Just over a year ago we received news that our son and his partner living in Frankfurt were to have a baby - our first grandchild! This was the incentive an ageing Australian pair of reluctant travellers needed to book a flight to Germany.
We had done the whole Europe thing in our youth but had not been overseas for many, many years. So once the adrenalin rush of buying the tickets subsided we sat back with some trepidation and thought “How the heck are we going to fill in the time? Should we do a Rhine cruise? The Romantic Road? The Black Forest? Should we just visit the kids in Frankfurt then pop over to the UK from whence we both originated?” Round and round in circles we went until news arrived that our son had a new job and would, by the time we arrived in Germany, not be in Frankfurt but in Konstanz.
As Konstanz is on the Swiss border we then started to explore places to see around there and so discovered MySwissAlps.com. And that, as they say in the classics, was that.
MySwissAlps inspired, guided and educated us as we formulated a constantly evolving itinerary. Apart from the basic encyclopaedia of information on the site we learned so much by asking questions on the forum and by following the questions that other people asked. Thanks guys - we couldn't have done it without you.
So here we are, a month after departing, back in Australia after a memorable trip and a decent dose of jet-lag.
This is my initial summary report with some overall observations. As I go through processing the almost 1,000 photos we took I’ll add some more details of places visited and things we did.
This is how it finally turned out (with overnight stays shown in brackets):
Basel(1) - Interlaken(1) - Brig(1), Glacier Express to Chur(1), Bernina Express to Lugano(5), Gotthard Panorama Express to Luzern(5), Voralpen Express to Konstanz(5), SchwarzwaldBahn to Gengenbach(3) - Frankfurt(2)
The weather was almost TOO good. It was certainly warmer than we were comfortable with as several days topped 30°C. The long range forecasts had predicted plenty of rain and temperatures in the mid-teens. We ended up with one suitcase full of cool-weather gear which we never needed (even at the top of Pilatus). Whilst it rained overnight on a few occasions the only time we need a brolly was our very first day in Basel. We had clear sunny days on all the panorama train trips and all our mountain-top excursions. We were very lucky.
We booked all our hotels through booking.com, choosing establishments close to the railway stations. They all worked out just fine.
We chose hotels which included breakfast so we were able to stoke up at the start of the day and get by with a very light lunch. We only ate out a few times and the rest of the time relied on salads and other assorted goodies acquired from Migros, COOP or Manor. We rated the Manor food halls as the best for range and quality.
Beer is pretty cheap and a very nice bottle of red wine can be got from the supermarkets for under CHF10. In Lugano we discovered the grape variety Primitivo. That may have been a mistake . . . .
We travelled exclusively on the amazing Swiss Public Transport network apart from a short boat ride at the Rhine Falls. This was quite a culture shock and an amazing revelation for a couple who have not travelled on any form of public transport for perhaps 20 years or more.
We each had a 2nd Class 15 day Swiss Travel Pass Flex. In Lugano we used the Ticino Ticket on a couple of days to try to stretch out our STPF. But in the end we only used the pass on 14 of the available days.
Each pass plus class upgrades on the major panoramic journeys plus tickets we bought at 50% discount cost us a total of CHF618. The full price of all the trips and three museums we visited totalled CHF1197 each. I was sceptical when I bought the passes that we would get our money’s worth and actually bought them primarily for the convenience of not having to buy individual tickets. I was happily proven wrong - not only were they extremely convenient but also extremely good value.
On the panorama trips where we chose 1st class we bought upgrades using the SBB mobile app and would not have had to visit an SBB Ticket Counter at all during the whole trip if I’d been a bit more careful buying a class upgrade for the Gotthard Panorama Express. You can read how to do it correctly here www.myswissalps.com/fo rum/topic/buying-a-1st-class-upgrade-for-a-specific-trip.
We had a suitcase and a smallish backpack each. Carrying our luggage on the trains had been a major, but as it turned out completely unwarranted, concern for us. We had originally planned to forward our luggage from Brig to Lugano and from Lugano to Luzern so we didn’t have to worry about it on the panorama trains. After the experience on our first few trains we ditched that idea and just took the luggage with us. There is always somewhere to stash it. Even the transfer from Gotthard Panorama train to steamer at Flüelen turned out to be as easy as pie.
All the hotels we stayed at offered free wi-fi and the performance was perfectly acceptable everywhere. I also got a Salt pre-pay SIM for mobile data. This was extremely useful for looking up timetables on the fly and for navigating around strange cities. I had considered a Travellers WiFi but after doing the sums decided the Salt SIM was going to cost less then 25% of the cost for the Travellers WiFi. The SIM also meant I only had to carry one device instead of two. In my opinion the Salt pre-pay SIM is unbelievable value. Read about my Salt experiences here www.myswissalps.com/fo rum/topic/around-switzerland-via-stp-flex-and-sbb-mobile-app.
I left my Nikon DSLR at home - too heavy to cart around. I thought about buying a new phone with a decent camera so I would only need one device to carry but the budget wouldn’t allow for an iPhone 7 or a Samsung S8 so I ended up just taking my little point and shoot Sony and my el cheapo Android phone.
I now have 998 photos to process. Many will hit the bin - especially the landscape shots.
Taking decent photos from panoramic trains is difficult. The glare from the windows doesn’t help nor do the track-side trees flashing past. Maybe a polarising filter might help with the glare if you have a dslr or find a carriage with opening windows. But really, let’s face it; you are never going to get a shot that matches the quality of the ones in the glossy tourist brochures.
Up top of Pilatus and Rigi, even though the sun was shining there was a definite haze (probably because it was so warm) so it was difficult to get good landscape pictures.
More to come . . . .