My Best Friend and I are going to Switzerland!

I just found out some incredible news. My best friend Rachel will be studying abroad on a vineyard in the south of France while I’m in on my tour of Europe! Unfortunately, the tour will not go through the town where she is staying, but we will both have free time during the same week. So, we’ve devised a master plan to meet in Switzerland and go on a train ride through the alps together!

Where better to rendezvous than the Swiss Alps?
Where better to rendezvous than the Swiss Alps?

After my tour ends in Rome, I’ll have three days to make it back to London for my flight home to the U.S. Switzerland lies exactly between Rome and the London Heathrow Airport, and it is an optimal place for us to meet. Plus, I have always wanted to go there — it’s on my bucket list!

We looked into train rides through the Alps, and the best we have a found is the Jungfraujoch Top of Europe ride from Rail Europe, an 8-hour train ride through the Alps. According to Rail Europe’s description, we will leave from Grindelwald in Switzerland, and take a modern cogwheel railway 6762 feet up to Kleine Scheidegg. After that, we’ll head toward Eiger Glacier station, where there will be a mountain restaurant and polar dog kennels. The railways continues through the Eiger tunnel, stopping for sightseeing on the way to the highest railway station in Europe: the Jungfraujoch. It’s more than 11,000 feet up and rightfully called the Top of Europe. Apparently, this trip covers Switzerland’s most breathtaking scenery, including a 13.6 mile ice stream and an Ice Palace.

Eiger Glacier Station. From travelmemo.com.
Eiger Glacier Station. From travelmemo.com.

The ride includes:

  • Round trip travel to the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe from Grindelwald
  • Scenic trip to Eiger Glacier Station and through the Eiger tunnel to the Eigerwand and Eismeer stations.
  • Sightseeing at the Great Aletsch Glacier, Ice Palace, Ice Gateway, Sphinx observation terrace, high alpine research exhibitions and more.

Cost: $107/person for young adults.

While that’s not necessarily cheap for someone traveling on a minuscule budget,  the price is pretty reasonable compared to most other train rides we found. Many are several days long, include meals and have first-class accommodations. Psh. I have no problems with second class, as long I have a big enough window to see the Alps.

I seriously hope this is what our ride looks like.
I seriously hope this is what our ride looks like.

We are going to wait until closer to the date to finalize our plans and book our train ride, but everything looks like it will pan out so far. Hopefully we’ll even have time to pick up some Swiss chocolate. Yum.

Planning my weekend trip to Toronto

Toronto-Branch

So I have a confession: I am teensy bit obsessed with Canada. When I was a kid, I visited Nova Scotia with my parents and fell in love with the adorable, quaint town and the alarmingly polite people. My trip to Niagara Falls two years later left me with the same impression. Fast-forward 10 years, and I’m ready to experience it again. I think it was the Winter Olympics and rooting for the Canadian hockey team (don’t hate me!) that finally reignited my love for the country. I finally told myself enough is enough — I’m going. 

1.) Picking the Date

After begging a friend to go with me, I started making a plan. First item on the agenda: pick a date. It honestly stinks that I am still in school and my only time to travel is on weekends. I could go during spring break, but I need that time to work so I can continue to save up for my trip to Europe this summer. Given this, I chose the first weekend of spring break as the optimal time to go — I won’t be missing work, and I won’t have homework to worry about.

2.) Choosing the City

Some may argue that this should be the first step, but I’m a spontaneous gal. I’ll go wherever the wind — and my budget — takes me. My decision really came down to Toronto versus Montreal. I wish I could say I conducted extensive research, carefully weighing the pros and cons of each city and making an educated decision, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I asked a few friends who have visited both places and reached out to some Twitter followers for advice. Essentially, this is what I collected:

  1. Montreal is a vast, dynamic city that demands much longer than a weekend’s visit.
  2. Toronto is bustling and enticing, but is doable in a weekend.

So, off to Toronto it is.

3.) Finding Transportation

Okay, maybe the greatest factor in selecting the city really was the accessibility. Being based in Washington, D.C., I felt like I could find cheaper transportation to Canada than flying. I looked at trains and bus services in the area, but none had direct routes from D.C. to Montreal. A trip there would require transfers and possible delays, which I would not have time for in a short weekend trip. Luckily, my go-to bus service, Megabus, offers direct routes to Toronto at exponentially cheaper rates than airfare: $75 round-trip. This was a huge selling point for Toronto.

I relayed this information to my friend and she and I booked Megabus tickets for that Thursday night. Because it’s a 14-hour drive, we’ll get to Toronto Friday morning.  Then, to be back at work on Monday, we had to choose the return bus that leaves Saturday night in order to be home by Sunday. This gives us the greater portions of two days and one night in Toronto. I mean, it’s something, right?

4.) Hostel, Hostel, Hostel!

I think it was all of the great experiences in European hostels that made me actually prefer to stay in them rather than budget hotels. Naturally, I went to my favorite hostel-finding site, Hostel World, to find a place to stay in Toronto. Since $75 on transportation is already taking away from my Europe fund, I could not spare much more money on accomodations. Using the site, I found a high-rated hostel that will only cost us $25 each for a Saturday night. The Only Backpacker’s Inn is located just on the outskirts of downtown Toronto, and is central to all of the attractions we want to visit. The bonus is that it’s built ontop of The Only Cafe, a supposedly awesome bar with over 200 beers from around the world. As it stands, I’m 20 years old, but the drinking age in Toronto is 19. When in Rome…

5.) Figuring Out What to Do

Ah where to begin. Like I said, Toronto is bustling. I checked out the city’s official tourism website for ideas for what to do, but I was pretty overwhelmed by the possibilities. I wanted to know what are the top must-see attraction in the city than my friend and I could knock out in one day. That’s when I stumbled upon Tripomatic. It’s most likely not the first site of its kind, but it is the first I have found, and I am quite jazzed about it. This website is the ultimate trip-planning helper. It swiftly guides you through its operations making it superbly easy to use. Once I entered my destination and dates,  Tripomatic presented me a map of Toronto with all of the major attractions, restaurants, hotels and public transportation routes pinpointed. All I had to do was choose a spot and a day and Tripomatic would add the attraction to my itinerary as well as show me the travel time from one spot to the next. The site even has filtering options for most popular attractions. I used this positioning software to determine what was sights and activities are nearby our hostel and our bus terminal. After adding a few items to our itinerary, such as the CN Tower and Casa Loma, I think I have devised a plan to get the most out of Toronto in 36 hours.  After I saved the itinerary, Tripomatic generated a personalized travel guide with maps and travel tips, including currency information, where to eat and how to get around, all available online and in a printable PDF form.  Visit my itinerary here.

Tripomatic

6.) Waiting

Somehow, I managed to plan all of this in literally a few hours, and now, I think I am all set. With the trip only two weeks away, all I have left to do is pack and try not to spend money in the meantime. One of those things will be more difficult than the other.