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Old 23rd July 2013, 21:49   #1
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Default In the oven: A road-trip of Europe

Somewhere on this forum, I read about 'doing' Europe and from then on, one thing led to another and finally here I am, outlining my own plan of 'doing' Europe as its meant to be done - On The Road!

Some background first. My wife and I spent a few weeks negotiating destinations for our vacation. Places like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia etc were quickly shown the door. Then came Mauritius, Australia and New Zealand. Facebook updates by more than a few friends holidaying or honeymooning in Mauritius led to its quick fall in our probable destinations list. Australia was sticking around as a pretty strong contender. So plans were being made. Locations and dates were being finalized, leaves were being applied for and we were getting ready for a late September holiday in Australia.
One fine day, coffee mugs in hand, I told my wife about the 'doing Europe' bit.

Wife - Why have we not discussed about going to Europe?
Me - ...
Wife - It will cost about the same, wont it?
Me - Yes... more or less
Wife - Weather will be cool
Me - It will be cold.
Wife - we can go early. Mid August will be good, no?
Me - No beaches though
Wife - South France has beaches. And scuba diving.
Me - ...
Wife - I don't want to go to Australia now. Lets do Europe!
Me - ... but... b.. OK!

And so we did a quick search for car rentals (that was actually the first thing I did ), flights, hotels and destinations etc. The more we read about Europe, more certain our destination change became!
Then came a bit of a downer as clashes in office leaves meant we would have to leave for our vacations even earlier than mid August. Right in the middle of the holiday season of France!

Wife - No... we cant let such small matters come in the way of doing Europe (she was really getting into the spirit now!)
Me - ... OK.

And so it is. Flight tickets are booked, visas are in hand, a car has been booked! All we need to do now is to grab that key and start our epic road trip of Europe!

We plan to start from Brussels on August 1 and covering Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Cannes, Monaco, Milan, Zurich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Colonge and finally ending back at Brussels! Total planned distance is about 2,800 kms. The route charted out below should give a better idea of the whole thing.
In the oven: A road-trip of Europe-planned-route_large.png

Day wise itinerary planned as of now:
Aug 1: Reach Brussels in the morning, pick up the car and onwards to Paris (~310 km)
Aug 2: At Paris
Aug 3: At Paris
Aug 4: Start in the morning for Lyon, via Dijon. (~465 km)
Aug 5: At Lyon
Aug 6: Reach Marseilles by afternoon. (~315 km)
Aug 7: Reach Nice by nightfall via Cannes. (~215 km)
Aug 8: At Nice and day trip to Monaco.
Aug 9: Start early morning for Milan, via Genoa (~325 km)
Aug 10: At Milan
Aug 11: Reach Zurich or Interlaken or Bern (yet to finalize this) by evening (~300 km)
Aug 12: At Zurich or Interlaken or Bern
Aug 13: Reach Stuttgart by afternoon (~220 km)
Aug 14: Reach Colonge by afternoon (~370 km)
Aug 15: Reach Brussels by afternoon (~225 km)
Aug 16: Head back to Delhi.

I took the distances from Google Maps and they are indicative distances only. We do not intend to stick to the motorways all through and will wander off quite a lot in search of villages and scenic routes.

The last 5-6 days of the trip are still open to changes. I feel there is too much driving around in the later part and little time to take in the beauty of Europe.

About the car, I have booked an intermediate level car with Europcar. After a lot of research across car rental websites, aggregators and a whole bunch of blogs, Europcar stood out for its very clear terms and all inclusive charges (no hidden costs). Also, a strongly positive review from a colleague for their customer focussed services (pre-ready forms, no hassles, no hidden costs etc) was enough for me to settle for them. Total car rental cost for the two week trip is ~EUR 580 which is very reasonable. I estimate about EUR 550 to 600 as petrol costs. Surprisingly, petrol and diesel cost upwards of E 1.5 per liter in most countries in Europe. Thats about INR 120 per liter or more!

Last edited by toothless : 26th July 2013 at 09:51.
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Old 23rd July 2013, 22:09   #2
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Default Re: In the oven: A road-trip of Europe

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Originally Posted by toothless View Post

We plan to start from Brussels on August 1 and covering Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Cannes, Monaco, Milan, Zurich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Colonge and finally ending back at Brussels! Total planned distance is about 2,800 kms.
Hi Toothless,

I study in Aachen, situated 50 mins drive from Cologne. If you are in Cologne / Aachen and would like to meet up or know more about the places in this region, please let me know, I can PM you my contact number if needed.

I think, if your destination is Brussels, you can go via Aachen too. I don't mind offering you a cup of tea in my small student dorm. Good luck with your trip !

Spike
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Old 23rd July 2013, 23:03   #3
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Originally Posted by SPIKE ARRESTOR View Post
Hi Toothless,

I study in Aachen, situated 50 mins drive from Cologne. If you are in Cologne / Aachen and would like to meet up or know more about the places in this region, please let me know, I can PM you my contact number if needed.

I think, if your destination is Brussels, you can go via Aachen too. I don't mind offering you a cup of tea in my small student dorm. Good luck with your trip !

Spike
Hey Spike! That sounds great. The German part of the trip is actually uncertain since I don't know much about the places to see etc. Will love to hear about places to see around Colonge and join you for a cup of tea!
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Old 23rd July 2013, 23:17   #4
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Default Re: In the oven: A road-trip of Europe

Enjoy your trip! the bit from Belgium to Paris and subsequently to Dion is not that interesting, although I guess it depends on what you're interested in.

So here's a thought; It depends again on your preferences and time/schedule but I would suggest you try and avoid some of the big motorways. They are very efficient, but boring and you don't get to see much of the local country side.

You might want to invest in a little GPS unit, such as a TomTom and use the routing function that allows you to avoid motorways. My experience is that it gets you through much more interesting scenery. Also, you avoid tolls, but obviously you're going to take some more time to get to your destination.

When you hire the car, make sure they know you're taking it all over Europe. There might be insurance issues other wise. You need to have a so called green card which is an international insurance certificate. Also, and I'm not sure but different European countries have different requirements on what you need to have with you in the car, such as first aid kit, fire extinguisher, warning triangle etc.

Nice and Cannes are nice, but are very similar. Once you have seen one fancy boulevard you have seen them all. That whole stretch of coast you intend to do is very touristy. It's certainly an experience if you've never been there. Make sure you do the casino in Monaco.

You need to check for the countries you intend to cross whether you need a special "Vignette". I seem to recall especially for Italy and Switzerland, maybe Austria. Again, your car hire company should be able to advise and help out. you can always buy at the border, but it could be hugely expensive.

When crossing the Alps there are generally speaking three options. You drive your car through a tunnel, you find yourself a nice windy road across the mountain or you get on a car train and go through a tunnel. Depends a bit on where you intend to cross, but its worth researching. All the passes should be open, so its not that your options are limited. Its more about what you prefer and enjoy. The car trains are very good.

When you get into Germany you could try and stay away from all main cities, plan your route through the Swarzwald or Black Forrest into the Eiffel and subsequently into the Ardennes, Belgium. Go and see some nice little German towns such as Trier, drive along the Mosel.

Some beautiful driving country out there. I will be there barreling around in my 1986 Alfa Romeo Spider during the second week of August! Honk when you see me. It will be a Red and a Green Alfa Spider overtaking you!

Don't be to worried about planning hotels ahead. Plenty of little hotels and bed & breakfast. In fact, outside the main cities its probably easier to find accommodation than inside some of the main cities.

We never book anything. We just drive across little roads for the whole day and by about 1700 we start looking for a place to spend the night. I have never slept in my car, we always manage to find a nice place.

Depending on your final route here are a few Car museums you might want to consider:

Schlumpfcollection: http://citedelautomobile.com/fr/home

Mercedes museum: http://www.mercedes-benz-classic.com...rier-free.html

There are others of course as well. But these two do stand out.

Just about everywhere in Europe you will be able to find ATMs to pull out Euro's (or Swiss Francs in Switzerland). Although these days credit cards are pretty widely accepted in most of Europe, you might want to check, especially in small shops. Don't bring an Amex card, do MC or Visa.

Enjoy and good luck with the preparations. Drive carefully. In Europe, other then in the UK, we drive on the right side of the road and you are supposed to keep to stick between the stripes on the various roads, don't honk and obey the traffic rules. If not, stand by for potential heavy fines when you get caught.

Invest in some good road maps. Dont buy them here, buy them in the countries where you're going, larger petrol stations will carry them

If you're vegetarian you will need to take special care. Very few restaurants in Europe will have a vegetarian menu. There will be vegetarian dishes on most menu's but not like you're used here in India when the menu will show a large selection of veg and nog veg dishes. Default in Europe is non veg.

If you have any specific questions let me know and I'll try to answer. I've been motoring all over Europe for more than 35 years, although not during the last four years as a result of us living in the USA and India

Jeroen
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Old 24th July 2013, 10:13   #5
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Default Re: In the oven: A road-trip of Europe

Since you have interest in beaches, see if you can cover northeast of Spain (Barcelona and Valencia), this will add up to ~1500kms but definitely, worth a visit. I loved Spain and its coastal areas more than France.
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Old 5th September 2013, 13:58   #6
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Default Re: In the oven: A road-trip of Europe

After an exhilarating road trip across Europe, coming back to the reality of our lives here has not been easy. In between bouts of questions like "Where are we?" and "When are we going back to France?", the grind is slowly catching up with us.
Although, before the grind takes over everything else, sneak peak of how we did Europe

The Atomium, Brussels
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Grand Place, Brussels
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Summer festival, Stuttgart
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Achtung! Silver Arrows! Mercedes Museum, Stuttgart
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View of the Mont. Blanc, Chamonix (France) ... also, note that white little car at the bottom? Yeah... that's what I was driving
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Cote de Azure... Nice coastline
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That famous hairpin turn. I so wanted to drive here but din't, Monaco
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Finally Paris! Arch de Triumph and...
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... ofcourse the Eiffel Tower and...
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... Palace of Versailles!
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There are many stories and anecdotes from the trip which I know you guys will love to read about. They are coming up soon!

(Pics are a mix of camera and phone images. Apologies for the inconsistent quality.)

Last edited by toothless : 5th September 2013 at 14:15.
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Old 7th September 2013, 16:25   #7
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Default Re: In the oven: A road-trip of Europe

Before I get into the details of our travels across some of the most fascinating locations in Europe, let me talk about car rental in Europe.
A friend had done a similar trip a year back and had nothing but praises for the hassle-free experience with Europcar. Search for my set of wheels for doing Europe started from there. After a few days of crawling multiple aggregation sites, individual car-rental company sites and a host of reviews of the companies, Europcar stood out as most reliable, low cost (though not the lowest) and most transparent. Now, if you are not aware of the disturbingly large set of nomenclature for charges and insurance covers that these car-rental companies have, it is not uncommon to have memories of a dreaded exam day flashing before your eyes. There are probably 15 levels of insurance covers you can opt for, and an equal (if not more) number of optional extras such as GPS and child seats and... you get the idea.

So I zeroed in on the car rental company. What next? Which car or car category to rent. A lot of my friends and colleagues asked me if the car was an automatic. It was not. I don't know the reasons or the rational for this but automatic transmission is more of a US phenomenon and not so much European. Most cars sold in Europe are with manual transmission and often an automatic version is not even offered! Even more surprisingly, a car sold in Europe as manual only may be sold as an automatic only in other parts of the world! So anyhow, I did not want an automatic to start with as I am used to driving a manual shifter here. Driving on the 'wrong' side of the road was complication enough. Or so I thought...

Now, when you are doing Europe and the rupee has not depreciated as much as the Zimbabwean Dollar, first impulse is to make it large. A quick reality check later, a 'Standard' car (Europcar terminology) like a VW Passat or a Peugeot 508 sounded realistic. But... Its Europe, and I did not want to feel like 50 year old, driving what I can best describe as a 'dad-type' car. So looking at other options on Europcar, I noticed a rather strange pricing... the 'Intermediate' cars (again, Europcar term) was the same price as a Standard... Why would anyone rent an Intermediate car when you can get a Standard car for the same price? Well, for one, they are smaller so easier to park and maneuver in an old town with narrow lanes. Also, the car you will get will be either a Mercedes A Class, an Audi A3, a Volvo V40 or a Citroen DS4.
It was quite a quick decision for me. It was the Mercedes A class I wanted to drive.

Once the car category was decided, it was pretty straight forward from there on. First thing to tackle was the insurance cover. Now the basic car rental included an insurance cover (for theft, damage, collision and personal injury) and the maximum exposure is about 1.2 times the rental, in addition to the rental. It is a basic cover but in normal course, it is sufficient to insulate your vacation from a financial ruin. However, there is always an option to reduce your exposure to zero for an additional ~20% of the basic car rental. Feeling brave, I did not opt for it.

The other significant optional items to consider, was a GPS unit. Usually the rental for a GPS ranges from ~10 to ~15 Euros per day. Since I was going to hire the car for a period of ~15 days, the total cost would be somewhere between 150 to 225 Euros. That’s a lot of money! Now everyone will tell you that you must get a navigation unit for the car when renting in Europe. They are absolutely right. Attempting to drive in Europe, across national borders, on Autobahns, inside old town areas of towns, finding parking, hotels etc is not child’s play. At times, it gets confusing even with a GPS unit (or maybe because of it). So I did need a GPS unit but shelling out ~200 Euros was a bit much. I booked the car without the extra because of two main reasons. First, most modern cars, especially in the category I was booking, have an inbuilt navigation unit and they are mostly quite good. Secondly, if the car did not have an inbuilt unit or it turned out to be rubbish, I planned to purchase a TomTom unit or something similar. Most units come with maps for entire Europe or atleast Western Europe and cost less than what the optional GPS unit from Europcar would have cost.

Soon I had put in some personal information (email, credit card number etc.) and the booking was done! Europcar took the credit card details only for reservation purposes, they did not charge the card at the time. All payments were to be made once we returned the car.

When we reached Brussels and figured our way around, there was a prominent display of rental car pick-ups. Avis, Europcar, Sixt and maybe a couple more were pretty easy to spot. There was already a small queue at each one of them with people picking up cars mostly for a day (yes, we were eavesdropping with aplomb). When it was out turn, the lady at the counter got right to work. She called up someone to confirm that they had a car ready for us. I assume she did that since we were hiring the car for a full two week duration. I could not contain my excitement at the prospect of driving the new A class and asked if they had the baby Merc... Unfortunately, they did not. I am sure the disappointment on my face was very apparently. She immediately said “We do have an Audi A3 waiting for you. Its brand new and a very good car.” Who was I to disagree. She quickly printed out the dockets, reserved ~1.2 times the car rental on my credit card, took a quick look at my driving license and handed over the key. As we were planning to travel across borders, we checked with the lady if the Indian license will suffice. We were promptly told yes, as the license is in English, we can travel anywhere as long as the policemen can read English. However, she pointed out a small detail that would change the course of our travel, quite literally. She told us that the insurance cover and Europcar support will not be available if we travel to certain countries, including Italy and most of Eastern Europe! More on how that changed our trip later.

We gathered our luggage and headed to pick our car. The rental cars have a dedicated parking which is hardly 10 mins walking distance from the counters and pretty easy to locate. Soon we spotted a shiny, white, gorgeous looking car. The A3 looks great in person! Here, have a look..

Laying eyes on the A3 for the first time!
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The Audi in full glory
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Old 17th September 2013, 17:11   #8
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About the car.
As I already mentioned above, the car I was driving was a brand new Audi A3 TFSI Sportback. It was the 1.4 liter engine with ~120 horses. On the outside, the A3 follows the lines of its bigger siblings like the A4 and A6. Its boot was large enough to swallow our two decently sized bags, with a little room to spare for smaller bags etc, as you can see here.
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Inside, very comfortable black interiors looked a little out of place for a white car but were not hard to get used to. Though they were very easy to spoil and we did feel guilty dirtying the spotless black interiors over the course of our trip. Invariably, we cleaned up after us as much as we could to keep the interiors pristine.

The driving seat was very comfortable and even 5-6 hours of driving on the motorways did not tire us out. Like the other Audi cars, the A3 had the usual list of features, cruise control, automatic wipers and lights, navigation (and boy did that help!) etc etc. It had 5 driving modes, Comfort, Dynamic, Economy, User and Auto. I am normally skeptical about the impact of such driving modes on a small car like the A3 and to be honest, I could not make out any difference between Auto, Economy and Comfort modes. But the Dynamic mode was a whole new level! Right after putting the car in Dynamic mode, the steering became just that tiny bit stiffer and the throttle response was instant! From driving the curvy Alp roads like a sedate 50 year old, the car transformed into a road scorcher! It just kept egging me to keep pushing it! Blissful! Even on the straight roads, it was impossible to stick to speed limits in Dynamic mode.
More on the driving experience in Europe in the next post.

Right, back to the car interiors. The central console on has a small display which shows a lot of details including which radio station you are listening to, which gear the car is in, gently prompts you to shift gears, navigation details like while lane to take and how far is the next exit. You can move between four screens (using the steering controls) which relate to the car (gear, distance to destination, fuel level, etc), phone, radio and navigation. The car mode even tells you the road name you are currently on, even when you are not using the navigator. A more detailed view of the phone, radio/media and navigation is shown on the main screen which pops out of the central console when you enter the key.
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Rest was pretty standard, barring the fact that this was a left hand drive car so the indicators were on the left and wipers on the right, same as my car back home, the Ford Fiesta. So there was no trouble on that front. That said, on the first two-three days, I did open the windows a couple of times when I actually wanted to change gears the left hand has strong muscle memory

A big differences for me was the reverse gear and the parking break. Now, you would expect a normal parking break level that you push a button on and release the break. Not in this car. There is a button for that! It looks quite similar to a power window button and has to be pulled up to engage the hand break and pushed down to dis-engage. But the catch is you need to press the break while doing that else it wont work... no one told me that and it took a few hit and trial attempts to figure that out. Then came the time to reverse the car out of the parking lot. But it dint say where the reverse gear is! Going by the experience of reverse gears in the Hyundai and Mahindra cars, I tried pushing it down and slotting in 1st... Reverse! Without breaking a sweat! And so it all began...

Last edited by toothless : 10th October 2013 at 15:31.
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Old 10th October 2013, 15:20   #9
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Driving experience in Europe

We started our trip from Brussels and had planned to visit Paris first. But after the being told that insurance and road assistance would not be present in Italy, we decided to make some changes in our plans. We started off for Germany and did the trip in reverse, landing in Paris in the end. The map below shows the route we took.
In the oven: A road-trip of Europe-actual-route.jpg

In all, we covered close to 3,500 km of European highways and B-roads, stopped at 9 cities, blew our bank balance and came back with huge grins and tired bodies.

Belgium

After tackling the initial issues of driving on the left, new car etc, we landed at our hotel thanks to the built in navigation of the car. Once we managed to change the language to English, it was a breeze entering out destination in the navigator. It lists down a whole bunch of options (parkings, hotels, petrol stations, hospitals, places of interest etc) and it was easy to locate the hotel using the central wheel. We had booked at a hotel close to the airport and we were there in no time. Checked in, freshened up and then headed to the Atomium.
The Atomium is a huge Iron atom magnified a few billion times and was built for an Expo in 1958.
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You can go up to into the steel balls by lifts and stairs but we had other things in mind. We decided to take the train to the city center (avoiding driving and parking hassles) to visit the old part of the town. Central Brussels area is build around a huge square which, when you enter, surprises you by its size. One moment you are walking in narrow streets lined with beautiful old buildings and then find yourself at the entrance of a huge open square, also surrounded by beautiful old buildings with gilded facades. It is the Grand Place which is now lined with a number of restaurants and cafes. Have a look
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Last edited by toothless : 10th October 2013 at 15:56.
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Old 11th November 2013, 16:43   #10
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Default Re: In the oven: A road-trip of Europe

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 11th November 2013, 17:26   #11
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Fantastic! Rated 5 stars- eagerly waiting for the next part of the story and pics. Bring em' on
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Old 11th November 2013, 20:29   #12
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Brilliant thread! With my flair for travel, I have been contemplating a similar idea for a trip around Europe for sometime now and I'm soon going to make it reality. Thank you for all the information.
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Old 12th November 2013, 08:15   #13
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Thanks for sharing your European adventure. Glad to see you really enjoyed it. Surprised to hear about the insurance problem for Italy? Not sure what this is about. Anyway, you saw plenty of other stuff.

You will find that most European car rentals have pretty new cars, they rarely keep them formore than 12-24 months.

Yes, lots of people rent in Europe and the USA rent forjust the day. Probably mostly business people who fly in and out of a city the same day. Depending where you need to be renting a car, might be the essiest option to get around.

Jeroen
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Old 14th November 2013, 22:13   #14
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Fantastic! Rated 5 stars- eagerly waiting for the next part of the story and pics. Bring em' on
Thanks Andy! The next stages of the trip and more pics coming up soon. Hopefully office will not get into the way

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Brilliant thread! With my flair for travel, I have been contemplating a similar idea for a trip around Europe for sometime now and I'm soon going to make it reality. Thank you for all the information.
Most welcome gpa. Do let me know if you want to know anything in particular. I will try and reply to the best of my knowledge.

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Thanks for sharing your European adventure. Glad to see you really enjoyed it. Surprised to hear about the insurance problem for Italy? Not sure what this is about. Anyway, you saw plenty of other stuff.

You will find that most European car rentals have pretty new cars, they rarely keep them formore than 12-24 months.

Yes, lots of people rent in Europe and the USA rent forjust the day. Probably mostly business people who fly in and out of a city the same day. Depending where you need to be renting a car, might be the essiest option to get around.

Jeroen
I never got around to thanking you before the trip Jeroen. Your suggestions were very helpful. Thanks! I was surprised about the Italy portion too. But as you put it, we saw quite a lot of Europe anyway. Maybe it will be an Italian trip next
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Old 16th November 2013, 15:32   #15
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Default Re: In the oven: A road-trip of Europe

awesome start to a great thread , waiting for more of europe , having worked extensively in europe I am just reliving my memories through your log.
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