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My European Adventure Round-up April 6, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Travel.
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Venice truly is a beautiful city

Venice truly is a beautiful city

[Note I have posted a new European Adventure Round-Up after my trips to Greece, Sweden and Denmark – see here]

Well, I’m finally back.  20 days, 5 countries, 12 cities.  It was pretty hectic, but also one of the best vacations of all time!  I’ve also finally brought the Travel Diary up to date, and I’m glad I did because it’s an experience I don’t ever want to forget.  On the other hand, we’ve taken well over a thousand photos, so it’s going to take a while to sort through them all…

Just to recap, the places visited (in order) were: Pisa, Florence, Venice and Rome (Italy); Basel and Lucerne (Switzerland); Freiburg, Munich, Fussen, Berlin (Germany); Prague (Czech Republic) and Vienna (Austria).  Yes, if you think about it the order was kind of weird, but there were a few unexpected things that happened with the original plans and we had to fudge it a little.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the trip:

Best City

Looking at everything from an overall perspective, the best city I visited would have to be Rome.  There’s just no other place like it.  The amazing history, the plethora of attractions and sights, the pizzas and gelato – and you’d be surprised how close everything is and how you can walk from one place to another in just minutes.  Oh, and who can forget Vatican City?  You don’t have to be religious to enjoy one of the most amazing places on Earth, even if it’s just for the paintings and the architecture.  We spent roughly four days in Rome but we were gunning it all the way.  If we had the time and money we would have spent at least a week there.

The Colosseum was pretty awesome

The Colosseum was pretty awesome

Most Beautiful

We got to witness some amazing views throughout the trip, but the most beautiful city must be Venice, with its clean, turqoise waters and canals, bridges, pretty buildings and narrow alleys.  There is something relaxing and soothing about the place, and of course it is very romantic.  St Mark’s Square is also a delight.

Most Disappointing/Overrated

No surprises here because I just posted a rant about Prague (which has turned out to be one of my all-time most popular posts!).  It’s probably the only place out of all the places we went to that I found disappointing.  Maybe it was because my expectations were not met in the short time we were there, or perhaps the unfriendly people we encountered.  Or perhaps it just wasn’t my type of place.  I wouldn’t go as far as advising people against going, but expectations need to be kept in check and awareness needs to be high.

Most Surprising/Underrated

Without a doubt it has to be Munich. It’s a place with a lot of history, some interesting attractions, and if you are a beer lover (I’m not), it can be heavenly.  But there’s also plenty of shops for those who are less into history.  We only took the local city tour but there are other ones such as the Third Reich Tour which seemed quite interesting.  Another great thing about Munich is its proximity to other places.  Neuschwanstein Castle is only a 2 hour train ride away (an easy day trip) and the former concentration camp site of Dachau can be reached by subway (then short bus ride).  A lot of people also take day trips to Nuremberg and Salzburg (in Austria).  One place I would have liked to visit but didn’t have enough time was the Olympic site.  Maybe next time.


Neuschwanstein Castle is a must-visit

Most Informative

That title would have to go to Berlin, simply because of all the free information available along the sidewalks (especially near Checkpoint Charlie).  In other places you may have to do your own research beforehand, or buy a guide book, or join a tour, or pay to enter a museum – you can still do all these things in Berlin but you don’t have to spend a dime to learn a great deal about the city.

Most Depressing

Hands down the prize goes to Dachau (near Munich).  The former concentration camp site has turned into a giant memorial and museum.  It’s hard to keep the eyes dry and you won’t be doing any star jumps there but it’s such an important place to visit.  Be sure to catch the 22 minute documentary film that shows throughout the day (remember to check what time the screening is for your preferred language).

Most Expensive

Be warned: Switzerland costs money.  One of the dumbest things we did the entire trip was only allocating 100 Swiss Francs for our 2-day stay in Basel/Lucerne.  We ended up putting at least double that on the credit card, and that was just for food and transport.  When a medium McDonald’s value meal costs in the vicinity of 12 Swiss Francs (to put that in perspective, that’s roughly 10.50 US Dollars, 7.15 Pounds, 7.85 Euros and 14.80 Australian Dollars) you know your wallet is in for a rough time.  Note we found Italy and Germany and Austria to be quite even in terms of prices and the Czech Republic to be slightly cheaper.

Top 5 Attractions

This is a tough one, but off the top of my head right now, the 5 attractions I liked the most were:

5. The Munich Royal Residence (Residenz) (Munich, Germany) – the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs, and naturally, full of amazing treasures, artworks and countless rooms to explore.  Free audio guide too.

4. Dachau Concentration Camp (Dachau, near Munich, Germany)– depressing as hell but plenty to see and absorb, and ultimately a tremendously insightful and rewarding experience.

3. Vatican City (Rome, Italy)– regardless of what you think about religion and/or Catholics, just go and have a look.  It’s worth it.  Just make sure you buy tickets in advance for the Vatican Museum if you don’t want to wait forever like we did.

2. Neuschwanstein Castle (near Fussen, Germany) – I didn’t expect it to be so awesome but it was.  The Castle was beautiful, and the tour inside was funny (because of the robot tour guides), and the hike up the hill to get there was simply magical.  We went when there was still snow lying around, and I think that made it even more spectacular.  Weather is pretty important – I heard that it can be quite miserable when it rains and when the visibility is low.

1. Palatine Hill (Rome, Italy) – just go and see it.

Final Thoughts

  • We were pretty blessed the entire trip.  It was tiring and we got ill a couple of times, but it came and went quickly, usually overnight.  The weather was also super.  Even when it was forecasted to rain we still got sunny skies.  The only time we were bothered by the rain was in Dachau, but as I said it suited the gloomy atmosphere there anyway.
  • Join local tour groups only if you like to listen to a lot of stuff, like history and explanations on how things became the way they are.  Or if you just don’t like the hassle of organising and figuring things out for yourself.  Otherwise you can save heaps of money doing things on your own, and there’s a lot more freedom too.
  • Expensive food does not always mean the most tasty.  Some of the best pizzas we had in Italy were from small vendors wedged in a corner somewhere and the same could be said for the ham and sausages we had in Germany.  That said, we did enjoy some spectacular meals that were pretty pricey too.

Now, I probably should start studying…


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5. Kummin - August 14, 2009

“and the hike up the hill to get there was simply magical.” Well, I can think of a lot of things to call that hike, but “magical” does not come to mind!

pacejmiller - August 15, 2009

Haha, I suppose you need to be in the mood. But wasn’t the view grand (especially with the snow)? As long as you avoid the horse manure.

6. Beverly - December 25, 2009

The view was awe inspiring and such the hike was invigorating if not magical. Such grandeur is truly hard to relate to, but seeing it is a memory that I will cherish forever.

7. jim zyrell morer - January 29, 2010

wow!its so wonderful isnt it

8. Michael - February 4, 2010

I went to seven countries in the summer of 2008. Without a doubt, Neuschwanstein castle was the #1 attraction. It is a magical place. My kids swam in the nearby lake for a few hours. Absolutely gorgeous.

pacejmiller - February 4, 2010

Wow, I didn’t know you could swim in the lake!

9. chaos - March 15, 2010

I found your blog very informative. I’m going to travel to Europe this May for 28 days and going to Switzerland, Spain, Italy, France, Germany. I have about 4 extra days to squeeze in another country/city. I’m considering Athens, Greece. Would that be a great destination? what other places you went to that you can recommend? Thanks!

pacejmiller - March 15, 2010

Wow, sounds like you’re going to have an awesome time! Athens would be a fantastic destination, but it would be even better if you had time to look around other parts of Greece as well. I also heard Croatia is great, though I didn’t get the chance to visit. It also depends which cities you are visiting in the countries you mentioned. Each of those countries have plenty of terrific cities, so if you don’t want to travel too far, you might want to see if there are any other cities within those countries you would like to visit. You really can’t go wrong with any of the places you’ve mentioned thus far.

chaos - March 15, 2010

For your trip in March 2009 from Pisa to Florence to Rome, what train did you take? Eurostar or trenitalia? I have a hard time finding cheap tickets to go from Rome to Pisa to Florence. Should I rent a car?

10. pacejmiller - March 15, 2010

From memory, we took a cheap flight into Pisa, then took the airport shuttle to the train station where we left our luggage in storage. Then we walked to see the Leaning Tower for a couple of hours (not much else there) and took the afternoon train to Florence. I recall we bought a local ticket from the train station in Pisa to Florence. There were quite a few trains and it was a short ride.

From Florence to Rome, we also bought the tickets at the train station, but did it a couple of days in advance just in case. We didn’t travel Eurostar because I remember it was very expensive. We must have taken a fast local train of some kind, but it wasn’t cheap either. Most train travel in Europe is insanely expensive.

We thought about renting a car, but I couldn’t be bothered driving all the way and having to navigate, etc. However, if you have a group of people, it could certainly work out to be more economical that way.

11. psykhe - April 17, 2010

Hi, I am a “European” Citizen. I am Transylvanian (Romania), but I live in Italy, in Treviso, near Venice. Treviso is a small city, surrounded by a townwall and a canal, very charming, I just love living here. It’s 30min by train from Santa Lucia. Then Venice… (can be dissapointed because of heavy tourism, but is like that: YOU HAVE TO GET LOST!). Now, I’ve been to: Berlin (one week, but for work, didn’t see too much), Budapest (4 days for work, 1 sightseeing, passed there many times, it’s on my way to Transylvania), was in Warsaw last week (for work, but had 2 days for sightseeing), Bruxelles and Namur (Belgium), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Stockholm (Sweden, 3 days), Bucarest and pretty much everywhere in Romania. Travelled through Hungary, Austria, Germany and Slovenia many times.
Honestly I was not impress by Berlin, but I agree with you: touristic friendly city and easy to get infos everywhere. Stockholm is pretty much the same, nice city, everyone speaks english and impossible to get lost, but it is extremly expensive, even more than Switzerland.
From what I saw, I loved Warsaw. City is amazingly beautiful and clean. But it is not touristic friendly! People do not speak english and it is hard to get info, ie: how to buy a metro ticket! Expect this everywhere in the East of Europe, it is like in Prague or worse.
I also loved Budapest where I felt like home. People were extremly friendly and helpful, but… I speak a perfect hungarian.
I will go to Malta in 3 days, then I will go to Prague (for work). I’ll let you know…

So, I kindly recommand you to visit Warsaw and Budapest. Slovenia is the most amazing country I saw, but I went there by motocycle on the mountain roads… so you would probably have to rent a car to see it. Pretty much the same with Austria.
I suggest you not to visit Bucarest, you’d rather go here: Maramures county (search info on the internet and I can provide you with ANY kind of info you would need).
Also Bruxelles was a bit dissapointing (don’t go there for the Manneken Pis, lol)… as I found there was not too much to see. I better enjoyed Namur in Belgium… also, I speak some french, so I had no problems.
Oh, and in Italy I visited also Turin, I loved it. Good thing in Italy is that food is amazing everywhere. I would suggest you to visiti Italy also outside the big cities. There soooo much to discover, you’ll find something amazing at every step.

pacejmiller - April 19, 2010

Wow, thanks for the great info! I really wanted to go to Warsaw and Budapest, and it kills me that I missed the opportunity. It might be a few more years before I get a chance to visit Europe again. But I when I do, I will have a long list of places to see and visit! Thanks again.

12. TravelFan - May 2, 2010

Hi, I am planning my next vacation and trying to find the best destination. I haven’t decided where to go yet. While doing the research I found your blog. Great info, thanks

13. About Writing: 2010 in review « About Writing – The Personal Blog of Pace J Miller - January 2, 2011

[…] The busiest day of the year was January 22nd with 3,948 views. The most popular post that day was My European Adventure Round-up. […]

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