Playing Switzerland

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There are few countries that live up to their reputation. With stunning snow-capped mountain ranges that lead into lush, green valleys; efficient public transportation networks and, ancient historical cities that seamlessly merge past with present. This is Switzerland; it is just as beautiful, international – and expensive – as you would expect.

We spent a total of 10 days in this gorgeous country hiking the Bernese Oberland, watching guild parades in Zurich and walking the promenade of the ‘Swiss Rivera’ in Montreux. You can see our full itinerary as well as tips for making the most out of your Swiss holiday here.

Other than our normal excuse for traveling, I had a real work reason for going to Switzerland. As a part of my three year stint working for NATO at SHAPE, Belgium, I was invited to the Swiss Armed Forces School as a guest speaker. Located in Lucern, Switzerland, an absolutely stunning part of the country, it was an easy ‘yes’ to participate.

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Picture: Town of Lucern

Only 26 NATO students are permitted to attend the NCO Advanced Leadership course which is held twice a year. Lasting for two weeks, the entire program is completely funded by the Swiss government. Not only do they provide, room board and a world class training program, they try to ensure that every NATO nation has at least 1 slot in each course. The college accomplished this goal in the spring of 2016’s class, which was made up of 25 different nations.

The foundation for the course is building teamwork between NATO countries while simultaneously instilling a sense of pride and empowerment in the enlisted ranks. This was one of the more interesting aspects I learned while working with NATO nations – the lack of empowerment, education and trust given to the enlisted force.

The backbone of the American military is truly built on the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps (NCO). The first leadership tier in the enlisted military structure, the US heavily invests in its ranks through education, leadership training and empowerment of its lower enlisted. This is not the case for 90% of the worlds militaries. Decisions are held up at the officer tier leaving lower ranks with less responsibility. This was often frustrating for my US service members who worked in NATO two or three ranks below what would normally be expected of them in the US.

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Picture: Team building course. Participants had to navigate the maze without speaking, on a time limit and had to stay within designated areas 

In speaking with the students it was not the curriculum that they were most impressed with – or the free lodging, beer and food – but the cultural exchange they were able to have with the other students. This was of course the highlight of my experience as well. My First Sergeant and I were treated as honored guests and were invited to  break bread with enlisted leaders from Croatia, Canada, Switzerland, and Belgium. Their perspective on the course, NATO development and leadership were largely similar to my own, with one slight difference — I was the only female, the only officer and probably the only one under 30. So not only was I a women, but a young women that technically outranked the entire table.

In fact this was one of the reasons I was invited to speak on leadership along with my First Sergeant (Senior Enlisted Leader). I gave the officer side and he the enlisted side; we discussed how the two work together to create a perfect command team that takes care of the Airmen and ultimately, the mission. Although the message/speech went down fairly well, the school seemed less interested in the leadership message we brought, but what we represented to the rest of the crowd: a female commander (boss) and male First Sergeant (subordinate) that not only worked together, but worked well together.

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Picture: Preparing to go repelling. As a part of the course, participants repelled off a bridge, trusting the team member watching them to feed them appropriate rope lengths. These are the course leaders preparing to test it out (I am 3rd from the left, my First Sergeant to my left).

Up until this point in my career I hadn’t given a second thought to my gender. Despite the many non-standard, all male environments I worked in – as well as witnessing some questionable workplace behavior – my gender has never been a reason (or so I have thought) for those under me, above me or equal to me to treat me any different from anyone else.  The rank structure and uniform – true to name – strip every other societal first impression, forcing you to always look first at someones rank (so you know how to properly address them) and everything else, second.

I always viewed Europe as the most progressive continent in the world. Yet, after 5 years living there, and especially working with other foreign militaries, I was surprised to find that this is not always the case. America is surprisingly progressive when it comes to gender and racial equality, especially within the military. The diversity within the US is reflected in its ranks, encouraged and celebrated. While no organization or country is perfect, I gained a greater appreciation for what the US military represented to the rest of the world while serving at this post. Leading in every aspect, I can only hope to be a small part of that leading force showing that all else aside – solid leadership is about the person, and nothing else.

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Picture: Driving the alps

Christmas in Salzburg, New Years in Vienna

No one does Christmas better than Europe. I am not sure if it’s the lack of a thanksgiving that makes Christmas more grandiose or if its old, quant wooden structures and roaring fires that just make everything feel right. Regardless, theres no better place to spend your festive period – and it’s really hard to go wrong on a location.

Nearly every capital city has a fantastic Christmas market where you can get handmade crafts all the while eating bratwurst and drinking mulled wine. All European countries do Christmas well, but one region does it better than anywhere else.

The Habsburgs ruled much of modern day Central Europe including parts of Germany, Hungry, Switzerland and Austria – with expansions reaching as far The Netherlands and Romania. Their cultural mark can be seen in iconic crisscross wooden architecture, schnitzel and most notably in timeless musicians such as Strauss, Mozart, and Beethoven.

So engrained in the culture of modern day Austria, compulsory music and art courses are taught in both primary and secondary school. Austria – This is the place to spend your Christmas holiday.

Whether skiing in the Alps is your thing, or you tend to be more into the arts, there is something for everyone. We spent Christmas in 2016 doing a road trip through Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia. Check out the packed itinerary at the bottom of the post for our 12 day schedule.

While I always wish I had more time, we did a few things that you must include in your trip to Austria: Christmas Eve Mozart concert in the Salzburg Fortress, concert at the Vienna state opera and brought in the New Year at the annual Hofburg Palace Ball, Vienna. Activities do get booked up quickly, so planning at least 4 months in advance will allow you to choose from all the activities available. Surprisingly getting tickets to Mozart in Salzburg and a performance at the Vienna state opera was relatively easy and didn’t require much booking ahead of time despite the time of year. I was surprised to see tickets being sold outside the Vienna state opera for day of deals, though the seat quality cannot be guaranteed. See below itinerary for links on where to book tickets.

The one activity that did require extensive planning was, not surprisingly, New Years Eve. Our original plan was to watch the philharmonic orchestra or see an opera on New Years Eve leading up to midnight; I was disappointed to find out that tickets for the orchestra go by a raffle system that starts 2 Jan -28 Feb every year (so start planning a year out if this is your goal). Tickets to the opera are significantly less difficult for New Years, but do book early for the classic performance of Die Fledermaus, an Austrian comedy must, performed every New Year’s Eve.

https://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/new-years-concert/the-new-years-concert

https://www.viennaclassic.com/en/oper/state-opera

Skip the opera – Go to the Ball

If you really want to go big this New Years, however, take a look at the Hofburg Silverster Ball. This New Years celebration is held every year within the walls of the hofburg palace itself and offers a range of tickets for every pocketbook (though the cheapest starts at $300pp). We opted for the cheaper tickets, but if you splurge on the grand ballroom seats – it is well worth the money spent.

OUR ITINERARY: 12 days, 3 countries

– and the annual Hofburg Palace Silverster Ball

Day 1 – Arrival in Vienna, 1 hr drive to Melk
Stay at: Pension Marillenhof
Johann-Steinböckstrasse 2, 3390 Melk, Austria

Day 2: Melk Abbey – Schedule tour through website
http://www.stiftmelk.at/englisch/
*Drive to Salzburg following tour

Day 3/4: Salzburg – Christmas Markets & Mozart concert
Stay at: Has am Moos (a BnB outsidet the main city)
Moosstraße 186a, Leopoldskron-Moos, 5020 Salzburg, Austria
Christmas Markets!
https://www.salzburg.info/en/salzburg/advent/salzburg-christmas-market

Day 3: Christmas Eve
Morning — Self guided walking tour:
http://www.bigboytravel.com/europe/austria/salzburg/freewalkingtour/
Places to visit: Nonnberg Nunnery (where the nuns sing “Maria”),
Mirabell Castle and Mirabell Gardens (the place where Maria and the
children sing “Do-Re-Mi”), and the Felsenreitschule and Festival Halls
(the stage where the Trapps perform during the Salzburg Festival).
http://www.visit-salzburg.net/travel/soundofmusic_locations.htm
LUNCH & CHRISTMAS CONCERT
SALZBURG MOZART ENSEMBLE

24th December 2016 / 1:00pm
Festung Hohensalzburg, Burgsaal, Festungsgasse / Mönchsberg 34, 5020 Salzburg
To get you in the mood for Christmas Eve, a traditional Christmas
Concert takes place in the festively decorated Castle Hall on Salzburg
Fortress on 24th December at 3pm. The well-known Salzburg Mozart
Ensemble will be performing for you.
F. Schubert: Minuetts
W.A. Mozart: Clarinette Quintette
W.A. Mozart: A Little Night Music
https://www.salzburghighlights.at/en/ticket/DinnerAdvent-andChristmasConcerts

Day 4: Christmas Day
Travel from Salzburg to Bled (2hrs 40 min)
Stay at: Carmen guesthouse
Cesta Svobode 37, 4260 Bled, Slovenia
Stop off in Bled for a hike/stretch legs. Ideas for hikes:

Winter Hiking

Winter adventures

Day 5: Ljubljana
Optional (we decided to cut out due to time):
Postojna caves nativity scene + castle (10am)

http://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/home/
Onward to Ljubljana (30min)

Alo apartments: Staretova ulica 25, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Evening (5pm): Ljubljana Christmas Spirit Foodie Walk Combined with Boat Ride

Day 6: 1000 – Skocjan caves (50min) then to Vikolínec, Slovakia (8hrs)
Čremošná 8684, Ružomberok, 034 06 Ružomberok, Slovaki
Day 7/8 – Vikolinec Village & search for wooden churches:
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1273
*Note we encountered significant snow and a long drive to get here. I
would recommend adding at least a day or two if you make the trip up
to the mountains; if you are limited on time, skip it all together and
save your energy with just seeing Bratislava
Map of mountain trails: http://www.discoverzakopane.com/tatramap.html
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/622

Hiking


Leštiny, Slovakia http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/site.php?id=1273-004
Stop at Čičmany, Slovakia – Preserved cabins with painting – on way to
Bratislava
http://piestany.danubiushotels.com/

Day 9 – Bratislava
Apartment pressburg – Železničiarska 7, Stare Mesto, 811 04 Bratislava, Slovakia
11 or 1500 – free walking tour
http://www.befreetours.com/

Day 10: Drive to Vienna

Day 11: Opera/concert, Vienna State opera
*Can also buy tickets day of directly from the opera house, but we
opted to buy ahead of time online
Pre-concert cocktails/cigar: Krugers American Bar

Day 12: New Year’s Eve

Morning: free walking tour

Afternoon: Schoenbrunn Palace
https://www.schoenbrunn.at/en/our-tickets-and-prices/all-tickets-prices/#winterpass-plus
New Year’s Eve party: Hofburg Silverster Ball
https://www.hofburgsilvesterball.com/english/

Day 13: Fly home 😦

Oktoberfest – no Ticket needed

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On any Euro trip bucket list is a trip to the famed Oktoberfest. Seasoned veterans of Germany’s fests know that Munich is just one of the many city’s in Germany who throw this annual fest. You can stop into nearly any major town and join the ranks of beer tables, wenches and schnitzel – but none of course are as crazy and famed as Munich.

If you have started to look into going you’ll quickly realize that to actually have a seat at the table and a place to stay, much of your planning needs to have been done at least a year out. Fear not! I have been to Munich’s Oktoberfest twice, with no prior planning and was able to easily get into a tent with having a ticket ahead of time. Here are the tips you need to follow to ensure you do.

GETTING INTO A TENT WITH NO TICKET

To guarantee a seat you do have to have a ticket, which get snapped up early BUT there are open seats which often have some of the better locations — you just have to show up early enough to grab them.

  1. Go early – 1100-1200 when everything first opens
  2. Pick any tent – they are all awesome (maybe pick the tent with your favorite beer as that is what you will be drinking all night)
  3. Avoid going on opening weekend or weekends in general (don’t worry, any day of the week is still a party)
  4. Be prepared to stick it out for a few hours until the party gets warmed up. (We brought cards until the band goes on about 2pm when things start going)

I have been to Oktoberfest twice and both times we were easily able to get into a tent with no ticket. In fact, we ditched the tickets we did have for the better seats we were able to get.

FINDING A PLACE TO STAY

This can also be problematic when hordes of tourists come in over this festive time period. Choosing a non-weekend will help with this one, also try Airbnb or couchsurfing. Expect prices to be higher than normal, but don’t feel the need to stay near the Oktoberfest site. With the great public transportation in Munich, opt for a farther out hotel than is walking distance to the bahnhof and you are golden.

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WHAT TO WEAR

Do drop money on a dirndl and/or lederhosen. Even if Germany is just day 1 of 20 days backpacking Europe, you will find a future use for them, even if its Halloween the next year. I regret not just dropping money to buy them at my first fest; literally everyone is in traditional gear, get one too to fit in as part of the crowd.

A genuine leather, highly quality dirndl and/or lederhosen will run you close to $300, but there are cheaper options you can pick-up in town for closer to $100. Grabbing one in Munich is the easiest option as everyone will selling them. I personally, rented a costume from a party store for $20…not the best costume in the crowd but it was the cheapest option.

Oktoberfest (like any drink fest) is what you make it. You can sing late into the evening, dancing on tables, with a massive hangover the next day, or you can keep it to 1-2 steins and still remember that German you talked to the night before.  The people you go with and meet will make or break the party no matter the tent.

Enjoy Oktoberfest, prost!

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Exploring the regal charm of Loire Valley

A region set on the banks of the Loire river southwest of Paris, Loire valley has long been adored by the likes of Leonardo di Vinci, King Louis XI through XVI and now revered by modern tourists looking for a glimpse into this regal past. Loire valley is also an expansive wine region with many mini-wine appellations to explore. With so much to do in this 100 mile region, it can be hard to pair down priority must sees.

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We had 4 days in this stunning region, but that is not nearly enough time. At a minimum a week is required to enjoy this beautiful part of France, but if you, like me, has limited money and time – below is how we decided to hit all the ‘must sees’ of the region without rushing through what should be a relaxing trip in the sun.

First things first, lets prioritize what you must see, do and taste. Top experiences include: biking from châteaux to châteaux, wine tasting in one of the many small vineyards and visiting the grand homes of people richer than me.

Now, how to do all of these things in 4 days? Here’s how we did it.

Where to stay

Choosing where to stay is extremely difficult. Many sites recommend starting on one side of the valley (near Angers) and stay at another location on the other end (near Orleans) to be able to close to all the attractions. With limited time, however, this is simply not possible.

Wanting to bike, wine and château we chose to stay in Montlois-sur-Loire – if you want to do all of these things as well, I highly recommend choosing a location somewhere between Tours and Blois. This allows you to be within biking distance of Amboise, Vouvray, Chenonceau château (for the ambitious) and 30 min driving distance to Villandry, Tours, Blois and Chambord.

Note: I also looked at the towns of Chinon and Saumur. For cabernet franc lovers, Chinon can be tempting however it is a bit out of the way for seeing the main châteaus. Biking to anywhere relevant can be tough from these locations if you are trying to see as much as possible and keep sites to day trips 

Within walking distance of its own local winery, right on the bike path and with stunning views overlooking the Loire river, I highly recommend staying where we stayed – in a renovated 19th century château.

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Chateau de Bondesir – Chambres d’hôtes

7 Rue de Bondesir, 37270 Montlouis-sur-Loire, France

How to get around

To see the most without relying on tour buses – rent a car. There is public transportation available from the major towns of Tours (best one if you want to stay in a city), Orleans & Angers but getting to the château’s without hoping on a tour bus will be difficult. If you want to avoid driving then staying in Tours or Blois will allow you to easily book trips to the main sites as well as local bike hire. Many accommodations also provide free bike use (ours did).

We drove or biked to nearby towns, châteaus and small vineyards, but did elect to hire a professional for our half day wine tour from Tours to Chinon. We drove to Tours (for ease of purchasing wine) but we could have easily  biked from Montlouis.

What to do

Wine tasting was at the top of my list. I had a grand idea to bike from vineyard to vineyard, which is easily done on your own without booking a tour. Check out the wine route.

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But again, with limited time (and the desire to buy multiple cases) we opted for a half day tour through viator – Chinon small group wine tasting from Tours. Cheaper than the $150pp individualized tours, it was informative but did not cover as much of the wine region as I would have preferred. If you are a wino, splurge on a personalized wine trip. If not, go with viator as it is a good overview and great way to see Chinon.

Château’s was the next item on my list – but there are so many! With entrance fees at each one and over 13 to choose from, we limited our trips to Villandry, Chambord & Chenonceau. Reviews add that Amboise and Blois are also worth seeing, but I do have to say that after 1 or 2…we were good on the life of the rich and dead. Out of those three, I enjoyed Villandry the most for its stunning gardens, pictured below.

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Your sample 4 day itinerary

Smoosh all this recommended stuff together and you have a great mix of wine, food and exploration.

Day 1: Get there + Chambord  – stay at charming Chateau de Bondesir – Chambres d’hôtes and have dinner at La Cave (walking distance from Bondesir)

Day 2: Villandry in the morning, Chinon small group wine tasting from Tours. in the afternoon

Day 3: Cycle from Montlouis sur loire to Amboise, explore the château and cycle back. Make it back before 6pm and go to the local Cave des producteurs for Chenin blanc and sparking wine then move on to nearby town of Vouvary for more wine tasting.

Note on cycling the region: It is easily done. Paths are well marked and take you through country roads or bike only paths. Just visit the local tourist office for directions and a map – there is no need to book a paid tour, it is well made for tourists unfamiliar with the region

Day 4: Round out your wondrous trip with the finale of all châteausChenonceau and then head on home!

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Happy travels!

 

Norway in a Nutshell

Not many know that one of the worlds most expensive places to live and travel also used to be one of the poorest in Europe just 50 years ago. The rough terrain, small population and northern cold location also meant that much of the country has preserved many of its traditional ways of living as well as its natural beauty.
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One of the best ways to see Norway in all its beauty is to do the Norway in a Nutshell trip from Oslo to Bergen. It encompasses the best parts of Norway including boat trips through the majestic Sognefjord,  UNESCO world heritage Flåm Railway and concludes in Bergen the second largest city in Norway and also a good way to hop out of the country or onto your next destination.
Depending on the season, there are many ways to customize this classic route without doing the set organized tours although either option will cost you about the same. We chose to make our own itinerary, which is easily done, to allow a bit more time in the famous Fjord country (most tours will complete the nutshell in a day or so).
We started our trip out in Oslo. A modern, relatively small city it encompasses all the smooth design and modernity that one would expect from a Nordic country. The highlights included the Oslo Opera house, designed by famous Norwegian architect Snøhetta, National Museum which holds “the Scream” by Edvard Munch along with a number of national art treasurers and Holmenkollen Ski Museum and tower a unique shrine to the sport of skiing.
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Leg 1 Oslo —> Myrdal
The train from Oslo to Myrdal takes about 5hours. To complete the nutshell journey in a day you will need to take one of the first trains out. Tickets are easily booked online via NSB website
Leg 2 Myrdal –> Flåm
This is the part where the journey gets interesting. You can easily purchase tickets from Myrdal to Flåm at the train station. During the summer months trains leave regularly and the process is built for non-Nordic tourists. Details on schedules can be found at the flamsbana website.
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Leg 3 Flåm –> Gudvangen —> Voss
This is where you need to take a pause and take in the beauty.
If you are trying to complete the journey in a day, you can easily hope off the Flamsbana and walk into the tourist office to purchase ferry tickets to continue on your journey. Ferry times can be found here. There is also a speed boat option that can take you from Flåm straight to Bergen (the end of the journey) with some key stops along the way. Using this route you skip the bus and train end of the journey and get to your final destination much quicker. Note that it only runs in the summer months.
The bus ticket from Gudvangen to Voss can be purchased right as you enter. This is a well trotted tourist route so it is easily seen across the street once you exit the ferry.
Where to stay on your Nutshell route
If you have a bit more time, I recommend an overnight stay in either Balestrand or Undredal rather than the overly touristy town of Flåm. These small villages are only accessible via ferry and have limited transportation schedules depending on the season. If you go in winter/off-season, then it may be difficult to access these remote parts of the fjord, but you will also miss the hoards of tourists that infiltrate the countryside June-July-August.
With limited ferry options, we traveled in January and spent 2 nights in Flåm (a ghost town in this time of year) at Flam Marina & Apartments.  I splurged on a room that faced the Sognefjord and do not regret a second of it.
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There are a few other options in the town. We were very limited on where we could stay – if traveling in winter, start 1 Feb rather than January as you will have more options. But no matter where you stay, it is all within eyesight of the pristine waters of Sognefjord – you really cant go wrong.
Fretheim – This would have been my choice had it been open when we were visiting. It is an old farmhouse converted into an inn
Kviknes hotel – Upscale accommodation in Balestrand. Sunning scenery in the middle of the Fjord
What to do on your Nutshell route
Although tours are limited in this time of year, we were able to secure a snowshoeing trek through Fjord Safari. Our local guide, Steve, was absolutely amazing – down to earth with an incredible insight into how the locals live since he was one himself. As 1 of 80 inhabitants in the municipality of Aurland, he and his family continue on a century long tradition of goat herding and cheese making. Owning 30K+ acres of mountain landscape, the boundaries between Steve and his neighbors are kept only by the flow of the water. If it flows to the right it is the neighbors land, to the left was his. As we trekked up and down the snowy hillside, he told us stories of how he took his children up into plumbing-less cabins and skied with them down the mountainside. Every year he takes his herd to graze in summer starting in about June, lets them loose and then corrals them up again around September.
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In this part of the world, goats out number people. Only about 1750 people call this place home. It is especially known for a special kind of cheese, called “Brunost” or Brown Cheese, which is made from the whey usually discarded in the curdling, cheese making process. They prepare it by baking the whey cheese until it caramelizes creating a rather sweet taste that is distinctly different from normal goat cheese.
Climbing up the stunning mountainside, I wondered to myself if I could ever live as the locals do. Where everyone literally knows everyone, your 2nd & 3rd cousins are your neighbors. The local school only goes up to grade 9 and has a grand total of 60 children, combined in all the grades. It is definitely not made for a young adult, but a perfect world to bring up younger children. It is probably good that there isn’t a High School in the town as by that age I am sure the teens would become restless and wreck havoc on the perfect peaceful town.
Back to civilization
After adventuring through natures play ground, you can continue on to Bergen via the ferry –> bus –> and then back on the NSB national train from Voss –> Bergen or take the speed boat option mentioned above. If done in a day, the whole journey from Oslo to Bergen can be completed in around 12 hours.
Whatever your route, whichever your favorite stop enjoy this gorgeous, UNESCO world heritage country!
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Western Europe

I am married to a Scot, have lived two years in Northern England and lived three years in Belgium. Although I would not say that Europe has been the most ‘life changing’ place to live, it is certainly one of the best in terms of quality of life. Relatively inexpensive and easily traversed for a fellow western traveler, it is where I would recommend to start your worldly venture – although I encourage you to not stop there.

A place little thought of by many western travelers (Americans), although it is growing with our British cousins, is Eastern Europe. If you are looking for something that is a bit off the beaten path, but still within the continent I encourage you to try the former Yugoslavian countries in addition to your classic Croatia, Hungry and Czech Republic. You can read about some of these adventures here.

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Click on the links to the right to check out each story by country including recommended must do’s. For the latest trip intel on this awesome region steeped in history click here.

If you are looking for tips on dos and don’ts of a country you are looking at visiting please feel free to drop any questions in the comments box below.

Have fun exploring!!

 

Switzerland itinerary

DSC_0600Where to start in this land of sweeping natural beauty? With limited time and so many ‘must sees’, I relied heavily on top 10 recommendations. But even wading through that was difficult. See below for how we made the most of our 10 days in this stunning country.

Where to start?  Go in the summer and head to the alps

The Alps stretch over much of the country and there are various famous walks, and ski villages (winter is of course another key time to go). Trekking across the Alps is on my bucket list, but without a few weeks to explore it was difficult to pick a region to focus on. Out of all the areas to stay I recommend picking either  Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland. More particularly, you should focus on the Jungfrau Region

Interlocken is a favorite among backpackers, but largely touristy. Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen are the last two towns you can get to by car; the remaining movement must be done via public transport or foot. If you are looking for something more off the beaten track then Murren or Wengen are your go to places. We had a car (cheaper than taking the train, but not necessarily easier) so Lauterbrunnen was our first choice.

Schützenbach Backpackers & Camping  Schützenbach, Lauterbrunnen, 3822, Switzerland

*Cheap, clean and central this large ground is ideal for large groups. Check-in time is  limited so make sure you arrive within their window

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Day 1: Gondola up to Schilthorn, have a rest at Piz Gloria and hike back down

Have your Shaken Not Stirred Martini at the Piz Gloria, home of the 1969 Bond film Her Majesty’s Secret Service then walk it all off on the way down the mountain side. This trip can be done in a day. Recommend making reservations at the restaurant to guarantee placement; you will not regret the views.

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Day 2: Travel up to Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe

This leg for us was the most touristy and way overpriced, but at the same time a must do for anyone claiming to have visited the Swiss Alps.

Day 3+: Complete the classic First – Schynige Platte hike

If you choose any hike in the Bernese Oberland region, this is an absolute must. There are loads of ways to break the 10m hike down to something shorter, but the full walk is something not to be skipped. For all those that are as concerned as I am about reading confusing elevation, hiking maps fear not – all trails are well marked and extremely easy to follow. This region was made for tourists.

Note: Getting a train Travel Pass is absolutely worth it if you will be staying in the region for 3 days or more. It is only eligible for certain times of the year however, so a secondary option is to buy the 50% ticket which discounts your pricy train travel as well.

You could spend weeks in this region of Switzerland and still not get enough. The views are jaw dropping, the air is clear and the people wonderful. If you have time, plan at least a week in this area and do a few more extensive trips – maybe even an overnight in one of the well maintained huts along the alps. You will not regret it. If you are limited on time as I was, then hitting these top 3 will at least get you the experience of the alps.

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After the Alps, head to the Swiss Rivera with a key stop at Gruyere for some of the local delicacy as well as a taste of Switzerland’s national dish: fondue.

Day 4: Gruyere

If you have time I would stay at least 1 night in the town of Gruyere. Home to not only the famous cheese, but a gorgeous medieval town set on the hillside in the middle of sprawling green hills.

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Day 5: Montreux, Chillon Castle and wine

You can stay on many little towns and villages along Lake Geneva. We chose the biggest of the cities, Montreux. Famous for its immaculate promenade, I chose a hotel that had views of the lake, and was within walking distance of Chillon Castle. A must when staying here is to walk the promenade to this ancient castle set on the backdrop of the Alps.

Golf Hotel Rene Capt, Rue Bon Port 33-35, Montreux, 1820, Switzerland

If you can time your trip around July, the famous Montreux Jazz festival fills this Rivera town with life. Though it is not a stranger to famous artists; Queen famously made this town a home where they recorded a majority of their albums along with a number of other famous guest artists including David Bowie.

Swiss wine is less known than chocolate or cheese yet it can compete with its neighboring France and Germany for crisp whites. If you have time, explore the promenade and add a wine excursion to your list of Must Do’s.

Day 6: Geneva and CERN

More international than Swiss, Geneva is home to the UN and boasts CERN – a cutting edge laboratory famous for its discovery of the ‘God particle’. Those physics enthusiasts will want to take a tour of the facility, though book in advance as it fills up quickly.

To round out the trip, circle around the edge  of the country ending up in the gorgeous town of Lucerne

St. Mortiz

Home of the best skiing/winter sports in the world, it is just as gorgeous in the summer months. Being in the Southern part of the country and close to Italy, I had to cut this city out though winter sports enthusiasts might not make the same call. I would say if you are short on time and looking for an Alpine adventure, Jungfrau is the most central location to base the remaining part of your trip

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Zurich vs. St. Gallen

We stayed in Zurich and hit the Lindt chocolate outlet along with a few guild festivals. Unless you are in love with cities, I would skip Zurich and stay instead in the ancient town of St. Gallen. Close to the German/Lichtenstein border the ancient town is significantly less expensive and is steeped in history. From there you can bounce to Rhine Falls , the largest waterfall in Europe. Though anyone who has marveled at the likes of Niagara or Victoria falls might want to skip this modest show of nature.

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Lucerne

If you make it to the Bernese Oberland, Lucerene is an easy addition to your trip. Boasting a series of cable car musts it is also another ancient city steeped in history. Take the paddle boat ride through the lake, explore the nine towers of Lucerne, and learn about how the order of the guild used to run the country (and in some cases still does).

 

No matter where you choose to go in this gorgeous country you cannot go wrong. Put on your hiking boots, bring your cash and breath the fresh Alpine air!