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topdog1961

European Family Vacation

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topdog1961

In about 2 weeks, my family (wife, 19 YO daughter, 18 YO son) will be traveling to Europe to visit the family of an exchange student, a young woman, that we hosted two years ago.  She lives in Munster in eastern Germany and we will be there 11 days excluding travel.  Outside of a couple fishing trips I took to Canada years ago, none of us have ever been out of the country.  So this will be a big adventure for us. I’m looking for advice from more seasoned travelers on UJ as to how to make the best of this trip. We will spend much of the time with the host family but will have the opportunity to venture out either just me and my wife, or all of us and the young German lady.

 

What places/sights would you recommend we visit, given our limited time? We initially thought of Paris, but with the riots going on and having been told they are rude to Americans, think maybe not.  I am a lifelong WWII buff, and would like to see Normandy, but that is an 8 hour drive or train ride.  Not sure if I want to consume at 25% of our trip to do so, and I know the kids won’t care to go.  My wife saw a Hallmark movie set in Bruges Belgium, a medieval town with canals, cobblestone streets and historic buildings.  She would like to spend at least a day and night there and pretend I look like the guy in the movie.  I also saw “In Bruges” at the recommendation of the movie thread (a great movie) and it did look impressive.  It’s also kind of on the way to Normandy, if we choose to go there.   But you guys may know of better places to spend our limited time.

 

How do I pay for stuff- Will my Visa be accepted and the conversion rate be taken care of? I know I’ll have to contact my bank beforehand.  I assume I will have to carry some Euros, and some traveler’s checks for emergencies. 

 

Communication- We have Sprint cellular. Will our iphones work to make calls?  I don’t Tweet, Facebook, or Instagram, but I do have WhatsApp so anytime I’m online I can text other WhatsApp users. 

 

Transportation- We’re flying into Frankfurt because it saved us thousands and is a direct flight,  but it’s 3 hours away.  We could take a train but that cost more than I initially thought, and way more at the peak time needed for the return trip.  And as mentioned above, we want to explore some.  How big a hassle is it to rent a car and drive around Europe?

 

Any other general recommendations of things to do, places to see, hassles to avoid, and beer to drink? Thanks

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CheckCord

You can call the issuing company of the visa card and put a "Travel Notification" on your card.  It will work.  

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RuffChaser

Some phones need to be authorized to make international calls. Calling internationally from the US may be different from internationally outside the US so I'd call just so they are aware of your trip. I have driven through Germany. Wasn't a big deal from I recall. The only issue I ran into was I couldn't tell what a few of the cars were on the Autobohn because they were going to fast. Have fun and safe travels.

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OldSarge

When I was stationed in Germany and Italy we had to have an International Drivers License to drive there and to rent a car. Many of the traffic signs were very different so there was a test. I don’t know what the requirements are now but would hate for you to find out too late. 

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Bullwinkle

Forget traveler checks. Email copies of you stuff to yourself. We did Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome, etc on American Express, left available cash in my checking and used that credit/debit to pull cash (eruos) from

ATMs everywhere. Words of wisdom travel as light as possible keep passport in a concealed pocket.

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Cotton1

I have been to Paris twice recently and really enjoyed the city.  More than I thought I would to be honest.  The last time we took our two young children and they loved it.  Lot to do in a small area.  But it is also a great city to just hang out in and people watch.  The parks are beautiful and it is a lot of fun just to walk around.  The Parisians were much nicer than I expected, the city was very clean and fun to explore.   My co-employee was there last week. It was his first time to Europe and he loved Paris.  I would not hesitate to go there. 

 

There is a really cool military museum in Paris at Les Invalides, also where Napoleon is buried.  If you don't make it to Normandy, you would probably enjoy.

 

One tip is to get the passport app.  You can sometimes get in a faster line if you have that going through customs. 

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MTRookie76
6 minutes ago, Cotton1 said:

I have been to Paris twice recently and really enjoyed the city.  More than I thought I would to be honest.  The last time we took our two young children and they loved it.  Lot to do in a small area.  But it is also a great city to just hang out in and people watch.  The parks are beautiful and it is a lot of fun just to walk around.  The Parisians were much nicer than I expected, the city was very clean and fun to explore.   My co-employee was there last week. It was his first time to Europe and he loved Paris.  I would not hesitate to go there. 

 

There is a really cool military museum in Paris at Les Invalides, also where Napoleon is buried.  If you don't make it to Normandy, you would probably enjoy.

 

One tip is to get the passport app.  You can sometimes get in a faster line if you have that going through customs. 

This was similar to my experience. I was looking at Paris as just something we had to do but not really looking forward to it. We ended up having a great time and really enjoyed the city. The Parisians were very friendly, didn't fit the stereotype.

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MNice

I would definitely include Bruges and Normandy on the list. Overnight train to Amsterdam, spend the day and on to Bruges and then Normandy. Local flights are inexpensive but the aircraft can be scary. 

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topdog1961
31 minutes ago, OldSarge said:

When I was stationed in Germany and Italy we had to have an International Drivers License to drive there and to rent a car. Many of the traffic signs were very different so there was a test. I don’t know what the requirements are now but would hate for you to find out too late. 

 

From what I read, international license is not required for short term stays. Thanks. 

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CptSydor

Embrace the cultural differences and never pass up a bakery, North Americans in general don't have a clue what good bread or pastries are.

 

The demeanor of Parisians, especially those working in touristy areas, is just a little different, which can be construed as rude. Just be polite and you'll reap what you sow. It's definitely a great city and lots to do.

 

Random recommendation, but one of the best meals of my life  (https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d786634-Reviews-Le_Petit_Baigneur-Paris_Ile_de_France.html)

 

I got an international drivers license but if I recall never needed it to rent in France or Germany.

 

If you make it to Normandy, I visited the Memorial de Caen and thought it was outstanding.

 

https://www.memorial-caen.fr/

 

Never had an issue using credit cards or getting cash from an atm.

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Lurch

My son flew into Frankfort over spring break and took trains around - there are different pricing levels for them. In the area, he enjoyed Stuttgart (mercedes museum) and the Koln (Collogne) Cathedral, but not as much as he enjoyed the beer and food.

Credit cards (as long as they have a chip) are used everywhere, but make sure your bank knows you're traveling so they don't shut it off. Banks typically wait a couple days and use hte best exchange rate that occured during those days (or at least used to).

iPhone worked fine for him but was on Verizon

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topdog1961

As an aside, the process of getting passports has been a nightmare and it’s not over. My son lost his drivers license a couple days before we intended to apply, so he had to get a new one.   Then we realized we couldn’t find my daughters birth certificate. So we applied to the California county courthouse where she was born, normally a short process. But being adopted, it had to be routed through Sacramento, a 5-6 week process. So I held off on buying tickets until we got her birth cert, because I read that to expedite the passports you had to have proof of travel, and I didn’t want to eat them if it never came. It did and we rolled the dice, applying 3 weeks before departure, using the expedited process at a local post office that estimates “2-3” weeks., though most people say they come in 2. They didn’t even ask for proof of travel. The other option was to drive to Detroit and apply in person. So if the passports don’t arrive in time, we go nowhere and I eat the cost of the tickets. With the birth cert delay, when I bought tickets only evening flights were left. So I rolled dice again and bought the super cheap mystery tickets and got a direct flight there but we have a 13 hour overnight layover in Munich airport on the way home. 

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erik meade

Pack light. Then cut that in half. That is my travel advice. 

 

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topdog1961
12 minutes ago, erik meade said:

Pack light. Then cut that in half. That is my travel advice. 

 

 

For my wife and daughter, “light” means only one steamship trunk. 

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SEPAlander
15 minutes ago, erik meade said:

Pack light. Then cut that in half. That is my travel advice. 

 

If renting a car for four, the above is really good advice. Cars in the EU tend to run on the small side, so unless someone wants to ride with luggage on their lap, try to limit the amount and size of bags.

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