First and only time I went to Pisa, we parked the car, got out and looked at the tower. One guy said: "Yup, it’s leaning. and another one said: “Sure is. Anyone want to go get a beer?”. We all agreed and went to a bar.
I don’t want to sound uncultural or brutish of the wonders of my own continent, but hey, they’re all just old buildings.
Having travelled all over Europe, with many types of tranportation (yes: bus, train, boat, plane and car.) I want to offer the following advice: The sights will always be there, and you want to travel when you’re retired. See them then.
I find that meeting people, hanging out in bars, going to departments stores ASF is much more entertaining. I hade a much better time travelling around with the Metro (subway) in Paris, just jumping of at stations and going up to see what was there, than seeing the damned Eiffel tower. (my first time there, now I know the Metro and ride it like a native, which makes me a good tour guide in Paris. The Metro, BTW is fairly clean and very safe.)
Most sights, monuments and touristy spots in Eurpoe that Americans know of, will be terribly crowded and totally infested with souvenir stands, “street performers” and such. It won’t be long till they put up one of those conveyor belts you have in Airports in the Louvre, to really get the tourist passing Mona Lisa in a more efficient way. It’s a lot more interesting, in Paris, to take the Metro to Chateau Rouge which is the Arab quarters and one of few places in Europe that has the same feel to it as the Chinatown in SF.
In the Vatican, not only do you have to pay to get into the chappel, once in there, if you want to take the elevator up to really see the paintings by Michelangelo, not only do you have to stand in line (Disneyworld style) but you have to pay an additional fee for the elevator ride.
Many European monuments will not have any explanations (they wont even have a sign saying what it is), not even in the native language. If you haven’t studied up on a specific monument, you’re gonna have to buy a guide book on the spot (very pricey) to learn anything. Going up the Eiffel tower is standing in line for two hours…
Oh, I could go on.
Language: In the latin countries: Spain, France, Italy, English skills are poor among rural 7 working class population, and among everyone over 40. Younger, urban people will speak English to some degree. I you have any skill, in ane of these languages, try to use it. It shows your good intentions, and soon they’ll be fed up and ask you if you speak English, When they offer it, it’s OK. Try to speak English slowly and in simple phrases. Their vocabularies will not be big. A word like decaf will not be understood. Say: “coffee - no caffeine” instead. You get what I mean.
Finally, I would advice you to rent a car. It’s fairly cheap and trains (obviously) only go to train stations. There are a lot of interesting things to see between stations, which you won’t see from the train.
Finally, a short list of nice towns and places to visit outside of England. Search for them on the 'Net.
In Brittany Normandy - St. Malo, Mt. Saint-Michel. Paris (of course, and you’re gonna die in the Louvre and kick yourself in the butt, for not taking my advice), and Juan Les Pins / Antibes (big boats Koshoggis Yact-style are there) on the French Riviera.
Portovenere near La Spezia (secluded little village), Verona (very nice town), San Marino (miniature country).
Firenze is a must. Rome is fantastic.
Places to avoid at any cost:
- Switzerland. Nice mountains, otherwise boring.
- Monaco Crowded, expensive.
- Venezia. DO NOT GO THERE. It’s extremely expensive. I doubt you’ll be able to find any kind of lodging for less than $200 a night. Forget what the guidebooks say, there are no cheap hotels in Venice. They will all be “fully booked.” They are also extremly good at separating you from your moneys. I bought a slize of pizza there once. it was about $1 and I thought it was a cheapo place, so I ordered a Coke. This was back in '88 and the Coke cost me $11. If you really feel you have to go there, spend the night on the mainland, ride the bus out (with a full stomach and carrying a water bottle) and use the boat buses.
France: Marseille (the Detroit of France), Cannes, Nice (crowded, expensive).
Luxemburg. If you’re not passing through, it’s just not worth it.
E-mail me if you want some more hints.
When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout