Fjords, Windmills, Mountains & Lakes

Fjords, Windmills, Mountains & Lakes
 

Fjords, Windmills, Mountains & Lakes Fjords, Windmills, Mountains & Lakes

This trip was our most ambitious trip to date, because we visited cities in seven countries and travelled over 5,400 kilometers. We took all forms of transportation: Airplanes, trains, boats, busses, trams, cable cars, ziplines, rental car and even a tricycle. We planned all of the travel ourselves, because there is so much information available that it's straight forward (ie; lots of Googling) to do this.

Our goals for this trip were to see various things in Europe that we haven't seen previously and to take our time to enjoy each place, sample the food, the beer and wine, the culture and to stretch ourselves beyond our normal life in Florida. This is the first time we are travelling without others (children/parents) being with us and we are excited for our first European adventure together.

Trip Itinerary & Route Flow
Trip Planning

For this trip, we researched hotels and places that we wanted to stay in, to make sure that the locations were easy to get to and central to activities and things we wanted to see. Using Google Maps & Google Images made this process very easy, and the results of our research would be placed into a growing "trip planner document" that provided us with a daily game plan of where we could go, and what we might want to see along the way. To view the details of how we plan trips, click here.

Because of the length of this trip, and the number of cities & countries we visited, this blog will be organized by "City & Area Description" and not "by day". This will allow us to describe where we went, what we did and what we saw & enjoyed in chronological order.

Copenhagen, Denmark    Map

Although Copenhagen had not been a part of our initial trip plans, because we were able to obtain such a good flight deal from United Airlines, we decided to spend a few days there to explore the city.

NOTE: If you are travelling to Europe using an Airline's Mileage program, you should do some research on how many points it requires to fly into various European Cities. As stated above, we found that Copenhagen required fewer points from the United Mileage Plus program than if we were to fly into London or Paris (for example). We are not aware of what other Airlines may offer, but it is likely that most will function in a similar manner.

Oslo, Norway    Map

Although we did not have much time in Oslo, we managed to complete a whirl-wind exploration of the city and even the surrounding area. The public transportation system is very good in Oslo, if it had not been, we would not have been able to see as much as we did and we'd probably still be lost there!

How to see Norway by Train, Boat, Bus & Fjord

This is easily the most scenic train ride we have ever taken; Oslo to Flam via train, Fjord Ferry to Gudvangen, Tour Bus to Voss and a final train ride into Bergen.

The Norway in a Nutshell® tour takes you through some of Norway’s most beautiful fjord scenery that includes the breathtaking experiences on the Bergen Railway, the Flåm Railway, the Aurlandsfjord, the Nærøyfjord and the steep Stalheimskleiva road (May-September). In the comfort of your train and cruise boat, watch fjord scenery with beautiful waterfalls, flowing rivers, deep valleys and mountains.

Bergen, Norway    Map

Many people think of Norway as "the frozen north", with year-round snow and dismal cold. In fact, Bergen’s temperate climate is very mild. Even if it rains sometimes, you will still have your socks knocked off by stunning views of fjords, mountains, and some of nature’s most impressive waterfalls.

Amsterdam, Netherlands    Map

The city of Amsterdam had been on our "bucket list" for a long time, we have flown through there, but never spent any time there. So adding Amsterdam to our list of cities to explore for this trip was a quick decision. We invite you to come and see what we saw and enjoyed!

Bruges, Belgium    Map

As neither of us had ever been to Belgium, we had no idea of what to expect, but we were nicely surprised at what an enjoyable city Bruges was. Founded by Vikings in the 9th century, Bruges has a long & varied history.

Bruges, often dubbed the "Venice of the North," is a picturesque city in Belgium known for its well-preserved medieval architecture and scenic canals. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Bruges captivates visitors with its cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and charming squares. The Belfry of Bruges offers panoramic views of the city, while the Markt square showcases vibrant local life. Visitors can enjoy boat rides along the canals, explore the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and indulge in Belgian chocolates. Bruges is celebrated for its cultural richness, making it a romantic and enchanting destination for anyone seeking old-world charm.

Vienna, Austria

We landed in Vienna at 12:05PM, had a quick lunch and walked to the Auto Europe Rental desk to obtain our car. Wound up getting a VW Golf, very comfortable, good A/C unit and off we drove to find Lake Hallstatt, Austria.

It is 300+ kilometers from the Vienna International Airport to our rental in Obertraun, and a third of the trip would be on local mountainous roads. We had paper maps as well as cellular mapping, but cell phone service in the mountains is erratic at best until you get near the Hallstatt area.

We have used Auto Europe repeatedly over the years that we have been traveling to Europe. We have never had any issue with the cost, the service, or the vehicles we have rented. This is not an "advertisement plug", it is simply advice to any of you who plan to rent a car while you are in Europe.

Please also be aware that you need a "vignette" toll sticker to drive on Austria’s motorways and expressways. It is available at the border, at petrol stations, or online. Click here to learn more about the toll stickers.

WARNING: Failure to display the toll sticker on your windshield will result in you being stopped by the autobahn police and issued a ticket. Some rental car companies take care of this requirement through use of a permanent RFID device on the windshield, but you should be aware of the requirement and ask your rental car company how tolls are going to be processed.

Our route took us south from Vienna and over the mountains to the village of Obertraun, where our house rental is located. 311 kilometers, mostly over autobahn with the final 75 kilometers on beautiful mountain roads.

As you can see in image # 3, there were a number of houses (or chateaus) perched on top of various hills as we continued on the autobahn. It must be very difficult to have moved construction materials up those hills!

Word of caution - and this is a note to all potential car rental people out there; If you rent a car in one country and expect to drop it off in another country, you are probably going to pay a huge "return the car charge". I used the word "probably" because you would need to ask your auto rental company about their policies, as not all companies may charge you extra for a drop-off in another country. Your best option is to structure your trip so that you return the rental car to the city & country where you rented it.

NOTE: Many mapping systems will tell you to go west from Vienna and then drive south to the western side of Lake Hallstatt, this is a much longer route than necessary, go south from Vienna on the Autobahn E56 and S6. It is approximately 20 minutes faster trip, and more scenic than the northern route.

Lake Hallstatt, Austria      Map

After an exciting drive from the Vienna Airport on the autobahn and then through the Salzkammergut Mountains on back roads that we thought might really be logging trails, we reached Obertraun tired, hungry and ready to explore!

Drive to Grindelwald, Switzerland      Map

 

 

Our driving route from Austria took us past numerous lakes in Switzerland; Zurichsee, Zugersee, Lake Lucerne, Sarnersee, Lungernersee, Brienzersee, and then Interlaken, where we turned east and drove up into the mountains to Grindelwald. It is a long day's drive, over 710 kilometers (441 miles), however since most of the drive is in the mountains it requires 8+ hours when you add pit stops, etc.

At this stage of the trip, we thought this was the most spectacular mountain drive we had ever taken, however, we were not yet aware of Route 11 (see our Susten Pass Page for that drive).

When driving through Switzerland, it's essential to adhere to local traffic rules and be mindful of the unique conditions. Here are some cautions to consider:

  • Speed Limits: Respect speed limits, which can vary between urban and rural areas. Be aware of reduced speed zones near construction sites.
  • Mountain Roads: If navigating mountainous regions, such as the Swiss Alps, exercise caution on narrow and winding roads. Follow traffic signs and drive defensively, especially in adverse weather conditions.
  • Winter Conditions: In winter, many areas may experience snow and ice. Equip your vehicle with appropriate winter tires, and be prepared for changing weather conditions. Follow any road closures or advisories due to snow.
  • Tunnels: Switzerland has numerous tunnels. Pay attention to signage, use headlights, and maintain a safe distance while driving through them.
  • Parking: Be aware of parking regulations, as they are strictly enforced. In some areas, parking discs are required to indicate your arrival time.
  • Public Transportation: Watch for trams and buses, especially in urban areas. Respect their right of way.
  • Traffic Rules: Understand and follow the Swiss traffic rules, including right-of-way and traffic signals. Switzerland has strict traffic regulations, and violations may result in fines.
  • Vignette: If you plan to drive on Swiss highways, you will need a motorway vignette. Purchase and affix it to your windshield before entering the highway - or you will stopped and fined.
  • Road Signs: Familiarize yourself with Swiss road signs and follow them carefully. They provide important information about speed limits, directions, and potential hazards.
  • Alcohol Limits: Switzerland has strict alcohol limits for drivers. It is advisable to avoid alcohol consumption if you plan to drive.

Always stay informed about local regulations and road conditions, and adjust your driving accordingly. Additionally, consider obtaining up-to-date maps or using GPS to navigate efficiently through the Swiss road network.

Click here to view a Google Map of our route.

 
Grindelwald, Switzerland      Map

Grindelwald is 710+ kilometers from Lake Hallstatt, and the route we drove took us through some very scenic mountains; alpine meadows, steep uphills, tight corners and steep downhills. The time it took to get to Grindelwald was worth every second of the drive. Come on to our page and see what we found there!

Susten Pass Drive to Switzerland to Lake Como      Map

Driving from Grindelwald in Switzerland to Varenna in Italy via the Susten Pass is a spectacular journey through the Alps. Starting in Grindelwald, surrounded by iconic peaks like the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, the route takes you through the breathtaking Susten Pass. As you traverse the pass, expect winding roads, alpine meadows, and stunning views of snow-capped mountains. Descending towards Italy, you'll pass through charming Swiss and Italian villages, eventually reaching the picturesque Varenna on the shores of Lake Como. This road trip offers a perfect blend of alpine beauty and Italian lakeside charm, promising an unforgettable driving experience.

Lake Como, Italy    Map

Our last visit to Italy had been in 2007, and as we researched destinations for this trip, we realized that we wanted to re-visit Italy in the Lake Como region. We came to this conclusion, because there's everything from towering mountains to lusciously green scenery and colourful flowers, not to mention the lake itself boasts vividly blue waters.

Drive from Varenna, Italy drive to Vienna, Austria

We departed Varenna very early in the morning to avoid the traffic, as I described previously, the streets are very narrow and Italian drivers are generally very fast, so an early departure allowed us to drive (and navigate) without bumping into any issues. The Varenna to Lecco portion of the route was all narrow city streets with frequent round-abouts and we had to be careful to avoid wrong turns - we used our Tom-Tom mapping device as well as our iPhone mapping App to make sure!

We took the Italian Autostrada E70 to the Austrian Autobahn E59 to the Vienna International Airport. Long drive at 900+ kilometers, but we had a very comfortable hotel reservation waiting for us. Google Maps states that this drive should take approximately 10 hours, and we did it in 12 hours which included fuel/food/coffee/rest stops.

The speed limit on the Italian Autostrada is 130 kilometers per hour (less in areas close to cities and/or built-up areas or in work zones) and for the first part of the drive, I kept the rental car at that speed. However, after getting consistently passed by every car on the highway, I decided to keep our speed consistent with everyone else - mostly at 150 to 180 kph. Whatever the other cars were doing is what we did. And for the record, we did not see a single Italian Police car or speed trap for the entire trip through Italy to Austria. Once in Austria however, we began to see police and speed traps more often!
Headed Back Home

At the conclusion of our drive back to the Vienna International Airport, we we checked into the Marriott Moxy Hotel which allowed us to turn in the rental car and get some R & R after that long drive. This allowed us to enjoy an evening of relaxation after the long drive, and prepare our luggage for the next day's flight.

We flew back the next morning on an Austrian Airlines flight (Boeing 777), non-stop from Vienna to Dulles International. We cannot begin to describe how comfortable a flight this was, excellent service, excellent food and superb entertainment system.

As you can see in this image, the Business Class seats were awesome! And oh yeah, every wine on their list was rated at 92 or above! The flight attendant was awesome, every time she walked by she topped off my wine glass.

Trip Summary
  • The entire trip was planned via Google, some Expedia, VRBO and a lot of discussion about what we might want to see in each location. Google allowed us to dig into an area via map & images, and it permitted us to become familiar with each location and what to expect there.
  • Most of the trains we used were scheduled in advance via the Internet, going directly to the rail system that had the most train service to the destination we were going to. The rental car in Vienna was also reserved online and we used Auto Europe as they had the best prices and no mileage fees, etc.
  • We always create a "Trip Document" where we list the dates, times, locations, etc, of where we need to be. We do not always adhere 100% to the plan, if something comes up that looks like fun then we will give it a try.
  • Our detailed planning gave us the ability to navigate through seven countries without any surprises or major failures.
  • In most locations, we did not acquire advance reservations or tickets, for example in Grindelwald, we just walked up to the train station to get tickets to ride up to the Jungfraujoch. To preclude issues with that approach, we always went earlier in the morning than most tourists, and we never had a "crowd" problem. This varies from trip to trip, it has become typical now in Europe to see destinations require "date & time" advance reservations. This gives them the ability to keep their facilities from becoming over-crowded.
  • Seven countries, 5,400 kilometers and we had a great time in each location. We are "morning people" and were out & about early each day to see everything there was to see. If we saw something that we had not previously considered or seen, and if we had time, then we would do that as well.
Trip Overview
Copenhagen, Denmark
Oslo, Norway
Norway in a Nutshell Tour
Bergen, Norway
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Bruges, Belgium
Lake Hallstatt, Austria
Grindelwald, Switzerland
Susten Pass, Switzerland
Lake Como, Italy

 

 

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Note: All images on this page are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.

Note: If you are interested, click here to view our European Travel Tips & Warnings. Or to take a look at our methods for planning, click here to view our Trip Planning Page..

 
 
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