Posts Tagged With: travel planning

The Best Laid Plans for the Swiss Alps

We enjoyed our first Viking River Cruise in October 2016 so much we were eager to go again. In April 2017 when I saw an affordable Rhine cruise sailing that October from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, we booked it. We’d never been to Switzerland and this was a great opportunity to visit a new country. As I began my research, I quickly learned two things. First, Switzerland is expensive and second, a week wasn’t enough time to see everything in this small country. Thing one, however, limited us to one week. After all, we still had the 8-day river cruise and a couple extra days in Amsterdam afterward.

Part of what made this trip with Viking a good deal was their offer of free airfare. Upon checking, I discovered we could request an “air deviation” for $100 per person. With the air deviation, we extended our trip to depart a week early and return two days later and flew into Zurich instead of Basel. We would fly to Zurich on October 22, board the ship October 29, arrive in Amsterdam November 5, and fly home on November 7.

With the dates for our journey established, I began planning in earnest starting with an online search of the top sights in Switzerland. There were so many I really didn’t know where to begin. I’d heard of the Bernina Express, a scenic rail trip through the Swiss Alps which I thought maybe a good place to start. My research, however, introduced me to another route further south, the Glacier Express, which appealed to me, too. As it turned out, the Glacier Express was closed from mid-October until mid-December and the Bernina Express was closed from the end of October until mid-December. I was so relieved to find one of them open during our visit that I actually built our trip around the Bernina Express.

We decided early on we would travel by train. My brother and his wife had recently driven through Switzerland in a rental car. Their tales of adventure convinced me my anxious personality wasn’t suited to riding by car in the mountains or the cities. The train was a better choice for us. That said, deciphering the rail system in Switzerland was a challenge, to say the least. I spent days poring over the various options and comparing the cost of rail tickets with no pass, with a Swiss Travel Pass, Swiss Travel Pass Flex, and Swiss Half Fare Card. A special offer for a second person to travel for free only added to the confusion. Three websites were especially helpful: the official Swiss Federal Railways, Seat61, and My Swiss Alps. In the end, I only purchased a reservation for the Bernina Express in advance. A rail ticket will get you on the train for the Bernina Express route but you must reserve a seat in advance for the observation car. All other tickets could be purchased on-site with no difference in price so I held off but I was quite certain the Swiss Half Fare card was our best option.

We considered purchasing day trips out of Zurich or Lucerne with various tour companies to the popular tourist sights. Both the price and the time it took to travel out and back discouraged that plan. Besides, we generally prefer to do our own thing rather than be herded with a group on someone else’s schedule.

I reserved hotels in advance for every night. Traveling by train, I didn’t want to arrive in a city and not find a room for the night. I selected hotels based on location, price, and reviews. Since we would be dragging our luggage, I preferred a hotel close to the train station but I also wanted a reasonable price with good customer reviews.

This was our itinerary:

Day 1. Arrive in Zurich at 6:20 a.m. and take the train from the airport into the city. Store our luggage in lockers in the train station and take a self-guided walking tour of the old city which would get us to all the highlights. After seeing Zurich, take the train to Chur (pronounced Koor) (2 hours). Overnight in Chur at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck.

Day 2. We had reserved seats on the Bernina Express departing from Chur at 8:32 a.m. for a scenic 4-hour journey through the Alps. Rather than carry our luggage, we decided to take the train back to Chur to spend a second night.

Day 3. After an early breakfast, we would take the train to Lucerne, which takes about 3 hours. We planned to see Lucerne on foot and spend the night at Waldstaetterhof Swiss Quality Hotel right across from the rail station.

Day 4. We would leave our luggage at the hotel while we took a boat to Pilatus or the train to Titlis, depending on the weather. When we returned we would take the train to Grindelwald (2.5 hours) where I reserved a room at Hotel Alpina.

Day 5. We planned to take the train up to Jungfraujoch, then spend another night at Hotel Alpina.

Day 6. Take the train to Basel (3-3.5 hours) to meet our friends Lori and Heather at the Gaia Hotel before our cruise the following day.

Day 7. Board the Viking Kara for our cruise on the Rhine River.

You can see our planned route highlighted in yellow below.

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It was an ambitious plan but still didn’t allow visits to the Matterhorn, Geneva, and many other highly recommended sights in Switzerland. As events unfolded, we were lucky not to have committed to more. Be sure to check back to read how these best-laid plans went awry.

 

Based on events from April to October 2017.

 

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Categories: cruise, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Planning with the Luck O’ the Irish

I was feverishly planning our upcoming trip to Ireland and wondered whether my itinerary was too ambitious when I saw a post on the Facebook page for our local Social Media Breakfast Club. The speaker that week was Jody Halsted from Ireland Family Vacations. Coincidence? Serendipity? Divine intervention? I call it simply the luck of the Irish. Check out Jody’s website at http://irelandfamilyvacations.com. Although her presentation that day was not about Ireland, I introduced myself before she spoke and asked if she had a few minutes after the meeting to look at my itinerary. She graciously agreed.

Jody spent over half an hour with me discussing Ireland and offering suggestions. She commented that the schedule was ambitious but doable at least until we got to Galway where she expressed the same concern I had. Planning to drive from Galway to Connemara then to the Dublin area so that we could be at Newgrange the following morning was too much driving in one day. I feared as much. I couldn’t bear cutting Connemara so I finally decided we’ll take a “wait and see” approach. It’s at the end of the trip and if we’re tired of riding in the car, we’ll save it for the next trip. On the other hand, if we’re feeling fresh and raring to go, we’ll attempt it.

When she saw Dan Dooley Car Rentals on my itinerary, Jody mentioned that she especially liked that company. Renting a car is risky business in Ireland because it’s one of a few countries where the collision damage waiver (CDW) benefit on your credit card won’t cover. I even called my credit card company just to make sure and yup, I’m right. No coverage in Ireland. That makes renting a car in Ireland more expensive (and less attractive) but if you have limited time and an ambitious schedule, it’s still the most efficient way to get around albeit driving on the left side of the road. My research led me to Dan Dooley and I found they had the best rates including insurance. It’s still nearly $700 for 10 days but I feel confident about my choice after Jody’s endorsement. They also offered wi-fi in the car for an extra $10 per day. I hope this feature keeps us from getting lost and allows some tweets and instagrams en route.

The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2500 km (approx.1550 mi.) route along the western coast of Ireland from County Donegal to County Cork. This is the itinerary I wish we could follow. Wild Atlantic Way Map Below, however, is the itinerary we hope to complete in 10 days. We’ll start in Dublin, head south to Cork and Kinsale, west to County Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula, then north to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, and finally back east to Newgrange and Trim ending in Dublin. The entire route covers half the distance of the Wild Atlantic Way at nearly 1250 km or 800 miles. Driving on the left on narrow Irish roads promises to hold adventure with a dash of challenge.   Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 11.59.20 AM Ten years ago we explored Dublin and the area southeast to Kilkenny and Waterford with our son, Michael. We especially enjoyed County Laois because the Lalor family, my husband’s people, are from this area. This trip, we’re looking forward to seeing an even larger area to the south and west with our son, Brian, and daughter-in-law, Abi. I’d love to have the time to stay in one place and explore an area fully but this itinerary requires that we stay in a different town each night. I’ve reserved B&B’s, guesthouses, and hotels in advance which means we have to keep to the schedule every day. I hope you’ll follow my future posts as I explore and tell you about the geography, history, and culture of this magical island.

If you’ve been to Ireland and have suggestions along our route, I’d love to hear from you. I’m especially interested in points of interest, historical sites, and restaurant recommendations.

Categories: Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

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