Sunday, July 30, 2017

Europe Trip

After last year's 12 day trip to Greece and Turkey, we decided to stretch it further this time.... a 23 day trip to central Europe. Same as last year, this year's trip was also planned around the mandatory week off at office. However, unlike last year, this year it was known well in advance that I will be having this shutdown at office and that allowed me to plan my trip well in advance.... more than 5 months in advance.

As I mentioned in my Greece Turkey trip's blogpost, central Europe trip was a preference even last year but 12 days did not seem enough for the trip and hence we decided to go for Greece and Turkey.

At high level, the itinerary was like this. Yet again, inspirock.com was quite helpful in planning the itinerary.
Few more awesome apps are Seat61.com for train booking and Google-Trips mobile app for planning local attractions in each city.

Following is detailed itinerary of the trip, including my experience at each location and what I would do different if I had to plan this trip again.


Generic Tips

Planning well in advance will be much better for your wallet. My expense of flight, hotels and intercity transfer was almost same for this 23 day trip as it was for my last year's 12 day trip. Last year I planned the trip 2.5 months in advance whereas this year I planned it 4.5 to 5.5 months in advance.

Not just flight and hotels, booking intercity train tickets also in advance can be much cheaper in Europe.  Typically people think about booking Eurail pass for travelling by train in Europe but if you book well in advance, point to point tickets will turn out to be much cheaper. Seat61.com is an awesome resource to get all information about train booking in Europe.

Safety:
While out trip was smooth, I have heard many incidents of theft in Paris and Italy. An anti-theft bag and money pouch can be handy to carry.
In general,  avoided carrying more valuable. I left any additional cash and card in hotel lockers.

Paris

Paris was the first destination of our trip and Rome was last destination. You can choose to go even in reverse order - start at Rome and end at Paris. In my case, I was getting much better deal for onward flight to Paris and return flight from Rome and hence the choice.

I had 3 nights and almost 4 days (3.5 days) in Paris. When it comes to local sightseeing, good news is that there are good enough options and bad news is that these 'good enough' options can be confusing.
It can be quite confusing to decide whether to buy a Paris Pass or Museum Pass or TravelCard. This Paris Pass Review was quite useful in helping me decide.

I went for 4 day Museum pass instead of Paris pass. Why? - Here are some of the reasons -
- Paris pass comes with only 1-day hop-on-hop-off bus ticket and I wanted to use hop-on-hop-off for 3 days.
- Paris pass provides unlimited travel card for local metro and bus but its not that useful if you are going to use HoHo bus. For a few journeys through metro/local-bus, purchasing a book of 10 single tickets is good enough.
- It's exorbitantly costly compared to Museum pass.
- It involves some hassle of collecting HoHo bus tickets from specific locations.

Following are some of the major attractions that I used including ones which are not covered in Museum Pass.


AttractionPassBooking Site
Montparnasse TowerParis Pass (not in museum pass) - easy to buy tickets at the towerhttps://www.tourmontparnasse56.com
River CruiseN/A - buy tickets online or at the attractionhttp://www.bateaux-mouches.fr/en/reservation/tickets
Palais Garnier OpéraParis Pass - buy tickets online if you are going for museum passhttps://www.operadeparis.fr/en/visits/buy-your-tickets
Notre Dame Cathedral TowersMuseum Passhttp://www.tours-notre-dame-de-paris.fr/en/Prepare-for-your-visit/PRACTICAL-INFORMATION
Sainte-ChapelleMuseum Passhttp://www.sainte-chapelle.fr/en/Prepare-for-your-visit/Pratical-information
Arc de TriompheMuseum Passhttp://www.paris-arc-de-triomphe.fr/en/BUY-YOUR-TICKET-IN-ADVANCE
Musée du LouvreMuseum Passhttps://www.ticketlouvre.fr/
Palace of VersaillesMuseum Passhttp://en.chateauversailles.fr/plan-your-visit/tickets-and-prices
Louvre MuseumMuseum Pass
MUSÉE D’ORSAYMuseum Pass
CatacombN/A - buy tickets onlinehttp://www.catacombes.paris.fr/en/visit/access-opening-times-accessibility/museum-admission
HoHo Bus - 3 daysbuy ticket onlinehttp://www.paris.opentour.com/en/
Museum pass - 4 daysbuy at paris airport

A few useful tips:
- In general, buying attraction tickets in advance helps beat long queues.. (Queues can be couple of hours long so do not underestimate!)
- Buy Eiffel tower tickets well in advance... at least 2 months in advance. I booked it about 1 month in advance and tickets were available only for one slot for my dates so I did not have any option. You can always buy tickets at Eiffel tower but you need to be prepared to stand in queue for couple of hours. If you are already late and if Eiffel tower tickets are 'sold out' online, don't worry. I heard it is never sold out at the tower. Of course, consider about 2 hours for ticket queue.
- Buy museum pass at the airport. No need to book it in advance.
- Buy catacombs tickets online to avoid queue.
- All other tickets will be either covered in museum pass or it will be available at the attraction without long queues.
- Notre Dame Cathedral - Entry to the church is free and going on top of tower of notre dame is covered in Museum pass. Even though you don't need a ticket for entry to the church, there will be very long queues for security checks at the entrance of the church. Only way to beat the queues is to reach there early morning. We went early and literally walked into the church without any queue but when we came down from the tower at around 11, we noticed at least 1.5 hr queue for entry to church. We still had to stand in queue for about 1.5 hours for going on the top of notre dame tower. The ticket for tower is covered in Museum pass but there is no priority entry.
Best plan would be to go to notre dame cathedral at 8am (it opens at 7.45am), come out by 9am and stand in queue for tower of notre dame. The entry to tower opens only at 10am so you will still have to stand in queue for an hour but it's better than 1.5 hrs to 2hrs queue later in the day.

We stayed at 'hotel campanile paris 14 - maine montparnasse'. Hotels can be quite expensive in Paris. This hotel was a good value for money option. This is a nice hotel about 5 minutes walking distance from metro station and 10 minutes distance from Montparnasse tower and Gare Du Montparnasse. Good enough food options and super markets around.


Munich

I knew even while booking that Munich was going to be a hectic trip. I planned for it because I knew Daksh (my son) would love BMW museum & Allianz arena and he indeed loved it. We got barely 1.5 days in Munich and it was not good enough for this city.  If you want to go to Munich, it makes sense to add at least one more day here and go to neuschwanstein castle. Metro, tram and buses are good enough for local transfer with unlimited day pass for travel. (As I wrote above, use Google Trips app for options for local transport)


Swiss - Lucerne

Lucerne was our first destination in Swiss. I had been to Swiss about 11 years back and my blog of that trip was an excellent reference for me to plan my Swiss trip. Last time I visited Lucerne and simply loved the city so I definitely wanted to come to this place again. 

At Lucerne, We bought Swiss Travel Pass for 8 days which was quite useful for all travel within Swiss. As with everything else in Swiss, the travel pass is exorbitantly costly at CHF376 per adult. Kids travel free when accompanied by a parent. You still need to ask for a 'family card' for your kid.

We stayed at Hotel Fox in Swiss. Here is my review for the hotel.

We were in Lucerne for 2 days. Last time when I came to Lucerne, I visited Mount Pilatus. This time we went to mount Titlis and Mount Rigi.
For mount Titlis, we took a train to Engelberg and from there, a cable car to Titlis peak. tran to Engelberg is covered in Swiss pass but you need to buy tickets for cable car. You get 50% discount if you have swiss travel pass. You can purchase cable car ticket from Engelberg station.

Next day, we went to mount Rigi. There are multiple routes to go to mount Rigi. We took following route for our journey:
Up: 
Lucerne to Vitznau - a cruise on Lake Lucerne (an awesome scenic cruise cruise)
Vitznau to Rigi Kulm - Cogwheel train.

Down:
Rigi Kulm to Arth Goldau - cogwheel train
Arth Goldau to Lucern - train

The trip to Rigi (cruise, cogwheel train and train) is completely covered in travel pass.

Swiss - Interlaken

(... to be continued)