A trip to Europe

I have been away for the last two weeks on a wonderful trip to Europe with my wife. The planning, the actual trip, and the recovery has slowed down the writing of my posts. I was hoping to have the Docker post done before I left, but it did not work out.

This is not a travel blog, but I do want to note a few things I learned on our trip. The things I learned are not what spots to go see as people like Rick Steves already has that covered better than I could ever do. They are more specific to things about each city or country that would have been nice to know. Here is where I went and what I learned.

Google Maps

I just want to make a quick shout out to Google Maps. It was indispensable on our trip. First and the most obvious was using it to get around every city. We would use GPS and the map of the city to plan out a walking path and/or determine if it was better to call an Uber. Second is Google Maps public transportation. The app will show you which subway line to use (using the correct color), which direction, and how many stops. We would search it and then take a screenshot to use later. This was very useful. Here is an example.
Google Maps Paris Metro Example

Airbnb in Europe

We used Airbnb(referral link) for every night except for the final night. Airbnb gives you the best apartment and location for the value. Instead of staying in a hotel that looks like every other hotel you have stayed in, why not stay in a local’s apartment? I recommend only using the listings that have good reviews as a stay could be ruined by a poor host.

An important thing to remember when booking is that you will not have the exact address of the apartment. You will only have a neighborhood (although it is precise enough to make plans). It is not until you have booked the apartment will you receive the address.

Before booking you should ask about things like towels and if you can store your luggage after checkout. I found that most hosts try to be cooperative and flexible. Once you have booked and the date is approaching you should message them to let them know an approximate time a few days before. Finally let them know when you are close, for example you are at the train station, on the day of.

London

We flew to London from O’Hare on Virgin Airlines. I would definitely recommend Virgin. I have flown a few times before and Virgin was the best airline I have used. It was the best 8 hours I have spent in an airplane in my entire life.

Getting around London

The Tube system is great in London. I recommend purchasing an Oyster card as it will halve your fares and has a ceiling on how much can be charged. We did not get one at first and because of this we wasted many pounds.

Paris

Next we went to Paris by train. The two major things we went to see were the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.

You can purchase advance tickets for the Louvre, but you cannot pick them up there. Most likely you will have purchased them from FNAC and you will need to stop at one of the FNAC stores to pick up your tickets. At this point if you have a ticket you will walk up to the iconic glass pyramid and see a huge line. Your ticket does not allow you to jump to the front. You can wait if you want, but it is most likely a 2-3 hour wait. Your ticket will also allow you to enter at the Porte des Lions or Richelieu Wing(it will say for groups only, but you should be able to get in with a ticket). If you do not have a ticket you can enter at the Carrousel du Louvre which is a shopping mall that has an entrance to the Louvre. This entrance will put you in the central area under the glass pyramid where you can buy tickets. You can either Google all of these entrances or read this article that covers them all. Just remember that if you go in peak tourist season you still may have to wait in a line.

The Eiffel Tower is something that you have to do in Paris. There really are no tricks, except that I recommend taking the stairs. You will save a lot of time as there will be no line. In addition to this you get to see a completely different side of the Eiffel Tower than if you rode the elevator.

Italy

Our next stop was Italy. We were able to go to Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice. Before looking at specific places in Italy I want to cover cellular service and the train system.

When traveling abroad cell service can be tricky. Most carriers have a package that is very expensive for not many minutes or data. I have an unlocked phone, so my plan was to purchase a SIM when in Italy and use that. I definitely recommend Wind. Wind has an Italian tourist pass. It only costs €20 and includes 2GB of data and 100 minutes of calling to Europe, US, and Canada. I paid cash and when I returned home just threw the SIM away.

Italy’s train system, TrenItalia, is great. We were able to travel everywhere in Italy quickly and cheaply. There are a few things to know. First off, always know your train number. We were able to find that out by using the TrenItalia site. We looked up the schedule and it would include the train number. This allows you to quickly determine which platform you need to be on. Even more importantly, you will know if you are getting on the correct train as it is not immediately clear. You can also find this information at the kiosks. Just enter where you want to go and hit the information button.

Next is when to validate your ticket. We read on multiple sites that you must validate any ticket you have. This is not entirely true. If your ticket has a specific train number and seat, you do not have to validate it. The ticket is only valid for one train. These tickets are usually for the more expensive Arrow(Freccia) trains. Other tickets will have almost no information on them at all. These tickets are from all the other trains. You must validate these tickets. You will see green validation kiosks near the trains. Just put it in and you are good.

Rome

I wanted to just talk about the Colosseum in Rome. I recommend purchasing a ticket before you get there. The Colosseum has a much better system than the Louvre. You can actually print your tickets out before you leave. At the Colosseum there will be two lines, one to the left that moves quickly and one to the right that is very long. The left line is for going through security if you have a ticket already. The right line is for security when you do not have a ticket. After waiting in that line you will then have to get in line to get a ticket. Avoid this by purchasing your ticket before.

As I mentioned before this is not a post about what to see. There are thousands of those posts out there. They will be better written and have more pictures. This is a post about a few things in which I did not find a lot of information about. Hopefully you can use something I mentioned here on a trip.

Safe travels!


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