Talk about the last minute …

April 7, 2010

We have made a last minute change to our accommodation in Luzern. We were planning on staying at the Tourist Hotel, but have now decide to switch to the Hotel Bellevue. The reason for this was two-fold. One, we worked out we had spent much less on accommodation than we had planned. And two, we decided that while at Luzern we would like to have a lake view, yet not be too far from the town. So based on tripadvisor.com reviews, the Hotel Bellevue got the nod.


Glacier Express

March 31, 2010

Glacier ExpressOne of the highlights of our time in Switzerland will be a trip on the Glacier Express, advertised quaintly as “The Slowest Express Train in The World”.

This train travels through the Rhine gorge between the mountain village of Zermatt, (which nestles at the foot of the Matterhorn) to the celebrity strewn mountain resort of St Moritz.  We are travelling about 75% of this journey and will be getting off at the town of Chur [famous for being the birthplace of H.R.Giger who inspired the creature in the Alien movie series].

Glacier Express Route

The reason for terminating at Chur is that we want to be in Luzern by the end of the day [and, truth be known, we didn’t see ourselves fitting in at St Moritz].  We leave Zermatt at 10:00 AM and arrive at Chur at 3:15 PM.  An hour in Chur [with maybe a visit to the Giger Bar] and then its on to Thalwil before changing trains again to head to Luzern.  Our expected arrival in Luzern is at 18:25, 8 1/2 hours after leaving Zermatt.

We will be travelling 2nd Class, but from all accounts the only difference between 1st and second class is the size of the seat.  And as you can see in the advertising photo the views are just as spectacular.  As we have purchased a Swiss Rail Pass, the cost of the journey is covered, however for this train, there is a reservation charge of 33 CHF each plus an extra 44 CHF for a 3 course meal served at your seat.

This will definitely be one of the days we will be looking forward to.


Slight scare

March 31, 2010

Yesterday we had a slight scare re our trip.  Glenda has been bugging me for about a week to check our seats with Qantas as they were not showing up on our booking on their web site.  I told her not to worry so much and that they will be fine.   Yesterday she decided that rather than bug me again, she would ring them herself.  When she rang Qantas and asked if she could confirm our seats on Flight QF87 from Sydney to Hong Kong leaving at 2:20 PM, she was told “Oh, that flight was cancelled about 8 weeks ago and we moved you to a new flight leaving Sydney at 10:45 AM”  This presented a slight problem as our connecting flight from Canberra to Sydney was scheduled to arrive in Sydney at 10:40 AM.

When asked why Qantas had not advised us of the change, Glenda was told, that because we had booked through FlightCentre, Qantas had informed FlightCentre and left it to them to call us.   In fact, as it turns out, our flights had been changed twice.  When the flight was first cancelled, we were moved to a flight leaving at 9:00 PM.  Then Qantas realised we were connecting to a Swiss Air flight in Hong Kong and would therefore miss that flight if we left Sydney at 9:00PM, so they moved us to the 10:45 AM flight.

Well, those of you who know Glenda can imagine what happened next.  Yep, she got a tad worried and more than a tad annoyed.  She rang Swiss Air and confirmed our flights with them hadn’t changed, which they hadn’t.  Then she rang Qantas back and asked them to change our Canberra to Sydney flight which they did.  (We are now leaving Canberra at 7:30 AM instead of 9:50 AM).  Then she rang me and organised with me for us to go into FlightCentre at lunchtime to “discuss” why we had not been informed.

When we got to FlightCentre we spoke to one of their agents who listened while Glenda explained what the problem was and how annoyed she was.  The agent then spent about 10 mins typing at her keyboard,  probably checking all our flight details, before finally saying she was new and that we should probably talk to the Manager.  We then stood and waited about 15 mins while the Manager saw two other people, [one of whom arrived after we did, but who had an appointment].  By this stage Glenda was getting extremely frustrated, so that when we finally got to talk to the manager she let fly.  The guy was a little taken aback at the sudden onslaught and got defensive and a little annoyed himself.  Once she had calmed down, and he had calmed down, we explained the situation.  He then spent another ten minutes at his keyboard, we assumed he was checking the same facts that the previous girl had checked.  He then told us that a voice message had been left on Glenda’s phone the 2nd of February asking us to call.  Now as far as Glenda was aware she never received any message on her voice mail and its extremely unlikely that if she had received it that she would forget such an important message.   We asked him why they hadn’t called my number and he said that Glenda’s number was the only one they had on file.

He then tried to shift the blame to us and said it’s every travellers responsibility to check their flights for changes and/or cancellations.  He said the best he could do was print off the new itinerary for us which he did.  Frustrated, we left with the new itinerary and without any semblance of an apology.  It was only later that we found printed at the top of  the itinerary were not only Glenda’s phone number and our residential address, but also my phone number and email address.  Telling us that they only had Glenda’s number on file was either an outright lie or a display of total incompetence.  Also, I’m not a customer service expert, but I would imagine it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to notice that we had not responded to their original phone call and either to call us back again or to try another contact.

So the upshot of all this is that we now leave 3 hours earlier from Canberra, we have an extra 4 hours in Hong Kong waiting for our connecting flight to Zurich and have a much lower appreciation for FlightCentre.  Oh, and when bugged by Glenda to check some detail or fact, I will trust her instincts a little more.


London to Paris to Bern legs booked

March 2, 2010

Have now booked the London to Paris and Paris to Bern legs of our trip.  In both cases, I relied heavily on advice from The Man in Seat 61 [www.seat61.com].  I’ve said before and I’ll have no hesitation repeating myself that this site is an excellent resource for anyone contemplating train travel through Europe.

London to Paris

We are travelling on Eurostar for this leg.  The trip will take us about 2 and a half hours.  Leaving London’s St Pancras station around midday and arriving Paris Nord at around 3:30 PM.  I was quite impressed by the Eurostar.com online booking site which even gave me the option of choosing which seats I wanted in which carriage.  By booking this trip 120 days in advance we managed to get 2 adult seats for less than 90 Euro.

And no, we didn’t choose seat 61.

Paris to Bern

We are travelling via Lausanne for our trip to Bern from Paris.  We leave Paris at around 8:00 AM on the TGV Sud-Est, change trains in Lausanne around midday to a Swiss rail intercity train and arrive in Bern around 1:30 PM.   We booked the tickets using the French site [The Man in Seat 61 helped again here with excellent instruction here].  By booking direct and 90 days in advance we were able to get 2 adult tickets for less than 100 Euro.

Now that those two trips are booked the only rail booking left to do is our Swiss rail pass and any Swiss rail trips that require reservations.

Note: the fares mentioned here are based on non-refundable tickets.  Given we know exactly which days we are travelling, this was the cheapest option for us.


More Accommodation

February 27, 2010

Some time ago I outlined details of our Irish accommodation so thought I’d better outline details of the remainder of the accommodation we have booked.

The list  falls into four main parts : London, Paris, Switzerland and Hong Kong.

London

108 StreathbourneFor London, we have chosen 108 Streathbourne, a B&B a little way out of central London.  This B&B has been recommended by Trip Advisor as the 2nd best B&B in London.  Its run by an English/Australian couple and is close by the underground [Tooting Bec on the Northern line is the closest station], yet far enough out of central London to be relaxing.  We are looking forward to staying there.

Paris

10 rue Fontaine ParisOur Paris accommodation will be at 10 rue Fontaine.  Located in the heart of one of Paris’ liveliest neighborhoods, this one-bedroom 4th floor apartment is just steps away from the Moulin Rouge, Montmartre and Sacré Coeur.  We are renting this apartment from Frenchy Rentals, a small property management group who rent out apartments for the owners.  We found this apartment via vrbo.com [Vacation Rentals by Owner] but booked it directly through Frenchy Rentals.

Switzerland

We are staying in five different locations in Switzerland ranging from the capital city to a mountain resort.  Accommodation in Switzerland is quite expensive despite the very good Australian dollar to Swiss Franc exchange rate, so we have had to economise a little.

Bern

For our two nights in Berne, we are staying at the Bern Backpackers [Hotel Glocke], booked through hostels.com, in a Twin Private room with a shared bathroom.  Located in an historic building which is part of the city’s UNESCO world heritage area, the hostel is centrally located and close to the train station.

Wengen

For our two nights in Wengen, a Swiss ski resort, we are staying at the Hotel Belvedere.  Wengen is a no-car zone, so we chose the Belvedere because it is within walking distance of the Wengen station and because it was the best looking hotel in Wengen.  The hotel is a traditional art nouveau-style chalet hotel overlooking the Alps.  We’ve chosen a double room plus breakfast.

Zermatt

For our two nights in Zermatt, a small village close to the Matterhorn, we are staying in Le Petit Hôtel, a fairly modern hotel.  Being a very popular tourist destination, and at one end of the famous Glacier Express train trip [more on that in a future post], accommodation in Zermatt was hard to come by and I think we were lucky to get a place to stay, despite booking 6 months in advance.

Luzern

For our two nights in Luzern, we have chosen a budget hotel imaginatively named the Tourist Hotel.  This hotel is located on the Reuss River and is close by the main railway station and is just a couple of minutes walk from the streets of the old town of Luzern.  Despite being classified as a two-star hotel and being closer to a hostel than a hotel, it  received fairly good reviews from TripAdvisor.com.

Zurich

For our three nights in Zurich, we have splurged a little [within our budget, at least] and have booked into the Hotel Continental. Built in the 1960s, the Hotel features Swiss chalet-style interiors and is centrally situated, 500 metres from the downtown area and the main train station.  It also received very good reviews on TripAdvisor.com.  The exterior of the hotel, in the photos I’ve seen, looks to be your typical bland 60’s architecture, but the interior photos belie the drab exterior.

Hong Kong

We are staying in Hong Kong for 3 nights on our way back to Australia.  We have chosen a harbour view room at The Salisbury – YMCA in the Tsim Sha Tsui part of the city.  Reasonably central, this hotel came recommended by a couple of friends which was good enough for us.



Some Financial Links

February 27, 2010

Some quick links to exchange rates for our reference :

AUD/EUR

AUD/CHF

AUD/GBP


Moving to WordPress

February 21, 2010

In the middle of moving the hosting of this blog to WordPress, so there may be slight interruptions to service.


Training through Europe

December 28, 2009

Been spending a lot of time looking at train options for our trip.

We have 3 main train components in our plans. The first is from London to Paris. Second is Paris to Berne and lastly the train journeys through Switzerland.

The rail networks throughout Europe are quite extensive [for example, here is Switzerland’s] and very well run and maintained. They also compare very favourably to air travel. A vast difference to the Australian rail network which is abysmal by comparison. Once you start looking at train options, there is a wealth of information of varying usefulness out there. Many sites are just fronts for travel agents or ticket agencies and don’t give to a lot of pricing information unless you go through their booking process.

The official rail websites for France and Switzerland [www.sbb.ch] on the other hand were very useful for getting timetable and ticket price information. The Swiss one in particular was extremely good. Give it your starting point and your destination and it will tell you all the connecting journeys required as well as produce a map of your journey. Very useful but a little dry on useful details on the best options.

By far the best site I found was an independent site called The Man in Seat 61 [www.seat61.com]. Started as a hobby this site is amazingly full of detail. He discusses the best options for travelling by train, including when and how to buy your tickets, details of what you will see on each train journey, photos of the trains, inside the trains and the stations, when and where to change trains, whether to get a rail pass or not, seat maps on some services and details of the food and other services available. Full of links to the various official train sites and ticketing agents. I used this site extensively to get up to speed with the options available to us and recommend it as a first point to visit for anything to do with train travel in Europe.


Itinerary Version 5

December 27, 2009

Some more tweaks to our itinerary. We have added an extra day in London and we have decided to stay in Paris for a week rather than just 3 days. The plan is to do day tours from Paris to other parts of France rather than try and move around too much.

Itinerary v5

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Apr 11 Apr 12 Apr 13 Apr 14 Apr 15 Apr 16 Apr 17
Sydney Fly Fly/ Dublin Dublin Wicklow Area
Apr 18 Apr 19 Apr 20 Apr 21 Apr 22 Apr 23 Apr 24
Wicklow Area Wicklow Area Wicklow Area Wicklow Area Wicklow Area Wicklow Area Cork Area
Apr 25 Apr 26 Apr 27 Apr 28 Apr 29 Apr 30 May 01
Cork Area Cork Area Cork Area Cork Area Cork Area Cork Area Galway Area
May 02 May 03 May 04 May 05 May 06 May 07 May 08
Galway Area Galway Area Galway Area Galway Area Galway Area Galway Area Northern Ireland
May 09 May 10 May 11 May 12 May 13 May 14 May 15
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Dublin
May 16 May 17 May 18 May 19 May 20 May 21 May 22
Dublin Ferry/
Train/ London
London London London London Train/ Paris
May 23 May 24 May 25 May 26 May 27 May 28 May 29
Paris Paris Paris Paris Paris Paris Train/ Bern
May 30 May 31 Jun 01 Jun 02 Jun 03 Jun 04 Jun 05
Bern Train/ Wengen Wengen Train/ Zermatt Zermatt Train/ Luzern Luzern
Jun 06 Jun 07 Jun 08 Jun 09 Jun 10 Jun 11 Jun 12
Train/ Zurich Zurich Zurich Fly/ Hong Kong Hong Kong Hong Kong Fly
Jun 13 Jun 14 Jun 15 Jun 16 Jun 17 Jun 18 Jun 19
Sydney

Ireland Accomodation Sorted

November 18, 2009

Well, stage one of the trip planning is done. We have sorted out our accommodation in Ireland.

Here’s the rundown….


Dublin
15th April-17th April

We will be arriving in Dublin from Zurich at 10:35 am on 15th April. We will be staying at Egans Guesthouse in the suburb of Glasnevin. Egans Guesthouse is a 3 star B&B, just 15 mins walk north of Dublin City and comes fairly highly recommended by Tripadvisor.com as well as many other travel sites. In many respects, its just a place for us to catch our breath after our 3 leg flight from Australia. We are only spending two nights here as most cottage rentals start on Saturday.


Wicklow Area
17th April-24th April

First stop after Dublin will be in Cottage No 2 in Avoca, County Wicklow. This cottage is located in the scenic valley of Avonbeg River, close to the Meeting of the Waters and the Vale of Avoca (location of Ballykissangel). Its apparently a very scenic area close to the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough. This will be our base for a week, while we tour the areas in and around Counties Wicklow, Carlow, Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny.


Cork Area
24th April-1st May

Next stop will be Mill House Cottage at CastleOliver Farm located between Cork and Limerick.

According to their website, Mill House Cottage is “a charming, enchanting and beautifully restored 17th Century Cottage, set in a very scenic location with
panoramic views of the Ballyhoura mountains. It offers a very safe environment and an exceptionally comfortable and excellent touring base for exploring Killarney, Kerry, Waterford, Tipperary and the South and West of Ireland.” Which is everything that we are planning on using it for.


Galway Area
1st May-8th May

From CastleOliver Farm, we will be moving on to Cottage 206 in Craughwell, County Galway. Located in a quiet farming village and surrounded by meadows yet only 14 miles from the centre of Galway City. 2 miles from the village of Craughwell, and close to the Dunkellin River, 6 miles from the sea and only 15 miles from The Burren in Co. Clare. This will be a perfect base for us to explore the West Coast of Ireland.


Northern Ireland
8th May-15th May

After Galway and the wilds of the West Coast, we will be moving onto the “wilds” of Northern Ireland. Our base here will be Stable Court just outside of Antrim on the shores of Lough Neagh. Stable Court’s close proximity to the main arterial routes provides easy access to Belfast and Northern Ireland’s major attractions, such as the famous North Antrim Coast and the Giant’s Causeway as well as the Midlands north of Dublin city.


Dublin
15th May-17th May

We will return to Dublin from Antrim on 15th May. Once again, we will be staying at Egans Guesthouse. It will be somewhere familiar for us to re-gather our strength after our 4 weeks in Ireland before we embark on the next stage of our trip to London and beyond to mainland Europe.

For those with Google Earth, here is a KML file showing details of where the cottages are located.