My family and I are eager to see the heart of Europe firsthand next June (2013). I'm an experienced traveler in many other parts of the world, but this will be new territory for the four of us. We're going to backpack it for 2 weeks (on the ground, not counting days to get there from the US) and want to see the highlights of Vienna, Salzburg, Geneva, and Paris during that time. And we're on a tight budget. Any advice, suggestions, about anything you might think we ought to know/see/do would be most appreciated. There are so many options it's bewildering. Thanks!
And "tight budgets" and Switzerland don't get along so well...
. . . Especially not in Geneva. But once you explain your interests and budget goals, I would be happy to suggest some places in Switzerland that might come close to meeting them. P.S. I used to be a neighbor of yours, living in Bonner Co.
First of all, 'tight budget' doesn't say much. Toss out a number for better help. Maybe say where your previous experience is so we can make a comparison.
many thanks so far on the feedback! OK, by tight budget I'm talking about $4K tops. I've got enough miles to get my airfare over there and back for the family, thankfully. We're planning on backpacking using hostels or inexpensive hotels (if any!) and trains to get around. My wife and kids have been interested in Austria for year, from both the standpoint of a fascination with the Hapsburgs and The Sound of Music. We all love mountains, good food (my son is studying to become a chef), and just travel in general. I've traveled extensively in China, East Africa, Southeast Asia, South America (Bolivia and Peru), and Australia. I've also spent time in Seoul, the Ukraine, and Poland. My wife has been with me to a few of these places, and so have the kids (now young adults). We're interested in history and culture without spending all our time in museums and art galleries. We like immersive types of historical exploration and enjoy the journey about as much as the destinations. Geneva interests me especially because of the Reformation history that was centered there, but I wouldn't turn down a boat tour of the lake to just soak in the scenery! So, hopefully that will give you an idea of what we were thinking about. We are not opposed at all to staying outside of city limits and catching busses, renting bikes, etc., if that will save money and not eat up too much time. I appreciate everyone's willingness to assist!
Four grand for two weeks is something like $275/day. If you use Google Maps and type in 'Vienna Hostel', for example, you'll get all kinds of red dots. Click away until you find something that suits you. Usaully prices are per bed, but sometimes you'll get a family room that might be a tad cheaper or marginally better for a slightly larger price. Figuring something like twenty-five bucks a head, that's an even hundred. If you really, really skimp (cook in hostel, eat lunch from grocery store, buy one meal per day) you could make do on twenty bucks per person per day - - that's another eighty, maybe. You've got a hundred left. Attractions cost something, so does local transportation - - staying out and commuting in eats up time and money, it never works if you're staying in one place several days. Plus, you've got three major dislocations - - which I've no idea how to price by public transportation. Geneva's going to be more, Paris less, Salzburg I don't know since I usually stay out in the sticks.
OK, staying outside Geneva would be a lot less expensive. One place that comes to mind right away is the Vevey Hotel and Guesthouse formerly Riviera Lodge hostel) in Vevey: http://www.veveyhotel.com/en/ They have basic family rooms at very reasonable prices. Vevey is a small town on Lac Leman, closer to Montreux than to Geneva, but an easy commute by train (or boat). There is a bike path along parts of the lake, but I don't know if it goes all the way to Geneva. I'll try to check on that. Vevey is where Charlie Chaplin lived for about 25 years. Or you could try Morges, another small town much closer to Geneva. Audrey Hepburn spent the last 30 years of her life near there. The last time we were in Morges thee was a European Harley gathering going on, but I assume much of the time the town is quieter. This whole area is beautiful, and going in June (before the Montreux jazz Festival craziness) is a good idea.
We visited 6 countries with a home base in Rome for 10 weeks in 1996. Our favorite destination, hands down, was Hallstatt, Austria. Thank you, Rick Steves, Europe Through the Back Door. All you need is a Rick Steves book, either ETTBD or Europe 2013, Len. Gasthof Simony was the hotel, feather beds right on the lake, including breakfast. Free chamber music in the church on the hill the night we arrived. Its a magical place. Its very small, so one or two days is enough. I also recommend Giverny, outside of Paris, especially if you are a fan of Monet or impressionists or gardens! If you spend the night there I'm sure its cheaper than Paris!
Switzerland is a budget buster. I haven't been to Vienna, but I will be there in December, 2012!! I'm going to the opera!
I would skip Geneva (and I am Swiss!). It was a lovely city in the 60s and 70s with a distinctly French culture but years of mismanagement by local politicians and being the headquarter for so many international organizations, made the place soulless and in recent time, not particularly safe either. If you want to stay in the French part, the Lausanne, Gruyere, Montreux triangle is much more interesting.
Hopefully, you are considering visiting Bern, the Berner Oberland, Luzern, and maybe Zermatt.
All of your thoughts are most helpful. I'm beginning to think that we ought to skip Switzerland altogether, as beautiful as it is, and concentrate our time in Austria and southern Germany. My son shocked me last night by telling me that he could let Paris wait for another time. So that would free up time considerably. My wife just commented that maybe we could catch a flight down to Rome instead. This decision isn't getting any easier! Sorry to hear about Geneva, though my daughter has a friend from college that just traveled there and absolutely loved it...but without, of course, the point of reference of knowing the city from before. Allow me to ask another, perhaps strange, question that the Geneva discussion brings to mind: are there sights/cities that are typically considered must sees that when you get there are really not worth the effort in your opinion? I'd like not to waste time and money only to yawn when we get there. For example, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall definitely lived up to their billing when I visited those places...Ankor Wat, on the other hand, is pretty much little more than a collection of moldy old stones that all look alike (though the strangler fig trees are amazing, no doubt).
Len, if you want to use FF miles for June 2013, you should get them NOW! or better yet, last May. We usually fly multi-city to save time and money so we don't have to backtrack. It's too bad Bonners Ferry and Moscow aren't closer. Our next "Towns Near Moscow Travel Group" meeting will be 20 October at 10:30 at One World Cafe, 533 S.Main Street in Moscow....if you happen to be in the vicinity! We're a fun, laid-back group with all sorts of travel tips and ideas and would love to hear about your travels.
Len, you just opened a damn can of worms. If you think the Taj beats Angkor there's going to be no pleasing you. To make it worse, you're about to get an endless list of 'must sees'. Hang in there, the thread will settle back down prior to June.
Len, I don't think you should skip Switzerland altogether. The Berner Oberland is a stunning area. If you read the trip reports on Rick Steve's organized "Best of Europe" tours, The Berner Oberland (Jungfrau, Lauterbrunnen valley) systematically rates on top.
Darcy, wish I could be there...I'll be in the Southeastern US for a couple of weeks then, but perhaps another time. Thanks for the tip on the FF usage...I'm trying to nail down the basic Itinerary so I can do just what you suggest. Ed, maybe the Ankor impression came about because I was leading a team of young people at the time, and I've been more than once. The first time I went we had a guide, and we spent hours looking at those interminable friezes that wrap around the temples. It was interesting for the first hour, then I began to glaze over! Well, that's what makes travel interesting. Mark, I'll definitely give the Berner Oberland a look. I read my wife your post, and she's sold. have to admit, I've always wanted to see that area, too. Thanks, Everyone.
Len, I noticed that you are interested by the reformation. Geneva has indeed an interesting museum on the reformation. There is a downloadable brochure that describes the landmarks linked to the reformation. They suggest a walking tour of the different sites.
Zurich has also some fascinating sites to visit like the Fraumünster and the Grossmunster. The national history museum in Zurich has a section dedicated to the reformation as well (Schweizerisches Landesmuseum).
From my recent experience, Switzerland and 'tight budget' I would think will be nigh on impossible.
Looking for great scenery in Switzerland, and that's why I go to Switzerland a lot of the time, Geneva doesn't come close to the top of my list. If you have a particular museum or attraction to see there it may be a good destination but for myself I much prefer, in no particular order, the Grissons, the Kandertal, the Lauterbrunnen area, the Brienzersee, Rigi, Luzern, Vierwaldstaettersee (Lake Lucerne), Ticino, Basel and Baselland, Emmental and many other areas over Geneva. Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) itself is quite nice, particularly the Montreux area.
Hello Len. I did some mathematical calculations. If a total of $4000. will be spent for travel in Europe, not including the airline flights, my advice is that only you and your wife go on this trip to Europe. I think you and your wife might be able to go to Vienna and Salzburg and one or two places in Switzerland (Lauterbrunnen and Lucern ?). And fly from the airport of Zurich to the U.S.A. I think you will be at Europe less than 14 days.
And I think you do not have a good chance of getting airline tickets for 4 persons in one airplane flying to Vienna, using your frequent flyer miles. I heard that some airlines allocate a total of 4 seats in one airplane for passengers flying for free using their frequent flyer miles.
Thanks, Ron. Yes, I think you must be right on the tickets. After a very long effort, trying to find seats into every major city in Europe - really - I could find none that allowed all of us to go. I had enough miles for the low-priced seats, which I think must have all disappeared within five minutes from when they were released back in May or something. In some cases, I could barely get even two tickets. But this is the year when we've got the window between school and the rest of life for our kids, and so we had to find another option. We were all pretty disappointed, but are finding consolation in being able to use the miles to all go to Costa Rica instead, with the hopes that we'll be able to hit Europe another time. Thanks to everyone who provided input on this, and I'm sorry it for nothing as far as we're concerned, though I expect it will all be very helpful to others who may be contemplating a similar itinerary in the future. Chao, Len