Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Grand Plan

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here before, but this summer Dawn and I are going to Switzerland, Austria, and southern Germany for several weeks. I've been doing a lot of planning for it lately - not because I want an immaculately planned vacation, but because I enjoy the process, and because while planning I learn a lot about where we're going, which gets me more excited to go.

Hiking is the focus of this trip, and most of it will be in the Alps. We actually meant to take this trip last year, but we bought our house instead. We've been saving for the trip since, and now it looks like it's a go for mid-July.

Of course, that's a pretty ugly time to non-rev to Europe. We're just going to buy a ton of backup passes on Swiss, Lufthansa, Northwest, American, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. Between all those carriers, and giving ourselves several days for travel, I think we'll manage to get ourselves to Zürich, perhaps via London, Amsterdam, or Frankfurt. Once we're in Switzerland, we'll be using rail passes to get around, and then renting a car for our short stays in Austria and Germany.

After Zürich, we'll be touring Bern and Luzern, before catching a train across the St Gothard Pass and down the Rhône river valley to Zermatt, near the Matterhorn. There, we'll make overnight hikes to the Schönbielhütte mountain hut and Fluhalp berggasthaus. After Zermatt, we'll stop for a night in Interlaken before pressing into the Jungfrau region. We'll be staying at least four nights at the Mountain Hostel in the small village of Gimmelwald, and taking day hikes from there.

After Gimmelwald, we're renting a car in Luzern and driving to Reutte, Austria. Reutte is just across the German border from the more well-known towns of Füssen and Oberammergau, making it ideal as a base to explore "Mad King" Ludwig II's castles (Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, and Linderhof) as well as the ruined castles of Ehrenberg near Reutte itself. We'll be staying in a privatzimmer in Reutte; many people rent spare rooms for around €30/night.

Our last stop will be Munich. Besides the "Hofbräuhaus and Schloss Schleißheim" type stuff, we'll try to get out to the Andechs monastary and Dachau concentration camp - I've wanted to visit Dachau in particular for a long time. After that it'll be time to play the nonrev lotto once more. If it takes a while to get out, oh well - there are worse places to be stuck than Munich.

So there you have it - everything you need to stalk Dawn and I on our trip this summer. If any of you have been to the aforementioned places and have any good stories and/or tips, I'd love to hear'em.


dph said...

My wife and I were in Switzerland for out honeymoon last July. It was beautiful. If you are going in the later part of July, you should have better luck with the weather than we did. Apparently the first 2 weeks of July are pretty reliably rainy. The exception to this is the areas around the Italian border as it is far drier down that way.

The Jungfrau region was our favourite hiking area. Lots of hiking choices. Go for the swiss rail passes rather than combo type passes if you are spending a bunch of time in Switzerland because pretty much all the rail lines and municipal transports are covered. It's kind of nice to just randomly get on trams in Zurich to go explore.

If you have luggage and are wanting to do a multi-train hop across switzerland with some exploring, and you are at a decent train station, you can send your luggage ahead and it arrives at 5 that night at your final destination. It costs a bit (20 swiss franks a bag?) but allows you to explore unencumbered. Make sure to ask for the one that gets there that night, because they have another type that gets there the following day, which can be a pain (as we found out).

Also, here is our experience with languages. In the more french regions, they speak french, german and english in that order of fluency. In the more german areas, they speak german, english and then a little french (I am french english bilingual, and it was interesting communicating with a hotel proprietor in poor french, when he was fluent in English but just didn't realize that we spoke english, he just knew we didn't speak German). In the Italian regions, they speak Italian.


Sam said...

I didn't realize that about the first 2 weeks of July. We'll be in Zurich/Bern/Luzern then; our hiking kicks off in Zermatt around the 12th. That's right on the Italian border, suspect it's dryer.

We actually are doing the Swiss Pass...I ran all the possible options, and it's cheapest to do a 3-day Swiss Flexipass, because on "off days" it functions as a half-fare card, for trains as well as local transport, cablecars, funiculars, etc. We'll use pass days on our three most expensive pass days and the half fare option on the other days, and altogether are keeping train costs down to about $190/person.

Good tip about sending luggage ahead, I'd heard about that but didn't realize there was an overnight option to watch out for.

We'll be mainly in German areas, so I've been learning that. 'Course that doesn't guarantee I'll understand a word of Schwyzertütsch.

Flygirl said...

I will definately be living vicariously through you and Dawn...this sounds like a fabulous vacation!

Anonymous said...

I went to the University of maryland-munich from 1980-82. kloster andechs was the site of my great saturday afternoons.

Markus said...

If you get stuck in munich for an additional day, you can come to Nürnberg (Nuremberg) and visit the medieval city center with the caste (Burg), and the nazi party rally grounds (Reichsparteitagsgelände), which you might be interested in after the concentration camp in dachau. Lots of hitler's gigantomaniacal architecture. Seeing both is doable in one day.

It's just a 60 minutes train ride from munich via the new high-speed rail line opened last year.