Viability Note: The good news is that Spain is not very expensive relative to other European countries. Barcelona is amongst the more expensive cities but even here it is entirely plausible to have good 4-star accommodations for lesser than Euro 100 per night for 2. Madrid, Seville, Granada are all cheaper. Even the islands of Mallorca, Tenerife and Ibiza may not startle any traveler for accommodion.
Spain has excellent travel infrastructure. The Spanish national railways - “Renfe” cuts through the country at high speed. It takes less than 3 hours to cover the 600 km distance between Barcelona to Madrid. Spain also has a dense bus network, though it takes much longer.
What could however, surprise any traveler is internal travel costs by Renfe (train). It takes Euro 120 per person for the less than 3 hour journey between Barcelona and Madrid. A bus on the other hand would take 6 hours but would cost one-fourth of what it would by train.
Safety: While in Spain, one needs to be on the guard. Barcelona is the pick-pocketing capital of Europe. And these guys would follow you for miles, if they find you easy prey. This trend has been seen in other cities as well as the deep recession in Spain is taking its toll. Have no money in your pockets – however deep they may be and always have an eye on your luggage. Just a few basic precautions and all else is fine. Spain is one of the most banked countries in the world - An ATM cannot be more than half a kilometre away!! Language is a barrier across much of Spain – even in cities sometimes. Learn a few Spanish words and things should improve significantly.
What to expect: World class beaches and resorts, unbeatable architecture in Barcelona, Granada and Madrid, culture history, sports
Travel infrastructure: 4/5
Tourist friendliness : 3/5
English spoken : 2.5/5
Money's worth : 4/5
Minimum 3 days: Barcelona - for cheaches, architecture of Antoni Gaudi and much more
5-6 days: Add Ibiza / Mallorca / Tenerife - for the best beaches, excellent resorts and vibrant nightlife
7-9 days: Add Granada - for the mountains, confluence of Islamic and Roman architecture
10-12 days: Add Costa Brava - for a different perspective of beaches
12-14 days: Add Madrid - the Capital known as an architectural marvel
16-18 days: Add Seville - centre of arts and culture
Fantastic beaches, amazing night life, great food and bull fighting are the first things that come to the mind of any traveler when considering touring Spain. However, like many other myths have to be busted, so does this. Spain has the third-most number of UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world and the second in Europe after Italy. No one needs to go much farther than Barcelona to be dazzled by the distinctive architecture all over Barcelona by Antoni Gaudi, a famous architect. One only needs to visit Granada or Cordoba to check on the distinctive Islamic influence. As one moves across the country, the cultural diversity is in full display. Spain has lush meadows to mountains to even a desert. Spain has a long history – imperial history as much as a few centuries back as well as civil war, fascism – all of which are only a few decades old. This is a football fanatic country – just experience the electrifying environment in any game in the La Liga. Spain is diverse in all respects and cannot be typecasted!
Safety: Safety is an important factor to consider. It is said that after Barcelona, Naples is the pick-pocketing capital of the Europe. Do not keep much money in your pockets. No matter how careful you think you are, you will always be out-thought or sometimes out-numbered. As far as possible have the money, including cards and passports on your body and you should be fine. In general, expect to be more careful about all your belongings as you head further south into the country. All a tourist could encounter is pick-pocketing, nothing more sinister.
Very few Italians speak English - even in cities. But they would love to help. If an Italian finds you in distress, even if he does not speak your language, he would try to help you. Learn a few words in Italian and travel would be a different experience in Italy.
What to expect: Roman history, Italian Alps nature, outstanding beaches, fashion and shopping in Milan, arts and architecture in Florence and much more
Travel infrastructure: 3.5/5
Tourist friendliness : 3/5
English spoken : 2.5/5
Money's worth : 3.5/5
Minimum 6-7 days: Rome, Florence and Pisa for history, culture, Leaning Tower of Pisa. Rome is famous for its piazzas, Roman empire heritage, catholic churches. Spend some time in Rome only for its feel.
8-9 days: Add Capri and the Blue Grotto.
10-13 days: Add Sorrento, Positano, Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius for a typical Italian village experience. Mount Vesuvius is a volcanic mountain and the town which faced its fury has been preserved like that for many years
13-15 days: Venice and its numerous canals (some may be surprised at how low Venice comes on the list but it is no longer as much fun as it used to be). Also for the Murano and Burano glass factories
15-18 days: Add Turin, Verona, Genoa - centres of culture
18-20 days: Cinque Terre, Ravello for exotic beaches
20-23 days: Add Bologna, Trieste
Italy is a traveler's dream. It boasts of the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the World. No wonder it has had tourists thronging it since time immemorial. The Alps jut into the Northern part of the country and hence provides enough opportunities to have the picture postcard photo opportunity. To the north is Milan which is now vying with Paris to be christened as the fashion capital of the world. A little south and one heads into Venice - the city full of world famous canals. Head further south and one gets into Florence - known for its unmatched architecture and art, especially in the post-Renaissance era. A little to the west and Pisa - no one ever has been able to understand how can a tower lean at that angle for so many years. A little more south and you enter the erstwhile capital of the huge Roman empire - a melange of culture, history, architecture - Rome. Do not miss the "piazzas" (large squares) as well as "pizzas" of Rome. A trip to Rome is never complete without an orientation on the vast Roman empire as well as the the grandeur of the home of the Pope - Vatican. Rome is famous for its Roman Empire heritage and fine churches. A little south and one heads into Naples from where the Amalfi Coast and its turquoise water beaches start to enchant you. Head into Capri - and DO NOT MISS the Blue Grotto - . A little further south and spend a day or two in the quaint town of Sorrento or Positano. For a bigger bite of Italy, one can even head into Palermo on the island of Sicily. Want to do something off the beaten path - visit Bologna and Trieste or even Turin on the western border.
Orientation in Italy is not much of a problem. One can either start from the south and head north or vice versa. Italy broadly is divided into northern and southern Italy across either side of Rome. But these two regions are seeped in contradictions. Loosely the southern side is rich in beaches and the nothern side in everything else. It is said that the northern part of Italy is prosperous while the southern part is not as much. The northern Italy is considered much safer. It is said that the world infamous Camorra (Italian mafia) have their roots in the city of Naples, south of Rome. Despite these differences, the tourist has less to worry apart from taking good care of his belongings - something to be done in all locations without exception. The Italian Trenitalia (the Italian train system) is a very efficient mode of travel across much of Italy. However in terms of reliability, it lags the German ICE and the French TGV.
Viability Note: Italy is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. Despite the large supply of hotels, it is difficult to get decent accommodation for less than Euro 80-90 per night almost anywhere. Luxury resorts charge a bigger premium. In Venice, if one wishes to stay near St. Marks square (centre of Venice), expect to fork out not less Euro 200 for less than a 3 star property. Same story repeats with any other resort on the island of Capri. However, while stay is expensive, food is not. Pizzas and pastas are available probably on every street corner and while it may not offer the fine dining experience, it will be worth it! The cafe culture is amazing in Italy. And its not so expensive. Italy is full of cafes.