Euro Trip Planning 2019: Schedule Change

Euro Trip 2019 Planning

This is the time of year, as I plan travels in the coming months, that my thoughts turn toward Europe and strolls along the Seine or dining at a sidewalk café in a charming Italian town. Thanks to points and miles (and a good day job!), my wife and I have been blessed to take an annual trip to Europe, something we plan to continue in 2019. I have written previously about my approach to travel planning, but this year’s trip is different in a few ways which makes the planning process different as well. In fact, I encountered challenges I did not expect. In the previous installments in this series, I wrote about having a blank slate for this year’s journey and selecting our transatlantic flights. I then discussed how I decided where we would actually go once we arrived in Europe. In my previous two posts, I reviewed my strategy for booking hotels and shortlisted candidate hotels in Milan, Italy.

I revealed in part two of the hotel-booking posts that I had eliminated Milan from our itinerary. Today, I want to explain why I made that change in order to highlight why flexibility is important to ensure that you get the best experience from your valuable travel time.

I was excited about Milan

As a reminder, here is our original itinerary for this year’s European vacation:

  • Depart (Thursday): Depart Atlanta to Brussels (Delta Air Lines)

  • Day 1 (Friday): Arrive Brussels; fly to Milan, Italy; overnight in Milan

  • Day 2 (Saturday): Milan; overnight in Milan

  • Day 3 (Sunday): Bernina Express; overnight in Lucerne, Switzerland

  • Day 4 (Monday): Zurich; overnight in Lucerne

  • Day 5 (Tuesday): Colmar/Strasbourg, France; overnight in Colmar

  • Day 6 (Wednesday): Colmar; overnight in Colmar

  • Day 7 (Thursday): Train to Paris; overnight in Paris

  • Day 8 (Friday): Paris; overnight in Paris

  • Day 9 (Saturday): Fly to Atlanta from Paris via Newark (United Airlines)

As I was researching the Bernina Express scenic train that so excited me, I came across the following from The Man in Seat 61 which gave me pause:

Is northbound or southbound better?

Either is fine in summer, but in winter the northbound Bernina Express will run the last couple of hours in darkness, making a southbound run preferable.

I have dreamed of riding across the Landwasser Viaduct since seeing it in a YouTube video five years ago! (Photo: Andreas Ravn Møller) (Click to enlarge)

Since we will be traveling in fall, I was concerned that a significant part, maybe the most significant part, of our journey could in the dark. I wanted to see the Landwasser Viaduct more than anything on the route. I checked the train timetable and sunset times and I realized that we would be crossing the viaduct after sunset. Given that we were starting in Milan primarily to take the Bernina Express, potentially missing the biggest highlight of that journey made starting our vacation in northern Italy much less attractive. As much as I want to visit MIlan, more time in Switzerland seemed like a better use of a vacation day than riding a scenic train but missing a large part of the scenery.

I had booked our flight from Brussels to Milan on Brussels Airlines the very morning I read the tip on The Man in Seat 61. Fortunately, I was within the 24-hour window when I could request a free cancellation. The airline provided great support via Twitter for requesting a refund which was promptly issued.

Reordering the itinerary

With Milan off the itinerary, I needed to fill two days, the days we were to spend in Milan and travel on the Bernina Express. I did not want to go back to square one and rebuild the entire trip. We were excited about visiting Switzerland, so the obvious use of that time was extending our stay in the country. After carefully considering articles about visiting Zurich, Lucerne and Bern, I decided to make Lucerne our home base for three nights and visit Zurich and Bern as day trips. Also, I switched the order of our trip; we now plan to start in Strasbourg/Colmar, getting there on Thalys and SNCF TGV high-speed trains via Paris. This will be more time efficient since the frequency of trains is much greater than flights from Brussels to Swiss cities.

Here is our revised itinerary (changes are bolded):

  • Depart (Thursday): Depart Atlanta to Brussels (Delta Air Lines)

  • Day 1 (Friday): Arrive Brussels; train to Strasbourg, France, via Paris; overnight in Strasbourg

  • Day 2 (Saturday): Strasbourg/Colmar, France; overnight in Strasbourg

  • Day 3 (Sunday): Zurich and Lucerne, Switzerland ; overnight in Lucerne, Switzerland

  • Day 4 (Monday): Lucerne; overnight in Lucerne

  • Day 5 (Tuesday): Bern, Switzerland; overnight in Lucerne

  • Day 6 (Wednesday): Golden Pass train (Lucerne-Lausanne); overnight in Lausanne, Switzerland

  • Day 7 (Thursday): Lausanne; train to Paris; overnight in Paris

  • Day 8 (Friday): Paris; overnight in Paris

  • Day 9 (Saturday): Fly to Atlanta from Paris via Newark (United Airlines)

Hotel Adjustments

I went selected new hotels using a process similar to what I previously described. In Strasbourg, we will be staying in an Airbnb just steps from the famous cathedral and the square where the Christmas market is held. For the extra time in Switzerland, we extended our stay at the Renaissance Lucerne. Reward properties were basically non-existent in Lausanne so we are staying at the Hotel Continental. The property is across from the central train station, which will be very convenient for a quick overnight visit.

The view of the Strasbourg Cathedral from near our Airbnb. (click to enlarge) (Photo: Airbnb listing)

Bottom Line

When traveling, remaining as flexible as possible in your plans will help maximize your experience. While I was really excited about the Bernina Express, the experience would have been significantly diminished since a large portion of it would have been after the sun set. By shuffling our itinerary, I am planning other experiences that will far surpass a train ride through unseen mountains and over viaducts shrouded in darkness.

To this point my articles have primarily looked backward, but future posts about the 2019 Euro Trip (now called the FrancoSwiss Adventure due to the itinerary change) will be less regular. I will post as I move further into the refinement phase of my planning and make additional arrangements. The next major step will occur once we are within the window where train reservations can be made, a process I plan to write about in my next installment.