Popular Destinations -- Other countries

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Italy

Please note that several cities in Italy now have Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) or "no-drive/limited access" zones in their centers. Violating these restrictions may result in your receiving a violation notice and a bill for approximately € 100 several months after your ED. You can read about one EDer's unfortunate experience in Florence at this thread . Other cities with ZTL include Bologna (see below), Milan, and Rome. There is a Rick Steves article with additional information available at [1] .

Venice

Once you arrive in Venice, your car will stay in the parking garage during your visit. Many bimmerfesters have used the Tronchetto garage, look here for more info. Although the site mentions bookings, they were not required in Sep 2007, but email them to make sure. Depending on how much you suffer with your car, you may want to park in the VIP section. These spaces are close to the booth attendants, the pedestrian entrance, and the vaporetto (water bus) stop. Also in the VIP section they will roll a wire screen behind the cars to prevent opportunistic vandals from even touching the car. VIP parking was €30 per day in March 2010. Other car parks include the the Garage Communale in Piazzale Roma, see one here. Parking in Piazzale Roma is a little more per day but saves the cost of taking the vaporetto since you could walk to most points in Venice from here. However, many 'festers chose not to park here because the car must be left unlocked (they claim for security reasons(?). If you're staying for an extended period, consider parking in Mestre on the mainland (cheaper) but it is less convenient as you would have to take the train into Venice. Information on vaporetto rates and route maps (version Dec 2011) is here.

There is another option that costs a bit more but is significantly easier on the visitor. However, some used to think it violates the ED terms in that you turn your car and its valet key over to the parking agent. A post from Feb 2009 implies that you can turn over your car with the valet key to a parking service. The latest details on the Mattiazzo parking service are in this post from April 2010. The service takes you to the vaporetto stop near the Piazzale Roma and will pick you up there if you call in advance before you are ready to leave. The charge was about €35 per day a couple of years ago. b-y's semi-reassuring comment: "I have no idea what they actually do with your car during your visit!"

In October 2010, the NY Times ran a "36 hours" feature in the travel section on things to do and places see in Venice.

Brenner Pass to Bologna and points south

Many 'Fest EDers head south for the weather, Italian food and wine, and the "Northern Italy" experience. This section describes some of the cities and towns just off of the A22 (the Autostrada del Brennero), which is the main toll road running north-to-south through the region. It starts at the Brenner Pass, south of Innsbruck and the Europa Bridge. Signposted as "Passo del Brennero" in Italy, it is the lowest pass (1370 m) through the alps. The northern parts of this area were part of Austro-Hungary up to World War I, and Italian and German are the official languages. (Except in Bolzano proper, there are more German speakers than Italian speakers; many speak both languages fluently. There are also many English speakers in the region.) Officially, the northern part is the "Südtirol" or "Alto Adige", and both the German and Italian names are used here for most locales. The southern part, "Trentino", is almost all Italian-speaking. Most of the selected places are just off the A22, but there are several other interesting destinations that are quite close--Lake Garda to the west, the Dolomites and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia to the east, for example. This map gives an overview of the Autostrada-based route from Innsbruck to Bologna. Driving time is approx. 4.5 hrs, but stops and side-trips are encouraged. (Locales are listed generally from north to south.)

Historical source: There is an "official" history of the Südtirol/Alto Adige available on the web. It is A brief contempory history of Alto Adige/Südtirol (1918-2002). The PDF file is here. It is published by the Parliament of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen [Consiglio Bolzano / Landtag Bozen].

Vipiteno/Sterzing John Lance recommends this small town just south of the Austrian/Italian border for a pleasant lunch stop en route.

Brixen/Bressanone (Third largest city in the northern part of the region; population approx. 20,000.) Attractive market city with interesting Baroque Cathedral, Palace, etc. Locally famous hotel: Hotel Elephant.

Bozen/Bolzano (Largest city in the region; population approx. 100,000.) More industrial and commercial than the others, but with an attractive older center. Home of the Alpini High Command (somewhat equivalent to the U.S. 10th Mountain Division); look for their distinctive uniforms and hats. Has several castles, churches (of course), and the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (with Ötzi--look him up). Among the other interesting sites are Walther Square, with a statue of Walther von der Vogelweide, the German minstrel, and the World War I Victory Monument, built by Mussolini in 1928 (photo here). See Jonathan Spira's extensive story on Bozen/Bolzano with many photos and information about Upper Bolzano (Oberbozen) as well.

Bolzano's 20th Century history is somewhat controversial and there are several versions. Mussolini encouraged Italian industry to build facilities here in the 30s. The reasons given at the time were to de-centralize industry from its base in Turin and Milan with the prospect of war and to support regional development. (For example, Lancia built a truck and transmission factory on Via Volta in Bolzano. References here and here.) Some now claim this was part of a conscious effort to "Italianize" the region and reduce the Germanic linguistic and cultural heritage. (See the "historical souce" given above for more of the region's history.) Top hotels include the Park Laurin (see a review in Executive Road Warrior and the Walther.

Meran/Merano (Second largest city among this northern group; population approx. 36,500. Not to be confused with Murano, the island near Venice. Merano and Bolzano are connected by the MEBO, a limited-access, non-toll parkway.) Meran is a beautiful spa city, built on either side of the Passer/Passino river. The most famous attraction is the spa, now a modern facility designed by Milanese architect Matteo Thun. Other interesting sights include the two river promenades, the ornate Kurhaus, and the Trauttmansdorff Castle (with gardens). There is also an arcaded shopping street--Via Portici or Laubengasse . There are several classic older hotels in the center, on the north side of the river (e.g., the Hotel Palace, the Meranerhof, and the Westend). On the south side is the Hotel Therme Meran, a modern upscale hotel across from the new spa. (See review by bmrfam here.) Outside of the city center are an almost infinite number of guest houses, vacation lodges, and other accommodations. (Castel Fragsburg is now an R&Ch property.) There are many interesting mountain walking trails, breweries (Birreria Forst), and Speck Tirolese producers (yum!). There are frequent outdoor concerts in the Summer. Kallmünz, in the downtown area, is an extraordinary restaurant. Other highly regarded restaurants include the Schlossgarten (review here), Altmeraner Gaststätte "Santner Klause", the Sissi, and the spa's cafe. Also recommended are the König and the Imperial pastry shops, both in Corso Libertà.

b-y thinks Meran is possibly the nicest small city in Europe and particularly recommends the Pergola Residence, a modern country manor on Via Cassiano in the hills just outside of town (officially in Algund/Lagundo).

There are interesting castles in the Merano area and surrounding mountain villages. Schloss Labers is said to have housed the SS, Nazi loot, and the famous counterfeit British five-pound notes. (See: this NY Times article from 1986.) Tyrol Castle (Schloss Tirol/Castel Tirolo) is in Dorf and has several museums. There is a museum focused on Ladin, the third language of the area, in Ćiastel de Tor (in St. Martin in Thurn).

Kastelruth/Castelrotto is recommended by Chaz58 and M Funf. It is approx. 70 km northeast of Trento and 20 km northeast of Bolzano. Rick Steves wrote a short piece on the area in 2007. The central town square is historically interesting and a popular meeting place weekday afternoons at 14:45 (end of the school day for the youngest children) and on Sundays.

Trento (Largest city in Tentino; population approx. 55,000 in the city and 110,000 in the broader "township".) Has several interesting palaces and churches, including its Duomo (Cathedral of St. Vigilius). Check out the Via Manzi for its mix of architectural styles. Most famous for the Council of Trent (mid 16th C.) and the beginning of the counter-reformation. Has several 4-star hotels and four Michelin 1-star restaurants within a 5-mile radius.

There are winter and summer resorts to the east (and "above") Trento in Folgaria, Lavarone and Luserna. This part of the Trentino Plateau had early Bavarian settlements and, at times, sought to be self-governing. The resorts are less fancy and the roads less exciting than those near Cortina, but the area is quite pleasant.

Verona (Population approx. 300,000; at the junction of the A22 and the A4--the Milan-to-Venice Autostrada.) Famous for Juliet's balcony and the Roman-era arena, but there is much more to see (official tourist office website here) in this UNESCO world heritage city. (b-y's comment: "I find it difficult to explain some of this as I have visited Sherlock Holmes' rooms at 221B Baker Street, London, the site of Miles Archer's death in SF, and Manger Square in Bethlehem. So the crowds walking through the passageway to Juliet's statue and the balcony probably make sense on some level.") Among the sites related to more modern history, the Santuario della Madonna di Lourdes (at Forte San Leonardo / Werk San Leonardo from the Habsburg days) was used to incarcerate and torture allied troops, Jews and anti-fascist suspects when Verona became part of the Repubblica di Salò in the last years of WWII. Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law, was tried for plotting against the republic; he was executed on the banks of the Adige with many other officers on what is now Via Columbo.

At this point you can go west on the A4 to Lake Garda (especially Sirmione at the southern end or Salò and Gardone Riviera with "Il Vittoriale" on the west shore), Brescia (industrial, but with a nice Mille Miglia museum), and Bergamo (with its walled upper town). The Garda area is a famous center of the "slow food" movement, so there are truly many exceptional dining options. (Milan is covered separately below.)

Or you can go east to Vicenza, Padua and Venice. (If you want to see the Giotti paintings in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, you MUST book ahead during peak season, usually by a week or more.) This thread from April 2010 discusses hotel and sightseeing options in Padua. It also briefly discusses options in Mestre and Marghera.

Mantua (Mantova in Italian.) No reports.

Modena The Duomo is Romenesque (of course) and has an interesting museum. The Biblioteca Estense is one of the great libraries of Italy, and the associated Galleria has a famous collection of paintings and terracotta. Several excellent restaurants. But, you probably want to go for the cars. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and De Tomaso are produced in or around Modena, but it appears that none of them have tours available. One option is to go in late April or early May for the Modena Terra di Motori, which fills the town square with classic cars. See this page from the official tourist center about car-related activities and museums.

Bologna (Population approx. 375,000.) One of the great cities in Italy and home of its oldest university (and possibly the oldest university in Europe). Home to fantastic food. Bologna has an arcaded city center; historic gates and other structures; the usual duomo, basilicas and churches; an architecturally interesting central train station (designed by Gaetano Ratti); and a botanical garden. Both Luigi Galvani and Guglielmo Marconi taught at the university. Ducati is headquartered here. There are numerous hotels at all price points, with the Grand Hotel Baglioni one of the great luxury hotels of Italy, with prices to match. The central square is actually two adjacent squares (Piazza Maggiore e del Nettuno) in the center of the red-roofed old city. At the square are city hall and several palaces. The National Art Gallery is just north of the university.

The NY Times has a "36 Hours in Bologna" article from June 2011 that contains information on interesting tourist sites, restaurant and food-related destinations, lower-priced hotels, etc.

Bologna now has a restricted traffic zone (ZTL) in the city center. You must make arrangements with your hotel 48 hours in advance to be authorized to enter. Read more about this here. We received this report from P&T in July 2010: " In Bologna there is an easy way to avoid the ZTL. If you bring your car to the train station and call your hotel, they will direct you to the approved route for their specific location. So, EDers should not follow GPS. For the Baglioni it is an easy route."

Parma (Population approx. 175,000. Before you go, read John Grisham's Playing for Pizza.) Parma is 65km the west of Modena (and therefore also to the west of Bologna) via the A1 or the S9. Visit the Palazzo della Pilotta (with the Academy of Fine Arts), the Palazzo Ducale (Palazzo del Giardino), and Casa Toscanini. Justly famous for its cheese and dry-cured prosciutto, the food is top-quality. ViaMichelin has a food-related tour here. b-y has spent time in Parma but explains: "I can not give any first-hand restaurant recommendations for the best possible reason: we were guests of the Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano and Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma for a catered lunch at the Palazzo Ducale so we did not need to venture out on our own. (Lancias of all vintages lined the roads in the Parco Ducale.)"

The NY Times has a short list of suggested hotels and restaurants in Parma (as of Dec. 27, 2009).

Milan / Milano

Milan is the commercial capital of northern Italy. The city is the second largest in Italy, with a population of approximately 1.3 million. It is a controversial destination with 'Festers...Milan is big, crowded, expensive, and now has car restrictions in the city center. But it also has great food, top hotels, and interesting tourist sites (not to mention numerous designer shops). Two of the major sites are the Duomo (dress appropriately) and the Castello Sforzesco (official website here; the only castle I know with a car emblem over the entrance).

In May 2009 the MSNBC website featured a video and a couple of useful links:

There is a WSJ article on three smaller (neighborhood, but central) restaurants that ran on June 19, 2009. In May 2011 the NY Times ran a "36 hours" special on sights, restaurants, and hotels in central Milan.

Parking in central Milan is so complicated (and expensive) that even this city tourist website has difficulty explaining it. Here is a brief description:

Don't drive in the central area anyway! The "Sosta Milano" parking system - tickets to be bought at newstands and placed in your car after "scratching" day and time - is so complicated and expensive that if you really want to take the car, the best solution is to leave it in one of the twenty or so guarded parking lots in the downtown area.

If that weren't bad enough, there is also a congestion charge to just drive into the delimited area. (More information here.)

Turin (Torino)

Turin is a major industrial and commercial center, but with interesting attractions and great food. Its Egyptian museum, the Museo Egizio, is the second largest in the world (after Cairo). The Biscaretti ("Museo dell'Automobile" / "National Automobile Museum") is one of the top auto museums in the world, especially if you are interested in Italian vehicles. Other attractions include the Mole Antonelliana (cinema museum & interesting architecture), the castle, the Superga, the Shroud, Stupinigi, the Borgo Medievale, the arcades, etc. Look into the Torino+Piemonte Card.

On July 1, 2012, the NY Times ran a "36 hours in ..." feature in the travel section focusing on Turin.

Hotels

The best used to be the Hotel Principi Di Piemonte, right in the center--an old world place something like the Plaza in NYC. The Hotel Boston is a centrally-located "art hotel" with rooms somewhat on the small side. The manager at the Hotel Crimea is a car fanatic, and it has a good reputation for reasonable service for the price. It hosts Lancia Club members from all over the world. There are newer hotels, including in Lingotto, the old Fiat factory area. For a modern upscale hotel, there is Le Meridien ("Business-Oriented Hotel set in reconverted Fiat Car Factory; located in the Lingotto multi-function center").

The NY Times feature above has a brief blurb on the Grand Hotel Sitea (Via Carlo Alberto, 35; 39-011-517-0171). This is a 4-star hotel in an historic building, close to museums and the city center.

Restaurants & Caffes

Almost any restaurant above the pizzaria class is good. del Cambio (piazza Carignano 2, 10123 Torino; "cambio" means "exchange" as well as "gearbox") is one of the best in Italy but is very expensive. In March 2012 the viaMichelin newsletter ran a feature with a new review and video of "Cambio".

For reasonably priced local cuisine and wines, try the Taverna delle Rose, via Massena 24--a Michelin "good deal". It takes credit cards, and full dinners run 30-45 Euros. For a special meal try Monferrato, just across the Po. This superb restaurant also specializes in local cuisine, but it is more expensive. The description in the Michelin says it all: "In pleasant district over the Po, offerings linked to local traditions with good research made into the genuineness of the products; simple modern atmosphere."

The Times article recommends Ristorante Consorzio for its menu with locally sourced products. (Editorial note: However, the five-course set menu is not to my taste. --b-y)

There are a number of famous cafes. Lancisti (the Lancia equivalent of 'Festers) know to look for each other at one of the historic cafes around the Piazza Castello. Caffe Platti (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 72) was written up in the Nov. 2011 ViaMichelin nesletter.

And, again, from the Times: "A short stroll away (from the Lingotto metro stop) is the enormous gastronomic complex Eataly (Via Nizza, 230/14; 39-011-195-06801). Yes, there are other outposts now, including a New York location, but this is the original, and it remains a phenomenal shopping experience for food lovers."

Trieste

Trieste, in the far NE corner of Italy, was the principal seaport of Austro-Hungary. It was ceded to Italy at the end of WWI. It has a classic central square, historic churches (including the Serbian-Orthodox Church of St. Spyridon from 1869 and a Synagogue from 1912, and lots of history. The main coffee-roasting facility for Illy is at one end of a major working seaport.

In May 2011, the NY Times featured Trieste in its travel section. The article has a lot of historical and cultrural information, but leaves out most of the WWII history. For example, the Castello di Miramare was also the official residence of the Amadeo, Duke of Savoy-Aosta, who was Viceroy of Ethiopia. It later served as the HQ of the Allied Military Government during the "Free Territory of Trieste" period (1947-54).

Trieste was occupied by German forces in September 1943. They held out in the Castello di San Giusto after the rest of the city was occupied by Tito's Partisans' 8th Dalmatian Corps on May 1, 1945, and finally surrendered to the New Zealand Army under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg the next day.

The Risiera di San Sabba, just outside the city limits, is the only fascist death camp that was in Italy. It is now a low-key memorial with a small historical section. It is open daily; admission is free.

There are a number of interesting dining options. The centrally-located Harry's Grill (piazza Unità d'Italia 2, 34121 Trieste) is styled after its namesake in Venice. Antica Trattoria Suban (via E. Comici 2/d, 34128 - Trieste, tel. 040 54368) is in the hills just outside of the city center. It features local game and regional dishes. b-y had an exceptional seafood risotto at a tiny place near the financial exchange recommended by locals. (He doesn't remember the name, but claims it is well known locally.)

Wine country

Friuli

Fruili-Venezia-Giulia is the area north of Venice to the Austrian and Slovenian borders. FVG is the north-eastern corner of Italy, one of five semi-autonomous regions, and still has its roots in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The cities include Trieste, Udine, and Gorizia. Udine and Gorizia are in the foothills of the Julian Alps. Sightseeing options include Roman ruins, the trenches and cemeteries from WWI, the castles near Trieste with their Habsburg and WWII histories, and the Grotta Gigante.

Although not the largest or the highest producing area, possibly the best known wine district is Collio Goriziano or "the Collio", located outside of Gorizia to the border with Slovenia. White wines are the specialty. (Following EU rules, the well-known Tocai Friulano has been renamed simply Friulano.) The small town of Cormòns is at the center of the Collio wine district. There are several small hotels, inns, and agriturisimos. b-y stayed at "La Boatina" in 2008; his review is here. In July 2011 the NY Times travel section ran a major feature by Ingrid Williams on the Collio with wineries to visit, restaurant and inn reviews, etc.

One of the local restaurants in Cormòns, Al Cacciatore-della Subida, località Monte 22, Cormons, now has one Michelin star (2012).

Asti / Langhe / Roero

There are several interesting wine regions between Turin (Torino) and Milan (Milano). These are mostly groups of hill towns and the nearby slopes and valleys, often with rivers as the borders. Asti is famous for its sparkling wines, and the town of Canelli was recommended by nm88325 with text and photos here and here. He recommends the Vecchio Torchio agriturismo.

The Langhe is the area near the small city of Alba. It is best known for its red wines (most famously Barolo) and for truffles. It lies south and west of the Tanaro River. In 2010, b-y stayed in La Morra, the next town over from Barolo, at the Hotel Corte Gondina. His review is here, and a few photos of the hill towns are here.

Roero is the neighboring white wine district, north of the Tanaro. The local favorites are Arneis and Sauvignon Blanc; it also produces peaches and pears.

The Italian agriturisimo association runs a website with many listings for the Langhe and Roero. Its quality or inclusiveness has not been verified.

Tuscany

Text needed.

Rome

It is a long drive to Rome. There is no driving during weekdays in the center-city area ("centro"), so be certain you understand the ZTL regulations and check with your hotel about parking. As a alternative, several 'Festers have flown into and out of Rome via Nice or Munich, combining the visit by air with pick-up of drop-off of their ED BMW.

In November 2011 the ViaMichelin newsletter digested the main attractions from the Michelin Green Guide to Rome, providing descriptions and a useful map.

Slovenia

The major thing to remember is that Slovenia and Slovakia are two different countries. Highway vignettes are now required to travel in or across Slovenia.

Slovenia was the northern-most part of the former Yugoslavia. The national language is Slovenian, which was treated as a dialect of Serbo-Croatian during the Yugoslavian days. A large part of the urban population speaks English and/or German (or Italian near that border). Slovenia is a crossroads country with some industry (Elan skis, for example). It is also a member of the European Union, the Eurozone, and the Schengen area. This results in relative stability and prosperity, but you will notice that prices in the major cities are not as low as you might expect. However, Slovenia is noted for having the lowest-priced gasoline in Central Europe. In June 2011, Rick Steves published a column focusing on several tourist locales in Slovenia.

Ljubljana

Bled

Bled (Veldes in German from the Austro-Hungary days) is a resort town north of Ljubliana. Most of the visitors seemed to be Russians or eastern Europeans of one sort or another. There were many interesting high-end sporty cars on the street and driving around. The main attractions are Bled Castle on on the oustskirts and Lake Bled and the lake-front streets. There was a Swiss-style health resort from the mid-19th C. on. A major tourist activity is traveling out to the Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church in the middle of the lake via a rowboat. Triglav National Park is located in the vicinity.

There are new "sport" hotels, older local hotels (some very nice) and B&Bs, and the Vila Bled. This last was Marshall Tito's summer residence and official guest residence for visitors and is now a 30-room mansion-style hotel. b-y stayed here in 2008 and thought it was great, especially if you remember the 50s. From his post: "We had a large suite that I nicknamed the 'Kim Il Sung Suite' overlooking the lake. We either had Tito's parking space at the front door or the one next to it. We ate a nice dinner there." They provided passes to the pool complex at the Golf Hotel, owned by the same group. Free WiFi in both hotels. Service was odd mix of helpful, but no porters. You want to explore the lake by boat--they give you a boat. You want to host an international conference--they have a secluided "Belvedere" with a lake view. Price: approx. €280 per night plus tax of €1.01 per person per night (this is not a typo). Prices vary by room. (Photos and additional description at the Executive Road Warrior website.)

Goriska Brda

Goriška Brda ("frontier hills") is one of the western-most provinces of Slovenia. It is primarily agricultural and has a local wine route. Tourist sights include a lookout tower in Gonjače and Dobrovo Castle. The major place to eat or stay is Belica (pronounced "Belitsa"), a modern vineyard hotel. Daily price for a deluxe double room is approx. €100-130 and dinner is approx. €20-30 per person. b-y and Ms. b-y ran into Rick Steves here in 2008.

Istria

Istria is a peninsula on the Adriatic divided among Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. (Reminder: ED cars not permitted in Croatia as of 2008-9.)

Muggia (Mugls, Milje), a small seaport is at the top of the peninsula and the only Italian city on the Istrian coast. It is scenic but quiet. The bus station had a faded map painted on the wall showing the partition between Zone A and Zone B that lasted until 1954.

Piran & Portorož are two Slovenian cities with lots of tourists. See JSpira's review of the new Kempinski Palace hotel. There is a nice write-up of the area in the NY Times. The seaside restaurants are quite good. A local delicacy is the "date mussel" or "sea date", widely available despite being a threatened species with a European prohibition on harvesting.

Pula (Pola in Italian), at the S end of the peninsula, has an interesting modern history. It was part of Austro-Hungary from 1813 until 1918 and was a major WWI port. James Joyce taught here in 1904-05. It was then Italian until 1943, when it became part of “Küstenland”, a region occupied by Germany. During the Italian period, Alida Valli (real name: Alida Maria Laura Altenburger, Baroness of Marckenstein and Freuenberg; her most famous role was Anna Schmidt, the tragic Czech refugee heroine of The Third Man) was born here. Pula also was partitioned at the end of WWII and administered by the UN. It was re-united and formally became part of Yugoslavia in 1947. (Lidia Bastianich was born nearby, and the von Trapps of TSOM fame lived here.)

Rijeka is at the E end of the peninsula, opposite (i.e., SE of) Trieste. Located on Kvarner Bay, it is the principal seaport of Croatia. Now mostly an industrial city, it has as convoluted modern history as the rest of this region. It was under Habsburg control through WWI, attached to Hungary in 1870. (Hungarian & Italian name = Fiume). (Fiorello La Guardia lived here at the start of the 1900s.) In 1919 Gabriele d'Annunzio led a force of Italian irregulars into Rijeka/Fiume, seizing the city and establishing the Regency of Carnaro. This is one of the major events of what is now know as Italian irredentism. By Nov. 1919, Fiume/Rijeka became a "free state". Next came annexation by Italy in 1924, which lasted for 20 years.

Czech Republic

Prague

Hlavní město Praha, the Capital City of Prague, is the largest city in the Czech Republic. Situated on the Vltava (or in German, die Moldau), the longest river in the country, the city, known as Prag in German, is the political, cultural, and economic center of the Czech state and has a population of 1.2 million. Its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of ca. 1.9 million.

The Moldau, a musical depiction of the river's course through Bohemia, is also the best-known of Bedřich Smetana's six symphonic poems Má vlast ("My Fatherland") and is based on the same theme as Israel's national anthen, Hatikvah.

Make sure you park in a secured lot during your stay here. The city is navigatable without driving your car, but there are several interesting side trips outside the city that are nice to visit on your way to your next destination.

Hotels

Prague has many superb hotels and restaurants includng luxury hotels. Two of the top five star hotels are The Four Seasons and the Kempinski Hybernská.

The Four Seasons is located along the Vltava River near the Charles Bridge in Prague’s historic Old Town. Read the review in Executive Road Warrior magazine for details and photos. The Kempinski Hybernská is centrally located and first opened in 2008. Read the review in Executive Road Warrior for further details.

Other top hotels include a Mandarin-Oriental, the Golden Well (U Zlate Studne), the Intercontinental, and many more. b-y and Ms. b-y stayed at the Hotel Josef, a modern "design" hotel by Eva Jiricina on the advice of local university administrators. The rooms were nice and the hotel well run. (But the glass-enclosed bathroom is a bit of a shock.) It is located in Old Town, just outside the old Jewish quarter. The web site lists a "guarded car park", but the details have not been confirmed.

The Hotel Paris in the middle of Prague easy to get to by car, arrange ahead for parking when you make your reservation as the hotel has limited space available. Very convenient to walking anywhere you wish to go on this side of the river and close to public transportation to cross the river and get to the castle area. The hotel is very art deco and well run the restaurant was very good as was the breakfast.

The Hilton Prague Old Town is located on V Celnici and is within easy walking distance to Old Town and the Charles Bridge. It has a decent parking structure that is safe. However, the lot can be a bit cramped as the spaces are a bit tight. Many have reported success in getting this hotel for a low rate (~$70/night) on priceline.

Not to be too confusing, the Hilton Prague is located on Pobrezni and is further away from the city center but has an excellent and very secure parking structure. The spaces are wide and there is ample room to park your new BMW.

Several 3-to-5 star hotels in Prague, some with parking, were discussed in a thread that started in 2010 and was revived in March 2012 here. Among those mentioned were:

  • Longin Center, Prague - Marriott Executive Apartments
  • Courtyard Prague Flora
  • Marriott Prague @ East V Celnici 8 - 10 minutes walk to Charles Bridge, underground parking for 25 Euros/day, and subway around the corner (details from skier).
  • Renaissance - across the driveway from the Marriott, parking under the Marriott (details from liskel).
  • Augustine - recommended by M FUNF.
  • Hotel Maximilian - 84 Euro including the VAT; they have guarded parking. Great deal in a great location in the center of Prague (details from pharding).

Terezin Concentration Camp

Day Trip, located about 35 miles to the northwest of Prague.

Most people know about the concentration camps, of course, but we associate the term "concentration camp" with "death camps". In truth, there was a somewhat complex order of camps spread throughout Germany, (then)Czechoslovakia, Poland and Ukraine, in which some camps served a unique purpose. Terezin was a unique camp.

This concentration camp was not one of the notorious "Death Camps", like Auschwitz or Buchenwald. Instead, Terezin was turned into a "model" jewish ghetto, and was used as a consolidation point before some were sent to their death in the East. During the war Terezin was also used by the Nazis for propaganda to show the International Red Cross how well the Jews were being treated, in an attempt to show that the rumors of death camps were just that; rumors. Ironically, in dressing Terezin up for the visit by the Red Cross, the Nazis shipped thousands of Jews to their death at Aushwitz simply to reduce the extreme over-population of the camp and surrounding town of Terezin and make room for their distinguished guests. The story of this camp was featured in the 1970's television miniseries "Holocaust", starring Meryl Streep.

Touring this concentration camp is an eye-opening experience - it provides a very chilling understanding of just how organized the thuggery of the Nazi regime was, and yet how disfunctional they were in executing their grand scheme.

Even though this camp wasn't set up as a death camp, thousands of Jews died none-the-less due to the extreme privation, overcrowding, and poor condition of the facilities.

The trip to Terezin takes less than an hour by BMW (or any car, for that matter). Plan to spend at least four hours and do lots of walking. The fortress is the logical place to start, but don't overlook the museums in the town, as well; they are a very important piece in the bigger picture of what Terezin was during the war.

Slovakia

The major thing to remember is that Slovenia and Slovakia are two different countries.

Bratislava

(Pressburg in German; Pozsony in Hungarian; directly on the Danube.) This capital city has an approx. population of 430,000.

For a detailed look at the city with extensive photos, go to What's Doing In Bratislava

Devin Castle (sometimes Dowina; Slovak: hrad Devín or Devínsky hrad, Hungarian: dévényi vár, German: Burg Theben) is a short (20-30 min, depending on your starting point and assuming you don't get too lost) drive from Bratislava center. It dates from 864 and stands over the Danube and Morava rivers. It was a major center of the "Greater Moravian Empire" and was destroyed under orders from some guy named Napolean in 1809. The following directions are from the Bratislava.info website:

Remember that the road is very small and poorly marked, so you’ll need good directions. The turn is about 500 meters from Lafranconi Bridge, along the main road and tram tracks. The village of Devin is 6 km from this turning. The largest parking lot charges a parking fee all week in the summer, and on weekends at other times.

This GoogleMap gives the exact route from the Kempinski to the castle.

Hotels

There is only one five-star hotel in Bratislava, the Kempinski Hotel River Park, located on the shores of the Danube River. It opened in 2010 to excellent reviews. Read the review in Executive Road Warrior for details and photos.

Another option is to stay in the nearby Burgenland part of Austria and drive into Bratislava for the day. There are several underground parking garages with easy access (and easily located via GPS).

France

Paris

Entry needed!

Alsace; Lorraine

If you're headed to Paris, consider making a stop in the Alsace region of France. It is roughly half-way to Paris from Munich. Highlights in this area include Colmar, Strasbourg, and the wine country. For classis car enthusiasts, don't miss the Schlumpf Collection at the Cité de l'Automobile museum in Mulhouse. There are 437 cars from 97 brands on display. (Cité de l'Automobile.) If you are interested in trains you can get a combination ticket that includes admission to the Cité du Train, the largest train museum in Europe. (Cité du Train.)

Metz is the capital of Lorraine and undergoing a bit of a resurgence. There is a feature on Metz in a 2011 ViaMichelin newsletter, complete with attractions, hotels, and restaurants.

Meuse is in the Lorraine region and in the far NE of France (and is also the name of a river that flows through it). This area contains some of the great battlefields of World War I, including Verdun. See this November 2011 write-up from ViaMichelin for more information.

Normandy

Written by Skywalkerbeth. My blog entry should also be helpful:

http://skywalkerbeth.blogspot.com/2010/01/trip-reportphotos-paris-brittany.html

The below assumes arrival from the east.

With only one full day don't miss the (1) American Cemetery and (2) Pointe du Hoc and (3) Arromanches/the Mulberries/the 360 degree theater found there (bonus is that the theater is near where you'd view the mulberries, high on the cliff). Since you are coming from the east a good plan would be to start in Ouistreham and drive along the beach, stopping as you wish, until you reach each of these sights and of course spend more time at these three sights. Pay attention to closing times of the Cemetery and Pointe du Hoc so that you don't spend so much time on the beach drive if you only have one full day. I highly recommend the 360 degree theater, the film was taken during the 50th anniversary and is a fantastic overview of the landings with film clips from that time. But if your time is limited the other two sights should have more of your attention - but I would really try to see this theater, the film is marvelous.

If you have two full days (not merely two nights, which usually translates to "one or one and a half days of sightseeing time") then you can slow down slightly. Definitely make a point to see all three above, but you can spread it out a little bit and not do it in one day. I would add the Peace Museum in Caen to the list. Highly recommended. It really would be a shame to miss it, but, if you have limited time do what you can. Also with two days, since you are spreading your trip out a little bit, add two more cemeteries to your visit. Add one Commonwealth Cemetery of your choice (British, Canadian) and one German one - La Cambe. What would be a good idea with two days is to keep it geographically logical, going east to west. Start at Ouistreham and your first real stop will be the Peace Museum in Caen. That will take you absolutely no less than two hours and if you find you have lots of time you could spend much more time there. Our ticket was good for two days (perhaps because we arrived after 1 PM?). After Caen, keep heading west, making sure to stop in Arromanches and finish your first day in Bayeux, having visited the various beaches and sights to the east. Because you have two full days, the next day see the items to the west - American Cemetery, La Cambe for contrast (nearby) and so on.

With three full entire days, I would add the following to all of the above. At some point you gotta see the Bayeux Tapestry. Some might argue that you should make it a priority no matter how short your visit and I would not argue with that at all. The hours to view may be limited though, so it would be tough to see if you only have one full day. This would also be a good time to add the D-Day Museum in Bayeux to your list of sights (you can walk there if you are staying in Bayeux) and directly across the street is a British Cemetery and is the one the dignitaries visit on D-Day anniversaries. As I mentioned in my blog, the cemeteries all have different "vibes". The American one is moving, proud and triumphant. The Commonwealth ones are perhaps the most inviting in that they are the most like gardens. The German one is Teutonic, sad and a little scary. It seems the closest to death if that makes sense. The American and Commonwealth ones seem to exude hope and life eternal, but not the German one - dead and gone. Ste Mere Eglise is a good stop if you are well versed in the history of D-Day, if you aren't, it may not be worth the extra 30 minutes each way to get there from the American Cemetery unless you find yourself with many more hours of daylight after you've seen everything else you wanted to see and are already in the vicinity.

If you have four full days, fit this into your list. Pegasus Bridge and not terribly far from there is the Merville Battery which is a small, "home grown" D-Day museum. There are many letters written by soldiers on the walls as well as framed newspaper clippings - among other things of course. You might actually be able to add this if you only had three full days. Or maybe three full days and then the morning you are taking off to go elsewhere, stop and see this along the way. Also if you find you have time on your hands, that little church I mentioned in my blog - the one which was a makeshift hospital - is interesting but I wouldn't go out of my way with only one day of sightseeing to be done.

Long and short - if you can, give yourself no less than three nights in Bayeux. Depending on your interest levels, you can definitely find things to do with even more time.

Mont St Michel is a good hour and a half west of Bayeux if memory serves. Highly recommended, of course, and if you only have two full days in the area, something above has gotta give. This trip, there and back and of course spending time there, is gonna take a good part of your day. I would say drop the museum in Caen and watch your timing with the rest of it. I tried to make the list above in order of importance for sightseeing. Basically it will mean prioritizing because Mont St Michel is a good part of your day. Check closing times of everything. It will be light later in the summer, but, sights still may close by 6 PM. If you decide to see this I'd suggest just following my "one day plan" above for D-Day sights, use day two as Mont St Michel, and if you have spare time after MSM then visit the other cemeteries. Depending on open/closing times, you might even be able to see the Bayeux Tapestry on the same day you go to Mont St Michel if you time it right and are up and on the road early. As I mentioned in my blog, try to approach MSM along the beach road for stunning views. If you go to Pontorson and then head due north, you will miss the prettiest view of MSM.

PS. And if you really have the time, on the drive from the east into Normandy, the area to the east of Caen, the Pays d'Auge, is so pretty. My blog mentions one town we visited but if you check a guidebook about that area there are a few other towns and also a Cider Route - alcoholic apple cider - you can go from town to town on the route, much like following a wine route in Napa for instance. It's quite close to Caen and if you aren't rushed I'd recommend a visit there as you drive into the area.


Netherlands (aka Holland, Low Countries)

Amsterdam

Near Amsterdam, check out the gardens of Keukenhof

Maastricht

Maastricht is one of the most picturesque cities in the Netherlands and one of the oldest as well. See Christian Stampfer's extensive story on Maastricht with many photos (by Jonathan Spira) and information about what to see and do there.

Hotels

The Kruisherenhotel is a converted monastery - but very modern, with a great restaurant and safe parking for your new car. See Christian Stampfer's review in Frequent Business Traveler magazine.

United Kingdom

London

Note: As of July 1, 2009, the London and Madrid drop off locations will no longer be accepting drop offs for the BMW European Delivery program any more

London is the capital of both the U.K. and England; it's also the largest metropolitan area in the EU with 7.5 million people in Greater London and 12-14 million in the London metropolitan area. Its history goes back to the city's founding by the Romans.

London is a city of buildings of wide varying architecture (including castles of course) and many parks and gardens. The West End (within the City of Westminster) is the city's theatre district and also features many cinemas, bars, clubs, and restaurants. Many music venues merit a visit including the Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Opera House, Sadler's Wells Theatre, and the Royal Albert Hall. Shopping is a favorite pasttime; visit Harrod's, Selfridges, Oxford Street, and Jermyn Street. The area around the Covent Garden tube station is one of many pleasant streets with a wide variety of shops; for something off the beaten path, visit Neal's Yard as well, including Neal's Yard Dairy

London also has other classic shopping opportunities. The original "Foyles' " bookstore has been on Charing Cross Rd. since 1903 (description & map). "Hamleys" has seven floors of toys and is on Regent St. (map & address). Both have additional locations.

Eating in London has never been better. British food has finally shed its once-deserved (poor) reputation and the city's cuisine is now representative of its ethnically diverse population.

A recent discovery is The Little French Restaurant.

For really good bangers and mash (look it up!) try Mother Mash, just around the corner from Regent Street and a short walk from Carnaby Street (which street most likely you've seen in Austin Powers). http://www.mothermash.co.uk/

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