What happens when you show up in Europe on a three night trip and you have no idea what you want to do? This is probably a question few ever consider, much less actually face in real life. At the end of October, however, I found myself dealing with precisely that scenario. I was sitting in the arrivals lobby of Geneva’s airport having just stepped off the plane in from Washington Dulles and I had absolutely nothing planned other than a flight home three days hence. What could possibly go wrong??
I needed a plan and that meant I needed somewhere to sit and figure out a plan. Also, having just arrived on a redeye from the east coast I needed a shower and somewhere I could change into clean clothes before setting out on my adventures. Fortunately the United Airlines reps at the Geneva airport were well informed of the arrivals room service that the company offers (though the SwissPort contract agents were not). I quickly found myself on a shuttle bus headed to the Movenpick hotel where I was given a room for a few hours; plenty of time to freshen up and put together my itinerary.
I had considered heading south, across the border into France. I could visit Chamonix and see Mont Blanc. Maybe even visit the spas at Evian. That was slightly tempting, mostly because I knew it would be a bit easier on the budget to be in France spending Euros than in Switzerland on the Swiss Franc. But I’m also intrigued by UNESCO World Heritage Sites and it occurred to me that I had not yet checked to see if there were any in the area. A quick visit to my UNESCO visits tracker and I discovered that there were several in Switzerland, including two quite easily accessible on the train from Geneva. My plan was starting to form up.
Before I could commit to visiting Berne and Lausanne I had to make sure that the other logistics would work. I would need somewhere to sleep and to be able to get between the cities reasonably quickly and affordably.
First I checked hotel prices. Hotels.com was showing rooms in Berne and Lausanne to be 15-20% cheaper than staying in Geneva and not all that much more expensive than heading into France. Add in the 15% return between the Welcome Rewards program and my online booking portal and it was clear getting out of Geneva was a good idea. Plus, the two cities I chose weren’t bad places to stay, at least from the perspective of the hotel prices. So one of the factors was settled.
Transit between the cities was incredibly easy. The Swiss rail system is terribly efficient and their website easy to navigate. It supports English, German and French without too much trouble; I mostly chose English but the French was fun every now and then. The bad news on the Swiss rail system is that, like most things in Switzerland, it isn’t particularly cheap. That said, after I stopped to think about the situation I wasn’t all that upset by the prices. At first blush it seemed a bit crazy to pay $50+ to ride the 160 kilometers from Geneva to Berne. But Amtrak charges a similar rate for a walk-up ticket on the New York – Philadelphia route which is about the same distance. And the Swiss version of train travel is quite a bit more pleasant and reliable than the Amtrak version. The sticker shock wore off and things started to come together. Looks like I’ve got a plan:
- Day 1: Train from Geneva to Berne. Explore.
- Day 2: Train from Berne to Lausanne. Explore.
- Day 3: Train from Lausanne to Geneva. Explore.
It might not seem like much of a plan but by my standards it was pretty detailed. Having settled that I headed back to the airport on the hotel shuttle and directly to the train station part of the building. I managed to get a ticket on the next departure to Berne and even had time to stop at the grocery in the terminal to pick up a few snacks to make a picnic for the ride.
Let the fun begin!
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Sounds like a great last minute visit. I like how you used the planning tools that you used, especially the UNESCO list. I am now at the point in my foreign travels that I can do a last minute trip with only five days advance notice. I will have to try an adventure such as yours next!
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