Fjords, Windmills, Mountains & Lakes
Our goals for this trip were to see various things in Europe that we haven't seen previously and to take our time to enjoy each place, sample the food, the beer and wine, the culture and to stretch ourselves beyond our normal life in Florida. This is the first time we are travelling without others (children/parents) being with us and we are excited for our first European adventure together.
For this trip, we researched hotels and places that we wanted to stay in, to make sure that the locations were easy to get to and central to activities and things we wanted to see. Using Google Maps & Google Images made this process very easy, and the results of our research would be placed into a growing "trip planner document" that provided us with a daily game plan of where we could go, and what we might want to see along the way. To view the details of how we plan trips, click here.
Because of the length of this trip, and the number of cities & countries we visited, this blog will be organized by "City & Area Description" and not "by day". This will allow us to describe where we went, what we did and what we saw & enjoyed in chronological order.
Although Copenhagen had not been a part of our initial trip plans, because we were able to obtain such a good flight deal from United Airlines, we decided to spend a few days there to explore the city.
NOTE: If you are travelling to Europe using an Airline's Mileage program, you should do some research on how many points it requires to fly into various European Cities. As stated above, we found that Copenhagen required fewer points from the United Mileage Plus program than if we were to fly into London or Paris (for example). We are not aware of what other Airlines may offer, but it is likely that most will function in a similar manner.Click here to view our Copenhagen page.
Lets go to Oslo
Although we did not have much time in Oslo, we managed to complete a whirl-wind
exploration of the city and even the surrounding area. The public transportation
system is very good in Oslo, if it had not been, we would not have been able
to see as much as we did and we'd probably still be lost there!
Click here to view our Oslo Page, and you will enjoy the visit!
How to see Norway by Train, Boat, Bus & Fjord
This is easily the most scenic train ride we have ever taken; Oslo to Flam via
train, Fjord Ferry to Gudvangen, Tour Bus to Voss and a final train ride into
The Norway in a Nutshell® tour takes you through some of Norway’s most beautiful fjord scenery that includes the breathtaking experiences on the Bergen Railway, the Flåm Railway, the Aurlandsfjord, the Nærøyfjord and the steep Stalheimskleiva road (May-September). In the comfort of your train and cruise boat, watch fjord scenery with beautiful waterfalls, flowing rivers, deep valleys and mountains.
Click here to see our Flam Page.
Many people think of Norway as "the frozen north", with year-round snow and dismal cold. In fact, Bergen’s temperate climate is very mild. Even if it rains sometimes, you will still have your socks knocked off by stunning views of fjords, mountains, and some of nature’s most impressive waterfalls.
Click here to view our Bergen Page, and you will enjoy the visit!
The city of Amsterdam had been on our "bucket list" for a long time, we have
flown through there, but never spent any time there. So adding Amsterdam to our
list of cities to explore for this trip was a quick decision. We invite you
to come and see what we saw and enjoyed!
Click here to view our Amsterdam page.
Next stop is Bruges, Belgium
As neither of us had ever been to Belgium, we had no idea of what to expect, but
we were nicely surprised at what an enjoyable city Bruges was.
Click here to view our Bruges, Belgium Page.
We landed in Vienna at 12:05PM, had a quick lunch and walked to the Auto Europe Rental desk to obtain our car. Wound up getting a VW Golf, very comfortable, good A/C unit and off we drove to find Lake Hallstatt, Austria.
It is 300+ kilometers from the Vienna International Airport to our rental in Obertraun, and a third of the trip would be on local mountainous roads. We had paper maps as well as cellular mapping, but cell phone service in the mountains is erratic at best until you get near the Hallstatt area.
We have used Auto Europe repeatedly over the years that we have been traveling to Europe. We have never had any issue with the cost, the service, or the vehicles we have rented. This is not an "advertisement plug", it is simply advice to any of you who plan to rent a car while you are in Europe.
Please also be aware that you need a "vignette" toll sticker to drive on Austria’s motorways and expressways. It is available at the border, at petrol stations, or online. Click here to learn more about the toll stickers.
WARNING: Failure to display the toll sticker on your windshield will result in you being stopped by the autobahn police and issued a ticket. Some rental car companies take care of this requirement through use of a permanent RFID device on the windshield, but you should be aware of the requirement and ask your rental car company how tolls are going to be processed.
Our route took us south from Vienna and over the mountains to the village of Obertraun, where our house rental is located. 311 kilometers, mostly over autobahn with the final 75 kilometers on beautiful mountain roads.
As you can see in image # 3, there were a number of houses (or chateaus) perched on top of various hills as we continued on the autobahn. It must be very difficult to have moved construction materials up those hills!
Word of caution - and this is a note to all potential car rental people out there; If you rent a car in one country and expect to drop it off in another country, you are probably going to pay a huge "return the car charge". I used the word "probably" because you would need to ask your auto rental company about their policies, as not all companies may charge you extra for a drop-off in another country. Your best option is to structure your trip so that you return the rental car to the city & country where you rented it.
Click here to view a Google Map of the route we took. Don't take the northern route that mapping systems will suggest, they are all autobahn and not very scenic.
Going to Obertraun
After an exciting drive from Vienna on the autobahn and then through the Salzkammergut Mountains on back roads that we thought might really be logging trails, we reached Obertraun tired, hungry and ready to explore!
Click here to see our Lake Hallstatt page.
Drive to Grindelwald, Switzerland
Our driving route from Austria took us past numerous lakes in Switzerland;
Zurichsee, Zugersee, Lake Lucerne, Sarnersee, Lungernersee, Brienzersee,
and then Interlaken, where we turned east and drove up into the mountains to Grindelwald. It is a long day's drive, over 710 kilometers (441 miles), however since most of the drive is in the mountains it requires 8+ hours when you add
pit stops, etc.
At this stage of the trip, we thought this was the most spectacular mountain drive we had ever taken, however, we were not yet aware of Route 11 (see our Grindelwald Page for that drive).
Word of caution; To travel on Swiss motorways, road users must purchase and display a Swiss Vignette (sticker) or face large on the spot fines. You can buy a vignette at most border crossings, petrol stations, post offices, by phone (+800 1002 0030) and online. The price of a vignette is currently CHF 40, and is considerably less expensive than the fine would be if you did not have the sticker (CHF 200 and you then must purchase the vignette from the police).
We frequently observed Swiss Highway Police on the side of the road, watching for cars that did not have the required sticker. Those cars were immediately pulled over and the drivers were immediately fined.
Click here to read more information about the Swiss Vignette rules.
Swiss Speed Detection Devices; All of the mountain tunnels we drove through (there are over 1,329 auto tunnels) were all equipped with speed detection devices. This has been done because the tunnels are speed limited, and there are signs warning motorists of the tunnel speed limits prior to entering the tunnel. If you exceed the speed limit, there are frequently automatic cameras that take a picture of your license plate. You are able to detect this, because the cameras use an automatic light flash to insure that your license plate picture will be legible.
Click here to view a Google Map of our route.
Grindelwald is 710+ kilometers from Lake Hallstatt, and the route we drove took
us through some very scenic mountains; alpine meadows, steep uphills, tight
corners and steep downhills. The time it took to get to Grindelwald was worth
every second of the drive. Come on to our page and see what we found there!
Click here to view our Grindelwald page.
Drive to Lake Como
Our last visit to Italy had been in 2007, and as we researched destinations for this
trip, we realized that we wanted to re-visit Italy in the Lake Como region. We
came to this conclusion, because there's everything from towering mountains to
lusciously green scenery and colourful flowers, not to mention the lake itself boasts
vividly blue waters.
Click here to view our Lake Como page.
Varenna, Italy drive to Vienna, Austria
We departed Varenna very early in the morning to avoid the traffic, as I described previously, the streets are very narrow and Italian drivers are generally very fast, so an early departure allowed us to drive (and navigate) without bumping into any issues. The Varenna to Lecco portion of the route was all narrow city streets with frequent round-abouts and we had to be careful to avoid wrong turns - we
used our Tom-Tom mapping device as well as our iPhone mapping App to make sure!
We took the Italian Autostrada E70 to the Austrian Autobahn E59 to the Vienna International Airport. Long drive at 900+ kilometers, but we had a very comfortable hotel reservation waiting for us. Google Maps states that this drive should take approximately 10 hours, and we did it in 12 hours which included fuel/food/coffee/rest stops.
The speed limit on the Italian Autostrada is 130 kilometers per hour (less in areas close to cities and/or built-up areas or in work zones) and for the first part of the drive, I kept the rental car at that speed. However, after getting consistently passed by every car on the highway, I decided to keep our speed consistent with everyone else - mostly at 150 to 180 kph. Whatever the other cars were doing is what we did. And for the record, we did not see a single Italian Police car or speed trap for the entire trip through Italy to Austria. Once in Austria however, we began to see police and speed traps more often!
Headed back Home
We had previously made reservations at the
Marriott Moxy Hotel which allowed us to turn in the rental car and get some R & R after that long drive.
We flew back the next morning on an Austrian Airlines flight (Boeing 777), non-stop from Vienna to Dulles International. We cannot begin to describe how comfortable a flight this was, excellent service, excellent food and superb entertainment system.
As you can see in this image, the Business Class seats were awesome! And oh yeah, every wine on their list was rated at 92 or above! The flight attendant was awesome, every time she walked by she topped off my wine glass.
- The entire trip was planned via Google, some Expedia, VRBO and a lot of discussion about what we might want to see in each location. Google allowed us to dig into an area via map & images, and it permitted us to become familiar with each location and what to expect there.
- Most of the trains we used were scheduled in advance via the Internet, going directly to the rail system that had the most train service to the destination we were going to. The rental car in Vienna was also reserved online and we used Auto Europe as they had the best prices, no mileage fees, etc.
- Our detailed planning gave us the ability to navigate through seven countries without any surprises or major failures.
- In most locations, we did not acquire advance reservations or tickets, for example in Grindelwald, we just walked up to the train station to get tickets to ride up to the Jungfraujoch. To preclude issues with that approach, we always went earlier in the morning than most tourists, and we never had a "crowd" problem.
- Seven countries, 5,400 kilometers and we had a great time in each location. We are "morning people" and were out & about early each day to see everything there was to see. If we saw something that we had not previously considered or seen, and if we had time, then we would do that as well.
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