During the summer of 1997 my wife Sharon and I made a 25-day trip
to Great Britain and four European countries. Virtually the entire
trip was planned using internet resources.
The impetus for the trip was 60,000 miles worth of Northwest Airlines
frequent flyer Fly-Write tickets that were about to expire. Under
Northwest's original World Perks program the 60,000 miles were
enough for two free US to Europe coach class round trips.
Our initial plan was to visit parts of England, Scotland, France
and Germany, with Switzerland and Austria as possibilities. We
planned to either drive or use the train to travel between countries.
We picked late June of 1997 as our departure date in order to
beat the deadline for using the Fly-Write tickets.
In late August 1996 (300 days ahead of departure) I used Northwest
Airlines' web page to find trans-Atlantic flights that had seats
available for frequent flyer travelers. We finally decided on
flying from Orange County to London via Detroit and returning
from Frankfurt. I then called Northwest and made the reservations.
I wanted to organize the trip myself and had intended to start
the detailed planning early in 1997. Work and other activities
pushed that back to late April. By then it was too late to do
much corresponding by mail so I began to see what I could do on
the World Wide Web using my Macintosh PowerPC, Netscape and the
AltaVista search engine (http://www.altavista.com). [Note: Today I would use the Google search engine (http://www.google.com) rather than AltaVista.]
First we laid out a tentative itinerary -- London, York, Edinburgh,
Paris, Interlaken, St. Moritz, Vienna, Rothenburg and Frankfurt.
Except for St. Moritz and Frankfurt, these were all places where
we wanted to spend some time. St. Moritz was on the list because
it is the eastern terminus of the Glacier Express, a train I wanted
to ride, and Frankfurt was the departure point for our flight
I then used AltaVista to search for web pages on British and European
rail passes, train schedules, and travel guides for several of
the cities we wanted to visit.
Along the way Prague was added to the tentative itinerary. However,
it soon became apparent that going to Vienna and Prague would
add too many days of just train riding so we began to look for
some alternatives. My wife suggested the Cotswolds in England.
We had only heard a little about the area so I searched the web
for information on it (http://www.visit-glos.org.uk)
as well the nearby city of Bath. The Cotswolds sounded so charming
they convinced us to rethink our itinerary. The Cotswolds were
in; Vienna and Prague would have to wait for another trip.
The final itinerary ended up as
follows -- London (4 nights), the Cotswolds (2 nights), York (1
night), Edinburgh (4 nights), Paris (4 nights), Interlaken (4
nights), Sargans (a small Swiss city; 1 night between trains),
Oberammergau (1 night), Rothenburg (1 night) and Frankfurt (1
night). Also included were stops in Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon,
and Kempten (Germany) to pick up or drop off rental cars. Maps of the UK, northern France, Switzerland and southern Germany show our route of travel. The heavy red line indicates travel by train and the heavy blue line travel by rental car.
I knew nothing about Kempten except that it was on one of the
main rail routes from Switzerland to Germany and had the closest
Hertz agency to Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle -- a must see
stop for us. Kempten was located solely by web searches before
ever consulting a conventional paper map. The same goes for Sargans.
It replaced St. Moritz as an overnight stop and allowed us to
depart from Interlaken in the morning, make a three hour stop
in Lucerne for lunch, and still have time to ride a good portion
of the route of the Glacier Express -- all in one day.
Once the itinerary was fairly firm I began to search for accommodations
with a goal of keeping the average cost around $100 per night.
I found hotels in London and Frankfurt through the Quality Inns
web page (http://www.hotelchoice.com/)
and in Rothenburg through the Best Western web page (http://www.bestwestern.com/main.html).
I searched for a small hotel in the Opera section of Paris and
came up with the Hotel Marsollier Opera -- at one time the residence
of Oscar Wilde (http://www.123france.com/europe/france/paris/hotels/holistus.htm).
Making the reservation via the internet resulted in a significant
discount off the published rate. For the Cotswolds, York, Edinburgh,
Interlaken, Sargans, and Oberammergau I searched for B&Bs
or small hotels. One of the Oberammergau guest houses, the Gasthof
Zur Rose, looked familiar (http://www.oberammergau.de).
It turned out to be one where we had stayed in 1990 when we were
in Oberammergau for the Passion Play. We stayed there again in
I was able to make all of the reservations directly over the internet
or by e-mail for every place but Edinburgh and Sargans, where
a B&B and a small hotel were found through web pages but I
had to telephone to make the actual reservations -- neither had
e-mail or a fax machine.
With the accommodations mostly set I used the Eurail pass and
Britrail pass web pages to find the best combination of rail and
rail/drive passes (http://www.railpass.com).
For the UK the most economical combination was a 6-day Britrail
Pass plus Hertz car for myself (3 car days + 3 train days over
two months) and an eight consecutive day Britrail Pass for my
wife. I used the Hertz web page (http://www.hertz.com)
to verify the availability of cars in Bath (for the Cotswolds)
and Edinburgh. For the continent I bought two 5-day Europasses.
I also bought two discounted Eurostar tickets for a trip through
the chunnel from London to Paris.
I ordered the rail passes by telephone from Rail Pass Express
then called Hertz to reserve the cars in Bath and Edinburgh. The
Hertz car that we picked up in Kempten and dropped off in Frankfurt
was reserved entirely through the Hertz web page.
Next I used internet railroad timetables for England (http://www.railtrack.co.uk/travel),
and Germany (http://bahn.hafas.de)
to plan the details of our train schedules. The Swiss and German
internet timetables were especially helpful because they also
cover neighboring countries such as France and Austria. You enter
the origin city, destination city, date, desired departure time,
and intermediate cities (if you want to indicate a specific route)
and the timetable comes back with several options around the input
Finally, I used AltaVista to search for tourist type information
for each city, town or area where we were stopping. I found much
more than I can describe. One example was Giverny which we visited
on a day trip from Paris by train. The Giverny web page (http://www.giverny.com)
provided schedules, costs and a complete description of Claude
Monet's house and garden, the latter the setting for many of his
impressionistic paintings. When I wanted to find out what we should
do while in Interlaken, I searched for everything I could find
on the Bernese Oberland-Jungfrau Region -- sightseeing trams to
mountaintop viewpoints, narrow gauge trains, day hikes, lake steamers,
etc. One web page called "Traveling with Ed and Julie"
led to a wealth of information and was extremely helpful in planning
our three days in that area. I even found a page with 'LiveAudio'
sounds of yodeling, Swiss cowbells and Alpine horns (http://www.wengen.com/sights.html).
I ended up bookmarking the URLs (the internet addresses) for almost
140 different web pages. (By bookmarking them in Netscape I could
easily go back to them.) Probably half of the web pages were found
directly from searches with AltaVista and the other half by 'hot
links' from related web pages. Considering that many of the 140
web pages were actually multiple pages, I probably looked at somewhere
between 200 and 300 pages -- plus all those that had nothing useful.
In the end almost everything went exactly as planned. Every hotel
and car reservation was waiting for us. We ended up on almost
every train I planned to ride, only deviating in two or three
instances. Only one train schedule from the internet had an error
and that was easily corrected. Using mostly printed train schedules
from the web pages we never missed a train -- and we rode 37 in
all, some with connections as short as five minutes (see Train List).
The hotels and B&Bs were all good or better (see Itinerary/Lodging List).
And I think only London and Rothenburg were over my $100/per night
guideline. Most of the B&Bs were in the $70-$80/night range.
If there was a negative aspect to any of our accommodations it
was the lack of space in a few. But it didn't really bother us
since we usually left our room by 9:00 AM and often didn't get
back until after 10:00 PM. The summer days were long -- particularly
in Scotland where the sun set after 9:30 PM.
The planning took a lot of time -- most of my evenings for about
a month. Along the way there were some frustrating periods when
I couldn't easily find what I was looking for. But in the end
there was a certain amount of satisfaction seeing it all come
together. It was a great trip! Read about it.
The author has given slide shows about this trip to the Friends of the Anaheim Public Library (1998), the California State University-Long Beach Senior University (1999, 2000) and the Fullerton Senior Center (1999, 2000). The next scheduled slide show is on England and Scotland at the California State University-Fullerton Continuing Learning Experience on November 4, 2003.
P.S. You can find a plethora of additional information on planning a European vacation by visiting the web site Traveling with Ed and Julie.
© 1997 firstname.lastname@example.org
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