Now that I know my grandmother's situation, while not ideal (it's never going to be "ideal", not anymore) is no longer as precarious as first thought, I feel more comfortable continuing my travel plans for The Bold Soul's Grand European Tour (that sounds sufficiently self-important, I think), knowing that if things change I can cancel everything within 72 hours of the trip with no penalties or costs. But I'm going on the assumption it will be fine for me to move ahead with this and actually take the journey.
With that in mind, I've accomplished the following:
- Train connections fully researched, itinerary created with timetable and train numbers for all connections throughout, and TGV segments have had seats assigned and paid for.
- Geneva: booked and confirmed at the incredibly inexpensive Home St. Pierre, just across from the Cathedral St. Pierre in the old city. At 42 CHF/night (that's just $35.33 USD - at last, one place in Europe where the dollar wins), this location is a bargain. www.homestpierre.ch if you're interested.
- Swiss PostBus: this is how I'm travelling between Brig, Switzerland and Domodossola, Italy, en route to Milan. This bus route takes me through the famed Simplon Pass, and it's the only way I can have the full experience of what it was like for my family to drive through this high-altitude route across the Alps. I'll transfer back to a train to Milan, but the PostBus is only 35 CHF for the trip, no reservations required for less than 10 people, and they leave 3 times every morning from the Brig station, last trip at 12:05. They offer a wide variety of tours across Switzerland: see website.
- Venere.com: found this website through Google, and it provides numerous hotel bookings for cities all across Europe. I started by booking my Milan hotel for one night and afterward discovered they cover Venice, Salzburg and Munich as well. You can sort by price, check hotel locations (I'm more interested in being nearer to the train stations for quick access in/out since I'm on a tight schedule), see photos, find out if they have air conditioning, private baths, and internet access, and read customer reviews which I found to be VERY helpful in narrowing down my choices. You can also do a side-by-side comparison of the features of the different hotels, too.
- Milano (I love saying it in the Italian instead of "Milan" because it reminds me of Pepperidge Farm Milano and Mint Milano cookies. But I digress.) I chose the Hotel Delle Nazioni: 7.2 out of 10, close to the train station and not far from the Domo, WITH breakfast included, air conditioning, private bath, hair dryer, all for 35.50 Euros/night. No internet access but I'm sure I'll find a WiFi point somewhere and it's only for one night.
- The Last Supper: placed order for a ticket and am holding my breath as availability is limited and I've got less than 24 hours in the city in which to see it (less when you consider sleeping time). Let's all visualize me getting a "Sure, we've got a ticket for you!" email shortly!
- Venice: Not so lucky on prices here but no where near as bad as I'd feared. I opted, again, for a hotel just a 2 block walk from the train station, just off the Grand Canal (no canal view) -- the Hotel Florida (!) at 87.67 Euros/night for my 3-night stay. Price includes: breakfast. They do have Internet access on-site for 2 Euros/hour. I will blog quickly. They rated a 7.7, have air conditioning, rooms that appear to be decorated in a light, airy manner, and an on-site Internet cafe. I did consider two or three other slightly cheaper places also fairly near the train station but I liked the look of this place and they've had 248 hotel reviews from guests, several of whom were repeat customers.
- Salzburg: the surprise here was that it was harder for me to find a cheaper hotel than in Venice, at least one that seemed in a good central location with access to the train station and the old city. I ended up with the Centralhotel Gablerbrau, 102 Euros/night for 2 nights, not too far from the station and just a bridge walk away from the old city. Also close to the Mirabelle gardens and palace, where I will also get my tour bus for the Sound of Music tour (yeah, it's hokey, but how could I NOT do this?) Breakfast is included, the WiFi is available at 8 Euros/hour (blogging even faster here than in Venice), and it got rated an average score of 8.1 by past clientele.
- Munich: here, it's the Hotel Dolomit, a 7.3 rating, just about a half-block from the Hauptbahnhof (train station) and as I am going to be doing some day-tripping both days I'm there, easy access to the station is key. (I still have to book my reservation for King Ludwig's castle, which is next on my list for tomorrow.) This place looks clean and contemporary, they've got WiFi and satellite TV (hey, maybe I'll catch Oprah, which I can't get in France). Breakfast is NOT included here but 8,00 Euros is not too bad and it will be a full breakfast, not continental. I'm not a huge fan of German food overall, but the breakfasts are generally excellent.
- Strasbourg: I'm now very glad I allowed the girl at the Gare du Nord TGV window to book me into a hotel in Strasbourg. I'm at the Mercure on the Place de la Gare, literally right in front of the train station. OK, so maybe not the most picturesque spot in town, but can't beat the convenience. The Mercure is a hotel chain here in France. At 90 Euros/night x 2, this is not a bad deal. The hotel was renovated in 2006, it has WiFi, air conditioning, in room safe, hair dryer in private bath... everything a traveler could need. I suspect breakfast is not included but they have a restau on site for added convenience, or I will go out and enjoy one of the city's many cafes for breakfast.
So, there is still a lot to do: shopping for a few practical travel needs, exchanging the laptop-compatible travel backpack I bought at Bon Marché because it wasn't so practical after all (too small for my laptop), and checking and double-checking everything I've done so far to make sure I haven't inadvertently skipped or overlapped something important. And of course, the all important packing list needs to be written down so I do not forget something like my cell phone charger or my camera!
More progress reports to follow, here on The Bold Soul "travel channel"!