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Planning a trip to England and France - help!

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by Cheylana, Mar 2, 2013.

  1. Cheylana

    Cheylana Well-Known Member

    I'm taking my niece to Europe as a college graduation present. I'm also bringing my mom as a belated 70th birthday present.

    My niece has her heart set on London and Paris...each of which I've been to a few times, but that's ok. However, I'm trying to tack on places I haven't yet visited. Grateful for ideas... We would depart in mid-May and have about 2 weeks to play with, so I was thinking:

    - 4 full days in London (maybe an extra day for jetlag)
    - 3 full days in Paris (take Eurostar from London)
    - Day (or overnight) trip to Bath (I've done this before but love it)
    - Day (or overnight) trip to Oxford/Yorkshire/any other interesting places?
    - Day trip to visit a friend and her family in Cambridgeshire (forget the name of the town/city)
    - Day (or overnight) trip to Versailles
    - Overnight trip to the Provence region - maybe Avignon? Looks beautiful...

    Biggest worries:
    - We won't be driving at all...is this do-able by train?
    - Is very basic French going to be enough for Provence (I think I'll be ok in Paris/Versailles)? I'm trying to learn some elementary French over the next couple of months.

    Very grateful for thoughts & ideas! :)
  2. PDilemma

    PDilemma Well-Known Member

    I would highly recommend York for a day trip. When a friend and I did England ten years ago, it was our favorite day. It is some distance by train from London, though, so you might consider an overnight there. If you want something closer, Winchester is also wonderful.

    I couldn't tell you about Paris, but the side trips to Bath and other cities in England are easily doable by train.
    Cheylana and (deleted member) like this.
  3. morqet

    morqet rising like a phoenix

    Most of what you've outlined for England is really easy on the train. Bath is about 2 hours on the train from London, Oxford about an hour. The only place you might have difficulty is Cambridgeshire depending on where your friend lives. If you're based in London, I would suggest that you definitely make Yorkshire an overnight trip otherwise you'd just spend all day travelling! Another option could be the Lake District - there are direct trains from Euston to Oxenholme, and it's a beautiful part of the country and quite different from any of the other places you've mentioned. The best planning tool is National Rail Enquiries - book your tickets in advance through there as well and you'll save a lot of money, especially for the longer trips.

    Versailles is very easy to reach by train from Paris, either the RER C or mainline trains from Gare Montparnasse or Saint Lazare.
    Cheylana and (deleted member) like this.
  4. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    It's probably all doable, but I have a few thoughts:

    • No need to do an overnight trip to Versailles. It's a feasible day trip.
    • Even with the high-speed trains in France, an overnight trip to Provence sounds very ambitious. I'd suggest a two-night trip, spending both nights in Avignon and maybe going to Arles as a day trip from there.
    • Outside of the most touristy parts of Paris, the French are generally very glad when a foreigner makes a sincere attempt to speak their language. I am sure your efforts will be appreciated. :)
    • Oxford is an hour by train from Paddington or 100 minutes by coach from Victoria. It's definitely a feasible day trip, but if you want to go see a concert or something, you might want to return to London the next morning.
    • Here's a website with free tourist advice about London: http://www.londontourist.org/
    • Here's a website with information about what's on in Oxford: http://www.dailyinfo.co.uk/
    • And if you decide not to do everything on your checklist, it's okay. Both of you can save something for your next trip! :)

    Feel free to send me a private message if you have any questions.
    Cheylana and (deleted member) like this.
  5. *Jen*

    *Jen* Well-Known Member

    Definitely doable by train. There's a TGV from Paris to Avignon, and you should be fine without French. A LOT has changed in France over the last 10 years. The first time I went, no one would speak English to me in Paris. The last time I went, I was annoyed because I'm now fluent in French and no one would speak anything but English to me :lol:

    There's less English outside of Paris, but it's grown for sure. You'll get by :)
    Cheylana and (deleted member) like this.
  6. JasperBoy

    JasperBoy Aging in a great place

    Oh, this is right up my alley. I took my oldest grandson last year and am planning for the younger one next year. They are kids, but we did all the "must sees".
    Everything you want to do in England is accessible by train or coach. Evans Evans tours even has a tour that includes London and Paris. http://www.evanevanstours.co.uk/

    First, check the London Walks website. They have day trips that depart and return to London, but give walking tours at the destinations. London Walks does a trip to Bath, Stonehenge, etc.http://www.walks.com/London_Walks_Home/Day_Trips_from_London/default.aspx London Walks also has tours within London, always informal and informative. And inexpensive!

    I can't help with France, but I hope to include Paris in our itinerary next year.

    I second the advice to go to York. It is only 2 1/2 hours by train from London Kings Cross. http://www.visityork.org/ The train runs frequently, like every 30 minutes or less.
    There is so much to do in York, and you can walk everywhere. The Shambles alone is worth the trip, not to mention the Minster, the wall, the Yorvik Museum and the chocolate story. An overnight stay would be best, and there are some wonderful old hotels in the centre of York.

    If you like, PM me for more details.
    Cheylana and (deleted member) like this.
  7. 4rkidz

    4rkidz plotting, planning and travelling

    How exciting! We are doing a similar thing my daughter and I for her graduation (and mine).. We are gone for a month (England, France, Swiss, Germany,Austria, Italy) but our first week in England (with relatives) and I'm renting a car just for England (scary but I do it each time - I just self talk 'hug left.. hug left') but trains for rest of europe.. one place you might want to check out that we are doing is the harry potter studio tour.. I'm assuming your niece is a similar age to my daughter so likely a huge Harry Potter fan.. my family in England have all been and they says its really fabulous day trip from London.. you can catch the train from London - only takes half an hour and then there is a special double decker Harry Potter bus to the studios 15 mins away - so no need of a vehicle.. but have to book in advance as always sold out.. here is the link http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/en/about-us/harry-potter-at-leavesden We are not going for a couple of months yet and have already booked our train from London to Paris (cheapest rate right now) and for Harry Potter..
    Cheylana and (deleted member) like this.
  8. Cheylana

    Cheylana Well-Known Member

    Thanks so much for all the suggestions! Merci beaucoup! :)

    Wow, 4rkidz, a whole month in Europe?!? Jealous!!! I wish I could take that much time off work....

    I'm thinking I will add an overnight to York - I was there very briefly once as part of a tour and had wanted to spend more time there. And maybe a day trip to Oxford, but I'll leave that as an open possibility right now.

    I'm still somewhat worried about Avignon...it sounds amazing but wonder if I'm being overly ambitious. Can we really get around that city without a car, and is it crazy expensive down there?
    4rkidz and (deleted member) like this.
  9. 4rkidz

    4rkidz plotting, planning and travelling

    I'm lucky I've been at the same job for 15 years so have built up vacation time and my other job (I needed two jobs to save for this trip) is college teaching Sept - Apr ..

    Most European cities I have been around are great with public transport and quite contained and small in comparison to our cities in North America so I think you will be fine.. to save money we use markets and eat lots of pic nics with our own food and instead of restaurants go to little bistro's and cafe's.. I think you can make your own budget for any place you visit and try and get off the beaten track - figure out where the locals go and eat - not the tourists - I learned that in Italy :)
  10. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    Central Avignon is compact and walkable. The Papal Palace, which is the absolute must-see there, is in the heart of the city.

    If you wind up spending more than one night there and would like to see a bit of the countryside, an alternative to the day trip to Arles I mentioned above (or a day trip to Aix-en-Provence) would be to find some local day tour that would get you onto a coach and out of town.
  11. Cheylana

    Cheylana Well-Known Member

    Actually, Arles looks interesting. I like Van Gough!
    What about Saint Remy d'Provence - is that good to visit too?
    Trip planning is hard...so much to do...so little time!
  12. JasperBoy

    JasperBoy Aging in a great place

    Bumping this up. Cheylana, as your departure date approaches. How is the planning going? Any luck with the French connection?
  13. Oreo

    Oreo Well-Known Member

    Avignon is an easy city to get around in. Here's another possibility for France: the Loire Valley. You can take the train to Orlean or Tours and then do day tours to the various chateaux. You said you won't be driving, but actually once you get out in the French countryside, driving is very easy. Don't worry about rudimentary French, you'll get by just fine. Visitors come to France from every country on earth, and in the more visited areas, the French are used to figuring out people's needs.
  14. dinakt

    dinakt Well-Known Member

    It's hard for me not to start phapsodizing about England, I love it.
    Please go to Cantenbury. Catch the Cathedral as the sun goes down. It is magic.
    I also loved Winchester. Gorgeous little town, close to London; beautiful Cathedral. Jane Austen is buried there.
    Both places are easily doable by train from London.
    If I had to pick one, I would pick Cantenbury. With Chaucer's Tales and Thomas Becket assasination, it is just steeped in history.
    Oxford is amazing, as well. Have not been to Cambridge ( yet, I hope:)))

    Do you use Tripadvisor? I find the info there quite invaluable.
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2013
  15. Claytsmeister

    Claytsmeister New Member

    This is great advice, Evan Evans is one of the premier tour companys in the UK and if you can find discounts on their tours here:


    Also, I think if anyone is traveling to London then a trip to Windsor is a must as it is the focal point of great British History that is the monarchy and if your niece is like mine and loves shopping then Windsor has something for everyone. You can see the Castle while also then visiting the fashionable shops and relaxing bars and restaurants.
  16. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

    I took the train to Avignon from Paris, and had no trouble meandering around Haute Provence with minimal French. Aix-En-Provence is also beautiful, but I don't know if you can take a train there. (I rented a car in Avignon and headed for the hills.)

    I don't know what they cost now, but I stayed in Gits de France, which were farmhouse bed and breakfast places -- simple and lovely. Rated in ears of corn rather than stars. 2 ears suited my budget and comfort level quite nicely, and the farmhouse dinners were lovely.
  17. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

    Your mom is age 70, and you won't have a car, yes? How fit and hearty is she? Is bopping around so much, doing so many day trips, so many train trips going to work for her? I ask because for my dad, age 74, he'd be fine; for my mom, who was age 68, this would have been an issue.
  18. 4rkidz

    4rkidz plotting, planning and travelling

    Cheylana - how was your trip? Our month in Europe in June was fantastic.. I am so glad I did all my own planning and transport - was fun and exciting.. backpacking and trains mostly - but in hotels and VRBO for the longer stays in Switzerland and Orvietto - I highly recommend Switzerland, we were in Kandersteg an Alpine village. With regards to elderly parents getting around Europe - my parents previously in their 70's spent quite a bit of time in Spain and North Africa and lots of time in England with no real issues - however now that my mom needs a new knee and dad has some lingering issues from his illness (an now turned 80) they would not cope at all. Really need to have no mobility issues to get around on public transport in Europe - nobody is helping you.. we literally had minutes to get off the night train and I was just so grateful that we had our backpacks that we could see at all times.. I told my parents if they are doing Europe now (with decreased mobility) they need to take an 'escorted' trip - or me ;) Planes and trains in Europe and airports with wheel chairs and escorts are not the same as North America.
  19. Finnice

    Finnice Well-Known Member

    I did a van Gogh trip to Arles two years ago. It was wonderful! PM me if you want some tips.
    Anyway, your plan is great. Good to balance London and Paris with smaller towns. Bath is beautiful. If you like mysteries, read some Peter Lovesey┬┤s Peter Diamond books, situated in current Bath (and of course, Jane Austen).