Before the tour
This was our honeymoon trip that took us close to 4 months of research and planning. We went on the free & easy and not the tour package option, for our belief is honeymoon has to be exclusive to only the couple. In planning for a trip we considered many factors, and slowing scaling down into smaller details.
• Started by deciding which part of the world we are visiting
• Deciding on which season of the year for travel
• Zooming into the specific countries
• Deciding on the total amount of days for the trip
• Breaking down the days and nailing the specific city/town of each country
• Research on the key sightsee and highlights of each location
• Research on the flight entry and depart location
• Research on specific train timing and connection points
• Research on accommodation
• Estimate the budget for accommodation, transport, food, sightsee, shopping etc
• Read up travel blogs and watch out for recommendations, warnings, feedbacks etc
In summary we came up with the following travel plan:
Fly into Italy, Rome. Fly back from France, Paris
8 days Italy
Rome -> Florence/Pisa -> Venice
7 days Switzerland
Lucerne -> Interlaken -> Bern
7 days France
Colmar -> Strasbourg -> Paris
My itinerary plan can be found here. From my blog you could see that some of the days did not follow the plan exactly. We did some swapping but I did not update the itinerary to reflect them – too much hassle.
Therefore my travel log is based on our research and actual experience of the places of visit within the shouldering season (Winter -> Spring) in April. It does not serve as a detailed planning tool for these countries, but more so as a memory keep sake for us as travel logs. However you should still be able to benefit from some of my research, useful links, and my actual experience in these countries.
Country & Culture
All 3 countries have their unique culture. Of them we like Switzerland best.
April is a shouldering season where this region transits from Winter into Spring. The temperature differs from regions but is generally on the low side, bringing nice and cooling weather all day round. At some parts it could get really cold when the rain combine with wind, so proper clothing is required to travel at this time of the year. Switzerland is the coldest of all these 3 countries, and we love it best.
Italian food is rather different from Swiss and French. Italian dishes contain lots of cheese and can get quite “jelat”. Swiss and French dishes are much more balanced. In term of pricing, Switzerland is the most expensive, Italy in the mid range, and France being more economical.
Shopping and Money matters
Both Italy and France uses Euro, while Switzerland uses its own Francs. These are major currencies and can be easily found at most money changers.
Over a long trip it might cost up to 5 figures dollars. To carry that amount of cash would be rather dangerous. Imagine you are pickpocket or extorted half way through the trip. With such risks many travellers will chose to bring cash to cover for food and sightseeing, while leaving the major bills like accommodation and transports to credit cards. For us, we bought along SGD9,000 of cash to last the entire trip. It was a risk but we prefer not to incur additional charges from credit cards. To play safe, we split the cash into many different portions, hidden throughout the body.
People and Languages
The locals generally do not disturb us, with exception of some that were rude to us. Give them the respect and they will do likewise. Swiss are the friendliest and well mannered.
Italy and France uses its own language while Switzerland is slightly special. Depending on which part of Switzerland you might hear the local speaking Italian, French, or German. Most part within Switzerland uses German language. English is known for most locals, especially at tourist areas. Thus you should not have an issue if you can only communicate in that. Just pick up a few common sentences such as “Thank you”, “Sorry” in the various languages. If you can’t speak their language or English, then you might have difficulty travelling. For example if you only speak Japanese or Mandarin. But if you can’t understand English, you wouldn’t be even reading this blog of mine.
It is safe to carry big and bulky SLR, as long as you keep it strap to you at all times. Do not leave your equipments unattended to. Not even for a minute, as it might go missing when you just turn your head around. Same goes for luggage, keep it within contact at all times!
In the past I travel rather heavy on photography equipments, carrying a few lenses and filters. This time round, I went with my Canon 5D II (without the battery grip), a 24-105L f4, EX430 II, tripod. That’s all. In fact I could have left my external flash at home as I probably only use it for less than 10 shots throughout the trip. I prefer natural lighting and often make do with wide aperture and higher ISO. When it is appropriate for me to have my tripod mounted, it will then be up.
On the whole if you are using a compact point & shoot, that will be easy and light to handle. But for me, I prefer to have the control over my photos so I do not go for anything lesser than an SLR. You might also want to bring along a prosumer level where you get a fixed lens but robust features to adjust the aperture and shutter.
If you are using SLR please consider bringing a wide angle lens as many landscapes require that. If possible bring lenses that has wide aperture. Those bigger than f2.8 are good. Anything below f2 is ideal for low light. I wanted to keep it simple so I went with a general lens that gives flexibility range from 24-105mm. Only thing is to trade that with a f4 aperture that is bad for indoor low light or night shots.
Places I enjoyed
We enjoyed many places in Italy as they really have a rich art history. Their buildings are very nicely decorated. Switzerland is probably my favourite as I am a nature lover. Mountains, lakes, and trees make me go crazy. Especially when it is slow pace.
Depending on your time of travel, you will need different clothing. But the generic items should not be missed.
• Socket or power convertor for your gadgets (check it out here)
• Maps (or you can get it when you are at the hotels)
• Washing detergent and hanger if you are travelling for a long period
• Money pouch
• Photocopy of your important documents
• A good pair of walking shoe
• A smaller backpack for carrying items when you are out for the day
• Lip balm especially if you are from a more humid country
The rest of the necessity items like money and stuffs for shower should be a no brainer.
I will list those links pertaining to the specific country in the individual country review. Over here are generic links that are helpful throughout the trip.
Rick Steves Travel Guide
Guide to travelling Europe using rails
Eurail pass official website
Rail Eurail SG