photo of tower near waterfront
Babcia and Yia Yia!, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

Switzerland 101: 4 Northern Cities

Northern Switzerland is modern Europe at it’s most efficient. It’s a bit like the highways in New England. Sometimes picturesque and sometimes full of commercial buildings. All of the cities that we discuss today are all about an hour to hour and a half from each other by train

Basel

Basel is an art centric river port where so many of the river cruises start or end their voyages. With a few sites to see, Basal is a one and done kind of town. Walking through the busy downtown makes this working city a cement jungle. Much of the old world charm and creative art lies just under the surface past the utilitarian feel. Use it for its transportation hub.

  • Look for Basel to host the best festivals and have some of the best outdoor art.
  • Take a walk around the historic area for the few old world gems including the town hall.
  • Maybe stop at one of the many cosmopolitan stores and grab lunch from the deli. My favorite part was sitting by the fountain below. 
  • Above all know where the train station is to catch your train to the next destination. 

Zurich

Zurich Modern Switzerland: Lots of buildings and perhaps missing a little bit of the charm that’s plastered all over Instagram. While the lakeside definitely is pleasing to the eye, the downtown and cement laden suburbs are built for swiss efficiency and modern living. That said, as always, the local people are so very nice and it makes the experience beyond worth it. Use it as a layover city.

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  • Enjoy a walk through the downtown lakefront while you wait for your plane.
  • The food is great and the ever efficient swiss train system will speed you right to the airport.

Lucerne

Lucerne is simply lakefront perfection, This gateway to the south of Switzerland does not disappoint. the entire lakefront and riverside areas as well as the surrounding countryside.  Use it for a perfect day trip.

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  • Use the Rick Steves’ walking tour to enjoy a lap around the historic old city center including the iconic bridges.
  • Enjoy a cruise on the lake whether by taking a charter or using your own power on a pedal boat.
  • Have your camera ready!

Bern

By far, Bern which is full of bears and boasts the unbelievably beautiful Aare river is a capitol well worth the time. The picturesque streets that begin at the main train station and continue all the way to the river views are full of interesting sites and wonderful shops. Bern is the perfect gateway to the south where some of the more famous vistas can be seen. Make it a home base for many of your day trips by train.

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  • Check in with the Bern bear!
  • Enjoy the riverside square perched above the river just behind the cathedral. Then, get a book at the tiny library or take on a local with a game of Patong.
  • Join in the Swiss outdoor fun. Take a swim right down the Aare River like the locals. Here are the instructions.

Getting Around

The Swiss train system is one of the best in the world and well worth the time it takes to arrange a pass. Using the train system is very easy. Simply check the multilingual boards, find your track and hop on. Late trains are a rare bird so connections are sometimes close but totally doable.

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Driving in Northern Switzerland is a breeze. Modern roads and highways make this an enjoyable road trip country. Southern Switzerland is full of mountains covered in windy switchbacks. If that stresses you out, use the train and enjoy the view.

Where To Next?

Travel U for Kids

Travel U Library: Tall Tales From Ireland and Scotland

Thanks for joining us today for 10 Books in Ten Minutes on Facebook Live. I truly love these particular books and hope you will too! Each of them contributes to make us all better global citizens. Here are the Amazon links to all of today’s picks! Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

The Selkie Girl

What is so special about the sea? Perhaps it’s the magical creatures that live there. Scotland loves their magical creatures and Selkies are no different! So what happens when Fergus, a poor fisherman’s son, and a Selkie meet? Read on and be inspired by the magic of it all!

Harry The Highlander

Harry is a very shaggy, very curious little cow. When he finds a gap in the stone wall, Harry wanders off to meet some new friends. Perfect for the younger crowd, this sweet story will ensure that everyone knows how friendly these gentle giants truly are.

Nessie: The Most Famous Tale of Monster Mayhem Ever

Looking into Scotland would not be complete without the famous Loch Ness Monster! Nicknamed Nessie, this Loch legend has been the talk of the highlands for a long time. Reading up on all of the chaos surrounding poor Nessie is a great way to introduce the concepts of myths and legends.

Katie in Scotland

James Mayhew’s Katie series of books are enchanting. In this book, Katie takes the reader on a tour of Scotland with a very special guest. Katie checks in on the Jacobite train and sees plenty of the sites in Edinburgh. What a great read for just before take off!

Greyfriar’s Bobby

Question: What’s better than a loyal pup? Answer: Not much. In this story of loyalty, wee Bobby shows why he deserves all of the attention he gets to this day. This true story is told in true Scottish tale style, adding a bit here and there, but the story of how this loyal dog loved his master is spot on.

S is for Shamrock

I am a true fan of the alphabet series of books that take kids on journeys all over the world. S is for Shamrock is no exception. Get the lay of the land and a grasp on the culture by walking through 26 pages of pure Ireland. From Riverdance to vikings and everything in between, it’s a can’t miss!

Lazy Cat, Crazy Cat

To get a hold of what’s happening around St. Stephen’s Green at night, simply check in with this lazy by day, crazy by night feline. George and his friends curiously poke around in this silly book set in Dublin’s most favorite square.

Fin McCoul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill

What is better that some fanciful Irish storytelling? Absolutely nothing! Get ready to find out the REAL reason Giant’s Causeway exists in this enchanting tale. Hint: it’s not because of scientific reasons! Finn and his love Oona take on a clever plan to out smart Finn’s rival. This book is pure fun!

Fiona’s Luck

Ireland’s been through its share of bad times. So how can one girl find a little luck to make her homeland just a little better? Fiona and the wee folk have just the tale to tell you how.

Brigid’s Cloak

In true Irish style, storytellers weave works to explain the unexplainable. In this case, the amazing story of St. Brigid comes to life and explains all of those wondrous moments of Brigid’s life and why she and her cloak will never be forgotten.

Thanks for joining us for these great global book picks! Check out more picks by clicking here!

Notes on Planning and Packing

Travel Tech 101: Travel Apps

By far, out of all of the travel tech gadgets and gizmos that are out there, the most important one is my phone. I keep everything digitally and I use many of its features to keep me organized and on top of all of my travel plans. My iPhone is a little upset with me these days. There never seems to be any downtime for the poor thing as I am constantly downloading and deleting apps to check out which ones are worth it and what I can pass on. I recently had the pleasure of listening to a great talk by someone who spends a ton of time on this very topic and I learned about a whole bunch of very interesting travel tech that could totally make your trip a better experience!

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TripIt.com

This app syncs with your e-mail and collects all of your reservation information and turns it in to one linear itinerary. It’s perfect for a weekend or for a couple of weeks. The app keeps track of everything and is organized in an easy to use manner. You can add everything from your flight info to a dinner reservation through the e-mail auto upload or manually. It works whether you are using a travel agent or you are a DIY planner. Share your plans with your traveling group and keep everyone in the know. You can try it out for free and if you really love it, you can upgrade to pro.

Tunnel Bear

This app creates a VPN which enables your phone to mask itself while on public wifi’s. This is a “must-do” if you plan on going on airplane mode during your travels. One person who takes VPN and wifi safety seriously is Angel Castellanos who runs a great travel website. Read more about VPN’s and iPhone safety here

Rick Steves’ Audio Europe

This app has extremely informative walking tours of museums, galleries, city centers and more for almost every destination in Europe. If you are looking for the nuts and bolts tour, this is your app. In Milan and want to know about the art in the Duomo? Rick’s your guy. Interested in a walking city tour of the architecture in Prague, Rick’s got you covered. Rick will walk you through the Louvre and the canals of Amsterdam. His pitch is pragmatic and no nonsense. It’s self paced and available for download to use sans wifi.

woman in red coat and black hat standing on gray concrete floor
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The Chick Fil A App

Did you know that you can order your food from a local Chick Fil A and THEY WILL BRING  IT OUT TO YOU??? It’s true. If I’m on I-95 and the kids are getting cranky, we can all pass the phone and order. It will be ready 3 exits down the road. This can be a lifesaver on a road trip. In addition to the typical rewards that can be earned, you can also earn a free tour of Chick Fil A headquarters in Georgia. Just remember that you can’t order on Sundays!

Twitter

I know, I know, me either! Twitter is not the world’s most user friendly site but it does have it’s perks! I was attending a travel talk with Samantha Brown and she mentioned the invaluable perks of live customer service via twitter. You can use the live conversation option (circled in the picture below) to talk to airlines, hotels, or anyone else you can follow on twitter. If I lose my suitcase in O’Hare, I’d rather text via twitter with an airline rep than stay on hold for eight hours while I’m overseas. Very helpful!

iExit

Attention road trippers! Choose your highway, search the exits, get what you need!! This easy to use app was obviously created by someone who had crying kids in the car and was desperate for a solid Wawa or Hampton Inn. Find gas, fast food, supermarkets, lodging and more exit by exit (and left or right). A bonus? They even have roadside attractions if you’ve got the time!

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STEP Program

The State Department is the government agency that issues passports and puts out official travel alerts. To keep in touch, they’ve developed the STEP program that sends out alerts pertaining to the travel that you’ve registered with them. It’s a quick direct line to the information you need.

My TSA and TSA on Instagram

It’s nice to see this serious work take a break and smile a little! Follow TSA on instagram for funny posts about who’s trying to bring the most ridiculous things onto a plane and a few cameos from their faithful furry sidekicks. Then swap over to the app to see how long the lines are at any airport in the states. Very helpful!!

A few other apps and sites you may want to look into…