Changing Ships Midstream

April 18, 2010

Well yesterday was a day of change. We both woke up bright and bushytailed at 4:00 am courtesy of maladjusted body clocks.  After watching the changing situation on CNN, we decided that we could sit around in Zurich until Tuesday and have probably a  40% chance that our plane would actually leave or we could look at alternative transport. We did some research over the web looking at train and ferry options and found that we could get a ferry to Ireland from Cherbourg so it would just be a matter of getting to Cherbourg.

Checking the French rail website, we found that there were trains available from Paris to Cherbourg.  So then I checked the Swiss rail network and found that there appeared to be trains available from Zurich to Paris via Geneva or Basel or Strasbourg.  But I could not book any of these online due to the date being too close.  We had also heard at the airport yesterday that it was possible to change airline flights for train journeys to the Swiss border, so we decided to check that option out.  So we went down to an early breakfast and caught the hotel shuttle to the airport early to see what we could do.

At the airport we saw that there was already a long queue at the Swiss Air desk, so we went to the information desk and asked re changing flights to trains and were told that that option was no longer available and that we would need to book trains ourselves.  We went downstairs and joined the queue at the train ticket window.  Halfway down that queue we realised it was for domestic tickets only and that the international tickets were around the corner, so we moved around to the next office and found ourselves in another queue.  When we finally reached the front of the queue we sat down and told the lady where we wanted to go and she said, “Yes I have tickets all the way through to Cherbourg. The train leaves the airport at 10:05”

I looked at my watch and realised that it was 9:40, and there was no way to get a taxi back to the hotel, get our bags, check out and get back to the airport in 25 mins.  So then we asked her for options for today.  She found a train from Paris to Cherbourg quite easily.  Then she found us a train from Zurich to Basel.  The Basel to Paris leg was the hardest and we eventually said that we would go first class if necessary and she then was able to  find us a train and booked that.  Then when she went back to book the Paris-Cherbourg train, the second class seats had all gone, so we had to go first class for that as well.  The Zurich-Basel train we got as 2nd class.

So we had our Zurich to Cherbourg train organised, booked and paid for.  It was then a case of trying to book the ferry.  We grabbed a seat in the airport coffee shop [which btw made the best coffee we had had since leaving Canberra] and started trying to book a ferry.  The Irish Ferries web site was sufferring from meltdown and was taking forever to change between pages.  I finally managed to make a booking, but then had major trouble trying to pay for it. I kept being told that my userid and password didn’t match.  I was able to reset my password numerous times through their reset password option, but the problem seemed to be in their payment part of the website.  Finally, after three beers worth of trying, I finally managed to get through their system all the way and now we have an overnight ferry booked and paid for leaving Cherbourg to Rosslare at 8:00 pm on the 20th.

At this stage we have no accommodation booked at Cherbourg but are leaving that till we get there, just in case we don’t get there.  Just to make matters worse, there is a railway strike in France that, at this stage, is not affecting our currently booked trains, but if it escalates, we may find ourselves in Basel, Paris or somewhere else for the night.

Our other concern was that Rosslare is quite some way from Dublin where we had planned to pick up our hire car.  We had this problem sorted when we rang the cottage owner to tell them when we were turning up.  Heather and David Lawson own the cottage and when we explained our predicament to Heather, she told us we could catch the train from Rosslare to Rathdrum and she would pick us up and take us to the cottage for the night.  Her husband works in Dublin and will take us to Dublin in the morning so we can pick up our car.

As I write this, we are having breakfast at the hotel.  We have a taxi booked at 7:45 to take us into Zurich for our 8:25 train.

Glenda and Chris’s excellent adventure continues…

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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.


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.


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.