Tour of Europe with Deb King

Deb King, of Fox World Travel recently went on a trip to Europe with her 18 year old daughter who had never before been to Europe. Hear all about their trip here.

In June I traveled with my 18 year old daughter on Insight Vacations ~ European Breakaway itinerary. This was my daughter’s first trip to Europe, so I wanted to choose an itinerary that covered a number of countries to give her an overview of a variety of cultures.

london great britainTuesday, June 10: London  Our morning started off with the hotel fire alarms going off and quickly exiting the hotel so we missed our included breakfast at the hotel. Once they allowed us to get back into the hotel it was time for our half-day motorcoach tour of London. The tour was on a motorcoach supplied by a local London coach company, not Insight, and was a mix of people on a number of Insight tours that had their tours starting in London. It was a great overview tour of London with a couple stops for pictures.

That afternoon and evening instead of a tour, we decided to see London on our own. We shopped on Oxford Street, took a cab to see Abbey Road and sign the wall outside Abbey Studios, and then went on to ride the London Eye. Don’t be put off by long lines to board. The Eye is in constant motion and our wait was short.

Wednesday, June 11: Eurostar to Amsterdam  This morning we met our Tour Director – Gigi Bromage amsterdam-annefrankand the rest of our group in the lobby of the Thistle. Half of our group was made up of Australians, four New Zealanders and the rest from the US. There were two other families with teenage girls so it worked out well for my daughter to have a couple younger girls to spend time with. We transferred to London’s St Pancras Station and boarded the high-speed Eurostar. The two hour trip was very comfortable. The actual travel through the Channel Tunnel is only about 20 min – 30 min of the trip. Upon arrival in Brussels we met our Insight motorcoach (yeah! Incredible leg room!) and driver for our transfer to Amsterdam. Our hotel was the Movenpick City Centre in Amsterdam. It was about a 20 minute walk to city center, but a really nice hotel. That evening we had our Welcome Dinner with our tour group at the hotel.

amsterdam canal (2)

Thursday, June 12: Amsterdam, City of Canals  Our morning sightseeing tour included driving past the Mint Tower, floating Flower Market and Royal Palace in Dam Square. We boarded a canal cruiser to glide through the canals of Amsterdam. It was a great hour tour and we were able to see gabled mansions of the 17th century merchants, Anne Frank’s house, and the many houseboats that line the canal. After the cruise we went to one of the diamond houses and watched craftsmen cut and polish the stones.

tulips windmillIn the afternoon we decided to take the optional tour to Volendam. This was one of my favorite excursions. We first stopped at a typical Dutch windmill to see how they worked and met the owner. Then on to the picturesque village of Volendam, known for its wooden houses, traditional fishing boats and old harbor, it was a wonderful spot for lunch and shopping. Renoir and Picasso both spent time in this fishing village and some of the residents still wear the traditional Dutch clothing.

This evening we added another optional experience – a walk through the red light district, known as the “Sailors Quarter” and then on to a historic local restaurant for a 3- course dinner.

GR_RhineValleyFriday, June 13: Castles of the Rhine Valley & Heidelberg  Today we departed Amsterdam and traveled through the Pass Arnhem, renowned for its ‘Bridge Too Far’, before crossing the German border bound for the Romantic Rhine. Our first stop was in the river side village of Boppard, nestled on the largest loop of the Rhine. We had time to shop and lunch before we embarked on our Rhine Cruise. We boarded the cruise boat and had a leisurely 1 ½ hour cruise past steep vineyards, medieval hill-top castles and went by the Loreley Rock. The cruise offered food and drinks for purchase. Our Insight cruise included one drink. After the cruise we followed the Neckar River to Heidelberg.

Upon arrival we checked in to the Crowne Plaza Heidelberg and then took a walking tour in old town Heidelberg. The old town is a beautiful mix of cobble stone streets with great dining and shopping.

Saturday, June 14: Bavarian Alps and Innsbruck  Bavarian AlpsThis morning we checked out of the hotel and headed for Innsbruck. We traveled around the northern Black Forest and head for the Bavarian Alps. A highlight of the trip for me was a stop at the royal castles of Hohenschwangau and King Ludwig’s fairy-tale Neuschwanstein. We have a nice 1 ½ hour stop to give us time for our pictures and lunch.

Once over the Austrian border, we continued to Innsbruck. We checked into the Hilton Innsbruck and took a walking tour of old town in the afternoon.

Sunday, June 15: Fair Verona & Venice, Queen of the Adriatic  After an early breakfast we left Innsbruck and traveled across the Europa Bridge and the Brenner Pass into Italy. Follow the Adige River through beautiful scenery, we stopped in Verona. We enjoyed a tour of Verona, with its Roman Arena, maze of squares and saw Juliet’s balcony. We had time for lunch and shopping as well.

hotelThen, on to Venice! Our hotel, the Hilton Molino Stucky, was a beautiful five star hotel. Once a flourishing flourmill, it is now beautifully restored and has 379 charming and comfortable guest rooms. With capacity to host 1-1000 people, the hotel has the most contemporary and largest conference facility in Venice, as well as 14 fully serviced meeting and boardrooms.

That evening we took a short walk to a local restaurant for dinner. After dinner we took the Magical Venice optional tour. This was one of my best memories from our trip. We took a private water taxi to St Mark’s Square area. After a short walk to the center of it all, Piazza San Marco, where we had seats reserved outside a Venetian café. As the sun set we enjoyed a refreshment and the music of a live orchestra and in view of the illuminated buildings and the Grand Canal. Now quiet with most of the tourists gone for the day, we could enjoy the real Venice. It was a beautiful night! On the return we slowly cruised the Grand Canal looking at all the beautifully lit homes as we returned to our hotel.

Italy - Venice 4Monday, June 16: Venice & the magic of ‘La Serenissima’  The following morning, we visited a Venetian arts center where local experts, craftsmen still make gondolas by hand and blow glass into incredible works of art. We had time for shopping in the Venetian glass shop. Then via private launch we traveled to St Mark’s Square. We took a walk along the water’s edge to the Bridge of Sighs which connects the Doges’ Palace with the prisons and then on to our gondola ride including a private serenade as we made our way through the canals of Venice.

That afternoon we took the Insight optional tour to the beautiful island of Burano. After a 45 minute boat ride to Burano we arrived to see the candy colored houses. Known for its artisan lace makers and leaning bell tower, this charming island is the place to buy scarfs and clothing. We had a wonderful late lunch of local seafood specials and wine was included.

lucerneTuesday, June 17: Through the Alps & on to Lucerne  The next morning we traveled through the beautiful farmland as we crossed into northern Italy. We saw some of the beautiful Italian Lake District on our way into the heart of the Swiss Alps and beautiful Lucerne. Lucerne offers a collection of spires, steeples, medieval bridges and half-timbered houses, set beside Lake Lucerne. Our hotel was the Astoria located in the heart of Lucerne.

After settling into our hotel we took the optional Lake Lucerne Happy Hour Cruise. Considered to be the prettiest of the mountain lakes, much of the shoreline of Lake Lucerne can only be fully appreciated from the water. The hour and ½ cruise included two drinks.

Then we moved on to the optional Swiss Dinner experience. This was a wonderfully fun evening. Swiss fondue is one of my favorite foods and I was looking forward to showing my daughter that the fondue she has had in America is NOT real fondue! We were at a traditional Swiss restaurant with entertainment including a folklore show of flag throwing, yodeling, Alpenhorn blowing and other great Swiss entertainment during our dinner.

St. Moritz, SwitzerlandWednesday, June 18: Lucerne’s Lions & Mt. Pilatus  We started off our day with an optional tour to the Swiss Countryside. A local farmer took us on a horse-drawn carriage to his home. The scenery was incredible as we trotted around through the Swiss rural community. Upon arrival at the farm we had coffee, tea and homemade snacks of cheese, crackers and baked goods made by the family. It was a wonderful way to start the day. We then took the cog-wheel train and cable-car to the summit of one of Switzerland’s most famous mountains, Mount Pilatus. We saw amazing sights over the snow-capped Jungfrau and Eiger peaks. Our tour continued back in Lucerne to view the Lion Monument.

We then strolled across the Chapel Bridge to the ornate Jesuit Church and spent time shopping in Old Town. This evening, the included Dine-Around dinner was at a local upscale restaurant. We dined with 10 of our group and had a wonderful 3 course dinner including wine or beer.

seine river parisThursday, June 19: Paris  Today we drove from Lucerne to Basel before crossing the Rhine to enter France. We traveled through the wine-growing Burgundy region to Paris. This was a long day of driving and we arrived late afternoon at the Le’Meridien Etoile hotel.

Tonight was our final Celebration Dinner at a local restaurant. After dinner we took the optional Paris Evening Illuminations tour! So beautiful to see Paris at night. We had the opportunity to stop for pictures along the way.

Friday, June 20: Paris  This morning we met our local guide for our Paris tour. She took us past Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre. We saw the Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine once stood and down the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Included was the Eiffel Tower and we rode the express elevator to the famous viewing platforms.

Eiffel Tower 4In the afternoon we took a Paris Seine River cruise and also took a tour of the Louvre Museum and saw the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, Mona Lisa and more. Then a tour of Notre Dame Cathedral and a walk through the streets of the Latin Quarter, filled with bookshops, cafes, and restaurants.

In the evening we decided to do the optional dinner and show at the Moulin Rouge. While it’s an expensive evening, everyone should do it once. Our steak dinner was surprisingly good and the show was entertaining. Our whole group decided to do the show so it was a great way to finish off the tour with our new friends.

After the show a group of us went to the Hyatt hotel located across the street from our hotel and up to the 34th floor Bar La Vue Paris. This bar is supposed to have the most expensive drinks in Paris… and one of the best views. We saw the Eiffel Tower start to shimmer at 11:00pm when the lights lit up and started to twinkle. It was a perfect way to end the trip!

Saturday, June 21: Paris  I added an extra day in Paris for some down time and we spent the time walking and shopping along the Champs Élysées.

Sunday, June 22: Departure Home  We had a mid-morning departure for Charles de Galle Airport. Instead of Insights transfers I opted to purchase a private shuttle with Paris Shuttle. It was a beautiful town car and the driver was right on time. Our flights on Aer Lingus were on time and uneventful. I love going through Dublin as we were able to clear US customs there instead of Chicago.

My thoughts:  LOVED Insight! The motorcoach accommodations speak for themselves with the incredible leg room in their business class seating. The Signature dinner experiences in wonderful historic local restaurants and the little unexpected flourishes Gigi gave us throughout the trip made the two weeks special. A souvenir Eiffel Tower Key chain in Paris, Chocolates in Lucerne, and it goes on. The optional tours were excellent. Some of them were your basic add-on’s, but others were very personal and unique. They provide some of the most special moments during the two weeks. The tour was fluid. By that I mean Gigi changed us the itinerary when needed to take advantage of the best weather, or least amount of traffic, etc. It kept the tour comfortable and gave us the most enjoyable experience possible.

Packing: Packing to travel in multiple countries is never easy. Living out of a suitcase for two weeks needs to be organized and you add in a teenage girl who needs to take her closet with her, you have a recipe for disaster. So I purchased E-Bags Packing Cubes and fell in love. For anyone who travels, these are a life saver. Maren and I each had different colors. We were able to pack our clothing by type in the cubes and take out just what we needed each day. These are the best things since wheels were added to luggage in my opinion!!!! I find the medium, small and slim packing cubes are the best. The large are too big. You can find them at www.ebags.com.