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First time traveling by train

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Haslet, Texas
posts: 5
reviews: 4
First time traveling by train

We are visiting Geneva for the first time in August. We have two boys, 9 and 13. We would love to travel to France and Italy but want to know if we should book day trips through a tour company suggested by my company or if its pretty easy to get around and do on our own for alot less money. We don't speak any French so I'm a little worried about getting on the right train. I've been researching the rail passes but I'm totally new to this. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! We are staying at the Grand Hotel Kepinski in Geneva.

Anchorage, Alaska
Destination Expert
for Anchorage, Zermatt
posts: 13,506
reviews: 6
1. Re: First time traveling by train

Hi, are you thinking of day trips into France and Italy and Switzerland from Geneva? It really couldn't be easier to do! First, most train staff will speak at least some English in Italy and France and definitely in Swtizerland. Many will speak fluent English in Switzerland! You can get all the timetables for trains within Swtizerland and into Italy/France in English on the Swiss Rail website

www.sbb.ch/en

The stations are easy to navigate and it's not hard to figure out the trains. Most places have quite a few trains between them so it's not very critical if you do have a bit of confusion and miss one! Adds to the adventure particularly if you use the time to do a bit of cafe people watching!

The Rick Steves website (he's the PBS European travel guru but you probably know that) has great explanations of rail passes - don't go to Rail europe - they over charge and aren't particularly knowledgeable.

www.ricksteves.com

and another company several of us here use is

www.gemut.com

They are in Oregon and can do all Europe but they specialize in the German speaking countries including Switzerland.

There are several apps that do translations so you can put in an English phrase and get the equivalent in Italian, French or German (only a small part of Switzerland speaks French). Also, Amazon sells the Rick Steves language book that has all three in a pocket sized book.

You can find out lots of information on Switzerland on the English page of the Swiss Tourism office website

www.myswitzerland.com

It would help us to know what trips you want to take. Please post more info and we can be of more help

Haslet, Texas
posts: 5
reviews: 4
2. Re: First time traveling by train

Thank you so much! We'd like to do Paris one day and maybe Milan (unless there is another recommended place in Italy which isn't too bad of a train ride). We'd like to go to Montreaux for a day and visit the Chillon castle. Also, maybe a day to Gruyeres.

One of my other concerns is transportation from the train station to the sites. Are there places where we can hop off the train and just explore the city or do we have to learn how to use the metro or buses too?

Kent, England
posts: 1,060
3. Re: First time traveling by train

Lorikdixon welcome. Have you looked at the Swiss Rail website www.sbb.ch/en this will give you travelling times. Going from Geneva to Paris and Milan are two very long day trips it would be a shame to spend many hours on a train when you could enjoy the countryside nearer Geneva. Montreux and the towns and villages along the lake are well worth exploring. If you want high mountains then take the train from Geneva Montreux to Spiez and possibly Interlaken and at least see the mountains.

Martigny...
Destination Expert
for Switzerland
posts: 18,196
reviews: 118
4. Re: First time traveling by train

I know that,looked at from Texas, Europe looks small - but! you really cannot do day trips to Paris OR Milan from Geneva. Geneva to Paris is 3 hrs each way on the train. You would get there around 11am and have about 5-6 hours to spend in Paris, getting back around 9pm or later. Milan is further away. Paris, if you speak no French and have never been there before is not an easy place...

I would suggest you consider at least an overnight in Paris (better two! - there is a lot to see!) and omit Milan this trip.

Don't worry about not speaking French in Switzerland - Geneva is such an international city (it isn't particularly "Swiss") that English is readily understood. And even in smaller places here people who come into contact with tourists speak at least some english.

We have an integrated transport system here. that means that trains, post busses and even lake steamers are all programmed so you can use them with one ticket, and that connection times in most places are 5 minutes. Our trains are clean, on time and frequent!!

Montreux is about 75mins from Geneva main station. If you take the escalator down from the platform, and then again down to the lakefront road, cross the street, you will find a bus stop where you get a bus for Chillon. You will need a bus ticket and there are machines at each stop. (You must have a ticket to get on the bus). You can normally choose your language on these machines but many do not give change so have coins available! Busses run from Montreux to Chillon every 20 mins. Journey takes 10 mins. OR you can do it by local train (change at Montreux, get your ticket Geneva to Veytaux-Chillon at the Geneva station) OR you can do the same by boat - get your ticket also at the Geneva station. But check the boat times as they are less frequent than the busses...

you can also walk there in about 20 minutes. Along the lake, which is lovely.

Gruyères you also go by train. Two routes: Geneva to Montreux and change for the MOB train to Monbovon. Change there for Gruyères OR Geneva to Lausanne, change there for Palèzieux, change there for Bulle and thence to Gruyères. Do not forget that the Cailler Chocolate Factory at nearby Broc Fabrique is also well worth a visit while you are there...

Don't use private tour companies unless you plan to go to Chamonix when, at least I understand, they provide a good service. (Chamonix is not that easy to get to from Geneva. as the rail connections to and from the Haute Savoie part of France are not wonderful!!)

Is there anything else we can help with?

Garmisch-Partenkirch...
Destination Expert
for Switzerland, Montreux, Oberammergau, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
posts: 12,499
reviews: 25
5. Re: First time traveling by train

Hi lorikdixon,

Hambagahle's and Swisslover's notes about the length of the trip to Paris and Milan are good, and you should note them with care. I've learned to limit my day-trips to two hours of travel in each direction, or there is diminishing joy in the day. I encourage you to soak up the ambiance and activities near where you'll be, or maybe move your base for two or three nights.

Also one note -- there used to be ticket machines at the back of the busses in Montreux. You would just board the bus, move to the back, and buy your ticket. Not sure if they have discontinued this practice -- they were there as recently as Sep 2011.

Have fun as you plan!

s

Haslet, Texas
posts: 5
reviews: 4
6. Re: First time traveling by train

Thank you all for the wonderful advice!

I really don't want to do any overnight trips as we have a free (and very nice) room paid for in Geneva by my company. And we're trying to limit our expenses but see as much as possible! I have looked at the timeframes to get to Paris and Milan and realize it will be a long day but you don't get to go to Europe every day. Perhaps we will just plan on one long day instead of two.

I was thinking about purchasing an organized tour in Paris (since I had heard it's harder to do on your own) but thought maybe we could at least use the rail pass to get there. Doing the whole Paris day trip through my company tour would be over $1600 for just that one day! It looks like I can get the train ticket point to point to Paris for around $800 and then pay $100-$200 for the four of us for a city tour. I think we will cut out Milan all together since we will have plenty to see in a limited time. Who knows, we may even get just the Swiss pass. I have alot to think about but again, thanks for the tips. I'm sure I will have more questions as I research more! We have a company trip to Yvoire included so we will get to see a little bit of France either way.

Anchorage, Alaska
Destination Expert
for Anchorage, Zermatt
posts: 13,506
reviews: 6
7. Re: First time traveling by train

Hi, if you have to be in Geneva every night, it really is too much to go to Paris or Milan - it would be one of those hop off the train, look around and hop back on a train. Now, let me add that I have been known to do this sort of thing if I am not sure I want to spend much time in a place so I use a quick trip to get a quick peek and decide whether to go there on another trip I have also done this if I am pretty certain I won't be in that part of the world again and I am going to be sad to miss seeing some place even briefly.. So that's a decision only you can make!

From Geneva you can get to lots of places in a decent amount of train time. Get a map and take a look on the Swiss Rail website as to the travel time to a few choices and then draw a circle to include the places that are within your criteria for time and ease. Then get on the web and start narrowing down the choices according to what appeals to you. I think a trip to the vineyards above Lake Geneva (don't get confused - it has two names - the other is Lake Leman) along the Swiss shore of the lake would be lovely. There's Chillon near Montreux - a lovely historic castle (you can go there by lake steamer as well - now that's not something you can do here in the US either). Stick a post on the French forum to see what people think of the varous possibilities in France. If you like places you hear of a lot, think about Chamonix, Lyon, Grenoble in France and maybe Turin in Italy. If you are thinking about Milan to see da Vinci's Last Supper be sure you have tickets before you go as they are mandatory and, I fear, they are already fully booked for August as they are very limited. Bern is definitely worth a visit - terrific small city with loads of history.

As you can see, without Paris or Milan, you can easily fill lots of days basing in Geneva. If you can be away from Geneva overnight, the list simply gets enormous!

Have a great trip!

Anchorage, Alaska
Destination Expert
for Anchorage, Zermatt
posts: 13,506
reviews: 6
8. Re: First time traveling by train

You posted while I was writing...take a look at the Rick Steves website for pass information - if you aren't using the mountain railways in Switzerland, multi country rail passes are fine too. A 3 contiguous country rail pass would be about $1500 for your family and would cover travel into France and Italy as well as just about anything you want to do in Switzerland. I think there is an additional supplement for the TGV - check on that with the seller of the pass. If there is, consider it an activity fee - the kids will love the high speed train (it does really get up to well over 200 miles an hour!). Also think about what you want to do in Switzerland, check on the costs and see if a multi country pass will be a savings

Have fun planning and just post here when you run up against a question.

Martigny...
Destination Expert
for Switzerland
posts: 18,196
reviews: 118
9. Re: First time traveling by train

Lake Léman is the name of the lake that Geneva is on (and Lausanne and Montreux too!) You will see this reflected in a lot of names for cafés, hotels etc. But as I said earlier "Geneva is not very Swiss" and they (obstinately!) insist on calling the "Petit Lac" at their end of this very large lake (largest in Western Europe in fact, and 2 countries share it!¨) the Lac de Genève...

If you really want to go to France - go for lunch to Yvoire. here is a guide to sightseeing in Geneva which gives info about Yvoire, which I am sure you would love and is only a short boat ride down the Léman from Geneva!!

tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g188057-c127289/Gen…

Haslet, Texas
posts: 5
reviews: 4
10. Re: First time traveling by train

We took the train to Montreaux today. It was amazing!! We'd like to go to Gruyeres tomorrow. Once we arrive at the train station, where do we go from there? Do we have to take a bus to town? Is there somewhere to watch cheesemaking? Is the chocolate factory close enough to walk to? A good restaurant to go with our kids?

I would appreciate any tips!