Europe independently

This is subscriber only post.
Get one year of online-only access — only $15!
Below is a sample of the article.
Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My wife and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with a trip to Tunisia and several countries in Europe, Aug. 5-31, ’05. We had a great time, combining air, rail and autos as basic transportation. Several thoughts come to mind which might aid others planning to travel in Europe.

We used our local travel agent to research and book our rented autos in both Italy and Switzerland. We picked up the Italian car at Milan’s Malpensa Airport and dropped it off in Venice (the city location at the end of the causeway bridge). We rented our next car in Geneva, where we asked the counter agent if they had a German-licensed auto which we could leave in Germany and thereby avoid the $275 dropoff charge. They did and we turned the car in at the Frankfurt airport.

The car in Italy was a 4-door Mercedes-Benz 220, and in Switzerland/Germany it was a VW 605 (I believe it is the Golf series). Both were excellent for space and luggage.

For travel in Switzerland, be sure your rental car has the Swiss road sticker that is required. We had to purchase ours (CHF40, or near $78) at the post office in the Geneva airport. If you’re caught driving in Switzerland without one, the fine is reported to be CHF250!

For the rail portions of our trip (Venice-Vienna, Vienna-Budapest and Budapest-Prague), we were very ably handled by Mr. Herman Wiss at EurAide, Inc. (tel. 941 480 1555, fax 941 480 1522 or e-mail wiss2@comcast.net).

Herman took our desired routings and set up and booked all of our ticketing, combining rail companies and using appropriate money-saving railpasses, such as one for five days’ travel within a certain amount of time. Herman explained in detail exactly where and how to activate the passes once we were out of Italy and the pass “kicked in.”

We recommend first class on the longer rail trips; compartments and dining cars were used. It also allowed us to make a change en route when we wanted to improve our arrival in Prague. Our conductor told us, “First class — no problem to change.” Another benefit we found was that there are sometimes lounges at stations which allow first-class passengers to come in, enjoy a Coke, coffee, etc., and get on-scene assistance with tickets or local situations.

Our air experience from Prague to Geneva was on Baboo Airlines (e-mail flybaboo.com). This is a hub-style carrier basing out of Geneva with ATR turboprop service to 10 to 12 cities. For the 2-hour flight, the fare for both of us was €133 (near $158), compared with the almost $570 quoted us by the flag carriers.

In many cases, other low-cost carriers such as Easyjet and Ryanair operate from/to lesser airports such as, for London, Stansted Airport. Some cities have multiple airports, so when booking these carriers it is important to realize from which airport the flight will operate. This is not a problem with Baboo, however; they only fly from the major airport in each city they serve.

One small hotel we highly recommend in the Lake Como area is the Albergo Asnigo (Via Noseda, 2 Cernobbio 22012, Como, Italy; tel. 011 39 31 510062 or visit www. centrohotelslagocomo.it/asnigo_cernobbio), situated high on a hill overlooking the lake. The excellent care and attention given by its multilingual staff was top drawer! We paid €150 ($178) for a front-view double, including VAT, parking and buffet breakfast on the patio.

I guess there are always downsides/challenges. Stuff happens, you know. Here are a couple we ran into.

With taxis in Budapest and Prague, check and compare the rates of a couple. Drivers, even though metered, entered the starting rate on the meter, which could range widely, resulting in a higher cost. We got the most favorable rate when we contacted the bellman at the hotel and had him make arrangements for us with a taxi company.

We found that the announcement board for trains arriving and departing from the East Budapest station did not list trains by number. We had a very difficult time finding which train to board. Station ticket personnel were absolutely no help and were surly in giving answers.

That all said, our trip was really a memorable one. If you have any questions, I will try to answer them by e-mail: xpprmkr@aol.com.

JOHN L. THOMPSON
Yorba Linda, CA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My wife and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with a trip to Tunisia and several countries in Europe, Aug. 5-31, ’05. We had a great time, combining air, rail and autos as basic transportation. Several thoughts come to mind which might aid others planning to travel in Europe.

We used our local travel agent to research and book our rented autos in both Italy and Switzerland. We picked up the Italian car at Milan’s Malpensa Airport and dropped it off in Venice (the city location at the end of the causeway bridge). We rented our next car in Geneva, where we asked the counter agent if they had a German-licensed auto which we could leave in Germany and thereby avoid the $275 dropoff charge. They did and we turned the car in at the Frankfurt airport.

The car in Italy was a 4-door Mercedes-Benz 220, and in Switzerland/Germany it was a VW 605 (I believe it is the Golf series). Both were excellent for space and luggage.

For travel in Switzerland, be sure your rental car has the Swiss road sticker that is required. We had to purchase ours (CHF40, or near $78) at the post office in the Geneva airport. If you’re caught driving in Switzerland without one, the fine is reported to be CHF250!

For the rail portions of our trip (Venice-Vienna, Vienna-Budapest and Budapest-Prague), we were very ably handled by Mr. Herman Wiss at EurAide, Inc. (tel. 941 480 1555, fax 941 480 1522 or e-mail wiss2@comcast.net).

Herman took our desired routings and set up and booked all of our ticketing, combining rail companies and using appropriate money-saving railpasses, such as one for five days’ travel within a certain amount of time. Herman explained in detail exactly where and how to activate the passes once we were out of Italy and the pass “kicked in.”

We recommend first class on the longer rail trips; compartments and dining cars were used. It also allowed us to make a change en route when we wanted to improve our arrival in Prague. Our conductor told us, “First class — no problem to change.” Another benefit we found was that there are sometimes lounges at stations which allow first-class passengers to come in, enjoy a Coke, coffee, etc., and get on-scene assistance with tickets or local situations.

Our air experience from Prague to Geneva was on Baboo Airlines (e-mail flybaboo.com). This is a hub-style carrier basing out of Geneva with ATR turboprop service to 10 to 12 cities. For the 2-hour flight, the fare for both of us was €133 (near $158), compared with the almost $570 quoted us by the flag carriers.

In many cases, other low-cost carriers such as Easyjet and Ryanair operate from/to lesser airports such as, for London, Stansted Airport. Some cities have multiple airports, so when booking these carriers it is important to realize from which airport the flight will operate. This is not a problem with Baboo, however; they only fly from the major airport in each city they serve.

One small hotel we highly recommend in the Lake Como area is the Albergo Asnigo (Via Noseda, 2 Cernobbio 22012, Como, Italy; tel. 011 39 31 510062 or visit www. centrohotelslagocomo.it/asnigo_cernobbio), situated high on a hill overlooking the lake. The excellent care and attention given by its multilingual staff was top drawer! We paid €150 ($178) for a front-view double, including VAT, parking and buffet breakfast on the patio.

I guess there are always downsides/challenges. Stuff happens, you know. Here are a couple we ran into.

With taxis in Budapest and Prague, check and compare the rates of a couple. Drivers, even though metered, entered the starting rate on the meter, which could range widely, resulting in a higher cost. We got the most favorable rate when we contacted the bellman at the hotel and had him make arrangements for us with a taxi company.

We found that the announcement board for trains arriving and departing from the East Budapest station did not list trains by number. We had a very difficult time finding which train to board. Station ticket personnel were absolutely no help and were surly in giving answers.

That all said, our trip was really a memorable one. If you have any questions, I will try to answer them by e-mail: xpprmkr@aol.com.

JOHN L. THOMPSON
Yorba Linda, CA