11 Days in Europe: Paris, Venice and Rome Sample Itinerary (and Insider Tips)

Updated January 2017
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You know how it is.

You’ve finally saved enough to go on a 2-week trip to Europe — yay!!!

You don’t want to go on one of those big bus tours where you’re herded around like cattle with 40-60 other tourists.

You could get a travel agency to put together a trip for you but you know it will cost you a pretty penny.

What you really want is to DIY your trip: customize your itinerary to make sure it suits your tastes AND at the same time covers all the must-sees.

But You Just. Don’t. Have. The Time.

Well, you’re in luck. 🙂

In this article, we’re going to teach you the basics of putting together an 11-day European itinerary that will give you the best bang for your buck. We also share tips and other things we learned — sometimes the hard way — on our previous trips to Europe.

And if you want to skip all that and just get a really detailed itinerary — one that you can actually submit to the Embassy when you apply for a Schengen visa — we can give you that too. We’ve put together an 11-day itinerary (14 days in all, including transit) that has flight times, train times, daily schedules, tips, and links to where you can book everything you need to book. If that’s what you want, click HERE.

Let’s start!
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How to Tell If A Tour is Good Value or Not


We break down an $850 11-day tour of France, Switzerland, and Italy — its real costs, pros and cons — and discuss the questions you have to ask before signing up for any tour.

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Yesterday, a friend asked me to take a look at a tour he was considering going on later this year. I’m hardly a tour expert but, from experience, I think there are basic questions we need to ask before we decide to take a tour or not.

First, a few points:

  • On the road, I’ve met people who proudly say they “never do tours” and I think that’s a shame. There are good tours and bad tours, and even good tours have their pros and cons. The trick is to figure out whether a tour’s pros outweigh its cons far enough to make its price worth it.
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  • I usually go DIY because I have to stick to a certain budget and because when it comes to itineraries, I’m often fiercely independent to a fault. That said, I have loved many of the tours I’ve joined; there is a lot to be gained by listening to a local or an expert. A few favorites come to mind:
    • The tour with an archaeologist at the Colosseum in Rome — fascinating, plus signing up for a tour gets you through the mile-long lines much more quickly
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    • The Louvre tour with an art historian a/k/a how the French feel when people go to their museum only to see an Italian work of art 😀
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    • The tips-basis walking tour we joined in Munich, learning about the Beer Hall Putsch and the Kristallnacht and standing in a square where Hitler had marshalled his army
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    • Our Highlands tour with Andrew MacDonald which brought up a lot of surprising parallels between Scotland and the Philippines and touched on a lot of the things that I personally value very much, like freedom and loyalty and family
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Now back to the topic. 🙂

How to dissect a tour

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Below are the basic questions that will help you decide whether a tour is good value or not:

  1. What does the tour include? What doesn’t it include?
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  2. How much does the tour really cost when you add the “hidden” charges?
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  3. What are the tour’s stops? How much time do you spend in each stop? Is the time per stop consistent with your goals for the trip?
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  4. What are the tour’s advantages and disadvantages?
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  5. Given all of the above, is the tour worth it for you? If you don’t take the tour, do you have the time or resources to come up with an alternative itinerary?

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Sample Affidavit of Support (for Visa Application)

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When I first applied for a Schengen visa, my bank account balance was not impressive at all. I could pay for my trip — I travel frugally, for the most part — but I figured the people at the French embassy would be happier if my father were to guarantee to shoulder part of my expenses. He executed an Affidavit of Support, I got a visa, and the rest you can read here.

People often ask me for a sample affidavit of support — as well as a sample cover letter, a sample itinerary, and so on — so I finally decided to come up with this Schengen Visa Pack:
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It’s very cheap — less than the cost of most Starbucks drinks! — and since I’ve so far obtained Schengen visas from the embassies of 3 separate countries, I can honestly say that the documents work. Just try to be as meticulous as you can in putting the requirements together and you’ll have a great shot at a visa.

By the way, the Schengen Visa Pack also contains a PDF copy of The Visa Applicant’s Guide to Show Money. I really recommend that you read it.

I hope everyone reading this gets a visa and that all of you have a great trip. 🙂

Happy travels!

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© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

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Munich’s delightful contradictions


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When I think of Germany, I think of cars, I think of discipline, I think of science and technology, I think of
oh, all sorts of unromantic things that aren’t exactly the stuff of travel dreams. I found myself in Munich only because my companion wanted to visit at least one German city during our European trip, and Amsterdam-Munich-Rome via City Night Line sleeper trains appealed to the rail enthusiast in me. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the Munich stop but thought: why not?

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My first indication that Germany wasn’t going to be quite what I expected it to be was when the CNL night train arrived at Amsterdam Centraal 30 minutes late. A German train
on Filipino time. Imagine that!

But I should have known, really. I’d forgotten that this land of precision and efficiency is also the land of fairy tales, home to both Max Planck and the brothers Grimm, to discipline and drunken revelry. This contradictory German duality was especially evident in Munich.

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MĂŒnchen, as it is locally known, is the richest city in Germany, with an exceptionally high standard of living, and is home to such giant companies as BMW, Siemens and Allianz. It is also home to the Frauenkirche, the seat of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, administered once upon a time by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — the man now known as Pope Benedict XVI. Bavaria, the German state of which Munich is the capital, is predominantly Roman Catholic, and on Sundays, religion trumps economics: most commercial establishments remain closed on the Lord’s Day.

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The path we took from Munich Central Station to the Marienplatz was at once magical and mercantile, imposing and homey. We went through a castle-like archway and walked along Neuhauser Strasse, Munich’s main shopping street. Large trees, their leaves winter brown, marked the middle of the road; at night, Christmas lights lent the place a fairy-tale glow. The architecture all around us was impressive and almost intimidating, but the warm yellow light and occasional steam coming from stalls selling chestnuts, fruits and various sorts of comfort food made the atmosphere remarkably cozy.

I loved it.

mun_4On the advice of a Dutch backpacker we met over breakfast at our hostel, we joined a half-day tour that started at the Marienplatz and explored places of interest around the city center. We craned our necks in fascination as the puppets of the Neues Rathaus (New City Hall) glockenspiel performed the same play they have been performing for centuries. We stood at the Odeonsplatz and gazed thoughtfully down the square, imagining the Nazi soldiers who once stood there, arms outstretched in stiff salute. We popped by the HofbrĂ€uhaus am Platzl, a world-renowned beer hall, and discussed the different types of beer in the city, including which one was particularly favored by the former Pope. We entered various churches: the Frauenkirche, Theatinerkirche, Michaeliskirche – where we heard Mass later that day – and Peterskirche. The latter had a tower, the Alter Peter, which we climbed after the tour for a magnificent view of the city. And finally: the Viktualienmarkt, where we wolfed down heavenly German sausages chased by a pint of ice-cold beer.

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As always, there was still so much to see and simply no time to see them all. We found ourselves, too soon, back in Central Station, waiting for the night train to Rome. As I bought a buttery pretzel for the journey, I remembered how unenthusiastic I’d been at the prospect of visiting Munich. The regret I felt then at leaving so much of the city unexplored was perhaps only fittingly contradictory.

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© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. An earlier version of this post was published in this blog last April 2014.

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#ParisIsPossible: KL-Paris v/v for only SGD 709 (PHP 23k+)

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Getting discounted tickets from the Philippines to Kuala Lumpur is fairly easy, with two budget airlines (Cebu Pacific and Air Asia) flying to KL from Manila/Cebu, so Expedia’s discounted fare from KL to Paris and back is a pretty good deal.

Just go to Expedia and enter the booking details below. (I saw this fare via Skyscanner but it works just as well if you start from the Expedia page.)

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Booking details (Expedia screenshot)

 

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Total fare SGD 708.60 (Expedia screenshot)

 


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The Road to Chateau d’If

View from the grounds of the Chateau d'If

View from the grounds of the Chateau d’If

While waiting for a boat to take us from the Chateau d’If to the rest of the Frioul islands, my sister and I fell into conversation with a Taiwanese lady named Sophie, who was in the south of France to select wines for her F&B company. When she learned we were from the Philippines, she proudly told us she had two Filipina friends who were working as domestic helpers back in Taipei.

Sophie expressed a deep respect for her friends: whereas most people would whine about how tired they were from work, her friends slaved without complaint and even prayed for side jobs so that they could send more money back home. From their example, Sophie said, she learned to appreciate what she had. Her job might sound heavenly, but in exchange for getting to visit chateaus and vineyards, taste delicious food and sip the world’s best wines, she has to live out of a suitcase and never stay in one place for long. Because of her Filipina friends, though, Sophie has learned not to complain; as it is, there were so many people in the world who did not have enough to eat. And my sister and I were very lucky, she pointed out: her two Filipina friends had to work hard to support their families, while there we were in the south of France, basking in the Mediterranean sun.

Sophie and Lei, waiting for the ferry

Sophie and Lei, waiting for the ferry

To a great extent, we really are very lucky. I won’t apologize for it: our parents came from poor families, but they have worked very hard to give us a good start, and we ourselves have studied hard and worked hard to get to where we are now. At the same time, no matter how hard we work, we will never be on the same level of comfort as the Zobels or the Henry Sys of this world, not even if we win the lottery ten times. And there are people who work harder than we do and still will only have enough to get by, one day at a time. So to a certain extent, there is indeed some luck involved. In the great lottery of life, we relatively lucked out; we worked with what we had, and life took us somehow, through twisted paths, to Chateau d’If on a warm October afternoon.

Entering one of the cells in Chateau d'If

Flowers in memory of Edmond

Funny to be contemplating about life and fortune in this rocky island off Marseille, where the fictional Edmond Dantes had his life and fortune unjustly taken away from him for countless years. The world isn’t fair, we know that now. Many of us have troubles of our own: challenges, hurts, many of them richly undeserved. But if The Count of Monte Cristo tells us anything, it’s that we won’t always be down and out; the wheel of life will turn. Maybe all we need to do is hang in there for a bit; count our blessings. (Also, it probably won’t hurt to start chipping away at the rocks.)

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“The Road to Chateau d’If” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Parts of this post were previously published in the post “The Lottery of Life.”

 


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Thrifty eating: How to save on food while traveling

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“Where to eat” is one of the last things I research for a trip, if at all. I usually eat wherever I happen to be at mealtime as that just makes sense to me time-wise. Plus, it seems to me an exercise in heartbreak to hunt down the area’s most raved-about restaurants only to realize I can’t afford anything on the menu. Living as I do in the Philippines — and in a university area, in particular, where the peso equivalent of 2 euros can get you a good 3-dish meal, plus rice and drinks — the cost of food is one of the hardest things to swallow when I travel, particularly in Europe.

The first time I found myself in Europe, my sister and I ate sandwiches ALL. THE. TIME. They were cheap and often big enough to split between the two of us. In the Philippines, rice is king, and anything with bread is usually just considered a snack, but in pricey Paris, sandwich jambon et fromage…good enough.

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I wouldn’t recommend that strategy now — eating sandwiches can get old fast, trust me — but here’s what I usually do now to save money on food:

  • Book a hotel with free breakfast. Nothing makes me happier than starting the day with a breakfast buffet but even just a slice or two of bread and ham will do the trick. As much as possible I try to book accommodations that include breakfast in their daily rate so I don’t have to pay for it out of pocket. Some hotels even serve breakfast up to 10:30 AM so breakfast can actually double as lunch.
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  • Bring food from home. Nothing that will replace an actual meal, but I usually bring:
    • Packets of instant soup — for when I get hungry at the hotel. Campbell’s Mushroom Cheese with Croutons is my favorite.
    • Crackers and/or candy — for when I’m on the road and everything is expensive. Crackers or candy will stave off hunger long enough for me to find a more affordable place to eat.
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  • McDonald’s meals and other fast food, while not exactly the healthiest things out there, tend to be cheaper than restaurant fare. I just think: a couple of burgers won’t kill me but starvation will. 🙂
    • Keep in mind that in many places around the world, you’re expected to clear your own table after eating. To be safe, keep an eye on the locals and do what they do.
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  • Prix fixe meals — “fixed price” meals that cost 12-15 euros and include 2-4 dishes — are usually cheaper than ordering a multi-course meal ala carte. I go for these meals when I’m really hungry or when I want to sample the local cuisine.
    • Prix fixe meals are usually cheaper at lunch than at dinner.
    • Servings tend to be big (by Asian standards, anyway) so when I’m with my sister or a female friend, and we’re not that hungry, we sometimes split prix fixe meals.
    • Although prix fixe meals are generally acknowledged to be a [relatively] cheap option, a single pasta dish will often be even cheaper and the serving big enough not to need a main course.
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  • And my new favorite thrifty eating strategy: buying bread, cold cuts and drinks from the supermarket and making a picnic out of it. It rarely totals over 10 euros and is good enough for two!

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How do you save on food when you travel? Or is food something you willingly spend a lot on? I’d love to know what you think.

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Thrifty eating: How to save on food while traveling” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 


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