Black Forest, then maybe City of Light?

By Carol Sottili
Sunday, January 16, 2011; F03

Kay Payne of Quicksburg, Va., and Doris Christie, of Apopka, Fla., have a friendship forged in youth. So even though they had been out of touch for the past 18 years, the connections they shared more than 50 years ago - working in the same office, rooming together, maid of honor duties - have allowed them to seamlessly take up where they left off. Now they want to take a friendship-celebrating trip together to Europe, where Christie wants to revisit the scenes of her childhood. But even with a bond as strong as theirs, a roots trip is tricky when only one member of the travel party has those roots.

Christie, who emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1956, wants to go back to the Black Forest, which holds not only her parents' graves but also memories of being evacuated to her grandmother's home during World War II. And she needs to reconnect with her sister inStuttgart.

Recalling my own experience accompanying my mother back to her home in Austria, I have to say that the two women need to talk openly about potential conflicts before they go. Will Payne feel left out as the two sisters converse in German? While in Stuttgart, will they stay on neutral ground or in Christie's sister's home? Will Payne be able to empathize with what may be a very emotional trip for Christie?

Also, while the promise of visiting other countries is the linchpin of this trip's success, hitting seven or eight cities in four countries within two weeks is a non-starter. The two would limp home. I'd save Austria and France for another day, and instead concentrate on Germany and Italy, but since this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, adding just Vienna or Paris is doable.

Days 1-3. The trip will begin with more excitement if Christie flies from Orlando to Dulles and then the two continue on together for the overnight connecting flight to Stuttgart. Unless Christie's sister has spacious accommodations, it may make sense to stay in a nearby hotel, such as the Park Inn Stuttgart, with rates of about $147 a night.

The first day will probably be spent getting acquainted and recovering from jet lag, but the women will need a couple of more days to explore the city's beautiful parks, palaces, vineyards and gardens ( for more info). Don't miss the car museums: The Mercedes-Benz Museum ( ) and the Porsche Museum ( ) are both worth visiting.

Days 4 and 5. It would be easy to make day trips into the Black Forest from Stuttgart, but consider staying at a small country inn for a couple of nights. If Christie's sister isn't chauffeuring, rent a car and head to the southern end of the forest. Stay in the quiet village of Wieden ( ) at a small inn such as Haus Erika ( ), with rates of $73 a night. More info: .

Days 6-8. Drive back to Stuttgart, turn in the car and head to the airport for the $91 flight to Florence on discount carrier Air Berlin ( ). The public Volainbus makes the 20-minute ride from the airport to Florence's city center.

Florence can be easily explored on foot and via public transport and guided tours. Stay in a centrally located hotel or B&B, such as Hotel Cestelli ( ), with rates of about $133 a night.

First-time visitors to Florence, considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, will find plenty to do over three days. Must-sees include the Accademia Gallery, which houses Michelangelo's David; the Uffizi Gallery, with its incredible collection of Renaissance art; the Basilica of San Lorenzo, founded in A.D. 393; the Pitti Palace; Santa Maria del Fiore, known as the Duomo, the city's main cathedral; and the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo, Galileo and a host of other famous Italians are buried. Info: .

Days 9-11. Take the train from Florence to Venice's Mestre station ( or ); schedules and fares for May travel have not been posted yet, but expect to pay about $60 for a high-speed train. From Mestre, take the 10-minute ride on a local train to Venice's Santa Lucia station, where you can catch a waterbus to the hotel. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo ( ), located near the Rialto Bridge and within a short walk of the San Stae water taxi stop, is a four-star facility with rates of about $190 a night.

Highlights of a visit to Venice include St. Mark's Square, St. Mark's Basilica and the adjacent Doge's Palace (take the elevator to the top of St. Mark's campanile, or bell tower, for great views). A gondola ride, while expensive and touristy, is part of the Venice experience. For more ideas, go to .

A day trip to Verona ( ) is easy to do by train; the one-hour trip from Mestre station costs about $50 round trip.

Days 12-14. Call it: heads, go to Vienna, tails to Paris. Air Berlin flies from Venice to Vienna for about $97, while the fare on EasyJet to Paris starts at about $34. (Tip: All discount carriers charge extra for bags, so traveling light will limit costs.) Even mid-range hotels in a central location in Paris are expensive; the Best Western Paris Louvre Opera ( ), for example, is about $212 per night. Vienna is also expensive, but offers more inns, such as Benediktushaus Guest House ( ), with rooms for about $130 a night. For more information on Paris, go to and for Vienna, .

Total cost: SAS was recently offering mid-May flights for $748 to Stuttgart with return from Paris or $849 with return from Vienna. Fares change, but expect to pay no more than $900 for transatlantic airfare. Transportation in Europe, including airfares, a car and train tickets, will cost at least $900 for two. Lodging will cost between $1,400 and $1,800. Splurge on sightseeing by taking a few guided tours, especially in Florence and Venice ; budget at least $500 per person.

Possibilities in Florence and Venice from Viator ( ) include a "Skip the Line: Venice in One Day" tour designed for first-timers that costs about $70 per person and a "Skip the Line: Uffizi Gallery and Vasari Corridor Walking Tour" for $99 a person. Tickitaly ( ) has an Accademia Gallery guided tour for $52 a person or an all-day guided tour of Florence, including lunch, for $143 a person. A healthy sightseeing budget could also be used to take day trips from the cities, such as a "Tuscany in One Day" tour from Viator for $94 a person.

You'd still be left with about $200 for both per day for food and shopping.

Interested in having us help plan your trip? Go to

Who: Kay Payne, 72, right, of Quicksburg, Va., and her friend, Doris Christie, 73, of Apopka, Fla.

Where: Germany, Austria, Italy and France

Why: To celebrate their friendship of 54 years, recently reestablished after an 18-year pause

When: May 2011 for about two weeks

Budget: $8,000

"Doris wishes to return to Germany's Black Forest to see her parents' graves. She also would like to visit her sister, who lives near Stuttgart and whom she has not seen in 10 years. While in Europe, we would also like to visit France (Paris/Provence), Salzburg and Vienna in Austria, and the Italian cities of Florence, Venice and Verona."

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