I recently wrote about the rough itinerary for our mother/daughter trip to Europe. We fly into Dusseldorf, and then hop on a train to Amsterdam. This post covers the planning process for the first few cities on our trip (Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris).
I’ve been emailing my mom information for weeks, asking for her opinion on activities to do, places to stay, things to see, etc. But she is a very artistic/big picture thinker, so instead of responding to the specific questions in my emails, she’s been responding with a related suggestion or another question. That’s great for the brainstorming phase of the trip, but not so helpful for the detailed planning aspect (which is why I’m the one planning all of this).
So the other night, we facetimed for at least an hour (it took a while because she discovered Google Street View for the first time and was ‘touring’ Amsterdam. All I heard was “oh look at that! that building is so pretty! oh look, a soup kitchen!”). Eventually, I was able to direct her to certain websites, to get answers on questions, and to pull additional thoughts on what her priorities were for each city. I had already booked our hotel in Amsterdam, so the next question was where to stay while we were in Paris, and once that was decided, what to do in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris.
Here’s a sampling of the questions I asked:
1. Here are three options for lodgings (airbnb, hostel, hotel), with prices, locations, and other benefits/drawbacks.
- Do you have any objection to using airbnb, since it is the cheapest option and in the most convenient location?
- I find that when dealing with a big picture thinker, or someone who isn’t really in to the planning process, it helps to already have decided on your preference and detailed the reasons why it is the best option. My mom ended up going along with my recommendation, but I wanted to give her the chance to object to a ‘new’ form of lodging like airbnb and go with a more comfortable/ reputable option like a hotel. I would have gone with airbnb in this case if I were traveling alone, but I need to consider my mom’s comfort and feeling of safety since we are traveling together.
2. What are my mom’s top priority activities?
- Previously, I had sent my mom a list of Viator tours for those three cities, as inspiration of what was available.
She had expressed interested in up to 10 of the tours, as well as a couple specific museums. After talking with her, however, I found out that the tours were interesting, but her top priority was the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. She had not previously mentioned it because she heard somewhere that it was temporarily moved for renovations. While this is true now, by the time we travel it will be back to its original location. If not for this discussion, the museum would never have made the list! She would also like to see the Anne Frank house, though it is not the top priority. Her top priority for Paris is the Rodin museum.
- Upon further discussion, I realized that she did not have a strong preference one way or the other on most of the tours – her email was just indicating that they were interesting. Her interest further declined on some of them when I started to explain details like price (her interest in the chocolate tour/lesson in Brussels dropped dramatically when I told her it was nearly $100 per person).
- She and I were both very interested in the Behind-the-Scenes Eiffel Tower Tour. At only $30 per person, you get a decription of the history of the tower, a visit to the WWI underground bunkers beneath the tower, and a tour of the engine room that powers the hydraulic elevators, and a ride on the elevator to the second floor to access the private rooftop terrace on top of the Le Jules Verne restaurant. Since the lift ticket itself is normally around $12 USD, $30 is a bargain.
3. What are my top priority activities?
- While in Amsterdam, I want to visit the brewery in a windmill. One of my childhood friends recently took a trip to Amsterdam with her husband, and they highly recommended visiting this novel place. After seeing a few other blogs post about Brouwerij ‘t IJ, I think I will try to make the 4pm English language tour on Friday – I love a good brewery tour! I think it’ll be worth it for 4.50 EUR, especially since you get a beer at the end of the tour!
- Taking the Behind-the-Scenes Eiffel Tower Tour was high on my list. I love to see the machinery and mechanics behind famous landmarks. Millions of people use these elevators every year, and very few stop to think that century-old equipment might be hauling them up into the air.
- If possible, I also would like to take a tour of the sewer museum in Paris, which directly relates to my career as a water/wastewater engineer. As I was researching this, I saw that the website was in French, and it didn’t mention any English language tours at all. So I emailed them to find out if anything was offered in English. Unfortunately, the tour is only offered in French, but the signs are also printed in English. This one will be a backup option – if I can fit in the tour, great, but it won’t be the end of the world if I can’t. I’m surprised they haven’t added an English language tour with the recent success of the movie Les Miserables.
- I also really wanted to spend a little bit of time in Brussels. It’s on the way between Amsterdam and Paris, and it is the capital of the European Union (sort of)! But once we decided to take the Eiffel Tower Tour, our time in Brussels was limited. The Eiffel Tower Tour is only offered at 10am and 5pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Since we’ll be in town only for a few days, we had to make the 5pm tour on Saturday, or not at all. If you include the 3 hour train ride from Amsterdam to Paris, that only leaves a few hours in Brussels. I found this Fodor’s thread to be a helpful starting place for travel logistics, and this post and comment thread at The Miraculous Journey of Katie Siebert to be helpful for deciding what to see for our brief time in Brussels. I like the idea of fresh Belgian waffles for 1 EUR!
4. How can we save money?
- The most fortuitous part of our itinerary is that it happens to place us in Paris on the first Sunday of the month. On that day, most of the museums are free! There is no way I would want to attempt the Louvre on a free day (we went to the Bronx zoo on a free day once and it was, no pun intended, a zoo!). But since my mom’s top priority is the Rodin museum, we can visit that for free! And per TravelBug‘s comment on my tentative itinerary post, we can attend the international mass at Notre Dame Cathedral that morning.
- Like I mentioned above, I priced up the various options for lodgings in Paris and came up with the following options:
– airbnb – $276 or 297 total for 3 nights in a studio apartment
– hostel – $351 total for 3 nights in a private 2 bed room
– hotel – $397 total for 3 nights (while this would be “saving” $833 off the regular rate, it’s still the most expensive option)
The best option by far is the airbnb studio apartment. It is the cheapest option of the three, and happens to be in the most convenient location (either by the Eiffel Tower or by the Louvre, depending which apartment we choose). This is the option I recommended to my mom, who agreed.
- You can save a great deal on train tickets if you buy them well in advance, but unfortunately the tickets are only for sale up until April right now. That means in 2 months, I need to hop on it and book the tickets for June/July in order to get the best prices.
So now we have a rough idea of what we want to do in our first several days in Europe, in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris! There is a little bit more fine tuning to be done, and we’ll need to book tours and trains, and confirm our airbnb reservation. But we’ve come a looooong way from our initial “Yay we’re going to Europe, where do we go and what do we see?“.