Saturday, June 12, 2010

Europe By Bus

I remember a friend, R, who came to Europe for her honeymoon (not a good choice, given that there's a lot of walking...) on a 10 countries 14 days tour and when she got home, she couldn't tell us where her photos were taken. We've only been with group tours on our first trips to Japan and China. After the China group tour, we never took another group tour because we find that on our own, we can cover a lot more places that we are interested in. We save time too by not having scheduled breakfasts and visits to factories and stores to purchase things we don't need. Travelling on our own also usually turns out to be cheaper. We never considered Europe by bus or by group tour but ended up doing just that.

Eurorail was what we intended to take and when we enquired at the Eurotrain station in Rotterdam (or was it Den Haag?), we were told that Eurorail pass for 21 days, first class, was only 481 euros per pax. However, we'd need to go to the main airport, Schipnol or to the Eurorail office in Amsterdam for the tickets but the lady cautioned us that because of the ash cloud, Schipnol was in chaos (we found out later that the airport was closed that day, 17 May) and the wait at the Eurorail office is 4 hours on normal days. Given that, we turned to the next choice that Yi's friend told her about, a bus tour called 'Goeugo' operated by a Hong Kong firm. The great thing about Goeugo is that it doesn't run regular tours but rather you 'hop on and hop off'.  For euro 63 + 5 tips per day, you can hop on from any city on their route and hop off wherever you like. The charge includes twin-sharing rooms in 3-4 stars hotels (in Paris, we stayed at Radisson, an excellent 4 star hotel in the suburbs near Disneyland. In some cities it was Holiday Inn or Sheraton), American breakfast and of course the bus trip.

Goeugo operates 3 loops that take you to most major cities in Europe.We had lots of time so we were able to do all three loops although not completely because we wanted to stay longer in Rome.

As expected, a lot of time is spent on the road. We'd start out after breakfast at 8 am everyday, have toilet breaks and lunch in a small town and arrive to major cities by 5 pm. That's a whole day on the bus! On some loops where travelling distances are shorter, you may cover 2 places in one day. 5 pm is a bad time to arrive in any European city (although the husbands may not agree) because the shops will be closing. Don't expect shopping on bus tours. Worse, we were given 2 to 2 1/2 hours to explore and have dinner. We like that dinner is on our own although many of our fellow travellers had a hard time because 80-90% were from China, mainly Shanghai. It's hard on them because they can't speak English and the food's very foreign. After a few days, we realized that we either have sit-down meals or forgo sightseeing. We chose to sight see and ate sanwiches while we walked. In some places, the tour guide will take you on a 15 minute walk to point put certain sights so it's best to have a travel guide book (Rick Steves' best; thanks to CY who sent it pronto to Yi when she heard I was going to Europe) because don't expect Goeugo travel guides to tell you much about the places of interest. 

Other peeves are that the tour guides, all from Hong Kong, speak very broken English and Mandarin. We had about 5 Americans in the last loop and they were fine with the broken instructions but on other loops, other caucasians had a hard time. The guides aren't trained travel guides unlike those in China who are well-trained and informed. However, most of the guides were helpful and managed the group well, without much delay or problems even when the group swelled to over on the Italian loop. Another thing is that the hotels are usually outside of the city so most people wasted the nights in their hotel rooms. We went out on our own nearly every night and I highly recommend that because Europe is very safe and public transport (metro, bus, taxi) is excellent. Metro is cheap and in most cities, cover an extensive area.

I think the best thing about Goeugo is the flexibility. If you like a certain city, you just get off the tour and then do your own thing and meet up another bus another day another city. Euro 63 +5 per day is very cheap compared to other bus tours. Other pros are you don't have the headache of lugging your bags and looking for accomodation every place you go. Still, you'd be travelling to a new place everyday so do travel light.

I still think that Eurorail may be cheaper. For one thing, I don't eat breakfast (usually) so theres' no point paying for it. Another is of course the time wasted on the road. If you're a first timer to Europe or if you don't want to be bothered with booking hotels and transprtation, ugo is still a pretty good option. I hope this helps, Cynthia of Singapore. Have a fun trip and make sure you zip your handbag.

Oh, one more thing about Goeugo. On the day you leave the tour, whether it's early or late, you pay the full 63 + 5 euros and don't get a night's stay. That means if you are on a 6 day loop, you actually pay 6 days but get 5 days' hotel stay. You do the math.

One final thing. You are given options of joining activities such as fine dining, watching the Parisian can can show, river cruises etc. You don't have to feel obliged to join all of them. In fact, be discriminate. Some are total waste of money and time. We opted out on many of the activities and spent the time discovering the places instead.

Oh, another one. Bring your most comfortable shoes because there'll be hours of walking everyday. I lost 1 kg in 12 days (hooray!). And bring your own water. At the Eiffel Tower, I paid 3 euros for a small bottle of water. In Rome, I paid 4 euros outside the Coliseum. 

p.s. I don't know if it's correct but based on the online booking website, if you book a Eurorail ticket, you pay online and they'll send the ticket. Apparently you can't pick up the ticket when you get to Europe. That's kind of troublesome especially if you live where I do and the mail never comes on time. Any experience/advice, anyone?


Anonymous said...

great read of yr blog. amazing pixs! thx for the goeugo write up. am looking forward to my europe travel wif them. cheers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! I have joined them for a 7 days apin and 13 days w.Europe this July and August.

Anonymous said...

I went to Europe with goeugo last year. I enjoyed it. If you don't have enough time but want to cover a lot of places. And you don't want any hassle.I think goeugo is not too bad. However, don't expect too much.....

Anon said...

I've asked goeugo about staying 2-3 days in a city (instead of the one-day trip) and they said it was going to cost me 150 euro per person per day. Didn't they say that one can hop-on hop-off at your liking?
Did you do Switzerland? I have 6-7 days after visiting Grenoble (Les 2 Alpes) and from there wanted to go to the Jungrau, Lucerne or may be London.
Could I please have some recommendations, as well as the best and cheapest mode of transport to your suggestions?

Thank you.

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