Jul 27, 2016

5 weeks and 7 countries in Europe for $4062 USD

Against the advice of many around me, I rejected a promotion, took a hiatus from career climbing and started a crazy travel and soul searching journey last year. I needed a sabbatical break from everything to give myself a chance to do the things I always wanted to do and see the world while I comfortably can. It’s all a little crazy and difficult to explain but explaining that is not my objective today. I’m here today, to share my itinerary for my 5.3 weeks in Europe in hope of helping someone plan their next escapade.

 

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Many friends have been asking me for recommendation and travel advice to Europe. After spending 3 weeks agonising over this itinerary, I reckon I should share my fruits of labour. Other than listing out the itinerary and brief logistic arrangements, I will also delve into my reasons for visiting that destination so you can decide if it’s suitable for your trip.

My travel list is probably not as impressive as other backpackers because I choose to spend quality time in one place as opposed to rushing around. As a nature enthusiast, my journey this time is heavily focused on the great outdoor with focus on the beautiful Alpine mountains. There are countless breathtaking places I hope to visit one day but these should suffice for this trip.

Here is the list of places and countries I covered chronologically. Paris, France appeared multiple times because a friend was staying there and it became a central hub for me to return to when I’m done with one part of the journey. I also bought a return air ticket so I had to fly off from Paris, France.

  1. Paris, France
  2. Cologne, Germany
  3. Prague, Czech Republic
  4. Salzburg, Austria
  5. Hallstatt, Austria
  6. Val Gardena, Italy
  7. Innsbruck, Austria  
  8. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
  9. Basel, Switzerland
  10. Paris, France
  11. Normandy, France
  12. Paris, France
  13. Rome, Italy
  14. Venice, Italy
  15. Paris, France 

 

Paris, France

The city of love – Paris, seemed like the perfect place to start a Europe stint for someone who has never stepped foot on European soil. Other than the famed Eiffel tower, designer bags and expensive everything – Paris is a good place to familiarise yourself with the european ways of living, amidst a familiar and convenient metropolitan setting and architectures. The other place I would recommend flying straight into is expensive Switzerland. Only because it is exhorbitantly expensive for South East Asian-ers so bringing canned food or instant noodles from your homeland to be consumed in the most expensive part of Europe seemed like the best strategy. But I started with Paris because my friend lived near it and the flight tickets were reasonably price and I used it to be the hub of my trip.

I flew into Paris and was picked up by my lovely Friend and her Husband. I witnessed for myself brillant blue skies that I never see in Singapore and spent the next 2 days marvelling at Paris. Day one happened to be France's National Day so after resting a little, we then went out to enjoy the city and the fireworks. Day 2 was a full day city tour in Paris. We covered the Notre Dame, the Lourve, the Arc Du Triumph and more than I can remember. Take note that I didn't spend time going into the Notre dame and the Lourve yet.

Took an overnight bus to Cologne the night of day 2 around 12:05am.

 

01 - Paris

 

Cologne, Germany

Synonymous with the scented liquid, Cologne is known for it’s magnificent Cathedral with sky soaring twin peaks. I went to Cologne because it was the most logical bus route from Paris to Prague. I found Megabus to be one of the most economical ways of travelling within Europe, book early for cheaper rides.

I arrived cologne around 8:20am and toured the city until my train at 10:28pm. Check out my cologne travel entry to see what I did .

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Prague, Czech Republic

Touted as the best hidden gem of Europe which to be honest, isn’t so hidden now. Prague is one of Europe’s best preserved cities. With many historic architectures and a festive vibe of musical celebration at every corner – Prague is a photogenic city closely affiliated with the Art Nouveau movement and bears witness to multiple historic milestones such as the crumbling of the Habsburg Monarchy, invasion of the Nazis and victory of the people power against the communists’ government. Capital of the Czech Republic is a city imho, everyone should visit at least once.

 

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After a bumpy ride (didn't managed to get the sleeper bed tickets) on an old train with hard seats and no charging points, I arrived at Prague 09:25am in the morning. Went to the tourist office for travel advice on getting to my hostel and changed my SGD currency in the main station. It turned out to be a bad choice because the commission they charged were ridiculous. Click here for a video guide on where to change money in Prague. When you change money in Europe, look out for Money Changers that promise not to charge commission fees, you’ll be surprised how much money you can save and how sly the system is. Money Changers in Singapore does not offer Czech Korunas (currency).

Also, for trains out of Prague, remember to buy them from the Czech train website as they will be a lot cheaper than buying from other european websites.

Czech Train tickets: http://czech-transport.com/index.php?menu_id=papertickets&lang=en 

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I spent 4 days in Prague and you can get an idea of my trip by reading my journey here. Metro in Prague is cheap, one of the easiest to use and general cost of living is acceptable as long as you stay away from dining at the touristy spots. A small cone of Ice cream cost only 45 krons if you buy it at the backstreets of the Prague square.

If you are not travelling out of Prague, 3 days is more than enough to experience this beautiful city.

 

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Salzburg, Austria

An Austrian city near the Eastern Alps - Salzburg is a city of 145,000 filled with the sound of music. Yes, it’s the setting for the phenomenal American musical movie “The Sound of Music”. It is also known as the birthplace of prodigy composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who spent 25 years residing here. Well fortified from wars with an ancient and rich history of salt trading - Salzburg is an ancient city established by the Romans two thousand years ago. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997, this ancient city was badly destroyed in World War II. However most of it’s other baroque-styled architecture survived the war and it remains one of the most authentic and well preserved town. 

Drive one hour out south and you can visit the Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) near the town of Berchtesgaden.


04 - Salzburg

Took a 9:33 am train from Prague to Linz and then changed to Salzburg. I arrived around 3:48pm. It was a long ride and I used the time to catch up on some blogging. I also had the chance to mingle with some fellow 'Salzburg going' travellers. My hostel was really close to the main Salzburg station but I got lost and ended up arriving around 5:30pm. I spent 3 nights in Salzburg which was really not enough because I ended up taking a 1.5 day trip to Hallstatt. Why 1.5? Well, read about my misadventure by clicking here.

 

Hallstatt, Austria

Nestled comfortably within the austrian alpine of Salzkammergut is a little village called Hallstatt. Surrounded by glistering lakes, glacier caves and salt mines – Hallstatt is a village well worth the extra effort it takes to reach. The 16th-century houses and catholic church will bring you back in time.

 

Due to my misadventure, I ended up not being able to explore Salzburg as much as I liked. But I think three full days in Salzburg with a medium pace should be good enough. A full day is recommended for exploring Hallstatt.

 

Val Gardena, Italy

Probably the most underrated part of the Alps on our side of the world is the Italian Dolomites. While most Asian travellers flock to well trodden destinations like Chamonix, Mont Blanc or the Swiss Alps. The Dolomites is a long standing favourite of locals as both a ski resort and a summer getaway. Standing at some 10,000 feet tall, the Italian Alps is a magnificent range of chiselled granite and plunging valleys that looked like it came straight out of J.R.R Tolkien's books. Who knows? Maybe Tolkien was inspired by the place.

Here’s my top 5 reasons why you need to visit the Dolomites.

 

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I took a train from Salzburg (9:00am) to Innsbruck (10:54) for €49. And then from Innsbruck, I bought another ticket to Italy. I arrived at Val Gardena around mid-noon. After 2 bus rides, I finally arrived at my hotel around 5pm.

I choose to spend 3 nights in the Italian alps and regretted nothing! The Dolomites offered so much activities to do one could probably stay 2 weeks here! The friendly and passionate italian hospitality excels here in the highlands and cost of living is affordable. There are a few super markets in Orisei (the largest village around) with all your familiar modern amenities. A scoop of gelato can be had for 1.30 while a box of peaches go for 1.20 at the supermarket. I had one of the best time in the dolomites and befriending a lovely italian family while hiking made the experience ever so magical.

 

Innsbruck, Austria

The capital of Austria’s western state of Tyrol is Innsbruck – a beautiful holiday destination that played host to the Winter Olympic Games twice.  There is evidence to suggest the city had been populated before the Roman empire. The city is surrounded by the beautiful alpein mountains while the Nordkette range stands alarmingly close. So close that on good weather days, the mountain looked like it’s towering over the main train station. Featuring late medieval architectures, baroque cathedral and a palace for the royal house of Habsburg – Innsbruck is compact and photogenic.

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Photos by: Tyrol.com

 

I was supposed to stay 2 nights here but I screwed up my itinerary and stayed only one night. Since I arrived in the late afternoon and left the next morning, I barely had the time to enjoy Innsbruck. Innsbruck was right in the heart of the mountain and every corner you turn, you see the mountain extremely close to you. On a good day, the mountain looks as if it's towering over the main train station. Unfortunately for me, by the time I arrived, most of the shops have already closed and light was losing and there wasn't much to see. While Innsbruck city centre wasn't anything fancy, it did have a pretty nice old town area and the view was unbeatable. I don’t have any photos to show because I accidentally deleted my Innsbruck photos, thank goodness I have some videos to proof I was really there!


Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Situated right between grand rock walls and glorious alpine peaks is Lauterbrunnen of the Swiss Alps. A popular summer destination, Lauterbrunnen is a little village that’s the most suitable gateway to exploring the Swiss Alps. Out of all the villages around this beautiful place, lauterbrunnen is the biggest and most accessible. Trains from Interlaken takes you directly to the heart of the village and there are restaurants and super market if you need them.

From here, you can access the highest peak of Europe (Jungfraujoch), hike the Swiss mountains, watch the glacier waters of Trümmelbach Falls , say hi to the roaming cows and drink directly from the brooks. The beautiful alpine mountain with its’ snowy peaks and traditional wooden houses will make you believe in fairytales!

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I took a lengthy train trip from Innsbruck to Interlaken OST (CHF51) where I took another train to Lauterbrunnen. However because I screwed up my planning, I ended up being one day too early for my pre-booked ride and ended up having to buy a new ticket ;( I also ended up spending 6 nights in the most expensive country of my Europe tour; Switzerland.

I spent every day hiking the magnificent Swiss alps and visited the highest peak in Europe. Spendings here was exorbitant, even in the Super market. It didn't help that someone stole my cheese in the communal fridge! Grumbles aside, the Swiss alps is really beautiful when the weather permits. The massive mountains that looked like cookies and creams stares right into your face at every corner. It was simply magical. I also experienced National Day in Switzerland on my last day and I was informed of that by a Swiss elderly gentleman I befriended the day before. When it comes to Budget, my biggest regret was not lugging groceries from the cheaper countries before stepping into Switzerland. If you intend to stay as long as I do, make sure you check out the tourist pass available, I used a Swiss Half Fare Card.

 

Basel, Switzerland

A beautiful city by the Rhine River, Basel is a land with deep history and glorious medieval architectures. Basel is strategically located between Germany and France and has been a thriving commercial hub since the Renaissance.

 

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I stopped over at Basel for a few hours before returning to Paris. I kept my luggage in the smallest locker for 6 CHF (24 hrs) (yay to travelling light!) before scooting off. Basel is a quaint cosmopolitan city that elegantly combines the new with the old. Like most European town, it held onto it’s medieval looking streets, buildings and bridges but breathed new life into them with fancy cafes and fashion stores.

It was National Day when I arrived and the city was unusually quiet and there were lots of people swimming in the Rhine river. With the cool air and warm sun, it was a perfect day for a leisurely stroll. There were local volunteers helping tourists just outside of the Basel Train station. No prize for guessing who went up to get help!

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Got myself a city map which was extremely useful to someone who no longer has the service of Google Maps (alas! no mobile data ). The main attractions in Basel can be easily accessed by foot. I personally think Basel can be toured in a full day. Click on the thumbnail of the map to enlarge it. A 2nd class train seat from Basel to Paris cost €49.00.

 

Paris, France

I arrived back in Paris that evening and was picked up at the train station by my awesome Friend (Hi Ann-So!). We spent the night in Paris and woke up really early the next day for a train to Normandy. 

 

 

Normandy, France

At the centre stage of a long battle for possession between England and France is Normandy – a region north of France, along the English Channel. Famous for it’s D-Day landing beach, Normandy is rich in history with endless architectural marvels. For my own trip, I only went to the La Hague Cap Cotentin, a small area on the north west tip of the Contentin penisular. Le Mont-Saint-Michel (Mont Saint-Michel) the medieval island commune of Monastery and fortification can also be found in this region. Click here to watch a travel documentary of the beautiful war torn land.

We took a 7 am train from Paris to Normandy (roughly 3 hours) to visit my friend's family friend. We spent 2 nights in Normandy and it was one of my sweetest memory through out the trip. The cool wind amidst the sweltering summer, the beautiful sandy beaches and the laidback momentum of the town was a holiday amidst my holiday hahaha. It was a pity the poor weather inhibited our plans to visit the D-Day beaches but we managed to visit Mont Saint-Michel, which was such a magnificent fortification. However the best part of the trip would have to be the company, it’s always the people you meet that leaves a footprint in your heart =)

 

08 - La Hague Cap Cotentin

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Paris, France

We took an evening train from Cherbourg (Normandy) back to Paris and I spent the next 3 days touring Paris.

 

09 - Paris


We also took a day trip to Versailles for the palace; a palace that after visiting so many, remains the most elaborate, over-the-top and ornamentally decorative I’ve ever seen. While the trip out of Paris took a while (approximately an hour), the Palace of Versailles is a place I highly recommend touring! Be blown away by the excessive lavishness of the french royalties and be reminded that this was the very place the french revolution was forced to start - by a group of angry female militants.

 

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After France was Italy. The plan was to take an over night bus to Milan (£31.00), spend a few hours there and follow up with another overnight bus to Rome (£13.50).

Unfortunately, I missed my first bus and my smartphone was picked. I was in a sorry state when I dragged my tired feet and bag wheels up to the front gates of my friend’s house. Thank God there was a place I could return to after that lousy incident. Because of this, my trip was delayed by 2 days and I didn't managed to tour Milan as planned. Eventually I bought a ticket and flew straight into Rome where I spent 2 nights.

 

Rome, Italy

Rome is Italy’s capital. A highly metropolitan city with near 3000 years of history. It was the centre of influence during the golden years of the Roman Empire and is widely regarded as one of the the birthplaces of western civilisation. Rome also houses the State of Vatican City – a sarcerdotal-monarchical state ruled by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) with a population of 842 and approximately 44 hectares. It is the smallest state in the world but it reigns spiritually over the the world of Roman Catholics. 

 

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Rome is a splendid place heavy with history and things to see, spend at least 3 nights here to soak up the marvellous engineering of days gone by. Stuffs in Rome is slightly more expensive but is still relatively cheaper than most of Europe. A small cone of Gelato at the back streets near Vatican City cost 2 Euro while the big cone cost 3 euro. 10 Euro lunch sets of soft drinks with Cheese and tomato pizzas can be found.

I found Italy to be the hottest among all the cities I visited (except Paris that was hot and humid). Prepare a sun hat, a pair of shades and lots of sunscreen. I got two shades darker after Rome.

 

Venice, Italy

The famed city on water – Venice. Capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, Venice takes architectural engineering to god level. It is build on more than 100 small marshy islands in the Adriatic Sea with stone bridges connecting them together. With beginnings as early as AD 166, Venice is an ancient city with a long history. It first started as a humble lodging of fishermen which then evolved to host only the richest and finest. It was a city for the aristocrats with invulnerable naval and commercial power.

After Rome, I took another overnight bus to Venice which arrived the next morning. I met a few wonderful asian travellers (3 students from China & 1 tourist from Korea) and we became travel buddies throughout the bus trip. I spent one night in Venice but because my bus back to France was at midnight , I technically had 2 full days to tour Venice which was the best arrangement for me. Unfortunately, I didn't managed to finish touring Venice because I kept getting lost haha. Make sure you buy a map when you’re in Venice!

 

11 - Venice

 

I spent the next entire day travelling on the bus back to France. I took an overnight bus from Venice to Milan (£5.00), then another bus from Milan to Paris (£15.00) . While the ride was dull, the saving grace was my MacBook Air, power supply and wifi on the bus. While the wifi was intermittent, it was better than nothing on a long and cramped ride. There were toilet breaks along the way and one of the stops was at Valle Di Susa, a Valley between the Graian Alps and the Cottian Alps.

12 - Paris

 

Paris, France

I arrived Paris in the evening after spending more than 24 hours on a bus. While time consuming travel methods like this isn’t for everyone, it was a really nice way for me to relax and get some stuffs done.

I spent the next few days touring the Lourve, visiting Church of St Eustache, Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, checking out the high streets and hanging out with my friend.

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I took a morning flight back to Singapore via Qatar Airways with a 6 hours layover in Doha.

 

Doha, Qatar

Doha is the capital of the Peninsular Persian (Arabian) Gulf country. Selected as a host city for numerous sporting events and world conferences, Doha is a metropolitan city that has recently been conferred the title as one of the new 7 Wonder Cities. There are many parks in the city central and a Souq Waqif (Traditional Market) that sells all sorts of products such as clothing, crafts, spices and pets. The Corniche Promenade is a waterfront promenade along the Doha Bay with the best night view of the distant Cityscape.

13 - Doha

 

With around 6 hours to linger, I decided it was best to get out of the airport and check Doha out.

Singaporeans can apply for Joint Tourist Visa which is issued on arrival and can be purchased at the immigration counter while they chop your passport. Getting visa is very easy as long as you have a valid credit card/debit card. Unfortunately for me, I accidentally left my card in the check-in baggage and had to go through the tedious routine of buying a one-time cash card/credit card because the visa can only be paid by card.

After changing $50 worth of SGD, I took a cab down to Souq Waqif and walked around the old market and the Corniche Promenade.  Coming from Europe, the flat Arabian buildings with locals wearing flowy arabian garbs, there was no doubt I was now in a totally different world.

Since I arrived pretty late, I only managed to witness a lulling city. The place felt very peaceful and serene and I even managed to somehow befriend the manager of a candy store who not only gave me a beautiful box of Parsian candies but gave me a lift back to the Airport while sharing his own travel adventures. Meeting people while you travel has got to be one of the most exhilarating experience!

 

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I’ve come to the end of my Europe Itinerary, I hope you enjoyed reading and found it useful. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I’ll see if I can help.

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