Today is a little vacation rewind. I thought it would be fun to go back in time and see how much our trip to Switzerland cost in May 2014. Unlike my exhaustive travelogue of Peru, I’ll just be talking about how we spent and saved money on this trip, what the total cost was, and how it stacks up.
We stayed for seven nights in Switzerland, and got one bonus layover night in Dusseldorf which I won’t be counting. That’s a different country after all! All of these costs were converted from Swiss francs to US dollars using the prevailing rate in May 2014 of $1.10 CHF to $1.00 USD.
Total Cost: $1,821.32
|2 Tickets||Retail Cost||Discount||Our Cost|
|AirBerlin Business Class, JFK-Zurich||$3,702.51||100,000 American Miles||$213.40|
|Lufthansa Business Class, Geneva-JFK||$5,500.00||100,000 United Miles||$126.60|
|Total Round Trip||$9,202.51||200,000 Miles||$340.00|
We very shrewdly booked our flight as two one-way tickets using American Airline miles and United miles. One weird trick, as they say, and I don’t think this is even available anymore, was that our flight to Europe started in October 2013 in Vancouver! At the time, you could use American miles to book a stopover of 11 months within your home country, meaning you could add a completely free flight! So basically, at the end of our Vancouver trip in 2013, we flew back to NYC, had a “stopover” of eight months, and then continued on to Europe, all for just the 50,000 miles each it would normally cost for the North America to Europe flight. That’s what you call a free one-way.
We flew on Air Berlin going to Europe, and Lufthansa coming back, both in business class, meaning we had fully lie-flat seats in both directions and great food. You can see the Air Berlin spread above. Warsteiner beer, a beef appetizer and salad, a lamb tagine, white wine, cheese and fruit… Everyone should fly business class at least once in their life.
So yeah, that’s two round trip tickets in flying beds with more food than you can handle for just the taxes and fees of $170.00 each. Thanks, frequent flyer miles! As one even more added bonus, instead of going directly to Switzerland, we planned a layover in Dusseldorf of 23 hours, meaning we had a full day in Germany as well, a country neither of us had been to! That cost nothing extra. In Dusseldorf, we saw churches, browsed a book fair, ate sausages and pretzels, watched weird German game shows, and since I’m an electronic music dork, I got to visit the original location of Kraftwerk’s Kling Klang studio on Minitropstrasse.
After that, we flew into Zurich, spent two nights there, three nights in the Alpine village of Mürren, and two nights in Geneva.
|Transport for 2||Cost||Miles Covered|
|Train – Airport to Zurich||$15.55||7 miles|
|Train, Bus, Cable Car – Zurich to Murren via Lucerne||$168.62||82 miles|
|Cable Car – Murren to Schilthorn, Round Trip||$136.20||2 miles|
|Cable Car – Murren to Stechelberg||$25.40||1 mile|
|Bus – Stechelberg to Lauterbrunnen||$9.00||4 miles|
|Train – Lauterbrunnen to Gevena||$191.21||140 miles|
|Avg Cost Per Mile||$2.31|
Again, does one of these numbers not look like the others? $136 for two people to travel two miles? Like our trip to Peru, there was one super expensive mode of transportation we took that was built just to get tourists where they all want to go. In Peru it was the $114 train to Macchu Picchu. In Switzerland it was the $68 cable car that brought us to the top of the Schilthorn, where there is a James Bond museum and revolving restaurant. In warmer months, I would’ve hiked up Schilthorn, but it was still deep in snow, so that wasn’t possible.
You have to take two cable cars just to get up to the village of Mürren, but that wasn’t nearly as expensive as the cable car to Schilthorn. Probably this was to bilk the Schilthorn daytrippers for as much as they could, while if you’re just going as far as Mürren, you’re probably staying and spending money in town.
We got around completely on public transportation. Switzerland has an incredibly extensive railway network, reaching every small town you can think of.
At $1.16 per person per mile, it comes out higher than the 79 cents per mile we got in Peru, but not so much higher. This is probably because of the lack of trains in Peru and the ubiquity of taxi cabs helping to keep our costs higher there. That said, for that extra price you also get non-stop breathtaking sights in Switzerland. The railroads traverse on top of mountains or sometimes blast right through them in tunnels. The views from the trains were so spectacular, not only did I take a hundred photos, but I ran out my camera’s memory card by taking videos!
When researching train trips through Switzerland, you might hear about special tickets called The Golden Pass or the Alpine Dreamer or things like that. Those are marketing terms trying to get you to spend more money. Basically, it will take you down an especially scenic route on a somewhat nicer train. But you can ride on that same route on a normal Swiss train, which is still 100 times better than any American train, and save a ton of money. You just have to know how to ask to get the exact routing you want.
We bought our tickets at the train station each time. We first rode from Zurich to Mürren and I distinctly asked the station agent to go “via Lucerne” so that we would route by Lake Luzerne. If you don’t ask, you will get a route through Berne, which is a tiny bit faster, but less scenic. Similarly, to get from Mürren to Geneva, I bought tickets in Lauterbrunnen and asked to route via Zweisimmen and Montreaux, I think. THAT is the Golden Pass Route. It’s gorgeous, but it’s also, like, 6 hours long. Just FYI.
And though we used the trams and buses in Geneva, we didn’t incur any cost, because if you’re staying in a hotel, it’s all free! You get a little tram pass with your room. This was really handy because our hotel was across from the United Nations but miles from downtown. Plus we could use our free pass on the last day when we had to sadly head to Geneva airport and fly home.
|Hotel||Nights||Cost Per Night||Total Retail Cost||Our Cost|
|Park Hyatt Zurich||2||$904.00||$1,808.00||$79.00|
Through the strategic accumulation of hotel points and free nights, we spent nothing for four out of our eight nights in Switzerland and Germany, except for the credit card fees paid to get the free nights (reflected in Our Cost). One night in Geneva was $70 plus 25,000 IHG points.
We used two free nights from Hyatt credit cards at the Park Hyatt Zurich, the most expensive hotel we have ever stayed at by far. This place had a woman with a cart who came around in the middle of the day to refresh the fruit in your room! It was a very high level of service type of hotel, which made me very embarrassed to walk in there unwashed and wearing a backpack. I’m sure they could smell a couple of hotel point cheapskate Americans a mile away.
The Intercontinental in Geneva was not as ritzy, but it felt more comfortable. Plus it had a couch, which was ideal because we hosted some family to watch the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 finale in our room! Did I mention that, as of 2014, I’m also a Eurovision nerd?
The only lodging we paid cash for was in Mürren, the Alpine village that I basically fell in love with. We basically paid $100 a night for an apartment with a full kitchen. Big shout out to Chalet Böb’s. I’d spend a month there if I could. Because we had a kitchen, we could eat all of our meals in for big frugal money-saving time.
The village of Mürren itself was basically vacant while we were there. You see, whenever the train into town is scheduled for repairs, everyone who lives in Mürren leaves for their own vacation and the village is basically shuttered, so we had the place to ourselves… WHICH WAS AMAZING. Our inn was one of only two or three open in the whole town. So with almost all of the restaurants closed and the grocery store only open for four hours a day, not only was the apartment frugal for meal cooking, it was actually very necessary. We had no idea the village would be empty, so it was pretty thrilling.
|Food for Two||Cost|
|Chez Ma Cousin, Dinner in Geneva||$52.26|
|Stagerstubli, Dinner in Mürren||$52.78|
|Nordsee, Lunch in Zurich||$27.23|
|Cakefriends, Dessert in Zurich||$28.31|
|Baunchanzli, Lunch in Zurich||$23.00|
|Various grocery trips – Coop & Migros||$223.13|
|Average Cost Per Person, Per Day||$25.42|
Yowzer! That’s a lot of money spent. It’s no joke, food is expensive in Switzerland. Compare that average cost to Peru where we ate for $13.67 per person each day, and that was entirely in restaurants! In Switzerland, apparently we only ate out at five restaurants total, and the rest was grocery shopping. This backs up my notion that the smart gourmand goes to South America, not Europe, to chow down.
Out of those few restaurants, I’d recommend most of them. Bauschanzli is a waterfront cafeteria setup on Lake Zurich. Reasonably priced, but the food wasn’t that good. Well, at least the Schwarzer Kristall beer was great. Chez Ma Cousin is a small chain in Geneva that basically serves roasted chicken. And that’s it. But it’s really good, and at $15 for a half-chicken, incredibly Swiss cheap. Nordsee is some kind of fast food seafood place where we got fried fish and a seafood salad at the train station. Sounds strange, but it was actually perfect.
I probably wouldn’t recommend Stagerstubli, where we ate in Mürren. When we arrived, everything was closed except for two restaurants, so basically we had to eat at one of them because we had no food with us. The $52.78 was basically the cost of two rostis with eggs. Yeah, a rosti is basically a potato pancake, so, uh… not a good value.
But, good news for Switzerland travelers. It’s not all expensive! I found wine and chocolate to be extraordinarily cheap. And the grocery stores are more expensive than in the US, but still not too bad. What I was shocked by was that the grocery store in Mürren, a village on the side of a mountain accessible only by cable car, was no more expensive than the grocery stores in Geneva or Zurich! I’m not sure how they pull that off transportation-wise. So in Mürren we got some pasta, cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, sauerkraut, bottles of Swiss wine, a sausage called a “knoblauchwurst” and a crunchy chocolate spread called Ovalmaltine. Now that’s livin’!
|Tickets for 2||Cost|
|Musee de la Reforme, Saint Pierre, Site Archelogique, Geneva||$40.63|
|Average Cost Per Day, Per Person||$2.53|
Pretty incredibly, we only spent money on one recreation item. We spent about $20 each for the combo ticket in Geneva to see the Museum of the Reformation, St. Pierre Cathedral and the Archaeological Site underneath the cathedral. The Museum of the Reformation was a little, ahem… dry. It was very educational, but not so much more than you could get just reading up on it. But St. Pierre’s Cathedral and the Archaeological Site underneath it are definitely worth visiting. It turns out the site of St. Pierre’s has been home to religious worship for thousands of years, and you get to dig down through the literal layers of history built up under it.
We actually wanted to go to a museum in Zurich, the Swiss National Museum, but we stupidly went there on the one day of the week they’re closed (Monday). Ah well. There are more than enough churches that are free to enter to occupy your time. You can even go to an old convent at Grossmunster church filled with disgusting art (see left). The Prostestants’ churches might lack decoration, but that shouldn’t indicate a lack of imagination, because some of the art is horrifying.
In Mürren, of course, for two days it was all about the hiking, which is free and plentiful. I can’t overstate how ideal the hiking is around Mürren. In the northeast, we are used to hiking to one spot for the view and then hiking back. Pick any hike in Mürren and there is always something new to look at. We were constantly tromping through farmland, meeting cows, passing by homes and barns, finding waterfalls and mountain huts, and seeing the remaining unmelted snow paint painted randomly across the landscape. And I’m telling you, seriously, there was no one else there. Even the barns with animals were weirdly abandoned.
We made an ill-advised hike up to flower garden Allmendhubel, which was about a foot deep in snow. At some point, all of the other footsteps disappeared and we were clearly the first people that spring to hike up that far. And to think, most people just take the funicular to get there, even in the warm months! Pussies!
We even went down in the farming village of Gimmelwald, a Rick Steves favorite, and again, there was no one there except us, a few farmers, and a bunch of animals.
So, all told, Switzerland wasn’t cheap, but we did pretty good in one of the most expensive countries in the world. If we had paid cash for our flights and hotels, it would’ve been much worse. Now, whenever I retirement fantasize, Mürren and the $100 a night apartment plays a part, as I try to calculate how much I would need in the bank to stay there for a month or two every year. It’s not that far-fetched.
What’s your favorite Eurovision song? Where’s the best place you’ve ever gone hiking?