My Perfectly Planned Europe Trip Before it was Cancelled because of Coronavirus

Friday, March 27, 2020

Back in July I scored $250 flights to Germany and Switzerland for 2 weeks.  I can easily travel by train between the countries.  After some research we soon realized Austria is less than two hours away from Germany.  So thus began my itinerary.  Two days in Munich, two days in Salzburg, and 9 days in Switzerland.  Switzerland is a dream trip and one of the most complicated trips I ever had to plan.  Then two weeks before my trip, the US announced a travel ban from Europe to the United States.  And as the days followed, things got even worse and the whole world seemed to advise everyone not to travel.  Since I can't go on my trip, I might as well share what I learned during my planning and also how I got refunds after the trip was cancelled.  I budgeted this two week trip to be about $3000 for the two of us.

2 Week Itinerary

Day 1 and 2 - Travel Day - Arrive in Munich

I had an overnight flight from EWR to MUC.  We would arrive in Munich at 3pm on Day 2.  You can take S1 or S8 train to get into the city, taking 45 minutes.  I didn't expect much time to explore, maybe take a walk to Karlsplatz square and Victuals Market if we can make it by 6pm before it closed or just walk around Marienplatz.  In the evening we can visit the famous beer hall, Hofrauhaus Munchen.

Day 3 - Day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle

Luckily you can wait til your in Germany to buy the Bayern train ticket to take this trip.  This special regional ticket allows unlimited travel for a day on regional buses and trains in Bavaria and gives a discounted rate for additional people in your group.  If your traveling on a weekday the ticket is valid after 9am or anytime on the weekend.  If you want to tour the castle, you can make ticker reservations online before your trip.  Luckily I had not bought these tickets yet.  After spending the afternoon at the castle, head back to Munich.  I planned to stroll through the town again for anything I missed and possible visit St. Peter's Church, but entrance closes at 6 pm.

Food suggestions:
Ratskeller - a very popular and large restaurant in Munich serving Bavarian food
Haxnbauer - I was interested to try this spot popular for pork and veal knuckles

Hotel booked: Buddy Hotel ($142)

Day 4 - Salzburg

You can also buy a Bayern ticket to travel to Salzburg!  I thought of a day trip as it is so close, 1 hour 46 minutes, but decided to travel to Salzburg for a two day stay and then onward to Switzerland.  Since it was a Saturday, I can take an earlier train, 7:56 am and arrive in Salzburg at 10:42 am, giving me plenty of time to explore the town.  Some spots to check out are the Hohensalzburg Fortress, view from Monchsberg trail, Kapitelplatz, Residentzplatz, Mozartplatz, Getreidegasse, and Mirabell Palace.

Day 5 - Day trip to Hallstatt

I booked round trip early bird tickets on OBB Austrian Rail from Salzburg to Hallstatt for $19 each.  There are a few ways to get to Hallstatt but we decided to do train only (with a transfer) and take the short ferry ride from the station into town.  Some activities would be to take the funicular up to the skywalk and visit the salt mine.  There is also the bone house.  I mainly just wanted to visit this town to stroll around and enjoy the views.

Food suggestion:
Barenwirt - popular for their fried chicken and schnitzel

Hotel booked: Lasserhoff ($145)

Itinerary for a week in Switzerland in April

After booking the trip, I realized traveling in April makes a big difference.  It is low season, transitioning from the winter months of skiing to the warmer months for hiking.  Some hotels and restaurants in the alps may be closed.  We wanted to visit Switzerland to hike but we learned that a lot of the popular hikes in high elevation would still be closed.  So we had to rethink our approach on this trip.

Day 6 - Zurich

I booked one way tickets on OBB Austrian Rail from Salzburg to Zurich for $35 each.  It's supposedly a scenic 5 and half hour journey.  The first train is at 7:56 am and you arrive in Zurich at 1:20 pm.  Luckily I had decided to wait til I arrived in Switzerland to buy the Swiss Half-Fare pass for 120 CHF, which allows for 50% I planned to explore the Niederdorf neighborhood and try some fondue, possibly end the night at Zeughauskeller beer hall.

Fondue/Raclette suggestions: Swiss Chuchi Restaurant, Le Dezaley, Raclette Factory, Raclette Stube

Hotel booked: first and last night in Switzerland at Hotel Montana Zurich ($260)

Day 7 - Lucerne 

We planned to take an early train from Zurich to Lucerne, 1 hour.  There are three popular mountains you can visit in this region, Mount Pitalus, Mount Rigi, and Mount Txxx.  We decided on Mount Rigi because it is 100% covered with a Saver Day Pass (which you can buy to supplement with your Swiss half-fare pass).  After visiting Mount Rigi we can explore Lucerne.  Some spots to visit are the Chapel bridge, Kornmarkt, and Museggmauer.

Food suggestion:
Old Swiss House - popular for wienerschnitzel

Hotel booked: Hotel Central Luzern ($130)

Day 8 - 10 - Jungfrau Region

It was hard to decide where to stay in this area.  The only way to enter this area is Interlaken, where the main train station is.  I also read a lot about Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Murren, and Grindelwald.  From what I gathered, Lauterbrunnen is a good transportation hub, between Wengen and Murren.  It is situated in a valley which has waterfalls but gets very shaded in the valley floor.  Wengen is up in the mountains, car-free, and is lively with restaurants and hotels.  Murren is also in the mountains but quieter.  Grindelwald is similiar but a little further away.  We decided to stay in Wengen to get the best of both worlds, mountain views and convenience.

The train from Lucerne to Interlaken takes about 2 hours.  We would continue to take a train to Lautergrunnen and then a mountain train to Wengen to check in our hotel.  Because of the limited options in April, we thought we would take the cable car up to Mannlichen and hike the Royal Walk (if open).  Another option could have been to explore Interlaken a bit before going to Wengen, maybe enjoy a boat ride on Lake Brienz or Lake Thun.

Schilthorn Mountain day - This is a skillfully jam-packed day.  We travel down to Lauterbrunnen.  Take the cable ride from Lauterbrunnen to Grutshalp.  From Grutshalp to Murren, you can take a train or enjoy a popular and scenic hike, 1 hour.  Once in Murren, you can enjoy a nice view at Edelweiss Hotel and continue on a cable ride to the top of Schilthorn.  After Schilthorn you can stop at Birg for the Thrill Walk before arriving back at Murren.  After that, you can do another popular hike from Murren to Gimmelwald, 45 minutes.  From here most people take the gondola down to Stechelberg, although you can hike it in one and half hour too.  Lastly enjoy a walk on the valley floor from Stechelberg to Lauterbrunnen, with a stop at Trummelbach Falls.

Jungfrau Mountain day -  It is convenient to visit Jungfrau if you stay in Wengen.  From Wengen you ride to Kleine Shiedegg and then Junfraujoch.  After spending some time here you go back down to Kleine Shiedegg.  From Kleine Shiedegg you can ride to Grindelwald.  In Grindelwald to you can ride a cable car to First.  There are a lot of activities you can do here and also check out the First Cliff Walk.  After going back down to Grindelwald, a cheaper way to get back is take the train to Interlaken and continue from there.

Hotel booked: I splurged on a resort with balcony view at Arenas Resort Victoria-Lauterbrunnen ($550)
Some hotels are closed during April low season

Day 11 and 12 - Zermatt

2 days in Zermatt is enough in hopes to see the Matterhorn on a clear day.  The train from Wengen to Zermatt takes about two hours.  After you arrive in Zermatt you can take take the Gornergrat train for a view of the Matterhorn.  I advise this train first because it has later hours.  The next day you can take the train to visit the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.  You can spend the rest of your time exploring the town and walking paths.  I tried to look up hikes open during April but did not find any.

Food suggestion:
Schaferstube - popular for lamb
Chez Vrony - reservation required

Hotel booked: I found rates for airbnbs reasonable - Holiday Apartment Theodul ($277)

Day 13 and 14 - Zurich

You can ride the famous Glacier Express Route from Zermatt to the final stop, St. Mortiz.  I decided to ride to Chur (the station before St. Mortiz) because it is closer to Zurich, and I was ok with missing the last 2 hours of the ride, which you'll have to backtrack if you want to end your day in Zurich.  The ride from Zermatt to Chur takes 5.5 hours and then it'll take another 1 hour 15 minutes to get to Zurich by train.  Enjoy your last night in Zurich.  My flight was the next morning at 11:45 am.

Trip Cancellation Process:
- American Airlines called me the day after the US travel ban and offered a full refund on my flight tickets.  The chances of going on my trip seemed slim and I don't know when I can travel again so I accepted the refund.

- I cancelled all my refundable hotels

-I had $985 in nonrefundable purchases (3 hotels, 1 airbnb, 3 train legs in with OEBB Austrian railways, Glacier Express seat reservations, and Saver Day Passes on SBB Swiss railways)

- I requested refunds from all companies due to coronavirus and one hotel (Central Luzern), Glacier Express, and Saver Day Passes with SBB kindly refunded me, no questions asked.  As the situation got worse, Airbnb offered a generous full refund if you are traveling to/from a seriously infected area.

- 2 nonrefundable hotels (Buddy Hotel and Hotel Montana Zurich) at first refused to refund me because of their nonrefundable policy which has nothing to do with the coronavirus, and pretty much blamed me that it was my choice to choose their lowest rate.  I have not heard back from OEBB Austrian railways.  So my next step was to dispute the charges on my credit card.

-It seems as though one of the hotel used their policies to reject my credit card dispute.  As the situation in Europe got worse (lockdown in Germany and Switzerland), I used that to my advantage.  I wrote an email directly to the hotel informing them that this is not something I can control and if they are going to keep my money I intend to still find a way to travel for my stay (will they catch my bluff?)  I stated facts I found on the internet of their countries situation and lockdown and questioned if their country will allow me to enter at their airport and will their hotel be open when I arrive and allow me to stay.  I asked they please refund me if they cannot provide me the services I paid for.  Instead of addressing my ridiculous concerns they simply responded that they will refund me. 

-As of now, the OEBB Austrian railway remains a credit card dispute.  I do have proof that their website says international travel is suspended (including to/from Switzerland) and domestic travel (which I assume includes my Hallstatt round trip tickets) only offers a voucher.  Time will tell if my credit card disputes go through and I receive a full refund on all my tickets.

I think I am pretty lucky that I have gotten back most if not all of my money on this trip.  I invested $2120 in this trip (flights, hotels, trains, reservations), with $985 in nonrefundables which I have gotten a refund due to coronavirus.  Others may not have been as lucky and are out of thousands of dollars on trips they had to cancel. 

Here's a look at my full itinerary:
(in my blog, I did not include the extra cost and time for the extra last day in Zurich.  Several months ago AA called me to reschedule my flight to one day later due the original flight being cancelled.  I emailed a complaint to their customer service department and received a $200 voucher for the inconvenience.)

All my activities, food, and hotels:

You Might Also Like


Like us on Facebook