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    I'm going to be traveling to Europe in about two weeks (flying into Rome, and back from Paris about 10 days later). Probably going by this route: Rome->Florence->Pisa->Milan->Lucerne->Geneva->Paris. Hope I won't have to rent a car, and instead travel by rail. Has anyone done Europe by rail? Anything I should look out for in particular?

    I've started reading Europe through the Back Door by Rick Stevens but then realized by back door he means avoiding the more popular places.
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    Moderator pemberly's Avatar
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    Anything specific you want to know? I've traveled in Europe by rail, plane, and car. I think the #1 tip I give people is to watch out for your stuff. There's a lot of pick-pocketers, especially on the subways and in the popular sites. Don't let people get too close to you. Don't let anybody tie a string around your wrist, don't talk to people who say they found a ring, don't sign a petition for deaf-mutes, etc.

    Traveling by train is generally pretty safe. I like to choose the quiet cars, so I can sleep. And be on time. It's not like in the US where everything is late. If the train is scheduled to leave at 8:00am, it will leave at 7:59am.
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemberly View Post
    Anything specific you want to know? I've traveled in Europe by rail, plane, and car. I think the #1 tip I give people is to watch out for your stuff. There's a lot of pick-pocketers, especially on the subways and in the popular sites. Don't let people get too close to you. Don't let anybody tie a string around your wrist, don't talk to people who say they found a ring, don't sign a petition for deaf-mutes, etc.

    Traveling by train is generally pretty safe. I like to choose the quiet cars, so I can sleep. And be on time. It's not like in the US where everything is late. If the train is scheduled to leave at 8:00am, it will leave at 7:59am.
    What are the driving/traffic conditions like in France and Italy? Would I be better off not renting a car?

    Do I need to make reservations for inter-city travel on the rails (e.g. Rome to Florence)? I know that you can but realistically do people bother especially in January which is probably off-season?

    Tie a string around your wrist? I'm not familiar with this one.

    Anything particularly interesting in Milan or Lucerne? They're on our list of destinations but Milan just seems to be a shopping destination while Lucerne seems to be known for a lion statue and a bridge.

    Thanks!
    HK47: Now do you understand the travails of my existence master? Surely it does not compare to your existence but still...
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    Quote Originally Posted by darkcser View Post
    What are the driving/traffic conditions like in France and Italy? Would I be better off not renting a car?

    Do I need to make reservations for inter-city travel on the rails (e.g. Rome to Florence)? I know that you can but realistically do people bother especially in January which is probably off-season?

    Tie a string around your wrist? I'm not familiar with this one.

    Anything particularly interesting in Milan or Lucerne? They're on our list of destinations but Milan just seems to be a shopping destination while Lucerne seems to be known for a lion statue and a bridge.

    Thanks!
    Driving around Paris is a pain. Parking is even worse. I've never driven in Italy, so I'm not sure. In France, you can't turn right on a red. I know in the US it varies by state. Also, in most of Europe, the traffic lights are a bit different. You stop pretty much next to it, and not behind it.

    And be aware that in France, and probably in Italy as well, most rental cars will be manual. It's only possible in France to find an automatic in touristy areas, the train stations and airports in Paris and the south of France. And selection will be limited. For example, when I rented a car in Aix-en-Provence, the only automatic cars they had were a smart car and an Audi.

    You don't need to make a reservation for train travel just like you don't necessarily need to buy a plane ticket in advance. You can do it at the counter, but it's probably best if you buy it ahead of time. Yes, there will probably be less passengers in the off season, but be aware that there are many business travelers on the trains as well. Also, I always aim for an aisle seat in the quiet car. I assume you're traveling with your wife. You don't want to be seated separately from her. Also, you can buy your ticket online, print it out, and just show up at the train station. Why would you want to get there early, wait in line at the counter, deal with someone who barely speaks English, pay more (there are often deals if you book early), and then not get an ideal seat? If you're worried about changing your plans at the last minute, just reserve the tickets the night before.

    Especially at the Sacre Coeur, there are guys that try to tie a string around your wrist, and then extort you for money because the "bracelet" won't come off.

    I've never been to either Lucerne or Milan, but I've heard great things about Milan. I love Renaissance art and visiting old cathedrals, but that might not be your thing. Food should be great, though. Oh yeah, Rome is ghetto. So so ghetto.
    nytimes: Every hr you have 10 minutes where youíre not doing anything productive at work, & you canít look at porn. So you make a comment & fulfill this desire to show yourself off as a smarty-pants.

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    have fun darkcser!!

    man i thought about doing a europe trip too, still thinking hard
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    Rome is ghetto? How bad is it?

    How's Venice? It looks like Switzerland is pretty expensive so we may end up going to Venice instead and then straight to Paris. With my allocated budget for hotels in Switzerland I'm looking at one that used to be a jail in the 1990's (in Lucerne) and another in the red light district (in Geneva)...

    Quote Originally Posted by LuNaR View Post
    have fun darkcser!!

    man i thought about doing a europe trip too, still thinking hard
    Thanks! I've been putting together a word doc with a mishmash of maps, train schedules and hotel bookings. Maybe I'll create a ppt of it with pictures from each place I visit.
    HK47: Now do you understand the travails of my existence master? Surely it does not compare to your existence but still...
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    Quote Originally Posted by darkcser View Post
    Rome is ghetto? How bad is it?

    How's Venice? It looks like Switzerland is pretty expensive so we may end up going to Venice instead and then straight to Paris. With my allocated budget for hotels in Switzerland I'm looking at one that used to be a jail in the 1990's (in Lucerne) and another in the red light district (in Geneva)...



    Thanks! I've been putting together a word doc with a mishmash of maps, train schedules and hotel bookings. Maybe I'll create a ppt of it with pictures from each place I visit.
    Well, Rome is a big city. There's a lot of graffiti in places, the subway is gross, hobos everywhere, pick pockets, etc. Not unlike Paris, haha. But Rome just feels worse to me. Maybe because the streets aren't wide and open like in Paris.

    Switzerland in general isn't exactly a touristy place, unless you're going skiing. It's financial centers. And yes, very very expensive. Just meals will cost a pretty penny.

    Venice is absolutely beautiful. Yes, a little touristy and artificial, but beautiful. Have google maps ready. The streets are many, narrow, and confusing, but charming. And be prepared to walk everywhere. There's no cars, taxis, bikes, rollerblades, etc., because like every block, you'll have to go up and down a little bridge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemberly View Post
    Well, Rome is a big city. There's a lot of graffiti in places, the subway is gross, hobos everywhere, pick pockets, etc. Not unlike Paris, haha. But Rome just feels worse to me. Maybe because the streets aren't wide and open like in Paris.

    Switzerland in general isn't exactly a touristy place, unless you're going skiing. It's financial centers. And yes, very very expensive. Just meals will cost a pretty penny.

    Venice is absolutely beautiful. Yes, a little touristy and artificial, but beautiful. Have google maps ready. The streets are many, narrow, and confusing, but charming. And be prepared to walk everywhere. There's no cars, taxis, bikes, rollerblades, etc., because like every block, you'll have to go up and down a little bridge.
    Would you recommend a gondola ride in Venice or is it just just too touristy?
    HK47: Now do you understand the travails of my existence master? Surely it does not compare to your existence but still...
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    i never recommend it, not because it's touristy, but because when I went it was 100 euros. And that was 4.5 yrs ago, and the price has most likely gone up. The only people I ever see taking those rides are Americans and Chinese people. The Americans are the ones that are 2 in a gondola, averaging 50 bucks per person. There'll be like 8 Chinese people in one gondola, averaging 12.50 euros a person, and one scared italian man rowing, hoping the gondola doesn't capsize.

    Oh yeah, most European countries don't tip or tip a lot less than Americans. In France, it's customary to leave a euro or two. Basically whatever change they bring back. I believe it's the same in Italy. Sometimes in France, if they know you're an American, they'll try to trick you into tipping more, especially if you eat at one of the super touristy places, but your receipt should say "service compris." Just point that out to them if they give you trouble. But it's generally a good idea not to let people know you're American. I had some friends visit when I was in Paris, and they said they were at a restaurant and the service was markedly different before and after they mentioned they were from America.
    nytimes: Every hr you have 10 minutes where youíre not doing anything productive at work, & you canít look at porn. So you make a comment & fulfill this desire to show yourself off as a smarty-pants.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemberly View Post
    i never recommend it, not because it's touristy, but because when I went it was 100 euros. And that was 4.5 yrs ago, and the price has most likely gone up. The only people I ever see taking those rides are Americans and Chinese people. The Americans are the ones that are 2 in a gondola, averaging 50 bucks per person. There'll be like 8 Chinese people in one gondola, averaging 12.50 euros a person, and one scared italian man rowing, hoping the gondola doesn't capsize.
    Ha!

    Thanks for the tip re tips. On a related note I've been wondering if I should exchange USD->EUR or just use a US credit card (Visa). BoA seems to charge a 5% markup for exchanges, and I would be hit twice if I ended up with excess Euros. Is it just better to use credit cards over there?
    HK47: Now do you understand the travails of my existence master? Surely it does not compare to your existence but still...
    You: I survive somehow
    HK47: As do I. It is our lot in life I suppose master. Shall we find something to kill to cheer ourselves up?

    -KotOR

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    Quote Originally Posted by darkcser View Post
    Ha!

    Thanks for the tip re tips. On a related note I've been wondering if I should exchange USD->EUR or just use a US credit card (Visa). BoA seems to charge a 5% markup for exchanges, and I would be hit twice if I ended up with excess Euros. Is it just better to use credit cards over there?
    Actually, most people in France mainly use their credit cards. It's almost a cashless society. The same for Italy, but to a lesser extent.

    Caveat 1. You have the wrong kind of credit card. In Europe, like in Asia, they use the kind with the chip instead of the stripe. In most restaurants and stores you should be ok. The only places i can think of offhand in France that you might not would be the ticket machines for the metro, city bikes, and parking meters should you choose to drive. For those, you'll have to use cash. Actually, I don't think the city bikes take cash either.

    Caveat 2. Many places in Europe don't take American Express.

    So I would say exchange some money before you leave. If you need more, you can always just get some from an ATM there. Or, you could go to one of those exchange places there. If you're changing USD to Euros in Paris, there are many on the Champs Elysee, but those tend to be more expensive. Oh, and you can bargain with them.
    nytimes: Every hr you have 10 minutes where youíre not doing anything productive at work, & you canít look at porn. So you make a comment & fulfill this desire to show yourself off as a smarty-pants.

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    Good to know.

    Well, I leave tomorrow afternoon so I'll probably be offline until I return on the 28th.
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    You: I survive somehow
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    Quote Originally Posted by darkcser View Post
    Good to know.

    Well, I leave tomorrow afternoon so I'll probably be offline until I return on the 28th.
    stay safe bro. ive decided not to do a europe trip anymore, gonna do a japan/china/singapore trip 2015 hopefully i can rack up even more $$$ in stocks til then lol
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    Rats! Had our passports stolen along with my Kindle HD and cash on the metro in Paris. It was one of those get off the crowded train and "oh crap!" kind of moments.

    Our flight back is on Monday morning but the US consulate isn't open on the weekends. Spent several hours at the police station last night -basically a waste of time but did receive lots of help from a Chinese accountant who came to report his missing dog.

    Now it's a scramble to get all the stuff required for an emergency passport replacement, and reschedule our flight back.

    Well, at least now I have a reason to buy the new Kindle HDX.
    HK47: Now do you understand the travails of my existence master? Surely it does not compare to your existence but still...
    You: I survive somehow
    HK47: As do I. It is our lot in life I suppose master. Shall we find something to kill to cheer ourselves up?

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    I'm sorry for all your troubles. Yes, the French police are a waste of time, but you will probably need their report for a claim with your travel insurance. And sorry to say, this happens a lot. Well, bon chance! I hope everything goes smoothly from now on and you and your wife get back safe. I have every confidence that all will turn out well. Like I said, this happens a lot.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemberly View Post
    I'm sorry for all your troubles. Yes, the French police are a waste of time, but you will probably need their report for a claim with your travel insurance. And sorry to say, this happens a lot. Well, bon chance! I hope everything goes smoothly from now on and you and your wife get back safe. I have every confidence that all will turn out well. Like I said, this happens a lot.
    Went to the US embassy this morning so we have our replacement passports now. Rescheduling our flight tagged another $1000 usd to the cost but we're good for flying back tomorrow. My wife is against travel insurance so we'll just have to eat the cost.

    We went to see Alcina today at Opera -it was the modern version so sadly no hippogriffs.
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    I think Paris has the best opera. Bastille or Garnier? Opera Garnier is absolutely beautiful, but I find to actually watch it and the acoustics, I prefer Bastille. There's no obstructed views.
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    darkcser, which place was your favorite?

    I'm going to Africa for work in 2 weeks and afterward, I plan to take some time off and tour Europe since I'm already in that part of the world. Going straight back to the US would be a waste.

    For now, I'm planning to go from Spain to France to Italy.
    I would love to change the world, but they won't give me the source code.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemberly View Post
    I think Paris has the best opera. Bastille or Garnier? Opera Garnier is absolutely beautiful, but I find to actually watch it and the acoustics, I prefer Bastille. There's no obstructed views.

    Garnier. I hear that there's an underground lake below it. Didn't have time to check to see if it was open to the public. I had a restricted view seat but in the end didn't miss too much as the scenes tend to be very austere.


    Quote Originally Posted by CrazyT View Post
    darkcser, which place was your favorite?

    I'm going to Africa for work in 2 weeks and afterward, I plan to take some time off and tour Europe since I'm already in that part of the world. Going straight back to the US would be a waste.

    For now, I'm planning to go from Spain to France to Italy.
    I probably enjoyed Rome the most with its ancient Roman structures like the Colosseum, Forum, etc. Took five years of Latin in high school so I've always wanted to see it. Florence was fairly nice too with its plethora of classical statues, and close to Pisa if you want to visit the Tower. Milan reminded me of Boston so unless you are into shopping or like to visit grand churches it might not be worthwhile. Lucerne had some nice views of lakes and mountains -we went to Mt Titlus which was nearby but I'm not a skier so it was mostly for the mountain views. Paris is kind of like New York in my opinion.

    Where are you going in Africa? My wife wanted to go on a safari, and maybe visit Egypt but we compromised for Europe this time.

    I've taken many pictures of dubious quality, and will probably end up posting some of them.
    HK47: Now do you understand the travails of my existence master? Surely it does not compare to your existence but still...
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    I'll be an hour or so east of Dakar, Senegal. I'm hoping I'll have time to go on a safari but I might be too busy with work.

    Thanks for the tip. I've been doing my own research as well and it's so hard to pick just a few places. I wanna see them all.
    I would love to change the world, but they won't give me the source code.

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