Let's go Europe

You're new to the Old World. Let the Inkwire travel pages be a guide to your vacations in Europe.

Many people only dream of visiting Paris, Rome, London, the Swiss Alps and the French Riviera. For those of us lucky enough to live in Europe, these dreams can easily become reality.

Where to go? How to get the most out of your travels?

After you arrive take an introductory bus tour if it's your first time visiting a city or area. It is the most efficient way to get an overview of all the major sights, and learn interesting facts about the place you are visiting. Once you've taken that bus tour, get out there on your own and walk. European cities are made for walking, and it's always an adventure to explore new territory on foot. Many cities, London and Paris for example, offer guided walking tours of specific neighborhoods.

Wherever you go, visit the local tourist office to pick up free brochures and learn if any special events are scheduled during your visit. The staff at these offices usually speak English and can answer your questions and offer sightseeing advice.

No matter where you go, you're likely to find fascinating sights and fun things to do. But there are some places you should not miss during your European tour.

Paris

Let's start with Paris, the all-time favorite. It's romantic, enchanting and addictive. Every time you return to the City of Light, you'll find something new. There are so many intriguing neighborhoods to explore, new museums to visit and wonderful places to eat. Just roam around, checking out the bakeries, pastry shops, butcher shops, the churches and the markets.

But the big attractions are what draw visitors to this city: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Montmartre, the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. After you've seen the city's best, visit the Pompidou Center, a wild structure of steel and glass with fat multi-colored pipes climbing up the exterior. It houses the city's National Museum of Modern Art. Even if you don't want to look at abstract art, the exterior of the building is a sight in itself, and its neighborhood is fun for wandering. Do go inside the Musée d'Orsay, a former turn of the century train station with an outstanding collection of Impressionist Art. Take a boat ride on the Seine. For more information on Paris, visit the Website: www.paris-touristoffice.com.

Rome

Rome ranks right up there with Paris. The Eternal City spent $6 billion to prepare for the Millennium celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. Historic sites have been refurbished, streets widened and new tourist information kiosks set up around the city to assist the 30 million visitors expected during the holy year. Visit the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, the Colosseum, the Forum. Climb the Spanish Steps. Take a tour of the catacombs. Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain. Meander through the city's busy streets and not-so-busy alleys and passageways. In Rome it's always an adventure with beautiful churches, monumental statues, fantastic fountains and treasured ruins waiting for discovery around every corner. Enjoy the food at trattorias, osterias and ristorantes. Food to Italians is no less sacred than it is to the French. Look for small out-of -the-way places where the ambiance might be as good as the food. Website: www.romaturismo.it.

London

London is another city with mega attractions you should not miss: Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, the British Museum. And there's London's renowned theater – reason enough for many to plan a visit. To find out what's on, visit the Website: www.OfficialLondonTheatre.co.uk.

Like Paris, this trendy, bustling city has fascinating neighborhoods to explore, marvelous museums, wonderful stores including the famous Harrod's, not to forget the hundreds of delightful pubs.

To get behind the scenes and learn more about London where history is everywhere, take a London Walk. Walks focus on different neighborhoods and topics, such as "Princess Diana's London," "Jack the Ripper," "The London of Shakespeare." They're great fun and informative. Website: www.walks.com.

London calls itself "Millennium City" with special events and attractions. At the top of the list is the Dome with 14 attractions focusing on British ideas and technology, as well as a stunning show illustrating the story of humanity. British Airways' London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel, offers a 30-minute "flight" over the heart of the city. The London Website: www.londontown.com

Venice

We recently interviewed an American family in Germany about their travels. They'd visited Paris, Rome, Munich and many other European highlights. "What's your favorite?" we asked. The answer was unanimous for all five family members – "Venice." Everyone falls in love with Venice – the canals, the ancient architecture, the narrow alleys and passageways, gondolas and bridges. It's the stuff of fairytale magic that comes alive in this special place. Venice can be very hot and crowded during the summer months, but it has a special charm in winter when the mobs are gone and once again it's the city of Venetians. It may be damp and misty, but the weather seems to cast a mystic spell on the magic place. If you have a chance, visit during Carnevale (the pre-Lenten festival season). Carnival in Venice is like no other with people wandering around in elaborate, elegant costumes and masks. Of course, it's crowded, but it's the people in the crowds that make it interesting.

Venice's top sights include St. Mark's Basilica and St. Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace, numerous churches and palazzi. Whenever you go, wander off the tourist track and explore some of the back alleys. Take a ride on Vaporetto number 1 (a Venetian waterbus)and savor the splendor of the Grand Canal. It will cost a tiny fraction of a gondola ride. Website: www.provincia.venezia.it

Prague

"There's a feeling of tradition here. I can show you places where you can walk on the very cobblestones Mozart walked on. I can show you where Beethoven lived. I never tire of this city." American Gene Deitch was speaking of his beloved Prague where he has lived since 1959. Indeed it's the genuine old world atmosphere that makes Prague special. Despite all the changes in the city since the Velvet Revolution of 1989, which overthrew 40 years of Communism in the Czech Republic, there are parts of the city that have preserved their medieval flavor, such as: Old Town Square with the famous astrological clock atop the 15th century Town Hall and outstanding samples of great architecture (Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque); the Charles Bridge with its blackened Baroque statues, the area around Hradcany Castle including the 650-year-old St. Vitus Cathedral, and the streets of the Mala Strana or "little quarter."

New Prague is fun, too, with all kinds of trendy shops and restaurants on Parizksa (Paris Street). Prague is rich in sounds, from classical to disco to jazz, with a lively night scene. Website: www.prague-info.cz.

Swiss Alps

Visit more than Europe's cities. There are areas that are known for natural beauty, lakes, mountains, seacoasts. The Alps are awesome – in France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland, but if we had to choose one place for the very best in alpine scenery it would be Switzerland.

Zermatt and the Matterhorn are magnificent, but so are the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau, three famous peaks near the town of Interlaken. For the ultimate experience in mountain scenery, ride the Glacier Express, a train that climbs through the heart of the country from lofty Zermatt to fashionable St. Moritz.

The Swiss Alps are well-known for their challenging ski slopes, but they also beckon hikers and climbers in summer. A hike in these heights is unforgettable, a chance to experience the real Switzerland of Heidi and storybooks. Mountain pastures with healthy brown cows wearing big clanging bells around their necks, a profusion of multi-colored wildflowers, picture book chalets, surging mountain streams, raging waterfalls – just take a hike and you'll see it all. Website: www.MySwitzerland.com.

King Ludwig's German castles

It seems that all those who visit Europe from the States want to see castles. Germany does have some fine examples of old royal residences. The ones not to miss are King Ludwig II's castles in Bavaria: Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee. The "mad fairytale" Bavarian king spent a fortune building these spectacular structures.

Neuschwanstein, the ultimate fairytale castle, is a favorite with everyone including the folks from Disney who used it as a model for the Sleeping Beauty Castle. The stunning castle with pointy pinnacles occupies a breathtaking position atop an outcrop surrounded by forests and mountains. You can hike the path up to the castle (about an hour's walk) or take a shuttle bus. Then take the guided tour to see splendid halls, Ludwig's bedroom and the kitchen, considered state-of-the-art for its day.

Linderhof is more than a beautiful castle in Rococo style. Its grounds include elaborate gardens, fountains, waterfalls, a Moorish kiosk, and even a grotto with Ludwig's shell-shaped boat.

You'll need to take a boat ride to visit Herrenchiemsee, located on an island in Lake Chiemsee. Ludwig wanted this castle to be a replica of Versailles. Its Hall of Mirrors holds more than 2,200 candles and 33 crystal chandeliers, and is actually larger than its counterpart at Versailles.

Poor Ludwig. At the age of 40 he was declared unfit to rule on grounds of insanity. Shortly thereafter he was found drowned. Suicide? Murder? The verdict is still out.

This is just the beginning. There is so much more: Lisbon, Madrid, Istanbul, Vienna,Munich, Berlin, the Italian lake district, the French Riviera... Wherever you go, Bon Voyage!

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