travel

Epic European trip – Switzerland and Munich June 2016

matterhorn zermatt
The Matterhorn overlooking the town of Zermatt (Can’t get more Swiss than the Matterhorn!)

 

After spotting some very decent air fares from Singapore Airlines to Zurich, we decided to visit Switzerland for the June holidays. The trip took many months and days in the planning. I’d only previously visited Geneva, some 10 years ago, so I had to do A LOT of research and discussion with the rest of the family – 6 adults and 4 kids in total, from ages 3.5 to 70 years old.

I have not ever planned such an epic trip. We needed to find accommodation in various cities, check schedules or book train rides, book car rentals, figure out what to do at each destination or figuring out which destination we wanted to go to, etc. Add to that a whole week of packing, and I was already feeling tired before the actual trip!

Thankfully I had a few friends to consult, with one close friend heading over a week before we arrived, another one who had just been there last Christmas, and another friend going shortly after me. My mother was also on holiday there a week before we left, and I also discovered that a friend of mine had detailed all his travels on his blog, so it was really helpful and I also asked him loads of questions. Thank you so much, my well-travelled friends!

There is really so much to do in Switzerland we had a hard time deciding what wanted to do in our “short” 8 nights there. In the end we had to plan around the availability of the Glacier Express since we were keen to go on that ride.

Brunnen Switzerland
Playground with a view, in Brunnen

In summary, our trip was

Day 1 – Zurich

Day 2 – Zug, Brunnen, Lucerne, Bern

Day 3 – Gruyere, Broc, Lauterbrunnen

Day 4 and 5 – Lauterbrunnen

Day 6, 7, and 8 – Zermatt

Day 9 – Galcier Express from Zermatt to Chur, followed by train to Munich via Innsbruck

Day 10, 11 and 12 – Munich (and Playmobil FunPark)

 

Brunnen Switzerland
The lake in Brunnen

Getting there and about

Before this trip, the longest plane ride for the kids was 7 hours to Melbourne, so I didn’t think much of a 12 hour flight to Zurich. The outbound flight departed at 120am, so the kids slept most of the way. The flight back from Munich was at 130pm and only one child slept for a good 9 hours so he was ok. The other 2 though, tortured me for another 3 nights before getting back into rhythm. Thanks kids, thanks.

On days 2-6 we travelled by car rented from Europcar. As their car seat rentals were ridiculous, I decided to buy Trunki Boostapaks from Agape babies. It is much cheaper to buy them in Europe, but I couldn’t find anyone coming back from Europe and figured the shipping would cost quite a bit. On hindsight I’m glad I didn’t trouble any friends because the bags are rather large and not light, but it means they are sturdy. And they are much easier to carry around than regular car seats. I do have a dive mesh bag which I have found to be super useful for traveling like carrying around car seats. In Munich we also rented a car from BMW and from Europcar again, so the car seats really came in handy.

Zug Switzerland
Town of Zug. The snow capped alps you see from almost everywhere, are just stunning!

On other days within Switzerland we travelled by Swiss Travel Pass. As we were driving on some days and taking the train on others, we took a 3-day flexible pass which allows you to choose 3 days within a 30-day period in which to use your pass (and you can decide on the day itself when you want to use up those days).  It also allowed us to travel on the Glacier Express at no extra charge although you need to pay CHF33 per person as a reservation fee. Do note that the Travel Pass comes with free or discounts at some attractions, museums etc, and you can make use of the pass for discounts at attractions within the entire 30-days, but if you are planning to use the travel pass for free admission, it would have to be on the dates on which you are using the pass, i.e. in my case that would have to be one of the 3 stipulated days.

It was not that easy for me to book the Swiss Travel Pass because the first time I did so from Rail Europe Singapore, they said that there was a problem with their “system” so I had to rebook the tickets. When I did do the rebooking, I think I did it quite late at night, and I wrongly clicked that I wanted the tickets to be couriered to me for $25. I made them reverse this charge because I didn’t remember choosing this option and it was their fault for making me rebook the tickets anyway! When I did go collect the tickets I discovered that I had typed in my BIL’s name wrong so I had to pay a small fee to cancel it and have a ticket reissued; and I would have to wait for approval for refund of the ticket which apparently had to go to dunno-who (SBB? The Swiss rail people?) for approval. Wow what a great start to the holiday! Argh! Thankfully we eventually got the refund a few weeks later, although the lady at the Rail Europe office did say that 90% of the time passengers are able to get a refund after I freaked out about not getting a refund.

Swiss cows
I love the sound of the bells on the cows!

By this point, I was already tired from all the planning and annoyances, I wasn’t exactly feeling enthusiastic about the trip. Ugh. But once we set off, all was good. Apart from the reputation for being expensive, we really loved Switzerland. The landscapes in the rural areas are breath taking, my photos really don’t do it justice because I’m a busy mama and can’t be asked to beautify them (I don’t mind volunteers though, anybody? :D). After our return, I have not spoken to anyone who does not agree that Switzerland has amazing scenery.

It’s a pity that we had quite a number of days of rain so we couldn’t explore as much as we would have liked. I would love to go back again! It was good that we based ourselves for 3 nights each in Lauterbrunnen and Zermatt so we had some flexibility in terms of activities or sights depending on the weather. Still, we could have done much more if not for the weather. All in all we had a wonderful time, it was really a trip of a lifetime. If only we had better weather!

As for Germany, I’m not sure why it was never on our travel radar previously. In my previous life I travelled through the Frankfurt airport maybe 15-20 times (I’ve even had to unexpectedly spend more a night there before) and perhaps that was what put me off because the airport is cold and drab, and airport staff seemed to perpetually be grumpy. Anyway, I would gladly return to Munich, and I’ve heard good things about other cities like Berlin.

Other practicalities

We were told Swisscom was most reliable network, but at the airport we were unable to buy the SIM card. We ended up buying a cheap (I think it was CHF10?) SIM card from Zurich town from Salt. In Munich we bought E9.95 ones from T-mobile which had X amount of data (I forgot, but it was enough for 4 days) and free calls to other T-mobile numbers. Do remember to bring along your passport or ID to activate the prepaid SIM cards.

Do look out for my next few posts on what we did on the other days!

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