Exploring Europe – a self planned trip to few cities in Europe
Having seen a few fellow dimers share their experiences of travelling to Europe I learnt a lot from it. Now that I am back from my first ever self planned trip to Europe I am quite excited to share a few worthwhile experience with fellow dimers.
Before beginning. Please note that I will keep updating this thread with further details and photos as and when I find time.
On trip expenses
3 nights in Switzerland with base at Lucerne
4 nights in France with base at Paris
3 nights in Italy with base at Rome
1 night in Switzerland with base at Zurich (just before I board my flight so technically no sightseeing here)
Hyderabad to Mumbai – Jet Airways
Mumbai to Zurich via Amsterdam – Air France
Zurich to Paris – Air France
Paris to Rome – Iberia but flight operated by Vueling
Rome to Zurich – Vueling
Zurich to Mumbai via Paris – KLM Dutch and Jet Airways
Mumbai to Hyderabad – Jet Airways
Rome to Delhi – Air India
Delhi to Hyderabad – Vistara
Flights marked in italics are cancelled/missed so had to rebook tickets to reach India. Will write about it further below.
Switzerland – Hotel Central Luzern, Lucerne
France – AirBnB, Pairs (near Opera)
Italy – Trinity Luxury Rooms 1 night and DAB B&B 2 nights, Rome
Switzerland – 3 day swiss pass
France – 1 week Navigo Decouverte pass for local transport
Rome – 72 hours Roma Pass
Flights as listed above. Avoided euro rail pass as it consumed more time and proved to be expensive for us as we didn’t travel to too many cities. Would have been useful if you are someone keen on covering 10 to 11 cities in 10 days or so.
Before our travel
It’s very tricky and there is no perfect way to plan a euro trip, this was what I learnt the hard way but end of the day it’s all worth it. Irrespective of the amount spent and this being a better deal or not I was strictly again going with a group tour as I feel there experiences and learning was much better planning and travelling by myself.
I had to list down all the bookings needed, time frame in advance to get decent deals and make the bookings accordingly to get the best deals and at the same time use my money in phases as I obviously didn’t had all the amount with me at once to make necessary bookings. I was open to travel to any place in Europe and was looking for a good deal, found a return flight to Zurich from Mumbai for Rs. 57000 for 2 adults so just went ahead with the booking. A month or so later I decided the final itinerary as to which countries and cities I need to travel to and made necessary bookings.
I was looking for hotels close to the city centre and having a metro/bus stop very close. Also, I spent a bit more to ensure that I get breakfast included in the hotel. As this was my first ever self planned trip to Europe and being someone who relies on vegetarian food only I didn’t want to find myself running around for breakfast in the morning.
Tips to make bookings
Have your itinerary planned well in advance, the more time you have the better deals you get.
Shortlist potential flights/passes and keep details ready
Shortlist potential hotels and keep details ready
Proceed with booking whenever you get good deals. Do not miss them.
Many reputed cities in Europe are also reputed for pickpocketing so be careful with that. I insist travellers to carry forex card, not only is it easy to lock down the card when you loose it but you also get the best exchange prices in terms of forex card than as fiat currency/notes.
I got my currency from bookmyforex as they offered the best price and also 3 free ATM withdrawals. I split the currency and got one card on my name and one my wife’s name so that we get 6 ATM withdrawals free together.
Do note, take only minimal cash such as 50 to 100 euros to start off with as you can withdraw from ATM once you land there.
Also, before returning, withdraw all the remaining money from ATM and get it back as cash as you get a better selling rate for cash than to surrender the remaining money in your card.
This being a self planned trip and me being an idiot who likes to spam my facebook friends with tons of pics it was important to get a connection that was reliable and has good amount of data offered too.
As I use a Google Pixel 2 XL that has an e-sim I thought this was the best time to activate Google’s Project FI that offers data with no additional charges on base charges even on international roaming. I consumed 14$ worth of international roaming calls costing $0.2 per minute, tons of free SMS and 18GB data. All this cost me around USD 80 including taxes. I guess this was a much better offering compared to the international roaming pack from Airtel and Matrix which both cost around INR 4000 for 5gb data and 500 mins free calls to India.
Experiences in Switzerland
Lucerne is a small city/big town built around the beautiful lake Lucerne. The lake is surrounded by hotels and is always buzzing with ferries, boats and cruises going around to more than 10 docks all around the lake. With a swiss pass one is eligible to board trains, trams, buses, cable cars and ferries anywhere in switzerland. Apart from that, we also get free access to most mountains and discount to other busy mountains (I am calling them busy and not major as I learnt the ones costing extra apart from swiss pass are nothing but mountains marketed more and not mountains that are more beautiful).
What you find in Switzerland in general is pristine views, super clear environment all around, including the roads, fresh and tasty food and calm and beautiful villages.
Travel in Switzerland
Public transport is the best in Switzerland. You very rarely see any of their transport not maintaining time, apart from that all modes are so well integrated that they will ensure you have enough time to catch the next mode of transport.
Their official mobile app is called “SBB Mobile” which is kind of a holy grail to go around. It integrates walking routes with Google maps, trams, trains, ferries, rope cars and buses. All you have to do is enter the starting point which can be your current location too and then the destination, it gives you the entire route right from which bus/train/ferry/rope car/tram to take starting station with platform number, bus/train number, time taken, walk route between stations if you have to change station etc. It’s just damn good and the only app you need to rely on apart from Google maps.
On day 1:
we reached Lucerne at around 04:00 PM and checked in to our hotel which was just 4 buildings away from the main station giving us easy access to any place in Lucerne. The farthest sightseeing point was 1.2 km from our hotel so local sightseeing was a breeze to us and boarding trains to travel to other places was even easier.
Once we got fresh we left our hotel to spend some time around the lake, walk around the city, visit Bourbaki Panorama, Glacier Garden and the dying lion monument which are placed close to each other. Being fond of food I couldn’t resist myself from getting a box of 8 mini macarons at Bachmann, a chain of chocolate and dessert stores. Then we headed over to the old wooden Chapal Bridge to click a few pics but didn’t spend too much time on the bridge as it was a bit crowded.
Oh, by the way, we had a Quinoa curry burger and fries at McDonalds first to beat the hunger pangs. I was disappointed that not many vegetarian options were available at McD but this one burger alone was worth it. Absolutely yummy!
Mind you, unless you are very fond or compelled to, avoid purchasing chocolates in any place in Switzerland apart from airports. Yes, switzerland is reputed for chocolates but at the same time bloody expensive too! We got the same chocolates at almost half the price in duty free stores in Zurich airport.
Once back in room we were too tired to go and have our dinner so I left my wife at room and went to this restaurant called “Made in Sud” that serves delicious Italian food and got a margherita pizza to our hotel apart from 2 mango yogurts from a grocery store nearby.
Day 1 ends.
Food and water in switzerland is expensive and there is no easy way of saying this. But this being a nation of stringent norms and having access to fresh raw ingredients you can relish the food you eat, be it a burger or a cheese fondue or a dessert. Everything is just delicious!
As far as water goes, just fill tap water from your hotel and take it along. The water is just as good as bottled mineral water and I see no point in spending any money for bottled water outside.
On Day 2:
We dedicated this day for a trip to Mount Titlis. As already said, Lucerne is a place surrounded by many mountains and Switzerland being crazy good with their transport have built access to every bloody mountain around with the help of trains, funiculars (old wooden trains) and cable cars/rope ways. So we didn’t want to miss a chance to explore one more mountain along with Titlis and took a detour to check Stanserhorn.
Travel from Lucerne to Mount Titlis happens either by a mix of boat, train and cable car or just by train and cable car. As the boat timings didn’t really suit us and we wanted to leave early I skipped the lake lucerne experience for later. We headed over to Stans (yes, yes, that’s the name of the station) which is also a common point to reach Mount Titlis and then moved to the cable car station for Stanserhorn.
Stanserhorn is a low altitude mountain with the winter ice melting much sooner and has great greenery all around. It also gives an excellent panoramic view of Lake Lucern, mountains around it, mount titils, mount Jungfraujoch and what not. The funicular ride was in a wooden train which was 125 year old but was still rock solid! One thing I loved about this little train was the attention to detail, the small trains that I boarded in India that go up the steep slopes directly has the seats build parallel to the ground so when the go up the slope we actually sit inclined but the trains here do accommodate against the mountain slope and ensure the seats are 180 degrees horizontal even on slope making the seating lot comfortable.
The next part of the journey up the mountain is by a super large cabins that can accommodate around 50 to 60 people inside and then around 30 people on the top with open view. Yes, a cable car with access on the top with open view. Just a surreal experience.
This pic is from Google as I only have a video and not a photo of this cable car. Will upload the video later.
These large cabins are stabilised, just like the OIS we have on mobile phones, so even if there are some minor winds and bumps it nullifies them for a smooth ride up.
After spending some calm and peaceful time atop Mount Stanserhorn we started our journey to Mount Titlis. We reached Stans station and from there got on the same train that took us from Lucerne to Stans to continue the journey further to Engelberg railway station. From there it’s a little over 5 minutes walk to Engelberg (Talstation Titlis) which is the cable car station.
The bus journey from Engelberg station to the cable car statin was scenic and beautiful so we decided we would walk when we return from Mount Titlis.
Mount Titlis being a reputed and heavily marketed mountain it isn’t completely free even for swiss pass users but offers 50% discount to the mountain. Cost us CHF 92 for journey and access together and you will find tons of Indian tourists here. In fact, you even find Shah Rukh and Kajol once you are on the top
The first part of the journey is by a normal closed cable car that can accommodate up to 8 adults and goes to a station called Stand (LOL!) via Trubsee. Even Trubsee is a beautiful place entirely covered in snow but we decided to go to Titlis directly. Yes, cable cars have stations in between too!
From Stand to Titlis is via a special cable car that can accommodate up to 100 people in one go! This revolves 360 degree by the time it reaches the top and is called Rotair. Beautiful experience if not for the tons of crowd!
You get to enjoy access to the snow, glacier cave, a sky bridge, few snow activities and a cafeteria that even serves India food. Thank you, SOTC, MMT, Cox & Kings etc for the flood of tourists!
After lots of fun on the mountains, Stanserhorn and Titlis, we went back by train to Lucerne from Engelberg. The train takes just around 1 hour. We headed back to our hotel room, took some rest and went down to get on a excursion trip on a boat from pier no. 3 to Burgenstock and back to Lucerne.
Lake Lucerne has 8 piers with boats leaving to various places. We have to find details on their website to find out about the time tables and pier number where you can board the boat. Yes, these are again free to access for swiss pass owners.
Also, you see daylight right up to 10 PM so longer days to explore further. The pics below have been taken between 06:00 PM and 07:30 PM on a very cloudy day
We got off the boat at around 07:30 PM and walked back to our room while picking up tofu curry along with sticky rice at an Asian joint in Lucerne station. Delicious food that was. Just as we were walking to our room it started raining cats and dogs. Luckily, we had a great day without any interruption by rain.
That’s a wrap for day 2.
On day 3:
If you assume that we had a hectic day 1 or day 2 then you are quite wrong. The last night in Switzerland and I had it dedicated to the small villages and the train rides. As you keep hearing, exploring the true Switzerland is about the small villages and the panoramic train rides.
Lucerne to Interlaken is called the Golden Pass line and the train between these two stations takes you through some breathtaking views. You keep seeing lush green mountains and valleys with lakes and small chalets on the mountains and by the lake. Not to mention the snow clad mountains in the background and the heavy clouds covering half of them on this cloudy day.
After a 2 hour train ride from Lucerne to Interlaken we didn’t waste much time there and boarded our train directly to Lauterbrunnen. Interlaken is very similar to Lucerne so wanted to explore beyond it.
Lauterbrunnen is famous for it’s high altitude waterfalls with not so much flowing water. One such falls that’s kind of defines the place on google is the Staubbach falls that’s visible right from the moment you get off the train. This place is just 10 to 15 minutes away by walk from the rail station and the walk in itself is wonderful!
After we were done with the waterfalls we just did some minor souvenir shopping and started our journey towards Murren. Another little calm and peaceful village.
Travel from Lauterbrunnen to Murren is a mix of one large rope car and a train that runs on the mountain.
Murren is famous for the lovely fondues that’s served, of course the fondues in swiss as famous anyways because of the amazing cheese they produce. We went to a small hotel that’s rated well and had a garlic cream soup and a cheese fondue along with boiled baby potatoes and bread. Lovely meal it was and the most expensive of our trip! But do mind, most fondue have wine mixed in giving a little after taste that might be disliked by many, including my wife.
After our lunch we walked down to the rope car station in Murren that takes us to SchilthronCHF and we get only 25% discount even with swiss pass, both the mountain offers an endless view of snow clad mountains and jungfraujoch has a last leg of journey from within the mountain by a train tunnel which gives you no views. As opposed, Schilthorn is completely free of cost with swiss pass. One of the major reason to skin Jungfrajoch was to avoid the heavy inflow of Indian tourists but sadly once we reached Schilthorn we realised that it’s marketed heavily amongst the Chinese tourists. Not to offend anyone but Chinese tourists are the most uncivilised and chaotic bunch that can turn the place into hell with their loud shouting and barging into lines pushing people aside. Anyways, this being a very cloudy day there wasn’t much of views we could catch up anywhere so didn’t spend much time at Schilthorn.
Schilthorn, just like Titlis has access to snow but more than that it’s all about the bond world there. Yes, James Bond movie in 1969, Her Majesty’s Secret, was filmed at Piz Gloria which is the summit level os Schilthorn and hence they have a bond world museum over there. Interesting and can spend some time here apart from the snow activities and views.
Once we got done we headed over down the cable car to Stechelberg (a different route) via cable car once again and from Stechelberg we got on a shuttle bus that took us to Trummelbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen.
Trummelbach falls is unlike other waterfalls you see in Lauterbrunnen. It’s formed by the melting glacier ice but the water flows inside the mountain region. You have 12 different view points in these falls and the access to all of these view points has been created by man made tunnels and stairs inside the mountains. From the base, you have an elevator in the mountain that takes you to view point 8, the other higher view points can be accessed by climbing the stairs. While coming back, you either have an option of getting down by the same elevator or by stairs that allow you to have a glimpse of the falls from lower view points too. We came back down by stairs. The path that leads to the elevator point from the bus stop is beautiful just as other paths in Switzerland.
We assumed this waterfalls is free too with the Swiss Pass but sadly it isn’t. Damage on pocket – another CHF 11 per head.
On day 4:
As all we had was a 3 day swiss pass that expired on day 3 we didn’t have free access to either places to visit nor the public transport on day 4. We anyways had to board our flight to Paris so didn’t stress too much on day 4.
We woke up late, had our breakfast and headed down to the Lucerne railway station to book our tickets from Lucerne to Zurich Airport. After that, we spent time around the lake in peace and that ends our stay in this beautiful country.
Few relevant videos from my experiences in Switzerland
Stanserhorn top of the mountain view
Cow bells and lush green lands of Mount Stanserhorn
Mount titlis Rotair starting off
Titlis cliff walk
Golden pass train journey
Sky bridge on mount Schilthorn
Staubacch falls in Lauterbrunnen
One of the view points for Trummelbach falls
ADDING MORE PICS AND CONTENT LATER.