The holiday of a lifetime
THE CHAPMAN family's month-long journey around Europe started as an idea 12 months ago when we fell in love with the thought of going on a seven-day Mediterranean cruise on the brand new MSC Magnifica.
That led us to planning a European holiday around the cruise; no point travelling for almost a day to get to Europe and not combining the cruise with a tour of some of the best known cities in the world, was our reasoning.
So we dusted off the atlas and started studying a map of Europe to decide just which cities and countries we would like to visit.
The key to the plan was that we would have to be in Venice on certain dates to coincide with the departure and return of the cruise ship.
That didn't make it easy and trips to Paris and London had to be scrapped from the itinerary.
The greatest concerns you have when you travel through Europe are your travel connections and your accommodation.
It's easy to put this together if you want to pay top dollar wherever you go, but if you are looking to get great value on your travels then you need to put in plenty of time and effort into your itinerary. Better still, work with your local travel agent and get them to do all the hard work for you.
We rightly or wrongly decided we would do our own and my wife did a first-class job.
It no doubt helped that she works in the industry.
We learnt some lessons on the way, took a few wrong turns, but all in all had the trip of a lifetime.
It will just now be a case of paying off the trip over the next 12 months.
So please join the Chapman family as we tour through Europe.
Sydney to Nice
Flying with Emirates from Sydney to Dubai will put you in the air for more than 14 hours. Emirates on this leg lived up to its good reputation and the flight didn't seem as tedious as we had envisaged.
Watching three latest-release movies certainly helped kill the time.
When you fly with Emirates you have to fly through the port of Dubai and that necessitated a stopover for us to connect with our flight out the next day to Nice in France.
With an early-morning departure we booked in at the Holiday Inn Express which is just a stone's throw away from the airport.
After the long flight the motel bed was a welcome friend. The hotel is reasonable and modern.
Arriving at Nice airport you were immediately struck by the style and poise of the residents of southern France.
This is indeed the city of the beautiful people.
Elegant, fit and healthy and immaculately dressed is the way of life for the residents of this picturesque city.
We made a good decision staying at the Holiday Inn St Laurent in Nice. It is beautifully situated on the beach and you can choose from numerous cafes that stretch along the boardwalk.
A gourmet pizza that fills three and a bottle of wine will only set you back $50 at any of the restaurants.
Throughout Europe tourists are catered for in most cities with double-decker sightseeing buses which you can jump on and off.
It's a great way to see the sights and alongside every seat is a connection where you can plug a set of ear phones in which you then set to your language.
Your personal tour guide then talks you through the streets, alerting you to everything interesting about the city.
With Monaco just a short 25 minute train ride away we decided the next morning to go down to the city of the mega rich. Our visit coincided with the launch of the 2010 Monte Carlo Yacht Show.
The marina was packed with super yachts worth billions of dollars and as a lover of boats it was a fantasy for me to walk along the gangways.
The wife and daughter didn't get as carried away as I did; guess it was boy's time in Monte Carlo.
Nice to Cinque Terre
As part of our pre planning we spoke to many about their European travels and the Cinque Terre region in Italy kept coming up a must-see.
Our first travel mistake saw a direct train that takes just two hours accidentally switched for a change three times train that took seven hours.
Of all our travels our greatest problem always revolved around using our EuroRail pass and getting good directions at the train stations.
We found the train station ticket operators far from friendly and the queues to talk to them always long.
Travel tip here is to research your train times through your EuroRail timetable book carefully before you leave so you at least have some idea when you get to the busy stations.
The Cinque Terre region consists of five villages, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore that are cut off by mountains choked with olive groves and dry-stone-walled vineyards.
In one word it is gorgeous.
We stayed at La Spezia and this was a mistake. We should have opted for one of the picturesque stops and if we ever go again will opt for the magnificent Porto Venere.
Of all our travel tips the one you should follow is to make sure the Cinque Terre is part of your trip and give yourself at least three days to explore.
The local wine is also some of the best we tasted throughout our holiday and reasonably priced at less than $20.
The big must there is to do a full day cruise along the coastline visiting the villages.
Cinque Terre to Rome
We managed to get on the right train this time and four hours after boarding at La Spezia we arrived in Rome.
This proved to be the highlight of the trip. Here is a city that leaves you in awe.
We stayed at the reasonably priced Anglo American Hotel which is just a five-minute walk from the main train station. The rate was reasonable, the rooms small but good and the staff were friendly and spoke good English.
Suffice to say when we return to Rome, and that's a done, we will stay at the same hotel.
So what can you say that hasn't already been said of Rome?
It is like walking into the biggest museum in the world.
History surrounds and encompasses you everywhere you walk.
Our visit to the Colosseum lasted for four hours and could have lasted for an entire day. We hooked up to an excellent tour guide who spoke with knowledge and passion about this incredible place.
Be prepared to pay at least $50 per person for the personal tour. Don't hesitate putting your hand into your pockets on this one.
From the Colosseum to the Vatican aboard the bus was our next venture and after a brief walk around the outside we decided to come back the next day to visit St Peter's Basilica.
This was a great decision because when we arrived the next morning we were told the Pope would be addressing the crowd in just one hour's time. You were supposed to have tickets for the audience, but in true Aussie style we just lined up and no one bothered to ask for our passes.
That didn't please a group of American tourists who were standing with us after they had queued for two hours to get their tickets.
The entrance of the Pope into the square was a moment I will never forget.
He drove past in an open car just 10 metres from where we were sitting.
It was an enlightening experience for the entire family as we enjoyed the service for the next hour.
We had three days in Rome and I would suggest to all that you push that out to at least five days.
The city is amazing, the people are friendly, it's busy, but in October it's not packed and the weather at that time of the year sits at a beautiful 20-26 degrees.