A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken. - James Dent
Question #11552 posted on 12/16/2004 3:12 a.m.
Q:

To all the European travellers,

I'm planning a month-long (or more) backpacking trip to Europe and I would like some suggestions on where to go (i.e. what cities and sights to visit). I served my mission in eastern France and French-speaking Switzerland, so I will certainly stop by there, but otherwise I'm up for suggestions. Also, any suggestions on where to stay? Has anyone on the board done the whole hostel thing?

- Missionnaire Genevois

A: Dear Missionnaire Genevios,
I wrote a narrative once about visiting London and Paris--it's Board Question #4729.

As to youth hostels, been there and done that too. Once you've experienced hostel living, you can do anything in life. Just a few words of advice:<UL>
<LI>Hostel rooms are totally inexpensive compared to any other sleeping establishment (unless you can find some killer B&B deal). They come in different prices: Inexpensive, cheap, and cheaper.
<LI>Inexpensive is a two- or three-person room. Cheap is a six- to eight-person room. Cheaper is a room with more people in it than that (depends on the size of the hostel). During the off season, you can luck out and get a massively-sized room to yourself, like two of my friends and I did when we went in April. But rooming with people who you don't know (and of different genders too) is a possibility unless you decide what kind of money you want to pay. You might be just fine in a huge room with other people--just lock up your stuff that you really care about.
<LI> Most hostels offer Internet access for a small fee. If you don't use their service, find an Internet Cafe so that you can write your mom to reassure her that you are alive.
<LI>Wear water-proof sandals or flip-flop sandals in the shower. Need I say more?
<LI>Most youth hostels provide meals at a small cost. See what the menu offers per price range; you might be able to find a deal.
<LI>I wouldn't touch the blankets they provide with a six-foot pole, unless you're cold. Even then, keep them far from your face. You have no clue where they've been. You'll get to sleep in a sheet that resembles a sleeping bag. I swear that's the only thing they wash (you put the sheet over the pillow too). It really isn't that bad--just have lots of hand sanitizer and stuff if you're paranoid. </LI></UL>

You can actually book hostel rooms online now at hostels.com, or another good resource is backpackingeurope.com.

When I went to Europe, we looked for a hostel first in every city we went to and B&B's second. B&B's usually balance out in cost if they offer reasonable breakfast menus. Bread and orange juice is not a reasonable menu. Some B&B's have an al-a-cart menu with juice, muffins, eggs, toast, and other items. Those are more reasonable menus. Watch for B&B's that try to rip you off because you are an American.

I would recommend purchasing Rick Steve's travel guides for the countries you plan on visiting. He has a general Europe book as well, in addition to books for each specific country. Rick is great at getting to know the local culture of each country/town and recommending the best places to stay. And he even has a backpacking book of Europe too. That's the one that I bought when I took a trip like that (mine was only a week though). What a riot that was...

As to other places in Europe, I'd recommend the following:

Italy, my new-second-favorite country in Europe. I've only been to Rome, Florence, and Vienna. You could spend days in Rome. Go see the Vatican and its amazing museum. See the ruins of the Colosseum and other ancient Roman creations. Only spend a maximum of one in Vienna. It is totally overrun with tourists, although it is quite a sight to experience. I love gelatto. Yum. Florence is beautiful. You would want to be there for a few days as well. It is home to the David sculpture, the Uffizi museum, and a famous bridge I can't remember the name of right now. Didn't get to Piza but apparently it isn't that great. Other places as recommended by my sister: Milan, Naples, and any place where you can find more country and vineyards.

Switzerland--I don't know which parts are French-speaking, but I'm about 90 percent sure it isn't Zurich because they were speaking messed-up German there. Zurich is beautiful; also head over to Bern and see the temple if you haven't.

Germany/Austria: Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria is something you should see once in your lifetime. It really is a fairy-tale castle. Go to Salzburg and Vienna in Austria. Go see an opera or an orchestra concert in these famous music cities. Make sure you go on a salt-mine tour around Salzburg. Those things are definitely cool, especially the slides inside. And you get to dress up like a miner in a huge white outfit that makes you look fat. Don't take the Sound of Music tour unless you are a die-hard fan (but even then you will still be disappointed). We also went to Innsbruck and Hallstadt. Hallstadt is this cute little town built up on the side of a mountain above a huge lake. It was one of my favorite places. They have a youth hostel with an awesome pub connected to it, and we also went hiking there too. In Germany, Munich is awesome. Go there, go there. Heidelberg is an old college town with the real witch castle and is also recommended.

Spain: Barcelona. See the church-cathedral Sagrada Familia and houses designed by Gaudi. Of course there is a lot more there.

Eastern Europe: If you want to visit Hungary, you need to see Budapest. The bridge, Parliament, the castle (basically the old part of the city, which is the centre). Czech Republic's main feature is the entire city of Prague. If you want to go to Slovenia, a few jewels are Bled, a little town in the Alps with the chapel on the island in the middle of a lake), the capital, the coast close to Italy so you can take a boat to Venice in the same day!

Backpacking is hard because you can't buy anything (unless you have the option to ship it home). If you don't buy anything else, BUY LOTS OF EUROPEAN CHOCOLATE. Flakes, Cadbury, and Galaxy bars are the best. I also recommend McVitie's digestive biscuits (not as bad as they sound) with the caramel. Yum. Any other brand is nasty nasty.

My sister has been to the Netherlands, Ireland, and Belgium too. If you decide to go to any of those countries, she'd be happy to provide more details (just ask another question and direct it to me). I can only list so much in this Board entry...

- Duchess