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14 Day Best of Europe Tour - May 13, 2018

Hi everyone, first time poster, but have been lurking for a few months. I didn't see another thread for this specific tour, so hopefully I'm doing this right. My husband and I, both late 50s, are taking our first RS tour in May, and I'm super excited. If anyone else is also on this tour, please chime in. Both my husband and I have been to Europe in our younger days - him on business trips 20 years ago, me as a air force brat living in England multiple times during my school years, with a couple of brief trips to Paris and Amsterdam during high school. I wanted to do the 21 day BOE trip but my husband couldn't get off work that long.

I've been reading RS books and the forum, but haven't planned out our free time on this tour yet. We're going to arrive a day before the tour starts and stay one day after (have the RS hotels booked for those days).

I'm especially excited about seeing the Alps as I really enjoy nature and the outdoors. Can anyone tell me about the free day "optional mountain excursion that combines the local narrow-gauge railway, a gondola lift, and a spectacular Alpine walk above the tree line, surrounded by a panorama of cut-glass peaks" or "ride a gondola lift up to the Schilthorn at 10,000 feet, loiter in the thin air, and hike down" options? We really like hiking and have done road trips in the Western USA (mostly national parks) for the past three years, hiking 5-10 miles on average per day, at approximately 6,000-9,000 feet altitude. We use hiking poles and wear hiking boots. Since we don't plan on taking those on this trip, are regular walking shoes ok? (I have bad feet; still reading forums on the best shoes to take on this trip that aren't athletic shoes.) Both of those options sound great, but I'm most interested in the first one. What is the trail like on either of these options? Are we likely to be walking through or on snow in mid-May?

Hoping this will be the first of many RS tours! Already thinking ahead about doing the Best of the Adriatic tour, or one of the UK tours in the future.

Thanks for your help!
Rachel

Posted by
48 posts

Hi, Rachel! I don't know the answer to any of your questions but wanted to chime in that my husband and I are on your tour! This is our first RS tour-I've been wanting one for about 20 years and since I'm turning 50 next week, this is my present to myself (that my husband is only too happy to join in on!).
We went to London this past summer (I was there in college as well) and fell in love with that area. We also took a Mediterranean cruise two years ago. We are hoping to use this RS tour to either decide whether to take more RS tours or else to get more comfortable with public transportation and do a trip ourselves! Or both options really lol.
We love to hike and see National Parks as well but we are not as serious about hiking as you guys are. I have asthma and both of us are not in as good shape as we'd like but I am sure that Switzerland will be a real highlight for us. The Alps are on my husband's bucket list as well. We'd like to get some hiking in that day but we are not sure which of the options will end up being the best for us.

So much fun to plan!!! Have you read the scrapbooks from past 14 day BOE tours? I'm dying to see the ones for 2017 go up!

Posted by
2525 posts

Hi Rachel. We've been in the Lauterbrunnen Valley area a number of times and it is spectacular. Both excursions are wonderful, but I prefer the trip which includes the very easy hike from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg and assuming the weather is clear, absorb the amazing views. The path is fairly flat and smooth. We ran into snow at upper elevations when in the area during June, so you may well have some or much snow when you are there. if so, just take the gondola to the Schilthorn. As for shoes, i've successfully used low-cut day hiking shoes as well as all terrain running shoes (both high quality). Select shoes/boots that meet your needs and break 'em in well before your trip. Enjoy!

Posted by
17099 posts

I admit to being very not-style-conscious, so my advice may not apply to you, but I say: If you have bad feet, you definitely should have athletic shoes, and you should not limit their use to the days you're walking in the mountains.

I do not have bad feet in general (though plantar fasciitis showed up late in this year's trip), but in Europe I live in good-quality lace-up shoes with a non-custom orthotic. I wouldn't think of heading out to walk for much more than 2 miles at home in less than that, and I don't have to deal with cobblestones and similar uneven surfaces here in the US.

Posted by
243 posts

Hi Rachel, congratulations on moving forward with the BOE14 itinerary. My family did this tour in 2015, and it is an incredible mix of world-class cities and quaint, countryside charm.

As for the free day in Berner Oberland, I think much will depend on two factors: what the weather in mid-May will permit; and your guide's penchant for putting together a group activity. In our instance, we lucked out on both scores. Our guide arranged for a group trip up to the Schilthorn (from our Lauterbrunnen base/hotel) where we took the gondola thru the various stations [three stops along the way] and enjoyed breakfast from the 360-degree revolving restaurant at Piz Gloria. After some time to wander the deck and panoramic views, we then rode back down to Murren, and began a wonderful 2-hr hike taking us thru mountains and meadows, serenaded by cow bells and the occasional goat greeting. There are several trails - ours went thru Wanderweg and it's dairy farms, ending at Bistro Alpstubli for a refreshing Alpenperle (beer), and it's nearby train station for return to Lauterbrunnen.

When deciding what to do that day, you'll want to keep an eye on the tv monitors which show real-time conditions at the top of the mountain. Your guide will undoubtedly share all of this with you, but the point to be made is don't commit time and dollars to a specific place or event until you can see what that day's climate/circumstance affords. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
7762 posts

My experience on the 21 BOE in 2014 was similar to Matt's. My guide organized an optional group trip up to the Schilthorn first thing in the AM (weather was clear), then later that AM we met the tour coach which took us to Lauterbrunnen and continued with the optional activities of taking the train/gondola up to Mannlichen and walking to Kleine Scheidegg.

In 2016 I did the GAS tour and the guide organized the optional trip up to the Schilthorn again, then got us up the funicular behind Muerren to Almendhubel and headed us off on hikes of our choice. I did the easier Mountain View hike which was the easier of the hikes, others did the North Face. On that tour you are there for 2 full days so the next day we did the Truemmelbach Falls as a group, were bused to Lauterbrunnen and then were on our own. Most of the group (with the guide) took the cog train up to Wengen, gondola up to Mannlichen and walked to Kleine Schiedegg but others did something else.

On both optional activity days that the guides arranged, they purchased the gondola/train tickets and we each repaid them in cash.

If your guide is not one for organizing extra things then they can certainly tell you exactly how to do these same things AND there will be others that want to do it too.

As for footwear, I have terrible feet with recurring bouts of plantar fasciitis if I am not careful. Both times in Switzerland and in fact for all my RS tours (8) plus general touring in Paris and London, I've worn Altra brand Zero Drop Athletic shoes. I'm not one for fancy dinners and I wear these everywhere. They are fine for Switzerland. I have hiking boots and wear them in Yellowstone or when hiking here in N. Idaho but the trails I've been on in Switzerland have been fine with low cut athletic shoes. There ARE trails where you would need boots but there are plenty with jaw-dropping views that you can access without them. On the 21 BOE tour, on tour days in Amsterdam and Rome we did around 10-12 miles so you will want the shoes that you can walk the furthest in for your main pair.

I will also add that both guides discussed on the bus how much money we should get in Swiss francs depending on activities. We stopped at ATM's to get CHFs and most got what the guide recommended. I will also say, have money in your budget for extras. Transportation in Switzerland is expensive but just bite the bullet and go for it. I ~think~ the cog train/gondola/cog train for the Mannlichen-Kleine Scheidegg hike was around 65 CHF when I went but it is totally worth it.

This is a really fun trip! I am glad you are going a day early and staying after a bit.

Posted by
16791 posts

There are many spectacular hikes and walks that you can do without serious gear, but I would guess that the entire hike up or down Mt. Schilthorn is not one of them. Ricks guidebook will give a better summary than what you have in the tour description. See a trail map and info for that one mountain at https://schilthorn.ch/cmsfiles/sommerguide2017.pdf. More for the other side of the valley (probably way more options than you want to compare) at https://www.jungfrau.ch/en-gb/summer-sport/hiking/hiking-trails-list/#list.

Posted by
19 posts

Thanks for all the helpful replies!

Yay, Deb K! I look forward to meeting you and your husband! This trip is actually to celebrate my 60th (eek) birthday in February. My husband is two years younger than me, so hopefully we'll take another big trip for his 60th in 2020. For our 50th birthdays, we went to all inclusive beach resorts in Jamaica. Re hiking, I should have mentioned that we were already at most of that altitude on our hiking vacations the past few years. Greatest elevation gain in one hike was 1,000 feet (twice) at Yosemite this year and that was pretty tough for me. My husband is a runner and it didn't seem to phase him at all. I had to keep catching my breath! I've seen one BOE scrapbook from 2016 but couldn't seem to find the scrapbook section again last night. I kind of don't want to look at them too much or watch related RS videos because I don't want to ruin the "surprise" of seeing it in person for the first time. I watched a YouTube video of the gondola ride to Schilthorn though and wow, it looks pretty thrilling. My husband doesn't like heights too much so I'm not sure how he will feel about it. Heights only bother me if I think I can fall (that's why I won't ever be doing the Half Dome or Angel's Landing hikes at our national parks!).

Bruce, that hike sounds like a good one for us. I have both high and low hiking boots although I mostly use the high cut ones (to protect my ankles - broke my right ankle in three place in 2013, not hiking though, slipped on a dog bed in my house!). It seems like RS "pushes" not wearing athletic shoes, but from what I've been reading on here, it seems like many people do. The more I read, the more I'm leaning towards wearing what works for me, so maybe I'll take my low hikers, or just good athletic shoes.

Acraven, I like to dress up when I go out here at home, but on a daily basis I live in jeans/sweaters/sweatshirts or Eddie Bauer capris/fitted t-shirts, depending on the season. I'll probably buy more of the EB Travex clothes for this trip since they are good for traveling. For the past few months my feet have been hurting me a lot and I think I might have plantar fasciitis, too (seeing a doctor or Tuesday). Still working on options for comfortable footwear.

Thanks, Matt! Your Berner Oberland activities sound fantastic. Will definitely keep an eye on the weather forecast. I have wanted to go to Switzerland for years and that area sounds like what I've dreamed of seeing. I visited the Schilthorn website last night and that revolving restaurant looks amazing. A two hour hike sounds perfect. I'm sure I'll be taking photos every few minutes!

Pam, thanks for the info! I'll check out those shoes. Hopefully we will have a guide who likes to organize the free day activities. Since I usually plan our vacations (and the last three road trips have required a lot of advance planning), I didn't want to have to fool with that in countries where I don't speak the language. That's why I chose a tour instead, so I can relax and husband doesn't have to drive (I plan and navigate, he drives). I know I still have to figure out our free days for this trip because he won't! :)

Thanks for the links, Laura! What a gorgeous place! I can't wait to go! We mostly do moderate and easy hikes, with a few tougher ones every now and then. I'm sure we're going to wish we had more time there. We'll just have to go back again!

Posted by
11175 posts

When deciding what to do that day, you'll want to keep an eye on the tv monitors which show real-time conditions at the top of the mountain. Your guide will undoubtedly share all of this with you, but the point to be made is don't commit time and dollars to a specific place or event until you can see what that day's climate/circumstance affords.

I can't emphasize this enough. I was just there in September 2017, and saw lots of people going from Lauterbrunnen up to the Jungfraujoch, despite the monitors showing that there was absolutely NO visibility at the top. That's about $200 down the drain, not to mention that the trip takes 90 minutes each way. The Schiltorn is faster and less expensive, but still only worth doing it the weather is good. Unfortunately, while I got to do both in September 2014 and loved them, in September 2017, despite my staying four nights, none of my days had good enough weather to make them worthwhile to re-do.

So, wait until you get there, and see what the weather is, before committing to anything.

You said you had "bad feet," but weren't more specific. Several other posters have mentioned having plantar fasciitis. If you have that too, here's a very good thread about how to deal with it: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/best-travel-shoes/walking-shoes-for-plantar-fasciitis

Posted by
7762 posts

"My husband doesn't like heights too much so I'm not sure how he will feel about it."

I am awful with heights. I hate the gondolas and they scare the stew out of me BUT I can make myself do them because the payoff is so spectacular. If you husband thinks he might have a problem, he should step in to the middle of the car where others from your group can surround him and he can't see out OR if there are benches in the car (some have them, some don't) have him sit on the bench and look at the floor.

If you think you might have plantar fasciitis, you might want to look at this product called Correct Toes. I have worn them for several years. They do require a change of footwear because it needs to be wide enough to accommodate your foot, hence the Altras (or other wide forefoot products). I do much better if I wear them all the time, including in the house and in the summer. If you are interested in this different approach to self-treatment, Dr. McClanahan has a number of youtube videos as well.

https://www.correcttoes.com/
(I have NO connection to this product other than being a very satisfied and happy user).

I also have used MELT Method hand and foot treatment balls when I have had pain (usually if I was not wearing the Correct Toes all the time or before I discovered them). I travel with them in case walking the long distances in Europe aggravates my feet.

https://www.meltmethod.com/
(Again, no connection other than being a happy customer.)

Posted by
17099 posts

Thanks for posting that link, Harold. At the time of that thread I had never had plantar fasciitis, so it passed unnoticed. I've now had my first PF experience. Wow, it takes a long time to clear up--more than 3 months so far, and not completely gone. I'm going to try several of the remedies mentioned in the thread in hopes of preventing a flare-up on my next trip.

Edited to add: I should perhaps mention that I suspect my choice of footwear made the difference between being pain-free on my first two recent trips and developing PF on the third. On the third trip I switched to waterproof shoes with a firm rubber sole because I was spending a lot of time in Normandy, Brittany and the UK. The waterproof shoes were comfortable but had firm rubber (?) soles that didn't provide as much cushioning as the QC shoes I used on Trip 1 and Trip 2. The soles of the latter looked similar to this: QC Cloudflow .

Also, I developed PF only in my right foot. The only explanation I can come up with is that I carry my cross-body bag on that side, and it tends to be heavy. Come to think of it, by the end of Trip 3 I was probably at least 3 lb. heavier myself than I had been on the earlier trips. Perhaps I've reached the tipping point!

Posted by
7762 posts

"I developed PF only in my right foot."

I usually only get it in one foot at a time. It may have been the stiff sole as well.

If you have extra $$, spring for the MELT balls. No kidding, the first time I used them my pain was completely gone after 3 treatments. There is a DVD that goes with them that takes a long time to do, but do spend time learning the patterns. Now I can do her pattern in 10 minutes so don't despair the first few times when it takes a while to do it.

Posted by
19 posts

Thanks, Harold. We'll be sure to heed your advice when we're in Switzerland. We sure as heck don't want to be wasting our money if we can't see anything. Glad you had good weather the first time, even if you didn't the second time around.
Thankfully, I'm getting my feet checked out by a doctor on Tuesday. They only just started bothering me in the last few months, but I do have very flat feet. You know it's bad when a different doctor than who I normally see at the family practice says "wow, your feet are flat!" LOL. I wear Brooks Adrenaline GTS with Powersteps right now, but I guess I need something more. Will check out the thread you linked.

Pam, that's what I'm hoping with the gondola. I think my husband will know it may be a once in a lifetime experience and do it. I'll probably be a little nervous myself. In 2004, I went on the London Eye by myself (with strangers) because I was in England with my mom and she has a phobia about heights, so there was no way she was going on it. I felt a little unnerved at first and wouldn't go near the windows, but got used to it and enjoyed the view. I know that's nothing compared to a gondola ride to the top of a mountain, but I think after the first few minutes, I'll be ok. I'm more likely to worry about the thing breaking down or getting stuck while I'm on it! Thanks for the links for the foot issues. I'll check them out. I'm wondering if I really do have PF or something else. A few months ago when I first started having problems, my GP suggested possible PF and told me to come back if it didn't get better. I didn't at the time because we went on our two week hiking trip out west and other than getting a blister on my big toe near the end of the trip, I had no problems. I wore Merrell Moab high cut hiking boots the majority of the time and my Brooks Adrenaline the rest of the time. We've been back home for a month and I'm either barefoot, wearing socks, or Dearfoam bootie type slippers during the day since I'm a homemaker, unless I'm out somewhere. No support for my feet when I'm in the house. I read up on PF and it says if your heels hurt when you first get up or after sitting. My pain is the opposite, if I stand for long periods or walk a lot they hurt. It's mostly my left foot. I have a dog and like to take him for a three mile walk every day, mostly on sidewalks in the neighborhood. I've had a Fitbit for over 2 1/2 years and until recently haven't had an issue with getting my 10,000 steps per day. I'll be interested to see what the specialist says on Tuesday.

Posted by
7762 posts

About the ride up to the Schilthorn - the Gondola runs are not as long as you think they might be because there are several stations along the run where you change to a different car.

If you are staying in Lauterbrunnen there are 2 ways to get to the Schilthorn and your guide will suggest a plan.

Option 1: From Lauterbrunnen, take a short gondola ride up to Gruetschalp, a short train ride along the edge of the cliff (not scary as you are back from the edge) to Muerren, walk thru Muerren to the gondola station, then a gondola up to Birg and another one from there up to Piz Gloria on the top of the Schilthorn

Option 2: Perhaps the guide will load those that want to go in to the coach, bus up the valley to Stechelberg and the base gondola on the Schilthornbahn. You'd take the gondola from there to Gimmelwald, another from Gimmelwald to Muerren, then the same Muerren to Birg and Birg to Piz Gloria.