what's cool in europe?
January 31, 2006 8:35 PM   Subscribe

What do you recommend to do in Europe?

My friend from Alabama is looking for ideas and advice for a vacation in Europe. He's 22, graduating from college in May, and traveling with his 25 year old sister. The plan is to go this summer but the dates are flexible; his budget is around $3000 so he estimates a two-week visit. It will be his first time in Europe so he wants to travel a fair amount. He enjoys the outdoors, partying, etc... and is open to pretty much any suggestions.

posted by foraneagle2 to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: By the way, feel free to ask questions and I will relay his repsonses.
posted by foraneagle2 at 8:37 PM on January 31, 2006


No really, my favorite place in all of Europe has got to be the Mountain Hostel in Gimmelwald, Switzerland. Tell him to check that out, especially if he likes hiking - Switzerland is beautiful in the summer.
posted by borkingchikapa at 8:46 PM on January 31, 2006

Walk around, get lost, talk to people, go camping, do a pub crawl to meet some new friends, go to barcelona, get lost.
posted by Espoo2 at 8:50 PM on January 31, 2006

As a bit of a meta-suggestion, I would do everything I could to stretch the time and money longer than two weeks. The one thing you don't have in most jobs is more than two weeks of consecutive vacation, and he should really take advantage of having that while he can.
posted by smackfu at 8:56 PM on January 31, 2006

Why, learn to speak European of course.
posted by sien at 8:58 PM on January 31, 2006

Take trains. Take a boat down the Rhine. Buy bread and cheese at local stores. Sit in a cafe in Provence.
posted by stirfry at 9:15 PM on January 31, 2006

Sew a Canadian flag to his backpack.

Europe has a lot of resources for students which enable their money to go a lot farther. Discounts on train tickets and hostels abound, as they also do for museum admittance, buses, ferries, and even restaurants. He should get a hold of Let's Go Europe or a Lonely Planet guide. Otherwise Europe is brutally expensive. Student discounts are not limited to EU students.

Rail passes used to be a good deal but now that there are budget airlines that may have changed. Many a young European has planned out a budget trip which uses overnight trains between cities as sleeping accomodation. To a European student three thousand dollars would be enough for well over a month of travel.
posted by thayerg at 9:40 PM on January 31, 2006

Ireland. Often gets overlooked in the rush to do the continental Eurail thing.
posted by frogan at 9:41 PM on January 31, 2006

I second trying to find more time. Does he really only have two weeks, and is he set on traveling a lot? Unless plane tickets are really expensive or the exchange rate gets a lot worse, $3000 should last longer than two weeks. (Admittedly, my style of travel is a bit spartan.) In two weeks I would limit myself to four or five places in the same region.

What I would do is figure out what the top must-see attractions are (canals in Venice, Eiffel Tower, Charles Bridge, etc.), plan for those, and leave the rest of the time to wander and enjoy the experience. For the outdoors, Switzerland is great, but so are the Julian Alps (Bled, Slovenia), easily accessible from Vienna. Rick Steves has decent advice geared specifically towards USians on their first trip to Europe, though some find his attitude condescending. The hidden places he recommends will be full of Americans, though I did enjoy both Gimmelwald and Cinque Terre.

Finally, he should try to learn at least 'yes', 'no', 'please', 'thank you', and 'Do you speak English?' in every local language. It's not absolutely necessary, but in my experience it makes interactions with people much friendlier.
posted by komilnefopa at 9:43 PM on January 31, 2006

Yes, definately go to Barcelona. Such an amazing city and has great seafood on the cheap. I did 47 days on about $3200 in 2003. We stayed only in hostels, though, and ate a lot of 2-3 euro falafels, so your friend might be able to stretch that kind of budget out a little ways (especially since the exchange rate is a little better now that it was when I went).

I found that it is true what they say about the French, they're assholes. Everyone has their own experience, obviously, but if I were your friend I wouldn't spend much time in France, especially Paris. The south is fun, but Marseille is pretty ghetto and so stick to Nice a Morraco.

In Italy, hit up Cinque Terra. It is touristy, but a great getaway from the urban museum church crawls they'll be doing. It is absolutely beautiful.

I second what everyone has said about meeting people. Try to get into the mix of things and really experience the culture. Yes, see the toursity stuff, most of it is worth it, but don't get trapped there. You can meet great people in Europe that will be more knowledgable about places to go and things to do.

The best times I had in Europe were in the small towns I visited in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. The big cities have a lot to offer, but the small towns are extremely charming and you get a real taste for the European culture.

One last thing. Learn a few phrases in each of the languages. Even though English is pretty prevalent, just showing the Europeans that you are trying will go a long way.
posted by blueplasticfish at 9:54 PM on January 31, 2006

PS - for outdoorsy stuff your friend has to check out Interlachen. It is a bit toursity but not overly so, and there are a million ourdoor things to do there. But it is spendy.
posted by blueplasticfish at 9:58 PM on January 31, 2006

I have had the great pleasure of visiting Europe twice, once to France and once to Spain. I thought they were both, jaw-droppingly great (particularly Paris), but friends have told me that Italy blows them all away. I hear Amsterdam is a lot of fun, too, with the all the Rembrandts and Van Goghs and everything...
posted by wsg at 10:11 PM on January 31, 2006

Sew a Canadian flag to his backpack.

Please do not do that. Any conceivable benefits are outweighed by how ridiculous you'll feel when you run into Canadians.
posted by smackfu at 10:16 PM on January 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Remember that the World Cup is going on in Germany in June - which may or may not be a great experience if you are in to that sort of thing, but it certainly will attract a lot of people and potentially add a different feeling to the nightlife in other countries that are participating.
posted by babar at 10:52 PM on January 31, 2006

I did two months of backpacking in the summer of 2004, I was 21 at the time. It was amazing. I would spend roughly 3 days in each city, and just go where I wanted to without much planning. I found I could book a hostel and transportation to most places with about 2 days notice.

Highlights: London and Paris are musts, both of them. I adore both cities, and though they're both INCREDIBLY expensive I'd have to say that they're must-sees. There's alot of stuff you can do for free in those cities as well.

Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with some of the best food and wine in the world. I STRONGLY suggest visiting this city. Venice is amazing, as well.

Berlin was the biggest surprise of my trip, one of the best party towns in Europe. Berlin has incredible history, really awesome museums, and a fun night life. Easily the city I felt safest in.

Watch out in cities like Barcelona and Rome. In Barcelona, I met a local who lived in the US for many years when I got off my train. He warned me to keep my backpack on my stomach on La Rambla and just generally be weary - in the two days I spent in Barcelona, I nearly got robbed twice through distraction robberies and witnessed two others. Crazy town. BUT it is alot of fun, and incredible food, and some amazing must-see type sights.

etc. I could go on for a long time.

Major tips though:
1. Always know where your towel is. The HHGTTG was definately right on the money with this one.
2. With hostels, the cheapest is often that cheap for a REASON. I don't want to get into how bad some of these places I stayed in are, but check up on the hostel before you stay there - There are message boards and ranking sites for hostels all over the net. I used hostelworld.com alot.
3. MEET PEOPLE. This was intimidating at first, but I often would sit in the lobby of my hostel and just say hi to everyone that walked by. Within an hour or two I'd be going out on the town with at least a half dozen other backpackers.
4. Arabic and mediterranean fast food is phenomenal and will fill you up for little to no money. American fast-food joints are VERY expensive in Europe and should be avoided.
5. If you're REALLY travelling on the cheap, you'll learn the joys of sleeping in airports and train stations if you're taking early trains. Airports are usually safer, with places like Stansted in London often housing hundreds of people each night. One night I was the only person sleeping in the airport in Rotterdam. The guards were confused, but let me be. Some train stations should DEFINATELY be avoided, do not sleep in Centraal Station in Amsterdam.

Things I Would Not Do Without:
1. You NEED NEED NEED a good windbreaker/rain jacket. Goretex if possible. Take it with you everywhere.
2. Get GOOD walking shoes. I did my first two weeks in skater shoes, thinking they'd be fine. I have never experienced more blisters and pain in my life. Splurge and buy GOOD shoes, I was doing almost 10-15km of walking a day around cities, and usually carrying alot of stuff.
3. Your own sheets or a super light, equatorial sleeping bag. Like I said about hostels, there were one or two where I DID NOT want to sleep in their sheets.
4. Maps. I carried the Lonely Planet Europe guide with me everywhere, it's huge but has city maps for everything helping me get around.
5. Don't bother with phrase books, they're a waste of time IMO. People will disagree with me on this, but you can get by without them and they're more hastle than they're worth.

Uhm, yeah. I can keep going, but won't. If you want more info just drop me a message.
posted by smitt at 11:23 PM on January 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I second the Canadian flag thing. I'm Canadian, and did just fine without it.
And god forbid you run into any other Canadians and get called on it.
posted by smitt at 11:27 PM on January 31, 2006

i agree, try to stay as long as possible. two weeks is a whirlwind. either way, i believe a good rule is to give every major city at 3 days, minimum.

lonely planet guides rock. also the knopf city maps are kinda cool; they're small, the fold-out maps are very good and the books don't really look like tourist guides.

do go to amsterdam! use the VVV tourist board services - they're great. there's an office directly across the street from centraal station, and one in leidseplein. they'll help you get a nice, clean affordable hotel - they get discounted rates, so are cheaper than booking direct. if you decide to stay at the flying pig hostel instead of a hotel, choose the one near vondelpark rather than centraal. the leidselplein area is nicer than the cetraal area. be sure to check if there's any good music happening at the paradiso or melkweg.

barcelona is also fabulous, and the rambla is not really too dangerous - there's just scammers. keep your wits about and you'll have a great time. take the stairs in sagrada familia cathedral rather than the elevator, your legs will hurt but it's worth it - like climbing a giant seashell with amazing views. the textile museum has a lovely cafe. the cafe del'opera bar is great for cava and people-watching. oh, and - spanish coffee is like crack. uno mas caffe con leche y sucre, por favor!

prague is totally worth a visit, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. though the intercontintal hotel is very expensive, you don't need a room to use the fancy bathrooms just off the lobby, or swank phone booths. check out the bitchin' sculptures in the lobby - giant, fluid carvings of tree trunks. the concierge sells postage stamps if you don't find a post office. on petrin hill, there's a miniature eiffel tour that is kindafunto climb,especially if you go to paris and then see the real eiffel tower.

a great day trip from prague is to kutna hora/sedlec, to visit the kostnice ossuary. you can take the train or find tour services by the mcdonalds next to the museum of communism, which has great posters for sale. i like to call the mcdonalds the museum of capitalism. ;-)

if you are in italy, yes- venice and florence are amazing, go. i also recommend verona. the one hostel is awesome; an old villa, with gorgeous grounds for camping, or clean, safe dorms inside. the town is known as the birthplace of romeo and juliet- rub the breast of juliet's statue for good luck in love (it works). go to the opera, even if you don't like opera. it is held in a huge, ancient roman ampitheater, you can drink vino coca fanta or birra bought from vendors climbing the stone steps while you watch an amazing spectacle.

in paris, if you want visit another miniature version of a great landmark, there is a tiny version of the statue of liberty about 20 minute's walk along the seine from the eiffel tower. quite charming. i recommend the esmeralda hotel,if you are lucky enough to get a room, or the hotel jeanne d'arc at 3 rue de jarent. the marais is a great area to stay. visit the pere lachaise cemetery - even if it is terribly touristy around jim morrison's grave, the cemetery is a truly wonderful place to explore.

as for transit, a eurail pass is really your best bet if you stay longer than 2 weeks. if you fly, easy jet offers low- cost last-minute options; if you plan your itinerary in advance, europebyair.com has a great "flight pass" deal.

eh, looks like i'm writing an entire gudebook here. i hope it's helpful!
posted by lapolla at 1:41 AM on February 1, 2006

Two weeks in Europe makes you a tourist; four weeks makes you a visitor. The inconveniences of sleeping on a train or washing your smalls in a sink are far, far outweighed by the benefits of spending more time across the pond.
posted by holgate at 1:50 AM on February 1, 2006

Just got back from a month in Krakow, Poland. Best place I've ever lived/visited/whatever, even with the near-total lack of sunlight and daily snow flurries. 22/male. Been to Europe a number of other times. Your friend's gonna have a great time.

Five-ish tips for trip awesometude -

1) Metaplanning: More than two weeks, unless the $3000 is for both him and his sister. The East is (often FAR) cheaper and just as cool, but it's off our (American) radar. For every Barcelona, there's a Budapest. Investigate.

2) Pack: almost nothing. Lay out everything you're going to bring, and then halve it. Two pants/khakis, a few t-shirts, one nicer shirt. Shoes, socks. Flip-flops. A bathing suit if you're beaching it, maybe a light non-wrinkly sweater if you're heading to colder/higher climes. Forget the ginormous-huge metal frame backpack and just spend the 10 bucks to get your laundry done in a laundromat once or twice, plus sink washing for the unmentionables/as needed. Totally worth it to not have to always check your bag on a plane or cram it into a tiny 6-bed train compartment. Unless you're camping outside, forget the sleeping bag. H&M is everywhere in case you need a plain white tee or something for a few euros. Mail things you aren't using anymore home, or just give them away to your hostelmates. Umbrella + cafe instead of giant rainjacket - it's summer showers, not a nor'easter.

2a) Out-and-about-pack: I didn't like the idea of a daypack on my back that I couldn't see/hold in crowded places, so I got a small black canvas manpurse-messenger thing for the requisite guidebook and water bottle and was fine. If it's cloth and crushable, awesome - it's in your bigger bag on the way over and a free way to carry more luggage with you on the way back. I also got rid of my money belt when my passport started to smell like sweat.

3) Getting around: Cheap flights! I flew from Krakow to Glasgow for $10 including taxes/fees on a week's notice - maybe I lucked out, and it was the middle of the winter, but it's possible. Europe-wide cheap-flight fare aggregators (à la Travelocity): Dohop, Skyscanner. Some cheap airlines: Vueling, Air-Berlin, Easyjet, Ryanair. Wizzair, Centralwings , SkyEurope in the East. They're all safe, reliable, whatever - think Southwest, but in Slovakian. And just like here, if you can fly at 4am on a random Tuesday and book it 4 months in advance, more money in your pocket.

[3a) Consider limiting train travel. In 2002, I chose to buy point-to-point train tickets for a month-long Spain, France and Italy trip because all the passes shilled to us on this side of the pond seemed more expensive and hassle-filled for where I was going. Today, I'd stick to trains within countries (Florence-Rome, Paris-Lyon) and fly for anything where I'd be in a train overnight or for more than 5 hours. Yes, trains are cool, but with just a few weeks and 30-odd countries, the case for flying seems really good. You can also connect the dots more easily. Start in London, head over to Tallinn, jet down to Lisbon. Lots of diverse experiences in very little time. YMMV. Also, all train schedules in Europe here.]

4) Falafel/kebab/etc. places = cheap/cheerful meals, open late, sympathetic to (kind, gentle) intoxicated patrons. Also a great way to meet people who are newcomers to Europe and share the love, and find the young guns steeling themselves for the next party.

5) Grab bag: Monument fatigue can only be defeated one way: ice cream. Rent a bike for a day in Paris and ride under the Eiffel Tower instead of waiting in line for two hours; the view is from Trocadero on the other side of the river anyway. Open-bottle laws are, um, not really an issue, usually. Music festivals, jazz clubs, and the like are all over - just pick some and go.

One final tip: the price of a scoop of gelato in Italy is inversely proportional to your physical distance from a famous monument. Dramatically so.
posted by mdonley at 2:02 AM on February 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, tell your friend to get on AskMeFi and explore previous threads like his - if this seems exhaustive, just wait until he trolls all the "Europe"-tagged posts. Whoo!
posted by mdonley at 2:06 AM on February 1, 2006

Sew a Canadian flag to his backpack.

Please do not do that. Any conceivable benefits are outweighed by how ridiculous you'll feel when you run into Canadians.

Or anyone else who realizes that you're a poseur. Really, most people I've run into here are not that unfriendly to Americans just because of where you are from. And if they are, fuck 'em. If you act like an obnoxious stereotypical American, though, that's another story, and a Canadian flag patch won't save you.
posted by grouse at 5:51 AM on February 1, 2006

There's a lot of great tips here and I'll second the good walking shoes, the light packing and the watching out for crime in Barcelona. Almost got robbed there myself and watched a successful robbery unfold in front of me. If you sleep anywhere in a public space in Spain, sleep on and hook your arm through your backpack's shoulder straps.

Hostels are cheap and have varying levels of cleanliness. I'd say the hostels in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are the cleanest and friendliest anywhere in Europe. The hostels in Germany also usually include a standard breakfast of bread, jam, hard-boiled eggs, granola, meat, cheese and coffee/tea/hot chocolate. It's free with your stay and a great way to start the day!

Since he'll be with his sister, I would suggest considering hitchhiking as a supplement to rail. As a single girl hitching in 2001, I got from Berlin to Prague and Bremen to Cologne to Brussels fairly easily and it tied in nicely with my 10-day Euro rail pass, which I used for longer hauls from Paris to Barcelona and Barcelona to Rome. Met some very nice people along the way and met up with other hitchhikers and shared rides.

Two weeks is too short a time to be in Europe, especially with the budget he's got. He'll find that once he gets there, he'll see a couple of things and then be sad that he'll be leaving so soon. The trick is to budget on food and hostels and not buy expensive souvenirs. Don't go to Venice at the start of your trip and buy Murano glass and haul it around, paranoid that you'll break it.

Also, you don't need a Canadian flag on your backpack - it's a bit cheesy and lame, even as a Canadian. I found that being friendly and genuinely interested in the local way of life opened up a lot of doors to free food and shelter. Remember, some people really enjoy having travellers as their guests. I found a place to stay twice in Berlin and a week in Prague and had the best spaghetti in my life in the Italian Alps.
posted by KathyK at 7:10 AM on February 1, 2006

I'm American, I've been living in Europe for almost a decade and I spend lots of time in the Developing World in general and muslim countries specifically.

I've never once been made to feel unwelcome or otherwise threatened by my nationality. Folks may not be thrilled by what the US is up to in the world at the moment but seem intelligent enough to understand that I've got very little to say in the matter. The idea of flying a false flag in Europe or pretty much anywhere else on the planet (with the exception of war zones) is ridiculous.

And generalisations about the French or others?

More germane to the topic at hand; definitely try for a month and keep in mind there are really cheap carriers flying out of England these days.

Why not consider something like using the UK as a hub, and taking a bunch of those low cost flights across Europe? Doing it that way you could probably see four or more countries, spending at least one week in each.
posted by Mutant at 7:12 AM on February 1, 2006

Nothern Ireland.

It's beautiful along the NE coast from Larne up to the Giant's Causeway. Derry is a friendly city with much history to share. Learning about the politics only enhanced the trip for me.
posted by UncleHornHead at 7:19 AM on February 1, 2006

Regarding packing, this site's got some good advice about how to pack your stuff.
posted by desuetude at 8:08 AM on February 1, 2006

I second Prague, I'm there myself right now. It's gorgeous.

Also, if he feels any "anti-American" feelings, the Czechs on a whole have an american friendly attitude, since they see the US as key in creating their country after world war one. There are "Wilsonova" and "Washingtonova" streets in Prague because of that.

That being said, other advice is, of course, try not too be a lound obnoxious American (but I'm sure he won't be). Lately I've been trying to hide my face when kids from my program walk into the same restaurant as me bragging loudly about a hooker who came onto them, how cheap the beer is or contemplating where they can get pot.
posted by piratebowling at 8:52 AM on February 1, 2006

Shit, the "I'm there myself" thing was meant to link to here:


Instead, it looks like I'm shouting about being in Prague.

stupid, stupid stupid.

*slinks off*

posted by piratebowling at 8:54 AM on February 1, 2006

Be aware of local dress codes.

Never wear a fanny pack. That's just asking to get ripped off by the local pickpockets.

If he's going to the Mediterranean coast, pack at least one decent pair of slacks, shoes (not sneakers) and a couple of nice-ish shirts. He will get treated much better than if he wears shorts and a t-shirt. Lots of museums and churches won't even let you in the door in shorts. The same is true of Eastern Europe. Also, it gives him decent clothes to go out with at night.

On the other hand, if he's going to northern Europe, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, shorts and sandals are completely acceptable, if not mandatory.

Don't overplan. The best part of travelling is hooking-up with those cool girls you meet in Baden-baden and travelling together for a few days. A Rail pass and a YHA membership are his best bets.
posted by bonehead at 8:55 AM on February 1, 2006

Oh, I'll just post exactly what I packed for two months. I packed as light as I could:

1. Two T-shirts + one golf shirt.
2. Two pairs of pants.
3. One pair of shorts/swimtrunks.
4. Flip-flops.
5. A fleece zip-up sweater.
6. Goretex rain coat. I know mdonley said not to bother, but in places like northern Scotland it came in very useful. Combined with the fleece you'll be able to stay warm anywhere.
7. Sleeping sack. Kinda like a sheet sewn into a bag. VERY useful.
8. Bike lock and steel cable so that I could lock my backpack to poles/whatever when leaving it in hostels. Won't deter a serious thief, but will the snatch-and-grabbers.
9. Sunglasses
10. Five pairs of underwear and five pairs of socks.
11. A couple hundred bucks of US dollars for emergencies.
12. A baseball hat.
13. Lonely Planet Europe guide, random transit maps I picked up upon arriving to cities.
14. My camera and an iPod.

I think that's it. I had no problems getting by, did laundy about once a week or so.
posted by smitt at 9:27 AM on February 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Swim in the Roman Baths in Bath, England. I may be biased, because I spent a year there in my childhood, but I found the whole West Country to be unspeakably lovely.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:41 AM on February 1, 2006

My recomendations? Stay as long as possible. Learn the rudiments of another language beforehand (any high school kids reading this, I'm looking at you -- now's the time to start preparing) and then bring along your dictionary instead of a phrasebook. Go to Amsterdam early on, and stock up -- no border checks in Schengenland. If you must stay in hostels, learn when that country's kids typically have field trips, and don't go then. Don't consider this your one-and-only trip to Europe, with attempts to see it all -- you'll be back.

A little nugget of advice from the recent France thread is worth repeating here: read A Moveable Feast as you're travelling to, or while you're in Paris. (And bring along some reading material -- new books are expensive there.)

mdonley is right about the East. Last year, I completed my seventh European jaunt. Krakow was fun, but the best of Europe can be found in Budapest, at half the price (at least for now).
posted by Rash at 10:42 AM on February 1, 2006

Yes, Spain and other mediterranean countries are a little heavy on the pickpockets. But violent crime is very low. It's not something you have to be crazy about--don't keep anything important in your back pocket or the front of your backpack. Don't look clueless. If you see someone with their hand in someone else's bag, yell at them.

My favorites: Rome, Barcelona, Salamanca, Lisbon (pastries!), Switzerland, Paris (yes, it's all it's cracked up to be).

Do not pretend to be Canadian. Not only do the terrorists win, but anyone who cares about the difference between USians and Canadians will know you're lying, especially if you have a southern accent. People don't care where you're from--places that make their money on tourism love American money. Just leave the "I heart W" button at home, and be a nice person. If someone has a problem with Americans, show them they're wrong by being a nice American, rather than a lying "Canadian." But chances are you won't have much to worry about.
posted by lampoil at 11:13 AM on February 1, 2006

Some extra ideas since the last post:

Re the jacket: I was mostly in the quasi-desert of the Mediterranean coast, where it was over 90 degrees and blazingly sunny every day (YMMV). If you go somewhere rainy, maybe something functional/small/totally foldable into a tiny pouch? Size and weight are key, and of course, they've got stores there. Some of the best times I had over there were shopping for random items like individual packets of laundry soap or something.

Also, I'm not totally sure what Rash is telling you to stock up on in Amsterdam, but while no one's going to look at your passport, they probably will still have drug-sniffing dogs on trains to countries with stricter drug laws (ie, everywhere) and your bags will be x-rayed before you get onto a plane. There's more to Amsterdam than its illicit reputation.

Finally, any chance of this trip being in, say, May or September? Airline tickets over there might be cheaper, and your overall hassle/crowd/insanity factor will be lower.

Free bike rental in Copenhagen

Rail Europe's site to buy individual train tickets - good for pricing out if a pass is a good deal
ITA Software - a really flexible airfare search engine for your flight over there; you'll find that some pretty random airlines fly between the US (mostly NYC) and Europe (Paris, London, Frankfurt, Stockholm) and sometimes have deals - Kuwait Airways, Air India, Malaysia Airlines, Pakistan International Airways, etc...what better way to begin a European vacation than with a steaming plate of lamb curry?
posted by mdonley at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2006

I second the suggestion of the hostel in Verona! Very nice. Excellent food there too. Skip Milan. Munich is fun, espcially if you like beer. Wurtzburg is worth seeing. Paris and Rome are excellent.

I never had any problems with being from the USA. Although I always do my best to blend.

Can't wait to get back. Next up: Spain. Or Amsterdam.

posted by timnyc at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2006

Why did I sign my last post? (Not thinking.)
posted by timnyc at 12:37 PM on February 1, 2006

oh, about taking a jacket - years ago, i got great advice from a girlfriend for my first backpacking adventure to europe: get a bag with straps that buckle across the outside. you can just strap the jacket to the front - works like a charm. and as a pillow, in some cases.

also, the pack had a smaller day-pack that unzipped from the main pack. i don't know what the locker situations are in train stations post 9/11, as i've only flown between cities since then, but at the time it was great to dump the big pack at a station locker and just use the little one for day-trips, or while scouting a new town, so i didn't have to lug the whole damn thing. once i got settled i'd go back and get the big pack.

speaking of flying, amsterdam airport is fantastic. fly in there, if at all possible. the train into town is fast and inexpensive, don't take a taxi. the barcelona airport is also quite nice.

if you can, avoid charles degaulle airport in paris - it is a pit; and heathrow is an exhausting, huge, rambling maze (but both do offer lower fares than AMS or BCN).
posted by lapolla at 12:09 PM on February 2, 2006

oh, man - i just remembered one of the most fun things! june 23-24 in the city of Port - or Oporto - in Portugal:

huge crazy festival. the entire city - men, women, children, grandmas, grandpas... all come out to watch fireworks and hit each other over the head with squeaky plastic mallets. it goes on all night long. it's awesome.
posted by lapolla at 12:39 PM on February 2, 2006

I love Verona. Also, Avignon is very pleasant if you're heading south.

In the UK, you can have a nice quiet morning in one of the less-touristy market towns within easy reach of London (Chichester, Lewes, Canterbury spring to mind, but there are probably some north of London too).

The best ice-cream I've ever tasted is from a window at a crossroads in central Paris, on the Ile St. Louis, corner of the main road (Rue St. Louis en l'Ile) and Rue des Deux Ponts. The restaurant hard by (L'Ilot Vache) is good for a splashout meal.
posted by athenian at 1:47 PM on February 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

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