Saturday, 12 October 2013

London, Paris and Switzerland trip – Prologue

Europe is not our first choice destination for honeymoon. At first, hubby chose Japan as he never been went there before. I even started to plan for the trip to Hokkaido and I noticed that the Japanese yen has been appreciating which would make our trip more expensive on top of the high cost in Japan. Moreover I have heard stories about the radiation effect in Japan. I was pondering if we should change to another destination and hubby suggested Europe. Initially I have planned to travel to Europe in 2012 but there is a change of plan hence this trip is only make possible in 2013.

Sometimes I wonder if it is lucky star who shines on me when I'm searching for cheap air tickets. I chanced upon Swiss Air launching direct flight from Singapore to Switzerland at $700 only!!! The cheapest fare that I can find previously is Emirates or Qatar Airways and is around $1,100.

I choose to travel from mid Oct to beginning of Nov as I wanted to make use of 2 public holidays during this period. I just have to apply 14 days leave for this 20 days trip. Furthermore, it’s autumn in Europe which is a non peak travel period and weather is cool and suitable for traveling. But the con is that the sun sets earlier in autumn and we will have shorter time for sightseeing.

Hubby and I try to compromise on the destinations when deciding the countries to visit. We settled on London, Paris and Switzerland. Although Santorini is one of places in my to-visit list, I decided to give it a miss and concentrate on Switzerland. One of the reason on why we chose London is because hubby is an Arsenal’s fan and he wanted to visit the Emirates stadium. Then for Paris, how could one missed a visit to the most romantic cities on earth? As for Switzerland, I have read many positive reviews that Switzerland is one of the best place to visit in Europe.
My destinations in Europe

Although the direct flight will land in Zurich, I intend to start the tour from London then Paris and ends in Switzerland since our return flight departs from Zurich. There are only 3 airlines: British airways, Swiss airline and Easyjet flying from Zurich to London. British airways and Swiss airline is too expensive so my only consideration is Easyjet. Easyjet flies to London Gatwick and Luton. I prefer to fly to London in the morning after we landed at Zurich but there is no morning flight on Sunday. Hence the alternative which I came up with is to spend half a day in Zurich before flying to London in the afternoon. There is an easyjet flight which landed in London at 10pm but we might missed the last tube. In the end I choose to fly to London Luton as it is cheaper compared to another afternoon flight to London Gatwick. The one way ticket including 20kg luggage cost £51.69 ~ S$102.10. 

For airport transfer, I have booked easybus which cost £2 from the airport to Baker Street bus stop. Then from there, we will take tube to the hotel. This is definitely much cheaper than taking the train.

On the first day, I intend to spend half a day at Rhine fall and Winterthur before returning to the airport. The transport in Zurich and it's surrounding suburbs are divided into several fare zone and the more zones you pass through, the more you will have to pay for your journey. It looks confusing at first when I'm working out the transport cost. But with the fare zone map, I just have to calculate how many zones that the train pass by from the starting point to the destination with Zurich and Winterthur counted as 2 zones each. At first, I was considering the all zones day pass but it works out that purchasing the 9 o'clock pass at CHF25 ~ S$33 is the best choice. 

I have allocated 5 full days in London including a half day trip to Windsor castle. There are many attractions in London and the admission is not cheap. I discovered that the London pass covers quite a number of attractions and comes in 1, 2, 3 or 7 days pass. The pass has to be use on consecutive days. I have calculated that the admission fees for the attractions which I will be visiting within 3 days totals £141 ~ S$270. A 3 day London pass cost £74 ~ S$146. I discovered that purchasing from Visit Britian is cheaper than purchasing directly from London pass. There is a 10% promotion and the London pass from London pass website cost £66.60 whereas Visit Britian cost £62.10. I choose to collect the London Pass when we are in London as postage is expensive. Surprisingly, admission to most of the museums in London is free and this includes one of the best museum in Europe - the British Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert museum, Tate Gallery etc.

I decided to include half a day trip to Windsor castle since the admission is included in the London pass. There is a choice of South West train from London Waterloo or First Great Western from London Paddington to Windsor & Eton Riverside and Windsor & Eton Central respectively.

I have also applied for ticket to the Ceremony of the Keys. This is the traditional of locking up the Tower of London since the 14th century. Admission is free but the attendee has to write in with two 'Coupon-response international'. I received the tickets 2 weeks after I have written in.

Tube is the main mode of transportation in London and savings can be made using Oyster card instead of paying for individual ride. Oyster card can be purchased from any Tube station and has a refundable deposit of £5. The fare is divided into different zones but most of the attractions are located within zone 1. Although peak period fares is applicable from Mon – Fri (excluding public holidays) 6.30am – 9.30am and from 4pm – 7pm, the fare is still the same if travelling within zone 1. There is a daily price cap for peak hours and non-peak hours at £8.40 and £7 respectively.

From London, we will be taking Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. The online booking of the tickets is released 4 months in advance and I managed to purchase the ticket at it's cheapest price of  €39 ~ S$69. Seat reservation is available during booking and for standard seats, the plug sockets are available in carriages 5 and 14 unlike the business premier and standard premier where plug sockets are available for all the seats.

I have also allocated 4 full days in Paris including a full day at Chateau de Versailles. I intend to purchase 4 days Paris museum pass when I reach Versailles instead of purchasing online. If the pass is purchased online, then it has to be collected at the central Paris Tourist Office.

I have purchased Eiffel Tower ticket online to avoid the long queue. The price is the same as buying at the Eiffel Tower at €14.50 ~ S$25. I didn't know that the online ticket is so much in demand that my preferred time slot was sold out. Initially I intend to visit Eiffel Tower in the evening and I have to change to morning 9.30am slot. The ticket is release 3 months in advance at 8.30am sharp (GMT +7).

Metro is the main mode of transport in getting around in Paris. It's worth to purchase a carnet of 10 tickets for €13.30 rather than purchasing single trip ticket for €1.70. For the day to Versailles, I will be buying a one day pass for €10.55 which covers zone 1 - 4.

As France has one of the highest concentration of Michelin Star restaurants in the world, I decided to dine in not only 1 but 3 Michelin One Star restaurant. I have researched on reasonable price Michelin Star restaurants and lunch is more value for money compared to dinner. Hence I have make reservation for lunch at 2 of the Michelin restaurants and dinner for the other one.

From Paris, we will be taking TGV from Paris Gare De Lyon to Geneva Cornavin. The online booking of the tickets is released 3 months in advance and I managed to purchase the ticket at it's cheapest price of  €25 ~ S$43. Seat reservation is available but the seat number is allocated and cannot be chosen.

I'll be spending 10 days in Switzerland including the day of arrival. I am considering the Swiss pass which is only available for 4, 8, 15 and 22 days or the half fare card which is valid for a month. A lot of homework with reference to the synoptic transport map has to be done in order to determine which is the best Swiss rail pass to purchase . The Swiss pass covers: 

- Unlimited travel throughout the rail, bus and boat
- Local trams and buses in 41 cities
- 50% reduction on most mountain-top trains and cable cars
- Free entrance to over 400 museums
Whereas the half fare card covers:
- Valid for your journey from the Swiss border or one of Switzerland airports to your destination and back
- Unlimited purchase of train, bus, boat and some cable car tickets at half price
After working out the fare for both swiss pass and half fare card, it's worth to purchase the 8 days Swiss pass which cost CHF334 ~ S$444. It works out to CHF30 ~ S$40 saving compared to purchasing the half fare card. The Swiss pass can be purchased in Switzerland itself.

Accommodation in Europe is not cheap and one night in a three star hotel would cost at least £100/ €100. However with intensive research, I managed to book 19 nights in 7 different hotels at an average rate of S$60 per person. =D In London, I choose to stay at the Travelogue London Central Bank Hotel which belongs to the Travelodge chain of hotels. Travelogue Hotels is one of the largest in the budget hotel sector. The room comes with ensuite bathroom but WIFI and breakfast are chargeable. I decided to wait till check in and decide if we require WIFI.

In Paris, I choose to stay in Lux Hotel Picpus. A standard ensuite room cost €61 a night which is value for money. Breakfast is €8 but I opt out as reviewers commented that there are better choice elsewhere. The hotel is located near Picpus and Nation metro station which make it very accessible.

Surprisingly most of the hotels which I book in Switzerland includes breakfast and some even offer free local transport pass. I choose to stay in room with shared bathroom in 3 of the Switzerland hotel as ensuite room is very expensive. Moreover we will be staying 1 or 2 nights in these hotel so it does not really matter much.

Itinerary for this trip:
Day 1: Reach Zurich at 6.10am (GMT+1) and reach London at 6.50pm (GMT+0)
Attractions: Rhine Fall and Winterthur
Transport & Pass: 9 o'clock day pass in Zurich & Oyster card in London

Day 2: London, United Kingdom
Attractions: Palace of Westminster & Big Ben, Whitehall road & Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Cathedral, Albert Memorial, Royal Albert Hall, Royal College of Music, Imperial College, Victoria and Albert museum, Natural History Museum and Harrods
Accommodation: Travelogue London Central Bank Hotel
Transport & Pass: Oyster card, 3 days London pass

Day 3: London, United Kingdom
Attractions: St Mary Axe, The Clockmaker museum, Bank of England museum, Piccadilly Circus, Royal Opera House, British Museum and shopping at Primark
Accommodation: Travelogue London Central Bank Hotel
Transport & Pass: Oyster card, 3 days London pass

Day 4: Windsor & London, United Kingdom
Attractions: Windsor Parish Church, Windsor Guildhall, Windsor Castle, The Arsenal Museum and Emirates Stadium
Accommodation: Travelogue London Central Bank Hotel
Transport & Pass: Oyster card, Individual train tickets & 3 days London pass

Day 5: London, United Kingdom
Attractions: The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Kensington Palace and Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower
Accommodation: Travelogue London Central Bank Hotel
Transport & Pass: Oyster card

Day 6: London, United Kingdom
Attractions: St Paul's Cathedral, Cleopatra's Needle, Westminster Abbey and Royal Mew
Accommodation: Lux Hotel Picpus (€61)
Transport & Pass: Oyster card, Eurostar from London -> Paris

Day 7: Versailles & Paris, France
Attractions: Chateau de Versailles, Grande Arche, Basilique Sacré Coeur, Moulin Rouge
Accommodation: Lux Hotel Picpus
Transport & Pass: Unlimited Zone 1 – 4 Mobilis pass, 4 days Paris museum pass

Day 8: Paris, France
Attractions: Église Saint-Eustach, Le Palais Royal, The Louvre, Pantheon, Musée d’Orsay,  l'Assemblée Nationale, Pont Alexandre III bridge, Grand Palais, Petit Palais, Place de la Concorde, Colonne Vendôme, Église de la Madeleine
Accommodation: Lux Hotel Picpus
Transport & Pass: Carnet of 10 tickets, 4 days Paris museum pass

Day 9: Paris, France
Attractions: Centre Pompidou, Hôtel de Ville, Tour St Jacques, Saint Chapelle, La Conciergerie, Palais de Justice, Point zero des routes de France, Notre Dame de Paris,  Arc de Triomphe, Shopping @ Avenue des Champs-Elysée
Accommodation: Lux Hotel Picpus
Transport & Pass: Carnet of 10 tickets, 4 days Paris museum pass

Day 10: Paris, France
Attractions: The Eiffel Tower, Hôtel des Invalides,  The Eiffel Tower, Opéra Garnier, Shopping @ Galeries Lafayette & Printemps
Accommodation: Lux Hotel Picpus
Transport & Pass: Carnet of 10 tickets, 4 days Paris museum pass

Day 11: Geneva, Switzerland
Attractions: Quartier des Grottes, Flower Clock, Jet d'Eau, Molard Tower, Clock in the passage Malbuisson,  Cathédrale St-Pierre, Hotel De Ville, Place Bourg du Four, Eglise Russe
Accommodation: Hotel St-Gervais (CHF99 for shared bathroom)
Transport & Pass: Free Unireso Geneva Transport Card from the Hotel

Day 12: Geneva, Switzerland
Attractions: Palais des Nations and Unterseen
Accommodation: Hotel Rugenpark B&B (CHF 110)
Transport & Pass: Swiss pass for 8 days

Day 13: Bern, Switzerland
Attractions: Bear Park, Town Hall, Cathedral of Bern, Parliament Square, French church, Clock Tower (Zytglogge), Prison Tower
Accommodation: Hotel Rugenpark B&B
Transport & Pass: Swiss pass for 8 days

Day 14: Jungfraujoch, Switzerland
Attractions: Jungfraujoch, Walk around at Interlaken Höheweg
Accommodation: Hotel Rugenpark B&B
Transport & Pass: Swiss pass for 8 days

Day 15: Winteregg, Mürren, Gimmelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Zermatt, Switzerland
Attractions: Trümmelbach Falls, Staubbach Falls
Accommodation: Le Petit Hotel (CHF110)
Transport & Pass: Swiss pass for 8 days

Day 16: Matterhorn & Zermatt, Switzerland
Attractions: Matterhorn glaciers, Zermatt town
Accommodation: Le Petit Hotel
Transport & Pass: Swiss pass for 8 days

Day 17: Gornergrat, Switzerland
Attractions: Gornergrat
Accommodation: Lucerne Backpackers Hostel (CHF 80 for shared bathroom)
Transport & Pass: Swiss pass for 8 days

Day 18: Lucerne, Switzerland
Attractions: Collegial Church of St Leodgar Hofkirche, The Lion Monument, The Glacier Garden & Mirror Labyrinth, Swiss Transport Museum
Accommodation: Lucerne Backpackers Hostel
Transport & Pass: Swiss pass for 8 days

Day 19: Lucerne & Mount Pilatus, Switzerland
Attractions: KKL Kultur- und Kongresszentrum, Old City wall, Water Spike, Chapel Bridge & Water Tower, Mount Pilatus
Accommodation: Gasthaus Zum Guten Gluck (CHF 84 for shared bathroom)
Transport & Pass: Swiss pass for 8 days

Day 20: Zurich, Switzerland, Flight from Zurich -> Singapore at 10.45pm (GMT+1)
Attractions: Lindenhof, St. Peter's Church, Fraumünster, Grossmünster, Bahnhofstrasse
Transport & Pass: Zurich 3 zones day pass

Budget for this trip is S$4,700:

- S$1,100 for accommodation
- S$1,000 for transport
- S$375 for admission fees
- S$1,500 for meals
- S$725 for souvenirs

>>Day 1: 12 Oct 13


Tommy said...

Hi Jerlin,

Nice post to share your planning experience and the links to the resources.

We went on a similar trip to London, Paris and Switzerland in 2008 too.

Was reading your post and would like to share that we did have a quite similar itinerary too! :)

We went to watch a Liverpool match at Anfield though! :)

Have a Great trip ahead!

AC | I Wander said...

Wow! so your trip to Europe had pushed thru!

Looking forward to seeing your pictures

Unknown said...

Hi! Hi!

Thanks for sharing details of your planning. Very useful. Both my husband and I are planning a trip to London and Paris next sep.

Looking forward to reading your adventures and seeing your pictures...

Adora Grace