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Trip Report Trip Report: 17 days in Switzerland, Austria & Czech Republic

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We returned two weeks ago from an exhausting but fabulous trip of these 3 countries. Our broad itinerary for the trip was:
Luzern: 3 nights
Lauterbrunnen: 4 nights
Salzburg: 2 nights
Vienna: 3 nights
Prague: 4 nights
I intend to post the complete trip report in 4-5 installments. Here goes the first one.

BACKGROUND & PLANNING: We are a couple from India, around 50'ish. We are avid travelers, but had never been to this part of Europe before. And BTW, we are vegetarians; so you may find our restaurant choices a bit strange ! This trip report is as much for the benefit of Fodorites and future travelers, as it is for ourselves, as a detailed diary of our trip. So please bear with me if it becomes too detailed at times.

The primary source of information for our planning was the Lonely Planet guides (for Switzerland, Austria & Prague), coupled with a host of general internet sites. But the real planning, the fine touches, the wonderful ideas, all came from this Fodors site, which we utilized fully. Thanks a lot to all those who responded to our numerous queries, in particular bob brown, PalenQ, schuler, swandav2000, altamiro, enzian, JN, Mimar, sunstar, Ingo and a host of others. You people really helped make this trip memorable.

For hotel bookings we relied on tripadvisor.com, which has never let us down in the past. Once again, we found the reviews spot on, and were never disappointed in our hotel choices.

Day 1: Friday, Aug 1: Arrival at Luzern:
We boarded our Austrian Air flight from Mumbai at about 1am, which reached Vienna at about 5:30am local time. The flight was really cramped for legspace, and we had a most uncomfortable journey. Had about 90 minutes for changeover, and at 7am we boarded a Swissair flight to Zurich, reaching there around 8am.

The baggage retrieval was fast, and so was immigration and customs. Quick change of some currency, and we were ready to go down to the train station at the airport to board our train to Luzern. We had purchased the 8-day Swiss Pass (saverpass) before our departure, and needed to get it validated. This was speedily done at the Rail Center counter, and we also made reservations for our Zurich-Salzburg leg of rail journey for Day 8. Cost only 5 SFR each. We had Austrian rail passes also (for 3 days of non-consecutive travel), and the lady at the reservation counter asked if she should also validate the Austrian rail-pass. We said yes, and it was done in a jiffy ! I am mentioning this, as I had posted a question earlier on this forum, enquiring about where we should get an Austrian pass validated if we are travelling from Zurich to Salzburg. Fodorites were not sure of the answer, and PalenQ in particular had requested that I post an update when I return. Well, now I know that you can easily get an Austrian pass validated at a train station in Switzerland, anytime before boarding the Switzerland to Austria train.

We boarded the 9:09am train from Zurich Airport, which involved a train change at Zurich HB. When we boarded the 9:35am train at Zurich HB, there was an announcement on the train that the departure would be delayed by 5-10 minutes due to some technical snag. A young Swiss lady passenger seated next to us immediately started apologizing to us for the delay, assuring us that such events were extremely rare in Switzerland ! Good to see so much national pride in the Swiss efficiency.

We met a lot of interesting Swiss travelers on the short train journey to Luzern. It was 1st August, the Swiss National Day, and many people were dressed in the Swiss national colours of red and white. They do take pride in their nationality, and wear it on their sleeve, which is nice to see. We reached Luzern at 10:35am, and took a taxi to our hotel : Pension Villa Maria. We found the hotel very cute and warm and homely, being run by an efficient elderly Swiss lady. It has only 10 rooms; we had booked one of the few rooms which had a private ensuite shower and WC, and were very happy with the place. It is about a 15 minute walk alongside the lake to the town center, and the walk is very pleasant. However, there is a bus stop just outside the hotel, which we used a lot during the next 3 days whenever our feet were tired.

After a welcome shower at the hotel, we set out to the town center on foot, walking along the lake, past some lovely parks and gardens. When we reached the main waterfront near the Kapellbrucke, we sat down for lunch at the Rathaus Brauerie under the arched covered area. Had wonderful soup of cabbage+turnips, along with some pretzels with cheese in a tomato sauce, and some Vietnamese spring rolls with a nice dressing. Their self-brewed cloudy beer was great, and the views from this restaurant were fantastic. Nice satisfying meal.

There were thundershowers forecast for the afternoon, and it had started to rain while we were eating. We were prepared with our umbrellas, and embarked on a walking tour of Luzern. We had to start with the famed Kapellbrucke, which looks so pretty with all the flowers all along its length. On crossing the Kapellbrucke and walking on the other side, we noticed the rain getting heavy, so we entered the Rosengart Museum (which has now been merged with the Picasso Museum). It had a reasonable collection of Picasso, Klee, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir and Seurat, along with a collection of photographs of Picasso himself. Good place to spend a rainy afternoon.

By the time we emerged from the Museum, the rain had slowed down. We walked past the Jesuitenkirche, Franziskanerkirche, History Museum, then crossed back into Old Town via the Spreuerbrucke into Weinmarket and Hirschenplatz. The buildings in the Old Town area are lovely, with murals and paintings on their walls, and lovely antique water-fountains everywhere. Unfortunately, it was a holiday, and all shops were closed.

Had a quick coffee break at Pinochio Cafe at Hirschenplatz, and then proceeded to Musseggmauer (which is the city wall of yore). We climbed up one of the turrets, and walked the length of the wall, which offered excellent bird's eye views of the town.

It was still raining off and on, and we walked to the Bahnhof, and took a one hour boat cruise on the Lake, starting at around 5pm. Very helpful and friendly crew on board. Too bad about the cloudy weather. After the boat cruise we slowly walked to Hofgarten hotel, which was reputed to have the best veg restaurant in Luzern. The weather had suddenly turned chilly, and we were relieved to reach the warm environs of the restaurant. The place lived up to its reputation, and we had an excellent dinner of Tomato+avacado soup, followed by Bami Goreng. Huge helpings and good wine.

We were tired, for lack of proper sleep on the flight, and the 3-4 hour time difference. So we decided to call it a day early, and at 7:30 pm we boarded a bus back to our hotel for some well deserved rest.

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    Day 2: Saturday Aug 2: LUZERN:
    Fodorites had always advised that when traveling in Switzerland, one should keep the schedule flexible, depending upon the weather forecast. Hence, although we had planned a trip to Mt Pilatus for this day, the weather outlook was cloudy, so we decided to postpone it for the next day which looked much better in the forecast.

    We had breakfast at the hotel, which consisted of the usual OJ/cereals /breads /cheese and coffee. By 8am we were off, boarding a bus from the hotel to Bahnhofplatz. We took a lake cruise to Weggis which departed at 8:30am, reaching Weggis 35 minutes later. By now we were experiencing the luxury of having a Swiss Pass (instead of a Half-fare card). Of course we had done the maths and found the Swiss Pass to be the best option for us, but my advice to others is that if the arithmetic is only marginally in favor of a Half-Fare card, you should opt for the Swiss Pass. The convenience of getting free transportation on buses, trams etc, the free lake cruises whenever you want, free entry to all museums - so many things which you probably don't add up while planning. And the luxury of just boarding any mode of transport without having to buy a ticket, is really a nice convenience on any trip.

    Weggis is a cute little town (or is it a village?), and had that small-town charm about it. Just strolled up and down the streets, walking along the lake, admiring the swans and the flowers and the buildings, having a coffee by the lakefront, and just soaking it all in. About 90 minutes to 2 hours should be enough for anyone to see most of Weggis, and we boarded a return boat at about 10:30am, reaching Luzern in 45 minutes.

    On the first Saturday of every month, there is a large open-air market which springs up in Luzern, on both sides of the river (only till lunchtime). The lady who ran our hotel had highly recommended that we visit this market, and we were glad that we did. Large number of pavement shops everywhere, especially in the Weinmarket area, selling all kinds of things, which made the place very interesting and colorful. Regular shops were also open today, and we completed our souvenir shopping quota for Luzern.

    We boarded a bus to the Lion Monument, which was really very pretty and moving. Walked from there to the Bourbaki Panorama nearby, but there was no one at the entrance to let us in. Waited for 30 minutes along with many other people, but when still no one showed up, we were forced to leave. Walked past the Hofkirche, which I found to be especially beautiful, and then took a bus back to our hotel at about 1pm.

    We were expecting some friends from Germany to visit us this afternoon (a nice German couple who had been our neighbors in India a few years earlier), and we found them waiting at out hotel when we reached. Meeting old friends in a different part of the world has a special flavor to it, and we were all in a joyous mood. We all drove down to the main town in their car, and lunched at the Hotel Schiff restaurant on the waterfront. Once again, an excellent meal of cheese fondue with white wine. Never realized how filling it would be to consume so much of cheese !

    After lunch we all just strolled all over the Old town area, entering various churches, stopping for ice-creams and coffee, and just catching up with each others' lives. Their 12-year old son was getting a bit bored, and wanted to go paddling on a boat. So we rented a paddle boat, and had a leisurely "cruise" in the lake, in close proximity to all the pretty swans. Then we all got into their car and drove out of the town, and wandered aimlessly in the vicinity, going up and down various small mountains, and stopping for breathtaking views ever so often. I have no idea where exactly we went, but I recall seeing a sign of "Kutchnaad" (sp?) somewhere, and from one of the hilltops we could see both Lake Zug and Lake Luzern. Anyway, the weather had totally cleared up, and the sights were fantastic.

    We drove back to Luzern in the evening, and just sat down in the park outside the Transport Museum, by the lakeside. The lake is so much more beautiful when the weather is clear, and we could clearly see Mt Pilatus in the distance. Finally, our friends had to leave, and we bid them goodbye at 8:45pm. We took a brisk walk from our hotel to Hofgarten, where we had dined the previous night. We still quite satiated with our fondue lunch, and just tried some wonderful soups. Myself a cold cucumber & kiwi soup, and DW a carrot and apricot soup. Took a bus back to the hotel slightly after 10pm, and retired to bed.

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    Day 3: Sunday, Aug 3: LUZERN:
    Woke up to clear sunny skies, and a weather forecast which was very promising. Had breakfast at the hotel and left by 8:30am via bus to Bahnofplatz. Made telephone calls to our children, and decided to commence the "Golden Round Trip" to Mt Pilatus.

    Started off on a boat trip to Alpnachstadt, departing Luzern at around 9:20am. This cruise ship was bigger, with very nice seats on the deck. The views of the lake were excellent on such a clear day. The peak of Mt Pilatus was clearly visible, but by the time the boat journey ended (in 80 minutes), we were dismayed to see clouds shrouding the peak.

    The boat ride connected up with the cog-wheel rail ride up the mountain. The journey took about 30 minutes, and the 48-degree ascent was fun. By the time we reached the top, we were encircled in clouds. Chilled out on the deck-chairs at the top, enjoyed some apple strudel and witnessed an Alphorn recital. Suddenly, we got the feeling that the clouds were beginning to clear up, and quickly undertook the 10-15 minute hike to Esel peak (at 6953 ft). Once on top, we waited patiently, and after about 45 minutes, it suddenly cleared up completely for a 20 minute duration. We could get excellent views of both Titlis and the Jungfrau.

    Climbed back down from Esel peak, and took the cable car down to Frakmuntegg, which took just 5 minutes. There we went for the Tobaggon run, which was great fun. A huge long twisted slide embedded on the mountain face, and you slide down the approx 2 km stretch on a tobaggon, with a lift to carry you back up. Truly a memorable experience. From Frakmuntegg we boarded the small gondola down to Kriens, which took 25 minutes. This is the most scenic part of the round-trip journey, and the views from Frakmuntegg and during this descent are the best.

    From the gondola station at the bottom, it is a 10 minute walk to Kriens, where a bus meets you to take you back to Luzern. We reached back at about 3pm, and went for a late lunch at the KKL World Cafe near the Bahnhof. The place has excellent atmosphere, a great range of salads, and some wonderful passion-fruit mousse.

    We took a bus back to our hotel, dumped off some excess handbags, and walked 5 minutes to reach the Transport Museum. We went inside for about 2 hours; the museum is very nice, but there is no air-conditioning anywhere, and it was a bit stuffy. Maybe worthwhile if you have some children with you, as the collection of stuff there is pretty awesome. However, this is not what we had come to Switzerland for, so we departed soon, and relaxed in the park outside, dipping our feet into the cool waters of Lake Luzern. Then walked back to our hotel and rested for an hour.

    At about 7pm we went back to the main town, and took a pavement table at Mr Pickwick's Pub by the waterfront. Enjoyed excellent draught Guiness beer, and watching people go by. After an hour, we strolled to Zurichstrasse (near the Lion Monument), and dined at "Kanchi", an Indian restaurant which had been highly recommended. It turned out to be quite good and authentic, and we enjoyed the meal. Then went back to the hotel and cleared our bill, as we were departing early the next day.

    It had been a relaxing 3 days at Luzern. The last day had been the best, with the nice weather and the Pilatus trip. The hotel had been completely to our satisfaction, very clean, homely, with a nice back-garden, and a lovely person running the place.

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    Here goes the next installment pertaining to Bernese Oberland.

    Day 4: Monday, Aug 4:Bernese Oberland:
    We woke up early by 6am, finished our packing, and were down for breakfast by 7:30am. We clicked some photos with our hostess Maria, whom we had got to like a lot. By 8am we were on a bus to the Luzern Bahnhof.

    We caught the 8:55am train to Interlaken, which was a direct train, via Brunig and Meiringen. We had reached the train station early, and could easily manage two window seats. The train journey to Interlaken took 2 hours, and was extremely scenic (I think this is part of the Golden Pass Express route). When the train was crossing Brunig and Meiringen, the scenery was particularly beautiful, and it was hard to stop clicking the camera. The train reached Interlaken exactly on schedule at 10:55am, and we changed to the BOB train to Lauterbrunnen at 11:05am. Remembered to sit on the front side of the train, as the rear carriages would have ended up at Grindelwald !

    The next 4 days in B.O. were expected to be the high point of our entire trip. For me, planning a trip is almost as much fun as the trip itself, and whenever I would look ahead at our trip itinerary, I knew it in my bones that the B.O. portion would be something special. Fodorites had played a large role in suggesting various hikes and mountain lift journeys, and it was many Fodorites who had steered us towards staying at Lauterbrunnen instead of Interlaken. As the train rolled into Lauterbrunnen station at 11:25am, we mentally thanked people of this site for ushering us in the right direction.

    We had been informed by our hotel that there were no taxis to be found in Lauterbrunnen, and that we had no alternative but to walk the 10 minutes from the train station to the hotel. As we commenced our walk, our eyes feasted on sights that we were totally unprepared for. High mountain cliffs to the left and the right, and this narrow deep valley in between where we were, with a tall waterfall visible in the distance, and everything around us having that great rustic feel to it. It seemed as if we had arrived at the gates of Heaven !

    The 10 minute walk to the hotel was a breeze, as we were too preoccupied at gaping everywhere. As we reached out Hotel Staubbach, we were very warmly greeted by Doris at the reception, who was full of information and answered all our queries. We had alerted them about an early check-in, and our room was shortly ready. We had booked their special south-facing corner room, which was their largest room, had a superb view of Staubbach Falls (which was a stone's throw away), and had large balconies on two sides, with an excellent sitout area. And surprisingly, the hotel even had an elevator, which was handy in carting our luggage up. We loved our room; OK the toilet was a little tiny, but it didn't bother us much. Their breakfast rooms were lovely and very well appointed, and they had nice lounges with comfy armchairs to sink into, together with internet terminals, chess boards, and free tea/coffee all day. Seemed like a wonderful place to stay.

    We freshened up quickly, and immediately left for the train station, as we had to catch the 12:30pm mountain lift to Grutschalp. We were getting late, and it seemed we might miss it. Just then a Post Bus stopped by, headed in that direction. We jumped in, and saved precious 5 minutes (another benefit of carrying the Swiss Pass!), and could make the connection in time. As the large lift took off for Grutschalp, we could not help but notice that the departure was late by one minute as per their clock ! In Switzerland, they spoil you so much with their punctuality, that these things catch your attention !

    The ride to Grutschalp took only 4 minutes, and as we alighted, there was a train waiting across the platform to take us to Murren. We had no intentions of boarding that train, as everyone had recommended that we hike from Grutschalp to Murren, which is what we did. The weather was lovely; sunny and clear. The trail was easy and well marked, with lots of benches at frequent intervals. Plenty of hikers visible in either direction, as this was a popular hike. And hordes of cows grazing everywhere, with large cowbells around their necks - the music could be heard many miles away in this peaceful land ! I can vouch with experience that the views that we saw all along the route (of the Eiger, Monch and the Jungfrau) were far far superior to what we saw on reaching Murren. Simply breathtaking on a clear day as it was.

    It took us about 40 minutes to reach Winteregg, where we stopped for lunch at the Alpine Farmer's restaurant. It was a lovely restaurant, with large outdoor seating under umbrellas, excellent views, and kids hopping on trampolines all around you. I was told that the previous day, for their famed Sunday buffet breakfast, they had a crowd of over 300 people ! We both ordered Cheese Rosti which, despite its simplicity, I would rate as the best meal that we had during the entire 17 day trip ! It was mouth-watering delicious. And we tasted Fendant wine for the first time, of which we had heard so much, which was excellent. A superb meal, and very reasonably priced.

    At about 2:30pm, we resumed our walk to Murren, which was a gentle downhill from here, and made it in another 40 minutes. The weather had turned a little cloudy, but thankfully the clouds were much higher than the peaks, and the view was never obstructed. Kept clicking my camera every 5 minutes, and the musical cow-bells continued all through the journey. When we reached Murren, we found it to be similar in size and feel to that of Lauterbrunnen, with its rustic small-village charm. Very quiet and peaceful. Murren is a one-street town, and we walked on its only street, stopping at benches ever so often to admire the views. The peaks appear so close as if you can reach out and touch them ! We located the best views at an outdoor restaurant of some Hotel Edelweiss, where we sat down for coffee and gaped at what we saw.

    We popped into a grocery store to buy some Fendant wine bottles, as we were not sure where we would find it again (could not source it anywhere in Luzern, but it is freely available all over B.O.). We were not too tired, and decided against taking the lift down to Gimmelwald, preferring to walk instead. It is a sharp downhill walk, taking about 35-40 minutes (would not recommend attempting it in the other direction). As you descend down, you walk into even quieter territory, with pristine beauty.

    As we reached Gimmelwald at about 5pm, a tiny cute village, with a population of 140, surrounded by gorgeous landscape, we felt that we could well be on a different planet. Could not hear a sound anywhere, nor could we see a human in sight. Most houses were lying open, but I swear I did not see a single human being. Did cross 2 or 3 cats, who refused to converse in English ! With a population of 140 (as per our guide book), I presume the guide books have to issue a population amendment whenever a child is born or when someone dies !

    We sat down somewhere, and gazed at the pretty chalets. All Swiss chalets have a unique charm - those stark white window frames, and deep-red louvered shutters in sharp contrast, are a sight to behold. And the flowers in every balcony make the chalets come alive - petunias, impatiens, geraniums, sunflowers and verbenas in a riot of colors ! And the occasional rock garden, with alpine wild flowers. Those lovely flower pots, made of hollowed out logs. Too beautiful to describe.

    We also discussed the Swiss efficiency. The way their transports are timed to perfection. Get out of a mountain lift, and a connecting train is waiting. Get out of a train, and a connecting bus is waiting. Too good to be true. And also admired the Swiss penchant for cycling. Whole families cycling together everywhere. All modes of transport, whether bus or train or mountain lift, all designed to accommodate bicycles.

    After we gave up hope of striking any human contact, we slowly walked to the lift station, and shortly after 6pm we boarded the lift down to Stechelberg. This had been recommended by the reception lady at our hotel. The ride was only 5 minutes, but it took our breath away. It is almost a sheer vertical drop into the narrow Lauterbrunnen valley, with tall mountains on either side, and streams running below you. Never experienced anything like it, and that short ride will remain forever etched in my memory.

    At Stechelberg we took the Post Bus back to Lauterbrunnen, and reached our hotel at 6:30pm. Picked up some coffee from downstairs, and sat on our balcony till 8pm, never tiring of the sight of Staubbach Falls straight ahead. Thereafter, we roamed the only street of Lauterbrunnen for half an hour, and then went to Hotel Oberland for dinner. We were still full to the neck with the Rosti lunch earlier in the day, and could only consume some Cream of vegetable soup, which was delicious, followed by Apple strudel served with ice cream. And of course fendant wine of Valais, which was to be our standard drink for the next few days.

    Returned to our hotel, and gazed at Staubbach Falls with its night lighting, till we fell asleep.

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    Day 5: Tuesday, Aug 5: Bernese Oberland:
    Woke up at 6am, breakfasted at 7:30, and were out of the hotel by 8am. The weather forecast was cloudy for the morning, but clearing up by afternoon. We abandoned any thoughts of going to Jungfrau for the day, as the forecast for the next day was much better.

    We decided to use the morning hours in exploring Lauterbrunnen. We walked to the cemetery very near our hotel. The flowers planted on the ground in front of every grave were very beautiful. We next walked by the Staubbach Falls, and continued walking a mile or two further, in the direction of Stechelberg. As we moved away from the town, it got even prettier, and very peaceful. One waterfall after another, till we lost count.

    We walked back to the small church next to our hotel, where we boarded the Post Bus to Trummelbachfalle. This was a tourist "must see", and the hotel receptionist had insisted that we show our hotel guest card to claim a CHF 1 discount on the entry price ! We went up the falls on their lift, and came down slowly by the stairs. It was what we had expected, an awesome sight of water cascading at various stages inside the mountain, carrying all the glacier melt of the Eiger, Monch and the Jungfrau. Pretty unique viewing.

    We took the Post Bus to Lauterbrunnen station, from where we boarded a train around 11am to Zwielutschinen, where we changed to another train headed for Grindelwald. This part of the train journey was very pretty, and we alighted at Grindelwald at about 11:45am. Our immediate observation about Grindelwald was that it was much larger in size to either Lauterbrunnen or Murren, and had a lot more hustle & bustle about it, together with much more traffic. When we were planning for this trip, we had considered staying at any one of 4 places: Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, Murren or Wengen. I know that many Grindelwald lovers on this forum will curse me for saying this, but I was glad we had not selected Grindelwald. It lacked the peaceful atmosphere that we were seeking, although the views from there are no doubt very nice.

    We walked slowly to the Grindelwald BGF station, where we boarded a gondola to First. There was not much of traffic, and we had the small gondola all to ourselves. The ride was long (about 25 minutes), and the views were great as we lifted off from Grindelwald. As we climbed further up, the weather turned very cloudy, which obliterated the view. We reached First (7100 ft) at about 12:45pm, and headed to the Terrace restaurant for lunch. Had an average lunch of some soup, with noodles in mushroom sauce, with some beer (DW was hooked on her newly discovered soft drink called Apfelschorle !).

    Shortly before 2pm we commenced our hike to Lake Bachalpsee. The first 15-20 minutes were very tiring, as it was steady uphill, but after that it was fairly level, with soft ups and downs most of the way. At one point DW almost gave up, and it required gentle persuasion for her to continue. Once again, lot of hikers in either direction, and a very safe hike despite the altitude. Our fatigue vanished when we finally reached Lake Bachalpsee at about 3pm (1hr 10min hike). A small lake surrounded on all sides by mountains, straight out of a picture postcard. We took a well deserved rest for about 45 minutes, soaking in the view, and burning up the memory card of my camera.

    We left Lake Bachalpsee at 3:45pm to return to First. The cloudy weather had started to clear up, and the views on the return journey were much better, thanks to the weather. All along we had the imposing face of the Eiger staring at us, and the background music was provided, as always, by the grazing cows all around us. The return journey took only an hour, as it was downhill for the last stretch, and we rested our legs on reaching First. The return gondola ride was much better, as the sky was clear, and we could see much more.

    We reached Grindelwald at about 5:30pm, and sat down at a pavement table at Hotel Bellevue, which had the most fascinating facade, and sipped some wine. Then strolled all over Dorfstrasse, the main street of Grindelwald, popping in and out of stores. Decided to go for an early dinner at "Memory" in Hotel Eiger. We had by now tried the Swiss Rosti, and the Fondue. Tonight it was the turn of Raclette. Unfortunately, we didn't like it as much as the other two Swiss specialities; perhaps a bit bland for our tastebuds.

    After dinner, we strolled some more in Grindelwald, and finally boarded the 8:20pm train back to Zwielutschinen. The connections at that hour are bad, and we had a long wait at Zwielutschinen before we got the train to Lauterbrunnen. Reached at 9:20pm, went to our hotel, checked our e-mail messages, and crashed out in bed.

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    Day 6: Wednesday, Aug 6: Bernese Oberland:
    The weather forecast did not change thankfully, and we woke up to a bright sunny day, with not a speck of cloud anywhere. After breakfast we made some telephone calls back home, and then took the Post Bus to Lauterbrunnen station, to commence our journey to Jungfraujoch, the high point of our trip (no pun intended).

    We boarded the train to Wengen at about 9:15am, and enjoyed a thoroughly panoramic train journey. The best vistas appeared at the end, just before the train pulled into Wengen. The moment we got down, we felt compelled to walk back some distance until we reached the point that we had crossed on the train journey. The views of the Lauterbrunnen valley from there defied description.

    Wengen appeared to be a lovely town, and we immediately fell in love with it. Fabulous views everywhere, as it it is on a height, small and cozy, perhaps a little livelier than either Lauterbrunnen on Murren, but not bustly like Grindelwald. We had absolutely no regrets about having selected Lauterbrunnen as our lodging destination, but if we ever visit again, we would definitely select Wengen for a change. Murren would be too quiet and a bit cut off from the other destinations, and Grindelwald is perhaps suited for those who desire some more "action".
    Wengen is just about perfect.

    We decided to defer our lingering in Wengen to the evening, and quickly walked to the lift station to take the 10:15am lift to Mannlichen (at about 7500 ft). This cable car journey was very very pretty, and in my opinion much better than the gondola ride from Grindelwald to First (I know bob brown would contest me on this). Unfortunately, the ride was over in 10 minutes. We stopped at the Terrace restaurant in Mannlichen for a cup of tea, an excuse to sit and gaze at the stupendous views. The three peaks of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau staring ahead, in crystal clear weather.

    Experts on this site had suggested that we first climb the crown of the hill at Mannlichen to enjoy the views, before embarking on the hike to Kleine Scheidegg. But we were so excited with the lovely views of the three peaks ahead, that we completely forgot all about it, and commenced the hike to Kleine Scheidegg ! Maybe we will go back some day to see what we missed. Of all the hikes that we undertook in B.O., this was the best by a very wide margin. The hike was extremely gentle, a steady downhill all the way, but never steep. Wild alpine flowers all around, and fabulous views at every inch of the journey. No wonder everyone rates it as one of the best walking trails in Switzerland. We had started from Mannlichen at 10:45pm, and made it to Kleine Scheidegg at the stroke of noon. Normally, by the end of any hike, our weary legs would be glad that it was over, but this time we were disappointed and pained that it it all finished in 75 minutes ! We wanted more.

    Loved the views from Kleine Scheidegg, and the wonderful atmosphere around that small place. Sat down on some rocks and admired the scenery. Promised ourselves to stop for longer on the return journey. Then we bought our Jungfraujoch tickets, and boarded the train at 12:30pm. The train was very crowded, but luckily we managed to get seating. The train took much longer than the scheduled 50 minutes to reach the top; in fact it took about 75 minutes. On reaching the top, we headed straight for the self-service restaurant where we had an average lunch, redeemed by excellent fendant wine.

    After lunch we ventured out to the viewing plateau just above the restaurant, where we frolicked about in snow, and got fabulous views of the Aletsch glacier. Next was a trip to the Ice Palace, where I was frankly disappointed at the quality of the ice sculptures. Then a long long walk inside a "cave" which led us to the Sphinx Observatory. First we rode the elevator to the top, and went out on the terrace to catch the views. Next, we came down on the elevator, and walked through another short "cave" before exiting at the tip of the Aletsch glacier. This is the fun part of Jungfraujoch, where we went sliding down on Snow Discs. Unfortunately, the dog-sleds stop operating at 2:30 pm, and we missed that. It was my DW's first real experience of snow, and we were like little children, throwing snowballs at each other, and running about everywhere.

    Fabulous views all around. You can literally point your camera anywhere and click, and you wont go wrong. An experience not to be missed. Also made calls to our kids to inform them that we were on "top of Europe" at 12000 ft. Finally, we decided to leave and catch the 4:40pm train back down. As we retreated from the glacier tip back inside, the weather suddenly changed from crystal clear to very cloudy, and a light drizzle started. We had been indeed very fortunate.

    As we headed to the train platform, we experienced the worst nightmare of our lives. There was a huge crowd up there, and everyone was trying to catch the train going down. It was a virtual stampede. Train schedules had been thrown completely off-gear, and they probably needed 5-6 trains every hour instead of just one. We had to stand for an hour in that melee, packed so tightly that even cattle would complain of such treacherous conditions. No effort by the authorities to form an orderly queue, and there was pushing and jostling everywhere. Coming from India, we are accustomed to facing such crowds every now and then, but this surpassed anything that we had ever experienced. It was truly a nightmare. I don't know how we finally got on to a train, where we only got standing room for the entire one-hour journey. The great impression that we had built up of Swiss efficiency took a nosedive today. After charging so much for the journey, if this is what they subject their passengers to, it was shameful. They should have either had many more trains to ferry back the passengers, or they should have restricted the amount of people they transported up. Every passenger was in a foul mood, and everyone was giving a tongue lashing to the Swiss authorities for this situation.

    We reached Kleine Scheidegg well after 6pm. We had really wanted to stop here on the return journey, but we had no energy left after the ordeal. We immediately took a train to Wengen, and reached there shortly before 7pm. At Wengen, we picked up a map from the Tourist office, and walked first to Hotel Baren for dinner. It was a very nice place, and we had an excellent meal of Mushroom raviolis, flat noodles with baked vegetables, and refreshing draught beer. Would highly recommend this restaurant.

    We had planned on doing a lot of wandering in Wengen during the evening. But we could still feel the exhaustion of the train station jostling. After some minor strolling, we sat down on a bench at a park near the train station. The weather was clear again, and the views were pretty once again. It was only 8:15pm, and the next train to Lauterbrunnen was due only at 9:08pm. So we knew we had a longish wait ahead of us. To our surprise, we saw an unscheduled train roll into the station. We quickly boarded it, and were back at Lauterbrunnen by 8:40pm.

    Ambled back to our hotel, picked up a cup of tea from downstairs, and relaxed on our room balcony before retiring to sleep.

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    We stayed in Wengen for 6 nights this summer. Stayed at the Baren Hotel and ate there every night (1/2 board for only $20 pp) Also did the Mannlichen - Klein Schleidegg hike. Fond memories! Thanks for your report.

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    Thanks everyone for the compliments.
    owlwoman: yes you must go to Switzerland; it is different from any other country.
    bozama: glad to know that I remind you of your Wengen trip and the Mann-KS hike. Can anyone ever forget that lovely hike ?
    nannibray: oh, so you stayed at the Baren ? Isn't their restaurant lovely ? And the waitresses were so nice and pretty too !

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    Thanks for the great trip report. No, it's not too much detail.

    I agree that Wengen is the best place to stay in the BO. In Lauterbrunnen I stayed in the Hotel Oberland some years ago. Liked it, too.

    Looking forward to the other places.

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    Hi indiancouple,

    Yes, with everyone else, I am really enjoying your detailed report! I mean, how can we have a vicarious trip without all the details? I do appreciate your writing it!

    I agree so much that Wengen is the perfect compromise of convenience, size, and location. It's been my choice for two trips to the BO, and I've never been sorry about it.

    Yes, those trains around KS can be truly mad -- that's one reason why many of us on these boards suggest that visitors avoid August if possible -- or at least make the ascent as early as possible so as to return before the crowds get bunched up. Anyway, I'm glad you didn't let this problem influence your mood for the day!

    Looking forward to more!

    s

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    Hi Ingo and swandav2000. You two were people who had responded to so many of my queries earlier, and as already acknowledged in my trip report, you were partly responsible for making this trip memorable. It feels especially nice when people like you read the trip report and appreciate it.

    Ingo, I know that Hotel Oberland has the best food in Lauterbrunnen. But is it also a good place to stay ? Haven't heard much about it. We were very happy with Hotel Staubbach.

    swandav, I must have missed that piece of advice about returning early from the Jungfrau, and it caught us totally by surprise. I guess the fact that it was such a clear day must have also contributed to all the tour groups piling up at the top that day. I had actually forgotten all about that bad experience; only the pleasant thoughts have stayed in my mind. Only when I was consulting my travel jottings yesterday, did I recall about that bad train journey. I guess these things just happen once in a while.

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    Day 7: Thursday, Aug 7: Bernese Oberland:
    This was our last full day in Switzerland, and we had planned on being away from the mountain-tops today. A chance to explore the plains in that region. The weather forecast was good for the morning, but thundershowers were in store for the afternoon.

    As usual, we were up early, and out of the hotel by 8am after breakfast. We walked to the Lauterbrunnen station, and took the train to Interlaken Ost, reaching shortly before 9am. Just outside the train station is Lake Breinz, and we boarded a cruise boat on the lake at 9:15am. Only later did we realize that this was a very slow gentle cruise to Breinz, reaching there at 10:35am. Anyway, the cruise was nice; loved the color of the water in the lake, sort of an aquamarine shade. The weather was bright and sunny. Lovely castles around the lake.

    At Breinz there was a connecting bus waiting to take us to the Ballenberg open-air museum (West gate). Bought a map at the museum entrance and went in shortly before 11am. We had high expectations from Ballenberg, but to be honest, we were disappointed. Posters on this site had mentioned: "Ballenberg is a place where you are either enchanted, or quickly bored". I guess we fell in the latter category. Just models of farmhouses from different regions of Switzerland, with the interiors authentically done up. We had expected large number of demonstrations on cooking, cheese-making, chocolate making, weaving etc. Alas, there were only 1-2 demonstrations per day, and frequently in odd corners of the very large museum. That day's speciality was a demonstration on lime-burning, which we were not the least interested in. Maybe the place would have appealed more if we had little children with us. I don't know why we spent 2 hours inside there; I guess we were hoping that it would get more interesting as we went along.

    We finally exited at about 1pm, and took the bus back to Breinz. We lunched at a place called Steinbock restaurant. Had Rosti, plus ice-cream. The rosti was decent, but not a patch on the wonderful stuff we had eaten at Winteregg on the way to Murren. The ice-creams were huge and delicious. We next wandered about Breinz town, looking at the stores selling wood-carving items. The largest shop was a walk away, beyond Hotel Baren, which had a huge collection. We went beserk shopping there for a large number of souvenir items.

    We slowly walked back to Breinz station. The town itself was cute and nice; reminded us of Weggis (near Luzern). We boarded a train to Interlaken Ost, reaching there at about 4pm. At Interlaken, we decided to walk the length of Hoheweg, all the way to Interlaken West. The place is littered with fancy hotels and souvenir shops. Ritzy town, but lacks the authentic Swiss charm. We popped in and out of stores, buying cowbells, and embroidered lace stuff. Did cross a very beautiful "Friendship Park" on the way. By then the weather was turning nasty, and there were spells of rain.

    At Interlaken West we boarded a train at around 5pm for Thun, reaching there in 35 minutes. Thankfully, our arrival at Thun also coincided with the skies clearing up completely. We had heard that there is a free folklore show in town every Thursday, but to our dismay it was scheduled for very late in the evening. We first walked to Obere Hauptgasse, the split-level street with funky shops, and really enjoyed walking around there. Stopped for a coffee at a pavement cafe. Shops were quirky, selling all kinds of unusual items. Great for window-shopping.

    Next we strolled on to Bailliz, which had swanky shops, and a festive feel along the river bank. We had started really liking this Thun town, and were cursing ourselves for arriving here so late in the day. Parts of Thun were almost like a smaller version of Luzern town, complete with a lake, a river, and lots of bridges (including one that resembled Kapellbrucke). And the atmosphere about the town was very jovial and full of merriment. Reluctantly, we had to pull ourselves away, and we ambled back to Thun station, where we stopped at a bar to sip some wine. Nice views of mountains and the surroundings from near the station. Met a waiter from India, who engrossed us in his life story!

    Finally, we boarded a train for Interlaken Ost at around 7:30pm, and immediately connected on to a train for Lauterbrunnen. Walked to Hotel Oberland for dinner, which was again an excellent meal of fondue with mushrooms and herbs. Then reached our hotel, settled our bills, finished our packing, and went to bed.

    If I had to do it again, with the benefit of hindsight, I would certainly have planned this day differently. Perhaps I got a bit greedy, and tried to pack in too much for one day. I would have skipped Breinz and the Ballenberg museum, gone straight to Thun, and spent the better part of the day there. Then returned to Interlaken, and perhaps spent a little more time there too. Oh well, no trip can be perfect.

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    Day 8: Friday, Aug 8: Zurich/ Salzburg:
    This was our travel day during the trip, when we were to be inside a train for the better part of the day. For traveling to Salzburg, it was necessary to go back to Zurich, and we had already reserved our tickets for the 1:40pm afternoon train from Zurich to Salzburg. We were determined to explore Zurich for a few hours before departing for Salzburg.

    Got up at 5:30am, had an early breakfast, and caught the Post Bus outside our hotel to the train station, so that we wouldn't have to tow our luggage all the way. Boarded a train from Lauterbrunnen at about 7:30am, changing first at Interlaken Ost, and next at Bern, reaching Zurich HB at about 10am. Put our luggage in the lockers, and walked out on Bahnhofstrasse.

    The weather was nice, and Zurich did not have a big-city feel to it. Felt very comfortable there. From Bahnhofstrasse, we turned on Kuttelgasse, on to Furtungasse, till we reached Lindenhof. Nice views of the city and the river from the Lindenhof terrace, amidst the thousands of pigeons. After resting there awhile, we walked down to St Peter's Church, then the Fraumunster, and across the Munsterbrucke to the Grossmunster. There we turned left into the old town area, and walked the length of Niedelhofgasse. Then turned left again to reach the riverfront, and walked along the river to the Zurich Lake.

    There was a restaurant nearby which had been highly recommended by Lonely Planet, called "Tidbits by Hiltl", which turned out to be a very "in" place of Zurich. A fabulous buffet spread (100% vegetarian, although very few of the patrons were probably veggies). Items from across the globe, all very tempting. The modus operandi was to fill your plate from the buffet spread, take the plate to the cash register, where you place it on a weighing scale. The weight is recorded, and you are charged by the weight of food purchased! There was a very helpful Swiss lady who explained us how to go about this unusual routine. The atmosphere was trendy, and the food was delicious. Excellent salads, samosas, fried jalapenos, to name a few. We simply loved the meal, and DW keeps talking about this meal even today.

    From the restaurant, we boarded a tram to Bellevue Platz (our Swiss Pass was still valid !), where we walked to the edge of Lake Zurich and sat down to watch the hungry swans being fed biscuits by tourists. Then bought a wine bottle for the train journey, and took another tram to the Hauptbahnhof. Retrieved our luggage from the lockers, and boarded our 1:40pm train to Salzburg (one of the few direct trains during the day). This was the last day of our 8-day Swiss Pass (which we had availed to the full), and we could use it for the Swiss portion of the journey. We were using one day of our Austrian pass for the Austrian portion till Salzburg.

    As we settled into our couchette, and started consuming our wine, we struck a nice conversation with a fellow traveler who was a professional chef, and was traveling to Salzburg to work as a guest-chef in some restaurant there. He gave detailed instructions to DW on how to cook a Rosti and a Fondue.

    Many cups of coffee later, we finally reached Salzburg at about 7:45pm. Took a taxi to our hotel, Bloberger Hof, which was some distance away from the main town. Very nice hotel,extremely clean and well maintained, run by a family. Had an excellent dinner at the hotel of Herbal Soup, Mushroom Ravioli, Baked Potatoes, with white wine and Almdudler (DW's next favorite soft drink now !). It was raining cats and dogs outside, and it was pretty late, so we had no desire to venture out that night.

    We felt sad on having left Switzerland, where we had enjoyed a wonderful 7-8 days. Who said that the Swiss were dull and boring ? We had found them to be very warm and friendly, outgoing and easy to converse with, and they all spoke excellent English without any trace of an accent. We had rehearsed some key German words and phrases before starting this trip, but never needed to use it. And what a gorgeous country they have. The memory of our first arrival at Lauterbrunnen, the steep cable car descent from Gimmelwald to Stechelberg, the fab lunch at Winteregg, and the Mannlichen to Kleine Sceidegg hike, not to forget the views of the glaciers atop Jungfrau, all were vividly coming back to mind. And although we spent only 3 hours in Zurich, we really liked that city. Very cozy compact feel to that city, despite its financial importance. One can see why it is so highly rated amongst the most "livable" cities in the world.

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    Indiancouple, i enjoyed reading your post. we're planning a 3 night stay in switzerland before going to munich for 5 days. i haven't booked the airline yet but we're planning on flying in to zurich and out of frankfurt. from zurich, we were thinking of basing ourselves in interlaken for 3 nights, with the climb up the jungfrau as a highlight of the trip. your report made me think of lautaubrunnen (sp?)as base and doing at least 1 of the easier hikes you mentioned in your trip report. would you recommend it? i haven't booked any of our hotels yet.

    thanks again for your trip report.

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    Day 9: Saturday, Aug 9: Salzburg:
    We needed to laundry our clothes, as we had completed 8 days of travel by now. The hotel staff offered to do it for us, for a small fee, which was welcome. We left all our soiled clothes with them, had a hearty breakfast, and left by 8:15am. We bought Salzburg cards for both of us from the hotel, which gives free access to all museums and attractions in Salzburg, plus all transport, including the somewhat expensive furnicular ride up to the fortress.

    Although the hotel was a bit away from the main town, there was a bus-stop just outside, from where we boarded a bus to Alstadt. Walked first to the Horse Trough, and went into the ticket office nearby for the Salzburg Festival (which was on during that time), Managed to get two tickets for the Marionette Theater for the evening, for only 15 euros apiece. We had really wanted to experience this famed Marionette theater of Salzburg, but for months in advance the show was displaying a "sold out" sign on the net.

    We had been forewarned about rain in the morning hours today, and it started to rain heavily now. We walked to the Festungbahn, and rode the furnicular up to the Hohensalzburg fortress. Took an audio-guide for the inside tour, and visited the State Rooms and various small museums inside. By then the weather had cleared, and we enjoyed the great views of the city from the top, especially the winding Salzach river.

    Came down by the same furnicular, and entered the cemetery of St Peter's church, which was lovely. I think the final escape scene of "Sound of Music" was filmed here. Wandered around the large cemetery, and ventured into the Catacombs. Gave up halfway, as there were too many steps to climb. Then walked to the Altermarkt area, where we took a pavement table at Cafe Tomaselli. Very classy cafe, and lovely atmosphere. Had a "Tomaselli coffee" which had some licquer inside, while DW opted for a fancy fruit tea. Had our first experience of having to pay to use the toilet, which was going to become a regular feature for the rest of the trip (never happened in Switzerland !).

    Took a stroll to Residenzplatz, then Domplatz and then Kapitelplatz. Went inside the Dom cathedral and also into the St Peter's church. Ambled by the Franziskaner church and the University church. Loved the atmosphere of the old town. Had a festive feel. Horse-drawn carriages everywhere. Wonderful make-shift shops on Altermarkt. Lots of stages being set up everywhere, presumably for the ongoing Salzburg Festival. The Altermarkt area was particularly lively, with buskers abounding everywhere.

    Walked to Getreidegasse, advertised as the narrowest shopping street in Europe ! Had expected to find flea-market kind of shops there, but we were surprised to see very chic shops everywhere. The iron-grilled shop signs were lovely, and the McDonalds on that street must be the prettiest McDonalds in the whole world ! Did a lot of window shopping everywhere, particularly at Swarovski.

    We walked by Mozart's birthplace on that street, but did not go inside. It was getting to 2pm, and we were hungry. We boarded a bus to the Augustiner Braustubl, of which we had heard so much of. On reaching there at 2:15pm, we discovered that it opened only at 2:30pm. Waited patiently for 15 minutes, alongside quite a crowd that had begun to gather there.

    As it opened, the regular patrons walked briskly inside, and we followed suit, watching what they were doing. You first walk up to a wall of beer-mugs (all made of stone, in different sizes). Pick up a beer-mug, of whichever size you wish. Next you walk up to a fancy multi-spouted fountain, where you rinse the mug in ice-cold water (they say it helps make the beer more frothy). Then you go to the cash register, where you pay, amount depending on the size of your mug, after which the barman will fill up your mug with draught beer straight from the barrels. Next you carry your beer to a series of food stalls, and buy whatever food items you may desire (a huge variety was available). You have a choice of sitting in one of the many lovely beer-halls indoors, or in a very large shady beer garden outside.

    The whole process was a lot of fun, and we had never experienced anything quite like it. At the food-stalls, we selected Gemusekrapfen (a huge fried something, stuffed with peas, carrots and tofu) and Knodel (a large dumpling in a gravy). Sat in the beer garden outside, and enjoyed a wonderful meal. Went for beer refills. Later, purchased one of their stone mugs as a souvenir (about half the price as compared to souvenir shops outside). Would highly highly recommend this place to any traveler visiting Salzburg. A must-see place.

    We rode the bus back to Altermarkt area, and did some souvenir shopping from the pavement shops. We really liked this part of Alstadt. Then walked to Judengasse, and visited the "Easter in Salzburg" shop, which was simply amazing. About 150,000 real hand-painted eggs of all shapes and sizes (from hen's egg to ostrich eggs). All beautifully painted in an array of dazzling designs and colours. They ship to any part of the world !

    Next we crossed the Salzach river, and went to Mozart Wohnhaus, the place where Mozart grew up. The tour inside was extremely interesting, and the audio-guide contents were enthralling. We really enjoyed the visit, especially the Mozart music that kept coming on the audio-guide; it was captivating. Was persuaded to buy a CD of Mozart's "Magic Flute". Also tried those Mozart-ball chocolates - great stuff.

    We then walked to Schloss Mirabell. The palace was closed, but we really enjoyed the gardens. The weather was extremely clear by now. The gardens were very artistically laid out, with superb color combinations of flowers. Lovely statues everywhere. Excellent place to spend a few hours, which we did. Then we walked back to our favorite place, Altermarkt, where we sat at a pavement table of Cafe Konditorie Furst, and feasted on some wonderful pastries.

    It was time to head to the Marionetten theater for our 7:30pm show. It was a premiere night for a puppet play (Kontinent Sciarrino 3), about a Count who murders his flirtatious wife, after being possessed by the devils. The locals had turned out in their finest attire, but there were many tourists like us in casual dress, so we did not feel embarrassed. We were expecting an English synopsis of the play to be handed out, but the only thing available was an English translation of all the plays being staged during that month, which was quite expensively priced. The lady at the ticket counter was sweet, and she let us borrow her copy for some time, so that we could read the English translation of the particular play that we were about to see. This was extremely helpful, and immensely assisted our appreciation of the evening's performance.

    We thoroughly enjoyed the theater and the performance. The theater is quite small, and our seats were right in the middle, so being towards the rear did not matter at all.It was a great show; puppetry, combined with voice-overs, classical music, operatic singing. A unique experience.

    The show got over at 9pm, and we went looking for a Restaurant Arlich on Wolf Dietrichstrasse, which had been highly recommended on this forum, but could not find it anywhere. Must have disappeared. All other restaurants in that area had also closed down by then. The frequency of buses servicing our hotel area was not too great at that hour, so we decided to skip dinner and took a bus back to our hotel, reaching at 10pm. The hotel restaurant had also closed by then, but the sweet hostess fixed us some sandwiches and wine, which was great. Very nice of her. We finished our packing, and went to bed. We were extremely satisfied with the hotel, and our room. Very well appointed, spacious, and clean.

    It had been a great day at Salzburg, and we had managed to pack a lot in. We were due to leave in the morning, and we wished we had budgeted another day in this wonderful city.

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    Hi worldclass. Thanks for your appreciation.

    Staying at Interlaken and confining yourself to the Jungfrau journey, is in my humble opinion, the wrong way to see Switzerland. This is what the tour groups do, who try to pack 10 countries in 14 days ! Although the views from the Jungfrau are unique, they offer a very small slice of the beauty of Switzerland.

    Since you have decided on visiting the Bernese Oberland area (good decision), I would strongly recommend that you stay at either Lauterbrunnen or Wengen, or even Grindelwald depending upon your preference. Each of these villages are but a very short ride away from Interlaken, and closer to the Jungfrau and the other scenic spots. They have the true Swiss charm about them, and are so peaceful and scenic. Interlaken by contrast is just a bustling ritzy town, with no authentic Swiss feel about it.

    You must have often heard the cliche that "happiness lies not at the end of the road, but along the way". I think this is particularly true in Switzerland. The final destination of each day's travel is not half as beautiful as the beauty you will see along the way, if you choose to hike. And we are not experienced hikers at all. However, the hikes that we chose were suitable for novices like us, and most scenic in nature, finalized after countless recommendations from this forum. Since you have only 3 days, I would urge you to definitely do the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg hike, enroute to Jungfrau; another easy and highly recommended one is the Grutschalp to Murren hike. There are so many others; this forum is full of advice. There is also a listing of hikes (with walk-time durations) on jungfraubahn.ch, the web-site of jungfrau railways. Just be sure to check the timings of the last lift coming down from high altitudes, as most stop operating after 5 or 5:30pm.

    Enjoy Switzerland the right way; you will never regret it !

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    thanks indiancouple for your advice. i will take your advice and stay in Lauterbrunnen. like you, my husband and i are inexperienced about hiking. the only hiking, if you can call it that, we have done is the 30 mins on the treadmill.

    i will be re-doing our plans in switzerland with our base now in lauterbrunnen and doing at least 1 relatively easy hike.

    which relatively easy hike would you recommend (we like great alpine, nature scenery), we are in relatively good health in our mid 40s (me) and late 40s (husband).
    with 3 nights and maybe 3.5 days in switzerland, is it worth going up the jungfraujoch considering that we might be devoting 1 whole day for this excursion?

    thanks for your insight.

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    worldclass, I think you have made a sound decision to stay at Lauterbrunnen, which I think you will not regret. There are not too many hotels at Lauterbrunnen to choose from, the better ones being Hotel Staubbach, Hotel Oberland, and Chalet Homer. We stayed at Staubbach and loved it; other posters have had pleasant experiences at the other two hotels also.
    Of the three hikes that I have mentioned in my report, the easiest and best (in terms of beauty), is the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. For that, you have to board the train from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen. At Wengen, instead of continuing on the train all the way to Kleine Scheidegg, get off and take the lift to Mannlichen. From Mannlichen you can hike to Kleine Scheidegg (its hardly a hike, more of a steady downhill stroll, which is very easy on the legs). From Kleine Scheidegg, you board another train which takes you to the top of Jungfrau. On the return journey, you can train it all the way back to Lauterbrunnen, stopping wherever you wish on the way.

    I do recommend that you go up on top of Jungfrau, if the weather forecast is clear. If it is cloudy, you will probably see nothing.

    From Lauterbrunnen, the lift to Grutschalp takes only 4 minutes. From Grutschalp you have the option of either taking the train to Murren, or walking it. This hike is very marginally more tiring than the Mann-KS one, but nothing to sweat about. I am sure you can do it in a breeze. The train from Grutscalp to Murren has a request stop at Winteregg (which is the half-way point), so if you wish you could even hike just half the distance (either from Grutschalp to Winteregg, or from Winteregg to Murren). From Murren you can even ride the cable car to Schilthorn (which we did not do), which is also supposed to be almost as awesome as the Jungfrau.

    When are you going, and in Switzerland are you traveling around by train or renting a car ? Have you looked at the rail passes available, and decided which one suits your needs the best ?

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    indiancouple, we are flying in to zurich on Oct 17, staying in lauterbrunnen (after reading your TR) for 3 nights, then take the train to munich (5 nts) we are hoping we can stop at liechstenstein en route. i still have to research how or if we can do it. your input on this is appreciated. pick up rental car in munich. while basing ourselves in munich we will be driving to innsbruck, the ludwig castles, etc.
    drive to salzburg and stay there for 3 nights, then drive to rothenburg for 2 nights then fly out of frankfurt. drop off rental car at frankfurt airport.

    what do you think? your suggestions are more than welcomed.

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    Thank you so much indiancouple for your amazing report, we too have made alternate plans to stay in Lauterbrunnen (Hotel Oberland) rather than Interlaken which I initially booked after the wonderful reviews from fellow fodorites. From your report sounds like I've done the right thing. We will be visiting in a months time and hoping to do the Murren journey and Kleine Scheidegg hikes too. So excited!!!

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    worldclass, you have not mentioned what time you get into Zurich. I presume it is early in the morning. I would suggest that you take the train directly from Zurich Airport (the train station is below the airport baggage claim area) to Lauterbrunnen. You will of course have to change trains at Interlaken, and you may also have an additional change enroute to Interlaken, depending upon the time of the day. You can check all train schedules at sbb.ch, the site for Swiss railways.

    It would probably be close to noon by the time you reach Lauterbrunnen. So you should plan on a short journey for the first day, perhaps to Murren, or maybe just explore Lauterbrunnen. Keep a full day for Jungfrau,including the Mannlichen ride and the hike to KS.

    You should explore the possibility of buying a Swiss Pass for 4 days. A second class pass is fine, as anyway there are no 1st class coaches on the mountain trains. You will get a 15% discount if 2 or more people are traveling together. The Swiss Pass will cover all rail transport all the way from Zurich to Lauterbrunnen, and further on till Murren, Wengen and Grindelwald. Beyond Wengen, you get a 50% discount on mountain lifts etc, and only a 25% discount on the KS to Jungfray trip. You can also use this Pass on the 4th day for your travel from Lauterbrunnen to Lichtenstein.

    Of course there are other rail passes available, and you may want to study all options before you decide on which one is most suitable for you.

    Enjoy !

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    mariebut, you are the second person to be persuaded by our trip report to abandon Interlaken in favor of Lauterbrunnen. I am sure you will thank me when you get there, like I mentally thanked all the fodorites who had persuaded me to take a similar decision.

    It makes it all the more worthwhile to take the effort to write this report, as one realizes that through this we could be having a positive influence on the vacations of others !

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    indiancouple,thanks again for your valuable suggestions. i am taking notes from here to make the most of our 3.5 days in Switzerland. you're right about our plane arriving in zurich early morning, around 7:45 am. we're heading directly to lauterbrunnen.

    for our 3 days in OB, which rail pass would you recommend. there's 2 of us and will probably take the same trains and lifts you took during your visit there.

    couple questions: 1)is there a train from lauterbrunnen to liechstenstein? is liechstenstein worth the trouble of breaking the trip to munich? 2) where did you book the 3 hotels you mentioned in your TR? i couldn't find hotel oberland, staubbach and chalet homer-i checked the usual sites i.e. expedia, hotels.com, orbitz, etc.



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    Thanks for the trip report. It's very interesting.

    We are also planning to visit Lauterbrunnen soon and had planned to do some of the walks which you did.

    I have read that proper walking boots are required but did you find this on the short walks which you did? Will runners suffice, do you think? We don't want to cart our boots around for the whole holiday.

    Thanks for the advice.

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    worldclass, I think all the hotels I mentioned have to be contacted directly. Just do a google search on Hotel Staubbach at Lauterbrunnen, and you will come up with their site. Similarly for Oberland. I just tried it. You can do an onlike booking at their respective sites.

    Since you will be doing a fair amount of train travel, from Zurich to Lauterbrunnen, continuous travel during your 3 days in B.O., and the return journey to the Swiss border, I think you will find the 4-day Swiss Pass (saverpass since 2 people are traveling together) in 2nd class to be your best bet. It will cover most of your travel free of cost. You will only have to pay 50% for the lift to Mannlichen, 50% for the lifts from Grindelwald to First (if you take it), and discounted tickets while going from KS up to Jungfrau. You get get all the fare details of the mountain lifts etc at jungfraubahn.ch ; the Swiss Pass will also cover any lake cruises you may choose to have on Lake Thun or Lake Breinz from Interlaken.

    As for trains from Lauterbrunnen to Lichtenstein or Munich, remember that you first have to come to Interlaken Ost (20 minutes from Lauterbrunnen) and change. I am sure that from Interlaken Ost you should be able to find connections to either Lichtenstein or Munich. Sorry, I cannot advise if Lichtenstein is worth it, as we have not been there.

    You should buy your Swiss Pass through the net or from a travel agent before you reach Switzerland. You just need to get it validated before boarding your first train (at Zurich Airport). I just checked the schedules from Zurich airport at sbb.ch ; there is a train leaving Zurich Airport at 8:39am in the morning, which gets you to Lauterbrunnen at 11:25am, with changes at Bern and Interlaken Ost. Of course there are trains leaving every 15 minutes or so, so that is not a problem.

    When boarding the train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, remember to sit on the front carriages (they are clearly marked). Halfway through the journey, the train splits into two, with the rear carriages going to Grindelwald !

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    dreamer55, we had the same question as you before our trip started. If you are doing the kind of gentle hikes that we did, there is absolutely no need for heavy hiking boots. Any good pair of Nikes/Reeboks would suffice. Actually the term "hike" is more of a misnomer for what we did; it is a long stroll on clearly marked gravel paths.

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    Lovely report Indiancouple. We are staying in Wengen for a few days in July next year, it's hard to decide - either Hotel Baren or Hotel Alpenrose, whichever has the best views for that price range. At the Jungfraujoch, are there regular times for the dog sleds? I am a bit of a scaredy cat, are the snow disc rides steep? We hope to go up first thing in the morning. Also, a silly question I know, but do you see lots of cows with bells on the Mannlichen-Klein Scheidegg walk? We are going with our teenagers who arent too keen on a lot of walking (normally never even see the light of day before midday on the weekends)so I'm trying to arrange our excursions for maximum impact. We are from Australia and have never seen snow! Thanks for your advice, it is invaluable.

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    toni, thanks for the compliments. In response to your questions:
    1. Yes, you will see a lot of cows with cowbells on the Mannlichen - Kleine Scheidegg hike, as you would on just about any hike in Switzerland.

    2. The snow disc rides are not scary at all; suitable for a 5-year old too. No chance of getting hurt at all.

    3. We were told that the dog-sled rides stop at 2:30pm in the afternoon. Don't know if that will still be valid till July next year. You could always ask your hotel to call up in advance and check the exact timings when you reach Wengen.

    4. To help you decide between the two hotels at Wengen, suggest you look at the reviews of tripadvisor.com ; you may also want to post a question in this regard at this forum; you will get plenty of good advise.

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    Day 10: Sunday, Aug 10: VIENNA:
    We had breakfast and checked out of our hotel in the morning. Called a taxi, and reached Salzburg Bahnhof by 9am. We were using the 2nd day of our 3-day Austrian pass for today's journey to Vienna. Boarded the train at about 9:30am, and retired to a comfortable snooze.

    We reached Vienna Westbahnhof on schedule just before 12:30pm. First went down to the ticket counter and made reservations for our Vienna to Prague journey for Day 13, utilizing the last day of our 3-day pass. Then took a taxi to our hotel, Hotel Austria. A word about this hotel. Its location is hard to beat. It is in the heart of the city, halfway between Stephansdom and Schwedenplatz (about a 5-7 minute walk from the former, and a 3 minute walk from the latter). It is very reasonably priced, has a good lobby, a decent breakfast spread and everything. But its rooms are tiny. It was really difficult to fit our suitcases into the room. We had booked an economy room, which did have a private shower and WC, but both were outside the room in the corridor, and in opposite directions ! The only saving grace was that we were not sharing the shower or WC with anyone else. I guess you can't ask for everything in a large city like Vienna at such low prices, but I just wish the rooms were a wee bit bigger.

    We bought 24-hour transport cards from the hotel reception (these cards are valid for 24 hours, not the calender day), took maps and left. Walked 5-10 minutes away to Stubenring, where we had lunch at Cafe MAK. Not many eating establishments are open in Vienna on Sundays, and this was amongst the few that were operating that day. We sat at a lovely garden table, and were served by a very sweet waitress. Had Iced tomato soup, some traditional Viennese square pasta with caramelized cabbage, and wonderful dessert of strawberries and blackberries with cream. Everything was delicious, but a strange cover charge of 5.50 euros was added to the bill.

    The weather was warm and sunny throughout the day. We boarded Tram # 1 to Schwarzenberg Platz, and changed to Tram D to the Belvedere Palace. Bought tickets for the Oberes Belvedere only, and went in at about 4pm. The building was most impressive, both from outside and inside. The art collections were well laid out, and the 1st floor collection was the best, with works of Gustav Klint (incl. his famous "The Kiss") and Schiele. The gardens between Oberes and Unteres Belvedere were worth a peek. The statues both inside and outside the palace were wonderful.

    From Belvedere Palace, we walked to Sudbahnhof, and took Tram 'O' to Radketzy Platz, from where we walked to Hunterwasserthaus, and the Kalke Village across the street from it. This is a row of funky buildings designed by the controversial architect Hunterwassert, who believed that a straight line was a sin ! Very interesting decor, colors, and architecture, especially in the toilets at Kalke Village. We bought some coffee and sat and admired the most unusual buildings.

    At about 7pm, we took Tram N from there to Schwedenplatz, where we rode the underground to one station away, Stephansplatz. This is the Time Square of Vienna, and the place had a real carnival like atmosphere in the evening. Very lively and fun place to hang around.

    After loitering there for a while, we walked to Judenplatz, where we had dinner at Bio Bar Von Antun, an organic eatery that had been recommended by some websites. Had veg cream soup, veg wienerschnitzels with organic white wine. Interesting food, reasonably priced, but not the tastiest.

    Walked back to Stephansplatz via Graben, the chic shopping street. The shops were closed, but the street was full of life. From Stephansplatz, we boarded the underground to Prater amusement park, where we rode the famed Riesenrad (ferris wheel) of Vienna. We were extremely disappointed with this much hyped attraction. Extremely slow movement, and for a total ride of just 12 minutes, it was outrageously priced. We strolled in the Prater for some time, deriving vicarious pleasure by watching the other gut-wrenching rides; wild horses could not persuade my DW to get on any of those fun rides !

    Finally we rode the underground back to Stephansplatz, and slowly walked back to our hotel, stopping for a great gelato at Zanoni & Zanoni.

    There was a wonderful gentleman at the hotel reception desk in the night, a Mr Vasilius, who was extremely helpful and friendly in answering all our queries. Checked our email and went to bed.

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    Day 11: Monday, Aug 11: VIENNA:
    We woke up late at 8am, and took it real easy. Another bright and sunny day. Had a nice breakfast, and left the hotel at 9:45am.

    Walked first to Julius-Raab Platz, and took the Tram # 1 all round the Ring, returning to where we had started. Awesome architecture on a grand scale everywhere. Then rode Tram # 2 in the opposite direction, and alighted at Rathaus Platz. The Rathaus building was very pretty, and there was a festive atmosphere, as a Film Festival was going on every evening. There were lots of food stalls there for the festival, which were operative throughout the day. Saw a stall of an Indian restaurant called "Tandoor", where we snacked on a good samosa, along with a Double Espresso coffee from a coffee bar. Decided to return in the evening to experience the film festival.

    From there we walked to the Parliament building nearby, which was fabulous. After some photo clicking, we continued walking along the Ring towards the Kunsthistoriches Museum, and crossed the street to enter the Hofburg complex. Walked through the palace complex, admiring the architecture, and bought tickets for the Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury). The visit inside was well worth it. Excellent collection of cloaks and dresses of kings of a bygone era. The jewels were jaw-dropping : a 2680 carat emerald, a 450 carat aquamarine ! And an unbelievable collection of religious relics: a nail used in the crucification of Christ, a thorn from Christ's crown, and a fragment of wood from the real cross ! A fabulous royal crown on display, studded with huge precious stones.

    Exited the Hofburg from the Michaelertor, which itself had very impressive architecture. As we sat down there to rest our feet, we found people selling concert tickets for the evening: a performance by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra at the Musikverein. The lowest priced tickets had been listed as 39 euros, but they were selling discounted tickets for 19 euros, for rear seats in the side balcony. We are not much into western classical music, and really wanted to just get a feel of such a performance in Vienna, so these tickets suited us fine. The seller advised us to show up with these stubs at the box-office just before the start of the performance (not too much in advance), if we wanted to be seated in the best seats. Decided to go for it.

    Saw the Loos Haus across the Michaelerterplatz, and walked on to Kohlmarkt (which was a far cry from the original "coal market" of old !), and sat down at the fashionable Cafe Demel for lunch. Had a gazpacho soup, followed by a superb salad of Chanterelles mushrooms, which are special to Austria. Yummy. And good wine too.

    Continued walking along Kohlmarkt, and turned into Graben, to do window-shopping, and to see the "Pestaule" statue. Went past the Loos-designed American Bar. Reached Stephansplatz; walked around the cathedral, and went inside. Beautiful Gothic architecture, and lovely tiles on the roof. Not to miss the reflection of Stephans cathedral in the ultra-modern Haas Haus mirrored building adjacent to it. Any time of the day you go past Stephansplatz, it is bubbling with activity.

    We continued our walking tour of Vienna by turning into Kartnergasse, for some more window shopping. Entered Swarovski where DW bought a pair of earrings, burning a nice hole in the wallet. Then walked to Hotel Sacher, and sat down outside to have their famed Sacher Torte. Have to admit, it looked as beautiful as it tasted. Delicious. Then walked past the fabulous Staatsoper building, and on to Albertina, then past the Palmenhaus into Burrgarten, where we relaxed on a bench, and watched teenagers somersaulting around the place.

    Slowly we retraced our steps to Stephansplatz, where we bought another set of 24-hour transport cards. Took the underground to Schewedenplatz, dropped off our shopping at the hotel, and went for dinner at the Indian restaurant "Tandoor" on Salzgries. Had a good dinner of Chana Masala, Dal Makhani, Raita, Naan, Parathas etc. Got really stuffed.

    At about 7:30pm, we rode the underground again from Schwedenplatz to Karlplatz, and walked to Musikverein, crossing the beautiful Karl's church. Musikverein is supposed to be one of the top concert halls of Vienna, and it was really pretty from outside, and very ornate from inside. As advised by our ticket-seller, we showed up at the box-office with our stubs just 10 minutes before the show started. I guess by then all the rear side-balcony seats had been exhausted, and we were rewarded with tickets in the 49 euro enclosure (for which we had paid just 19 euros !). Superb seats; couldn't have asked for anything better.

    I am no great judge of concert music, but we really enjoyed the performance. A 30-member orchestra in traditional attire with wigs and everything, giving a flavor of every aspect of Mozart's repertoire. A bit of symphony orchestra, some operatic sequences, an excellent flute recital. Loved every minute of it.

    Took the underground back to our hotel, and crashed out in bed at about midnight. It had been a very enjoyable day, spent entirely walking around in the Inner Ring area.

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    hi, i-couple,

    just found your report today - it's made a great read for a wet afternoon. my only experience of the B-O was skiing when we stayed at Wengen's answer to Fawlty Towers which has rather put me off.

    i think you're encouraging me to go back.

    looking forward to more,

    regards, ann

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    Day 12: Tuesday, Aug 12: VIENNA:
    Once again we woke up late, and left our hotel after breakfast at about 9:15am. Took the underground from Schwedenplatz to Schonbrunn, and reached the palace gates by 10am.

    There was a long line for tickets. We opted for the Imperial Tour (the shorter tour), and were given tickets with an entry time for 11:10am. After a longish wait, it was time to go in. Picked up audio-guides and toured the palace. Impressive, but almost identical decor in all the rooms. By noon we were out, in the Schonbrunn gardens. Walked around the huge gardens, admiring the fountain, the flower gardens, and the leafy walkways. Then went to the "Maze", which was a lot of fun negotiating.

    We left the palace complex at about 1:30pm. It was another warm sunny day, and the sun was getting hot. We boarded the underground to Neubaugasse, where we went to "Govinda" restaurant for lunch. Another Indian restaurant, which had received good reviews in guide books, but turned out to be a real let-down. Very sub-standard meal.

    Slowly walked to the Kunsthistoriches Museum and went in. Only toured the 1st floor collection, where the best works were supposed to be. Especially liked the Bruegels collection which was fabulous, and also the Rubens paintings. From there we went across to the Museum Quartier, but our feet were tired from a full day of palaces and museums. We soon boarded the underground to Karlplatz, and visited Naschmarkt. Very interesting place, where we sampled a lot of fresh juices. However, exhaustion was overcoming us, and we were not enjoying anything. So we returned to our hotel and had a good rest and nap for over an hour, which perked us up a bit.

    We were stuck with some 500 euro notes, which we were finding difficult to change to smaller bills. Surprisingly, even Schonbrunn Palace had refused to accept them, and so had the Kunst museum. We were very surprised, as we never knew this would be a problem. Our hotel desk advised that our best bet would be to try at Zanoni & Zanoni, where we headed. Thankfully, they were very helpful, and changed all our 500 euro bills. We were relieved, and celebrated with a round of gelato !

    Did some souvenir shopping and walked to a Heuriger called the Esterhazykeller. Sat outside and had one of their fresh white wines, served in a small beer-mug ! Portion was large, delicious, and went straight to the head.

    We then walked over to Rathausplatz to see the Film Festival. What a crowd there, and great atmosphere. Went to a Thai food stall and had a dinner of some Thai green curry, downed with Mojitos. The Mojito really hit me in the head. Got some seats in the crowded place, and sat down at the film festival for about an hour. They were exhibiting a B&W film on the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's 1959 Tokyo tour. The film was not particularly interesting, but the atmosphere was enjoyable. Finally, we departed at 10pm, having some more snacks from the Indian food stall.

    Our Austria tour was in its final moments, and we decided to make the most of it. We took Tram # 2 (which was going in the opposite direction of our hotel), so that we could go completely round the Ring again, and see it at night, which was a magical experience. Beautiful changing lights everywhere. Finally reached our hotel stop, and reached the hotel shortly before midnight. Packed and went to sleep.

    Austria had been nice, but I think we had enjoyed Salzburg more than Vienna. I wish we had spent an extra day at Salzburg, and maybe a day less at Vienna. The Inner Ring area of Vienna is very nice, but an overdose of museums and palaces is not quite our cup of tea.

    Some passing observations on Austrians and Austria:
    1. They do not seem to have air-conditioning in trams/metros/museums etc, which makes public places quite stuffy.
    2. They seem to love painting their buildings with yellow color.
    3. They are a bit more reserved and aloof as compared to the Swiss. This may be an unfair observation, based on such a short travel, but that is what we felt.

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    Day 13: Wednesday, Aug 13: PRAGUE
    We had a 6:08am train to catch to Prague; so we had to get up by 4am, get ready, and check out of the hotel by 5:30am. Mr Vasilius at the reception insisted that we consume a glass of OJ each, and he had a packed breakfast ready for us, and a cab waiting. Reached Sudbahnhof in 20 minutes, and boarded the train.

    We were very excited about Prague, as the photographs we had seen had really enchanted us. The moment we got into the train, we felt as though we were already in Czech Republic, as the train was run by Czech Railways, and they had an all-Czech crew. The moment the lady ticket-checker came by, we were struck by her beauty. Same happened in the restaurant car, when we interacted with the waitress. An initial observation, which was to get reinforced during the days ahead - Czech Republic has the most gorgeous looking women on this planet.

    Had a nap on the train, as we had the cabin all to ourselves. The train reached Praha Holesovice about 30 minutes behind schedule, at 11am. Our hotel had sent a taxi for us, which was waiting. We had arranged this in advance, in response to numerable posts here about taxis fleecing you in Prague. The ride to Smichov cost us only 340 Kc.

    We had booked an apartment at Aparthotel City 5 in the Smichov area, and the host Gastone had displayed his friendly and helpful nature over emails. He was helpful as ever, and gave us a largish apartment, which we were very satisfied with. Freshened up, and left the hotel by 12:30pm.

    We changed currency at a nearby bank, bought metro tickets, and boarded the metro from Andel to Republiky namesti (the metro stop was two minutes' walk from our hotel). On getting down, we went straight to the Municipal Hall, and booked tickets for their guided tour in the afternoon at 4pm. The cost was 190 Kc each, i.e. 380 Kc for the two of us. However, if we had a child with us, all 3 would have entered for a total of only 290 Kc ! I couldn't understand this logic, and protested to the young ticket lady. I mean a child going in free is understandable, but here we were being penalized for not having a child with us ! She suggested that we find a child on the street, and she would happily give us the discount !

    The Municipal Hall itself was outlandishly beautiful from the outside. We walked through the Powder Gate, on to Celetna, towards the Old Town Square. Lovely shops on the way, selling exquisite glass items. As soon as we reached Old Town Square, we were completely overwhelmed by the spectacle that we saw. Too beautiful. The Old Town Hall, Lady of Tyn church, St Nicholas church, House at the Minute, House at the Stone Bell, Goltz-Kinsky Palace, and so so many other fabulous buildings. Each so different, and meriting a detailed admiration in its own right. And the imposing Jas Hus statue in the middle of the square. One of the prettiest spots we have been to in all our travels.

    We were hungry, and could not locate the restaurant that I had listed to visit in that area. So we quickly sat down at some obscure restaurant, and had an average tasting pizza, with excellent black beer. The Czechs sure know how to brew this stuff ! After lunch we just kept wandering all over Old Town Square. As it neared 3pm, we gravitated towards the Astronomical clock, along with thousands of others. As the clock struck 3pm, we watched the fun and games unfold before us. The skeleton inverting his hourglass, and ringing the bell, the parade of apostles at the window, the cry of the cuckoo; it was too much to observe in one time. And this clock was manufactured in 1470 !

    Walked to Male namesti nearby, and saw the nicely painted V J Rott building, and clicked our photos with vintage sightseeing cars standing there. Then walked back to the Municipal Hall for our 4pm guided tour. We normally abhor guided tours, but for Municipal Hall it is mandatory. And it was well worth it – a must see. The building is even prettier from inside, the Smetana Hall, the four Ladies' Rooms, the round Mucha Room. Fabulously decorated with pastel shades and superb artistry. And so much history has happened here.

    By the time the tour finished at 5:30pm, it was too late to visit the Jewish museums at Josefov, which closes at 6pm. So we wandered to Our Lady before Tyn Church, and sat at Ebel Coffee House located in a courtyard. Had the most delectable almond-flavored coffee, with Czech honey-plum pie and fig cakes. Yum.

    Sat down on a bench at Old Town Square, and kept admiring the scene. Could not get enough of it. The view seemed to change with the angle of the sun. Tried our hand at test-driving a segway, which was fun. Went back to the Astronomical clock and watched it clock 7pm. The clock is not adjusted for DST, so it understandably was registering 6pm !

    Slowly walked on Karlova towards Charles Bridge, and popped into many interesting shops on both sides of the street. Then stopped at the famed Czech pub: U Zlateho Tygra (At the Golden Tiger), where President Vaclav Havel is supposed to have brought Bill Clinton, to show him what a real Czech pub looks like ! It was an experience. Totally quiet outside, and real noisy and boisterous inside. Full of locals, with no tourists in sight. You only have to say "dark" or "light" to the waiter - he knows what you are there for. A 500ml portion of dark beer was quickly brought for me (costing just 40 Kc). The waiter keeps an eye on your glass. The moment it reaches one inch from the bottom, he refills it. When you have had enough, you place your coaster on the glass. Did take their permission to carry some coasters as a souvenir.

    Reached Charles Bridge and walked slowly across. It was getting after 8pm, and the lights were not yet on. Buskers and artists everywhere. By the time we reached the other end and turned back, the lights came on and the Bridge became very romantic. We walked to the large terrace just south of Charles Bridge on the Stare Mesto side, and got a waterfront table with fabulous views. Had white wine for myself/ mojito for DW, and enjoyed the views of Prague Castle all lit up at a distance.

    Walked back on Karlova to Old Town Square, crossing many beautiful churches and buildings. Sat down at a pavement restaurant on Old Town Square, called Cerny Liska. Had an eggplant foam (which was decent), with a gnocchi in paprika sauce (which was average). It was 10:15pm, but the place was full of activity. The Church of our Lady before Tyn looked majestic at night with its lighting. We reluctantly walked back to Republiky namesti, boarded the metro to Andel and reached our hotel at about midnight.

    We had had an excellent day. The weather had been clear and pleasant all day. And Prague was really special !

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    Day 14: Thursday, Aug 14: PRAGUE:
    We got up a bit late, and had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. The hostess Kristina made us some good cheese toasties. We left the hotel at about 9:30am, walking first to Na Knezeci bus stop nearby, and booked our tickets for Cesky Krumlov for the following day. Then we boarded the tram to Malastranske namesti, where we changed to a different tram going up to the Castle. Got down at Pohorelec.

    We walked to Loretanska namesti, and sat and admired the Loreta Church from outside, hearing its bells chime 11am. Right opposite it is the imposing Cernic Palace. Then walked past the Archbishop’s palace, and entered Prague castle through the gate of the battling Titans. We bought tickets for the short tour. Briefly went out to the Powder Bridge to see the castle moat, and returned to see the changing of the guards at noon, when a brass band plays from the windows.

    Next we entered the St Vitius Cathedral, and admired the stained glasses, especially the one done by Mucha which stands out. Then entered the Old Royal Palace, where there was not much to see (a few bare ceremonial halls), except great views of Prague from a terrace. Then went inside St George’s Basilica, which is a simple Romanesque church. Finally we went to Golden Lane, which we found to be the most interesting part of the Castle tour. Very cute and colorful. Not much to see in Daliborka either, as we exited the Castle complex. We were frankly a bit underwhelmed by the Prague Castle.

    From the exit East gate of the Castle, we walked down to Mala Strana through the Gardens beneath Prague Castle, kind of like terraced gardens. As we reached the bottom, we saw the Indian Embassy next to us. Peeped inside for a hello. Then walked to Maltezske namesti, where we lunched at “El Centro” – a tapa bar. Superb veg paella plus nachos with cheese & salsa, and black beer. Brought back memories of our Spain trip last year.

    We needed to buy ballet tickets for the following night at Smetana Hall. So we walked back to Stare Mesto over the Charles Bridge. Left DW at Male namesti to do some window shopping, while I hurried to the Municipal Hall and back, having procured the tickets. Did see the Astronomical Clock strike 4pm on the way. We crossed back over Charles Bridge to Mala Strana, and sat down at a small café called U Certa on Malastranske namesti. This was just behind St Nicholas Church. We had some refreshments and rested our legs for an hour.

    We then walked westwards to the end of Nerudova, trying to spot all the unusual buildings on the way: House with 3 Fiddles, House with 2 Suns, etc etc. Then walked back to Malestranske namesti, which was gradually getting lively, as all cafes, shops were opening, and the crowds were coming on. Continued walking to Maltezske namesti, and on to John Lennon Wall, full of interesting graffiti. We next strolled on to Kampa Island, and walked all along the Vltava river, stopping to sit down at benches on the way to admire the fantastic views. It had cooled down by then, and the weather had become pleasant. Liked the vast green spaces in the middle of the island, and the huge sculpture of a chair in the middle of the river.

    At the end of Kampa Island, we crossed back into Mala Strana, and walked to Ujezd. Went inside a bar called Klub Ujezd. It was a very funky bar with extremely unusual décor of metal dragons hung on the ceiling, and bartenders in equally weird attire. Liked the place. Had a few drinks and left. Walked to a nearby restaurant that we had identified, called “Cantina”. It was an excellent Mexican restaurant, with great décor. Fun atmosphere. Had a spinach filled burrito and jalapeno-stuffed quesadilla, which were both excellent. Would highly recommend this dining place to anyone.

    Finally, we took the tram back to our hotel. Went to the nearby Tesco supermarket, and did some grocery shopping for breakfast items. Went to bed by 10pm.


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    DAY 15: FRIDAY, Aug 15: PRAGUE/ CESKY KRUMLOV:
    Woke up and had breakfast in our apartment. Boarded our 8:30am bus from Na Knezeci to Cesky Krumlov. Had a nice snooze on the bus, which reached CK at about 11:45am.

    The weather was very cloudy, and quite cold. We had been spoilt by the excellent weather during the last 5 days, and had ignored carrying our umbrellas. As we started walking from the bus station to the town center of Cesky Krumlov, it suddenly started raining quite heavily. We waited in a shop, but when the rain showed no signs of letting up, we were forced to buy raincoats.

    We went inside a lovely café, which was an old mill that had been converted into a museum-cum-café. The place had great character and décor, but the staff were overbusy. When no one attended us for 20 minutes, we were forced to leave and went into a less crowded café across the street. Had some Algerian coffee, and fried cheese which tasted surprisingly good.

    Cesky Krumlov is a lovely town, and we immediately loved it. We just could not stop clicking our camera. The whole town was spectacular, and each building was worth taking a picture of. Seemed like doll-houses, painted by a five-year old, in all kinds of imaginative colors. Only bad thing was the weather, as it kept raining. We walked up to the Castle, and did walk half-way through it. But we felt that it was more fun to just stroll through the town, so we hurried back and started wandering about the narrow lanes, loaded with wonderful shops.

    The buildings are so pretty, that they make the merchandise in the shops look even prettier. We found it hard to resist buying a lot of souvenirs from all the shops. Saw lots of people canoeing and rafting in the winding Vltava river, which twists and turns all over Cesky Krumlov. Too bad we did not have enough time for all this. We were cursing ourselves for doing CK as a day trip, and not spending a night here.

    For lunch, we went to an excellent place called U Dwau Myris (At Two Mary’s). It had authentic Czech décor, with a lot of seating both inside and outside. We took an outside table by the riverside, and had an excellent Bohemian meal, comprising of garlic/cabbage soup, fluffed barley, buckwheat, baked millet, potato cakes, dumplings etc. Divine food, and superb draught black beer.

    Did some more shopping in the intermittent rain, and very reluctantly started moving back to the Bus station, as we had booked the 4:10pm bus for the return journey. During the return journey, the driver kept loading more and more standing passengers on the bus. Thankfully, we had reserved seats. We finally pulled into Prague at 7:20pm. We immediately boarded the metro to the Municipal House, as we had ballet tickets for the 8pm show. The ballet dancers were performing with the Prague Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Smetana Hall. A superb performance, in an excellent hall. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

    When the performance got over at about 9:45pm, we walked past Old Town Square to a Thai restaurant called Siam-i-Sin. Had a very good meal of Papaya salad, plus green tofu curry with jasmine rice. We then boarded the metro back to the hotel, again going to sleep at midnight.

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    Day 16: Saturday, Aug 16: PRAGUE:
    This was the last day of our vacation. Once again we had breakfast in our apartment. Once again, the bad weather continued, and we faced a light drizzle throughout the day.

    We started off by walking to the Vltava riverfront, and over to the Dancing Building. After clicking pictures, we took the metro to the Museum stop, and emerged at one end of Wencelas Square, near the National Museum. Climbed the steps of the National Museum, saw the statue of St Wencelas, the spot where Jan Pallach had fallen, and the memorial in honor of Jan Pallach and another student. So much history has occurred around this Wencelas Square.

    As we walked on Wencelas Square, we came across a roadside photo exhibition of the Soviet invasion of Prague in August 1968 (it was the 40th anniversary of the event). Lovely black & white photos, which told a poignant tale. Walked passed the ornate Grand Hotel Europa, and went inside Lucarna Palace, where we saw the Wencelas statue on an inverted horse. Popped into a café for a dose of Espresso, and walked passed the Melantrich Building (now Marks & Spencer), from where Vaclav Havel had proclaimed the end of Communism in 1989. Then went into the Bata Shoe store building, and strolled through its 6 floors.

    We turned into Na Prikope, and kept walking in and out of shops. Went inside the Museum of Communism, which we found very interesting and informative. Liked the displays, the photographs, the written description of historical events, the Interrogation Room, and the short movie. A very good museum which gives an excellent perspective to Czech history post WWII.

    It was past 2pm, and we returned to Lucarna Palace, as we had spotted an Indian restaurant there called “Mayur”. Had a good lunch of typical Indian food, which was authentically cooked. Then walked on Narodni Trida till the end, and then walked along the river before ducking into Old Town Square. Went for a repeat visit to Ebel Coffee House, and had excellent coffee with Apple strudel. We had kept the afternoon for shopping, and bought a lot of exquisite glass items from Celetna shops.

    At about 7:15pm, we went for dinner to Klub Architektu on Bethlemska namesti. A very nice and popular restaurant, made to look like a cellar. Had to share a table with an excellent old couple from Mississippi, USA. We ordered beer and soup, which was very nice. However, the place was overcrowded, and our main course did not come for an hour. Regretfully, we cancelled it; the bill still took a long time to come. Finally, we were forced to go to the counter, pay and leave. We quickly boarded the metro back to our hotel, stopping at a shopping mall nearby to do the final bits of shopping. Settled our hotel bill, completed our packing, and regretted that a wonderful vacation had come to an end. Prague had definitely been one of the high points of the trip, and we had loved the city. It is remarkable how much the Czech have achieved in just 18 years of post-Communist rule. Their beer, their architecture, and their gorgeous women will continue to haunt me for days to come.

    The next morning, we took a taxi to the airport, and had a comfortable and uneventful flight back to India. This completes my Trip Report. I look forward to your comments and queries.

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    Thanks for the great trip report. I really enjoyed reading it.

    May I ask your opinion about Cesky Krumlov please? We are a family with 3 children who are planning to spend 2 nights and one full day in Cesky Krumlov at the beginning of December this year. Our idea is to only arrive in Cesky Krumov about 5pm on day 1, to spend the whole of day 2 there, and to leave early in the morning on day 3 for Prague.

    I know that the castle will be closed. We have wanted to visit Cesky Krumlov for years and can only travel in December/January, so it is unikely that we will be able to visit when the castle is open in the foreseeable future.

    Do you think we have allowed too long for Cesky Krumlov, or would we be able to have a lovely full day exploring it?

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    Ozziez, thanks for your comments. I think you are spending the right amount of time in Cesky Krumlov; I wish we had done so ourselves. The Castle is no big deal. The town is absolutely lovely, and you will love wandering all over it. There is also canoeing and rafting to do, which I am sure you will enjoy.
    Lots of interesting shops and cafes. You will have fun !

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    enjoy reading your trip report!
    I visited Vienna, Salzburg, and Graz last year, which was wonderful and memorable. Now I am planning my trip to Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. Your trip report is a great help! Thanks!

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    Great report, indiancouple. I've wondered from time to time how your trip had gone. It sounds like you enjoyed the journey and the destination--congrats. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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    indiancouple,

    re: Hotel Oberland - it's been maybe 8 years or so that we stayed there. I thought the rooms would need a bit of renovation, but I still enjoyed my stay.

    Thanks again for the detailed report. Enjoyed it thoroughly since I've been to all those places before. It's interesting that you enjoyed Salzburg more than Vienna - the opposite for me. ;-)

    Also, some comments on Prague and the Czech Republic in general. Yep, I have to agree on the beautiful women there, LOL. Too bad you didn't go inside Loreto church. It's really gorgeous.

    When it comes to sights we all have different tastes. Good thing. I personally enjoyed the puristic Romanesque architecture of St. George's Basilica very much, ditto for the 'bare' halls of the Old Royal Castle. I am a fan of medieval architecture. And I *hated* the touristy shops in the Golden Lane. Overpriced and of obscure quality IMO.

    Cesky Krumlov is definitely picturesque. Probably my favourite Czech town. Too bad you had bad weather - the castle garden e.g. would have been wonderful to walk around in the sun.

    For Ozziez: It will be a bit different in winter. It's no fun to walk around for more than, say 3 or 4 hours in the cold (maybe snow) and gaze at the facades. No canoeing or rafting either in December. The castle is going to be closed and you'll be stuck with shopping or eating.

    Ingo

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    Hello indiancouple,

    We've enjoyed your report very much -- my husband is interested in knowing if you simply have a wonderful memory for detail or if you travel with a small recorder to help remember all the nuances of your experience. In 2 weeks, we'll be visiting Salzburg, Vienna, Prague and Budapest. We'll be 3 nights in each city. We've read and researched but we don't have your moxie for being so totally independent and on your own so we're traveling with a tour from city to city, but there is plenty of free time to explore on our own. I actually learned a lot just reading about your trip and we're definitely more encouraged to do more on our own. We're very excited to get going. Thanks again. K2
    PS - Where are you going next? ;-)

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    Ingo, quite understandable that our tastes are different. It would be strange if everyone liked the same things ! As for Golden Lane in Prague Castle, it is the colorful small houses that we liked, not the touristy shops.

    k2ok, thanks for the appreciation. I do carry a small notepad with me when I travel. Make some jottings whenever I have some spare time, like when I am sipping a glass of wine before a meal or something. I did refer to my notes when writing this trip report. As to where we are going next - haven't decided, but leaning towards either China or New Zealand ! Yes, we do like to travel completely on our own, and we prefer to use the public transport system everywhere, instead of renting a car. This way we get to interact so much more with the local populace and with other travelers, which we greatly enjoy. Europe is so tourist friendly, making it so much easier to travel on your own.

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    Ingo: Yes, I am still pondering your advice that we might be spending too long in Cesky Krumlov (1 full day) seeing as it will be in winter (December) and the castle will be closed.

    I am wondering if we should arrive in Cesky Krumlov at 5pm on day 1, spend half of day 2 there and leave straight after lunch and drive to Prague, arriving in Prague about 5 or 6pm.

    Do you - and anyone else - think this would be a better plan?

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    indiancouple, i just finalized our bookings for our trip to munich, salzburg and switzerland from oct 17-30. we will be in lauterbrunnen for 4 nights ( thanks to your trip report ) and 1 night, our last night, in zurich due to a very early morning flight back to the US. we will also be staying at hotel staubbach. i booked one of the south facing rooms, we will have a view of the falls. God willing, i will post a trip report here, a small way to return the favor to all of you who had been such great resource.

    we will be driving from innsbruck and liecstenstein and will drop the rental car off at interlaken. i re-read your trip report and will be doing the swiss pass for 4 days just like you did. it made the most sense considering how we plan to spend the next 4 days in B.O. if we have time and get lucky with favorable weather to visit the jungfrau on our second day, we might have time to visit bern and maybe gstaad.

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    We are just back from our European adventure and wanted to thank you again for your review on berner Oberland. we spent two glorious days in Lauterbrunnen at Hotel Oberland and felt like we were in heaven!! First day we arrived and followed the suggestions of the gondola to Grultschalp and then the hike to Murren with the train back. Unbelieveable!! The views are extraordinary. Had a superb meal of fondue and rosti for dinner with great service and atmosphere at hotel. Owner is Australian so felt at home!! with many other aussies staying there.

    Woke to rain next morning but still decided to venture up to Kleine Scheidegg> Anyway we were blessed with snow falls from Wengen up and when we arrived at Kleine to brilliant sunshine and 50cm snow we knew we were in heaven. A wonderful surprise as snow was not expected so early and never seen in our part of Australia. Spent the afternoon in sunny Grindelwald.

    We had a magical time in Switzerland however brief and so very thankful to the fodorites who recommended venturing into the Alps area around Lauterbrunnen.

    Much appreciation indian couple for your wonderful report.

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    mariebut, glad you found the report useful. The mere talk of Grutschalp, the Murren hike and Kleine Scheidegg is enough to make me nostalgic ! You are lucky indeed to find snow so early.

    Peppermintpatti, thanks for your kudos.

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    Fantastic report.I plan to use a lot of the info and recommendations.
    I used a lot of your info on the NZ report where i visited this Dec/jan. any reason for not visiting zermat and st moritz?
    While i do not intend to compare is there similarity between South Island of NZ and Switzerland? any ratings

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    Thanks ih; glad you found this and the NZ trip report useful. We really wanted to visit Zermatt, but had to leave it out for want of time. Fodorites advised that if one goes to Zermatt, one should budget for atleast 3 days, as the weather can be very unpredictable there.

    Yes, there is some similarity between South Island and Switzerland, in the sense that they are both places of pristine natural beauty. However, the vistas are quite different. NZ South Island is more a combination of mountains, lakes and ocean all together, wherein you are usually at sea level while viewing them. Switzerland is more of rugged mountains, where you are viewing things from top. Both are spectacular, and I would not attempt to rate one over the other.

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    ih -

    As someone who loves both NZ and Switzerland, I find your question interesting. Both are beautiful and very difficult to compare, although indiancouple has made a valiant effort and I agree with his/her assessment. I might add that NZ is much greener and lush (think rainforest).

    Interestingly enough, Switzerland and NZ are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to people and culture - the Swiss tend to be rule bound and uptight, whereas I find the Kiwis to be reserved, yet very friendly and relaxed.

    I realize that's a stereotype, but that's been my experience in my many visits to both countries.

    If you're looking for some info on Zermatt and are up for more reading, I've got a very detailed trip report posted here under 'April in the Alps' - it covers Zermatt as well as the BO and Kandersteg.

    And kudos to indiancouple for an excellent trip report.

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    thanks Melnq8, i have gone thru your trip report and have reserved room at Hotel antika. How would u rate staying at Klum Hotel Gornergrat? Its already full for July but i CAN STILL TRY IF ITS WORTH IT.

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    Hi ih -

    The Kulmhotel Gornergrat would certainly be a unique place to stay (the highest hotel in the Swiss Alps!) I could see myself spending one night there, but it's not a place I'd personally choose for longer stays (we prefer to stay 3-4 nights per destination). I'd feel captive up there for more than a night and getting to and from the hotel is expensive and time consuming.

    Are you considering just one night?

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    Hi Indiancouple.

    I'm an avid fan of your trip reports and followed the NZ trip itinerary in pretty much the same time you had..and had a fabulous time!
    This will be our first trip to europe and have pretty much the same time for a similar trip - 17days:)in end July.


    IN OB, should we base our selves in Wengen or Lauterbrunnen? (we would love snow scenery..)

    thought I will add Montreux to the itinerary.. to see Lake geneva and in order to add a chocolate tour in Broc for the kids. any views on this?

    For the city tours in Salzburg,Vienna,Prague - did you use a walking tour recommended on a guide or brochure?

    greatly appreciate your advise:)

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    Thanks everyone for the good words. Sorry for the delayed response nikidi, as I was not reading this thread for a while.

    I think both Lauterbrunnen and Wengen make excellent bases to see the OB area. You cannot go wrong with either. Lauterbrunnen is in a valley with gorgeous views, and Wengen is up on a shelf at some elevation. Both have great places to stay, and both are good for touring the area in terms of accessibility.

    For Salzburg, Vienna and Prague, we used the Lonely Planet guidebooks, which we found to be excellent. We followed the recommended areas in the guidebook, supplemented with some internet research.

    Cannot comment on Lake Geneva etc, as we did not visit there.

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    Indiancouple, as always love your reports. One more great review. My question how safe is Prague, Greece and Turkey. I see you have been travelling in public transport and walking in late hours.

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    Interlaken by contrast is just a bustling ritzy town, with no authentic Swiss feel about it.>

    I see you no doubt only walked up and down the one main drag that has tacky commercial development - there are several preceints in Interlaken that exude Swiss charm and feel - Unterseen and Matten for two. Take a better look next time - so few tourists do then they lambaste Interlaken after a usually ephermal look about.

    Great trip report but I do differ in your take on Interlaken, a place where I have stayed for days on end - that said first timers should IMO base themselves up in the hills - not because Interlaken is charmless but for the reasons you give - you are eyeball to eyeball with the soaring ice-girdled peaks.

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    When we first went to Switzerland and the BO we stayed in Interlaken at a B&B "Sunny Days" which was on a quiet street. We found it was just fine. So easy to get to other places in the BO.

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    Loved your trip report - thanks for all the wonderful details. I will be visiting Munich, Salzburg and Vienna during Christmas/New Year's and made many notes from this report. We have 7 days in Vienna and am thinking of an overnight to Prague or Budapest. You brought all these cities alive!

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    Bookmarking. BTW, I did not realize until midway through reading that your Spain & Portugal report was the sole reason we diverted to the "Balcony of Europe" near Nerja. A perfect break on the drive to Seville. Thank you for posting with such great detail...Switzerland is now going on our wish list!

    -Annie

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    Hi indiancouple, others,

    Another travel freak from Pune.

    We have not been to Europe. So instead of Switzerland, Austria and Czech Republic, how about doing France, Italy and Switzerland ?

    Plan is to do it in May/June 2015 for 3 to 4 weeks. We are a family of 4 with two kids ages 9 and 11. How many days will be sufficient to cover these 3 countries at a pace which is not too hectic ?

    Looking forward for suggestions/advice.

    BTW, indiancouple, I had taken a printout of your New Zealand trip report when we went to NZ in 2012. Since we are also vegetarians, we literally followed your choice of restaurants. Was a great help.

    Thanks.

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    <<Wow! What a wealth of information - will peruse especially your Berner Oberland experiences to keep my info up to date - splendid report so far.>>

    Pal, this report is from 2008, so I'm not sure how "up to date" that will make your information.

    s

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