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Alps by Rail
Old 12-30-2007, 09:18 PM   #1
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Alps by Rail

DD and I are kicking around the idea of touring Europe after she graduates from HS this summer. Probably about 2 weeks in June. We talked about St Petersburg and the Baltics, but decided we'd rather travel around by rail, and western Europe with a Eurail pass seems to be a better choice for that.

Has anyone done this, have tips, best gudebooks or web sites to use, where to start from, etc? I'm also reading the current Switzerland thread for any overlap but don't want to hijack that.

Our interests would be to see castles, churches/cathedrals, and other historic buildings such as Ludwig's castle and the Eagle's Nest; sightseeing by train, on foot, and trekking; Salzburg (we both like Mozart and The Sound of Music); quaint mountain villages (I spent a day in Gourdon, France once and loved it). Museums and fine dining are less important.

I'd guess flying into Munich might be most convenient / cost effective, and a good starting point. See the Germany sights mentioned. Check out Switzerland, perhaps northern Italy, Austria, and Prague. We need to read more on destinations to come up with a bit more detailed itinerary and see how it fits the time.

She does weeklong backpack trips where she hauls everything on her back, and I run ultramarathons, so packing a fairly light load and hauling it everywhere does not deter us. We've done London on our own before and making our own plans and being able to adjust on the fly appeals to us more than a packaged tour and being stuck at the pace of others. She also speaks some German. I speak English.
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Alps by rail
Old 12-30-2007, 10:33 PM   #2
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Alps by rail

Sounds like a GREAT plan -- you cannot beat the Germans and the Europeans in general for their rail system -- clean, comfortable, punctual, and easy!! I agree that packing light is recommended -- you can always buy a couple things if you really need them or wash a couple things that dry quickly overnight. Best thing is to stay flexible and not be afraid to ask the locals for advice -- nearly everyone speaks enough English and they welcome your interest (and $!!) I speak fluent German and took a group of kids to Germany and Austria in the srping of '06 and can't think of one time we had any trouble. In fact, they all want to go back! The kids themselves speak some German but nobody had trouble getting what they wanted. My only issue with you is -- why didn't you ask me to come along??!!
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Old 12-30-2007, 10:44 PM   #3
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You need to talk to my mom... .did a lot of hosteling...

Go to the Eurail site.... and then try and decide what you want to do... there are many options, such as a certain number of day in another set of days (say 7 in 30) OR, every day for a week or two...

And also check which countries you want to see... you can get a cheaper one if you limit your countries... but be aware that you can not go to all the places you might want to see.. I went to Switzerland with a Eurail pass and my friend bought a Swiss pass at the airport when we landed... she could get to a number of places I had to pay extra... but we could get around Switzerland pretty easily.... I never have done the overnight trains there, but my mom said buying a sleeping car was worth the extra money...

As for some of the sights, you will have to either rent a car or take a bus... the trains get you to the city, but not to some of the sights.

Have a great trip... but don't try and do to much or you will not enjoy what you do see...
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Old 12-31-2007, 08:34 AM   #4
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I was planning a similar trip and bought The "Europe by Eurail " guide book by Ferguson .It seems to be a decent guide book . Unfortunately our trip got derailed by my daughter wanting to go to the caribbean instead .
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Old 01-01-2008, 09:22 AM   #5
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Sounds like a great trip. Someone discussed doing a similar thing in Canada a few months back. That's high on my list of things to do in a couple of years.
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Old 01-02-2008, 08:33 AM   #6
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I backpacked in Europe a couple of times in college. I intend to do this with my kids during the summers once they are in high school. I think I just got a guide book, maybe Rick Steves, kind of mapped out an initial itenerary then chunked it the day before I left. Was on my way from Innsbruk to Venice one time and met this young lady from Univ of Missouri getting off the train. Ended up in Rome instead. Won't go into details on the story but definately one to tell my kids later on.

Thomas has a train guide that will tell you in detail about all trains in Europe. Heavy but you could only take the sections you need. My advice is get the Eurorail pass, pack light, and wing it.

Tomcat98
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Old 01-02-2008, 09:29 AM   #7
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Thanks, that's pretty much what we'll do, but with only 2 weeks instead of a whole summer we probably want an idea of a plan. If we just show up in Geneva, for example, by the time we get oriented we'll probably want to be moving on to see something else. So my thought is to map out a starting itinerary and have the info to know how to get to the sites we think we want to see at each place, but feel very free to deviate at any time. I've just read enough tips on things like Ludwig's castle that say to get there at 8 or you'll spend a lot of the day waiting in line to totally wing it. Then again, DD may want to just relax and absorb it so I'm not going to overplan.

We did a somewhat similar thing in London a few years ago. We did day trips from a home base rather than travel around. I mapped out a few "must do" days and a number of other day trips to choose from, and the night before or morning of we'd decide which we felt like doing each day. Based on the kinds of things we found we were enjoying, and the weather, we could throw out the things we didn't think we'd like and focus on what was fun for us. DD loved Trafalgar Square (aka "Pigeon Park" to us) so I picked out some restaurants to eat at near there, or just swung by at the end of the day before heading back to the hotel.
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Old 01-02-2008, 10:54 PM   #8
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Check out the DayTrips books - they focus on day trips from a fixed base.

As for hiking in Switzerland, I used to live in Germany and go to Die Schweiz a *lot* - it's one of my favorite countries in the world. Great hikes: anything in the Berner Oberland - Meiringen, to Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen - jaw dropping scenery and great hiking; Appenzell, has a neat hut carved in a mountain - EbenAlp - the area itself is the more "country" part of CH. Bern has a really cool art museum with more Hoflers and Klees than I've ever seen; of course, the Matterhorm is a classic - lots of hikes around that area - Zermatt is the town. We did 90 km of the Tour du Mont Blanc - hiked through Chamonix and Verbier - near Martigny - then into Italy - phenomenal experience - great huts and awesome food. Verbier or the Four Valleys is near the St Bernard Pass which is the western route into Italy and down into Aosta. The Italian side of Switzerland has the mountain passes towards the Lake District of Italy (Como, Maggiore....say hi to Clooney :-)) PM me if you want a bit more info - there are also some great books out there and the Swiss has awesome information at their I's.
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Old 01-13-2008, 07:21 AM   #9
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Munich would be a good base. Organized tours of Neuschwannstien with bus transport from Munich are available. You should consider and open jaw ticket flying into Munich and out of Prague. The Italian alps are wonderful, but you can get much the same feel visiting the Italian speaking areas of Switzerland(Lugano,Locarno,Bellinzona). Check out Cesky' Krumlov. Not sure about that spelling.
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Old 02-09-2008, 01:14 AM   #10
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go fer it.

I do hope that you will take the rail trip to the Alps.

One area that I can recommend is in the Gstaad/Chateau-d'Oex area.
The train departs from Lausanne on the shores of Lake Geneva and takes you into "Heidi" territory. The views from the train was truly inspiring.

Château-d'Œx - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

My best friend and travel mate had spent time in the area as a ski instructor and knew the area. French is widely spoken along with German.

Perhaps when my kids are a bit older & the dollar bounces off the bottom I'll go back.

Enjoy your trip, bonne chance!
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Old 02-09-2008, 09:35 AM   #11
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My daughter is in Berlin right now. I'm going over in late March. We have a short trip planned by train from Berlin to Vienna, Vienna to Innsbruck (Easter Sunday) then back to Berlin. I can't wait. I wanted to see at least some of the Alps before I died. My daughter has been there before not me...can't wait!
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Old 02-09-2008, 12:35 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by happy2bretired View Post
My daughter is in Berlin right now. I'm going over in late March. We have a short trip planned by train from Berlin to Vienna, Vienna to Innsbruck (Easter Sunday) then back to Berlin. I can't wait. I wanted to see at least some of the Alps before I died. My daughter has been there before not me...can't wait!

Sounds like a great trip !
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Old 02-09-2008, 01:08 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by happy2bretired View Post
My daughter is in Berlin right now. I'm going over in late March. We have a short trip planned by train from Berlin to Vienna, Vienna to Innsbruck (Easter Sunday) then back to Berlin. I can't wait. I wanted to see at least some of the Alps before I died. My daughter has been there before not me...can't wait!
'

You will love it... and I hope you have a Swiss pass.... (Swisspass is better as you can use it in more locations... but if you are doing other countries... kind of stuck...) Heck, when I was there we would just jump on a train and go somewhere just to watch the landscape... and took some of the 'slower' trains that went through the mountains instead of the ones that went around...

Then would do a few hours in whatever town we got off and would then go back...

If you do have Eurail or Swissrail... remember that they are good for the boats... the boats are slow, but a very nice and different perspective...

When (if) the dollar gets stronger again... I will be going back...
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Old 02-09-2008, 03:50 PM   #14
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I'm only going to be gone one week and most of that time will be in Berlin since my daughter is taking classes. Our train travel will only be over the long Easter vacation. I would love to take a longer European train trip again sometime...the long leisurely kind. So much to see...
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Old 02-10-2008, 06:58 PM   #15
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That sounds like fun...When i went to spain we stayed in a hostel. It was clean accomodations with fresh towels everyday. couldn't ask for anything else.
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Old 02-11-2008, 01:40 AM   #16
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Having grown in the alps myself, I could recommend a few places to visit. Don't forget the Alps stretch all the way from Provence in France to Switzerland to Germany, to Liechtenstein, to Italy, to Austria and finally to Slovenia. The Alps are multifaceted and look a bit different depending on where you go. For high altitude alpine villages, you can try places like Chamonix in France (at the foot of Mont-Blanc, the highest moutain in Europe), Zermatt in Switzerland (at the foot of the picturesque Matterhorn). Zermatt is accessible by train from Geneva or Lausanne (with a train change in Visp). Chamonix is accessible by train from Geneva as well (with a train change in Saint-Gervais). In both places, you will see the Alps as most people picture them, glaciers, snow covered peaks, etc... you will also be able to painlessly reach higher altitude viewpoints from both Chamonix and Zermatt thanks to cable cars or trains taking you from the valley and up the mountain. For less touristy destinations, explore surrounding villages. Innsbruck and the Tyrol region of Austria would also be a good place to visit for typical Alpine scenery. Aosta in Italy and Courmayeur are also interesting (you can access Courmayeur by road from Chamonix through a tunnel running under the Mont-Blanc). For a different feel (more resort like), try beautiful Lugano (kind of the Swiss Riviera) and the surrounding Italian Lakes (lake Como, Lake Maggiore). The southern Alps (mostly located in France and known as the "Hautes-Alpes") are far less touristy and much wilder. They feel completely different from the northern alps to me, more rugged and certainly not as green. Then you have the lower Alps or Pre-Alps. That's what you'll find around Ludwig's castles in Germany (beautiful), but you'll also find it in western Switzerland and South-Eastern France as well. There again, a completely different scenery, much more lush. You will find very picturesque towns in the Pre-Alps, like Annecy in France (only 40 minutes for Geneva and accessible by train), or Lucerne in Switzerland (which again is accessible by train from Geneva either directly or via Bern). Smaller towns around lake Geneva are also worth exploring in my opinion (pretty much all accessible by train or boat from Geneva, whether they are located on the Swiss Bank or French Bank). I particularly like the walled medieval city of Yvoire. And Geneva off course is beautiful (though I might be a bit partial there since it is my hometown).
Anyways, I can never talk enough about the mountains I used to see in the background everyday!
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