European (France/Spain) Vacation Tips

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Sanantonefan's picture

I joined the AF. Worked for me for Italy, England, Turkey, and Germany. Not for everybody. Lol

You Got Barbecue Back There!?!?!?!

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Wargor's picture

Wasn't aware they were offering 3-10 day hitches.  ;)

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Il_Padrino's picture

year not day.

Living the life!  Go Buckeyes!  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

CPO and CDR, USN (ret)

1942, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, 1970, 2002, 2014 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

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Brohio's picture

A little tidbit I found out the hard way....People in Barcelona don't speak Spanish. They speak Catalan and there are some strong similarities to Spanish but there are quite a few differences and the pronunciation is totally unique...and buddy, let me tell you, they do not like when Americans speak to them in Spanish lol. Barcelona is awesome though. I spent a month there. Probably in my top 3 European cities. The biggest tip I can give you for Europe is look into airlines like Ryan Air and Easyjet. They are budget airlines. No frills whatsoever. Pay for your luggage, pay for water etc, but the fares are criminally cheap. I liived in Europe for about a year and was getting flights for under $25 US every other week to fly all over from country to country. It seriously cost me less to get to the airport in a cab sometimes than it did to fly across the continent. 

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Calgarybuck's picture

Ugh Ryan Air, everything you said is true, Barcelona is awesome! If you’ve been to Montreal it’s like a tropical cleaner version.

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Il_Padrino's picture

Barcelona = one of the greatest cities in the entire world, now, then, and in the future.  So happy to have bought an apartment 20 years ago overlooking La Rambla.  My ship pulled in there in 1999 and while everyone else was getting drunk... I bought 50% of an apartment building just up from the market... then went and got REALLY drunk because I spent a lot of $$$ - since have recovered all expenses and am on the good side of the initial investment (by far).  It has been an amazing investment and we love to go there and stay several times per year. 

Living the life!  Go Buckeyes!  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

CPO and CDR, USN (ret)

1942, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, 1970, 2002, 2014 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

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KBonay's picture

If you only really have 10 days, I'd suggest just two destinations.  I've done both Barcelona (wish I had more time there) and just returned from Paris (4 days).  I only saw about half the things I wanted in Paris.  You can do the train between them or Easy Jet has some pretty inexpensive flights in Europe.  

Barcelona, you have to check out the Gaudi structures, most important is Sagrada Familia. 

Paris has so many places to see/do.  Louvre is a must.  Palace of Versailles is high on the list.  If you plan right, I think Weds the garden entrance is free.  For my money, the Catacombs was the most interesting and fascinating.  Download the BIRD App and use the scooters, you will see much, more more and spend way less time walking.  

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Brohio's picture

It's starting to worry me how much we have in common lol. 

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Il_Padrino's picture

BRO-mance.

Living the life!  Go Buckeyes!  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

CPO and CDR, USN (ret)

1942, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, 1970, 2002, 2014 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

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buckbornbred's picture

When you used the BIRD scooters in Paris, did you hit a lot of restricted zones? We have scooters all over this city (Miami), but you can't take them that far for all these restrictions.

Did you use any other scooter apps in Paris?

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KBonay's picture

Absolutely not.  In fact, you can pretty much go anywhere.  Roads, sidewalks, wrong-ways.  Much, much faster than cabs.  They recently slowed them down a bit because there were too many crashes.  

I did download another app, but Bird seemed to be the most reliable and available.  You can also get bike and scooters.  

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buckbornbred's picture

It seems like this is the best plan: Make Paris the home base and then venture out a couple of times from there.

What about getting to Paris and picking hotels? Do you recommend any websites?

Also, what's your feeling on travel package deals versus booking everything separately?

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KBonay's picture

I was originally going to stay at the Marriott Opera House.  Because of comfort and points.  But I have a travel agent who suggested this place.  It was expensive, but worth it.  great location and not busy at all.  And walking to about everything.

https://www.lenarcisseblanc.com/en/

I used this to book my tour of the Louvre.  https://parismuse.com/
We had a one-on-one guide who was amazing.  Alice was worth every penny.  I am not a fan of the big, guided tours because they tend to be canned presentations.  This was fantastic because she gives you the history and tells you about what you want to see.
 

I used Viator to book my Versailles trip.  I overpaid, by a lot.  While the personal tour was nice, I think you can do the canned, group tour and save $.  Since there isn't as much to see, you don't need that one-on-one IMO.

Also used Viator for the Catacombs.  DO get the skip the line.  Totally worth it.  It's an audio tour.  Bring your own headphones, or you have to hold the thing to your ear like a phone.  

If you are going to be there for a few days, get the paris museum pass.  

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RubixTube's picture

Bonay has you covered in both places, but i'll offer 2 insights from my time in Paris:

1.  The Museum Pass is your best friend.  Skip the lines at over 60 museums and/or landmarks, admission is covered.  

2.  If you can afford it, Hotel Lutetia.  Walking distance to the Louvre and Musee D'Orsay, train station across the street.  Gorgeous views of downtown at night.

Never before in the history of man have lives less lived been more chronicled. - Dennis Miller

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shawn kemps kids's picture

On top of this for a different art experience I suggest two things:

- Montmartre: towards the top of the Montmartre hill there is a square that has dozens and dozens of artists painting, drawing, etc that you can purchase from. There are some good little shops as well as an actual art gallery, galerie Montmartre, which I highly recommend as they have some works done by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Picasso and some other famous, albeit lesser known to the general public artists. It is also the home of the Basillica du Sacre Coeur which was beautiful. 

- Atelier des Lumieres. Probably one of the most unique things I have ever done, it was incredibly cool. 

- Few other notes/suggestions: I suggest trying escargots, if you go to the Eiffel Tower buy tickets ahead of time and ask where to go if you already have tickets. You'll save A LOT of time. Street side cafe restaurants are cool and pretty inexpensive, if the weather is nice it's always a good lunch idea to sit outside and people watch. I forget the couple of blocks area but there's luxury shopping such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Prada, YSL, etc. Even if you don't have an interest in buying anything it's fun to look at (and even better to people watch). 

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NewPhilaFan's picture

I concur with the Montmartre suggestion.  We were there 30 years ago and my wife still has the silhouette of her that was created by an artist using only heavy black paper and scissors.  That would be a great gift for your daughter.

Let's Go Bucks

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KBonay's picture

If you do go the shopping route, find the Abercrombie store. It’s one of the most amazing stores I have ever been in. And my wife was in high-end retail, so I’ve seen a few. But this one is over the top. 

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actionstanleyjackson's picture

Don’t get family berets with your names on them.

Stay golden, Ponyboy.

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westy81585's picture

This late in the game you'll have a hard time getting deals.  In the future check out Scotts Cheap Flights.  Wife and I got round trip to Greece on Emirates for like 700-800.  

With 7-10 days you don't have much time.  I've only been to Paris, but if I was going again on that kind of timeline...  Pick one of the more well known museums and expect to drop 3-4 hours in it.  If you try to do more than that you're probably gonna just spend all of your time in museums (and there are a shit ton to choose from on every topic, art, history, war, etc).  Going up the Eiffel tower was underwhelming IMO.... more enjoyable to picnic at it just after dark when it starts lighting up on the hour.  Also cheaper and less time consuming.  If you go up anything do the Arc de Triomphe (shorter lines, cheaper, IMO a better view).  Swing by Notre Dame, especially since you won't be able to go in it now and there are plenty of good cafe's and restaurants right there.  

If you go to Versailles it will cost you an entire day.  (worth it if you're willing to sacrifice the time)

If you go to Giverny and you don't have your own car it will cost you an entire day.  (worth it if you're into Monet and have the time)

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westy81585's picture

To clarify; the wife and I spent about a week in Paris last year.  With careful planning and not much relaxing we were able to see: 

The Louvre, the D'Orsay, L'Orangerie, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower (in front of and up), Notre Dame, Versailles, Giverny, Rodin Museum, The Army Museum (though we were cut short), boat ride down the Seine, Ancient Roman Settlement (by Notre Dame), a show at Crazy Horse (no children allowed), and a list of restaurants and cafe's.  We had to cut a few things out because we ran out of time (the catacombs for example).... and there was VERY little time to sit and relax.  Easily could have spent a month there and still found new things to see.   

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buckbornbred's picture

Sounds fun. Already getting excited.

What hotel did you stay in?

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NewPhilaFan's picture

Paris supposedly has so many museums that you could see a different one each day.

Let's Go Bucks

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westy81585's picture

One last pro-tip... there are actually Buckeye trees all over Paris, in a lot of the parks and all through the district we stayed in (University district I think).  I actually brought a bunch of them home to make the wife a Buckeye necklace (she's not a hardcore and the only way I can get her to wear it when I drag her out to games/events is by saying I got her a necklace from Paris).  

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westy81585's picture

AirBNB for the whole trip.  Combined cost for a week a little over $700 (though that's single room places big enough for the wife and I).  

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Buckeyebab17's picture

Paris: Louvre is a must see. Best art collection I have ever seen in a museum, it definitely lives up to the reputation. Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it gives you a fantastic view of the city. I went up in December when it was like 35 degrees and it was still awesome. Champs-Élysées is also a neat place to swing by just to see. I was only in Paris for one day so that’s all I really saw. Stayed in a hostel the one night I was there, so no advice on deals besides that.

Barcelona: Sagrada Familia is stunning, and it’s only €15 to go in if I remember correctly. La Barceloneta is cool to walk around, a lot of great little seafood cafes and such. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya is also interesting to walk around and there is a great view of the city from the top with a little stand that sells coffee and snacks. La Catedral is another neat cathedral like Sagrada, except it’s free. La Rambla is a busy popular tourist place to check out. Ditto on the speaking Spanish part of being in Barcelona. I can get around in Spanish speaking countries just fine, but Catalan is the language in Barcelona, and that is a whole other language entirely from Spanish and I can’t wrap my head around it, although my Spanish isn’t outstanding.

In regards to deals, I have been around Europe a lot and Airbnb is the best thing I can think of regarding lodging deals outside of staying in a hostel. You can get perfectly fine apartments in safe areas for very reasonable prices just about anywhere, especially in Spain.

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." - Archie Griffin

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lhardeman's picture

I would suggest doing a walking tour in Barcelona. You can learn a lot of the history of the city and country. We did a hop on hop off tour in Paris and found that enjoyable as well. 

God, Country, Ship, Shipmate, Self.

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ThePritch's picture

One big thing, make sure you call your bank/credit card company! Make sure they know you’re traveling out of the country. Speaking from experience, it sucks to get your card locked while you’re overseas. Also, like a poster said before me, AirBnb is going to be your best option other than hostels. And, while this may seem like basic advice, use TripAdvisor when looking for restaurants and the like. It kinda takes some of the fun out of finding places to eat on your own, but when you are traveling for a limited time, it helps take the guesswork out of the equation. Why not let other people weed out the bad restaurants for you? Lol

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Leonhard's picture

Having travelled overseas many times.....yes, let the credit caompany know.  Some will lock you out.

Leonhard

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Major H's picture

As a WWII history nut, I'd recommend a side trip to Normandy. You could spend several days there with a rental car or at least take a bus tour. Either way, it is a must see place.

I'd rather be an hour early than a minute late.

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OSU_Hammy's picture

I just got back from Europe. I went to Germany, Luxemburg, France, Switzerland, and Austria. France was my least favorite and Switzerland was my favorite. Everyone has their own taste but if I were you I would hit Spain for the majority of the trip.

Buckeye Til I Die

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BIGTIMEBUCKS's picture

Have been to both Paris and Barcelona on separate occasions. Barcelona is amazing, though they primarily speak Catalan, Spanish will do you just fine. Paris can be overwhelming at times but I do not speak much French so you should be good. I wouldn't try to fit too many destinations into a 10 day trip, especially when traveling to Paris and Barcelona for the first time. Look up Fat Tire Bicycle tours. They do tours in Paris and Barcelona and they are a terrific way to see the city and cover a lot of ground. I did a bicycle tour of the Versailles gardens which was awesome and highly recommend. Also, siesta is a real thing. Places will close up shop early afternoon for a few hours. People eat dinner much later in Spain so plan your meals accordingly.

"The Edge is where average stops and elite begins"

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southbay's picture

Wife and I had "late" dinner at a very nice restaurant in Barcelona, didn't get there until sometime after 7 PM IIRC. It was really nice but it seemed we were the only customers and I remember telling the waiter I hoped business picked up soon. He assured me they would be very busy before another hour passed. It was around 8:30 or quarter of 9.

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NewPhilaFan's picture

In planning what to do each day, it is a must to confirm the days they are open.  We missed the Louvre with our kids because we planned to visit a day that it wasn't open and we were then out of time.

Let's Go Bucks

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buckbornbred's picture

Great tips here. I'm going to start researching some of these suggestions tonight!

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DurhamBuckeye's picture

I've not been to Spain, so can't give any advice, but Paris is a great choice.  

I would suggest buying Rick Steves' guidebooks for your destinations. You'll save lots of money & eat/stay/play better than you would with any other guidebook.

One of my favorite things to do in Paris came from one of his guidebooks.  It was a nighttime tour of Paris, but it was by taxi instead of one of the guided tours. Rue Cler was fantastic.  Buy a bottle of wine, a baguette, cheese and fruit and find a park to sit in for lunch and to do some people watching. 

And one piece of advice I would give: Don't eat at any cafes/restaurants on popular squares in European cities. They are typically overpriced and of low quality.  Certainly there are some exceptions to the rule, but I tend to avoid the squares for eating.  If you really want to eat in one of those squares, pack your own picnic and find a wall or stairs to sit and eat.

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buckbornbred's picture

One more question: Where did you guys go to the bathroom at? I'm a bottled water addict, so I tend to have to go to the bathroom a lot. I find in places like NYC and DC (at least the western part of downtown) it's exceedingly hard to find bathrooms.

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High Street Street Fighter's picture

I've seen pictures of outdoor urinals in Paris. Google it. I'd like to give them a whirl.

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TLeeUpInThisJ's picture

If you go to Paris and have limited time, try the Seine River boats to take you around the city. Most of the major attractions (except Sacre-Coeur) in Paris are off the river or very close so this is very efficient and inexpensive (~$20 for a day). Paris is a very large city and difficult to walk. Tourists are often taken advantage of by illegal taxis (~EUR 100 fares) so the hop-on hop-off boats are the way to go.Try to get away from the river to see more of the city of course, but those boats are great for tourists. Beautiful city and architecture.

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Even Steven's picture

If you decide to head over to England, beware of the traffic ...

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MrRed2127's picture

We stayed at a hotel in the Latin District (or Latin Quarter, something like that) in Paris.  Its near the fountain at Saint Michel.  That area is pretty lively and a fun place.  A lot of cafes/bars/shops.  Our favorite restaurant that we went to was "Au Bougnat".  Its on the same island in the Seine that Notre Dame is on.  Just a block or so away.  We did a river cruise at night, that was great to see the city all lit up. Especially the Eiffel Tower from the river.

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stxbuck's picture

I've never been to France, but if I go, I want to see Carcassone-medieval city, SW France and Marseille-dirty Mediterranean vibe first, as opposed to Paris.

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shawn kemps kids's picture

Hitting Marseille, Nice, Cannes, Aix, etc. for my honeymoon in 2 months. If I remember I'll try to dig this thread up and give you a rundown on how our experience went if you'd like.

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Calgarybuck's picture

I'm jealous! 

If you're bored one night, throw on the transporter, was entirely filmed in Marseille incase you want a feel for the land.

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buckbornbred's picture

I'm not going until October. So actually you should post back here. ;)

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buckbornbred's picture

Can you use your credit card everywhere like you can in the United States?

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Gratefulbuck's picture

Let your CC companies know you’ll be traveling and where and for how long. Same with atm cards. Which, is the best way to get cash. The exchange rate for converting cash will be enormous. 

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shawn kemps kids's picture

Yes. As Grateful said though make sure to notify your CC company. I use Amex and Discover, I forget which but one says I don't need to notify them and the other does. I do with both each time just to be safe. Don't need them blocking my card.

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milhouse4588's picture

Look up the terms of your CC's ahead of time. Many come with Foreign Transaction fees which can add a few percentage points to every purchase. Only take cards that don't have these fees if you're able to do so. Most premium card (Sapphire Reserve/Preferred, Amex Platinum, etc don't have these fees).

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.

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BuckTD's picture

Most credit cards have a foreign transaction fee around 3%. I'd recommend getting a travel credit card that doesn;t have these fees for a trip overseas. Also avoid Amex and Discover for your trips as they are not commonly accepted overseas. I just got back from a trip to Spain/Italy and at one restaurant an American guy went on a rant about how nowhere has accepted his Amex his whole trip.

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milhouse4588's picture

My wife and I are going to Europe around the same time (leave 9/22, come back 10/3). We are flying in/out of Paris.

If you're willing to fly basic economy you can get to Europe for ~$300 round trip per person right now from certain cities.

Search Google Flights for your dates and try main airport hubs (New York, DC, Boston, etc) that you can position yourself in and get the cheap flights. I paid about $630 dollars for my wife and I combined to fly Delta from JFK-Paris, used miles to get us to NYC (we live in Atlanta), and since we have the Delta Amex the only thing we're missing by going Basic Economy is being able to select our seats before check-in,

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.

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Weave77's picture

I highly recommend Central Europe. My wife and I went to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest this past November, and it was incredible.

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Brohio's picture

I was in Prague before all the currency insanity that came with them joining the EU. It was like playing with monopoly money. It was so awesome. I remember being pulled out of line at a nightclub and ushered straight in and to a table because they overheard me speaking English with my friends. Everything was so insanely cheap. Sadly the Krona has flattened out and prices are pretty similar to any major tourist heavy European city.

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Buckeyejen's picture

I lived in Belgium for 2 years.  Paris is nice, but can be overwhelming.  We went twice while we lived over there and I don't need to go back again.  There are dozens of cities we liked more.  As for Barcelona - it's amazing.  You may want to look into booking a tour of Sagrada Familia online so you don't have to wait in line for hours.  If you're open to another city instead of Paris, I'd suggest Lisbon, Florence or Split, Croatia.  Those were my favorites over there.  Definitely look into Ryan Air or Easy Jet.  Switzerland is incredible too but insanely expensive.  Have fun - Europe is great! 

Buckeyejen

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buckbornbred's picture

Are Ryan Air/Easy Jet for international flights?

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KBonay's picture

EasyJet is to Europe as Spirit is to America.

Super inexpensive, but you pay for every single thing you want.  Usually no gates, you have to walk/bus out to planes from terminal.  But they will get you there.  And at a low cost.   

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ponder10's picture

I've never been to France but would highly recommend Spain. 

I went several years ago for the Running of the Bulls and started in Madrid>>Pamplona>>San Sebastian>>Barcelona

I would equate Madrid and Barcelona to the NYC and LA of the US. Madrid is a bit more gritty, people are real, and the food is amazing. Barcelona is a beach city where people focus on comparing themselves to everyone else that lives there. For me, I liked Madrid more. 

San Sebastian, where I saw Chip Kelly after the Running of the Bulls, has more Michelin star restaurants per capita than any city in the world. The food is absolutely amazing. 

I cannot recommend Spain enough to people. I loved every city and town that I visited but Madrid was where I found the most joy.

“In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” ~ Baba Dioum

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Gratefulbuck's picture

Pretty much spot on. I prefer Madrid over Barcelona, as well. Numerous day trips in the area like Toledo, Avila and Cuenca. I believe many of the locals in Barcelona are somewhat jaded by all the cruise ship tourists, that’s not to say that I don’t like Barcelona, I do. Pamplona is wonderful, and I’ll add Logroño the center of the Rioja wine region, and Burgos (maybe my favorite of all), Leon and, of course, Santiago. 

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Leonhard's picture

Just a thought. Sourthern Germany is to die for.  And they like us.  Don't speak German.  No problem.  They will help you.  Berchtesgaden, Oberammergau, Black Forest, dachau. Can't go wrong.  Maybe next trip!

Leonhard

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Buckslip's picture

My fiance works for British Airways so I've flown direct to LHR and done europe more times than I can count. 10 days is a short time. Don't over do it in terms of destinations because it will ad costs and stress travel when it comes to bus / plane / Airbnb. Also, the northern part of Spain is awesome. In 12 days including travel from San Diego, we did Bilboa, Barcelona, and Madrid. I think France is super overrated and everyone there is a prick. Everyone also smokes. I have zero desire to go back to Paris. Just my 2¢.

In short, just pick two or 3 spots in Span and just do Spain. Then if you want to do France / Paris later make that a second trek. Or you simply need to increase your 10 days to 15 days. 

Italy, Spain, and Ireland are my 3 most favorite Euro places. The eastern block of Europe sucks. Commies love concrete is pretty much all you need to know. Romania sucks. Prague is so touristy and overrated. Saw it all in one day and have no desire to go back. Lots of war history there. Some great views. 

London obviously has tons of history, but the weather is the worst on the planet. It's worth doing, but again I think it's a pinch overrated. Cameras everywhere and in central London it's just like being in NY. 

Germany is bad ass too. 

That should give you some ideas should you want to extend your trip. 

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buckbornbred's picture

Man, I'm trying to finalize something and you guys have me going on Spain. I speak Spanish better than I speak French too.

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Gratefulbuck's picture

You could easily spend 7 to 10 days in either county. There’s is so much to see in both, especially outside of the major cities. Personally, I wouldn’t spend less than four days in any of the major cities, to really do them any justice, and to try and take in the major sites while also trying to relax and take in the vibe of each. I wouldn’t let “language” make the decision, especially that you speak some of both (though, yeah, Barcelona is more Catalan). In the basque regions (both France and Spain) they speak basque. But, you’d get by just fine in either country. I don’t really speak any of those languages, it’s never been that much of a problem. Especially in the cities, many also speak English, and they’ll be mostly happy to do so - if you’re not being a “jerk tourist”, and at least trying to speak their language. You can’t really go wrong with any itinerary you choose. I’ve spent ample time in France and a LOT of time in Spain, having hiked from the Pyrenees in France all the way across Spain - twice, and from Portugal up into Spain. My next big hike may be from Le Puy, FR to the border of Spain (where my other two originated). If this is your one and only trip for a while, then yeah, maybe take in some of both countries. If not, I’d pick one and see that country, and then go back and see the other. And/Or, yeah, then there’s also Italy, and the others. :-) You can’t go wrong, unless you’re trying to do too much all in one trip - and “wasting” too much time traveling around to each. Just to confuse you more, along with the budget airlines, they both have nice train systems, and buses - which may take longer, but, they have their charms with being able to “see” things better as you travel - and cheaper. 

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southbay's picture

Won't share the whole story here, but by some odd coincidence we were in Barcelona for a few days during the time that Woody Allen was filming "Vicky Cristina Barcelona".

We also did a fun Segway tour of the old city, and I managed to get some great shots by steering the thing with one hand while working my DSLR with the other.

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KBonay's picture

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Two of the hottest women on the planet.  You spill the beans and now, damnit!

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southbay's picture

Maybe later, but I didn't meet either of those two women.

Believe it or not, and I know this was a hell of a long time ago, but the wife and I also happened to blunder into Yosemite National Park during the filming of certain outdoor scenes of "Star Trek V". Which we might not have even known was going on, except we got invited to dinner with some friends in the main dining room of the Ahwanee Hotel, and what seemed like half the cast of the original series came in and sat down at a nearby table. Good times.

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KillrNut's picture

In Paris, I recommend getting familiar with taking the metro if you need to get from one part of the city to another. It's cheap and very efficient.

If you need to get somewhere after the metro closes (around midnight to 5am), they do have uber just like here in the US.

I recommend getting a hotel room with a fridge. A lot of their grocery and convenience stores don't have lots of cold drinks ready to go like they do here in the US. So if you walk into a store wanting to buy a coke for example, they have it, but sitting on the shelf at room temperature.

If you're a member of a bank or credit union, go there and see if they can do foreign exchange. It will be much cheaper than at the airport.

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