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Old 1st November 2011, 18:36   #196
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Default Day 5 #2 : The Road Trip!

The route from Austria to switzerland is simple. you go east, and then you hit switzerland, and then you continue northwest, to enter the Lauterbrunnen area, our destination for the day.

But then, whats the fun of the trip if you choose the simple route.
Our route was anything but simple.

The plan was to head west, then head south, hit the Italian alps, and then finally enter switzerland somewhere near bernina pass, and then make the long journey NW to our destination.

Some 700kms of driving, with estimated driving time of 10 hours(if not more).

The first few kms were the same old boring Autobahn into switzerland, and very much near the border, we turned south, and here is when the narrow twisties started.

Driving on these roads can be tricky, but these guys on cycles have it much tougher
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Traffic and tunnels mean, you rarely exceed 70
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But then who cares. Autobahns may be smooth, but they do not have these views, do they?
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Welcome to southern Austria, the land of the Austro-Italian alps.
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Where the sky is blue, and the grass is green.
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And then you are in italy. No checkposts, no border controls, no cops to challan out of station cars. Just a simple signboard, and scenery, like this
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Such structures warrant a quick stop
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Its 10:15 already, and we have just entered Italy.

Now north Italy is very rural. As rural as you can get. And its not as prosperous as Austria or switzerland. So the houses are not so "shiny", and traffic is not too organized. You have jams and tractors, and slow moving traffic. But the scenery, well that is as beautiful as ever.
And the tunnels, well they are always a blast. This is where you wish you had a loud petrol car, with a throaty exhaust!
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Sometimes you wish for more horses too, to overtake these tractors
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But fast car or slow car, diesel or petrol, the scenery is....
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A rare stretch of open road. We did not dare speed. Speeding in Europe will bankrupt you
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Farms on the way
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As you enter towns, traffic is slow, but organized.
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Watch out for pedestrians here. The town may seem deserted, but it isnt so
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And sometimes there are scary moments too. A bolero can come out of a corner, and scare you with "I am here too booooo".

Finally, its 11am, as the road starts to rise, and the towns vanish.
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We are approaching a pass. Its called Passo de Stelvio.
Yes, THE STELVIO Pass, the greatest driving road in the world.

But I was soon to realize, that its not just the road, but the donkeys under the hood which also matter!
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Old 2nd November 2011, 18:51   #197
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Default Day 5 #3: Passo De Stelvio

Passo de Stelvio
Stilsfer Joch
Or Simply Stelvio pass.

Located in the Nothern Italian Alps, its the second highest paved pass in the Alps. For the highest Alpen paved pass, you have to head to Franco-Italian border.
But for now, lets focus on the Stelvio.

Top Gear called it the greatest driving Road in the world.

Well it may be.
Esp with its 48 hairpins on its Eastern ramp.

But then, top Gear had lots of horses. Hundreds of them.

I am stuck with just 90. And as I make the climb, they seem like 90 donkeys. Amercian donkeys fed on Hamburgers, huffing and puffing.

Roar after roar passes me. Some roars are loud, they are the superbikes, some are muted, like the Elise, while some are plain scary, and they come from the Porsches.

I never thought a Porsche could make such a noise. But I guess, redlining in 1st gear while climbing Stelvio can make lot of loud noise.

Our Picasso is also making lot of noise. But its not a roar. Its not even a squeak. Its just a grunt.
Grunt Grunt Grunt grunt grunt.

As I rev her to a brisk 3000rpm on the hairpins, the trip computer tells me to shift up, recommending gears like 3rd, and on some occasions even 4th.

But I guess the trip computer was never made to climb stelvio pass.

But look on the bright side. The slow climb means we can enjoy the wonderful views
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And stop and marvel at the cyclists. They are not complaining, and they are grunting more than our donkeys
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Hairpin number 16, the signboard says. but I really don't care. It could have been 1600.
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Progress is slow but steady.
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The Glaciers
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A "view stop". What you see is the Elise. This is the car made for this pass. And to our right is superbikes.
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Its almost noon, and the pass is still a few minutes away. Guess what. We have to cover quite a bit of switzerland, in the remaining day. Phew!

And then minutes before noon, we are at the pass parking lot. Its free! Yay.

A lot of cars share the parking with us, and some of them look like this
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And some, like this
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The Stelvio is famous. Bikers, car clubs, riders from all over the world come here and leave their mark
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Guess, its only fair that I also leave the mark here
Hint: Bottom right
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At 2700+ meters it not really a very high pass, but by alpen standards, its quite high. And the good news is that once you go up, you have to go down, and as they say gravity makes all of us equal

So its time to start and go forward. The land of the cows awaits!
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Old 3rd November 2011, 23:51   #198
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Default Day 5 : #4 The Detour

Getting to Switzerland from Stelvio is actually quite an easy affair. You just head northwards over the Umbrail pass, and voila you are in switzerland.
But we had different plans. We were not going to enter through this.

We were going to go to Livigno, and then enter switzerland near the Bernina pass.

But why Livigno you may ask?
The answer is simple. Its a duty free town with .99 cents/liter diesel price. Yes, same diesel price as Bangalore. Diesel in switzerland costs 1.7 Franc/Liter. Considering 1 EU - 1.06 Francs when we were there, it made a lot of sense to take this short detour, and and tank her up.

I had timed my earlier tank fulls in such a way that at the top of stelvio we were almost out of fuel.

So Livigno it was. The plan was to have a quick rush through the town, stock up on groceries, and fuel, and then enter switzerland.
But as on most trips, nothing can really go as planned, and when you want to rush and dash through, you often get stumped when you don't expect it.

Anyways, lets continue the Journey
Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days-dsc1301xl.jpg

Delicious Hairpins
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The Peaks
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Alps are normally associated with greenery, but the southenr alps are not really green, and the reason is altitude. At those high latitudes, anything above 2500m has tough time to be green.
Foscagno Pass on the way., Its 1:11pm already
Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days-dsc1315xl.jpg

Low traffic, fantastic road, and the best part its downhill. And this makes the donkeys happy. Thankfully, she is a decent handler, very unlike our tall boys. I think the underlying 207 based platform is to be praised here
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As you head lower, greenery increases
Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days-dsc1318xl.jpg

Finally around 1:30pm we are in Livigno.
At the border, we see a lot of cars being checked thoroughly. The reason is simple. You are not allowed to carry out more than 5L of fuel in Jerrycan. But in the wonderful times we live in, the incentive for smuggling is great. So people pack their entire families in station wagons on weeknds, and then proceed to shop. Since free quota permitted is per person, this way they can buy more groceries. Who said only Indians are bargain shoppers. The swiss can give Gujratis a run for their money. And the Italians, well they can be compared with us.

Time for a quick Dash through for fuel.

And thats when we realize it cannot be rushed.
The entire town is sleeping.

Seriously. Sleeping.
Gas stations, Shops, traffic lights, policemen, cars, cows everything.....
All are sleeping.

Because from 1-3pm Italians take siesta.

Bummer!
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Old 4th November 2011, 11:52   #199
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Default Re: Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days

The travelogue is becoming more scenic now.
I can understand the amount of effort taken for this road trip, fantastic planning.
Italian siesta nice quote.
Thanks for sharing a wonderful travelogue.
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Old 4th November 2011, 13:36   #200
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Default Re: Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days

Man, you are a great story teller. I was expecting a few cows passing your way and hence a few pics of the royal swiss cow on the road, but then you took another siesta. Hope you resume faster than the Italians did!!
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Old 4th November 2011, 15:54   #201
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Default Re: Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days

Incredibly breathtaking visuals, exceptionally detailed information coached in conversational style ... Tanveer - You should take up writing books. Team-BHP should sponsor your travels in future - we get amazing travelogues from you. Mesmerized by this thread.
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Old 4th November 2011, 18:49   #202
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Default Re: Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days

This is turning out to my favorite thread in Team -BHP.
Thank you for the interesting, funny at the same time insightful narrative.

One question: did you at any point miss your white elephant, since you are so used to driving it during your travels?
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Old 4th November 2011, 19:44   #203
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Default Re: Day 5 #2 : The Road Trip!

This is a superb photo to show the big difference on how the civilised world drives and how we drive. Bikes waiting in perfect order and not "automatically" moving into the wrong lane. Cool!

Quote:
Originally Posted by tsk1979 View Post
TAs you enter towns, traffic is slow, but organized.
Attachment 835564
Tsk, This is a great thread. I am planning a similar trip in May next year. I did not have driving on the agenda, but your thread has made me think of this mode of transport now. I will pm you for some tips & info. Hope that's fine.
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Old 4th November 2011, 21:56   #204
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Default Re: Day 5 #2 : The Road Trip!

Quote:
Originally Posted by gajadonga View Post
The travelogue is becoming more scenic now.
I can understand the amount of effort taken for this road trip, fantastic planning.
Italian siesta nice quote.
Thanks for sharing a wonderful travelogue.
Thanks
Quote:
Originally Posted by anilisanil View Post
Man, you are a great story teller. I was expecting a few cows passing your way and hence a few pics of the royal swiss cow on the road, but then you took another siesta. Hope you resume faster than the Italians did!!
The cows there have quite a bit of road sense, so its a rare to have one darting across.
Will definitely make a post tonight
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prowler View Post
Incredibly breathtaking visuals, exceptionally detailed information coached in conversational style ... Tanveer - You should take up writing books. Team-BHP should sponsor your travels in future - we get amazing travelogues from you. Mesmerized by this thread.
Thanks prowler
Quote:
Originally Posted by rrsteer View Post
This is turning out to my favorite thread in Team -BHP.
Thank you for the interesting, funny at the same time insightful narrative.

One question: did you at any point miss your white elephant, since you are so used to driving it during your travels?
Not even one bit. On these roads the last thing you want is a big behemoth like safari. Small and nimble is what you desire!
Quote:
Originally Posted by ptushar View Post
This is a superb photo to show the big difference on how the civilised world drives and how we drive. Bikes waiting in perfect order and not "automatically" moving into the wrong lane. Cool!



Tsk, This is a great thread. I am planning a similar trip in May next year. I did not have driving on the agenda, but your thread has made me think of this mode of transport now. I will pm you for some tips & info. Hope that's fine.
Thanks!
Sure go ahead and post your queries. I will also try to give as much information as possible in each post.
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Old 4th November 2011, 22:53   #205
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Default Day 5: #5 Livigno... to Bernina! We are in Switzerland!

We had a choice now. To proceed forward. Or wait 45 minutes and save money.
No prizes for guessing what won.

We had been driving since 8 in the morning, and so this was a welcome break.
The agenda was simple
The car was hungry. Feed the car
We were hungry, feed ourselves.

Finally little past 2:30 a "supermarket" opened, and we started scouring the shelves at stuff we could buy.
First target was eggs, which were frightfully expensive. 6 of them cost is 4 EU. Eggs are cheaper in switzerland, but at the current moment, we did not know that.
For immediate consumption, we decided to get bread for little over a Euro, some cheese (I think 3 EU), and a liter of milk for almost 2 EUR.

Now milk is also cheaper in switzerland. So whats cheap in Livigno? Only fuel. Thats about it. Rest of the stuff? Well maybe in some other supermarket it may be cheaper, since I have read people from switzerland do grocery shopping here, but we did not have the luxury of inspecting each and every mart.

That said, the milk was excellent and refreshing. And people found it very amusing to see a couple sitting on the bench in front of the supermarket and drinking milk with cheese and bread.

1/4th of a bread and a liter of milk and a lot of cheese later we were quite full and content. Lunch had been cheap, less than 5EU for both of us.
Fuel had been cheap to.

For 42 EU we had filled 45 liters of fuel. After the self cutoff had been done, the attendant(yes, there are fuel attendants there just like India, but only in Livigno), shook the car like we do here, and got in another 2-3liters.

We had come 1121kms since vienna. Since car was given to us in full condition then, and now she was full again, our FE till now was 17.5
Not bad considering mountain driving!

Anyways, with car full, and us full, it was time to proceed forward.
But a few pics of the town first.
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Supermarket. Note, the cow is just to say they have milk, not to say that they have cows,
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It was past 3 and we were making good progress towards switzerland
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close to the Livigno border checkpost.
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Since we had austrian plates, we were not fitting in the "smuggler" profile, but cars with Italian plates were thorougly checked at the border

Around half past 3 we reached the swiss border.
Normally, we would have breezed through, but driving in switzerland does not mean breezing through. It means stopping, and buying a 40 Franc vignette. Many countries in Europe require a Vignette to drive in their "freeways". If you are planning to drive only rural roads, you do not need it, but all autobahns need the vignette. Austria gives you a weekly vignette if you want, and since we rented from Austria, our car had an Austrian yearly vignette.

Switzerland OTOH, does not have any weekly of monthly vignette scheme. you have to buy the 40 F yearly vignette. Daylight robbery I say, but then this is switzerland for ya. Be ready to spend.

Formalities done we were in the land of cheese and cows, and racing towards Bernina Pass. This is a very special pass, and is also a "stop" for the Bernina Express sceninc train. I always wanted to see a mountain train snaking its way around the alps, and Bernina Express obliged.

first the view from the pass
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and here goes the Bernina Express!
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Since it was quater to 4, we decided to proceed forward, cause there was a lot of road to cover.
At a railway crossing
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The good news was that we had swiss maps in Sygic, so it was currently telling us the fastest route through the freeways to Stechelberg, our destination. Estimated ETA... 8:30 PM!

So sometime in the future, a decision will have to be made, scenic route, or the fast one.......
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Old 8th November 2011, 18:49   #206
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Default Day 5: #6: Switzerland: The cross country run!

Its almost 4 now, and we are rushing northwards, as fast as the speed limits allow. Thankfully, summer vacations are over, and skiing season is far away, so we do not encounter much traffic, yet. In season, these roads can be clogged up with inter country traffic.
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If you thought switzerland was all about cows, you are wrong. They have horses too
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We are passing through the canon of Graubunden, heading towards St. Moritz, the lake district of switzerland. Its the most remote, and least populated canton of Switzerland.
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And finally, quarter past 4, we are at St. Moritz.
Decide to take a short pause here
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And enjoy the beautiful lakeside scenery!
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Too bad... we are out of time.
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We decide to head out of Silvapana, towards Julierpass. Still the backroads here.
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Thankfully the climb is gradual, and the road, straight
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Its 4:30 when we hit the top of the Julierpass
Lots of passes have lakes at the top(go figure!) and this one is no exception
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15 minutes of brisk driving sees us at another lake on the way.
Too bad we are out of time!
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After all, who would not want to stop, get out, and just like down on the grass so green?
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But its 5pm now. We are still in south switzerland. Sygic tells me to leave my preplanned route, and head to the freeway. Its much longer(80kms+) but it would be 1.5 hours faster as per sygic. So probably for the first time in my life, I listen to the GPS, instead of doing what we had originally planned.

Its time to follow the lady barking instructions from the phone, and I sincerely hope, that she is right about our estimated arrival time of 9pm!
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Old 8th November 2011, 21:20   #207
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Default Re: Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days

A wonderful travelogue with lots of patience to describe the photos and explain what was running in your mind and what was your preference, Hats off to you.

Last Friday (4th Nov) I was so p***** off at my work that I started going through this travelogue from page 1 (honestly, I didnt go word by word, but covered most of it) and by the time I was at page 14, I felt as if I am touring in Europe and need to rush to reach Swiss on my "MPV" but when the reality struck I felt very jealous about you getting an opportunity to tour the way I wish I could.

My hearty wishes to you and let the almighty give you enough strength and patience to write more such travelogues.

Looking forward for more and lastly a BIG thanks for your efforts and your generosity in sharing the information.
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Old 9th November 2011, 13:44   #208
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Default Day 5 #7: To Stechelberg!

So, it was time to go northwards, instead of NW.
Going through the back roads on the passes is shorter, but much slower. Even with tires screaming you cannot average more than 60kmph on most sections.

So we continued our Journey due north.
We would miss bypass a big chunk of the alps, and then go further up north, and then come back south towards interlaken.

Some pics
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Empty roads
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Towns and villages on the way
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And some, heavy traffic sections
Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days-dsc1366xl.jpg

Construction zones are the worst
Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days-dsc1368xl.jpg


I do not have any pics of the Swiss Autobahn, but do not worry. You have not missed much.
Except for the surface smoothness(which i have not seen on any expressway in India), they are pretty much like ours. There are construction zones every few kms, traffic is heavy, and speed limit is a puny 120 at most. Most construciton sections go down to 80, and many tunnels also go down to 80kmph.

There are speed cameras everywhere. If they had their way, they would fit guns in the cameras which would shoot down speeders, and then send the speeding ticket to the morgue.

Thankfully, Sygic has a nice feature where it warns you whenever speed limit changes to a lesser value. For example when you enter a town.

Now that you will miss that big round circle with 50 written in it, but still an audio warning is good.

And before you say "speed camera warning GPS waypoints...." let me remind you, its illegal in switzerland.
Moreover, there are so many cops hiding behind cows, you can easily get snagged.
So all you get is porsched doing 80 in first gear and making a ton of noise, but thats about it.


They go by the book. Book says 80 is legal. It does not say 80 in 2nd gear in a tunnel making a lot of noise is illegal .

But I did not try it because
a) The picasso does not make a lot of noise, unless its cold
b) Whatever noise it makes is not pleasant
c) it cannot do 80 in first gear. Maybe in second after exploding the clutch.

Anyways, I am digressing.

To cut the long story short, it was 9pm when we reached our Chalet in switzerland.
Now finding the landladys chalet took a good 20 minutes(my mistake in forgetting to key in the exact GPS coords).

More on the Chalet, price and booking in the next post.

Last edited by tsk1979 : 9th November 2011 at 13:48.
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Old 10th November 2011, 18:15   #209
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Default Day 5 #8 - Arrival!

6 Nights in switzerland, and where to stay.
The question is actually a one liner.

Before the age of internet, you would contact your travel agent, and he would book something within your budget. After thats its your luck how good or bad the location is.

But internet brings choice, and with it, lots of confusion.
If you asked me, how much time did I spend searching for a hotel to stay in switzerland, I would say one month.

I can very confidently say, that out of the 3 months which I spent on planning, a good one month was about where to stay in switzerland.

If you ask me, did I book and cancel and acco? The answer to that question is yes too. I booked and cancelled 9 hotels in switzerland. And I did not have to spend money doing it, because whenever choosing hotels, wherever possible, I chose hotels which did not levy any cancellation charge if cancelled 24 hours before arrival.
Now I could not find any such hotel in Salzburg(that story is still far away), but almost everywhere else, you could book, and if you cancelled 24 or 48 hours before your date of arrival, no cancellation charges.

So a couple of months before the trip, I actually had 9 hotel bookings on booking.com.
Now this is called hotel hogging, but I made sure, all cancellations were done atleast a month before our travel date.

Now you may be wondering, whether its my hobby to book and cancel hotel rooms.
Well, I assure you, I have a lot of hobbies, but cancelling and booking hotel rooms is not one of them, and nor do I intend to become a travel agent, and make it my job.

So why did I do it.
The answer is simple.

I actually had no idea where to stay.
Switzerland is a big country, with diverse regions, with places of interest in every region.

Travel packages have it simple.
2 days in Interlaken, jungfrau excursion, 2 days in engleberg Titlis excursion, and then 2 days in Geneva, Zurich, and 6 days are done.

However this is not really, seeing switzerland. Switzerland is beyond Jungrfrau and Titlis.
We wanted to see the back-door switzerland, without missing out the main sights.

So all I did end up was get confused and more confused.

And then I decided, I would book a hotel in Leukerabad, just south of the Bernese Alps, in the Canton of Valais. Haus Kristal was the name, and it was a lovely studio apartment. 400 Francs for 6 days, inclusive of "end cleaning fee", and internet access to boot.

But then, I cancelled it.

And then I booked it again, for 390 francs, and then I again cancelled it.

After over 2 months, I had actually no idea where to go and what to do in Switzerland.

And then I realized I had to erase it all, and start afresh.

Go step by step.

First step. What do we want to see.
Me and my wife both agreed that glaciers and green meadows are a rarity in India(now do not say Sonmarg).

Second step was where are these things

And third was finding a place somewhere central, but not in a town. We wanted a place in a meadow, or a village.

After this step, things became easier.
Valais, Central switzerland, Bernese Oberland etc., were shortlisted.

Now thats a big shortlist.
To do justice to these regions atleast 2 months are needed.


Next step was google maps. you can click on a button to enable "photographs".
So we just started zeroing in on the regions(a very tedious process), based on sceninc photographs, and ended up with a slightly shorter list.

We could stay in Valais along the main road which goes E-W south of the Bernese Alps, we could stay near the Furka/Grimsel pass area, towards Merligen and Interlaken.

Third, we could stay near Interlaken itself, which would make catching the Jungfrau train easy.

Pawan Pullwar, a team-bhpian in munich guided me to a site called holiday homes, which had addresses, phones and email ids of most chalets in switzerland.

From switzerland tourism site I discovered that almost all villages/towns have their websites, which have contact details of all hotel/chalet owners in their respective areas.

So the plan was becoming more solid.
From the swiss tourism website, specifically, swisspasses.com I found out that in september, regional passes were being given 1+1 free.

So for around 260 Fr(inclusive of 30 Fr shipping), we could get 2 Bernese oberland passes.

So it was decided. Our tour would be concentrated in the Bernese Oberland region, also called the most sceninc region of switzerland.

This would be our home base.
We had multiple choices like Interlaken, Gindelwald, Luterbrunnen etc.,

Guess when one of these is called the valley of 72 waterfalls, it wins

So it was decided we will book a chalet in the Lauterbrunnen area.

Chalet Jasmine was available for 455 Francs for 6 nights, inclusive of end cleaning fee(applicable to all Apartments in EU), and we mailed the owner.

She replied with the "rent-agreement", and without paying a penny in advance, our chalet is booked.

So here we were, little past 9pm in our Chalet.
Best part is it had a TV.
All channels were in German, but that is not the purpose of TV.
There is an info channel in all regions which shows the webcams of that region 24x7 with weather report.

So at 6am in the morning, you can see whats the weather like, and then plan your day.

After cooking our first real hot dinner in many days, it was time to sleep.

We were in switzerland, and swiss alps were waiting!

For the curious, our route!
Sonata Europa - 5 countries, 4000kms and 15 days-31.jpg

571 kms
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Last edited by tsk1979 : 10th November 2011 at 18:38.
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Old 12th November 2011, 00:36   #210
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Default Re: Day 5 #8 - Arrival!

Quote:
Originally Posted by tsk1979 View Post
6 Nights in switzerland, and where to stay.
Hi Tanveer,

A quick question for you. I am planning to do a Balkan trip covering 3 to 4 countries next month. I have been researching on car rentals, but the insurance coverage seems to be troublesome, where say, if I take car and rental insurance from Croatia, it won't be valid say, in Bosnia or Montenegro. If I can't sort this out, I'll probably just take trains and buses, though I would have loved the independence of driving thru Balkan passes and remote villages.

How did you manage with the car insurance when you crossed borders? Was the insurance coverage you took in Austria valid in CH too?

Thanks.

BTW, as I mentioned before, loving your travelogue. Please keep up the good work.
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