Video Of The Day: Switzerland By Train

Without a doubt, Switzerland has some of the most scenic railways in the world. Not only do trains send travelers past the snow-covered Swiss Alps and vast valleys covered in green, but these systems are also a modern engineering marvel. The video above shows the variety of rail traffic passing through the country. Filmed throughout the Canton of Ticino, it is so artfully done is almost looks like a model railway.

If the name Gotthard sounds familiar, it might be because of current construction projects in the country. Currently, Gotthard Base Tunnel, which will be the world’s longest rail tunnel upon its completion in 2016, is being built beneath the Swiss Alps. The ambitious endeavor runs 35 miles through the mountains, and will have taken 22 years to complete. It will cut off more than a third of the travel time between Zürich and Milan, shortening the trip from 3.5 to 2.5 hours.

For now, take our advice and hop on a train in Switzerland. It truly is an unrivaled way to get around the country.

7 Tips For Touring Europe By Train

Hitting the open road might be the most iconic way to see the United States, but riding the rails is certainly the most romanticized way to journey across Europe. And who wouldn’t enjoy taking in the views as you sweep past rolling vineyards in Spain or ride the rails across water to reach Venice? As you plan your travels across Europe, here are some tips and tricks that will make sure your dream trip runs smoothly.

Plan Ahead: Rail Pass or Single Tickets?
The first big decision you’ll have to make is whether buying an unlimited rail pass or purchasing as you go is the best option for your trip. The former is a great choice if you’re planning to hop around to a lot of places, while the latter is a better decision if you’re not covering a whole lot of ground. No matter which method you choose, being strategic about how and when you buy tickets can save you a lot of money in the long run. Purchasing tickets online in advance is cheaper, as is buying tickets the day of at train stations, but with either option, you might have to sacrifice some flexibility.

Rail Europe, a company that combines schedules and fares from more than 50 rail companies, makes it easy to buy tickets all across Europe. Still, it might be worth your while to shop around and buy directly from the companies within the countries your traveling (such as Trenitalia in Italy or DB Bahn in Germany). Shop around, as it could pay off big in the long run.Get to the Station Early
This one might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t allow enough time to merely get to their train. Be sure to arrive early enough to be able to get your tickets validated, decipher the signs at the station and find your gate. And just because you’re going to a small station doesn’t mean you’ll have an easier time getting to your gate. Smaller stations are not only less likely to have English signage, but some are notoriously maze-like. This would be a good time to point out that you should be able to lift your luggage, as some stations don’t have elevators or escalators. If you don’t think you can lift your luggage up and down several flights of stairs, it’s time to learn to pack lighter!

Study the Seating Guide
Another thing you’ll want to allow time for is checking out the seating guide, which is usually posted at the end of the platform. These guides tell you which class each carriage will be, and where the dining cars or silent cars will be. Even more importantly, you’ll want to make sure the train car is going to your final destination. On some routes trains split in two, with one section continuing in one destination and another section hooking up to another engine to go to a completely different place. Taking the time to look at the seating guide will ensure you don’t make these types of mistakes. If you don’t see or understand a guide, double check with the conductor or an attendant that you’re in the right place.

Pack Some Snacks
Besides packing some things to do to bide your time (an iPod, a deck of cards, a magazine, etc.), it’s a good idea to pack something to snack on during long trips. This is especially true if you are passing through one or more countries, because each country often comes with a different snack and beverage service. On many trains in Italy, for example, free soda and snacks are offered multiple times (even on short trips), but once the same train crosses into Switzerland passengers are asked to pay outrageous prices for bottles of water and candy.

Since snacks vary and might come in unrecognizable packaging, an easy way to ask for something is by specifying whether you want something “salty” or “sweet.” Which brings us to the next point.

Don’t Assume the Stewards Know English
This is a common mistake amongst American tourists, and it is often met with rolled eyes and annoyed looks. In each country you’re traveling to, make sure you know how to ask if the steward speaks English. Learning some simple phrases – please, thank you, excuse me, etc. – can make the experience much more enjoyable for you and the people serving you.

Lock Up Your Luggage
On the train and at the station, take precaution with your baggage. Whether you are traveling with a backpack or a suitcase, it’s a good idea to get a lock for your luggage. You may even want to pack a separate bag that is easily accessible inside your main bag, allowing you to take anything you really care about with you to your seat when luggage is stowed. Sometimes, you’ll be able to place your luggage in overhead bins where you can keep your eye on it, but other times you might need to place your luggage in racks at the front or back of the train car.

If you’re making a lot of stops on your trip, some train stations do have places where you are able store your luggage for a few hours or the day for a fee. This allows you to leave your bags at the station and explore, and the attendants are usually used to English speakers storing things (again, it’s nice to approach the porter using the most-used language of the area you’re in). Although this system tends to be reliable, it’s still a good idea to keep a lock on things and keep your valuables with you – or leave them at home to begin with!

Have an Exit Plan
European trains are known for their efficiency and adherence to strict timetables. That being said, many trains don’t wait for long periods of time at stations – especially those in small towns. After stopping, the conductor looks to see if anyone is boarding or departing, and if they don’t see any action trains can take off within a matter of seconds. With the knowledge in mind, it’s important to note that some doors on trains do not automatically open and require you to push a button (or use force) to exit. A good rule of thumb is to sit somewhere that allows you a vantage point to watch how passengers are exiting the train. That way, you won’t get stuck.

[Photos by Libby Zay]

Video Of The Day: Crazy Bikers Race Down Glacier

It appears as though crazy bike stunts and dangerous urban bike courses just aren’t enough of an adrenaline rush anymore. In Saas-Fee, Switzerland, bikers push riding to the extreme as they pedal down a glacier in a death-defying race. A handful of the 142 riders mounted cameras to their bikes and helmets so us less adventurous (and perhaps more sane) types can get a feel for the crazy race. Riders reached speeds over the 80 mph mark as they dashed over ice and snow from a starting height of 3,500 meters to 1,700 meters. This year’s winner, Charlie Di Pasquale, completed the race in 7:31. Anyone out there up for giving it a try next year?

Photo Of The Day: Where Do I Go From Here?

There comes a moment in every great voyage when one finds the need to sit and reflect. That sentiment is captured perfectly by Flickr user Jason Rodman in today’s Photo of the Day. Taken on a recent trip to Basel, the image depicts the Statue of Helvetia, mother of Switzerland, as she contemplates life from a perch overlooking the Rhine at sunset.

Does your contemplative travel photograph belong here? Upload your favorite shots to the Gadling Group Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

Zurich On A Dime – Budget Travel Tips for the World’s Most Expensive City

On my second day in Zurich, named the world’s most expensive city by The Economist, I found myself sitting at an outdoor table, high above the city, savoring a splendid view of the altstadt and a tasty $3 mug of Swiss beer, while my young sons shared an ice cream cone in a moment of rare culinary cooperation.

We’d just returned from visiting James Joyce’s grave, which is adjacent to the zoo (his wife thought that he’d want to be buried there because he was fond of hearing the lions roar), and after a day of cataloging Zurich’s costly pleasures, we had finally discovered a relative bargain. We got off the #6 tram at the ETH/University Hospital stop and noticed a host of young people filing into the student cafeteria for ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The cafeteria and adjacent pub/café have extensive outdoor seating and million dollar views of the city below. (See video and photo above.)

The prices are a bargain by Zurich standards with reasonably priced drinks and decent quality sandwiches and full meals for under $10, not to mention free tap water – a rarity in Zurich. There are 42,000 university students in the city and this is the neighborhood both of the largest universities are based in, making it a good bet for budget friendly dining and drinking. From the city center, you can take the Polybahn funicular from the Central stop right up to the cafeteria in three minutes flat.Finding a cheap place to stay in Zurich is also a tribulation but if you book ahead, you can get a private room at Zurich’s H.I. hostel for as little as $116 or a bunk for as little as $43. Not cheap by hostel standards, but a bargain in Zurich, especially for a nice hostel like this one (see video below). It’s not right in the center, but it’s only a five-minute walk from a tram that can get you downtown in 15 minutes. Other good budget options include the City Backpacker, Hotel Biber, and the Longstreet Hotel, which was recently opened by some veteran backpackers.

When the grey skies disappear and the snow-capped Glarner Alpen mountains just outside the city come into brilliant focus behind the city’s skyline of handsome clock towers, it’s easy to see why the city is routinely ranked as one of the best places to live in the world. Set right on a beautiful lake, Zurich is an attractive place at any time of year, with two rivers converging in the city center, tidy streets and a well preserved Old Town, but when the sun shines… it’s magic.

There’s no getting around the fact that Zurich is expensive but the best things in life are still free. Stand at the Platspitz, Joyce’s favorite spot, where the Limmat and Sihl rivers converge and watch the boats go by. Go to the Merkur Laderach on Banhofstrasse and watch them make chocolate. Take a walk up to the Lindenhof Park in the altstadt and take in the spectacular view of the city. Amble over to watch the guys playing chess on two massive boards with huge pieces. Steal a glimpse at the teenagers covertly making out in the shadows. None of these things costs a franc.

%Gallery-153190% After meeting with Daniela Strobel from Zurich Tourism and chatting with some students, I discovered that, with a bit of foresight, it’s definitely possible to visit Zurich on a budget. Here are a few more tips.

Free water – Zurich has 1,224 public fountains and the water quality is reportedly better than bottled water. Get one large bottle in a supermarket – the real ones, not the takeaway annexes, which are pricey – and drink to your heart’s content. At restaurants, you can ask for hahnenwasser (tap water) but many will still charge you for it.

Free bikes – You can rent a bike for free right in front of the main train station year round at Zuri Rollt, or at a host of locations around the city in the summer. With a 20-franc deposit, you can rent a normal bike, an electronic bike (if you want to go fast) and even kids’ bikes or adult bikes with children’s seats.

Zurich card – Invest in a Zurich card, 20 francs for 24 hours or 40 francs for 72, and you’ll gain free entrance into nearly all of Zurich’s world class museums, discounts at shops, plus free rides on all Zurich’s trams, trains, buses, funiculars and boats. I highly recommend taking the scenic boat ride on Lake Zurich to see the castle and atmospheric old town of Rapperswill on the outskirts of town.

Red Light District – A young Swiss couple told me they hit the heart of Zurich’s red-light district, Langstrasse at Circle 4, when they’re looking for cheap eats. The truth is that you see graphic sex posters even on Zurich’s main shopping streets, so there’s no reason to be squeamish about visiting this area – though it’s best to come here during daylight hours.