Author Topic: First-ever Europe trip..just the details (no photos :) )  (Read 1663 times)

Offline loveddeals

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First-ever Europe trip..just the details (no photos :) )
« on: September 15, 2016, 02:11:39 PM »
Finally finished writing long-due TR of out first-ever Europe trip. I had started couple of threads here (with questions, advice, etc.). Here is the main thread:

http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=59783.msg1376403#msg1376403

Here comes the TR now..

On June 2nd, we left for our first ever Europe trip. We flew United (3 tickets booked using miles), Sacramento - Washington - London. Landed in London around 7 AM. From airport, took the tube? (whatever they call it there, I am completely lost from all the travel) to Green Park station, and hotel was 2-minutes walk from the station.

We stayed at Holiday Inn London Mayfair. Hotel booked using points (had almost 260,000 IHG points, from card signup, bought 100,000 points 2 years ago using AMEX summer travel promo (or something like that), some work travel, etc.I think it was 40,000 points per night. Room was for only 2 adults (Europe overall had limited availability for 3), but was advised here to book for 2, and it will be fine with kid. That is what happened, we would make our kid sit in the lobby, and she would just follow us on the elevator :). Due to IHG card, I am Platinum member. E-mailed hotels 5-7 days before arrival that it is our first Europe trip, I am IHG platinum member, and coming to celebrate our wedding anniversary, so if they can offer an upgrade, that would be awesome. Also requested early check-in (based on the expected arrival time). Requests accepted at most of the hotels. 

Reached hotel around 9:30 AM. Checked-in. Concierge told us that Changing of Guard ceremony is at 11:30 AM and we should be there early for good views. Just walked to Buckingham Palace (almost 10-minutes walk), and already lots of people there, but we were able to find a good spot for the ceremony. Enjoyed the ceremony, and took lots of photos.

Overall, just amazed at how well they have managed all the palaces, and these are huge palaces, but then Britishers have looted wealth from all over the world, and it shows in London. Also, went to Trafalgar Square, and took photos there.

It was cold on June 3rd, plus daughter was not feeling very well. So after the ceremony, we had lunch on main street (next to hotel, decent places to eat), and then went to room for nap. Having Indian roots, I wanted to go to Lords Cricket Ground (mecca of cricket). Wife & I decided to walk to Lords (bad decision as it was about 30 minutes walk), but on the way saw Rolls Royce showroom & Bentley showroom. Nice cars :). By the time, we reached Lords, it was closed, but the guards quickly allowed us to take photos. On the way back, we took bus and got off at Oxford street. Just enjoyed the vibe there. Spent some time here, and then walked back to hotel. Had dinner (mainly pastries) and then slept.

June 4th: Took Uber to St Paulís Cathedral. We were there before opening, so didnít see big lines. It was just beautiful. Went all the way up, and soaked in panoramic view of London.

Then, went to Tower of London. Wanted to see the jewels and crowns that are still used. Also saw Kohinoor, one that Britishers took (looted) from India. It was very exciting to see it, such a big diamond. Also did Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street and Harrods.

June 5th: Took Uber to Big Ben. Then just roamed around and saw London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster, Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Trafalgar Square.

Then took MegaBus to Brussels (dont remember the exact price, but it was cheap). It was overnight bus, but saved on hotel :). Got some sleep on the bus. Reached hotel around 7 AM (June 6), early check-in allowed (stayed  at Holiday Inn BRUSSELS - SCHUMAN: close to European Union buildings), and slept for 3-4 hours. Then Uber and went to see, Royal Palace, Grand Place, Pissing Boy, and had waffles and other items there. Good food.

June 7 - 9: Took Mega Bus to Paris (again was cheap, if someone is interested, I can probably dig around and find the exact fare), and reached hotel around 1 PM. Stayed at Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees for 2 nights (courtesy of certificates from here). Our first stay in a high-end hotel, location was great (next to Arc de Triumphe). For one night, we also stayed in InterContinental PARIS - AVENUE MARCEAU (IHG free night certificate), very close to Radisson Blu). I dont remember the exact order we saw things, but wife made a list of things we saw:  Eiffel Tower, Louvre museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, Royal Palace Gardens, Jardin de Tuileries, ile Saint Louis, Le Marais, Place de la Concorde, Avenue de champs elysees, Arc de Triumphe. Ate at  LíAs Du Fallafel (thanks to suggestion here), and enjoyed the food. Enjoyed walking around the area, it was nice.

June 10: Took TGV Lyria to Zurich (very fast train, enjoyed the ride a lot), reached Zurich around 2:30 PM, and stayed for 2 nights at Crowne Plaza, courtesy of IHG points). Decent hotel, kind of little away from the touristy spots, but their rail system is amazing, so it was ok. Covered Old town, Zurich lake, Uitelberg, and lake cruise. One good thing was that buying 24-hour train pass included 90-minutes (or so) lake cruise. That was the highlight of our Zurich part, really enjoyed the scenic views from the cruise).

June 12: Took Bernia express (no wonder it is billed as one of the most scenic route trains, we just couldnít stop gazing at the natural beauty and wondering what life would be to live here). Thanks to the suggestion here, got the ticket using the cheap trick :). for scenic beauty. Had the Panoramic seat reservation too, so it was just wow!! Then, took train from Tirano to Milan (ate at Milano station), and then to Pisa. All day spent traveling, and it was kind of long day, but it was good to see regular trains too :). Checked in to AC Hotel Pisa (Marriott) around 11 PM. Next morning (June 13), covered Leaning tower of Pisa, and took a train to Florence. We stayed at AirBnB in Florence, and really enjoyed our first AirBnB experience. Did the San Lorenze market, central market. Very cheap prices for fashionable clothes (did some shopping here). This is one place where one should go to change their wardrobe :)

June 14:  Train from Florence to Rome (train tickets booked in advance). Stayed at a boutique hotel for 2 nights (Hotel Indigo ROME - ST. GEORGE) using IHG points, very nice hotel.  Covered Colosseum, Roman Forum, Jewish Ghetto, Sistine Chapel, St. Peterís Basilica.

June 16: Took flight from (United open-jaw flight) Rome to Athens. Then took Ryan Air to Santorini. We used airport locker to store one of our carry-on baggage (it was slightly bigger than their size limit, and I didnt want to pay them outrageous check-in fee). We transferred some of our stuff from other 2 carry-ons to this piece, and travelled light to the islands. Stayed at Memories Beach hotel for 2 nights, about 20 minutes taxi from airport, but hotel is right on the beach. Enjoyed the sun-rise & sun-set from the beach. Staff was very helpful and had a decent variety for breakfast. We were kind of tired from so much traveling, and now the relaxation part of the trip had started. So, we just took it easy. Rented a car for one-day ($45) and covered Black sand beach, red sand beach, sunset at Oia. Spent lot of time just relaxing on the beach next to hotel.

June 18: Took ferry to Mykonos island (on this trip, travelled by bus, train, ferry, & plane). Stayed for 2 nights at AirBnB. It was kind of a hotel, but staff was amazing, and nice ocean views from the room. Loved it :). Again, took it easy here, just relaxing on the beach and roaming around town. Town comes alive late in the evening.

June 20: Took Ryan Air to Athens. (flights were cheap, think paid about $130 or so for 3 of us). Stayed at InterContinental ATHENAEUM ATHENS for 2 nights. These were booked using the points from promo where you had to mail them postcards and get points. Used daughterís and wifeís points, and at check-in combined the bookings. It was nice to be able to stay in very spacious rooms after London/Brussels/Paris/Zurich small rooms.

Not much to do here, so we just did the main things: National Archaeological museum, Acropolis, pantheon, ermou street, first modern Olympic stadium, parliament building.

June 22: Flight back to home (Athens - LA-Sacramento). Reached home on June 23rd.


Couple of notes:

1. We switched to T-Mobile to use data in Europe. Out of 3 iPhones, only one had data working. All the settings were same, tweeted T-Mobile, and they tried to find the error/fix it. But somehow it just didnt work on 2 phones. Glad that it was working on one phone at least as that helped with maps & Uber. Data speed was decent, cant complain for free. All hotels had free wifi, so family was ok with not having data.

2. Used Schwab visa debit for ATM withdrawals. This card has unlimited fee-refund, so will see how it turns out. My preliminary check shows we got decent conversion rate, and no fees were charged.

3. Used Uber for most of the taxi rides. Since we had so many things to cover & limited time, didnít want to walk around a lot, get lost and waste time.

Any questions, please feel free to ask (PM or post here). This trip wonít have happened without all the knowledge gained here, and wonderful ever-helpful folks.

Offline Hatikvah

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Re: First-ever Europe trip..just the details (no photos :) )
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2016, 10:41:05 PM »
Sounds like a great time. I did a similar trip with mainly flights in between 5 countries in a couple weeks. Found the trains particularly in Italy and Switzerland are top notch

Offline loveddeals

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Re: First-ever Europe trip..just the details (no photos :) )
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2016, 10:46:40 PM »
Sounds like a great time. I did a similar trip with mainly flights in between 5 countries in a couple weeks. Found the trains particularly in Italy and Switzerland are top notch

Yes, it was great time, thoroughly enjoyed it. Already thinking of next one, planning to sign up for cards and then hopefully do a trip like this soon...

Offline @Yehuda

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Re: First-ever Europe trip..just the details (no photos :) )
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2016, 09:55:34 PM »
Glad to see you put together a TR. I enjoyed reading through it, brought back lots of memories. Nice to see someone else stayed at AC Pisa like we did. The train from Switzerland to Italy sounds awesome! Seems like a blast of a trip!

Offline loveddeals

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Re: First-ever Europe trip..just the details (no photos :) )
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2016, 12:11:39 PM »
Glad to see you put together a TR. I enjoyed reading through it, brought back lots of memories. Nice to see someone else stayed at AC Pisa like we did. The train from Switzerland to Italy sounds awesome! Seems like a blast of a trip!

Yes, trip was really amazing. First trip using lots of points. Hopefully, it will make easy to drag wife to do spends etc.

Offline mgarfin

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Re: First-ever Europe trip..just the details (no photos :) )
« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2016, 02:46:26 AM »
Thanks for sharing, great read.

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Re: First-ever Europe trip..just the details (no photos :) )
« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2016, 11:18:11 AM »
Thanks for sharing, great read.

Thanks. Glad you liked it.

Offline jshelton

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Re: First-ever Europe trip..just the details (no photos :) )
« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2016, 10:11:38 AM »
cool TR! how was the indigo in rome? I'm going in July and want to know how close it is to all the kosher food and the attractions? thanks

Offline loveddeals

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Re: First-ever Europe trip..just the details (no photos :) )
« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2016, 11:13:03 AM »
cool TR! how was the indigo in rome? I'm going in July and want to know how close it is to all the kosher food and the attractions? thanks

Indigo is a really nice hotel, staff is very helpful. Great location, one can walk to  St. Peter's and couple other attractions.

Sorry, I dont know about Kosher food (I am Indian), but there were lots of food places within couple of minutes of walking.