We are a couple who are planning a trip around Europe, planning on starting in Paris at the beginning of January, heading down to Madrid, then Barcelona, to Nice, Switzerland and then travelling around Italy, finishing the trip at the beginning of February. We are wanting to stay in each major city for approx 3-4 days and do day trips to sites close by. We are wanting to do this within 5 weeks.
An option we have thought of is:
Eurail 4 Country select pass in 10 days/2 months
This is for major trips between the countries and then to use point to point tickets for the day trips, along with public transport in each country - Any tips or other thoughts or suggestions on this option?
For accommodation, we are looking at staying in Hostels, to save as much money as possible. Are there any good places people have been to or heard about that they can reccommend?
I'm surprised that you are visiting Europe in January, if the purpose of your visit is not ski-ing. Paris should be OK in terms of museums being open and so on. If you get a good clear sunny winter's day then you should get a good view from the Eiffel Tower. Nice I would pass on in January; the only winter activity there is Carnival which takes place in February and it is primarily a coastal resort city.
Barcelona should be OK weatherwise though it can get colder than England if there is a north wind blowing down from the Pyrenees. Sorry to say I can't recommend anywhere accommodation-wise. When I visited Barca, several years ago I stayed at a 'hostal' as distinct from a hostel. In Spain you will find some 'hostals' which are just one or two floors of a tenement block converted into guest rooms but without any common amenties, except the shared bathroom.
With regard to Switzerland there is a large youth hostel in Geneva, which for want of a better word I'd describe as a bit 'sterile'. I'd recommend visiting Lyon, which is a more interesting city and where there is a youth hostel in the old town, in addition to or instead of Geneva. Within the area you are looking to travel I'd also suggest Montpellier and / or Toulouse en-route to Barcelona.
Italy, none of the hotels I have stayed in have been particularly cheap, but the must-sees/must-dos would be Florence with a round day-trip to Pisa and Lucca, Rome to state the bleeding obvious and somewhere in the Bay of Naples / Amalfi Coast to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum; Pompeii being the vast place that it is, in winter it should be quite pleasant for a day out. Also don't forget to visit the archeological museum in Naples
In Paris I would recommend MIJE (of the three Fauconnier would be my preference) or BVJ. For things to do you may find this thread of some help.
When I was in Rome I stayed at the Yellow which was pretty great. One of the benefits is that all the staff there speaks English, while at the same time being pretty knowledgeable about the city. They also have a bar downstairs which is a nice place to hang out, and makes it easy to meet other travellers. My favorite thing in Rome that wouldn't be be a "standard" would be the Baths of Carcalla, though I heard there was some damage there from the earthquake. There is also a changing of the guard at Palazzo de Quirinale (at maybe around 4) every day that was fun to see (and free.)
Best of luck!
Thank you very much for those reccommendations!
We are hoping that Europe won't be too bad at that time, but have heard from a few different people that certain places are quite nice at that time.
Are there any suggestions on rail travel around Europe?
Are there any suggestions on rail travel around Europe?
Rail Europe, for which I've posted the Aussie link (with prices in Aussie dollars) is an obvious place to get quotations on the price of rail passes and individual tickets. One other suggestion is to check if there is a copy of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable available in one of your major city libraries, as it is good for route planning and getting an idea of the times between your different destinations.
Other suggestions of places to visit? Architecturally the centre of Valencia is quite nice. It is three hours by train each way from Barcelona and therefore do-able as a day trip if you have the time. Other places to visit near Barca are Girona and Figueres (for the Dali Museum), both towns being on the main rail route down from France (Montpellier).
RailEurope is not the best way, they are a travel agency and charge you a hefty commission for getting the tickets in advance.
I would always buy the Eurail pass from the official site, www.eurail.com.
To compare Eurail passes, read the tutorial that is available from www.ricksteves.com/rail
Just note that Rick Steves completely ignores special offers for train tickets, commonly known tricks for issueing train tickets to make them cheaper, international bus tickets and flights when he compares the prices of individual tickets vs a Eurail pass. So take those options into account too when you compare.
You can usually get price quotes from the national train websites where the train originates.
International bus: www.eurolines.com
Rail Europe do not charge customers commission when booking on-line. The charge goes to the rail company.
You will see that if you book (for example) an advance return from Paris to Amsterdam on Thalys (Belgium International Trains) directly, the price will be exactly the same as if you book it through Rail Europe. Also, Rail Europe will post your tickets to you free of charge and they will arrive within 72 hours of payment being received.
But that is only true for common connections, say Amsterdam to Paris. For more obscure connections (one small hamlet in Germany to one small hamlet in France) the national train websites can be the better choice.
And the RailEurope search engine sucks, too frequently it comes up with "no connections" when there are trains, but RailEurope cannot sell you the tickets for it.
Bottom line: RailEurope is a private travel agency - they are not the real thing, they are not the train companies in Europe, just a middle-man. They have their limits. They can be good for ordering tickets, but I most definitely wouldn't use their site to get accurate prices without double-checking them on the national train websites.
Well, we all have our own opinions.
I've been using Rail Europe for years - and whether I've been doing various trains from a village in Transylvania to Greece, or Madrid to the Morocco ferry - via stations with more goats on the platform than people (check out Bobadilla Antiquera station. It doesn't come more Spanish than that - anywhere in the world. Farmers playing chess and drinking brandy at 6am!!), I've always got a ticket and it's been exactly the same price as from the national train companies. Also, their customer and postal services are excellent. The other thing I like about Rail Europe is their compensation packages. They'll sort out refunds for delays at no cost whatsoever. Quick too. I've had several nasty train trips in Europe - and they've helped me to resolve issues quickly and efficiently. Unheard of with many of the train companies, when dealing directly.
I share Maia's experience with RailEurope. Furthermore, if you were to use them to buy national tickets for the Netherlands, you would be overcharged as much as 60%. Also, they will try to sell you 'flexible' tickets (again overcharging 40%), while these do not even exist in Dutch trains because you can't book a seat anyway.
[ Edit: Edited on 10-Jul-2009, at 03:12 by bentivogli ]