A frequent flier's views on flying and travel

Alps, beer, and scenery = 11 days in Europe

In July I took a break from the heat/humidity of Houston (ie: The Swamp) for an 11 day photographic odyssey & road trip through what I think is the most beautiful part of Europe, the Alps. But not just the Alps, also the Black Forest, Appenzell, Bavaria, the Austrian Tyrol, and a bunch of related spots. As is typical for me on a car drive road trip, I had almost no hotel reservations, a paper map from a gas station (no GPS), and a deep-seated desire to stay off highways as much as possible. That is not always possible near cities, but it turns out to be a lot easier than you might think. This is roughly how the trip ended up:

Road Trip Route

The basic route, not exact.

To get to the start (in Zurich) I began with a really great flight on SwissAir from Boston, and a superb crew working the flight. I always bring chocolates for the FAs, and this crew appreciated it so much, that they in turn gave me a box of chocolates. Not a bad deal on my end. Trade off some US chocolates for a box of wonderful Swiss treats!

001A Swiss

Swiss chocolates

In Zurich I did have a hotel reservation for 2 nights, mostly because after 18 hours of flying and travel I did not want to be wandering around looking for a place to stay. Before I left, a flying friend [Sarah] had suggested that I look at the Oerlikon district. She was totally right! Great advice! (Travel tip; Always obey FA instructions). The Oerlikon is a small quiet area in the north of Zurich, right on the railway from the airport, an easy trolley ride to downtown, full of small stores, quaint streets, and much more laid back than downtown. Also ½ the price for accommodations and food compared to downtown, which is probably why a lot of flight crews stay in this area.

A quick taste; Spring lamb and a local beer in a wonderful outdoor Oerlikon café.

Zurich was MARVELOUS and I was really lucky on the weather. Warm (not hot), sunny, some clouds, but nothing to interfere with my plans to randomly walk & photograph the city, plus take a tour that included an hour long boat ride on Lake Zurich. Trust me on this, there is no better way to relax after walking miles in the AM than sitting on the top deck of a boat, drinking cold beer, eating a bundnerfleisch sandwich (smoked dried beef), and watching the swimmers, sailboats, and the lakeside scenery go by.

On Lake Zurich

Bundnerfleisch, smoked shaved beef

Walking around Zurich is very easy, the downtown area and most of the popular tourist areas are (essentially) flat and very easy to explore. However, I do suggest buying a 24-hour trolley pass if you are exploring the surrounding area, for the hills do get very steep. It is also very useful if (like me) you are not staying downtown and need to get back and forth easily. A trolley pass is reasonably priced, and there are automated kiosks at most trolley stops where you can buy your ticket. I would also note that in 2 days of riding the trolley, I was only asked to show my ticket once. The Swiss are honest… They expect you to also be.

Some walking highlights – The opera building, and “Salt and Pepper” the twin Grossmunster church spires, the latter photographed from atop of the Jules Verne bar. Many more photos are available on my website at 

Phase 2 of my trip started when I picked up a rental car (back at Zurich airport) and started the drive that was eventually going to take me east to Vienna. I had a list of places in my mind that I wanted to explore along the way, and the list started with a 2-day drive thru Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Innsbruck, and Kitzbuhel, ending up in Salzburg. And yes, I go “out of my way” to find winding twisty small mountain roads instead of highways, like this bit going thru Stuben Austria in the Tyrol (Austrian alps).


The bypass road thru Stuben Austria (White knuckle !)

One mistake I made was not enough time in Innsbruck. I was expecting a hyped-up modern ski area resort with some old buildings as a veneer. Something as fake and artificial as Aspen. Man was I wrong! Innsbruck is a really cool old city full of random passageways, wide open plazas, and amazing architecture that also happens to have a ski area (or 5) associated with it. I put Innsbruck high on my “must go back to” list.

Next came two days and 2 nights in Salzburg, home of Mozart, the Sound of Music, and lots of history. I must confess, “No”, I did not take the Sound of Music tour, but it is very popular, just not my thing…

Pegasus fountain, Austria Salzburg SoMOld Salzburg is a really attractive city, and the Mozart legacy (in my mind) is much more interesting than the Sound of Music. But SoM is what draws in about 30,000 tourists a year, so be prepared to be saturated with it at some sites (and sights) around the city. But the ample alternatives, the museums, the incredible food (I had an amazing Italian chicken marsala one night), and the abundance of open air music performances and eye-popping classical architecture make Salzburg a real draw.

The thousand-year old castle atop the hill can be seen from everywhere, it is one of the largest in central Europe, and the climb up is rather a good cardio workout (OK, by the end I was panting like a sheep dog). But you can also take a funicular train up and down. I just might do that next time… lol !!

From Salzburg, an easy day trip back over the border, crossing into Germany for the scenery of Berchtesgaden, Eagle’s Nest, and the Konigssee (King’s Lake).

The next leg was the drive from Salzburg to Vienna, driving on some of the smallest, tightest, most twisting roads ever as I wound my way through mountain passes and valleys, small towns, and farms, mostly avoiding the straight highways and tunnels. I lost count of the castles, churches, and incredible buildings along the way. Originally, I had intended to drive down to (and stay) in Graz, but weather was not cooperating, and I modified my plan after I reached Leoben (halfway to Graz) and I turned east to head direct from there to Vienna.

Oh Vienna (or “Wien” in German)… How much do I love this city!

As much history as London, but in a smaller package, easy to walk, and with very good bus, trolley, and subway services. The food of course is “Wunderbar”, while the desserts and those classic Viennese pastries truly are the best in the world. I also have very deep family connections here. My Grandmother Wanda was born and grew up here. My Grandfather dated/courted her in Vienna, and on that side of the family there are many generations of heritage based in and around Vienna. We even have a pre-wedding photograph of my Great Grandmother (Janina) in Vienna taken around 1890. No way to cover everything I did there in 2 days and 2 nights, but if you can think of a highlight – I was there! I also took full advantage of a wonderful and narrated double-deck open top On/Off 24 hour BigBus tour service. So much so that one driver laughed when I ran into him for the 3rd time on the same day…

St Stephens, in Vienna

Janina Vienna

GreatGrandmother Janina in her wedding outfit, Vienna, ~ 1890

Vienna was as far east as I went before I had to start heading back towards Zurich. My target list for the return leg included the fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria (the Disney Land castle), and then 2 days of hiking, exploring, and photography in the Appenzell region of Switzerland.

Neuschwanstein castle

The Disney Land castle, Neuschwanstein

One cautionary note about driving in Switzerland and Austria is they are VERY strict about speed limits. But the Germans are not. So if you are eager to find the real top speed of your 6-speed Audi Q5 Quattro rental, wait for Bavaria and the autobahn to Munich. FYI, the top speed I reached in the Audi was 215 Kph / 135 Mph. (insert big smile)

Clearly I saved the best for last, Appenzell Switzerland. Another flying friend [Robin] has been there and told me it is a “must see” place. An idyllic oasis, postcard Switzerland, with mountains, valleys, local beer, and incredible cheese. OK, she had me at “beer”.

But the Cheese! Appenzell cheese is soaked in a special brine with herbs, and is indescribably good.

Yes, my friend was right about everything. She nailed it. I came into Appenzell from the eastern edge, thru the winding road leading up from Eichberg, and (basically) my jaw dropped. I simply did not know that such a beautiful place as Appenzell existed anywhere in Europe.

Appenzell eastern border

Approaching Appenzell from Eichberg

Then there is the picture-postcard perfect quaint colorful friendly amazing town itself with a good selection of small boutique hotels, BnB’s, and some really awesome outdoor cafes and restaurants serving totally local regional delicious food. My favorite might have been the “Teller” platter, which was a heaping plate piled high with 6 different smoked meats and 4 cheeses, all served with local beer.

Also a cheese factory, and a beer brewery… Yup. Went to both. Because cheese needs beer. Right?

And like icing on a cake, (just like snow on a mountain) a 30 minute drive from the town is access to a gondola that will take you up Santis peak, at 2500 m / 8200 ft, the tallest mountain in the area, with a restaurant, amazing views, and wonderful (although steep and narrow) walking and hiking trails.

Look closely for some ravens and hikers, the only way to measure scale in these scenes.

Santias Swz, hiker on a ridge

Santias. Not for the timid, or a fear of heights.

But all good things must end… Appenzell is less than 2 hours from Zurich airport, and on my last day I bid it a fond farewell (I will be back!) and started the long day to get me back to Houston.

Overall, for a very unstructured trip – it worked out great. Because, just like those Swiss goats that seem to pop up everywhere (and eat everything), I really enjoy the flexibility of trying lots of new things, and of having no fixed plan/schedule when I travel.

Appenzell Swz Goat

The laughing goat, with an ear like Shrek.

Appenzell Swz 1

The eastern edge of the Appenzell, Swz

One comment on “Alps, beer, and scenery = 11 days in Europe

  1. Danielle
    August 5, 2017

    Wow looks like you had an amazing trip – I agree that this is definitely one of the most beautiful areas of Europe (but I am a sucker for the Balkans too)!

    Danielle /


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