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A Whistle-Stop Tour of Europe

As previously mentioned, I was over at Bari’s last night. Turns out, her parents are planning a trip to Europe during the semester break, and their itinerary seems a bit mad to me. It’s entirely possible that this is because I don’t know them, don’t know what they like doing or seeing, and am simply clueless. But it could also be that they simply don’t know what there is to see here. So, I’ve taken it on myself to come up with a list of the “must-see”s in Europe, along with how long I think should be devoted to each. I love doing this sort of thing! Europe is a fantastic place, and there’s loads to see and do! While it’s for Bari that I’m actually writing this down, planning and dreaming about travel is something I love doing anyway :)

I’m more or less ignoring transport options for the purposes of this itinerary – if I were doing it, I’d probably interrail again. I like trains :) Unfortunately, interrail only works for Europeans, so it’s no good to Bari’s folks. On top of that, they can drive, which I can’t, and which is frankly the method I’d suggest – some of these things probably need a car to get to. That said, once you get into the cities – just go for it, get a public-transport ticket, and use it to death. Public transport in most European cities is fantastic, and cars are just not worth it.

So, starting in Munich – go for a walk in the English Gardens. Go to Dachau too – horrific as they are, I’d recommend everyone visit a concentration camp once in their lives. (Ideally, a no-longer used one please.) World War II is a big part of modern history, and I certainly feel I couldn’t properly understand it – and appreciate its significance – without seeing what was going on. I’ve been to two – Sachsenhausen and the Auschwitz/Birkenau complex.

Next, I’d head up to Berlin. Allow at least two days here. Go to the Checkpoint Charlie museum – allow a couple of hours for that. See the Charlottenburg Palace too – this is one of the few things I’ll recommend that I haven’t actually been to before, but there’s a good reason for this.

Michelin publish, amongst other things, tourist guides to various countries. They rate the attractions with stars – * to ***. As a child, I spent many, many long hours, touring old castles and churches in the south of France, “collecting” Michelin stars (no, there’s nothing to collect). While I understand that these were almost certainly sites of great cultural or historic interest – I was a kid! I just wasn’t interested. Thus, as an adult, I have developed a minor allergy to castles and palaces.

Go on a bus tour of Berlin – there’s some fabulous buildings that really aren’t worth a walk just to see, but you’ll cover plenty of them on a tour, and the guide will be able to tell you much more about them than I can. See the Brandenburg Gate too. Other things to do, I can’t really remember – I spent a lot of my trip to Berlin dyeing my hair odd colours. Guess it went to the brain.

Next stop on our whistle is Amsterdam. I know some people worry about the scumbag density, but I really didn’t find it that bad. I can recommend the Rijksmuseum, and the Van Gogh museum (not necessarily in that order). Also highly recommended is the Anne Frank house. Just do it. Other things to do are a canal trip – forget Venice, this is the real city of pretty canals. On a hotel tip – and I haven’t stayed here, but know people who have, and fully intend to at some point – try Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy. Allow at least one full day for Amsterdam, probably two. If there’s other things you want to see in the Netherlands, they’re pretty easy to get to from Amsterdam, so it might be worth just basing yourself there for a few days, rather than constantly moving around.

And then we reach gay Paris… (Ugh, that’s not what I meant! Paris has to be said the French way – and it’s ‘gay’ in the old meaning.) The Louvre is the big attraction here – you could easily spend a day in her, and still not see everything. But go, see the highlights anyway. Another classic is the Centre George Pompidou – the building built “inside-out”, and a modern art paradise. Even if you’re not into modern art, go have a portrait done by one of the street artists outside.

If you must do the Eiffel Tower – don’t overhype it. It’s a big steel-girder construction, and it’s really not as romantic in person as in the movies. Sometimes, things are better off left in your head. If you can do a tour on the Seine, do – it’s a good way to see the highlights of the city at its best. L’Arc de Triomphe is in the middle of a very busy road, so please don’t get killed – but please do visit, and don’t walk away without having had a stroll down the Champs Elysee :)

The cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris is another don’t-miss – but the ultimate of ultimates is slightly outside Paris. Whatever you see or don’t see on the entire trip, make sure you visit the Palace at Versaille. I can’t emphasise this enough – and I don’t generally like palaces. It’s the most amazingly lavish, sumptuous, romantic, wonderful place. Just go.

Onward to the south of France – if you’re not entirely fed up of driving by now, you could pop in to Barcelona. (At this point, you could also start taking flights – the distances get a bit bigger here, although they’re still eminently drivable for North Americans.) The Museu Picasso is worth a look if you’re a fan, and the famous Gaudi masterpice – La Sagrada Familia” – is definitely to be seen, although they’re still not quite finished!

Although a very pretty city in its own right, Nice is on my tour for another reason – it’s from Nice airport that you can get a helicopter to the playground of the rich and famous, the Principality of Monaco and Monte-Carlo. There’s not a huge amount to do here, unless casinos are your thing, and frankly, it’s an expensive place. But I know if I had the money to do a grand tour of Europe, all at once, I’d go, just for a few hours, and do a Holly Golightly on it :)

The next leg (ok, I’m sorry, but it had to be done) is Italy. Rome is beautiful, and has lots to offer, although comes complete with swarms of pigeons and tourists. Florence is the city of art and culture. Milan is fashion and more modern culture, while Naples is pure beautiful, and Pompeii is the forgotten city. Sicily is home of the Mafia, and Venice is sinking. Lots to see – I’d pick Rome, Florence or Pompeii, for religion, art or history, and just do it to death over a couple of days.

Back in central Europe, we’ve missed a few spots – I understand that I’ve probably gone way past the three weeks this was meant to take, but that’s how it goes… Vienna & Prague for music, culture and Charles’ Bridge, Budapest for the amazing baths, and Krakow cos it’s just Europe’s little gem, would all be on my list.

Not on my list, but worth considering, are Ireland and the UK. Spring break isn’t the best time to see the countryside, but Dublin and London are still worth visiting – there’s so much to do and see that it probably won’t all be possible though. The Nordic/Scandanavian countries, while pretty, never really captured my heart the way the rest of Europe does, so they’re not in this tour. If any of them were to make it, it’d be Copenhagen, and possibly the Norwegian fjords – although they’re more of a summer thing, I think.

And that’s my Grand Tour of Europe pretty much complete :) I love this place, and it’s wonderful to visit, even just virtually!

5 comments to A Whistle-Stop Tour of Europe

  • [...] s something I’ve been planning on doing for ages, so here goes with the sequel to my Whistle-Stop Tour of Europe. (Excuse me. Minor diversion while I go tweak the PHP. This template is pretty [...]

  • firebird

    Thanks for that Elwing! I always thought the options open to non-Euro-residents were much different – and only included the “unlimited travel for x days in a month” kind – which I don’t think would be as cost-efficient here, personally.

    The Eurrail (Interrail for non-Europeans) stuff does seem to include the “unlimited travel for x consecutive days”, but I can only see 1st Class, unless you’re under 26. Still, good to know it’s there :)

    Bari – I think you’re actually eligible for the European variety, interrail – you’ve been living here long enough to be an honorary European :)

    Noirin

  • Interrail is very doable for non-Europeans :) You just have to buy the tickets before you leave North America. (raileurope.com is where I typically buy mine, but US travel agents have them as well).

    I disagree with Norin on Venice – I would consider it a must-see city. It’s canals are different than Amsterdam’s, and used in a very different way – just don’t pick a hotel that’s in Venice-Mestre!

    Rome is also a must see merely for it’s history. I do have to admit that Italy is not one of my favorite places, and I’d say visit once, never go back! :)

    I’ve only been to England once, and only in London, but I’d love to get out and see Stonehenge and Bath as well as Glastonbury, but those are my tastes.

    I really think that what you want to see depends on what you’re interested in. I loved the “oldness” of Rome, but I could have cared less about all the art museums – I saw the highlights of the Louve in one morning – that should tell you how interetsed in art I am :) Give me the old buildings :)

  • Your virtual stop in Amsterdam sounds eerily familiar to me… ;) I didn’t have time for Anne Frank, but it’s on the list for the next visit… :)

    I disagree about Venice though, it’s lovely. It’s also great fun trying to navigate around and getting lost because sometime there isn’t a bridge where you need one to be… :)

    Monte-carlo is very interesting to drive through. (although I have only experienced the motorway between Italy and France) since it has the highest no of Ferrari’s per sq mile in the world (yes, even more than the Ferarri factory!!)

    And I sympathise about Michelin starred locations, I was dragged to far too many vinyards all over France in my childhood. Yeuck! :(

  • Well, if you have already spent the 6 months or so that Noirin’s iterany should take you, you could add Norway on the end, then ;-) Besides, going now it would be June/July when you get here, and that’s a nice time of year :-)

    I thought about writing what you should see in Norway here, but I think I will make an entry in my own blog in stead :-)

    I’ll just add that I am one of the persons who hate Paris – I have been there three times, and it never got better. Especially the centre is horrible – too many people, too much chaos and traffic and generally not much that can’t be seen elsewhere. I’d highly recommend Lyon, though – lots of good food, much more relaxed and very beautiful. If you absolutely HAVE to be in Paris, stay clear of the centre. Ok, do the compulsory tour, I’d recommend boat on Seine, it’s quite nice, then head out of the centre. Parc de Luxembourg is nice and conveniently close when you are completely fed up of the city, and I regret not going to Versaille. It’ll definitely be on my list next time.

    I’ll also say that going to the countryside of UK outside season is great. We went to Scotland during the last week of September last week, and albeit raining for a week it was great. But be aware that most attractions close at weekdays (and weekends for the less famous ones) from October to, hm, Easter, I suppose, so check that first. I also visited Ireland during Easter several years ago, and had a terrific stay in Dublin and Galway. The coast in more rugged wheather is GREAT! (And that goes for Norway as well.) Of course, bring a good raincoat (not an umbrella – it will be windy), a warm sweater and good shoes (leather or some fabric that can be sprayed with a waterproof-thingie).

    An advantage of going off-season is also that you don’t have to book accomodation in advance, at least if you can stay in bigger places (in smaller places hostels, hotels and B&Bs often – but far from always – close off-season, so check or have a bigger place as backup). A major difference from USA is that public laundries are less common in Europe, and getting laundry done in hotels can be INCREDIBLY expensive (we’re talking 10 euro for a shirt here). Of course it depends on where you are, but e.g. in Scandinavia not even university cities have public laundries, since most students either live in a dorm with a laundry, or have their own washing machine. (I mention this because I have spent way too much time being worried about lack of clean clothes ;-))

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