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GAS tour free time

We will be going on our first RS tour in June; Germany Austria and Switzerland. While BOE free time has been discussed in the forum, I haven't seen discussion on what is recommended/enjoyed in the free time of this tour. We will arrive a day or two early in Trier, but will not stay longer in Vienna. It will be our first tour in Europe, and we look at it as the tour we have always wanted to take--as the Icelandic volcano eruption interfered with our previous attempt to visit the continent. We wonder whether to make any reservations for the free time (suggestions??), but also want the option to relax and just take in the sights if we feel like slowing down. We are really excited about the trip! I'm constantly reading the packing suggestions, etc...we would love to just carry on our luggage and have found smaller options. The challenge for my husband is whether to take more than one pair of shoes...if so, they'll take up packing space which is at a premium...my opinion is that happy feet make a happy trip. My challenge is whether to wear jeans--not for the washing/drying issue--but whether they are "appropriate" or if I will stand out by wearing them. I'm just not a person who dresses up alot :) And I'd like to thank all of you who have shared your experiences and wisdom gained! Please share any suggestions for free time, or any advice to us as first time visitors to Europe :)

Posted by
5894 posts

pkskow4, jeans are as common there as they are here. Everyone is in the same boat as far as dressing, so don't fret - it has to be pretty casual. Your tour leader will be able to make suggestions and even help with arrangements for free time activities. In Baden-Baden, a group of people went to the baths which the leader took them to. In Mürren, a group went up the Schilthorn, and there were plenty of options for hiking. For Salzburg, a group went to a concert/dinner event, which the leader helped arrange. Some people went on the Sound of Music tour, which they arranged while there. So there is plenty of things you can do if you want, and not really a need to plan in advance.

PS I always only take one pair of shoes - the ones I wear on the plane. As long as they are well broken-in I see no need to have another.

Posted by
8203 posts

Pkskow4 I look forward to reading the replies you get and appreciate Stan's response. I'm taking this tour the end of August and doing much the same as you are. In to Trier 2 nights before and not staying extra time in Vienna. Although now that a friend has sent me a bunch of stuff on Vienna I realize not staying over was probably a mistake!

I don't have my guide book yet so haven't started planning in earnest but wow, there is a lot to see in Trier.

I have done a number of RS tours and I always plan to do any of the extra things the guide organizes. I did the 21 Day Best of Europe and the one day we had in Switzerland was my favorite day of the whole trip. If your guide offers an optional trip up the Schilthorn do take them up on it! Ditto hiking.

I always take a pr of jeans. They will do better if you take ones that have a little poly in them that way they will dry overnight if you choose to do sink wash.

This is going to be fun isn't it!

Posted by
25 posts

Yes, Pam this is going to be amazing!! When I first started reading the forums here, I was convinced I had to find pants other than jeans (because of washing etc) then as I continued, I realized that the fabric made a difference and I saw a few posts that really helped me to focus on what you were doing versus what you wear :) I haven't packed yet, but will be more relaxed about it than earlier in this planning adventure :)

Has anyone checked a bag and had issues with it on a nonstop flight into Frankfurt (we're flying Luftansa)?

Posted by
25 posts

Stan, thank you for your reply. Do you know if it possible to take a trip to the Eagles' Nest when in Salzburg? I'm not sure how much time that would take or how far it is from there. We are both interested in WWII history so we thought that would be very interesting.

Posted by
4285 posts

Jeans are fine. I manage a large office here and most of my staff wear jeans to work everyday. It is very common.

Posted by
5894 posts

pkskow4, I think Bercthesgaden is close enough its possible, but it would take up most of a whole day to see the Eagles Nest, and you'd have to skip the planned activities (which is OK as long as tour leader knows). You'd be trading your quality time in Salzburg for it. I think Salzburg is full of interesting things to see, so I'd prefer to stay in Salzburg. You will visit the WWII concentration camp at Matthausen for some history as well.

Re: clothes. The RS website has a lot of photos which show how people are dressed on the tour and on the street. You'll see lots of jeans and shorts, etc. The key is not looking like a slob. I think Mürren was the only place we were at long enough to get hotel laundry service, but it sure was worth it.

Posted by
25 posts

Thank you Emily and Stan. I feel better about wearing jeans now :)

Stan, what are your favorite/recommended places to see in Salzburg?

Posted by
366 posts

pkskow4

I took the GAS tour several years ago and loved it. In Salzburg there is a puppet theater which is amazing. (Look at their website) I spoke to the tour guide on the second day of the tour and she had our hotel in Salzburg make reservations. After others on the tour found out almost the entire group went. They did Mozart's Magic Flute and you actually forget you are watching puppets until the end. Well worth an evening. Also go to Furst and get Mozart Balls (Not the proper name). Great candy.

When we were in Murren we went up the Schilthorn and then because it was cold and cloudy we all went back to the hotel and sat in front of a roaring fire and had hot chocolate. Take time to relax, have a beer in a beer garden in Munich. Walk through the markets. Remember you are on vacation and don't try to pack too much in. Some of the best times I had were sitting with fellow tour members, having a drink and chatting.

As for packing, I always take two pairs of shoes, and have taken jeans on every trip. Take what makes you feel comfortable. If you find you forgot something, hey you can buy a souvenir of your trip. Even as a veteran of 8 RS tours, I usually end up taking something that I never use.

You will love this trip, it was one of the best I have taken.

Posted by
1173 posts

I have been on 13 tours and taking the GAS tour the very end of August into September. I always wear jeans on the plane. The only time I do not bring a pair of jeans was when I go to Italy. Way too hot in Italy most of the time. I bought the GAP girlfriend chino and will bring a couple of pairs of pants. They seem light enough and come in several colors. I will also bring a rain jacket and a scarf, just in case it is chilly in the mornings or rains and I need some warmth. I do bring an extra pair of shoes to change off in and once in Ireland, my sneakers got wet, so I had to let them dry out. I had a second pair of shoes to wear. Layering is the key, so if it is chilly you have a hoodie and if it is warm you take it off and put it in your tote bag.

Everyone wears jeans. You will stand out anyway because you touring and going to tourist sites and the locals know who the Americans are. But that is ok, it is more about how you act and not be loud and be very polite ( not to say your not polite or that your loud) which is what matters the most!

Would love to hear about your trip after you go, as I said I am going on this tour later in the summer. It would be most helpful.

Have a great time. Do look in the RS website at the GAS scrapbooks, you may find that very helpful and informative. I did.

Posted by
5894 posts

"Stan, what are your favorite/recommended places to see in Salzburg?"

I've been there three times, but I have no original thoughts. Our tour leader and the local guide gave many suggestions. Weather is a big factor. We took the funicular up to the castle, and had a nice lunch at the outdoor cafe - great views in all directions on a sunny day. There is a hotel across the river from the old town, with a cafe on the roof, that makes for great photo ops. I wasn't much interested in the omnipresent Mozart sites, but some were. There was a farmers' market going on in a square near the center. Some folks toured the Mirabell gardens and palace All this was walkable from our hotel. Time goes by quickly, but you have to relax and not try to cram a lot into it. Its a very pleasant place just to stroll and observe.

Posted by
25 posts

After spending most of my afternoon looking at online scrapbooks, I'm now wondering about the temperatures. We will be there in mid-late June...any experiences? Seems like I saw average highs were 70 degrees Fahrenheit...and have read that air conditioning is not common in hotels. I have a very light rain jacket I'm planning to take, but find highs of 70 perfect for short sleeves...:) Oh, has anyone taken an inflatable travel pillow and how did it work out for you?

Thank you so much for sharing all of your thoughts and experiences! So excited! :)

Posted by
1926 posts

My family and I were on this tour in late June a couple of years ago. I can only tell you we had snow and/or rain every day we were in Murren, Munich and Salzburg. Loved the tour in spite of the weather-after all, we were in Europe! Hard to impossible to predict what your weather will be like but along with others here, I strongly recommend dressing in layers. I always pack my jeans. Believe me, you will not stand out. Mine are a blend and wash and dry overnight. Due to snow/rain equalling wet shoes, I also highly recommend your husband take one more pair of shoes so he will have some back up dry ones in case you experience the same type of weather we did. I absolutely agree with you that "happy feet make a happy trip"! It's truly a wonderful tour and I know you will love it! You have a wealth of suggestions for your free time and your guide will have some also. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
64 posts

You will find many Rick Steves tour members wearing rugged/outdoor/travel clothes (e.g. Tilley hats, zip-off pants, popular outdoorsy brands such as Tilley, ExOfficio, Columbia, EMS, REI, etc.). Having done several Rick Steves tours, in the past, I often wondered what our travel companions actually looked like when not in their "travel uniforms". I used to dress like this for travel, but now prefer to wear the same kind of casual (but stylish) clothes I wear when not traveling. I also like to blend in with the locals as much as possible. The key is to pack lightly and wear comfortable, easy-care clothes. Yes, jeans are fine and are commonly worn by Europeans. You will probably read travel articles telling you to bring a skirt and scarves. I never bring a skirt, as I seldom wear them at home. Scarves are good if they are part of your regular style. If not, there is no point in packing them. My husband and I travel all over the world for months at a time, often with only carry on luggage. For this purpose, I recommend the Rick Steves suitcase on wheels, coupled with a Rick Steves tote (which weighs very little and stacks on top of the suitcase). The suitcase is sized to fit in the overhead compartment on most planes. The tote fits under the seat. Packing Rick's Civita day pack (which weighs nothing) is also a good idea. All three items are made by Kiva, are available on the Rick Steves website and are well-priced. If you are not "into" carrying a daypack, I would recommend a light-weight crossbody bag....I like Baggallini. Regarding shoes, despite the weight, your husband should each have at least two pairs of shoes....one pair to wear and another to pack. We have sometimes needed 24 hours for our shoes to dry after a rain storm.
A word of fashion advice: You have probably heard that you should not wear white sneakers in Europe. I agree with that advice 100%. Baseball caps are seldom worn by Europeans, although some kind of hat is a good idea for sunny days. For your itinerary, I do not think it is necessary to make reservations for your free time. However, I would definitely read the Rick Steves books for each country, in advance of the trip. Although the idea of ruining a book disturbs me, I often tear out the relevant pages, to save space in my luggage. Your guide will also have suggestions for your free time. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
25 posts

Thank you Patrice, and all the others who have and are responding to this post. I agree that two pairs of shoes would be best for my husband...just have to make them fit! :) I've heard the white tennis shoes advice, and while I do have lots of tennis shoes, none are white. :) Actually have a pair of Vionics (black) ordered and on the way. :) I had not thought of the shoes getting so wet that we couldn't wear them, so thank you for that! We do plan to take rolling carryons; not Rick Steves, as I found some for $40 each, less than 5lbs at TJMaxx. The personal item bags are still undecided for the plane, but will probably include a backpack for him and possibly to carry as a daypack...I'm just not sure we'll need much more than the small Baggellini I have and plan to fit my camera, hand sanitizer, small amount of cash and Aleve in. :) As for clothing, it's time to practice packing--see what fits, what I really want to wear, and what that weighs. IF we can't fit what we want into the carryons, we can check a bag. That wouldn't be the end of the world, I just wouldn't put anything we couldn't live without in it.

Posted by
280 posts

My husband and I took this tour last September. First I'll address the free time. In Trier we had no free time after we returned from Burg Eltz. We got back in time for dinner. (We arrived 2 days early and took the train out to St Goar and did the local Rhine river cruise. Loved it! It was an easy train ride from St Goar to Trier). Your next stop is in Baden-Baden. Several people on out tour went to the baths. We walked to the bus stop and took a bus up to Merkur Mountain. The bus takes you to a funicular that transports you up the mountain. The scenery was beautiful and we watched several Para-gliders taking off from the mountain. It was a nice afternoon. In Murren, we went to the top of the Shilthorn and then took the hike with our guide afterwards. You can only do this if the weather is good. The cost to take the gondola up to the Shilthorn is expensive, so you won't want to go unless the weather is clear. The hike with our guide was the highlight of the tour. Incredibly beautiful! I have bad knees and was concerned about the hike, but the guide will wait for you and nobody makes you feel bad about slowing them down. In Munich you wil have 1/2 of the day and evening. We wanted to buy a dirndl and lederhosen, so we walked to a resale shop and had a great time shopping. If we'd had more time, I'd have gone to the Residenz. Several tour mates said it was very good. (There's a laundry available at Munich just a few blocks from our hotel). Our free afternoon in Salzburg we took the funicular to the walled fortress up the hill. That night we attended a Mozart concert at the Mirabell palace. Your guide can arrange it. There will be several options of concerts. Some tour mates went to a marionette show and they loved it! Just one more option. You will see a lot of the Sound of Music sites on your tour. At Hallstatt we took the funicular up to the overlook. The salt tour leaves from the top of the funicular, but we didn't take that tour. In Vienna we toured the Imperial Palace museum. It is actually 3 museums. It includes the Sisi museum, the royal apartments and a museum of all the silverware, glasses and China. All of it was interesting.

Yes, wear your jeans. I wear some that are lightweight with spandex. Very stretchy and comfy, dry quickly. We always wear hiking shoes instead of a walking shoe. They are usually waterproof. I usually wear a pair Thru the airport and pack a lightweight pair of slip-ones and a very thin pair of sandals. My husband wears hiking shoes and packs 1 additional pair of shoes. I always wear smart-wool socks. They are warm in cool weather and cool when it's hot. They dry fairly fast. There will be no air conditioning on this trip except on the bus. Be prepared with chinos or quick drying pants. For shirts, the all-cotton dry very slowly. Look for shirts with a blend that "wick" sweat away. They dry very quickly. Look for them at sporting goods stores. If you have additional questions you can "private message" me. I love to visit with other travelers.

Posted by
556 posts

Hi pkskow4,

I am considering taking this tour in mid-August so this was helpful. I can't add much to what others have said, but I will mention that Lufthansa is strict about their carry-on guidelines. I believe it is only 18 pounds. If your bag weighs 5, that only leaves you 13 pounds of 'stuff' to pack, which trust me, is not a lot. However, if you are checking your carry-on, then there is no need to worry. But, if you truly want to carry it on the plane, I would do a test run now - pack and hop on a scale with it and see how much it actually weighs when full.

For Pam and Ann, what dates are you both considering for you tours? I always want to meet people from the Helplines. :)

:) Gretchen

Posted by
91 posts

If you are adventurous, your guide can help arrange for paragliding off of the cliff near Murren, gliding back and forth over the valley. It was an exilerating experience!

Posted by
25 posts

Ron, I'm not usually super adventurous, but if that's something you do as a "ride along" it sounds like a blast! :) Did you do this?

Thank you again for all of the answers here. Counting the days, practice packing, planning for the trip of a lifetime! :) Happy traveling!

Posted by
981 posts

I flew out of SFO this time last year on Lufthansa and while my mother and I were lining up to board the Lufthansa gate staff where walking down the two lines and taking bags that seemed a bit larger or overstuffed and weighing them. If they were to heavy, they had the passengers check them in. The nice thing was you did not have to get out of line. The staff took your bag to the desk, tagged it and brought the receipt back to you at no charge. There were a few upset folks about this, I ensured both our carryons were under the max wt., since we already had checked in bags. Will be flying our again this August on Lufthansa and will adhere to the wt. max.

Posted by
91 posts

pkskow4

Yes I did the paragliding. I believe 5 in our group did it on 2 different days. It is a "tandem" flight with a pilot in control. You just sit in front of him and take it all in! Mine talked to me most of the time pointing out various sites and telling me how he was watching the birds to know where to pick up the updrafts. You do have to be able to "run" downhill a short distance to allow the parachute to fill with air, but very quickly your feet are off the ground and then you just sit back and take in the views!

Posted by
25 posts

Ron, that sounds amazing! Might have to try it!!

brushtim, Thank you for commenting. I had thought they might be pretty strict about the bags. Glad you were prepared! If you took a Rick Steve's tour, how did it go with a check bag and carry on luggage as you traveled from place to place? Did you find it difficult transporting multiple bags in/out/to the hotels? (If you don't mind me asking)

Posted by
206 posts

pkskow4
You have picked a great tour and each stop will be great. If you have an extra day, Frankfurt, is a great city to visit. Can always ask Ms Jo on the site what is going on the days you will be in that area. So much to see in the area and Jo has posted many things to see in and around Frankfurt.
As far as clothing, I always noticed there are always a few that seem to dress well on the tours and others that dress ok. Those that dress well seem to have many outfits, but they just know how to mix and match. Maybe one skirt that goes well with several other tops they have. Women always seem to have at least one pair of shoes other than what they use for the walking tours. Most men only have the pair they wear on the plane. An extra pair weighs a lot and takes up space in the bag. Hard to beat Rick's packing tips.
Depending on what day you are in Munich there is lots to see there on the half day you have free. I was there on a Sunday but just happened to be opening weekend of Oktoberfest. That was wonderful. English Gardens in Munich is a great park to visit. Probably see some sights there you won't see anywhere else. Sure amazed many of us several years ago.
Salzburg is one of my favorite places. Easy to walk anywhere you want to go, lots to see, and great shopping. Also good area to ride a bike out in the countryside. You could go to the Eagle's Nest, but I would really not want to waste the day to go there. I am also a WWII history nut, but the history there is that is was Hitler's part time residence.

No matter what you do in Switzerland, you can't go wrong. Just hope for good weather and enjoy.
Imagine you will still have a half day free in Vienna. Easy to get around on public transportation and great areas to walk.

If there are any daily markets open anywhere you go, be sure to stop and look around. They are great to talk to locals and just to enjoy a weekly routine that has been going on for hundreds of years there.

Have a wonderful time in GAS. My three favorite countries.
Tony

Posted by
107 posts

I just stumbled across this thread and found the above comment very interesting. We took this tour last fall (our 7th). My take on the free time is as follows:
- do some research to get an idea of what might interest you - look
- do ask your guide for recommendations/advice re your interests
- watch out for the weather and local festivals and events

- don't overplan or over commit ahead of time, keep flexible for any sudden opportunities

Posted by
107 posts

I just stumbled across this thread and found the above comment very interesting. We took this tour last fall (our 7th). My take on the free time is as follows:
- do some research to get an idea of what might interest you - look at museum special exhibits, concert schedules, wine tours or whatever your special interests are.
- do ask your guide for recommendations/advice re your interests. Do this early on.
- if you have the time add a couple of days in Trier and more in Vienna. We spent an extra week in Vienna. Point is, the tour is just a taste of what there is to see.
- watch out for the weather and for local festivals and events. Serendipity is always possible.
- don't overplan or over commit ahead of time, keep flexible for any sudden opportunities (see above)
- don't be afraid to do nothing - beer gardens, wine bars, sidewalk cafes and parks are all part of the experience

Re clothes, shoes and all that (from a guy). Jeans are fine except that they take forever to dry. Dockers are better. One pair of hiking shorts might be appreciated Sometime feet get wet and an extra pair of shoes is worth the weight if you can fit them in at all. I did pack a pair of low top hiking boots which I appreciated in Murren. I personally think those who dress as if they are hiking the Pacific Crest trail look silly. JMHO