if it was written down, but what you say will just sound like an indistinct slurry of garbled syllables. And likewise when they answer you in English, you might have trouble telling if they're even actually speaking in English or just pranking you with weird sounds.

 

So basically, carry a small notebook and when you can't communicate with someone, don't do the usual American thing of just talking louder and slower: write down what you mean on the notebook and show them it. A phrasebook can also help, as long as you don't buy it from Michael Palin.

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As fraggle said, perhaps you ought not to summarily dismiss visiting the "tourist" sites. For example, in Rome you simply should not miss the Colosseum, even though it will likely be swarming with tourists. (Avoid the nearby Circus Maximus, which is really just a large field.) In London, I'd suggest St. Paul's Cathedral & Westminster Cathedral (and, of course, also the Tower of London, Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben).

 

Another thing to consider is day trips outside of the major metro areas. For example, Hampton Court is a spectacular example of 16th century grandeur, and is a short train ride outside London. Windsor Castle is another breathtakingly beautiful place, and is also a short ride outside London.

 

From Rome, I highly recommend a day trip to Florence (Firenze) by train. Pisa is not far away either.

 

From my recommendations, you'll gather that I have a preference for history & architecture. If you don't share these preferences, I think you can still enjoy visiting these places.

 

One of the things you'll notice right away is that prices in Europe are much higher than those in the US. Aside from costs of accommodation, food is also very pricey. On top of that, everything gets slapped with a Value Added Tax (VAT) in some countries; however, you can get refunded some or all of the VAT upon departure from the country. On the up-side, public transportation is vastly better than what you find in most parts of the US, even major urban areas. Plus, the cities are very pedestrian-friendly.

 

Best wishes to you in your sojourns.

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You can't miss Venice. Yes, it is always full of turists, but it is a town unique in the world and a must-see.

 

In Italy, apart Rome and Venice, you should visit... well actually wherever you land in Italy you find something interesting, but a road trip in Toscana visiting all small towns here and there is very nice. You could travel the Via Francigena (which actually goes from Calais to Rome). Florence is very nice, and not so big, while Pisa... meh, the only interesting thing is the square with the Tower, nothing else there.

 

And you can't say you visit Europe without going in East Europe. Slovenia is a nice country near  Italy, but you can take the Dalmatian coast down to Montenegro (beautiful places). And why not Prague? Well, I suppose you have to cut stuff, at some point.

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You only have two weeks. Consider how much time you want to spend on actual sightseeing versus the time it will take to travel by public transport and between the number of places you want to visit. You don't want to rush a city in 1-1,5 days and then spend half a day or (much) more just sitting stationary in some (night) train to get to your next 'target'.  It's the same as having two weeks to explore the USA, citing a number of cities from East to West coast.

 

Pick a small number of "must-have" destinations. You already know you start with London and must end in Rome because of your flight itinerary. Realize you can't visit eg Prague AND Barcelona without sacrificing a lot of your time merely traveling. You are after all interested in the continent itself and not to become an expert in the various European train systems.

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19 hours ago, Eris Falling said:

^ I'd love to visit Scandinavia + Finland myself. Never been but if I were in 40oz's position I'd definitely consider it.

Awesome to see my dear home country being mentioned in this thread. :D

 

Anyhow, @40oz, if you do end up coming to Finland at any point, I'd suggest spending as little time in/around Helsinki as possible. The most interesting parts of the country are actually beyond that city's borders. Lapland especially is a beautiful place.

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Thank you everyone for all the thorough advice and suggestions you’ve posted. All of it has been very helpful!


I am at a bit of a crossroads as far as sightseeing and getting the best of my visit in two short weeks. The goal of the trip is more or less an opportunity to “get away,” if you will. Economically speaking, we could spend a weekend in New York City (less than a two hour drive from here) and achieve the same thing for much less. We both agree that we are repeating the same things in our daily routine over and over and over. Go to work, get paid, come home; go to work, get paid, come home, ad infinitum. Were know we are going to be chasing paychecks and weekends for a long time. I think what the goal is here is to have an opportunity to be completely independent, explore on our own terms, and dare to immerse ourselves in an environment where the culture doesn’t really align with our own. In the current state of things, we feel a little tied down with job responsibilities and paying bills, and we know that starting a family would be significantly more weight. We didn’t really get to do anything adventurous in our college years like some people have, so we’ve decided to save up some cash to put towards a final spontaneous event that we might never get to do again until after we retire.


That said, my wife is pretty firm about hitting the five locations listed in the OP. I certainly agree that we’d be doing ourselves a pretty big disservice by not seeing the beautiful landscapes of the Swiss Alps, or the rest of Eastern Europe. Seeing Spain and Italy is pretty high on my list of priorities, and my wife is very interested in seeing Paris and Germany. The capital cities however are not super important, and I am open to the suggestions of neighboring towns that may be more fun and fulfilling of the experience. For my own purposes, I think if I get the chance to speak to a few people from each of these countries, try some food, see some events or attractions that are unlike anything we have here at home, and possibly meet a couple doomer buddies in the process, my trip should feel complete. There’s enough videos, and high definition photos of the major landmarks available on the internet that I don’t think I’d be terribly disappointed if I didn’t get to be up close and personal with many of these things. I’m primarily interested in appealing to senses outside of sight and sound. I want to breathe the air, meet the people, see what they’re like, how they think, what they do for fun, etc.


As far as being able to communicate, yes my wife and I only speak English, but we’ve pwned other couples here at stuff like charades and Pictionary. We are pretty confident we should be able to get by with miming or drawing pictures of things. We’re working on looking up some key words in different languages to write down. We will keep a notepad handy to write the words to show people so we don’t butcher the language attempting to speak it. I feel if we are able to point to ourselves, raise our hands  bridged across our eyebrows, squint our eyes, then proceed to draw a picture on our stenopad of a 1800’s steam engine on a track with a question mark next to it, that should suffice to communicate that we are looking for a train station in any language, right? If so, then I think we should be pretty solid enough to communicate what we need to without wasting people’s time shouting at them in a language they don’t speak.


Some concerns of mine are that I’m not familiar with the currencies in Europe, or what I would need to do to exchange the currencies when traveling. I’m also not entirely sure how the train system works there (I’m honestly not even very familiar with it here, the train conductors here don’t like to talk) is it possible to just get a pass thats valid for the day or the week to go anywhere? In the United States, we use cars to get pretty much everywhere and rarely walk. I’ve been told by my brother in law that he has been “backpacking” across Europe and that you can accomplish a lot just by being on foot. Ive also heard in a podcast from someone who had visited Italy a few months ago say that there was an unusually strong military presence there due to some terrorist attacks that had happened recently. Should I be concerned about things like public transport being shut down, having to take detours, or difficulties trying to enter through customs as a non-native in these countries? These may be silly questions to ask if you live there, but in such a short trip, it’s important to me that we don’t get denied the experience we are coming for.


Thanks again for all the help, people :)

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As for the "currencies in Europe", so far you've only mentioned cities in the Eurozone with the exception of London. So that's Euro for everything and pounds for the UK.

 

If you're set on the cities already mentioned, I'd suggest London to Paris and Munich, then Barcelona and Rome. You may want to take the plane from Munich to Barcelona instead of train. 

 

Customs you will only encounter on your flight to and from Europe due to being part of the Schengen zone, meaning no internal borders. The most strike prone countries currently are Greece and, by some distance, France.

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1 hour ago, 40oz said:

Some concerns of mine are that I’m not familiar with the currencies in Europe, or what I would need to do to exchange the currencies when traveling. I’m also not entirely sure how the train system works there (I’m honestly not even very familiar with it here, the train conductors here don’t like to talk) is it possible to just get a pass thats valid for the day or the week to go anywhere? In the United States, we use cars to get pretty much everywhere and rarely walk. I’ve been told by my brother in law that he has been “backpacking” across Europe and that you can accomplish a lot just by being on foot. Ive also heard in a podcast from someone who had visited Italy a few months ago say that there was an unusually strong military presence there due to some terrorist attacks that had happened recently. Should I be concerned about things like public transport being shut down, having to take detours, or difficulties trying to enter through customs as a non-native in these countries? These may be silly questions to ask if you live there, but in such a short trip, it’s important to me that we don’t get denied the experience we are coming for.

Currencies: there's the Eurozone (the UK is out, of course). When you leave the British leg of your trip, convert your money to euros and you'll be fine.

Customs: there's the Schengen Area (the UK is out, of course). When you leave the British leg of your trip, you'll see your last custom until you take the plane back to America.

 

Being on foot: there's a joke that in America, a hundred years is a long time, but in Europe, a hundred kilometers is a long distance. Europe is incredibly dense compared to America. Visiting Canadian friends I met were impressed by that, going "it's astounding, there's a castle on every hilltop".  So yes, you can see quite a lot of stuff just going on foot. That said, you're still talking about two weeks, here. You're not going to go from Paris to Munich on foot in two weeks.

 

Trains: each country has its own train network and train company or companies. There are a few international lines, few, like Eurostar or Thalys. I suggest reading high-speed rail in Europe to get an overview. AFAIK there's no such thing as a weekly pass, and in fact it's much more interesting to reserve your ticket in advance. Also in some cities there are several train stations (couldn't easily build train stations in the hearts of the city, too many buildings too costly to raze to bring the railroad there) and you may have to use light rail/metro/subway/tramway to go from one station to another if you have a connection to make. The light rail company is different from the train company and you'll have to buy a ticket for the connection, it's not included as part of the train ticket. Despite these flaws, transport should be reliable. Unless they go on strike, then you're hosed. There are bus/coach lines you can take as an alternative if the trains go on strike, but expect an average travel speed of 60 km/h by road vs. 200 km/h by railroad. As for planes, they're also an alternative, but unless you go for a relatively long travel (like Munich-Barcelona as Mordeth suggested) the security theater at the airport will make it so that it's actually slower than train. What's the point of taking two hour less travel time if you have to spend these two hours on security screening and waiting before you can embark?

 

Speaking of distance and travel: everything will be metric. (Except the UK, of course. They're only partially metric.) For quick conversions, consider that a mile is 1.6 km, and a kilometer is 0.6 mile. Not the most accurate conversion rate, but simple enough. So when you see a road sign telling that something is 30 km ahead, you can go and conclude it's about 18 miles ahead. Also one meter is about one yard. For approximating the pound-kg conversion, it's simple: one pound is half a kg, so 1 kg = 2 pounds and 500 g = 1 pound. (Real conversion rate: 1 pound = 454 grams.) 1 galleon = 4 liters (real: 3.785 liters). Date format is usually indicated day/month/year, not month/day/year as is the American custom. So if you see a newspaper dated 12/06/2017, it's from June, not from December. Numbers will be written differently, too: in continental Europe, the comma is used as a decimal separator, and the period as a thousand separators. So expect numbers to be written like 123.456.789,0 instead of like 123,456,789.0. That can be important if you write checks!

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I'm a Brit living in America, so have some experience of the differences.  The reality is that 90% of life is the same between the two countries, but it also means that you're almost not ready for the 10% that's different, and it can catch you out.  A few specific things you'll come across as a tourist that are worth being ready for (this is true for the UK, things might be a little different in other countries):

 

  • Restaurants will seat you like they do in America.  Bars and pubs, for the most part, won't - you need to seat yourself.  There won't be table service either.  You need to go up to the bar and order there.  They won't presume you want to open a tab either, and will usually ask for payment there and then.
  • Generally service in bars and restaurants is slower and little more do-it-yourself.  The waiters aren't trying to impress you for big tips, so tend to just get on with it more and be a bit less chatty.  They'll do the basic steps, but won't come around and give you water without you asking or anything like that.  
  • Feel free to tip like you do in America though.  No-one will object, and they'll be very pleased by the increased amount you give them!
  • Credit cards like Mastercard and Visa will work in Europe, so you don't always need cash (but it is handy).  American Express won't.  When I go back to the UK, I just take my American Mastercard, pay with that when I can and find an ATM for a little cash if necessary.  You'll be hit by higher fees, but it's almost worth it for the convenience.  Also, they've had Chip and Pin for years, so if your credit card is an old one and doesn't have a chip, then I'd suggest getting a new one that does.  Many places in Europe don't even have magnetic swipers any more.
  • All prices are inclusive of tax, which means you can anticipate exactly how much something will be before you buy it.  
  • The UK drives on the wrong side of the road, so be careful crossing roads (look the other way first!).  You can jaywalk freely though.
  • Each city has their own internal metro or transit system, and each is different - just like New York's Metro is different to San Francisco's BART.  There's no catch-all approach, you're just going to have to read up on them in advance.  Pay particular attention to types of tickets: often there'll be cheap tickets that you can't use at rush-hour (4pm-7pm, or whatever) so make sure you don't accidentally get stuck with the wrong ticket.  You can always just buy the right one, but it can be pretty expensive.
  • Cities in Europe are generally much more compact and easier to travel around on foot/public transport than American cities.  Manhattan is a pretty good facsimile of most major European cities - if you've spent time there, it's a similar experience.
  • When it comes to museums and stuff, just because something is free doesn't mean it's not worth checking out.  Europe spends far more money on public museums than America does, so some of the best in the world are free to enter.
  • Pick-pockets are not that common, but it does happen.  Just keep your zippers zipped and nothing within easy reach and you should be ok.
  • Shops, other than big supermarkets or similar, tend to close at 5pm, so be conscious of that.

 

@Cynical

Quote

Oh, and also drink locally brewed beer whenever possible (which will be a higher percentage of the time than you're probably thinking right now...)

It's something of a myth that America has low % beer.  The lager yes, but the ales are way higher than anything you get in Europe.  6%, 7%, 8%+ beers are not uncommon here.

Edited by Bauul

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4 minutes ago, Bauul said:

American Express won't.

This one I want to flag as a maybe. If you're in a hotel (or a bar at a hotel) you will likely be able to pay just fine with AMEX. (Talking as an employee of a hotel)

Speaking of being an employee, I don't get friend discounts sadly, otherwise I'd have happily offered! (They don't even do staff discount! >_<)

 

5 minutes ago, Bauul said:

UK drives on the wrong side of the road

Debatable ;P

 

As for the rest of Bauul's points, most of it is correct but will vary slightly from town to town. E.g. my hometown most shops close at 6pm; in London it might be as late as 8pm. There's often supermarkets and/or fuel stations which are open till late / 24hr, if you need something at a later hour. :)

 

 

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When I was in Sweden, I always had someone with me who could speak Swedish. It really helps if you have someone who can speak the native tongue - because while Sweden is famous for being the #1 non-English speaking country that knows English, not everyone there does. And that fact applies elsewhere, too.

 

I will say though - you are right about getting down and dirty with it. Try everything. You only live once, and there's so much to live for. I tried more Swedish cuisine and tradition in 3 months than I ever did American anything the entire time I was alive. And I enjoyed myself. Made a lot of great friends there, too.

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3 hours ago, 40oz said:

That said, my wife is pretty firm about hitting the five locations listed in the OP. I certainly agree that we’d be doing ourselves a pretty big disservice by not seeing the beautiful landscapes of the Swiss Alps, or the rest of Eastern Europe. Seeing Spain and Italy is pretty high on my list of priorities, and my wife is very interested in seeing Paris and Germany.

Mordeth made a very good point re: killing time on relocating. The way I see it, if you're starting in London and ending in Rome, Barcelona is the sore spot on your itinerary. It's certainly one of the most charming cities in Europe, but it's out of the way for your route and you pretty much need to add flights from Munich/Paris to Barca, then from Barca to Rome.

 

If you're okay with jumping on planes, you can go wherever, but those are a massive bitch to plan ahead, they constrict you more than trains and you usually end up leaving the hotel at like 5am and just want to sleep after reaching your destination, heh. The best plan that depends on trains would be to make a line between London and Rome, then add targets that don't stray too far from it. Forget Scandinavia, there's no way you can compress it into your two weeks. Even highly desirable & cool targets like Prague and Vienna would be at the edge of your "allowed" corridor. Anything in the Balkans is off-limits unless you want to take a ship cruise to Italy.

 

Instad of Barca, maybe you could add another target in the same country (Marseille or Monaco for France, Florence for Italy), or make a stop in Switzerland to enjoy the Alps (Geneva, some town around Bodensee). Or you can add Amsterdam, heh heh.

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7 hours ago, 40oz said:

As far as being able to communicate, yes my wife and I only speak English....

 

Some concerns of mine are that I’m not familiar with the currencies in Europe, or what I would need to do to exchange the currencies when traveling.

 

Should I be concerned about things like public transport being shut down, having to take detours, or difficulties trying to enter through customs as a non-native in these countries?

Communications: I've found that speaking basic phrases, especially greetings, in the "native" tongue makes it seem like I've made an effort. I never pretend that I speak the language, and make it clear by following a greeting in the native language by the equivalent in English. For example, in Hong Kong I'd greet someone with "ni hao", followed by "hello". Then I'd proceed to ask my question in English.

 

Currency exchange: Probably the best way to pay for things is using a credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees (usually around 3%). Failing that, you can pay for big-ticket items (hotel, transportation) using cash if you want to save the transaction fee. The down-side is that you'll need to either carry a lot of cash with you (not recommended at all), or take cash out from a bank or ATM daily. If you have an ATM card with a bank that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, and has no limit on the number of daily transactions, you might find cash withdrawals satisfactory. If you'd like to have cash when you travel, either use an ATM when you get to your destination (e.g., London airport) or go to a currency exchange place before you leave the US. Avoid currency exchange places in US airports if possible (as they are typically more expensive); instead, you're likely to find a ForEx kiosk in your local mall. Even your bank may be able to get you common currencies like pound sterling and Euros if you give them a few days.

 

As someone else mentioned, the probability of public transport shutting down or being disrupted exists, but tends to be low. Unforeseen circumstances could play a role, but those are just the risks we take when we venture forth. (For example, I happened to be in Japan when the massive earthquake hit Kobe, and one of my destinations was Hiroshima. The train goes through Kobe to get to Hiroshima, but the rail lines were damaged. Thankfully, Japan Rail in their typically efficient manner, diverted passengers by bus from one functioning train station to the other. In another instance, rail transport was disrupted by a strike. This happened in Thessaloniki, Greece. I used the efficient bus system, instead, and managed just fine.) Sometimes we have to improvise.

 

As for entry through customs, as an American visitor, in the countries you intend to visit I imagine you will simply be able to take the green lane (nothing to declare) and you won't be asked to have your baggage checked. In some countries they screen your bags after you've picked it up from baggage claim, but this is through an X-ray machine for security purposes, rather than for customs declarations.

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Man, I thought it was mental when I went to Europe with my friends. We did London, Berlin, Salzburg, Munich, and Paris in seventeen days. It felt like five separate trips, and it was tiring even though I might have done 1% of the planning/logistics.

 

I agree with ReX. Lots of the reason people go to "touristy" places is because they really are cool. You may want to visit some, but pick the things that interest you. All the walking and looking at things is a nice way to end up sufficiently hungry to try all the food too.

 

Durian's AirBnB suggestion is good. We did that in London. We had a flat converted from part of a Victorian house that was near a tube station. It was a strange place to stay. Ancient floorboards necessitated slippers, but the shower was ultra-modern. A box of teabags was provided in case guests didn't take any initiative in getting their own. We stayed in an average hotel in Salzburg, and really cheap hotels in Berlin, Munich, and Paris. We had the most privacy from each other and probably the best sleep in London. 2-star hotels do generate interesting stories, however: bunk beds, staircases that should be condemned, neo-nazi rallies outside, etc. :D

 

For some big cities you can get passes that grant you access to public transport and lots of locations for a flat fee. We tried that in London and Berlin and discovered you can break even if you plan very carefully and go nonstop for several days. Probably not worth it if you don't really, really love museums.

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1 hour ago, Aliotroph? said:

For some big cities you can get passes that grant you access to public transport and lots of locations for a flat fee.

"All day travel card please" - Unlimited use of London's Busses and Trains, usually bought via a train station. London's public transport is split into 'circular zones', based on the approximate radius from the center of London. If you're staying within London city itself rather than the surrounding towns then zones 1-4 should have you covered. :)

 

Here's a link to the tube map for London. If you look in the background the feint regions of the zones are marked out - you may not even need to go any further than zone 2.

Edited by Dragonfly : Tube map.

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If you want to avoid the typical crowded tourist-y stuff, I'd say avoid the big cities like Paris and Barcelona altogether. That's not to say that those cities can't be fun to explore on your own though. If you have a love for art, I would say that visiting Paris is kind of essential.

It seems like everyone else in this topic has already covered the "Euro-zone" currency stuff.

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Besides Berlin (where I live) I recommend you Gdansk (Poland) and Budapest (Hungary). Two of the most beautiful and diverse cities I know. And Rome, but you already have that on your list.

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20 hours ago, Bauul said:

 

@Cynical

It's something of a myth that America has low % beer.  The lager yes, but the ales are way higher than anything you get in Europe.  6%, 7%, 8%+ beers are not uncommon here.

I'm well aware of that (I live in the US and regularly drink craft beer).  I recommend local beer not because of ABV concerns, but because sampling the local brews is going to be more interesting than sticking to the big names.

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