Planning Ahead

I wrote this series of stories immediately after returning from Europe.  I did it mainly for myself because I was afraid that, in time, my memory of this trip would fade.  When I go back, I want to be able to read a detailed account of what we liked and didn't like.  At some point, it seemed like a good idea to put this on the Internet so others could read it and draw their own conclusions.  Most of the smart things we did on the trip came from suggestions we picked up from websites.  This is an opportunity to repay those favors. 


I have nothing to sell.  I am not a travel agent.  If you take everyone of my suggestions, I will not benefit from it in any way, except to know that I helped someone have a better vacation.  I think it is important for consumers to write reviews so that other consumers can read them and see what someone just like them experienced.  You may have a completely different experience than I did.  You may love something that I hated, and hate something I loved.  Regardless of how it goes for you if you do decide to take a trip like this, I hope you will contact me and let me know how it went.  I can be reached via email at


What is written here is my personal opinion.  It comes without warranty.  If you do anything because I said it was fun, and you hated it.  Too bad.  You are on your own, just like I was.  Enjoy the adventure!


I have provided some links to attractions and services that I used.  I did this because in some cases it took a lot of research to find websites that gave the info that I needed.  This is not an endorsement of any business, and should be considered for information purposes only.


Here goes...


I met my wife, Jane when she had returned to the US after living in Europe for a number of years.  She was only on a visit and fully intended to return back to Europe, but one thing lead to another, and she stayed in the states and married me.  We settled within five miles of the small Southern California town where she grew up.  For the next 26  years, she would tell me her stories of living in Europe and how much she wanted to take me there.


On our 15th wedding anniversary, I told her that we would go to Europe for our 20th anniversary, and take all of our kids, even the grown ones.  We would go as a family, and she could plan where we went and what we did.


We decided to save $50.00 per week automatically from my paycheck, into a money market account.  They money would stay and grow over the five years and could only be used for expenses associated with the Europe trip.  At first it seemed impossible that the money would add up to anything.  But, we were patient, and after about four years we had over $10,000 in the account.


Right around the time we would have gone, the world was in great upset over the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.  We decided to wait a while longer, and the account continued to grow.


Finally, we decided to go in the summer of 2004.  We wanted to do the trip in the summer. But, we had other things we needed to do each month, and ended up planning to go in October. 


Traveling were myself, Joseph, age 45. My wife, Jane, who turned 48 on the trip. Our son, Christian, age 26. Our Daughter, Erin, who turned 20 on the trip.  Our daughter, Casey, who had just turned age 10.


The Sheppard Family (Left to Right) Erin, Jane, Casey, Joseph and Christian.




On a major trip like this, costing a lot of money, I can’t stress enough the importance of purchasing Trip Interruption Insurance.   This insurance is very inexpensive, and covers a multitude of situations that can ruin your vacation.  We purchased ours from a company called “Travelguard”.  It cost less than $100 per person and covered the entire cost of the trip, plus included money for medical emergencies.  As I will describe later, due to an unfortunate circumstance, we ended up filing a claim against the policy for over $2000.00.  I was glad I purchased the policy, and I personally think that anyone who attempts a trip like this without this kind of insurance is taking an unnecessary risk.


The Airlines:


We started to watch travel websites for deals on flights.  Our daughter Erin and I don’t like to fly, so we thought it would be best to try to get nonstop flights both ways.  Jane wanted to spend most of her time in Italy.  We looked at flights from LAX into Rome, but they were expensive.  Finally we found an airline called Air Tahiti Nui that specialized in long haul flights from Paris to Tahiti, stopping over in Los Angeles.  It is a new airline with new Airbus A340-300 aircraft.  They had video screens in the back of every seat playing several movies during the flights.  We paid $513 per person, round trip.




The most helpful website we found for hotels was Orbits.  It was easy to find large numbers of hotels in any area at good rates.  One of our challenges was that we had five people.  So, in most cases we needed two hotel rooms.  Not every hotel in Europe has rooms large enough for three beds for the kids.  But, Orbits made it easy to find these hotels.


We also booked six nights with Minotel International.  Minotel is a large hotel corporation in Europe, similar to Best Western in the United States.  This turned out to be a problem.  More on that later.


The best thing we did regarding accommodations was renting an apartment in Rome.  We were looking at hotels in Rome, and many of them were €200.00 and more per room per night.  We found a website called that specialized in short term rental of private apartments.  We were able to rent a wonderful apartment right next to Piazza Vittorio for €130.00 per night.  This apartment was within walking distance from the Termini Train Station, and had a Metro (subway) stop within a few feet.  One day we were there we walked to the coliseum.  There were enough beds for everyone, a full bathroom with a shower, and a complete kitchen.  Within a block there was a supermarket, and good restaurants.  This was the best value of the trip.


Transportation in Europe:


Before leaving home, we purchased a Eurailpass Saver, which gave us a discount for having five persons, and was good for unlimited first-class train travel over a 21 day period.  The cost for this pass was $583.20 per person.  The pass did not include sleeper cars, or guarantee a seat on a train.  Also, certain high speed trains required an upgrade charge.  For example, the TGV “bullet” trains in France only cost $5.00 per person extra.


In most of the large towns we stayed in, they had a Metro (subway) system.  We would purchase an unlimited pass for the number of days we would be in a particular town.  In Rome this was a great value, because we had the Metro stop within steps of our hotel.  We could jump on the Metro and get to anyplace in the city within minutes. 


Smaller towns had bus systems. For example, in Florence, Italy we could ride the bus anyplace for one hour for €1.00 per person. 


When we would arrive in a new town at the train station, we would usually get a cab to take us to the hotel and give us a chance to get the lay of the land.  We could usually get a minivan that could fit all five of us with luggage. Sometimes our 10 year old had to sit on a lap.  But, this worked pretty well.  The charge usually came up to around €10.00 per cab ride.




I went to the AAA Auto Club and bought some Euro to have a little pocket money when we arrived in France.  I really didn’t need to do that, because there are ATM’s everyplace, and they all work really well.  In Europe they call an ATM a “BancoMat”. I checked with my bank before leaving to verify that my ATM card would work in Europe, and moved some money from the Money Market account into my checking account to use.  This worked really well.


Many places in Europe also take Visa, Mastercard and even American Express. But, a lot of restaurants in Italy did NOT take credit cards at all, so when we were in Italy, I spent more cash than I had planned.  I was able to go online at an Internet Café and move more money into the checking account just to be safe.  In France and Switzerland, almost every commercial establishment took the full range of credit cards.





 I’ll write about our experiences in the towns we visited.  For now, here is a picture I took of the kids walking down the tunnel to the Metro in Rome.


On the left you can see a gypsy sitting on the ground holding a child, begging for money.  In the center with the blue shirt is some guy we don’t know.  Just ahead of him on the left is Casey, our 10 year old.  On the right side is our 26 year old son, Christian.


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