More to Know - Europe 2022
Transportation in Europe
Trains will take us pretty much everywhere we want to go between cities and countries. The train system in Europe is amazing. Some rides might be as short as an hour and there's one that will take a good part of the day (Amsterdam to Heidelberg). For the most part we'll be traveling with First-Class Eurail passes. In theory, these open up unlimited travel to and in 33 countries in Europe. Needless to say, that's more than we'll have time for. We will have reservations for most of our trips, though there might be times we just step on the train and our passes take care of the rest. Some of the trains will be international high speed trains reaching speeds of close to 200 miles per hour. Others might be slower local or intercity trains, but even those are often traveling at 80 miles per hour. Most of our trains will have dining or snack cars where you can pick up a treat, but we encourage boys to pick up some "snack food" before boarding just in case.
In villages and cities our usual mode of transportation will be our feet. Additionally, we will use other forms of transit including metros, trams, buses, boats, etc.
Our lodging will be as varied as the places we visit. We attempt to avoid the typical American style hotels...preferring instead to stay at smaller European family-owned hotels or pensions. These are not fancy, but clean and comfortable. We will choose places having private baths in each room. Most of our rooms will be set up as doubles, triples, and even quads. We do make arrangements so that each boy has his own bed (as opposed to having to share). Sometimes things get mixed up in the reservation process due in part to language confusion. Amenities are few though we will usually purchase the excellent continental breakfasts they offer to start our day. We try to find hotels in the heart of the city within a mile or two of the central train station. We will probably stay in a hostel in Paris and in Bern. These are lodgings that are geared toward students, families, and folks who are young at heart. Our hostels will have private rooms for our group and private baths.
We usually walk from the train station to our lodging locations.
Eating is an important part of this experience. While we won't force anyone to eat something they're not quite sure they want, it's fun to try something new. Breakfasts will usually be at our hotels and it's generally all-you-can-eat and serve yourself. These are sometimes served in a hotel breakfast room or at a next door restaurant. Each place is different. It's a good idea to eat a hearty breakfast so you don't find yourself craving junk food within an hour. (Okay, that's probably going to happen no matter what.)
Lunches will often be purchased in markets or from stand-up stalls (kind of like a non-moveable food truck) and eaten wherever we can find a place to sit down. You won't go hungry.
Dinners will be eaten in local cafes and restaurants. As expected, it will be the big meal of the day and you'll have fun checking over the options. Menus are usually in the native language with translations in English and other languages. In all cases, you'll get to choose from the menu. You'll find out that soft drinks can be very expensive in Europe and there is no such thing as a "free" refill. Why do you think Europeans go crazy when they visit America and find out they can have unlimited soda? However, we normally allow soda at dinner (and lunches) but have to limit your consumption at these times. European restaurants do offer "tap water" but you have to ask for it. Otherwise, they'll sell you "mineral water" which is the same price as sodas. You'll learn how to "work the system."
We make every effort to stay away from American fast-food restaurants, but there will indeed be an occasion where we'll long for something familiar.
Of course all meals and many snacks are included in the trip fee.
How a Day Might Unfold
Like all MindStretch Travel Adventures programs, there are no two days that are the same. Each city will have its well-known iconic places to see and then there's the off-the-beaten-path discoveries we look for. No matter how much we might want to, we can't see it all. In many cities, we'll spend at least two or three hours on one of the days with a private guide to give us first-hand knowledge of a portion of the city. There are times we'll be on self-guided tours or part of a bus tour. You can expect to walk a lot, though we will use public transportation when needed. Generally, once we leave for the day -- we'll be gone all day. Days will be long and fulfilling. Often dinners are eaten pretty late and then it's time to relax in your rooms.
We will certainly schedule some "chill" time where we can just relax, though we can do that when we're taking the train to our next destination.
Boys will be given some very limited free time to explore small sections of some cities in small groups. There will be strict guidelines as to travel distance and time to report back in with the leaders. Parents can elect not to give their son this option.
Some Logistical Notes
All the details will come your way as we get closer to the trip. But here's some info that might help you while making plans.
Your son has to get all his belongings with him from the airport to the trains to the hotels. Only in rare cases do we have transportation arranged for this. We walk. Our lodgings are usually within a mile of the train station and sometimes just a block or two away. On my first four Europe trips I carried my gear in a backpack. As I got older, I realized how much easier a rolling pack would be and the last two trips that's what I used. In fact, almost all the boys had rolling luggage during the 2018 adventure. A rolling pack should be one that tips and rolls on two wheels as opposed to something on four wheels that's meant to roll down airport corridors. Navigating train stations and cobblestone streets is much easier with a two-wheeled piece of luggage. A good piece of luggage (I use Eagle Creek) can last many years and would be a good gift suggestion and an investment.
Your son should definitely pack light. We will attempt to do laundry about half-way through the trip in Bern. We have a place picked out. But it might not work out so boys should know how to wash and rinse clothes in the hotel sink and hang to dry. This only works if their clothes are of quick-dry fabrics. Back on the 2013 trip a mother sent her son with a spray bottle of Febreze fabric spray. Now that was a great idea! Do not bring denim on this trip. The full "What to Bring List" will be sent to you in early spring.
Mark Levin (that's me) will be leading the trip. This will be my seventh time to Europe with kids. I do most of the advance planning and take and post photos during the trip so you can be a part of our adventures from home. But I need plenty of help.
I will have the pleasure of being assisted by several other adults.
Jesse Jorgensen will be on his third MTA Europe trip with me. His son, Anson, is joining as one of our participants and it's his second Europe trip. Jesse will serve as medical consultant and chief of finding places.
Richard Upton will be on his second Europe trip with me. His son, Matt, will also be with us as a participant and it's also his second MindStretch Travel Adventures Europe trip. Richard is our culinary consultant and will figure out where to have lunch and dinner.
Don Silleman will be on his first Europe trip but he is no stranger to MindStretch Travel Adventures programs. This will be his 10th. Don will be in charge of figuring out what things really cost in US dollars when we'll be charged in euros and Swiss francs. And since math is a specialty, he'll also count the boys as they get on the trains.
Rae Silleman (Don's wife) will be on her first MTA trip. Rae will help us keep the boys civil and pleasant around strangers. She will also be the first to note if a boy hasn't changed his clothes in four days or isn't eating any vegetables. We've needed someone in this position for years.
If we add any additional adults, they will be listed here as pages get updated.You should check back from time to time.
What to do Next?
Boys should pick up a guidebook to Western Europe and start reading up on the places we are planning to visit. You might also look at sites in neighboring cities and villages as we can certainly get there by train. You can also watch that movie, "Monuments Men."
And of course, make sure you get a passport or if you have one -- make sure it's current. Don't put this off.
"My trip to Europe was one of the greatest adventures of my life. It was an education in history and different cultures. But, most of all, it was an unparalleled education in living and traveling with a group. It is the one trip I still talk about all the time. There were so many experiences that 40 years later I am always recalling stories from that summer to tell my kids."