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Old 01-16-2018, 01:26 AM   #1
Bobo Fett
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Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

I already have a thread going in the Travel forum looking for some input, so Zeno, if you feel these questions belong in that thread, I have no problem with you locking this - but it's not like this forum is bustling with activity these days, so I thought another thread might actually be a good thing.

This summer I'm going to be in Western Europe with the family for ~7 weeks. We'll be spending about 3 weeks in the UK, 2 weeks in France, and 2 weeks in Italy - give or take a couple of days. Itinerary is still being worked out, but I think it'll roughly look like this - Start in Brighton, over to Bristol (side trips from here to Stonehenge, Bath, Exeter area, Cardiff), up to Liverpool/Manchester (side trip from here to Snowdonia?), continue on to Glasgow/Edinburgh, back down to York, and then to London. From there, over to Dover, ferry to Calais, and on to Paris (probably short trip to Dunkirk from Dieppe before Paris, but will likely go to Normandy from Paris). From Paris, down to Tours and Toulouse en route to Andorra and Barcelona. Then along the French Riviera to Italy, likely as far as Rome via Florence and then possibly ending in Switzerland before flying home again.

Of course everyone has different interests, and I'm not expecting anyone here to know what most interests 6 strangers. But I am hoping that some of you who have visited or live(d) in Europe might be able to recommend some historical sites you've been to and really enjoyed. On my list of potentials right now:

Hadrian's Wall
Dunkirk
Vimy Ridge
Dieppe
Normandy
Castles - yes, that's very generic; need to pick a few of the best to see this trip.

Of course there will be many things to see in the major cities - Tower of London, Colosseum, Arc de Triomphe are some obvious ones that spring to mind. The Louvre, naturally. Might skip the British Museum as I've been there before and although I could go several more times, I have to appreciate that not everyone in the group wants to spend all their time in museums, so I need to be selective.

I plan to be back numerous times, so it's not like I'm trying to hit every major historical site in a whirlwind trip. But I don't know how often I'll be going with the kids (16 & 18), and it may be the only time my parents go (they've never been), so I want to give them a taste of the more significant/enjoyable/memorable ones.

Any and all suggestions welcome and appreciated!
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Old 01-16-2018, 07:35 AM   #2
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Stonehenge
Auschwitz
Beaumaris Castle https://www.triphistoric.com/beaumaris-castle-1167/
Jorvik Viking Centre https://www.triphistoric.com/jorvik-viking-centre-964/
Althorp House https://www.triphistoric.com/althorp...d-estate-1363/

Should help keep you busy for a few days.
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Old 01-16-2018, 07:58 AM   #3
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Very nice, thanks! Although I think Auschwitz is a little out of the way for this trip, those other links look great.
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Old 01-16-2018, 10:54 AM   #4
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Montrueil-sur-mer - open air performance of Les Miserables end July/beg Aug
http://www.lesmiserables-montreuil.c...s-et-tarifs-2/


Bayeux - for the tapestry ofc

Carcassonne - hilltop walled city -Roman walls - Medieval citadel
http://www.tourism-carcassonne.co.uk/

Ypres -
Small city easily walked around - the medieval Cloth Hall was rebuilt after WW1.
The Last Post is played every day 8pm at the Menin Gate, be prepared for the rush to get to the front. I got trampled by a group of OAPs
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Old 01-18-2018, 03:30 PM   #5
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Omaha beach is pretty neat. Point du Hoc also very cool. The Louvre, the musee d'invalides (napoleons tomb). Oktoberfest. Neuschwanstein Castle outside Munich. Dachau. Prague Cathedral. Monaco obv just for the wealth gazing. Barcelona Cathedral.
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Old 01-19-2018, 03:57 AM   #6
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

What's your planned method of transport?
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Old 01-20-2018, 04:28 AM   #7
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Quote:
Originally Posted by expat View Post
Montrueil-sur-mer - open air performance of Les Miserables end July/beg Aug
http://www.lesmiserables-montreuil.c...s-et-tarifs-2/
Nice! Location and timing just a bit off for us this time, unfortunately.

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Originally Posted by expat View Post
Bayeux - for the tapestry ofc
Of course!

Quote:
Originally Posted by expat View Post
Carcassonne - hilltop walled city -Roman walls - Medieval citadel
http://www.tourism-carcassonne.co.uk/
Nice. Will definitely see if we can make time for this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by expat View Post
Ypres -
Small city easily walked around - the medieval Cloth Hall was rebuilt after WW1.
The Last Post is played every day 8pm at the Menin Gate, be prepared for the rush to get to the front. I got trampled by a group of OAPs
I'm thinking the Low Countries will make a good trip on their own in the future. Just like I'm going to have to leave Vimy Ridge for another trip - would probably fit well with that one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DoOrDoNot View Post
Omaha beach is pretty neat. Point du Hoc also very cool.
Thanks - will put on the list for Normandy, which I'm thinking will be our first stop after Paris.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DoOrDoNot View Post
The Louvre, the musee d'invalides (napoleons tomb).
Definitely, thanks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DoOrDoNot View Post
Oktoberfest. Neuschwanstein Castle outside Munich. Dachau. Prague Cathedral.
Little bit out of the way for this trip.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DoOrDoNot View Post
Monaco obv just for the wealth gazing. Barcelona Cathedral.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Gin 'n Tonic View Post
What's your planned method of transport?
Plains, trains, and automobiles. Literally.

Still sorting this out, but right now it looks like this:

Train/transit from airport to Brighton, same over to Bristol. Rent a car there to get to Bath, Stonehenge, Cotswolds, Cardiff, Coast, etc. Train up to Liverpool. Rent a car there, drive up to Edinburgh and back down to Cambridge via York. Train to London, then train to Paris. Rent another car there to travel up to Normandy, down through Loire Valley, Andorra, to Barcelona and along the French Riviera. Not sure from there where train and car will be most appropriate, but probably a mix of both.

Basically, going by train from major city to major city, and renting cars when there's a few spots in one area to go see that make train/transit travel less practical. At least that's the plan so far, subject to change if other ideas make sense.
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Old 01-20-2018, 06:58 AM   #8
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

If you're going to be in or around Cambridge on the 2nd June you need to
go to Strawberry Fair. http://strawberry-fair.org.uk/

alternatively if you're in that area on 14th - 15th July you should go to
Bedford River Festival https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/be...-festival.html
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Old 01-20-2018, 08:29 PM   #9
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bobo Fett View Post
Nice! Location and timing just a bit off for us this time, unfortunately.


Of course!


Nice. Will definitely see if we can make time for this.


I'm thinking the Low Countries will make a good trip on their own in the future. Just like I'm going to have to leave Vimy Ridge for another trip - would probably fit well with that one.


Thanks - will put on the list for Normandy, which I'm thinking will be our first stop after Paris.


Definitely, thanks.


Little bit out of the way for this trip.





Plains, trains, and automobiles. Literally.

Still sorting this out, but right now it looks like this:

Train/transit from airport to Brighton, same over to Bristol. Rent a car there to get to Bath, Stonehenge, Cotswolds, Cardiff, Coast, etc. Train up to Liverpool. Rent a car there, drive up to Edinburgh and back down to Cambridge via York. Train to London, then train to Paris. Rent another car there to travel up to Normandy, down through Loire Valley, Andorra, to Barcelona and along the French Riviera. Not sure from there where train and car will be most appropriate, but probably a mix of both.

Basically, going by train from major city to major city, and renting cars when there's a few spots in one area to go see that make train/transit travel less practical. At least that's the plan so far, subject to change if other ideas make sense.
If you're interested in doing Normandy for only one day, you can charter a guided tour which includes a meal for fairly cheap. There is a train that leaves Paris for Normandy every morning, once you arrive you're picked up at the train station and driven around the area incl Utah/Omaha beaches and Point du Hoc and some of the small towns in the area like Carentan etc with a stop for lunch. The tour adds a lot of historical flavor to the visit and puts things into perspective w/r to D-Day that you couldn't get from a loner visit.

If you're looking more to do a couple days in the area and seeing other things like the Bayeux tapestry I recommend driving cause the train trip to/from Paris makes a long day longer. FWIW, Normandy is an extremely beautiful part of France; my favorite part in fact.

Of course you can always combine the two, driving to Normandy and staying in the hotels there (which are quite expensive) and then chartering a tour of the war sites for a day.

Trains are legitimately the best way to travel inside of europe. The major routes are high speed (200+mph) and there are routes everywhere. It will be often cheaper and less time consuming to take a train than a plane within Europe. The unfortunate thing about the south of France and southern Spain is that the train runs intermittently and 'takes the long way' so planning around the train times is essential. If I doing your trip I would do the northern short routes by car, fly to Barcelona (no direct route by train) and then train hop to Italy along the south coast.

Or you could go the opposite way, flying to Rome from Paris and making your way by train the opposite direction, ending in Barcelona.

There is a high speed train to Munich from Paris that takes about 2.5 hrs station to station. I know you said you weren't going that way but if you change your mind that part of Germany is incredible, with easily done short forays into places like Salzburg/Vienna/Dachau/Castles that could be done quickly on your way to Switzerland/Italy.

Last edited by DoOrDoNot; 01-20-2018 at 08:46 PM.
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Old 01-21-2018, 07:22 AM   #10
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Awesome stuff, thanks. Will definitely look into the Normandy tours.

And you hit upon the reason for my plan to get a car (intermittent trains from Paris to Barcelona via Andorra), but I hadn't considered the idea of flying to Barcelona and then train hopping to Italy. That could make the Loire Valley a challenge, but given all the things I'd like to do, something might have to give anyway. When we're done with Paris, we only have ~3 weeks left. But what probably won't give is Andorra - our daughter had a good friend who lives there, so a trip there is tops on her list. She's old enough that we could always let her go there on her own,
but I'd like to see it too.

You've given me much to think about, including flying to Rome and reversing order.
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Old 01-21-2018, 02:51 PM   #11
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Mr. Bobo:

Here is my trip report that I posted in the Lounge that includes excursions to Paris and Barcelona, I think you can glean some useful things from it plus some inspiration:

Europe-trip-report-1695755/

Some other observations:

Travel by train is great and mostly efficient. Pick fast trains if possible and remember that even some fast trains make frequent stops near big cities that slow them down. Check your train ticket carefully and make sure to board the correct railcar, usually by number. Going first-class cost a bit more but for comfort and ease it is worth it IMO.

Many are against carry cash, but from much foreign travel expierence it is always useful to have a wad of cash on hand - espeically before landing in Europe. I highly recommend that you have a dog-choking wad of Euro's or Pounds in your greedy hands for England and Europe.

Make sure to see the famous Cathederal in Barcelona and also the old Gothic Cathederal in the Gothic Quarter.
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Old 01-21-2018, 03:02 PM   #12
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Quote:
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............snip................And you hit upon the reason for my plan to get a car (intermittent trains from Paris to Barcelona via Andorra), but I hadn't considered the idea of flying to Barcelona and then train hopping to Italy. That could make the Loire Valley a challenge, but given all the things I'd like to do, something might have to give anyway. When we're done with Paris, we only have ~3 weeks left. But what probably won't give is Andorra - our daughter had a good friend who lives there, so a trip there is tops on her list. She's old enough that we could always let her go there on her own,
but I'd like to see it too.

Yes, train schedules can dictate and cramp your journey some, especially if you have tight plans and/or reservations. If you were just rambling about on your own it is not a bad way to do things but you have to have the leisure time to do it. So the train hopping from Barcelona to Italy would be fun but also a challenge. Especially along the coast of France. I did that years ago and it was fun but many trains are milk runs.

In Italy, Florence is a must I think. But also think about Sienna, it is worth a visit and is on the way to Rome.
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Old 01-21-2018, 05:47 PM   #13
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Check out Bath, you can do it on the same day as Stonehenge.
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Old 01-22-2018, 07:37 AM   #14
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

So, it looks like due to a change in some family plans, we may end up going the route that DoOrDoNot suggested, straight to Rome from Paris. More to come on that in a moment.

Zeno, good stuff, thanks. Nice thread, too!

campfire, yes, that's definitely the plan.

So, I'm going to do what I usually encourage others not to. Admin power abuse, LDO. But seriously, I'm a little surprised to be getting more feedback here in the usually library-quiet History forum than I am over in Travel, so I'm going to cross-post what I just posted in the Travel forum:


So, I've got all of our UK stays booked now.

Brighton - 3 nights. Since we're flying in to Gatwick, this seemed like a nice calm way to start; a city where I was able to get a place from which we can walk everywhere we want to go and we get some time to acclimatize. Then train over to:

Bristol - 5 nights. Decided on this for a bit of a hub. Renting a minivan here, and have potential daytrips planned for Bath/Stonehenge, Cotswolds, Cardiff. Was also thinking of a day down to the "Jurassic Coast", but it's a long trip and I'm worried about packing too much in. Need a day to just relax and see Bristol. Then train up to:

Liverpool - 4 nights. Renting a minivan here as well, but this one we'll be taking up to Scotland and back down to London. Probably take a day trip to Snowdonia, and another to Manchester - although I'm likely smarter to do that by train, so the plan will probably be to get the car a couple of days in and just have it to go to Snowdonia and then head out of town to:

Edinburgh - 4 nights. No idea exactly what we're going to see here yet, but I'm sure between going over to Glasgow, driving in the surrounding areas, and Edinburgh itself, we should have no problem filling 3 days. Then continue in the minivan to:

York - 2 nights. We're actually well outside of York in a cute farmhouse. We'll only be spending one day in York, which probably deserves more, but that goes for so many other places we'll be at as well! Then off to London.

But I should take it back a step and mention all the driving. Anything we should be seeing on the way from Liverpool to Edinburgh, and then again from Edinburgh to York? We don't want to make the days too long, but part of the reason of renting a vehicle is to give us freedom to explore! Only definite stop I have planned now is Vindolanda/Housesteads for Hadrian's wall on the way back to York.

So from York, planning to return the car to Cambridge, and take the train to London from there.

London - 5 nights. Have a place close to the Tube, and will have no problem filling 4 days there. Then it's the train to:

Paris - 6 nights. Have increased this, as we're probably changing our plans for the rest of trip from what I mentioned earlier, so I'm going to make a day trip to Normandy. Yes, I know it's a long day and it will be rushed, but my son really wants to go and I don't think it's practical for us to give it the proper 2-3 days, so we'll do our best to make a good day of it. Pretty sure, like London (and Rome to come), there will be no problem filling 4-5 days here. Then, flying to:

Rome - 5 nights, at least. We've changed things up because it looks like my parents, who were going to leave from Paris, want to stay a little longer and see Rome. Since we're never going to see everything I'd like anyway, I think I'll have to shelve Loire Valley and Bordeaux, saving them for a future trip.

From there, everything is a little less firm, and I could use some suggestions. Obviously a few nights in Florence. In spite of the advice I've received, Venice is on everyone's list, so we'll spend at least a couple nights there, but perhaps not as much as originally planned. The question is - whence from there? I'd say we have about a week to make our way to Barcelona. We might go up to Switzerland, which will then mean less time elsewhere. But if we were to leave Venice with a week to get to Barcelona, that would give us time for 2-3 stops of 2-3 nights each. Genoa, Monte Carlo/Nice, Cannes, Marseille, elsewhere? They all look beautiful, so I guess the question is, if you only got to stay at 2 or 3 of them, which would you choose?
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Old 01-22-2018, 11:55 AM   #15
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Monaco is an absolute must and you could probably use up only a day. Yacht watching and of course a stop at Casino Monte Carlo.

I'm not too familiar with Italy so I'll leave that to others.

Just beware the trains along southern france are slow so look into them before you make any solid bookings if you're on a timeline. A good portion of your week time will be soaked up on train rides.
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Old 01-22-2018, 06:07 PM   #16
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

I have never been to Europe but my sister practically lives there and has been to all the countries. I will ask her what historical sites she liked and then tell you tommorrow.
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Old 01-23-2018, 05:00 PM   #17
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Hey Bobo,

Here's a few things. Sorry if they are out of scope and also sorry if others already mentioned these (I've only skimmed the thread).

First, I highly recommend hiring a small group guided tour for any of the museums. We've done these many times and never regretted any. An absolute requirement for the British Museum and the Vatican, imo.

London
British Museum
Sir John Soane's Museum
Tower of London
Tower Bridge
Churchill War Rooms
Greenwich Observatory and Grounds
Harrod's (yeah... its shopping... but its a cool place to eat)
The Grapes, Limehouse
Town of Ramsgate

Nottingham
Castle
Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem

Bath
Roman Baths
Stonehenge

York
York Minster

Rome
Vatican (obviously)
Forum, Colosseum, Circus Maximus (obviously)
Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere
Chiesa del Gesù
Pantheon
Take a Segway tour of Rome -- its a laugh and good value

Tuscany
Sienna (obviously)
Volterra (torture museum is good)
Castel San Gimignano

Cinque Terra
Stay in Lerici at the Doria Park Hotel (and eat at Dei Pescatori)
Take the water taxi to the Cinque Terra

Bologna
Basilica di San Petronio (my favorite church in Italy -- worth knowing the history of this one... well, the traditional story anyway)

Ravenna
Basilica di San Vitale

Venice
Stay on Lido and take the vaporetti back and forth to the city
Basilica di San Marco

Florence
See everything that Michelangelo touched
Get a guided tour of the Galleria degli Uffizi (as my art-history major ex-GF would say, "its a few good pieces surrounded by piles of shyte" )
Find a good restaurant that does bistecca alla fiorentina, (there will be many poor options)

Last edited by Lapidator; 01-23-2018 at 05:17 PM.
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Old 01-23-2018, 05:14 PM   #18
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

BTW... this is worth reading...

The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo
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Old 01-23-2018, 05:23 PM   #19
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

If you pack light, you should look into taking flights instead of trains. Its surprisingly cost effective sometimes.

I've flown from Glasgow to Shannon for $40.

Trains can be hit/miss. I would get a car for Italy and avoid the trains altogether. England and France, probably just take the train.
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Old 01-23-2018, 06:03 PM   #20
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

I have to tell you that some of the places you've chosen are overrated but I can understand why a visitor from abroad might be keen.

The Louvre is almost too vast to get much out of unless you spend several days there - people mainly visit it so they can tell people they've seen the Mona Lisa (but secretly wonder what all the fuss and the crowds 6 deep is about), but if your parents insist I guess that's it.

Instead the usual (and best) recommendation is Musee D'Orsay which houses great works by most of your favourite Impressionist/Post-Impressionists. Follow up with a walk along the banks of the Seine.

While in Paris definitely visit Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, take in the cathedral and panoramic views across Paris and stop off for some merguez and cous cous in one of the local and cheap restaurants.

Re. the Riviera - I think it's again overrated and a huge tourist trap. We stayed in Nice in 2016 and drove all over the area and it didn't live up to my childhood holiday memories. I'd skip Monte Carlo and Cannes because there's little of interest (unless you count looking at the super rich), but Antibes is an interesting city with a beautiful old town and a great Picasso museum.

I agree with most of Lapidator's London picks, but I'd personally drop Harrods and eat in the fish restaurant above The Grapes (if it's still there), and you'll probably want to add the usual sights such as Big Ben/Houses of Parliament and Buck Palace etc, as well as Tate Modern which you should get to by walking across the Thames and taking in the view.

Tuscany is a must, especially Sienna and San Gimignano.
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Old 01-23-2018, 06:33 PM   #21
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Milan
The Last Supper.

To be honest, I am most impressed with The Last Supper of all of Da Vinci's works. There is something ethereal about that work. The facts of how it survived WWII seem to carry some meaning too.

To see it, you have to book way in advance -- like 3 months or more.
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Old 01-27-2018, 03:00 PM   #22
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Great stuff, thanks! Will go over in more detail a little later and maybe have some follow-up remarks and questions.

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From there, everything is a little less firm, and I could use some suggestions. Obviously a few nights in Florence. In spite of the advice I've received, Venice is on everyone's list, so we'll spend at least a couple nights there, but perhaps not as much as originally planned. The question is - whence from there? I'd say we have about a week to make our way to Barcelona. We might go up to Switzerland, which will then mean less time elsewhere. But if we were to leave Venice with a week to get to Barcelona, that would give us time for 2-3 stops of 2-3 nights each. Genoa, Monte Carlo/Nice, Cannes, Marseille, elsewhere? They all look beautiful, so I guess the question is, if you only got to stay at 2 or 3 of them, which would you choose?
Latest iteration looks something like this:

Rome - 6 nights
Florence - 4 nights
Venice - 2 nights
Genoa - 2 nights
Nice - 4 nights (day trips to Monaco & Cannes)
Barcelona - ?

None of these are booked yet, although I'm close on a place in Rome. So everything can still be changed, but I think the Rome/Florence stops look pretty solid.

TBH, Genoa's really on there just because it looks like a good midway point to Nice; not sure if it's worth a couple nights or not.

Not sure exactly how to handle the Nice-Barcelona portion. That's a long haul via car or train, but no one place is jumping out at me as a great stopover. But perhaps that means a full day on the train going through the area would be the best way to see it.

Since we're probably not going to be able to fly directly home to Vancouver from Barcelona, am considering a car from there back to Paris (can fly direct from there), which could bring Loire Valley back into play.
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Old 01-27-2018, 03:38 PM   #23
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

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............snip.................

Since we're probably not going to be able to fly directly home to Vancouver from Barcelona, am considering a car from there back to Paris (can fly direct from there), which could bring Loire Valley back into play.
Wanted to just comment on above-

I would recommend that if you decide on driving a car that you drive from Barcelona (see the damn place, it is worth it!) to Madrid. If you have an extra day there are many grand old Spanish cities on the way to stop at and gawk. From Madrid you can get direct flights to anywhere; even Russia. In case you want to shake hands with Putin.
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Old 01-28-2018, 04:52 PM   #24
jalfrezi
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Whatever floats his yacht.
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Old 02-05-2018, 08:51 PM   #25
DoOrDoNot
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Re: Travelling to Western Europe - best historical sites to see?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bobo Fett View Post

Since we're probably not going to be able to fly directly home to Vancouver from Barcelona, am considering a car from there back to Paris (can fly direct from there), which could bring Loire Valley back into play.
You can connect from Barcelona to Munich, and then fly direct to Van via Air Canada. I flew from Madrid to Munich and then back.
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