Monday, September 14, 2015

An American family in Europe: Our trip to France, England and Wales

My family's summer vacation this year was the longest trip we've ever done: We spent three and a half days in Paris, nine days touring southern England and Wales by car, then five more days in London.

Other than a visit by my wife to London more than 20 years earlier, none of us had ever been to any of the places we would be visiting.

Traveling with my wife and I were our daughter, 14, and our son, 12. We thought this would be a good age for them to tackle this trip; they were old enough to appreciate at least some of the cultural experiences and could build on some of the history and geography they learn in school Still, as we would learn, many of wonders of Paris and London could barely challenge Instagram and Vine for their interest.

In our household, the role of Vacation Planner falls to me. I don't mind, really, as I learn much about a place in the process of building an itinerary.

Still, out of the many trips I have planned, this one was by far the most complex. Why? First, there are a bewildering number of things to do and see in Paris and Britain -- museums, castles, landmarks, historical sites, cathedrals, walking tours, scenic places, amusement parks, hikes and much more. The choices seem endless. Just narrowing the list was a chore.

Second, there are many transportation options -- train, subway, bus, rental car, planes, boats, taxis, Uber cars.  Sometimes, a single day would need some combination of several of those options.

Third, there are a huge number of places to stay -- big hotels, small inns, bed and breakfast places, rental apartments. We would do a home exchange in London.

Finally, there are even many different ways to pay. You can buy passes in advance to cover various sites, and sometime those passes will let you skip the line. But sometimes they don't, and sometimes they're a waste of money. Some places require reservations, some don't. Some places offer free admission for kids, or you can get a good break with a "family" ticket. Discounts are available if you have certain train passes. Sometimes it's best to use a credit card, sometimes cash.

So, months of planning went into this trip, and I still didn't come close to covering all the possibilities. This made me worried as trip time approached, because if things went wrong, I was the one who was going to be blamed.

So how did it go? Start at Day One.

The full trip, by day: 

Days 1 and 2, Los Angeles to Paris

Day 3, Paris

Day 4, the Palace of Versailles

Day 5, the Eiffel Tower

Day 6, Goodbye France, hello England

Day 7, Windsor Castle & Stonehenge

Day 8, Bath

Day 9, Doctor Who and Swansea's LC

Day 10, the waterfalls of Wales

Day 11, Blists Hill and Ironbridge

Day 12, Warwick Castle

Day 13, Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour

Day 14, this is London

Day 15, British Museum and British Library

Day 16, the Tube goes on strike

Day 17, Greenwich, the Thames and Westminster Abbey

Day 18, the Tower of London

Day 19, heading home

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