ASK A TRAVEL ?

by livingamused

I love to get questioned about places I have been to. On the “Home Page”, click on “My Travel Map” to see the places I have been to. Have a quick question about one of them? Need to pick a fellow traveler’s brain? Leave a comment here to get an honest answer.

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29 Comments for this entry

  • Ginny F says:

    Hi, we found your site via Trip Advisor. We are a family of four (two teenagers who will be 16 and 18 next June). We arrive in Zurich from New York on an early wednesday morning and then were hoping to spend that day through most of the next Sunday in Switzerland hiking around the Bernese Oberland. (By hiking we were hoping to be able to hike from one town to another in day hikes – possibly also using some transportation.) Our questions are as follows.

    1. If we have approximately three and a half days how much time should we spend in Zurich?

    2. What is the best rail pass for us to buy given that we are hoping to get to the Bernese Oberland and hike around there then we need to get to Venice hopefully on a night train (is this even possible?)

    3. What are the best towns to hike from and to in the Bernese Oberland

    Thank you so much for your advice. We will be very grateful!

    • livingamused says:

      Hi Ginny,
      It sounds like you are giving yourself a lot of time to organize and plan this vacation for June 2011. Good idea!
      I will answer your questions based on my own experiences traveling throuhout Switzerland and Italy. I don’t know how many days you actually have to spend in Europe or if you have been to Switzerland or Italy before. I also don’t know how you are planning your flights. Are you flying out of Venice or Milan back home?
      If this is your first trip to both countries and your time is limited to 8-10 days; consider visiting Switzerland or Italy- not both. The must towns for the first time visitors to Switzerland in my opinion are:
      1. Bernese Oberland (3-5 days)
      2. Luzern (Lucerne) & Bern (2-3 days)
      3. St. Moritz-Lugano/Benina Express OR Lake Geneva (2 days)
      So, you would need to budget at least 7-10 days to see the above. Most of the above destinations are smaller quaint towns or villages and are perfect for outdoor activities, including hiking.
      However, if you must divide your time between Italy and Switzerland and only have 3.5 days in the latter, then:
      – Upon arrival at Zurich Airport (almost all flights from NY arrive early morning), pick up you bags and take the train to Interlaken via Bern (the fastest route). For example: if you take the 9:13 train, you would be in Interlaken around 11:22 a.m. Since you would be changing trains in Bern anyway; take a few hours to stretch your legs and walk Bern’s lovely Old Town right outside the main train station, have lunch and take an afternoon train to Interlaken. It takes only 44-53 minutes to reach Interlaken from Bern and there are several trains per hour to choose from. In this case you can lock your bags at the train station (very easy) or you could have you bags upon check-in at JFK to be sent directly to your destination in Bernese Oberland (very smart) for about $20/bag (read my Switzerland posts about how to do this). I think for your purposes, staying in Murren, Wengen or Lauterbrunnen and taking combination train/cable cars/buses to sightsee or hike would be best. From any of these towns, there are many hiking and walking tours from easy to challenging. As you might have read in my posts, my favorite town here is Wengen. If you are doing Jungfrau train (interesting and pretty on a good clear day), you should budget a good part of the day for this. Don’t miss the views from Schilthorn over Bernese Oberland and Jungfrau which is absolutely unforgettable.
      – From Interlaken you can reach Vencie in about 6 hours via train but must change trains several times: Interlaken to Spiez (21min), Spiez to Brig (35min) and Brig to Venice (5hrs). As far as I know, you can only make the connection if you take the 8 a.m. train which lands you in Venice around 2:45 pm and costs $140+/adult depending on class of service and date of travel. If you decide to go with the Swiss Pass; it will cut the cost down by about half.
      – For your length of stay in Switzerland (3.5 days), I would buy Swiss Saver Pass for 2 adults (2nd class:$209, 1st class:$314/adult) and 2 youth passes (2nd class:$184, 1st:$276/youth). This covers unlimited traveling (train/bus/ferry/etc.) for 4 consecutive days on Swiss transportation network. Some special trains/cable cars or such (i.e. Jungfrau train) are excluded but you usually get a discount on them. Also offered are other sightseeing/lodging discounts. You can check individual fares on raileurope’s website (http://www.raileurope.com/index.html). Unless you do not plan to use Swiss transportation on daily basis, you would be better off buying the pass.
      I think the above covers your questions; but le me know if you have others.
      Most importantly, don’t worry too much. In Switzerland you can actually plan to have last minute change of plans without a problem.

  • liza hamid says:

    Hi there!
    1.Been to Malaysia?
    2.Another question, we are from malaysia , will be visiting Switzerland and these are our itnerary, Can you comment…
    30 sep , arrive in zurich – One nite- my husband insisted on staying in Zurich
    next 2 nites – Lucerne (hotel has been pre paid) (pilatus)
    next 2 nites- Grindelwald (in plan- Jungfraujoch)
    next 2 nites- montreux
    final nite – Geneva before going back home..
    Seems a lot of base but somehow we want to have the experience of staying there.We are keeping our options open for montreux and grindelwald and willing to change towns,Would appreciate your ideas…
    Thank you!

    • livingamused says:

      Hi Back,
      1. Unfortunately not. In the Far East I have been only to Japan, China, Macau & Hong Kong. But have it on my “near future” travel plans to see more of the world on your end of it.
      2. Regarding your Switzerland travel plans: I am not sure if you are only traveling with your husband or there are kids involved. But here is my opinion about your itinerary:
      > Zurich- Stay near Hauptbahnhof (central train station) which is right by the Old Town and river. You would be using this station to connect to other Swiss destinations and won’t need to pay for transportation from/to the train station. Zurich Airport is fantastic and reminds me of Hong Kong’s. Upon arrival, follow the signs to trains (right across the terminal). If you have bought Swiss Pass before leaving Malaysia, have it stamped at the station to activate it (unless you plan to pay for this connection to Zurich and start your pass on the day of your travel to Lucerne). The best for a quick sightseeing, museums and taking in the charm of Zurich is to stay in near or in the Old Town.
      > Lucerne- Lovely town and Pilatus is great; even though it would take almost a full day to go up there. Take the ferry and cogwheel up and gondolas/cable cars/bus down. I hope your hotel is by/in the Old Town and train station. Lucerne is fabulous on foot and don’t miss seeing its old bridges.
      > Bernese Oberland- Staying in Grindelwald is OK and convenient but it is very touristy. For charming small towns with good train connections try Murren or Wengen. Jungfrau line passes through Wengen. You can take the Schithorn cable cars from Murren. These are pedestrian only villages and lodging are very reasonable. 2 nights which would give you less than 2 full days in Bernese Oberland is too short. I would suggest eliminating Geneva or staying one night in Montreux to add a night in B.O. Since you are staying in Montreux; you can take the train to Geneva airport and don’t need to spend the night in Geneva (not much to see, just a big business town). There are 2 train every hour between the two, 1 direct (about an hour long) and 1 in-direct train.
      > Montreux- 2 nights are enough. Definitely visit Chateau de Chillion. Montreux is OK, have a lunch picnic by the lake front. We bought sandwiches and salad from a convenient store and really enjoyed people and lake watching. Having a ferry ride (part of your Swiss Pass) is also a good idea.
      About luggages- If you don’t travel light, consider shipping one or some of your bags from lets say Lucerne or Bernese Oberland to Geneva Airport instead of carrying them along. It costs around 15 Euros/bag and is reliable and safe.
      There are more information in my posts for Switzerland; but I think you might have read them already. I hope the above is helpful. Please feel free to ask more question/s if need be. Enjoy Switzerland.

      • livingamused says:

        One last thing: Bern is worth a visit. Although, Bern is closer to Lucerne and Interlaken; it seems you have more time in Montreux for a day trip. You can also just have a stop at Bern on your way to Interlaken or Lucerne. and lock your luggages at the train station (i.e.: Zurich to Lucerne via Bern or Lucerne to Interlaken via Bern).

        • liza hamid says:

          hi,
          I ‘ll be going with my husband , my bestfriend and my 5 year old son.My son keeps asking to see some snow since 2008 when we visited Paris and he managed to touch some snow leftovers infront of our hotel!This time we decide to choose Switzerland only.We went to Berne in 2005 as part of our self drive tour to europe and only spend a nite at berne and a half day at interlaken and i promised myself that i would return to Switzerland!Currency is very tight for us and where everything is triple! After disussing with my husband we have decided to change our plan and will stay 3 nites at either murren or wengen, 2 days at montreux and skip geneva.
          My question is
          Jungfrajoch excursion- would there be one train all the way up or will there be some combination of train/cable car/boats?We prefer a combination trip, if that is the case Murren or Wengen?
          Thank you!

          • livingamused says:

            Sounds like a great travel team to me!
            I am glad you decided against Geneva.
            There will be a change of train in Kleine Sheidegg, about 1/2 hour train after after Wengen stop. No Cable Car option. As far as I know, this is the only way. You get a discount for this ride if you have a Swiss Pass/Saver Pass. Make reservation a day or two in advance at the most. The weather changes rapidly in Bernese Oberland due to high peaks, etc. So don’t reserve too far ahead as you might be disappointed.
            I prefer Wengen for stay. There is a little park in the village as you walk from train station to most inns/hotels with the backdrop of Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch peaks that would be perfect for him to play at and for you to sip a cup of coffee and relax. But Murren is good too. You boy would love running on the alleys and streets of Wengen or Murren without fearing the cars.
            Best of Luck…

  • souzan says:

    dear living amused:
    Since I know you had a long weekend and are itching to get back to work??? here is the next challange for you:
    I have purchased my ticket from LHR—Barcelona for June 29th. I will arrive little after noon-time and my return is from madrid to LHR and same day I will come home (July 7th). So:
    1) need hotel for barcelona (3 nights maybe) and from there is happy go lucky
    Awaiting you response. I now have full 8 days and please add Cordoba to my itinerary.

    • livingamused says:

      I would recommend Hisperia Ramblas in Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. It is cheap but has a great location and the reviews are great. I did a rate check and for staying of 3 nights (6/29-7/2) the rate is $116/night. Follow this link to reserve:
      http://www.kayak.com/h/hotel/details.vtl?searchid=UBeVBU&hid=300139&rating=3&bookiturl=undefined&ro=true&pg=1&cp=1-1-658&idx=208
      6/29-7/2 (3 nights): 2.5 days is not enough for Barcelona but will have to do. Spend one day on Gaudi and one day in and around Gothic Quarter, squeezing in a quick exploration of the waterfront, Olympic Stadium area and Montjuïc offering great views over the city, etc.
      7/2-7/4 (2 nights): Take the 8:15a.m. (the only one) AVE high speed train to Seville (5.5 hrs./ $177 for 2nd class), arriving there a little before 2 p.m. Alternatively, a direct flight will cost $60-90 (depending on airline and travel time) and takes 1.5 hrs. Once in Seville, check into your hotel and walk the streets and squeezing in as much sightseeing as possible if you really want to see the Mosque in Cordoba the next day. To do so, you can join a tour for a day trip to Cordoba or do it solo by taking the high speed AVE train from Seville to Cordoba (45 min./ $65 round trip). So compare the costs and convenience of each. Also, you could do Cordoba on your way to Madrid (if traveling by rail). There seems to be a left luggage service at the bus station across from the train station in Cordoba, but ask your hotel in Seville or Barcelona for verification. If so, you might save some time and money.
      7/4-7/7 (3 nights): Take the non-stop AVE train (2.5 hrs.- $80+ for 2nd class) to Madrid in the morning. Transfer to your hotel and perhaps visit the Prado Museum in the afternoon. If you spend your time wisely, 2.5 days should be enough to see the major sites.
      Day 11: Catch your flight back to LHR and home.

  • souzan says:

    dear living amused:
    as much as i like your suggestion about Italy, the hopeless romantic in me wants to travel there with a significant other- may happen in 20-30 years. Hope Venice is still there.
    Here is a challange I know you will like.
    No direct flights from Iran to Spain so i am flying to London and plan on travelling by train to Spain.
    city choices are Barcelona, Madrid and Seville for sure.
    come up with some other suggestions? and on abudget (not 5 star hotels) you know you have to arrange some of this:)
    giddy up!

  • Parisa says:

    I am going to Seattle for a conference at the end of June and husband and 6-year-old son are coming along. Our entire trip will be 5 days. We will have to stay in Seattle for at least 3 days when I will be going to meetings on and off but need day activities to keep the boys busy in Seattle. We would then like to go to Vancouver or some nearby islands (by boat preferrably) and spend two days there. Can you suggest a list of must-dos for this short trip? Here is the challenge: We don’t like packed and hectic days and while we like to see attractions and touristy sites, we don’t have to see them all. We also just enjoy watching and absorbing local life and activities. Our days end at 9 pm as the younger boy gets a bit sleepy and cranky.

    • livingamused says:

      Such a coincidence…I am traveling to Oregon and Seattle in May. Seattle could be lovely when is not constantly raining. Lots of outdoor activities to do and a quick trip to Vancouver or Victoria in Canada would be nice, too. Since your trip is at the end of June; I postpone replying in detail to your question until I come back from my trip there. So stay tuned!

  • Amir says:

    Thank you so much for talking to me earlier today…your help is absolutely priceless! : ) So, below is the tentative itenerary we initially came up with. I tried to revise it a little based on what you had told me already, but i’m sure i need to work on it some more. You can play with it as much as you like & make any changes you see fit. Alternatively, we may do the other plan that you suggested (i.e. go straight to Marakesh from Madrid & then work our way up instead). One more question: do we need some sort of special visa or entry permit to get into Morocco? From what I found out on the net, one wouldn’t need one if he/she is traveling with a U.S. passport.
    BIG CHEERS! : )
    amir

    Sat: Fly to Madrid / Madrid
    Sun: Madrid
    Mon: Cordoba à to Granada
    Tues: Granada
    Wed: Ronda & Malaga / Fly to Fez

    Thurs: Fez (get a guide! / stay at a Riad/Riyad!)
    Fri: Fez
    Sat: get up early!!! à Meknes à Rabat à end in Casablanca
    Sun: Casablanca (mosque only) / take Marakesh Express South
    Mon: Marakesh (stay at a Riad! / balloon guide?)
    Tues: Marakesh
    Wed: Marakesh / Fly to Lisbon

    Thur: Lisbon
    Fri: Lisbon
    Sat: Towns around Lisbon (Belem, Sintra) / Marval or Acros ??? / Fly/train to Madrid
    Sun: Fly out

  • Brian A Walters says:

    Great site. Even closer to home, have you considered blogging from the Caribbean or Latin America. The New York Metropolitian area would greatly appreciate your input. It may also come as surprise when you see the impact China and India has on the way that region prepare its meals. Good Luck and continued success.

    • livingamused says:

      It is great to get comments and feedbacks. It is fantastic when they are compliments!
      Thanks for taking time to write. India is just the beginning. I will be posting about other destinations I have been to as well. In fact, I will put a poll up so readers can vote on what they would like me to write about. So, bite the bullet and make sure you subscribe to the blog (top right corner). You will get an email notification of new posts- you don’t want to be in the “miss”, right? :-)
      I would be interested to know more about the Chinese and Indian influence on Caribbean Isles.
      Take good care.

  • Andrew says:

    What do meals at the Oberoi Amarvilas cost? And with regards to tipping did you feel as if it was expected by hotel employees? Or were any service charges included in the meal/other hotel activities?
    Thanks!

    • livingamused says:

      This is a great question and as such deserves a quick post.
      Please read the post titled “Reader’s Question: Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra”, tagged “readers question, India, Oberoi Amarvilas, travel tips, food and beverage cost”

  • Vera says:

    hi Halleh,

    Great blog! I’d love to know why and what about Peru made it one of your top countries. Thanks and hope to see you soon. Vera

    • livingamused says:

      Thanks for your interest and your great question.
      Peru is a little over 7 hours flight from NY and within the same time zone. Also, domestic flights and airports are great and inexpensive. These factors make it very accessible and convenient to explore.
      Now the good part: Peru is simply breathtaking. As with India, its beauty is best seen in the rural villages and small town. If you love mountains and want to be close to the clouds, Peru will not disappoint. Most famous sites such as Cuzco (gateway to Machu Picchu) and Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world) are about 10,000 to over 14,000 ft. above sea level. Most of its ruins (and it has a lot) are in great condition. The people are super nice, friendly and beautiful. After the last curve of the road and the first sight of Machu Picchu…I guarantee you would never be the same.
      You should go. I want to go back!
      Write me again if you want to know more. I hope you do.

  • livingamused says:

    Hi Misha,
    Great questions.
    I am not sure about the 1st ?
    >Top 2 cities for 1st timers in Italy would be Rome and Florence. But you can do at least 5 cities without rushing through them in 2 weeks such as Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence/Sienna, Rome, Sorrento/Amalfi Coast. Traveling by rail is easy, comfortable and scenic. If you wish, write another comment and I can put together an itinerary for you.
    > Spain in 2 weeks can be done. Actually we did this a few years ago. We combined domestic flights and driving and was great. You won’t see every part of Spain as it’s vast, but can see a lot. Again, let me know if I can help further.

  • Misha says:

    If you could only visit two cities in Italy and have never been before (I’m speaking about Ben here) where would you go and why? Can this be done in two weeks? How about Spain? Could this be added on within a two week trip?

    Thanks!

  • suzi says:

    halleh i like the other pictures of india that i had not a chance to see i have to say the bah’s house was a suprise to me did not know they had a base in india

    • livingamused says:

      Yes, Bahai religion seems to be fairly strong in Asia and they have beautiful temples all around the world, including in the U.S. Check out their website with pictures of Bahai Houses of Worship around the world.
      I am working on the next segment of my trip to India, the North. I should have a new post by tomorrow. Please come back and read on.

  • Soheil says:

    Where was you favorite place in India?

    • livingamused says:

      This is much easier to answer. :-)
      I loved staying in Amanbagh and be away from any major/big town. It was great to step out every morning and see only dirt roads, fantastic landscape and villagers going about their daily routines.
      Rishikesh was spiritual and Ananda on the Himalayas was truly a unique place to stay at.
      Udaipur is my favorite town in India.
      I’m afraid I still ended up with more than one favorite…but I warned you…it is just too hard to have one favorite place.

  • Soheil says:

    You have lots and lots of favorites.
    Can you narrow them down. What are the top 10?

  • Halleh says:

    This is a tough question. I do lllllove mmmmmany places and have never thought about narrowing my favorites down.
    How about top 10+3 countries? Here we go (they are not in any order):
    Peru
    Argentina
    China,
    India
    Iran
    Egypt
    Morocco
    Italy
    Czech Republic
    Germany
    Switzerland
    Portugal
    Spain

    I can still go on…

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