Plan your trip
Many people travelling to Europe just buy a ticket to London or Paris, and decide to travel for four or six weeks on the continent. If you fail to plan your visit, you will waste a lot of time finding suitable accommodation, travelling to different cities, and most likely will miss many and important sites. The first thing to do is to get a large-scale map and decide which cities you want to visit. If they close to each other you can use local transportation.
If on the other hand, you want to see many cities that happen to be far apart, you might want to think about a Eurailpass, or an old, or buy a reliable second hand car in Belgium (they are less expensive there) and then travel all over Europe. At the end of the trip you can try to sell it, or return it to the dealership, if you make arrangements at the time of purchase.
You can also get a new Renault in Paris form the factory, or have the car delivered to the airport upon your arrival. At the end of that trip you return the car to Renault and pay for the time you used it.
You can also travel by long distance buses for which long-term cards are available. Consider two or three countries if you are planning a two-week stay, four to six weeks, four to six three weeks, six to eight for four weeks. In Europe, countries are small and you can cross many in a few hours, but each country has several interesting sites.
It serves no purpose to travel, say to Bremen in northern Germany, and arrive at 3 p m, go to downtown for three to four hours, have dinner, sleep, and depart the following day. You should spend at least one full day in a relatively small city like Bremen.
In Paris, a week may be sufficient to visit and see only a fraction of what the city offers. If you want to visit Paris and stay there for two nights, try to arrive on Wednesday, as museums are closed on Mondays, and sometimes even on Tuesdays.
Take weather and season into consideration. In Germany, summers happen to be rainy. In March, Scandinavian countries are still relatively cold, as is Switzerland, due to altitude. Try to avoid redundancy – there is no need to visit both Italian and French Rivieras, (one is sufficient).
Why visit Oxford and Cambridge? Many prefer Cambridge to Oxford, but this is a personal choice. The Internet can provide a lot of valuable information including pictures.
If you want to see a few Spanish cities, stay in Madrid, and take day trips to Toledo, Segovia, El Escorial (check my article on this website about El Escorial). Similarly, you can stay in Lisbon and take trips to Estoril, or if you have two days take the express train to Porto in the north.
In Portugal the state-owned railway offers seniors, regardless of their country of origin, 50 per cent discount upon presentation of your passport. Make your accommodation reservation online and be selective. You can stay in pensions (Bed and breakfast in North America), youth hostels, hostels, low-, medium- or high end hotels.
You can group countries, i.e the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, or Germany, Switzerland and Austria, or Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. If you rent a car always park in a secure garage, or guarded parking lot, especially in Italy, or southern France. Most car rental companies outside of Italy will not rent if you tell them you plan to drive there.
In fact, organized crime in many European capitals during the high season is a major problem, especially in poorly policed cities like Rome, Madrid, and many major tourist destinations in southern Europe. Make a photocopy of the first three pages of your passport, and stash your cash in three or four separate places.
You can also use your credit card to withdraw from local ATM’s, but be aware that there are costs for withdrawal, and you pay for the exchange. If you decide to take cash, exchange it before your departure, and never at an airport exchange kiosk. Never exchange money in eastern European countries on the street regardless of favourable rates quoted.
Most major European cities offer publish transportation to and from the airport at reasonable cost. You may be approached upon arrival by taxi drivers or private car owner, ignore them, especially if you don’t speak the language.
Several northern European capitals offer special deals that combine transportation, restaurant meal discount coupon, and special prices for museums. They represent good value; if you intend to visit many museums and use publish transportation.
If you arrive in Rome’s main railway station and have no hotel reservation, “friendly” multilingual young people, offering accommodation nearby, may approach you. Beware! They work on commission.
The situation may be even worse upon arrival in a Middle Eastern country early in the morning after a long flight. You will be literally “assaulted” by dubious characters offering you all kinds of services. Ignore them!