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CNET Road Trip Europe: Planes, trains, and automobiles

Come along with CNET's Daniel Terdiman as he visits some of the best geek-oriented spots in Europe, from the Eiffel Tower to Lego manufacturing, and from the historic D-Day beaches to this year's Paris Air Show.

Notre Dame cathedral, in Paris, is a familiar sight for most people who have visited Europe. This summer, CNET Road Trip 2011 takes on the Continent. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

When I was in my twenties, the idea of a summer in Europe meant a big backpack, a Eurail Pass, a small budget, and a lot of freedom.

I'm not in my twenties anymore, but I've just flown across the pond to begin Road Trip 2011, my sixth annual tour of a specific area of the global map in search of stories, photos, and videos about some of the best geek-oriented destinations I can find.

And this summer, after previous journeys around five regions of the United States, my travels have taken me to Europe. But despite countless friends and acquaintances informing me just how jealous they are of my European "vacation," I'll just state right up front: Yes, this is a lot of fun. But Road Trip is no vacation. For the next six weeks, I'll be making almost daily site visits, and bringing you a wide variety of stories about many topics.

The pyramid at the Musee du Louvre, in Paris. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

When thinking about stories in Europe that would appeal to a (largely) U.S.- based audience, I knew I'd need to focus on places that would be both familiar to Americans and which would bring up positive associations, as well as give folks an unusual view of some places they've been themselves. That's always been a hallmark of my Road Trip projects, but with Europe, the task of picking the spots was a little harder. Certain stops would be no-brainers, I figured: behind-the-scenes at the Eiffel Tower had to be on the list. And it is.

But where else to go? And what kinds of things to focus on?

When I've done Road Trip in the past--last year, it was the U.S. Northeast; in 2009, the Rocky Mountains region; in 2008, the American Southeast; the U.S. Southwest in 2007; and the American Northwest in 2006--I've put a lot of emphasis on aviation, military bases, research institutions, and more. This year, things are going to be a bit different. I figured that Americans would have those strong associations more with brands than with organizations, so I'll be spending more time seeing how famous companies make their products, be it little Lego bricks or giant Airbus airplanes.

Being Europe, and trying to think of a theme, I kept coming back to that old Steve Martin and John Candy film. After all, I'll be driving a lot--and visiting a few German auto manufacturing plants; I'll be doing what most Europeans do, which is traveling by train; and I'll be taking in the latest and greatest in the world of aviation. So the theme had to be Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

This year, I'll start out driving and reviewing an Audi A6 3.0 TFSI. After a week or so, I'll drop it off and jump on the rails for a few weeks, courtesy of Eurail. And then finally, I'll pick up an Audi RS 5 coupe for the remainder of the trip. How many miles will I cover? I couldn't tell you, but I know I'll be passing through eight countries--Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, France, England, Italy, and Spain.

I hate to give away the full itinerary, and I've already hinted at a few stops, but here are a few more: I'll see how Swiss Army Knives are made; I'll stop at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where just about every U.S. serviceman and woman in the Middle East embarked from; I'll spend two days at the giant Paris Air Show; I'll see how beautiful lamps are made through 3D printing; I'll check out the inner workings of the Eurotunnel, otherwise known as the Chunnel; I'll get a chance to see the studios where the Beatles recorded; and much, much more.

As I have in the past, I'll be posting stories and photo galleries nearly every day. And like last year, I'll be giving you a chance to get in on the action--and even win some great prizes, including a major brand video game console--with the Picture of the Day contest.

And, of course, in addition to putting the two Audis and European trains (including the famous Eurostar and a UK-based Orient-Express line) through their paces, I'll be bringing along some of the latest gear and road-testing it. That collection of gear includes Apple's newest 15-inch MacBook Pro, its 13-inch MacBook Air, and its iPad 2 (as well as an iPhone 4 on which I'll test out what it's like to travel abroad using an AT&T international roaming plan--courtesy of Apple); Sony's HDR-PJ30V high-definition handycam; seven XCom Global mobile hotspots (one for each of the seven countries I'll be in that XCom's service covers; a small collection of Victorinox Swiss Army luggage; and an InCase MacBook Pro laptop sleeve.

You can read all my stories and see all my photos and videos here, and you can also follow my progress on Twitter and Facebook. I hope you do come along for the ride. It's not a vacation, but how could summer in Europe be anything but fun?