There are two reasons why I love Europe – Schengen visas and the trains. Both are key to traipsing with ease from country to country.
I’m also an overzealous planner, if there ever was one, when it comes stuffing my itineraries with places to see and things to do.
Put the two together and you have my itinerary for just over 2 weeks in Europe in the fall of 2014. This itinerary will give you an idea of how ground is possible to be covered and how; and if you’d like to take this pace or go a little slower. I’ll cover the places we saw and inter-city transport in this post (and how to book it). In the interest of brevity, why we chose these specific places and money matters will be addressed in dedicated posts.
Where we went:
Over 15 days of hectic travelling and lots of pounding over cobblestone streets, we saw / slept in all these places (more posts on these coming up soon!):
- Munich, Germany (2 days)
- Prague, Czech Republic (1 day)
- Dubrovnik, Croatia (1 day)
- Zadar, Croatia (an evening and night on our way to Plitvice Lakes)
- Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia (1 day)
- Zagreb, Croatia (overnight on our way to Bled)
- Lake Bled, Slovenia (1 day)
- Venice, Italy (1 day)
- Rome, Italy (3 days)
- Florence and around, Italy (2 days)
- Cinque Terre (1.5 days)
- Milan (was supposed to be half a day but got reduced to an overnight stop due to a massive train delay, no thanks to Trenitalia)
This zigzag maze is what it looked like on a map – if you click and open a larger version of this map, you can see more detail:
Getting into and out of Europe:
We flew open-jaw with Lufthansa – Onward was a direct flight from Mumbai to Munich and return flight was from Milan to Mumbai with a 90-minute layover in Munich. Very comfortable with good food (by airplane standards!) and service – I’d happily recommend them if you’re going to Europe.
Travelling within Europe:
- Trains were our first preference, but some routes are faster by bus (e.g. Munich – Prague) and some don’t have trains (e.g. most of Croatia).
- We also took a flight within Europe (Prague – Dubrovnik) in the interest of time – also, thanks to cheap fares on Smartwings! Book at least 6 weeks before for early bird special fares (note that these are not refundable).
- Book trains in advance wherever possible (especially in Italy – Trenitalia / Italo) to take advantage of low early bird fares (1/3rd or 1/4th the full ticket price on the day of travel; though non-flexible) and guarantee your seats in peak and shoulder season.
- Croatian and Slovenian bus / train tickets cannot be booked online – best to book your ticket out of a town as soon as you reach it. Schedules can be checked here and here.
- Trains and buses run by DB (German railways) can be booked online in advance – the awesome DB website is also your best friend for looking up trains for anywhere in Europe (not just to/from Germany).
Mode of travel
|Munich to Prague||5 h||DB Bus (run by Deutsche Bahn)|
|Prague to Dubrovnik||1.5 h||Smartwings Flight|
|Dubrovnik to Zadar||7 – 8 h||Bus (Cazmatrans Dalmacija)|
|Zadar to Plitvice Lakess||3 h||Bus (Prijevoz Knezevic )|
|Plitvice Lakes to Zagreb||3 h||Bus (Panoramabus)|
|Zagreb to Bled||4 h||Croatian Railways|
|Bled to Venice||6 h||Slovenian Rail + Trenitalia Regional train (slow)|
|Venice to Rome||4 h||Italo high-speed train|
|Rome to Florence||2 h||Trenitalia Freccia argento (high-speed)|
|Florence to Vernazza||4 h||Trenitalia Frecciarosa (high-speed)|
|Vernazza to Milan||3.5h||Trentialia Intercity train (medium speed)|
- I’m a hog when it comes to visiting new places – I get greedy and don’t like to pass on the opportunity to squeeze in a city, even it’s for an on-the-surface skim. I do this, not because I want to add to my list of cities / countries visited. I do this because I’m always crunched for holiday time and visiting a new city, even if for a few hours, gives me an idea of whether I’d want to return a few years later with more time at hand. So this trip worked because I got to see a couple of new countries and revisit some parts of others that I liked from previous visits. And looking back, there isn’t a place on this list that I would’ve liked to miss (ok, maybe Milan).
- We lucked out on this trip – honestly, the schedule was jam-packed with no backup days but we managed to get everywhere as per plan (other than Milan, which I honestly didn’t care that much for) and with good weather shining on us.
- It was a great mix of cities, lakes, national parks, castles, ruins, churches, museums and beer. 🙂
What I’d Change:
I would spread out this itinerary over 4 weeks if I could – add an extra day each to Prague, Zadar, Zagreb, Florence, the Cinque Terre and Milan and add an extra two to Munich (throw in a day-trip or two in Bavaria), Dubrovnik and Rome.
Since we had to pack all our sightseeing into a day or two in most places and I’m a believer in ‘you see more of the city by foot’, there was some serious walking involved almost daily – over 10 km on the average, I kid you not (I did come back more than a couple of kgs lighter, in case you’re wondering). By Day 5, my wonky left knee had started to create problems. A more spread-out schedule would’ve been kinder physically too.
Also, arriving in a new country with a different currency every few days left me fumbling at times to pay the correct amount in kunas / korunas / euros.
Of course this is all wishful thinking – I don’t have the luxury of long holidays and well-padded budgets!
There you have it, my whirlwind 15 days in Central and Southern Europe.
I’d love to know if you’ve been to these places or have any other tricks up your sleeve. In case you’re still planning to and have any questions, fire away! I’d be happy to help.