The Reluctant Travellers’ Swiss Adventure - part 1

The Reluctant Travellers’ Swiss Adventure - part 1

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rockoyster
rockoyster
3733 posts
expert
Jun 17, 2017 - 5:43 AM

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.

Itinerary

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)

Weather

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.

Accommodation

We booked all our hotels through booking.com, choosing establishments close to the railway stations. They all worked out just fine.

Food

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 . . . .

Transport

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.

Luggage

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.

Communications

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.

Photography

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 . . . .

Removed user
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Jun 17, 2017 - 9:14 AM in reply to rockoyster

Hi rockoyster,

Thanks for the first part of your trip report - a great read, and interesting to hear how your trip came about! I'm glad you had such lovely weather.

Do you use a photo-editing program? If so, and there is a "clarify" or similar function, you might be able to "rescue" some of those hazy photos.

I tend to keep all my photos, even those that don't work out because of a tree or pole flashing into shot as you take the photo. Even if they are not of a quality you'd want to show other people, they will still remind you of what the landscape looked like.

I'm looking forward to hearing more detail about your trip and seeing some photos!

Alpenrose

Last modified on Jun 17, 2017 - 9:18 AM by Removed user
rockoyster
rockoyster
3733 posts
expert
Jun 17, 2017 - 9:43 AM in reply to Removed user

Thanks Alpenrose for your comments and for being a sort of mentor for me on this forum. I greatly admire your work here.

Photo-editing? I'm a Lightroom kind of guy. The "bin" is more metaphorical than real. :-)

Annika
Annika
4949 posts
expert &
moderator
Jun 17, 2017 - 11:20 AM

Welcome back Rockoyster! Thanks for submitting such an extensive (first part of) your trip report. Interesting to read how your original plans evolved in a pretty thorough exploration of Switzerland's highlights. Your tips are very helpful to other travelers. Great that you're sharing information about the Swiss Travel Pass Flex, your overall experiences with the public transport system, luggage and so on. And I'm glad MySwissAlps and its members were able to help you plan it all.

I'm happy to hear weather was so favourable! Yes, it might have been too hot for the time of the year and generally high temperatures do cause hazy skies. But as mentioned by Alpenrose, editing can cause miracles. I like the many options of Lightroom and have found the "clarity" feature quite helpful in such cases. Once you've selected some pictures you're particularly proud of, I'd love to see them attached here :-)!

maggiehorswell
maggiehorswell
578 posts
top member
Jun 17, 2017 - 1:25 PM

Hi Rockoyster,

Glad to hear you had such a great time! We too only started travelling because our daughter encouraged us! She completed her PhD and secured a European grant to do research in Berlin but had a gap of just over a year to fill before it started and her Prof and mentor arranged a 15 month research project for her in Guelph, Ontario and she asked us to visit her there! We took the plunge and got ourselves passports and went to Guelph for Easter 2000 - first experience of flying! Having got passports we decided to make good use of them and our first choice was Switzerland in the summer of 2001 - we have been back every year since! We visited her in Berlin 5 times during her 3 and a half year stay there and once we retired from teaching (2005) started to take a week in early December to visit Christmas markets all over Europe! Our early Swiss visits were with a travel company then we started to arrange things ourselves which became even easier when we found this Forum.

I really enjoy logging on every day to read the threads and find out who has been where, what they need to know, what they have found out etc.! The moderators and other regular contributors are such a fount of knowledge and experience and I thank them all - I find Alpenrose's posts in particular give me loads of ideas to follow up!

I look forward to reading further posts about your experiences and seeing your pictures in due course. Have fun with your memories!

Thanks

Maggie

Last modified on Jun 17, 2017 - 1:27 PM by maggiehorswell
rockoyster
rockoyster
3733 posts
expert
Jun 18, 2017 - 3:46 AM

Thanks for your comments Annika and Maggie.

I just realised I forgot to mention in my summary . . . .

Public Toilets

Being travellers of "a certain age" we take care that we can locate a public convenience at short notice.

Alpenrose reported once that the ladies toilets at Brienz required a half franken coin. So the fact we arrived in Basel with no loose change had us worried. We need not have been concerned the "WC" signs are fairly common especially at train stations. The trains of course have on-board toilets and by and large were more user friendly than the ones on aircraft.

The WCs at Lugano are fairly well concealed (the tourist information lady marked them on a map for us and recommended those at the Manor department store) and you'll be interested to know, Alpenrose, that the WC on platform 1 at Lugano station calls for CHF1 to gain entry. I think Bellinzona was the same whilst the Luzern lower deck facilities topped the charts with an eye-watering CHF2 entry fee. We gave that a miss.

Laisofun8
Laisofun8
38 posts
active member
Jun 18, 2017 - 5:11 AM in reply to maggiehorswell

Hi Rockoyster

Its So nice to read your tour report. You two really have a wonderful trip, apart from being self enjoying, meeting your family members and sweet grandchild as well.

Thank you for your genuine sharing which helps me a lot in planning our coming trip in August . We have eight persons this time,including four seniors over sixties. The overall information is so useful that makes me for adequate decisions.

Anxious to read your further interesting report soon.

As an end, may I ask your opinion in using the Salt pre paid SIM card for our group? We need internet/phone contacts with hotels or checkings for traffic schedules of trains. Is it one SIM card is sufficient if it has tethering function?

Thank you once again in sparing time in replying me

Ms Lai So Fun

Laisofun8
Laisofun8
38 posts
active member
Jun 18, 2017 - 5:18 AM in reply to rockoyster

Hi! Rockoyster

Sorry that I had just wrongly sent my feedback to Maggie on the post. Hope you can read it.

Ms Laisofun8

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Jun 18, 2017 - 7:12 AM in reply to rockoyster

>> Thanks Alpenrose for your comments and for being a sort of mentor for me on this forum. I greatly admire your work here.

Thank you! :-)

>> you'll be interested to know, Alpenrose, that the WC on platform 1 at Lugano station calls for CHF1 to gain entry. I think Bellinzona was the same

I can add a few more :D

Brig - toilets are at street level just off main concourse - follow sign to platform 1. Cost is CHF 1 or €1

Chiavenna - toilets are inside station cafe. The sign says toilets are only for paying customers, but no-one seems to pay any attention.

Reichenbach Falls - there are clean toilets at the side of the Reichenbach funicular valley station

Wengen - free toilets downstairs at the back of the station

Vevey station - 20 centimes.

>> whilst the Luzern lower deck facilities topped the charts with an eye-watering CHF2 entry fee. We gave that a miss.

Yes, CHF 2 is a bit steep, but to be honest, I don't mind paying even CHF 2 to use the loo in Switzerland, especially when they have a full-time attendant. They are reliably clean, well-lit and safe, even late at night. My coin purse has two compartments. In one compartment, I keep a selection of coins aside for loos and lockers!

Alpenrose

rockoyster
rockoyster
3733 posts
expert
Jun 18, 2017 - 7:34 AM in reply to Laisofun8

Hi MsLaisofun8,

I got your comments and I'm glad you found my commentary of some use.

You asked if one Salt SIM would be enough for your group. That really depends on how you want to use it. For internet access a few people can share the access via the hotspot/tethering but all the users would need to be in reasonably close proximity to the phone with the SIM. If you are using it for voice calls then be aware that the CHF20 credit you get with the initial purchase will get used up by that as well as by the CHF2/day reduction in credit to cover internet access. So the CHF20 credit won't give you a full 10 days of internet but you can easily top-up your credits. Calls within Switzerland are only CHF0.49 per call for up to 60 mins so should not be a big drain on the credits.

I never used the SIM for voice calls or SMS. We were in contact with our family via WhatsApp over the internet.

rockoyster
rockoyster
3733 posts
expert
Jun 18, 2017 - 7:38 AM in reply to Removed user

Hi Alpenrose,

Thanks for the additions to the toilet inventory. Definitely putting Vevey on our bucket list for next time. What a bargain! ;-)

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Jun 18, 2017 - 2:07 PM in reply to rockoyster

Hello rockoyster. Great trip, we just got back a week ago. I know this is not the forum for this question, but just checking... From previous posts, I believe you may be from Australia?...If so, any input on "(New Caledonia?)" or if you' ve been tgere. Want to go there next year. Peter Z.

maggiehorswell
maggiehorswell
578 posts
top member
Jun 18, 2017 - 5:01 PM in reply to rockoyster

If the toilets are run/managed by Mr. McClean I think is the name - they are usually 2 chf - the ones in Thun are. - but as Alpenrose says these ones are spotless and even fragrant! There are free ones in Zurich Flughafen. We are also at the age where we need to make note of where to find them! Alpenrose, you travel a lot on postbuses - do the long distance ones have an on-board toilet? or do you need to rely on scheduled toilet stops?

Maggie

rockoyster
rockoyster
3733 posts
expert
Jun 18, 2017 - 8:53 PM in reply to Removed user

Hi Peter,

I do in fact hail from the Antipodes but can't help with New Caledonia I'm afraid. The closest I ever got was a midnight refuelling stop at Fiji in about 1969!

Funnily enough there is a MyNewCaledonia website but not a patch on this forum.

Happy travels.

AlanPrice
AlanPrice
193 posts
active member
Jun 18, 2017 - 9:10 PM

Hi RockOyster,

Great trip report! looking forward to seeing some pics.

A tip about editing photos - be ruthless! I usually make up 2 sets of photos, the first set is for my wife and I and will include things that have meaning for us, but not necessarily be of interest to others. The other, smaller set is what I show friends and is heavily cut down and only includes the best photos of the trip. I don't know how many pics of the Eiger I have, but I only show a couple of them because multiple photos of the same subject won't really mean anything to someone who wasn't there.

If you want to do something special, turn your photos into a book. There's a company in Sydney called Momento that does a fantastic job. You download an editing program, do the layout, send off the finished file and they send back a beautiful book. I did this for a Swiss trip 12 years ago and the results were fantastic! I guess there must be companies in other countries offering a similar service, but I only know about this one in Oz. Check out the link,

www.momento.com.au

Cheers,

Alan

rockoyster
rockoyster
3733 posts
expert
Jun 18, 2017 - 9:24 PM in reply to AlanPrice

Hi Alan,

Thanks for that. I do ruthless well having already endured far too many "holiday slide nights". ;-)

maggiehorswell
maggiehorswell
578 posts
top member
Jun 18, 2017 - 9:49 PM in reply to AlanPrice

Hi Alan

I keep all my photos but then create slide shows in Powerpoint to show off the best in categories like wild flowers, sunsets, mountains etc. with headings or brief notes as to when and where they were taken. It's great fun to do the choosing as you relive the experiences in your mind. I also create calendars for friends and notelets for using as snail mail as opposed to email!

Maggie

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Jun 19, 2017 - 12:36 AM in reply to rockoyster

ok thanks, I'll look at the sight.

rockoyster
rockoyster
3733 posts
expert
Jun 19, 2017 - 4:10 AM

It never occurred to me early on in the trip that I could use Google Translate on the move. I'm not very bright sometimes. Anyway maybe it was just as well as the label for this white asparagus in Luzern (see photo attached) translated to "delicate bathing asparagus".

Later, in Germany when we no longer had mobile internet, our son pointed out that you can download different language packs and use Google Translate off-line. Who knew?

Please login to see the attached documents
Removed user
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Jun 19, 2017 - 7:24 AM in reply to rockoyster

Hi rockoyster,

>> Anyway maybe it was just as well as the label for this white asparagus in Luzern (see photo attached) translated to "delicate bathing asparagus".

:-D

"Spargelzeit" (asparagus season) is a very big thing in Germany, and perhaps in Switzerland too. They prefer the white asparagus to the green. I can't remember ever having seen white asparagus in the shops in Australia.

Google's translation is hilarious. What it actually means though is that the asparagus comes from a place called Baden, which is a common name given to spa towns ;-)

Alpenrose

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