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Car Rental or Trains?

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San Jose, CA
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Car Rental or Trains?

My wife and I will be spending eight days is Switzerland after our trek around Mt Blanc. We'll be startng in Chamonix and will be going first to Lugano area for three days, then to Lauterbrunnen/Interlocken for 3 days, then Geneva for 2 days, then home. Since I'm thoroughly confused by all the rail discussions, the question is, should we rent a car for this trip, or will we be able to get around easily by train? Also keeping in mine that we'll have all our hiking clothes and possibly a large suitcase with us. What do you think?

Garmisch-Partenkirch...
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1. Re: Car Rental or Trains?

Hi einken,

Trains are the very best way to see Switzerland. Most of what you'll want to see in the Jungfrau area (Lauterbrunnen/Interlaken) don't even allow cars, so it's likely your rental will just sit in a parking lot. Driving in a city like Geneva is simply a hassle as you navigate the winding medieval streets hunting for expensive parking spots while dodging trams, busses, and pedestrians.

The Swiss train system is one of the best in the world; I call it very user-friendly. It may sound hard to understand, but it is dead-easy to use. If you have any questions at all, from which pass to scheduling, you can visit the ticket desk, and they will very patiently give you the answers you need.

You can also send one or two bags separately on the trains; it costs 20 chf for same-day service or 10 chf for two-day service (if you think you won't need your bag for a day or two).

Having a train journey is something that we Americans don't often get to do, so doing it when it's this convenient would be the fun thing to do. Yes, it's a load of fun -- you get to sit and talk to each other, play cards, read, listen to an iPod, meet your neighbors, walk the aisles, nap, or enjoy a picnic during the journey.

Finally, remember that using the train system is more green, **yaaay***. It would be a way to help make sure the Swiss glaciers are around for at least another generation. Ýou could reduce your carbon footprint for at least a few days, and isn't that a great thing??

If you have specific questions, do let us know.

If you'd like to look into the trains, you can find all the schedules at the Swiss rail site

www.rail.ch (direct to the English pages)

Have fun!

s

Anchorage, Alaska
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2. Re: Car Rental or Trains?

First, you can easily mail your hiking clothes back to the US if you won't need them or most of them after Mt. Blanc. I send my ski clothes back and it isn't so expensive that I want to put up with having extra bags! Or you could take them as far as Lugano and then ship them by Swiss Rail to Geneva and they will be there when you get to Geneva at the main station baggage office! If you are passing through Geneva on your route from Mt. Blanc to Lugano, then just take a longer connection time and put your bag of hiking stuff in the left luggage storage area. I've never had a bag go missing or even be opened and I've used the shipping and storage services a lot.

Travel by car is not particularly helpful in Switzerland because so many places are car free and the cities are absolutely diabolical for parking - it's very expensive and not particularly easy to find in a convenient place. I would suggest you use trains for the long hauls and where you cannot manage to see something conveniently by local transportation (frankly not usually the case in Switzerland), then rent a car for the day - you don't have to pay to park it overnight!!

You can get all the public transportation timetables on the Swiss Rail website in English

www.sbb.ch/en

The entire public transportation system in fully integrated so if you need to take a tram to get somewhere from the train station, the timetable will show you the tram number, etc. It's a fantastic system and we here in the US could learn a lot from it! Additionally, it is not only integrated but it is on time, clean and comfortable. I'm as addicted to my car as anyone (I feel tense if it's in the shop overnight and I don't have a rental) but I rarely rent a car in Switzerland.

If you do rent, try to stay in hotels outside of the cities so that parking won't be an issue but hotels that are on a public transportation line so you can use public transportation to visit the city. That's not very hard to do. I like Michelin for finding small hotels outside of cities as well as driving maps.

www.viamichelin.com

Hope this helps.

Anchorage, Alaska
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3. Re: Car Rental or Trains?

I also happened to think - if you rent a car in France, be sure to arrange to drop it in France. The fees for dropping in a different country even if you are just a few miles from the border are just astronomical - often as much if not more than the rental! You could rent in France and then return it to the French side of the Geneva airport...that has it's hassles but they are significant if you decide you really want to rent.

Be sure you get a quote of the drop fees - I've have the online pricing not show the drop fee but when I called, they would reveal a several hundred dollar fee! Be sure to call and verify the drop fee if you drop anywhere but the same place you pick up and surely so if you drop in a different country.

Hong Kong, China
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4. Re: Car Rental or Trains?

Good points from kileysmom regarding rental cars and I will repeat some of them:

1. Cross country drop fees are expensive; rent and return in the same country;

2. If you rent a car in France and drive on Switzerland's autoroutes, you will need to purchase a CHF40 highway sticker at the border to get on these roads legally;

3. Stay in hotels outside the major city centers to reduce your cost in terms of both parking and lodging; I did this at Bern, got a room for 1/2 the price vs city center and parked overnight for just a few Francs;

4. Understand that most cars are manual in Europe although Switzerland seems to have a higher share of automatics.

5. I am not sure about renting a car for the day only as it usually costs more than renting for 3 days or above. Also, you will have to spend quite a bit of time to do the paperwork and get your car and return it before the day's end. Therefore, planning is important so you can get the car for a few days and wander around. You could consider going to all the "inconvenient- by-train" places in an area with the car and then drop it off as soon as you can.

Wrexham, United...
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5. Re: Car Rental or Trains?

I too completely agree with Swandav - the Swiss Travel System is quite simply *the* best in the world. It is so easy and so much more fun and driving around in a boring car - especially for the driver. You'll actually be able to marvel at the scenery rather than having to keep your eye on the road!

As regards your luggage here's what you do (for example between Lugano and Lauterbrunnen) to make it soooo hassle free:

1. Go to the Lugano railway station with your luggage the day before your departure and say to them that you'd like to send it on to Lauterbrunnen using the "Fast Baggage" service. They will tag your luggage and give you a receipt per item sent.

2. The following day you get on the train and make your way to Lauterbrunnen without your luggage. When you arrive at your hotel, hand your luggage receipts to the reception. The hotel will then go and collect your luggage from the station when it arrives and bring it back to your hotel. Many hotels even bring your luggage up to your room for you.

Here is the link on Swiss Railways website with more information:

sbb.ch/en/…fast-baggage.html

From your original post It sounds like you're still in need of some concise advice regarding the rail system. If so please feel free to post your questions and we'll do our best to answer them all for you. I would recommend that you ask one question per post so that the answers you get back all make sense.

Anyway I hope this has all helped and I hope you have fun planning your trip.

Tampa
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6. Re: Car Rental or Trains?

Am I correct that one could buy some sort of rail pass with a specified period - such as one month duration, or two weeks? We will have a family of 3 traveling and it doesn't make sense to get a GA card which from the website looks like a whole year duration. I can't find on their website any reference to shorter duration family passes or something of the like. Our son will be 16

Anchorage, Alaska
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7. Re: Car Rental or Trains?

Hi, first, there is a one month half fare card available only to visitors. It's available from any Swiss Rail ticket office once you are in Switzerland and also from companies like

Rick Steves:

www.ricksteves.com

Right now the dollar is gaining strength so it may be less expensive to buy it when you arrive.

There are rail passes with various options and for various needs. There is a good explanation of them on the Rick Steves website and on the Swiss Raill website (go to the travel and leisure tab and look in the colums of subjects for international visitors - if the web page seems to have problems, just click on the appropriate link because they are coming up - seems there's a problem just now).

Hope this helps.

Tampa
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8. Re: Car Rental or Trains?

Thanks much kileysmom. that sounds like good advice!

Montgomery, Alabama
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9. Re: Car Rental or Trains?

You might want to hear from at least one person who disagrees with everyone else. The choice depends on what you would lkie to do as you travel. Having driven cars in over a hundred counties, I much prefer the flexibility off having a car. You can stop when yo would like to look at or photgraph something beautiful. From a train window you have to take your pictures through glass with trees, telephone poles, etc. whizzing by so you get very few decent, much less good, shots. Primarily, we just love to pause at the beautiful places, of which there are plenty in Switzerland.

Last year my wife and I took the train from Zurich's airport to Lauterbrunnen. It was OK and the way Swiss trains operate on precise schedules is truly remarkable. This July we will be renting a compact car. I was surprised that, even when you add in the cost of fuel, it is still less than the train was.

One comment was a little misleading. You can drive into Lauterbrunnen and leave you car in the large parking building just west of the center of town. While there you can take the frequent and inexpensive bus that follows a circular route around the floor of the valley. Take the bus and don't miss visiiting the Trummellbachfalle, a waterfall that over the years has worn its way into the cliff, resulting in fantastic shapes. Also, be sure to take the gondola up to Murren.

On our honeymoon we stayed in Murren, but recently we have been staying in at the Regina in Wengen. There is more to do and more places to prowl there, and it gives easy access to the train that circles up through the Eiger. Most of what you should be doing in the area involves cable cars anyway. If you have the money and the guts, you should take one of the pwered parachute type gliders with a professional pilot that takes off from a cliff just west of Murren, giving you a fabulous view of the huge cliff and the valley below. There is also a take-off spot directly above the town of Lauterbrunnen that will take you along the face of the cliff giving you an incredible view of the Staubachfalle, the largest waterfall in the valley.

There are so many spectacular places in Switzerland that you should try to allow time for prowling.

Have fun

Edited: 5:04 pm, May 19, 2012
Anchorage, Alaska
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10. Re: Car Rental or Trains?

Thornton C, you aren't disagreeing with everyone else...just some. I drive if my goals are such that driving works better and I use the trains if that works better. Some places a car is a serious handicap and an expensive one but not so much for other places. I think the best is probably to use trains for some of the travel and rent a car here and there rather than pay for a rental to sit in a parking lot. It really depends on many factors.