Subject: Re: Pls sanity chk my Europe plans
Robert:

Often, we are go-go-go travelers, so it is like the pot calling the kettle black to offer my opinion that your itinerary feels a wee bit ambitious, even to me! With that said, as long as your expectations are to enjoy the distance travels as much as the relatively brief times you will spend at your destinations, your will have a successful adventure! You have succumbed to the allure of many different destinations :)

I realize it is not supportive to throw out a general criticism without trying to add some helpful advice, so let's see if my 2 cents on a couple of issues may somehow prove helpful:

1. Amsterdam-Prague. Have you already ticketed? I just worked on a similar trip. There are so many discount air carrier options in the UK and northern Euro, you do not have to be stuck with the usual KLM or Czech Air monopolies on the non-stop routes. For example, I just ran it through www.bmibaby.com, they fly Amsterdam-Eastern Midlands- Prague for roughly $75 USD weekdays or $50 USD weekends. Huge difference than what the biggies are demanding, isn't it?

2. Prague-Venice. You mention arriving at 2p. Maybe that's an error or you have no flexibility in your departure, but that seems to roughly correspond to a 19-hour, 5 train change routing that departs Prague around 6p. If you don't lose something and manage to catch some shut-eye with that many train changes, my hat's off to you! If you are willing to forego 3 hours in Prague, you could take a 16- hour, 1 train change route departing Prague around 3p and getting into Venice at a very nice 8:45 a.m. You might want to re-check your schedules at http://bahn.hafas.de/bin/query.exe/en

3. I admit your Siena discussion is puzzling inasmuch as you have allotted the most time to this destination and then indicated a willingness to drop it! Without knowing your interests, your season of travel (are you departing on this journey in 12 days or are you devoting 12 days to the trip?! as I re-read your post, I think you are leaving soon!), whether you're going solo or have a companion's interests to consider, etc., it is difficult to comment on your possible replacement of Siena, except that if it were me, I certainly would not try to achieve Sorrento in its stead. It's a good hike south of your primarily northern Italy explorations. If you are feeling ambivalent about Siena, however, it might, indeed, be a good stop to save for another time--my opinion, only, but I wouldn't replace it with anything else--just spread the time out over your other destinations.

4. On the train pass issue, have you studied Rick Steves' site? He has the absolute best informational section on Euro rail travel. Point-to-point calculations and passes are all explained. We've enjoyed passes for the convenience, but you really have to do a lot of training or expensive legs for them to be a bargain. The Prague- Venice leg will cost a bit, and that won't be covered by a pass. The rest of your training is mostly Italy--perhaps an Italian pass would be a better value? Lots of discussion on Italian train tickets/passes here lately--use the archives, or look at www.trenitalia.it The other pricey leg will be Luzern-Paris. In fact, if you are really conscious about your budget, the part of your trip you might want to re-think is Switzerland, where trains, accommodations and food will all be expensive. Italy is always so pleasantly reasonable when it comes to prices, and the Italian lakes region between Milan and the Swiss border can offer a taste of Swiss ambiance and some drop dead gorgeous mountain lake scenery. You could even go across the border into Switzerland for a day trip less deep into the country. I know it's hard to consider cutting Switzerland, it's held a lot of magic for us. But, it would offer savings, that's for sure. The train ride alone, if done Milan-Paris w/o crossing into Switzerland, will be noticeably less costly than if originating from Switzerland.

5. Yes, the rental car alternative is very appropriate in your case if you like road trips. I cannot guarantee that for one traveler it will be less expensive than training. I think with 2, it's about break even (but we haven't done a car in Italy since 98 or 99, so perhaps someone else can compare relative value based on current info). We've driven all the Italian spots you've mentioned--very easy driving, I highly recommend picking up a *regional* Michelin map (not just Italy) in the States in advance. I'd pick up the car upon completion of your Venice visit and then you are essentially free to go wherever--Siena, Cinque Terre (tricky--if you come from Siena, I'd stay on the inland freeway and shoot to a northern point of the CT, leave the car at a hotel or safe car park and use train, ferry and foot to explore from north to south, and then south to north again, pick up car), from there, onto Milan, the logical jumping off point for heading on into Switzerland. Depending on the car pricing for taking it into Switzerland and leaving it vs. keeping the rental entirely within Italy, I might consider returning car in Milan & catching a Milano-Luzern train. We've used www.autoeurope.com a couple of times with great pricing/decent equipment. You can save dollars by selecting standard shift, no A/C, diesel (which is readily available in Euro vs. US). There is a mandatory insurance coverage unique to Italy, I think it is property damage to the car, you can't avoid it. But as I recall, the other coverages are optional as is general practice here, and you make selections based on your personal insurance coverage situation.

6. My restaurant/hotel suggestions for the places you are visiting are a few years dated now. Check these archives and the files for suggestions. If this trip is really happening in 12 days, then you shouldn't experience difficulty with on-the-spot availability in the October shoulder travel season. It would be good to go over with a guide or list of top 2-3 choices for your key destinations so you have somewhere to start and don't waste your precious touring time on fiddling with hotels every day. Train station tourist offices will help place you within a star category. It is much easier to find lodging in the a.m. when possible.

Pack light, travel safely and have fun!

Diana Ball near Houston, TX