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Old 03-22-2015, 10:02 AM   #21
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Many Americans do not appreciate how efficient the public transportation in Europe is. Many of our friends still travel the way they do in the US: get a car. A car is a terrible liability in most European cities. With trains, we hopped on/off then took metros, buses, or the occasional taxis. Just wonderful.

We only got a car on a trip when I wanted to go down the Loire River to see the castles. A car is still a necessity to tour the countryside. And in our next trip to France, I will get a car to wander around Provence. We have been to Avignon, but there's more than that.
That is one of the things I most enjoy about traveling in Europe - using the public transportation. I do all of the driving in the US, so not having to drive in Europe is a really nice break.

I've been able to avoid getting a car in Europe so far by finding a small group day tour (max 8 people - minivan) to visit areas that would otherwise need a car. So far that seems to be working out. We're using several on this upcoming trip.

Here is one group that does wine-oriented day tours in various regions of France. We're going to try them out in Alsace, and if we like them we'll probably use them for other wine regions in France. French red wine remains a mystery to me. I need help! OPHORUS - Small group scheduled sightseeing excursions and day tours in France

In the future, when we are ready to explore Normandy and Brittany, we'll probably have to rent a car.
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Old 03-22-2015, 10:08 AM   #22
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We lean towards train over car as well. Exceptions: chianti region - a lot of the places we wanted to see were not well served by train/bus and our rental house was in the middle of olive groves about 10 miles outside Greve-in-chianti... We did take the bus into Florence, from Greve because it made sense. Also Sicily if you want to go anywhere in the center or southern part of the island... The train only runs from Palermo to Messina and from Messina to Siracusa. We wanted to see Modica, Ragusa, Marsala, Agrigento, etc... so we rented a car. On our trip this summer we're staying on the train corridor (north of Catania) -so we'll use the train for day trips. But we are considering renting a car for the week we're spending in Aix-en-Provence in order to explore Provence.... But even then we'll probably only rent a car for a few days.
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Old 03-22-2015, 10:21 AM   #23
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We lean towards train over car as well. Exceptions: chianti region - a lot of the places we wanted to see were not well served by train/bus and our rental house was in the middle of olive groves about 10 miles outside Greve-in-chianti... We did take the bus into Florence, from Greve because it made sense. Also Sicily if you want to go anywhere in the center or southern part of the island... The train only runs from Palermo to Messina and from Messina to Siracusa. We wanted to see Modica, Ragusa, Marsala, Agrigento, etc... so we rented a car. On our trip this summer we're staying on the train corridor (north of Catania) -so we'll use the train for day trips. But we are considering renting a car for the week we're spending in Aix-en-Provence in order to explore Provence.... But even then we'll probably only rent a car for a few days.
How about something like Tuscan Wine Tours? (haven't researched) Reviews: Tuscan Wine Tours - Day Tours (Florence, Italy) on TripAdvisor

We'd probably do this in Provence: OPHORUS - Avignon and The Provence Wine Tours. They also offer multi-day tours.

That's usually my first step to explore an area of interest if it looks too inefficient or difficult to use public transportation.

We also spend a couple of nights in the area of interest rather than trying to do long distance it from a major city.

We're using this group for a tour of the Champagne region around Epernay (and staying in Reims). Champagne Day tours :: France Bubbles Tours

I'm sure one day I'll have to break down and rent a car. But I'm putting it off as long as possible.
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Old 03-22-2015, 02:49 PM   #24
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Here is one group that does wine-oriented day tours in various regions of France. We're going to try them out in Alsace, and if we like them we'll probably use them for other wine regions in France. French red wine remains a mystery to me. I need help! OPHORUS - Small group scheduled sightseeing excursions and day tours in France
Audreyh1, thanks for sharing this link. We'll be in Strasbourg for a dew days in early July, and have just started looking for a way to see the wine country without a car. Got any ideas about the other side of the Rhine, for tours in the Black Forest?
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Old 03-22-2015, 03:07 PM   #25
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Audreyh1, thanks for sharing this link. We'll be in Strasbourg for a dew days in early July, and have just started looking for a way to see the wine country without a car. Got any ideas about the other side of the Rhine, for tours in the Black Forest?
I have not explored options for visiting that area, but I do notice that if you are willing to pay up for a private tour, Ophorus offers a couple of options. OPHORUS - Strasbourg and Alsace private sightseeing and wine tours

There are likely many more options.
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Old 03-22-2015, 05:12 PM   #26
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I have not explored options for visiting that area, but I do notice that if you are willing to pay up for a private tour, Ophorus offers a couple of options. OPHORUS - Strasbourg and Alsace private sightseeing and wine tours

There are likely many more options.
Thanks. I hadn't looked at their private tour page, so didn't see they go into Germany. Pricey for two of us (though not if you fill the van) so we'll keep looking--though we may well try one of their Alsace tours.
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Old 03-22-2015, 06:09 PM   #27
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Thanks. I hadn't looked at their private tour page, so didn't see they go into Germany. Pricey for two of us (though not if you fill the van) so we'll keep looking--though we may well try one of their Alsace tours.
Considering we're paying 120 each, 240 total, for the Pearls of Alsace tour, I thought 440 for having the van and driver-guide all to yourself was not bad. That doesn't include any attraction entrance fees, but from the itinerary it's mostly sightseeing anyway.
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Old 03-22-2015, 07:29 PM   #28
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How about something like Tuscan Wine Tours? (haven't researched) Reviews: Tuscan Wine Tours - Day Tours (Florence, Italy) on TripAdvisor

We'd probably do this in Provence: OPHORUS - Avignon and The Provence Wine Tours. They also offer multi-day tours.

That's usually my first step to explore an area of interest if it looks too inefficient or difficult to use public transportation.

We also spend a couple of nights in the area of interest rather than trying to do long distance it from a major city.

We're using this group for a tour of the Champagne region around Epernay (and staying in Reims). Champagne Day tours :: France Bubbles Tours

I'm sure one day I'll have to break down and rent a car. But I'm putting it off as long as possible.
The nice thing about meandering around areas that aren't train friendly, by car, is that you are not tied to a tour agenda and schedule. That way if you decide to sleep in and leave later, or take a longer lunch then go back to the rental apartment for a nap - you can.

I've done tours. They have their place, for sure. But I have commitment issues and anything more than 1 day is too much commitment for me, these days, when it comes to tours. (In other words, I don't mind hiring guides.)

The same holds true for city exploring... (no car needed)... I'd rather set my own agenda/schedule.
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Old 03-22-2015, 07:35 PM   #29
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Considering we're paying 120 each, 240 total, for the Pearls of Alsace tour, I thought 440 for having the van and driver-guide all to yourself was not bad. That doesn't include any attraction entrance fees, but from the itinerary it's mostly sightseeing anyway.
Agreed, the cost isn't outlandish--though it would cause us to exceed the (admittedly arbitrary) daily target that we (usually) try to stick to in Western Europe. But we'll also be spending a few days in Gengenbach, which will be our base for the Black Forest. And honestly, I don't mind sharing the van/guide in a small group. I always learn something from my fellow travelers.
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Old 03-22-2015, 07:57 PM   #30
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We plan on spending another Europe trip traveling the Rhine, but I don't think the Black Forest is high on our list. We really enjoyed the Austrian Alps last year - lots of forests there!

Wine tours and driving yourself. Those don't mix!!!

and I'd rather do my sightseeing on a wine tour. Small groups only, of course!
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Old 03-24-2015, 03:28 PM   #31
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Night travel across Europe.

We took the night train (City Nightline) from Amsterdam to Munich last year. I wouldn't do it again. It just wasn't comfortable, and we were in the nicest berth offered. Also kind of cooped up in the berth.

Seemed like a great idea. Didn't work for us. It also can be expensive
I did it once too. Was quite looking forward to it. It was a nightmare (literally). The train rocked every which way irregularly so there was no way for the body to adjust, it kept stopping and starting, and there was too much noise. Never again.
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Old 03-24-2015, 04:01 PM   #32
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I did it once too. Was quite looking forward to it. It was a nightmare (literally). The train rocked every which way irregularly so there was no way for the body to adjust, it kept stopping and starting, and there was too much noise. Never again.
It's worse than, say, sitting in a compartment on a day train? It's been many decades since I've taken extended rail trips, (and youth was my friend at that time, so inconvenience was shrugged off), but have done a few 2-3 hour excursions relatively recently and always seem to be able to nod off for a while.
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Old 03-24-2015, 04:18 PM   #33
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It's worse than, say, sitting in a compartment on a day train? It's been many decades since I've taken extended rail trips, (and youth was my friend at that time, so inconvenience was shrugged off), but have done a few 2-3 hour excursions relatively recently and always seem to be able to nod off for a while.
Yes. I didn't find the seats very comfortable. The seats fold down and a bed pulls out over them. But I found seats on regular trains more comfortable than those seats. Plus I didn't like being in a tiny "cabin" that much. The compartments on the regular trains were fine.
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Old 03-24-2015, 04:48 PM   #34
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Everyone has different sleeping habits and abilities. I've taken 2 night train trips in recent years. One was on the now-discontinued Elipsos Paris->Madrid train. The other was from Bangkok->Nong Khai (in NE Thailand on the border with Laos). I got little sleep on the Elipsos train. The problem was that we didn't cross into Spain until around midnight, so nearly all of the sleeping time was on Spanish tracks which were much less smooth than French tracks. I was in a 6-person 2nd class compartment. In Thailand I was in a 2-person 1st class compartment but the train was much less modern than European trains. I managed to get a lot more sleep on the Thai train compared to the European train.

When I was young, I took a train from Vancouver to Toronto. After 4+ days on the train, I was quite happy to get off. I didn't have a bed, but I was only 21 years old at the time so I survived. Today I generally can't sleep unless I'm laying down.

Last year a friend & I were on a non-TGV train in France on an extremely hot day on a fully-packed train. A woman came on with her large dog and young daughter. They blocked the aisle with their luggage and their dog. After a short while, the dog got up and crawled under a nearby seat and threw up. The stench was awful. My friend & I were getting off in about 25 minutes, so we got up and waited in the hot area between 2 rail cars to wait for our stop, rather than endure the stench.

Rail strikes are another issue in Europe. I've had train strike problems in France, Italy, and even Belgium. Last year, there was a train strike in France when my friend & I were trying to get back to Paris. There was 1 train running on a day when there normally would have been a dozen from where we were. The ticket office couldn't even sell tickets because of the strike. Instead, we were given a piece of paper saying we were entitled to purchase a ticket on board at the regular price, rather than having to pay a penalty due to boarding without a ticket. The train surprisingly wasn't full, and we never saw a ticket-taker so we got that ride for free.

Twice, including last year, I've had to get to Charles de Gaulle Airport when public transport was on strike. I normally take the RER train. I took a taxi during one strike, and last year, a friend drove us. The woman sitting next to me on my flight missed her original flight earlier in the day due to the transport strike. (RER trains were running, but there was a major slowdown and offloading in some stations, she said.) Air Canada made her pay $300 to take a later flight the same day.
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Old 03-24-2015, 05:30 PM   #35
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I guess all we can do is test our tolerance levels....so a minimum (and perhaps a maximum, depending upon our reactions) of one night train is in order (if, indeed, we do decide to take that approach).......thanks everyone for their input, it's appreciated.
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Old 03-24-2015, 06:17 PM   #36
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Last year, there was a superb exhibition in Paris about the old Orient Express, including several original Orient Express rail cars from the 1930s which you could walk through. 2 of these 3 photos were from the bar car.
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Old 03-24-2015, 07:10 PM   #37
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Is that Poirot's coat hanging up? (Six degrees of separation.....once stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul......where, rumor has it, Agatha might have written "Murder on the Orient Express".)
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Old 03-24-2015, 07:24 PM   #38
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Is that Poirot's coat hanging up? (Six degrees of separation.....once stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul......where, rumor has it, Agatha might have written "Murder on the Orient Express".)
Throughout the exhibit there were tags with the photo and name of someone who is known to have traveled on the Orient Express. This name tag says "Agatha Christie", but I don't recall if the article of clothing was in any way associated with her. Also, a lot of the glass in the bar car was original Lalique.

BTW, although we couldn't walk through the dining car, you could make reservations to eat in it in the evening. A well-known chef prepared two rather pricey dinners (120 euros & 160 euros) to choose from.
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Old 03-26-2015, 10:53 PM   #39
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(Noticed, before one of your edits, you mentioned Venice/Nice.....We'll be in Genoa (twice) this Fall, (taking the train from there to Marseille and back, with a possible layover in Nice......a place I haven't been to in 52 years.)
Maybe it was my post you saw, when I first talked about the night train from Nice to Naples, then edited to say Monaco-Naples when I remembered that we made a stop in Monaco as it was on the way.

Monaco is only 20 miles or so from Nice, so it was a logical stop on the way to Rome or Naples. We stayed at the Marriott in Cap d'Ail, which was right at the boundary of Monaco, and allowed us to just walk over to tour this little city-state.

Just now, went on google map and looked at the street views. Ah, that brings back memory. I would not mind visiting this area again, and spending more time. Mentioned it to my wife, and she reminded me that we had a complimentary free stay at that Marriott that time. That was nice.
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Old 03-27-2015, 10:14 AM   #40
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It was mine. I misread his post at first thinking he was traveling from the Balkans to Barcelona.
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