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  1. #1
    bisous is offline Red Diamond level (10,000+ posts)
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    Default European Trip Review! Germany/Switzerland, Paris, Loire Valley, Provence, Cote d'Azur

    Hello! Due to the craziness around my DS's issues upon my arrival home, I've been putting this off. But I need a good distraction and I'd love to write a little about the trip.

    All in all, it was a wonderful trip. For us, maybe a trip of a lifetime and maybe I'm super glad that it was so epic. It was a little rushed, I was a little tired in the middle and at the end. Maybe I'd love to return and do things a little slower! But now things have changed and we may never get back there. I'm surprised by how many of my friends and family look at our trip with such envy and I realize we were so lucky.

    This first post will be an overview of the trip.

    The first official "night" we left on an overnight flight to Zurich from LAX.

    The next day we arrived in Zurich where we were met by DH's parents. They drove us directly to Lauterbrunnen where we spent our second night.

    We toured the Lauterbrunnen valley and also a few small places between Lauterbrunnen and Singen Germany where DH's parents lived and we spent our third night.

    The next day was touring some medieval towns in Switzerland and South Germany for another night (4) in Singen.

    That morning we packed up, did a little more sightseeing and boarded a TGV for Paris, then transferred to a TER for Amboise where we spent our fifth night.

    Early that morning we got picked up for a minivan tour of several chateau. Stayed the sixth night again in Amboise.

    The next day we spent touring...still more chateaux and then boarded the TER back to Paris. Saw the Eiffel tower, ate dinner and then slept in Paris for our 7th night.

    The next day we spent at the Orsay, and the Saint Chappelle. Slept in Paris for the 8th night.

    Spent nearly all day in Versailles for the 9th night.

    Did some shopping in Paris, then boarded a TGV for Avignon. Arrived in Avignon, toured the ancient city and stayed there our tenth night.

    Spent a somewhat lazy day in Avignon. Lots of walking around the old town. Visited Les Baux in the late afternoon early evening. Stayed in Avignon for our 11th night.

    Enjoyed another late morning in Avignon, walked around other provencal towns, arrived via car in Nice for our 12th night.

    Caught a train to Menton and visited Monaco and then Nice. Spent our last night in Nice (13).

    The next morning early arrived at the airport for our flight!

  2. #2
    bisous is offline Red Diamond level (10,000+ posts)
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    Plane travel was rough. We could have bought the bulkhead seats for one of our flights for $50 each. SO should have done that! But really it was our flight home that was tortuous and it wasn't offered on that flight. It was 15 hours of travel. We woke up at 4:00 am to be ready. I couldn't sleep on the flight and I probably should have gotten some anti-anxiety meds because I was almost out of my mind at the end of it all.

    Transitioning between places was really not too bad. DH and I think we should have done a train rather than car between Avignon and Nice. The car ride was pretty but it was not chill. At all. It was actually quite confusing to get around and I speak French, lol! And by the time we arrived in the coastal cities, the streets were extremely congested. Next time around, we'd drive to Marseille, and then board a regional train between the coastal cities. When you buy those tickets you can get on and off the train as many times as you'd like. That would have been a nice way to see some of the towns!

    That said, I think we needed a car in Avignon. We might have been able to get away with a taxi or tour of some kind, but it was nice to have the flexibility to go when we really wanted to. We didn't find that we needed one in Amboise. We had the minivan tour which was fabulous! And Amboise had enough to offer if you're willing to walk a little bit. Switzerland and Germany we were very lucky because we were chauffered by DH's parents. Couldn't have done most of that and would not have ATTEMPTED doing that as it was a humbling experience not to speak any German (though most people we encountered did speak English!)

    The biggest conflict DH and I had was that he really loves the idea of wandering around these European cities and I really don't, lol. I like walking in cities but when he'd say, "let's walk around and find food" I was like "Great! I'm hungry!" but he was absolutely content to walk towards and away from restaurants and I thought I was going to combust with frustration, lol! All the food we ate was great. But (and this is not cool to admit) I COULD NOT WAIT to get back to a place where I could eat casually and quickly, lol. I'm not talking fast food, I rarely eat that! But I'm talking eating a sandwich on the run. Getting JUST a taco from a stand. None of this three courses. None of this "we close for four hours between lunch and dinner!" lol. And DH loved that stuff. We actually had one fight in Paris about it. Apparently being hangry is not something I do well!

  3. #3
    SnuggleBuggles is offline Black Diamond level (25,000+ posts)
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    deleted. Don't want to interrupt the report!
    Last edited by SnuggleBuggles; 05-25-2023 at 01:25 PM.

  4. #4
    bisous is offline Red Diamond level (10,000+ posts)
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    Switzerland/Germany. Lauterbrunnen is an absolute must see. It is like Yosemite meets Disneyland. Gorgeous natural setting and very charming! We stayed at a cute little inn. I think it was Hotel Staubach? It was Rick Steves recommended and the service was excellent. Rooms were very basic. Almost like camping actually! But the view was incredible and so was the breakfast!

    While there, we also toured the towns of Thun, Stein am Rhein, Schauffhausen, saw the Birnau Klosterkirche, Meersburg and then took the ferry to Konstanz. We also drove by Rhein Falls. Most of this is around the Bodensee Lake. I admit to being a little disoriented, riding around jetlagged in the backseat of a sedan, lol, and not being able to read the signs! It was beautiful, calm, and ancient. I had an excellent hot chocolate there--very different than my hot chocolate in France which was also good!

    It was beautiful and clean there. My FIL loves being able to drink out of the fountains the clean, drinkable water in Switzerland. The medieval towns had similar features to some of the places I lived in France but were also extremely different. The color palette was deeper. Darker greens, richer browns, deeper maroons. SO much moisture and so very cold! People are extremely polite and everyone we talked to was kind. I was kind of surprised by how low glam everyone was. Maybe because it was cold? It was just a mix of coats and pants and somber colors. I loved seeing the kids. I saw a lot of good parenting, lol. Whole families where moms and dads were equally engaged and so much outdoor recreation! People seemed to treat kids well.

  5. #5
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    Thanks for sharing your experiences. Im so glad you and DH were able to take this amazing trip before all of the craziness you are dealing with now.

    I hate being hangry too. Back a zillion years ago in Paris, Id buy a baguette and then go to a cheese shop and buy cheese and then sit in a park and eat it with my traveling companion. Thankfully we had similar ideas about meals.

    I look forward to the next installments.


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
    DD (3/06)
    DS1 (7/09)
    DS2 (8/13)

  6. #6
    bisous is offline Red Diamond level (10,000+ posts)
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    On to Amboise! I think I talked a little in another thread about the way we traveled between cities. We decided to do a train that went to Paris, then to Amboise (that's how trains work in France--Paris is the hub!) and it was a little dicey. The one hour between train stations sounded like plenty of time but I just knew it would be tricky and it was! We arrived 20 minutes late and made a mad dash WITH LUGGAGE to find the proper train platforms, etc.

    But AMBOISE. I loved it there. It was my dream to visit the chateaux. And they did not disappoint. We stayed a really nice hotel in Amboise called the Manoir des Minimes. It was exquisite with a really nice breakfast and GREAT location. The chateaux of Amboise was on the hill behind the hotel. Like right there. Gorgeous.

    We did a minibus tour of three chateaux--the gardens at Villandry, Azay le Rideau, and Chenonceau. They were absolutely exquisite. Could not pick a favorite. Like them all for different reasons. The gardens at Villandry are amazing. Made for incredible pictures. Azay le Rideau is little! Relatively. But the tour is great! You go all the way up in the attic and down in the kitchens and I decided if I had to pick a chateau to live in, it would be that one. Looks like it is out of a fairy tale. Chenonceau is the queen of the chateaux! Beautiful gardens, exquisite decorations, SO scenic situated there on the river. Really well done curation. Fascinating story. It was a total celebration of womanhood. I loved every second.

    We were considering getting a private tour with the minibus tour but instead decided to just suggest the locations instead and see if anyone would join us. They didn't! So we got essentially a private tour for $160 (not including admission to the chateaux). DEFINITELY worth the money.

    We finished around 3:00 pm so we decided, why not see another chateaux? And the chateau directly behind our hotel is actually stunning! And historically important. Then we got dinner at a great little restaurant. Probably one of my favorite days on the whole trip.

    The next day we did the Chateau de Clos-Luce, home of Leonardo da Vinci and it was again, more impressive than I would have expected as it was a short walk around the corner. That man is a genius and the property was very expansive. My favorite single experience was then when we decided to go to the third chateau within walking distance, the Chateau Gaillard.

    I didn't know what to expect, except I was loving chateaux and this one was close so we figured why not? It was a very amazing experience. It was nestled in a charming but somewhat humble neighborhood, very suburban, except the houses were nestled into the very rocks. The chateau itself was apparently "lost" to history until 2011! It wasn't the impressive experience of some of the other more well known chateaux but the story of its renovation was incredible and it was delightfully turned out. My favorite parts were the gardens. It was well known at its hey day for being the honeymoon location for Mary Queen of Scots when she was a very young Queen of France. It was also known for its orange trees--not commonly grown in that part of France.

    But the BEST part was the kitchen. The Troglodyte kitchen was built into the rocky wall that was naturally occurring around the chateau. It is naturally 55 degrees all year round and it looks like something out of a fairy tale. The chateau also has a bakery onsite that Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks could have lived in. Such a surprise. I loved every second.

    We walked around Amboise for a few more hours, then boarded a train for Paris!

  7. #7
    bisous is offline Red Diamond level (10,000+ posts)
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    Kinda want to continue this review!

    On to Paris. We took a train from Amboise to Paris and used the metro to get to our hotel. It was fine. But very crowded. DH was stressed because we were the proverbial tourists looking around trying to find the right platform and probably blocking the flow of traffic with all of our luggage. But really the metro is very convenient and relatively easy to ride. (Although we decided at the end of our stay in Paris that it was worth a taxi ride from the hotel to the train station and I think it was worth the extra money. WAY easier!) We had a short walk to our hotel which was near the Eiffel Tower.

    The hotel was an experience. We get there and the clerk tells us he THINKS the person before us checked out but he's not sure. Hands us the key and tells us to come back if someone is in there or we see any bags??? Thankfully there were no bags. Also the window was broken. Like could not stay closed. And it was raining. He told us he could move our room but "it wouldn't be as nice". We decided to stay, using our luggage and chair to prop the window closed. Welcome to Paris, lol! Our stay in Amboise was a five star and the Paris hotel was a huge step down. To me it made sense. We prioritized location and the hotel was perfectly fine. DH kept saying it was tiny but he has no idea how small accommodations can be in Paris! It actually wasn't that small at all. Just not nearly as nice as some of the other places we stayed. I think if the check-in experience had been different we would have a much better feeling about the hotel. DH considers it a blight on our vacation.

    We walked immediately to the Eiffel Tower and the caught a local restaurant. (After walking around with DH FOREVER and getting into our one fight, lol!)

    The next morning rained like crazy. We had tickets to the Orsay. We took the Metro and walked part way there. We spent hours there. We even had lunch at the Cafe there which Yelp said was overpriced and not worth it. I disagree. I liked the meal and loved the ambiance. Prettiest dining room I've ever been in. DH is an artist and the Orsay was a dream. We honestly could have spent more time there (11:00 am tickets, left at 4:30!) but we had 6:00 tickets for the Sainte Chappelle. We walked from the Orsay along the Seine. The Sainte Chappelle is my personal "do or die" in Paris. I love it there. The opera was getting set up for a night time performance. I've been to a performance before at the Sainte Chappelle and it is pretty fun experience. We had dinner and then returned to our hotel room.

    The next day we spent all day at Versailles. And it rained a ton again. We still went all over the gardens. It was beautiful. I was happy to have an umbrella and wore hiking boots. This is shallow and vain, but I was kind of bummed to see the weather. I didn't want to tour Versailles in hiking boots, lol. I wanted like a dress and slippers. Turns out, I should have worn riot gear, lol. Versailles was SO busy. We hit Paris over the weekend (Saturday, Sunday, Monday) so we knew we'd hit crowds at Versailles no matter what. Rick Steves recommended as a strategy either arriving right at 9:00 or else getting tickets for the afternoon, which is what we did, getting tickets for 3:00. The crowds were actually awful. Getting into the building they take you through security which was probably my most claustrophobic experience of the entire trip. I could have spent a great deal of time there as the art collection is so impressive, but the tour itself felt very rushed and frankly compared rather poorly to the tours of the chateaux that we did in Amboise, which I think were curated better to highlight interesting themes. I think they very much want the huge crowds to go quickly through the rooms. I am glad that I went, just to experience it once. The scale of the whole property is just obscene and that alone was an experience. I had been to the gardens before but not the chateau (not wanting to wait in the lines). I think next time I'll skip the chateau and just do the gardens!

    The next day was our last day in Paris! DH wanted to go SHOPPING of all things. So we went to some famous shopping mall. DH didn't have a huge list of asks and this was his thing so I went along and it was fun. Everything we saw was 100% out of my price range but the clothes were beautiful and we were able to see many beautiful parts of Paris as we walked along. We picked up a bunch of chocolate and souvenirs for friends at home which was another priority for DH. Which meant we also had to buy an extra suitcase. We went back to our hotel to repack some of our bags and await our taxi and then took a very comfortable TGV to Avignon.

  8. #8
    bisous is offline Red Diamond level (10,000+ posts)
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    We ended up getting a car at the train station from Avignon and it was a short drive to our hotel. Our hotel was in the old center of the city and it was a total maze and a little scary with those crazy one way narrow streets! Our hotel was the nicest I've ever been to. La Mirande is where we stayed and it was beautiful with exceptional service. We got in pretty late on Monday night and thankfully they had a "dining room" just for guests with three course dinners in a beautiful room.

    The next day we were tired. And our room was GORGEOUS so we opted to do little trips in town mixed with a lot of resting in our room. Our room had a huge view of the Palais des Papes and a private balcony. We picked up sandwiches in town and ate them on the balcony. Then took a nap. Then took our car out to Les Baux de Provence in the late afternoon/early evening. We toured the old fort there which was so rugged and just amazing. Again, wonderful history and so much to see and explore. I think kids would actually love it. It had a bunch of medieval siege engines and had people working as craftsmen. Funny thing is that the property closes at 7:00. We arrived back at the entry/exit gate at 6:57 and it was locked up for the night! We were stuck, not in a building but in a gated "property". Thankfully some guests on the other side of the gate could see us and directed us to a side exit and weren't stuck for the night! They actually waited for us at the side entrance to make sure we were ok. And they say French people are rude, lol. All the restaurants that were recommended to us were actually closed for random reasons when we went to get dinner so DH just chose a place and it was just ok.

    The next morning we also took slow. It was just such a luxurious place. We bought more chocolate and souvenirs, wandered the old town some more and then checked out. We drove to Salon de Provence, which is an area I lived in as a missionary. We walked around, toured an old chapel there that I really loved, got lunch and then drove to our next place. The drive was beautiful but very stressful! As I've mentioned elsewhere, driving in France isn't inherently that hard. It is on the same side of the road and drivers are decent. The tricky part was navigating a long journey on the side routes and needing to decide at every intersection which was was "straight" since they were roundabouts with funny angles, lol. DH and I have decided next time we'll take the car to the train station at Marseille and take the train to Nice instead. We're big train fans after this!

    We arrived in Nice that evening, returned our car, checked into our hotel. We actually really liked our hotel. We chose the Novotel near the Nice airport, because of its proximity to where we were flying out. Our room was huge. A family could stay there! And we had a beautiful view of the Mediterranean and surprisingly, the local zoo. It was also on the tram line. That's a new feature since I lived in Nice in 1997 and we found it incredibly useful. We took it all over the city. It is quite like a metro but many of the lines run right down the main streets instead of entirely underground!

    The next day was our only full day left on the vacation! We took a train to Menton. You can buy train tickets there where they let you exit at any point on the trajectory and reenter the trains. It was very nice! In Menton we spent some time on the beach, then walked to the Italian border, just for fun and because it was beautiful.

    Then we went to Monaco and found another surprise. It is now possible to tour the castle there. So we did! I think we figured out that that makes our ninth castle tour of the trip. I think you could say that's our favorite thing to do! It was a beautiful palace. I love the situation for their castle. Stunning views and you can see the influence of both France and Italy.

    We went back to Nice for the evening. We walked along the busy streets and found a great location for dinner (quickly I might add, lol) It was the perfect way to end our stay. Nice has a really cool vibe. It is more low key and casual than Paris but it is also fairly large and international. It has an Italian/French feel and it is physically gorgeous. The sky and sea are so blue, the buildings are colorful (think Positano), the weather is perfect.

    The next morning we hopped on the tram almost right from our hotel and got to the airport! The whole flight home was actually pretty stressful. I didn't like the transition from our small plane that we boarded in Nice, to the much larger plane that we connected with in Zurich to make the flight over the ocean. It was exhausting and stressful and crowded. I had to show my passport no less than four times in the Zurich airport before boarding the plane. There were lines and scans and trams to ride. Next time I fly I think I will ask for some kind of aid to relaxing. i got really stressed in the last four hours of our flight. At that point we were on at least 12 hours of travel time plus I had gotten up at some kind of crazy hour (4:30) to make sure I was completely ready before our flight and I think being really tired makes it harder to remain calm on the plane.

    And that's our trip!

  9. #9
    bisous is offline Red Diamond level (10,000+ posts)
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    Things I'd do different next time.

    While I think for the most part I really do see the criticism that we crammed too many locations into one trip, I'm actually not sad that we saw so many different places. We have never left the country before. When we first got back, we told ourselves "Wee can do this again! Now we can really concentrate on one place." But then DH was laid off and now I'm just not sure if we will get back. For a once in a lifetime trip (maybe?) it was pretty epic and I'm not sad.

    I would pack differently. I think I'd take a personal item and a large suitcase EACH. Instead of only one checked bag, each of us with a carry on, and a personal item. It would mean less pieces but similar to more room in the suitcase and only a slightly larger cost. I would pack more things for cold weather. Maybe invest in some cuter boots since that's what I almost excluseively used in in Switzerland/Germany and then again at Versailles.

    I wouldn't change much about Switzerland/Germany except maybe I would try harder to pay attention to the scenery. I often felt like I wasn't sure where I was or the history of the places I visited since we were guests of DH's parents. I like it better when I connect personally to the places we visit!

    I would change absolutely nothing about Amboise. That was an A+ experience. Loved every second. I want to go back.

    Paris. Hmm. I would have more rain worthy clothes. Which would probably mean I'd need to buy clothes for the rain if I try going back. I would skip the inside of Versailles. I'd probably do half a day less if I had to plan it all over again, so I could spend more time in Provence/Cote D'Azur. I was surprised by how much less impressed with Paris I was this time than last time. I know it sounds shallow but I think the rain is part of this. Last time was high summer. But so is post-COVID me. The metro was crowded. So crowded! And walking along the Seine was super fun, but also CROWDED. I'm just such a grump for crowds these days! I guess that's good to know about yourself? I feel awful complaining about both of these things. Maybe I just need an attitude adjustment?

    Provence. I think I probably did need a car in Provence/Avignon, but would definitely not drive as far away as Nice next time. It was less impressive as a drive than I had imagined and much more stressful. I also wouldn't mind spending at least half a day more there. We wanted to visit Arles but didn't get time. Loved it there. Would love to spend more time there. (And buy more of the amazing chocolate!)

    Nice/Cote d'Azur, again, I think more time would be nice. Half a day to explore Cannes and Antibes would have been awesome. We'd take a train and walk around the harbor and the old town. Or I could spend a day walking around St Jean Cap Ferrat. I need to mention that the trains here were ALSO very crowded. I don't know why it bothered me less. Maybe because the trains had huge windows overlooking the Mediterranean so they felt less claustrophobic? I just so loved the vibe there too. Everyone is in less of a hurry. Nice feels like a more international Southern California to me in some ways. It is like my perfect city!

  10. #10
    andie16 is offline Silver level (200+ posts)
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    Looks like an amazing trip! Thanks so much for including all of the details. My older dd is doing a six week program in Geneva this summer and then plans to travel some in France afterwards so I am going to share this information with her. I'm so glad you and your dh got to do this!
    Andrea
    dd 19
    ds 16
    dd 13

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