Friday, May 25, 2012

Europe 2012

" LIFE is only traveled ONCE. Today's moment becomes TOMORROW's MEMORY. Enjoy every moment, good or bad, because the GIFT of LIFE is LIFE itself ......"

"Sometimes the road of  LIFE may seem a bit bumpy. But it is just a small part of the great journey you're on. "

"5 Rules of Happiness -  Don't Hate, Don't Worry, Give More, Expect Less, Live Simply"

" My 31 days in Central & Southern Europe (France, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar & Morocco) from 11/4-12/5/2012 - My wife's first visit to Europe "

Travel itinerary: 

Lichtenstein>Zurich Zurich>Paris>Madrid>Lisbon/Sintra>Seville>Algeciras>Gilbratar
>Algeciras>Tarifa>Fez, Morocco

There was no Arab Spring in nine of the countries I visited in Europe in April/May 2012 - my 4th trip. I enjoyed coming to Europe especially during the first season of the year ie Spring time. Winter is a real no go for me as I can't stand the bitter cold weather and Summer, we have it all year round in Malaysia so no fun at all wandering around in Europe under a heat wave ! Maybe I should come in Autumn for a change when the leaves turn brown ! 

On 8/7/2011, I made an online purchase for an Air Asia promotional ticket (Rm2,041=E$510 KL-Paris return). So once again, I have to hone my skills to prepare a travel plan for my 4 week journey to Europe. But in early 2012, Air Asia dropped a bombshell announcing the suspension of all their long haul flights to Europe. 

So what's next ? Ask for a refund or accept an alternative proposal from Air Asia to fly with another airline ? 

As an avid traveler, traveling spices up my retirement life. Now that I have done the travel and I am pleased to post some pictures in my travel blog so as to jog my memory whenever I think of the good old traveling days in Europe ! 

In free & easy traveling, there are bound to be challenges you have to face throughout the journey. There is no spoon feeding and you are very much on your own. You reap what you sow ! 

For this trip, a few things happened (the good, the bad & the ugly) :

- Air Asia suspended their flights from Kuala Lumpur to Paris from March 2012. I opted for a transfer to MAS flight and was granted but there was a lot of anxiety in between.
- My wife and in-laws accompanied me for 14 days in Europe. I traveled solo for another 14 days after their return. Traveling in pairs is the most wonderful thing in life. 

- My wife's wallet went missing from her handbag a day before her departure from Paris. 

- Due to Easter festive season, this caused an upset to our travel plan to London. But a gain to us when we modified our plan to include a visit to Edinburgh, Scotland. 

- Nearly missed our bus trip to Geneva after a wrong queue at the Eurolines Bus station to obtain our boarding passes in Paris. We were lucky as the bus we supposed to board arrived late. Otherwise, our whole Switzerland trip can be thrown into disarray.

- Unable to print a copy of my brother-in-law's on line purchase of a Eurolines Bus Pass (E$230) but got it fixed after several phone calls to their authorized agent in Belgium

- Inadvertently, I booked on-line into a hostel with an age restriction of 18-35 years in Paris. But I was allowed to stay after producing an email exchange of the hostel's acceptance when I clarified and brought the issue up prior to my arrival in Europe. 

- In Sept 2011, I fell flat on a slippery floor at a food stall in Xining, China and sprained my kneecap. I suffered acute pain each time I bend my knee. Surprisingly after one month of travelling (daily walkabout for 2-3 kms) in Europe, the pain is now totally gone - what a miracle ! 

Thanks god - my body and soul are still together after all these years of traveling ! No lost soul ! 

The KL Team - William Boey, Leong Soon Hoh, Leong Soon Mae & K M Cheng
(Standing tall in front of a snowy mountain in Vaduz, Liechtenstein) 

Surprise ! Surprise ! Warmly greeted in Cordoba, Spain.
Sun, superb food & hospitality awaits you when in Spain 

Happy Birthday - K M Cheng ! Treating myself with an exotic meal (E$4.30) in Fez, Morocco 

Total expenses incurred (31 days): Rm8,999 (Euro$2,249)

Cost breakdown:
Air Asia Promo Ticket (KL>Paris return) : Rm2,014 (but fly MAS due to flight suspension)
Travel insurance: Rm220
Airport bus: Rm16
Eurolines Bus (30day Pass) : E$335 = Rm1,340
Hostels (22 nights) : 46pound + CHF175 + E$354 = Rm$2,242
Inter-regional train & coach : CHF250 + E$165 = Rm1,510
Metro / taxi / tram / bus : 11.6pound + E$63 = Rm310
Ferry (Algericas>Tanger,Morocco return) : E$35 + E$20 = Rm 220
Cable car (Gibraltar) : 9.75pound = Rm49
Entrance fee: E$48 = Rm192 (Versailles E$18+Alcazar E$8.50+ La Alhambra E$13.00+ Cordoba E$8.50)
Eurolines service fee: 8pound + CHF5 = Rm57
Souvenirs: CHF23 + E$20 = Rm158
Tour guide fee (Morocco) : E$5 = Rm20
Food & groceries ( own prepared meals) : 27pound + CHF25 + E$90 = Rm580 (most hostels provide free breakfast)
Currency exchange : Euro$1=Rm4.00; CHF(Swiss Franc)$1=Rm3.34; 1 Pound =Rm5.00

Travel Highlights: 

1) Paris - France

2) London - England

3) Edinburgh - Scotland

4) Switzerland
  • Geneva
  • Laussane
  • Bern
  • Lucerne
  • Interlaken
  • Zurich

5) Vaduz - Lichtenstein

6) Spain
  • Madrid
  • Toledo
  • Seville 
  • Algeciras & Tarifa
  • Granada
  • Cordoba

7) Portugal
  • Lisbon
  • Sintra 

8) Gibraltar - A British Colony 

9) Fez - Morocco 

France (11-13/4, 23-26/4 & 9-11/5/2012)

Total expenses incurred (8 days): E$334=Rm1,336

Hostels (7 nights): Hotel Liberty E$145.75 per pax (5 nights-double bed room ) + Paris-Le d'Artagnan E$27.80 (1 night-dorm) + Peace & Love Hostel E$27 (1 night-dorm) + Online booking service charge E7.50 = E$208
Metro: E$31.75
Paris airport RER train: E9.25x2=E$18.50
Food & groceries: E$45
Entrance fee: E$18 (Versailles)
Souvenirs: E$7
Luggage storage: E$5.50

Paris, France 

This is my 4th visit to Europe and my 3rd visit to Paris. So I played the role of a team leader and took my wife & in-laws to a number of touristy places in Paris, London, Edinburgh, Lichtenstein and a few scenic towns/cities in Switzerland. 

Our MAS flight MH20 departed Kuala Lumpur at around 23.35 and arrived Paris in the following morning (06.40) . We encountered not much hassle going through the French Immigration counters and picking up of our luggage bags in Terminal 1. From Terminal 1. we took a shuttle train (free service) called CDGVAL to Terminal 3 / Roissypole in order to catch a RER train (E$9.25) to Paris city centre. Our hotel, Hotel Liberty is within walking distance from Gare de Lest Metro station. Due to the Ester festive season, we were not able to book our Eurolines bus tickets from Paris to London as scheduled. A small setback to our travel itinerary to London.

We stayed a total of 5 nights in Paris (2 nights on arrival & 3 nights upon departure) and visited Versailles, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Pyramide du Louvre & Bouleved de Rochechouart, Galleries Lafayette, Opera, Luxembourg Garden, Invalides, Notre Dame & River Seine tourist area. Paris was drizzling most of the time and the temperature was around 4-7 Celsius so our umbrellas were put to good use. 

Towards the end of the 2nd week prior to my wife's departure to Kuala Lumpur, she lost her wallet and we presumed this was stolen in one of the Metro train rides in Paris. 

As I extended my stay in Europe after my wife's departure on 26 April, I stayed on for two more nights in Paris at the end of my one month trip in Europe (9 & 10/5/2012) 

England (14/4/2012)

Total Expenses incurred : 55 pounds = Rm275 per pax

Hostel (1night): Smart Russell Square Hostel - 20.00 pounds per pax (4-dorm bed room) 
Food & groceries: 15.60 pounds
Eurolines service fee: 8.00 pounds
Metro: 7.00 pounds (Day ticket) + 4.30 (single ticket) pounds 
Transport: Eurolines Bus Pass: (Eurolines bus London>Geneva via English Channel crossing from Dover>Calais)

London, England

After an overnight bus trip from Paris to London (23.00>06.30), we arrived at the Victoria Coach station and took a Metro to our hostel in Russell Square. After storing our luggage in our hostel, we took a Metro to Eurolines office and booked our tickets to Edinburgh, Scotland & Geneva, Switzerland ( under Eurolines Bus Pass). To stick to our timetable in Switzerland, we could only stay one night in London (original plan was 3 days) and had to leave London the next morning (09.00) for Edinburgh (arriving 17.00)

Birmingham Palace was our first place of visit in London as it was within walking distance from the Eurolines office. After this visit, we took a Metro back to Russell Square and bought some groceries from a nearby supermarket and checked into our hotel at around 15.00.  

My wife was not feeling well hence she did not join us in visiting some touristy places in London ie Convent Garden, China Town (Leicester Square) & Trafalgar Square. In the evening after our dinner at the hostel, we took a Metro and visited the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Big Ben and the riverside along the River Thames. 

Upon our return from Edinburgh, we took a Eurolines bus from London via the English Channel crossing from Dover to Calais for our trip to Geneva, Switzerland (12.00>06.00)

Scotland (15-16/4/2012)

Total Expenses incurred: 47.50 pounds = Rm238 per pax

Hostel (2days) : Edinburgh Backpackers 17.50 pounds per pax (1 night-double bed room) + 8.75 (1/2 day cost sharing for day rest) + on-line service charge 2 pounds = 28.25 pounds
Souvenir: 2.50 pounds
Food & groceries: 18.80 pounds
Misc: 2.0 pounds
Transport: Eurolines Bus Pass (London>Edinburgh return)

Edinburgh, Scotland

Our Eurolines bus from London (09.00) arrived in Edinburgh at around 17.00. Due to a late afternoon check-in and a cold weather, we did not venture out at night but did some laundries and cooking at the hostel's kitchen and retired to bed earlier.  

The next morning, we spend the full day exploring the Edinburgh city. The Old Town & New Town of Edinburgh has been gazetted a UNESCO World Heritage site. We visited the section of Old Town, St John Church, Princes St Garden, North Bridge and took a picture of Edinburgh Castle from the Princess St Garden. 

In the evening, we took a Eurolines bus to London (arriving 06.00) for our connecting Eurolines bus from London (12.00) to Geneva via another bus transit in Paris (23.30). So the overnight bus journey from Edinburgh to London and then another overnight bus trip to Geneva was quite a challenging one. 

Switzerland (18-22/4/2012)

Total expenses incurred (5 days): CHF366.10 = Rm1,223

Hostels (4 nights): Backpackers Lucerne CHF32x2 + City backpackers-Hostel Biber,Zurich CHF37x2 = CHF138.00 (4-dorm bed room)
Food & groceries: CHF24.70
Souvenirs: CHF23.00
Eurolines service fee: CHF5.00
Misc: CHF2.00
Swiss trains: Total CHF173.40 = Rm580
Geneva>Bern via Laussane - CHF47.00
Bern>Lucerne via Olten & Zofingen - CHF43.40
Lucerne>Interlaken (return) - CHF30 x 2 = CHF60.00
Lucerne>Zurich - CHF23.00
Transport: Eurolines Bus pass (London>Geneva; Zurich>Paris) 
Currency Exchange CHF$1=Rm3.34

Geneva, Switzerland

Our Eurolines bus from Paris arrived in Geneva at around 06.00 and before heading to Geneva train station for a train ride to Bern/Lucerne, we lugged our bags towards Lake Geneva, a short distance from the bus terminal. After taken a few pictures around the Lake Geneva, we strolled pass the famous Rue du Mont-Blanc with rows of posh shops selling Swiss knives, watches, pens, chocolates and gifts / souvenirs. 

Lake Geneva is listed as a Natural Wonder of the World and Geneva is Switzerland's second largest city.  It is also the HQs of United Nation, International Red Cross, International Labour Organisation & World Health Organisation. 

As Geneva was our first stopover in Switzerland and due to time constraints, we were not able to explore the city in greater depth. If given the opportunity again, I could like to make another visit to Geneva in the near future. 

Laussane, Switzerland

From the Zurich train station, we boarded a train to Bern (CHF47) via Laussane. We made a brief stopover in Laussane, overlooking Lake Geneva. Laussane is the HQ of the International Olympic Committee and also the host of the Swiss Hotel School. The Olympic Museum is also in Laussane. 

As it was drizzling at the time of our visit, it was quite challenging for us to walk up the cobblestone shopping street just opposite the train station. At the higher ground of the city center, we had a panoramic view of Lake Geneva & a magnificent view of snow-capped mountains in the background. 

Laussane has one of the Switzerland's grandest Gothic cathedrals found in the city center. 

Bern, Switzerland

If you do not make a stopover in Lausaane, the train journey time from Geneva to Bern is approx 1 hr 45 mins. 

I made a point to visit Bern due to her famous 15th century Old Town which has been gazetted as an UNESCO World Heritage site. My original plan was to stay overnight in Bern but opted for Lucerne instead due to its close proximity to Zurich. 

We were impressed with Bern after strolling along the Marktgasse to the Zytglogge Clock Tower. The real attraction was rows of colorful Swiss flags lining out on both sides of the covered arcades in Martgasse area. If you have a deep pocket, Bern's Casino welcomes you with open arms ! As I am no gambler, so I just walked pass the Casino. 

Bern is also the place where Albert Einstein developed his theory of relativity in 1905. Travelling does broaden one's knowledge in Science ! Do you know that Toblerone chocolate is made in Bern ?

Lucerne, Switzerland

From Bern, we took a train (CHF43) via Olten & Zofingen and arrived in Lucerne at around 17.00 (journey time - 1hr 30 mins) and stayed in Backpackers Lucerne hostel for two nights. Our room (4-bed) faced a snow-capped mountain and the view from the hostel's glass window looked very spectacular. The hostel has a nice & well equipped kitchen and we had our own cooked breakfasts & dinners during our  three days stay there. 

The next morning, we walked to the Lucerne train station and bought a return train ticket (CHF60) for our day trip to Interlaken (journey time 2hrs) on that day. 

During our stays in Lucerne, we took our leisure time and visited the 15th-century Old Town, Lake Lucerne & the famous Kapelbrucke (Chapel Bridge) dating from 1333 - Lucerne best known landmark. 

Interlaken, Switzerland

Some years ago when I attended a MATTA Travel Fair in Kuala Lumpur, the exhibitor of a Switzerland tourist booth provided me some interesting advice on Interlaken. The official reiterated to me that should I make a visit to Switzerland in the near future, I should as a first timer includes Interlaken as one of the top priority destinations.  

Today, my dream has come true. We were excited when we boarded a train from Lucerne to Interlaken Ost and along the way, we admired the natural beauty and landscape of this wonderland of Switzerland. On arrival , we took a slow walk from Interlaken Ost station to the main street leading to Interlaken West.  Our spirit was high & cheerful; the surrounding sights simply stirred our souls and the weather was cool and refreshing. A very memorable visit indeed !

To sum it all, the views from the train's window were simply awe-inspiring - snow-capped mountains, stylish Swiss homes & rural farmhouses, beautiful lakes & hills, tall pine tress, peaceful meadows etc - no wonder tourists like to flock to this land of paradise. 

Zurich, Switzerland

From Lucerne , we took a train to Zurich (CHF23 - journey time 1hr) and stayed for two nights in this capital city & leading world financial center of Switzerland. 

For the next three days, the weather in Zurich was wet and cold so it was quite messy for us to move around the various tourist sites in Old Town and near the Lake Zurich & Limmat river front area. Nevertheless, with the help of our umbrellas, we had a good glimpse of Zurich by day & night. Zurich train station is an interesting landmark not to be missed. 

For the 2nd day, we made a day trip from Zurich by train to a small neighboring country called Lichtenstein.   

On the 3rd day, we departed Zurich for Paris on an overnight Eurolines bus thus ending our visit to Switzerland with a lingering mind. In Paris, we stayed for three more nights. On 26 April, my wife and in-laws departed Paris for their flight back to Kuala Lumpur thus ending their 15 day free & easy trip to 5 countries ( France, England, Scotland, Switzerland & Lichtenstein ). As for me , I  continued my travel for another 15 days to Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar & Morocco. I returned to Paris on 9 May and departed for Kuala Lumpur on 11 May.