It all started when a close friend invited me to her wedding in Venice.
And then said friend and her fiancé changed their minds and decided to marry at a local venue here in Toronto instead.
Boo! I was not happy.
So I decided I was going to Venice anyway. I would take my teenage daughter and we would have the time of our lives!
And so this is what planted the seed and how our train trip through Europe last summer came to be.
Where to Go?
I knew I wanted to go to Venice, but then I started dreaming about all the other places we could see while in Europe. A little overwhelming! I considered flying into Florence and out of Venice but after checking the average temperatures in Florence in August, I realized it would be really quite hot. Not ideal for visiting a big city. So I took out my map and looked north of Venice.
I remembered my daughter mentioning a while back that she had wanted to see Amsterdam one day. She, like hundreds of other teenage girls had read The Fault in Our Stars (and watched the highly-anticipated movie), set in Amsterdam. She felt as though she knew the city already from the landmarks mentioned in the book. And Amsterdam was north of Venice, so that meant it would most likely be cooler.
Tip: If you want your teens on board with your vacation plans, include them in the planning from the beginning. Where are they curious about? Amsterdam was not a place I would have particularly chosen (but I’m sure glad I did – we loved it!).
Setting a Route
I took a look at the Rail Europe map online and realized we could travel by train all the way from Amsterdam to Venice, or vice versa, stopping in several cities along the way. I found a really helpful website that explained many train routes in great detail and I loved the idea of experiencing the scenic Brenner Pass from Munich to Venice that passes through Austria. This is how Munich came to be one of our stops.
Next was deciding how many places to see and for how long. In the end I planned a trip that looked like this: Amsterdam – Brussels – Munich – Verona – Venice, spending two nights in each city except Venice, where I planned for three nights.
Booking Flights and Train Tickets
I had compared the prices of flights into Amsterdam and out of Venice, and the other way around. Flying into one city and out of another would allow us to see more places because we wouldn’t have to circle back to the original city again to fly home. It was cheaper to fly into Amsterdam and out of Venice, so after sitting with it for a couple of days, I nervously booked the tickets. We were locked in! I then began booking each segment of our train trip.
Tip: Pre-book train tickets as far in advance as possible to ensure the lowest fare possible and to get the tickets you want, especially during the busy summer months. Also, it’s better to register on the rail websites instead of purchasing tickets as a “guest” in case you need to go back and make changes to your schedule.
A lot of time was spent researching for this trip. I studied Tripadvisor.com and Booking.com when deciding where to stay in each city, and reading all the traveler reviews were really helpful. Once I had booked all air and train transportation I knew the dates I needed to book overnight accommodations for, in each city.
Tip: When considering a hotel or other accommodations, read the online reviews in their entirety to get a sense of whether a hotel is the kind of place you want to stay. Look for accommodations that include breakfast and free wifi to save on cost!
The trip was such an amazing experience, there was not much that didn’t work. Any fears around traveling alone to Europe with my teen daughter were soon relieved and we were both just so excited to see everything.
Train travel through Europe is fun, safe and relatively easy to navigate. In the case of the Brenner Pass route from Munich to Verona, it can also be a very scenic way to travel.
Researching accommodations in advance worked well because we were pretty happy with all of our choices.
What Didn’t Work
I think it’s quite expected that not every detail of a trip will go as planned, and that it’s okay.
During our train ride from Brussels to Munich we had to change trains at Frankfurt station. I know now that there are two Frankfurt stations, the first one being the Frankfurt airport station and the second the Frankfurt train station. I heard “Frankfurt” and got off the train at the wrong stop. We ended up having to pay 50 euros each for tickets to get us to Munich the same day on another route.
We also missed a few activities I had booked from home. In Amsterdam we cancelled an evening canal tour because I hadn’t realized how far from our hotel it was and I wasn’t sure about walking back in the dark in a new city. (The hotel we stayed at had discount tickets for another canal tour close by, so we opted for that one instead.) Then in Brussels, we couldn’t find the chef who was going to teach us to make Belgian waffles, so we settled with buying a couple of waffles and skipping straight to the eating part (the best part, anyway!).
Tip: Ask your hotel if they offer discounted tickets to local activities or restaurants.
Also, my daughter fell sick for a couple of days in Verona so we were unable to do a pre-booked bike tour, and we had to postpone our journey to Venice by a day. Fortunately, we were able to stay at our Bed & Breakfast in Verona for an extra night free of charge. (I wrote about our experience in another post.)
Tip: Purchasing travel insurance provided peace of mind and covered the cost of a doctor’s home visit. Also, avoid pre-paying for excursions ahead of time, in the event you are unable to participate due to unforeseen circumstances.
Lastly, because our days in each city were so few, I didn’t feel as though we even scratched the surface in each place. Now I know why people traveling to Europe usually go for several weeks at a time.
What I Would Do Different Next Time
I think another way to do this trip would have been to book only two cities to visit. We saw five cities in twelve days and it felt as though we were constantly on the move. More time in one place would have allowed us to feel the vibe of each city a little better, as well as see more attractions and landmarks. However, for this trip I wanted us to see as many cities as we could in the time we had so… I’m not sure I would have changed this really.
What was most important was that I got to experience Europe with my daughter (who still likes hanging out with her mom), something that I will forever be grateful for. Any trip with her would have been amazing!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like others from our European train adventure, including Venice or Verona?, First Impressions of 4 European Cities in 4 Photos, and Not Even Close to Brussel Sprouts.