A lifestyle expat travel blog about culture, history, Brexit, the Royal Family, travels around the world, Europe, and being British in Berlin!
Europe is wonderful!
It’s a continent and mass of a huge number of countries with an amazing number of languages, cultures and styles. Is it any wonder that I decided to organise Victoria’s Summer European Challenge Campaign!
I mean, wouldn’t you?
Oh, the summer!
My challenge was to visit a European city. Every weekend, through the summer holidays.
For six (6) weeks!
And only to travel.
So let’s see how we’re doing.
I started off with Denmark and hopped off to Copenhagen.
Is Copenhagen a European city?
Did I travel only by train?
Well, I booked my train with Deutsche Bahn – German Rail – and received a paid ticket for my seat on a German train, and was sent to….
Er….a coach – bus.
Organised by Deutsche Bahn.
Which took us through Northern Germany, on a ferry across the Baltic Sea!
Copenhagen was great and you can read all about it below:
So let’s go to the next destination.
The next country that I went to was Switzerland, and the city that I decided to visit was Lucerne, otherwise known as Luzern!
Switzerland, otherwise known as the Swiss Confederation, is a small federal state or Bundesstadt!
It is situated in both Western and Central Europe, and is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east!
Switzerland thankfully, has a long history of neutrality and has not been in a state of war internationally, since 1815!
In addition to being the birthplace of the Red Cross, Switzerland is home to numerous international organizations, is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association, but notably even though it’s not a part of the European Union, or the European Economic Area, it nevertheless, allows free movement of travel, trade and living, for EU member states.
Although a small country of just eight million people, Switzerland consists of four (4) main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian, and Romansh – a sort of Swiss Romance language.
I live in Germany and Switzerland is practically next door but…
Shock & Horror!
I had never ever been!
Mainly ‘cos it’s frightfully expensive!!
And so, I decided to cough up, and just go for it. And with a demanding growing lad too.
But where to go?
I opted to go to Lucerne.
To visit Lucerne. Sleep in Lucerne. Eat in Lucerne. And survive the horrendous prices. With young boy tween in tow.
Here we go.
Lucerne is a city in the German-speaking part of central Switzerland and is the capital of the Canton of Lucerne, and the capital of the district of the same name!
With a population of 80,378 people, Lucerne is the most populous city in Central Switzerland!
Owing to its location on the shore of Lake Lucerne, Lucerne has long been a destination for tourists.
The official language of Lucerne is Swiss German, which is very different from German-German and very sing-songy…!
TAKE ME THERE?
Lucerne has excellent connections. If you’re flying, you would usually come into Zurich or Basel, and then a car or train ride away, would be about an hour. You can also come in via boat or rent a car.
We came in by train.
As you know, Victoria’s Summer European Challenge Campaign is to travel through the summer by train. Being that I live in Berlin, makes it an extremely easy way to travel.
In fact, travelling by train through the European continent is one of the most comfortable ways to travel with ease, from one country to the other. And by far, one of the cheapest!
The snag is to book tickets with the national train companies, directly. On their own websites, or through the German Rail otherwise known as Deutsche Bahn. Most websites have an English version. Some can be admittedly slightly hidden, but persevere, or contact them directly by calling, or via Email!
The cheapest way to ease into buying train tickets through most European countries (not all), is to actually book through the Deutsche Bahn portal on the local German English version not the UK or USA version! Note that for Germany, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland, if you’re going by train, I don’t recommend that you do so by InterRail or EuroRail passes, if you’re only travelling to one country, as the prices are ridiculously expensive and children have to be paid for!
Last year, I bought a twelve-hour direct train ticket from Berlin to Budapest. In first class for €69.00. Second class was just €10.00 cheaper at €59.00! My child was free of charge!
I bought a seven (7) hour train journey (second class) train ticket via the Hungarian Railways or MAV at a cost of 11,780 Ft or €38.40 to travel from Budapest to Prague. Child included in the cost!
I bought a five (5) hour train journey ticket (second class) to travel from Prague to Berlin. In August for just €29.00! And don’t forget, on the German inter-city Deutsche Bahn trains, children under 15 years old, travelling with their relatives, are free and cost nothing at all!
As a matter of fact, our return ticket from Berlin – Copenhagen – Berlin was just €58.00!
For Switzerland, we took the Sparpreis Europa city night line train, and the eleven (11) hour return ticket journey from Berlin – Lucerne – Berlin, including reserved seating in July. Cost just €98.00. My child was free!
In a future post, I’ll be giving you tips as to how to prepare yourself when travelling on a European train!
IS IT GOING TO BE CROWDED?
We went to Lucerne in July, and I didn’t think crowds were more or less, than any other top European country in peak summer months.
I did notice that tourists were wonderfully more diverse, with many coming from other European nations of course, the US, and Asia.
Switzerland is a small nation with a lot of natural scenery and water, if you really don’t want to see a single soul, I don’t think it would be that difficult!
WHAT IS LUCERNE LIKE?
We were only there for two (2) days but I found Lucerne fascinating.
It’s in Switzerland, so it’s enormously clean, tidy, and orderly.
The people were friendly, relaxed, helpful, and full of smiles. In fact, loads of people were just relaxing and swimming in the lake, many were strolling, and you got the impression that these were people happy with their lot.
Lucerne is picture postcard pretty with bridges that reminded you of Venice, and castles that left you in no doubt that you were in a country of city and culture. Everywhere you looked was an impressive monument, building, castle or church, but a few paces away you would find cows in the field gently chewing away!
In front of you would be a majestic palace, and around the corner would be a flea market. The trains were super punctual but at the same time, if you went to a local tavern, the waiter would spend 20 minutes chatting while you drank your beer. You had the distinct impression that the people of Lucerne understood their city, and were happy to share it with visiting tourists.
It’s a city of history, but a living one, that breathes.
I DON’T SPEAK GERMAN!
Not a problem. Everyone pretty much speaks English, with many of the locals speaking German (of course), French and Italian too!
AM I GOING TO LIVE IN A HUT?
Nope! Switzerland is one of the most advanced nations in the world, so it won’t be necessary for you to live in a cave!
I’M ON A BUDGET. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Not a lot I’m afraid.
Switzerland is expensive.
Terribly expensive and sadly, there’s no getting around it!
However, have no fear, there are hostels that cater to the more budget conscious traveller, and we were in one of them!
Knowing that Swiss prices would turn my hair grey, I opted to book a private double room at Backpackers Lucerne hostel.
Whenever we go on a family holiday, I like to mix things up a little in order to experience a wide variety of accommodation possibilities, to meet the locals, and to stretch our budget in a more comfortable way.
In Copenhagen, I decided to book a family friendly budget hotel. This time around, we were going for the cheap and cheerful option of a hostel.
Backpackers Luzerne is a hostel that is located 15 minutes from the train station, right in front of the lake, near a local park where friends and family were hanging out, napping, listening to music, on a picnic, or just playing boules!
I had booked a private twin room which came with bed sheets, a large wooden wardrobe, a wooden table, two chairs, a mini-lamp with a mini bedside table, a private balcony with a further two chairs, and free WiFi.
There were only two plugs on one side of the room, and one plug on the other, and neither of them could actually reach the table, which wasn’t that great with a laptop, kindles, phones, iPads, and all the other paraphernalia, that people travel with today.
I usually write at night and I wasn’t really able to, as there was no way to work with such a tight space with mini-facilities, without disturbing my son as he slept. So imagine my annoyance, when I found out that there were rows of tables, on the floor landing, with a million plug holes, just for this very purpose!
If only I had known earlier!
The hostel had two kitchens, a large common room, and shared bathrooms and toilets on every floor. As well as laundry rooms, and an extra open space with mirrors and sinks so that you could do your basic toiletry, outside the bathroom shower!
They also had bathroom scales which I thought was pretty nifty.
We paid just CHF 70.00 or €65.00 and we also got a discount ‘cos children get a CHF 8.00 or €6.70 reducction!
For what it was, this hostel was delightful and I highly recommend it.
I’M LOOKING FOR A BIT MORE LUXURY, IS THERE SOMETHING FOR ME?
But this challenge wasn’t that sort of trip, and after losing so much money in Copenhagen, I thought it prudent to spend less, and experience more!
WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I GET TO LUCERNE OTHERWISE KNOWN AS LUZERN?
We only went for two (2) days so this was a a bit of a whirlwind cultural family trip. We were kindly given complimentary Luzern Museum Cards for the weekend which at CHF 36.00 or €33.00 per person, greatly reduced the cost of having to pay individually.
Thanks so much!
There is plenty to do in Lucerne. You can:
WHAT ABOUT TRANSPORT POSSIBILITIES?
Lucerne, otherwise known as Luzern, is pretty small. Everywhere is walkable, but local trains and buses are simple to use. Buy tickets for zones, rather than individual journeys.
You can also use your bicycle or take a ferry or ship across the many marvellous lakes!
We didn’t use local transportation however, Swiss punctuality is legendary, so if you want to connect to other Swiss cities, the train is best!
Now, let’s be realistic. Anywhere in Switzerland is horribly expensive.
Prepare for really high prices, and either suck it up or go elsewhere!
I mean, we went to a lovely lake-side pub for a small glass of beer and a soft drink.
And the cost? A hefty CHF 25 (swiss francs) or €23.00 not including the tip!
You’ve really got to wonder how they do it!
After that, we went to the supermarket and stuck to sandwiches, salad and cake!
I hate cooking at the best of times, and on holiday or city breaks, I definitely don’t cook! But if YOU do, there is plenty of opportunity to cater for yourself.
I was impressed by Lucerne, otherwise known as Luzern.
It’s lovely. It’s old. It’s got history, art and culture, and looks cute and flowery. It’s not your average budget destination, but if you plan carefully, you can make it work!
I’m just so sorry that I hadn’t visited earlier!
WOULD I COME AGAIN?
I intend to do just that and can’t wait to visit again.
Let’s do it!
This article is not sponsored, and even though we received complimentary Luzern Museum Cards, all opinions and the wonderful Swiss lakes and houses that I was fascinated by, are my very own!
Throughout the summer month of August, all the museums in Berlin will be open each and every day! This will conclude with the bi-annual Die Lange Nacht der Museen otherwise known as the Long Night of Museums taking place on 27.8.16 from 6p.m. in the evening ’till 2a.m in the morning!
Mexico Week at KaDeWe will take place from 15.08.16 – 03.09.16, to introduce Mexico’s culinary diversity. Mexican food producers will present authentic foods, beverages and ingredients, many of them available in Germany, for the very first time!
I’ll be attending a media walkthrough on 18.08.16. Holaaaaa!
The Pop Kultur Festival is a new festival based in hipster Neukölln, over three (3) exciting days of new international and German bands, live concerts, performances, talks and reading, taking place from 31.08.16 – 02.09.16.
Berlin Art Week will take place from 13.09.16 – 18.09.16 so if you like contemporary art, this is the place for it!
I’ll also be attending the Down Under Berlin Australian & New Zealand Film Festival, which is the largest film festival in Europe dedicated to Australian and New Zealand film!
Save the Date!
August is going to be exciting!
I’ll be there. Will you?
As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & Facebook!
If you’re not in Berlin in August, what are you waiting for?!
Watch this space!
See you in Berlin.
Love this post! I haven’t visited most of Western Europe because of the expenses involved; and I am actually visiting Eastern Europe drawn by the allure of spending less..haha! But I love that you explain that such places can be visited on budget, and that one can stick to salads, cake, bread and drinks from the supermarkets; which is much cheaper. I’ve been doing that alot even on this trip to Ukraine, as low as their currency may be, reason being there’s no harm in stretching one’s finances abit.
Thanks so much Caroline!
Yep! Eastern Europe is really attractive for many, as it’s so cheap. And you’re in the Ukraine at the moment. Niiiiiice! I’ve never been. I was invited by the city of Liv, but it was at the height of “the troubles” with Russia, so I declined! I look forward to reading all the details on your blog lol!
As much as I love the East, Western Europe has a lot of beuty, culture, art and food. I don’t know how many times I’ve been to Italy, France, Spain & of course, the UK. They’re not necessarily cheap, but I keep going back again and again. Especially Italy! 🙂
I’ve yet to make it to Lucerne. In fact, a lot of Switzerland is still missing for me. But I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Much like your trip to Copenhagen, I’ve also booked tickets with Deutsche Bahn before, only to get sent to a bus. Always makes for quite a surprise! 😀
Thanks so much Danny!
I really had a lovely experience, and it was about time that I visited Switzerland too. It’s embarrassing being that we live so close. No?
p.s. The Deutsche Bahn bus was a surprise. It was great on the way out but really lousy on the way back, ‘cos we had told the driver that we would be a few minutes late. My son was actually at the bus station waiting for me, as I had sent him on while I picked up our stuff. But no can do! And the coach bus was pretty empty too! 🙁 🙁
Oo, you were staying just a few blocks away from my home. 🙂
I’m happy to read you liked Luzern.
No way Urska! That is so cool! I forgot that you lived in Switzerland even though I follow your blog lol! Perhaps we could go for cake, the next time I visit. 🙂
Yep! I liked Luzern very much! 🙂
Hehe. Yes, I would love to! 🙂
It’s a date!
Glad you guys are having fun on your tour. We have finally come back home too after a whole month away So tired. We are staying home for a while 🙂 and chill. Lucerne looks beautiful, but l think like you say, you just have to suck it up and know it will be costly, but at least you can minimize the damage so to speak :-). The TYG is growing rapidly isn’t he? 🙂
Thanks so much KemKem!
Did you spend a whole month in Sweden? Wow!
Lucerne was a killer price-wise, but at least we had some previous practice in Denmark, so I was prepared….lol! And we got to balance some of the cost in Luxembourg and Slovakia.
Yep, “The Tall Young Gentleman” is growing up fast. I’m delighted that I got to spend this summer with him while he’s still interested..! Mind you, he told me that once he’s of age, he’ll only travel with us if the destination is “exotic!” 🙂 🙂
Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world: all of it! I was in Lucerne many years ago, but I remember that medieval wooden bridge especially well. Wonderful! I’d recommend something like Airbnb or couchsurfing for those on a tight budget. And buying sandwich makings at a supermarket rather than eating in any restaurants.
Thanks so much Rachel! I absolutely agree! The medieval Chapel Bridge is such a lovely monument to history and beauty of years gone by. In fact, all of Lucerne was lol!
Yep! I agree with you re AirBnB / couchsurfing. It’s not really my thing but it’s certainly an option. I chose to stay at a family-friendly hostel instead, and since it was part of the Swiss Hostels Association, I knew that we would be in good hands.
Sadly, sandwiches, soup and cake, was pretty much all we could afford. I was so looking forward to fondue, but perhaps when husand is in tow, next time around lol! 🙂
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