Friday, July 24, 2015

What To Expect When Expecting A Trip To Europe

Or How One Can Run Out of Funny Titles for Blog Posts


So you have your budget ironed out, your dates finalized, flight tickets booked and you are searching the Web for tips on how to make the most out of your European vacation. I'm not sure if this will help with all your questions, but here's what worked for me as an Indian traveling to Austria and Italy with two kids and one wife. Your mileage may vary.


A lot of people swear by renting a car and driving all over Europe, much like Shah Rukh Khan and other heroes from Bollywood movies. We didn't try it because we felt it could be expensive and would add an added complexity of finding parking, especially in big cities like Rome and Vienna. Moreover, we would be in Austria before April 14, the official start of spring, and all cars were required to have snow tires. Coming from Bangalore, where we hardly have tires, let alone snow, we decided to avoid renting a car.

We booked all our inter-city travel on trains, and used trams, subways, buses and Uber for getting around within cities. OBB is the site to use for all travel within Austria, and Italia Rail for Italy. I did try Trenitalia too, but the website chewed up my purchase and that was ₹5000 down the drain. I'm not going to link to their website, that should show them.

I would advise reserving your seats, if your booking does have that option. We made the mistake of not booking seats ahead of time for the fairly long journey from Salzburg to Venice, and had to stand for a while, with two tired children and four tiring bags in tow.

We bought metro passes in Rome and Vienna, and the card we got in Salzburg allowed us to not just get free rides in buses, but cheap entry to museums and other places of interest as well. Highly recommended.

And oh, all trains, buses, trams and bullock carts in Austria arrive on time. All the time.


Airbnb worked like a charm for us everywhere, apart from Salzburg and Hallstatt where I couldn't find homes we liked. Most houses were very well stocked up on basic groceries like bread, jam, coffee, Nutella, wine and beer. The time invested early on in looking at photos of the homes, reading reviews and interacting with the hosts over the Airbnb app was definitely worthwhile. The hosts were professional, welcoming and helpful. Special shout out to Thomas, Paolo and Giovanni, who went the extra mile to make us comfortable.


You have the option of picking up prepaid SIM cards from India based providers like Matrix and Roam1. I use this when I travel to the US, but thought I'd try out SIMs from local providers in Austria and Italy, as they seemed cheap - around €10 - and came with pretty good data plans. I did not have any problem with buying these in both countries, and setup was a breeze. 3G connectivity helped a lot as we could use Maps, look up places of interest on Wikipedia, check Trip Advisor reviews of restaurants and spam our family and friends on Whatsapp with pictures every five minutes. That said, quite a few places had free wifi, so connectivity really wasn't that big a deal apart from when we were on the road.

The Austria SIM card did not work in Italy, but the one I got in Italy worked in Austria, although I was told it would not. I'm still not sure why, but found it interesting.


We had picked the shoulder season, the period when winter eases off into spring and tourists haven't yet swarmed all over the place. India having school holidays in April helps too, as most of the western world has their summer vacation two to three months later. Now the problem with traveling to Austria around the beginning of spring is that it still gets really, really cold.

We have one kind of weather, we Malayalees, even when we are from Bangalore. It's almost always hot, and the temperature does not change beyond a couple of degrees Celsius when it rains. We were just not prepared for the wild swings in temperature in places like Salzburg, where it was fifteen degrees at 3pm and two degrees by 5:45. We had jackets and sweaters to be sure, but had not thought to pack scarves, caps and mufflers. Sindha offered me a dupatta, but I wouldn't be caught dead wearing one, of course. Would have looked pretty silly.

Useful Sites

We wouldn't have had such a smooth trip without two amazing sites: the very practical and funny Reid's Italy and the exhaustive Rick Steve's Europe. Pay special attention to Reid's suggestions around booking online for Museum visits, as it saved us many hours of long wait times. We could not do this at all places though, the dome in Florence for instance had a two hour wait. Equipping your kids with essential travel supplements like iPads and phones will make your wait easier, of course.

Trip Advisor was a godsend for restaurant, hotel and museum reviews. We also read several blogs, some for couples traveling alone, some for single parents with kids and some for single dogs traveling without puppies. Also, as always, Google is your friend. 

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