I have absolutely LOVED answering questions about our trip. (Keep the emails coming!) Here is a list of the most frequently asked questions about our adventure. While the advice won't work for everyone and every trip, it worked well for us.
Q: How much did your trip cost?
This is a loaded question. The quick answer is we averaged $150 per person including everything (airfare, food, hotel, sights, souvenirs). So all in all, it cost just over $6,000 for two people, so about $3,000 for one. We were smart in our spending but I never felt like it we missed anything.
Q: Did you use a rail pass?
No. A private Italian train company just burst onto the scene when we were there and we snagged really cheap tickets by booking in advance on Trenitalia.org. Buying in advance only worked because we knew exactly when we wanted to travel. If we didn't have a concrete plan, we just purchased tickets days of. My favorite website is seat61.com. It lays out every aspect of buying train tickets and riding the train. Other people have loved Rail passes. My advice is to price it out and see which one works better for your trip.
Q: Where did you get your plane tickets?
Kayak and Airfare Watchdog helped me check out prices, but I ultimately bought the tickets on Cheap O Air. The downside with cheap airline websites is that we didn't accumulate miles. American Airlines was our airline and two of our flights were changed but they handled it well.
Q: Did you really backpack through Europe?
Literally, yes, we carried backpacks instead of suitcases. However, we didn't "backpack" in the usual sense of the word. While many backpackers travel without a concrete itinerary, we knew exactly where we were going and where we were sleeping. While our daily activities weren't always lined out beforehand, I had a pretty idea of what I wanted to see (with plenty of room for readjusting and wandering). This is all personal preference. I am way too much of a planner and worrier for a traditional "backpacking" adventure, even though I am envious of those who aren't.
Q: Where did you stay?
I think Airbnb.com is seriously the coolest thing. Renting apartments was a cheap and fun way to get out of the tourist hub-bub and tease ourselves into thinking that we actually belonged there. Below is a list of all of the places we stayed.
Mont Saint Michel
Paris (great location but a glorified closet- can't recommend)
Q: Can you send me a detailed itinerary?
Without detailing shopping times and meal time, here is our itinerary. I'm a big go-er so we packed a lot in.
Day 1: Arrive in Rome mid-morning.
Vatican Museum, St. Peter's Basilica, dinner nearby.
Day 2: RomeColosseum, The Forum (Get the Roma Pass to skip the lines!)Victor Emmanuel MonumentCapucchin CryptSanta Maria della Vittoria (see Bernini's St. Teresa in Ecstasy)Baths of Diocletian
Day 3: RomeTrevi Fountain (go early in the a.m. to beat the crowds!)Piazza da Spagna (the Spanish Steps)PantheonPiazza NavonaCamp de' FioriCatacombs of San Sabastiano
Day 4: Train to Sorrento in a.m.Check into hotel, take nap, walk around town.
Day 5: Day trip to Amalfi Coast (Amalfi Town and Ravello)Boat ride to Amalfi Town, bus to Ravello and tour the gardenWander around Amalfi town before bus ride back to Sorrento
Day 6: Morning in Sorrento: tour of lemon grove, Deep Valley of the MIllsPompeii- visit the sitesOvernight train to Venice
Day 7: Venice. Take vaporetti around the Grand Canal.St. Mark's Square and CathedralWanderTrain to Florence in evening.
Day 8: FlorenceUffizi Gallery (got reservations)Wander through Florence (used Rick Steves' guide to Florence)Pizza VecchioHiked to the top of the Bell Tower to see the Duomo
Day 9: FlorenceAccademia Museum (The David)Duomo BaptisteryPonte VecchioGalileo Science Museum (skip it)Shopping
Day 10: Day trip to Siena.Pizza on Il campStriped cathedral (can't remember the name)Hike to the top of the look out tower nearbyDinner at Tres Panches in Florence (heavenly)
Day 11: Morning train to Lucca/Pisa. Lucca- rented bikes, strolled in townPisa- Visited the Leaning Tower and got the heck out of Pisa.Arrive in Cinque Terre late evening. Strolled along the coast.
Day 12: Cinque Terre.Hiked between the towns. Boat ride back to Riomaggiore. Best views out there!Trained to Milan in evening.
Day 13: MilanSaw The Last Supper.Hiked to the top of the Duomo.Got sick of Milan and trained to Lake Como.Took a boat ride throughout the lake.Overnight train to Paris.
Day 14: Train to Mont St. Michel.Wander around the islandVisit the Abbey.
Day 15: See Mont St. Michel early morn. Train back to Paris.Heart of Paris WalkNotre Dame, Shakespeare& Company BookstoreLatin Quarter
Day 16: ParisChurch/laundry
Les Puces de Saint-Ouen (largest flea market in a weird part of town)
Eiffel Tower and hiked to the top. Be there at night to watch it sparkle!
Day 17: Day trip to Loire Valley.
Chateau de Cheverny
Chateau Blois (skip it)
Picnic in the park
Day 18: Paris.
Picnic in the park.
Arc de Triomphe (hike to the top)
Day 19: Day trip to Versailles in morning.
Visit the chateau as well as the gardens.
Train back to Paris.
Day 20: Fly to Boston. Longest day ever.
Day 21-23: Boston. Fly home in the evening.
Lunch in Chinatown (only in Paris)